November 30, 2012

The First Dinner Date at Our New Apartment


At our old house, we had a huge dining room with a stained glass window and an antique chandelier. It was a gorgeous room and one in which I hosted many guests for dinner. Since we've downgraded to a small one bedroom apartment, I've missed that grand old dining room (though I can't say I miss having to clean a huge house). We'd been in this apartment for 8 months and hadn't had dinner guests yet. I knew I needed to fix that!
 

Last night, I had a lovely dinner date with my cousin. We were very close when we were younger – best friends –, and even though our path's have diverged somewhat, that bond will never be broken. She is moving to New Orleans in a few months, and I want to spend as much time with her as I can. I'm also hoping I'll be well enough to travel and visit her once she's there. I've never been to New Orleans before, and I am not one to miss a chance to visit a new city!

My cousin isn't vegetarian or vegan, but she's an adventurous eater in general. She's always interested in the foods that I make and isn't scared away by any vegan ingredients. If she'd been at my family Thanksgivings, maybe others wouldn't have rejected my vegan foods for so long.You know what happens when one person tries something and their eyes widen with delight? Everyone else wants to try it, too! Being given the opportunity to create vegan dinners for her more than makes up for the isolation that I've felt at past holiday gatherings. I am always honored to have the opportunity to provide healthy-promoting food for those I love. 




Let's talk about the menu. It's been a very mild autumn, but winter is definitely letting us know it's coming. The nights have been frosty. Because of the chilly temperatures, I felt that a comfort meal was in order. As the main, I made the chickpea pumpkin seed burgers from LTEV in loaf form and served it with the roasted chanterelle gravy from Crazy Sexy Kitchen. I have to admit that as much as I adore chanterelles, I used criminis this time because they're much more affordable. Sometime when I am able to splurge, I would love to try the recipe with the chanterelles! As sides, I made cranberry sauce and J made his staple as of late, creamed kale. I also made Dreena's apple pie again (3rd time in 2 weeks. Yes, it is that good!) and pulled out the ice cream maker to whip up a batch of toasted cinnamon ice cream. Our wonderful guest brought sparkling pomegranate juice which beautifully complimented our meal.


All in all, it was a great night. We reminisced about the "old days", caught up on the exciting happenings in our families, and parted ways with warm hugs and big smiles. So, what about you? Would you like to come over for a dinner date, too?

November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Transformed: Part 2



This is a continuation of Thanksgiving Transformed Part 1 which can be found here.

Note: I had the text of this post finished and silly me didn't transfer Thanksgiving pictures  onto my computer from my phone yet. Of course, I woke up to the most ridiculous phone problems. All of the pictures that I took just before and during Thanksgiving are lost. Thankfully, I very recently got an Instagram account and posted a few pictures on there, and J provided the picture of leftover stuffing and mashed potatoes. So, apologies for the lack of pictures of mouth-watering vegan delectables. Lesson learned. In the grand scheme of things, it's really not the worst that I could've woken up to. 


 

This Thanksgiving was better than any year before. Vegan Thanksgiving times two! I've never had a full vegan meal for Thanksgiving, so this was very special. J, my loving partner of 5 years, had been inching toward veganism over the summer and recently committed to it fully. Color me stoked when he told me he wanted to go all out and make a full Thanksgiving spread of vegan food for dinner at his mom's house. I was doubly enthused when my dad expressed interest in making a vegan Thanksgiving meal at his house. Two whole meals of veganized Thanksgiving specialties? I'm one lucky gal. 



On Wednesday, we made our meal for J's mom's house. As I mentioned, I never tried a Tofurky until last year. Replicating meat in my meals was never a huge deal. In fact, the more it tastes like meat, the more it freaks me out. J, however, enjoys vegan meats and wanted a vegan turkey, and so we bought a Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute for the dinner. J also made the most amazing mashed potatoes (his nephew said they tasted just like cheese mashed potatoes even though there was no vegan cheese in them!), creamy pasta alfredo, mushroom walnut stuffing, gravy, and pumpkin pie. In the morning, he also picked up a fresh baguette from the french bakery to go with the garlic confit he made. His mother made some corn, broccoli, and sweet potatoes that we were able to enjoy as well. It was the first full Thanksgiving meal that I had since I was a kid, and it did not disappoint. J did such an amazing job cooking his first vegan feast! 



I woke up the next morning and didn't think I could look at another piece of food again. I am not used to eating such heavy foods, nor am I used to such quantity. Nevertheless, early on Thanksgiving day, my dad came to our house and he, J, and I cooked the morning away. Once again, we bought a vegan turkey to share because both he and J were interested in having one. We got the Gardein turkey this time. We also made roasted root vegetables, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish from here, this apple pie, cinnamon ice cream, and the pumpkin filling from this recipe with a pecan date crust. We also brought along leftover mashed potatoes and stuffing from the day before. My uncle also surprised us with a vegan side dish that tasted amazing. It was a simple dish of cauliflower, green olives, and chickpeas with a little bit of oil and cayenne. I had a beautiful picture of this. Alas, the description must suffice!


 
We feasted like kings and queens (J and I for the second day in a row), and the two days culminated into the best Thanksgiving we've ever had. For me, this holiday has evolved into an opportune time for vegan activism at the dinner table. Some people in my life are already eating vegan for their entire meal and others are now open to sampling some of my fine vegan cuisine. Next, I hope for a 100% vegan Thanksgiving. No turkeys allowed! I don't think that will happen anytime soon, but at the same time I've learned from last year that I should expect the best of people. You never know when they'll be open to trying vegan foods or hearing about nutritional benefits of a vegan diet. Who knows, maybe they'll even open their hearts to the animal abuse aspect of the holiday and experience a whole shift in consciousness. I am choosing to dream big!

November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Transformed: Part 1






When I was younger, Thanksgiving was a much different holiday than it is for me today. Back then, I drew hand-tracings that resembled turkeys, I had history lessons about pilgrims and Native Americans, and I feasted with my whole extended family under one roof. We had a special table just for the kids, and the grown-ups would fill up an entire banquet table. I would eat tons of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie topped with whipped cream. I could never decide if I liked pumpkin or pecan better. Our uncle would spray whipped cream into our mouths, and we thought it was the coolest thing. After eating, I'd lay down on the couch and listen to all of the conversations around me. Sometimes, I'd drift off to sleep. It was all innocent and fun.

Then, I started growing up. I learned about the torturous lives of factory farmed turkeys and started to view our headless centerpiece in a new and horrific light. I discovered that the pilgrims were no more friendly to the Native Americans than we were to the birds on our plates. Their relationship was not one based on sharing as we had been taught as children, but one of deceit, domination, and violence at the hands of the colonizers. When I began to understand this whitewashing I had been subjected to, I wanted no part of this awful holiday. No one else around me seemed to care about the history of the holiday or what it meant. If I had not been so in love with our ever-dissipating large family gatherings, I would have stayed home on Thanksgivings. I always wanted to, but I knew I'd be sorry for missing it when the elders of my family had all passed.

It was hard for me to sit there and watch them pull out the innards of a large bird, then cook, carve, chew, swallow. The smell was wretched. It didn't resemble what it once was, but it did, too. I could no longer see the eyes that once saw haunting images, and I couldn't see the mouth that once cried out in fear and pain. But, I could still see the arms and legs that once begged to move freely and the pink skin that was once covered by gorgeous (but most definitely filthy) feathers. Throughout the years, I would look at the turkeys and imagine the lives they had to endure. I thought about the boredom that surely drove them crazy, the abuse they suffered at the hands of humankind, and their strong will to live. They didn't want to suffer. They didn't want to die.

Being a vegetarian and then a vegan at Thanksgiving was no fun. There was the big reason stated above – the violence –, but I always had a sense of being very alone. That's not an easy thing to feel when I was surrounded by some of the most boisterous and gregarious people I know. No one quite understood why I wouldn't just eat the turkey or the egg and butter filled pies. A lot of them were just waiting for me to outgrow this latest phase. They were sure it would happen, but it never did.



I cared about my family, but I cared about the animals, too. I didn't want them to think I was excluding myself when all that I wanted to do was exclude the criminal slaughter and torture of animals from our plates. Making an effort to be involved, I would bring along a vegan dish to share with everyone. Because it was branded with the vegan stigma, it sat virtually untouched. My dad and my grandma, whom are both open to trying new foods, would be the only ones to try the foods I brought. I loved them for it, but discouraged, I eventually stopped bringing food to share and only brought what I'd need to nourish myself.

Fast forward to last year's Thanksgiving when a huge shift occurred right at our Thanksgiving table. A few months prior, I had started listening to the Our Hen House podcast (amazing, by the way). Listening to them and their awesome guest line-ups renewed my passions that were dimmed somewhat by my apathetic family members in the past. As they talked about the approaching holiday, I felt the solitude-of-years-past creeping up on me, but the activist in me was buzzing. I kept wishing that my family would more open to hearing about veganism and trying new foods. But, I knew how averse to vegan foods they were in the past. I wasn't sure if I should bring up veganism during the holidays or if I should focus my vegan activism elsewhere. After all, loved ones are often the most difficult to reach.

And so, I did what I always did. For myself, I brought a kale salad with toasted hazelnuts, and my mom was so kind to make me ratatouille and a delicious stuffed acorn squash. My vegetarian uncle, who is usually living too far away to make it back for Thanksgiving, was in town and brought a Tofurky for dinner. I was excited to have another meat-abstainer at the table that year. Finally, I wouldn't be the odd person out.

To my surprise, family members were – gasp! – trying all of the vegan foods at the table, including the Tofurky. I think my jaw dropped to the floor for a good hour after I saw that. No words. Incidentally, that was also the first time I had tried a vegan turkey, 12 years after ending my meat-eating habits. 12 years of which I had to endure relentless and unoriginal jokes about me chowing down on Tofurky for Thanksgiving. Funny. 

Some of my family members even asked me nutritional advice instead of asking me where I get my protein. Like many people these days, they've become interested in eating healthier (read: plant-based) options to prevent or remedy modern diseases. Recovering from a serious sickness, I had educated myself in the science of nutrition. I think part of the reason they were interested in talking about my diet was because they saw how well I was doing for myself. While the treatment of turkeys didn't prevent anyone from eating them, guests were choosing to fill part of their plate with vegan foods because of a growing interest in health. It's a start.

Thanksgiving last year taught me some very valuable lessons. For one thing, living by example is so essential, but sometimes people need a little nudge, too. Never stop talking about your passion, especially with people that you love and value. There are so many angles to approach issues from. Keep them all handy, and pick one (or more) that fits the situation. I should have never stopped bringing vegan food to share because you never know if a dish will be appealing to other guests or be a total hit. You never know when people are going to start caring about their health and start cleaning up their diets. When people do make these shifts, we need to be present and prepared. The animals need my voice, and they need yours, too.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of my Thanksgiving tales when I talk about what happened at Thanksgiving this year!

November 21, 2012

8 Ways to Respond to Loss During the Holidays


Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”



Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. For those who love with their heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”



-Rumi



Thanksgiving is one of the few special times a year that unite families under one roof. Relatives will travel from far and wide, the cooks will spend all day preparing the food with love, many stories will be shared, and everyone will catch up on each others busy lives. This year, my family came together a couple weeks early because we lost someone very dear to us. A loved one of ours passed away; it was unexpected and heartbreaking. For the second time in as many years, I lost a loved one right before Thanksgiving. Family means everything to me, and I would hate for holidays to conjure up unresolved emotions from death and loss (Seriously, I am already confronted with a dead turkey or pig on every holiday table.) I wanted to release my heavy emotions, not only for the sake of the season but for my own sanity as well. I also wanted my peaceful vibes to bring cheer to any of my family that is still feeling stuck in sadness.



At a time when adrenal fatigue has been giving me a big kick in the butt, I knew that dealing with a death could be devastating to my health. I came down with my first cold/flu in years and experienced a slew of other symptoms due to a weak immune system like sleep disturbances, breakouts, and swollen lymph nodes to name a few. I needed some therapy and I needed it quickly.



So, what did I do, and what can you do when that one last thing hits that makes it seem really difficult to get back up? Below, I've outlined some things that I found to be helpful. These can be used anytime you are struggling with grief and loss, but are especially useful when festivities are drawing near and you want to be in a good frame of mind. I grieved my fair share and now I'm ready for the holiday season. I'm going to share in a joyful meal with my family – half of whom are eating vegan this year. Hurray! – and celebrate the memory of the lives that once were but are no more.



8 Ways to Respond to Loss During the Holidays:



  1. Allow feelings to flow: Don't hold anything in. Let yourself cry. Sit with all of the sad feelings that surface and acknowledge them. Let them hang out for awhile. Just don't get stuck there. It helped me to remember that I am the one suffering, not him. He is at peace. Once you've let all the sadness come forth, move on to number 2. 
     
  2. Perspective/Gratitude: Be grateful for the good times. As tragic as a loved one's death may be, it really helps to focus on the positive experiences that you had with the person. I remembered the moments that we shared that helped to shape me as a person. I also thought a lot about what great character he had and how many people were touched by his good deeds and soft heart. 
     
  3. Support: Though it is important to know that your strength comes from within, no one can do anything alone. Find the people who care about you most, and lean on them for support. As I trust that my support system will help hold me up, I know that I will be there when they are in need. Similarly, lean on those who are sharing the loss with you. If they're having a harder time than you, do some things to ease their suffering. Make them a meal, give them hugs, or practice gratitude together. 
     
  4. Write/tell a story: I wrote an email to my best friend. I was responding to something completely unrelated, but wanted to let her know of my loss. I told her stories about my loved one and described his life and my emotions about the loss. It was cathartic to say the least. If you don't have someone you trust enough to share those thoughts with, write it down but don't send it out. Be really descriptive and imagine that the letter's recipient has no prior knowledge of the person or their life.

  1. Meditate: Things are just going to seem crazier and crazier the more they pile up. Shut that whirling mind up for 15 minutes (or more if you're feeling ambitious). You'll emerge from the quietness feeling more refreshed and relaxed. If you are unsure about how to meditate, just close your eyes and focus on your breath. If any thoughts enter your mind, let them pass right through. You can also buy guided meditations on cd or on your computer. There are also many short guided meditations on Youtube if you don't want to buy something. Keep it simple. You don't need to do anything fancy to reap the benefits of meditation.

  1. Laughing: Laughter is a big one for me. It's amazing what even a smile will do for your mood. Even the physical movement of a smile – absent of all emotion – can be a mood booster. Try it. I swear, it really works!

  1. Exercise: We've all felt the endorphin rush that comes with a good sweat session. If you don't have much energy (I was nearly depleted) try simple stretching and light yoga. Better yet, take a walk in nature. The sunshine, the movement, and the scenery will all help your sadness to wash away. I loved taking walks with Tucker and watching how he took in the world around him with such curiosity and excitement.

  1. Fasting: In periods of extreme sadness and grieving, energies are directed away from digestion and stress hormones clog up your system. This is no time to be eating heavy meals or foods that tire you under normal circumstances. If you feel like eating at all, the nutrients in fruit and green smoothies will strengthen your immune system while providing easily-assimilated energy from carbohydrates. During my greatest upsets, I've found that juicing is a fantastic way to energize and support my immune system.



These 8 tips put me at ease. Did I leave anything out? Do you have any tricks to soothe a grieving soul? If any of my tips resonate with you or you have any of your own, please share below. Keep on smiling and know you're never in it alone!

November 14, 2012

High Raw Tacos with Broccoli Apple Slaw and Maple Mustard Dressing


I am a lover of salads. It's a rare day that I don't have a large salad for one of my meals. Occasionally though, the thought of making yet another large salad is unappealing. When I want to jazz things up, I will make a raw dish like zucchini pasta, a collard wrap, or soup. The other day, my creative juices were flowing, and these festive tacos were the result. They are bursting with flavor and are beyond amazing. I combined crisp apples with crunchy raw vegetables and the sweet pop of pomegranate arils and tossed it all in a sweet and salty dressing. Garnish with pepitas (I added them after I took the pics). Heaven

Normally, I marinate the collard wraps so they are soft and lose some of the bitter bite. I chose not to do that for this recipe because I wanted it to be more like a hard taco shell (as much as a collard leaf can be) than a soft, pliable burrito wrapper. The lack of bitterness in the shell was a pleasant surprise. I'd encourage you to try it out. Nibble an end of the leaf. If it's too bitter, a lemon and salt rub will solve the problem.




Let's take a minute to talk about sodium. I don't think salt is a demon food, but I don't think that it should be consumed with abandon either. We should be eating way less salt than we do, but people often forget that increasing dietary potassium is just as important. Even mainstream outlets are recognizing the important role that potassium plays in our lives. I've found that as I switched over to a well-rounded whole foods vegan diet (bonus: a diet that is naturally high in potassium!), I wanted to use salt less and less. It is a wonderful agent for creating more pronounced flavor, but a pinch will do. Many times, I am too wrapped up in the amazing flavors of the foods themselves to even care about adding salt. I think people should be moving in that direction. Let's not use salt as a crutch to overstimulate our taste buds. Let's appreciate each food for what it is, not what we dump on top of it! 

These tacos are higher in sodium than most of the foods I consume. For those of you who limit added salt in your diet but still want to try this recipe, I would suggest leaving out the miso. Since it is less essential than the other ingredients, you can still make a rockin' dressing without it. I, however, love the dressing with the miso included and don't mind ingesting the occasional salty dish. When you leave the miso out, the total amount of added sodium is cut almost in half at about 300mg which is a reasonable amount.


When it comes to diet plans that restrict salt intake, Dr Fuhrman's Eat to Live plan is one of the strictest ones I know. He recommends keeping daily sodium intake under 1,000 mg and mentions that 400-700 mg of sodium is provided from the natural foods you are eating. That leaves 300-600 mg of wiggle room. The dressing made without the miso meets Dr. Fuhrman's recommendations, and is well within the sodium limits of other healthy plant-based diet regimens. Also, keep in mind that this is a very strict plan to follow- one that is used to reverse heart conditions, cancer, and many other modern diseases- and there's no reason that a healthy person can't relax those guidelines.
  
If you want to make this a more substantial dish, the mellow nuttiness of steamed tempeh would be delightful, I'm sure. Alternatively, 1/4-1/3 cup of coarsely ground or chopped walnuts with the slaw and dressing would also be a worthwhile variation.




Raw Tacos with Broccoli Apple Slaw and Maple Mustard Dressing

Wraps:
4 collard leaves, stems trimmed

Slaw:
1 1/4 cups broccoli, chopped
3/4 cup apple (I used honeycrisp), julienned
1 handful of parsley, chopped
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
1/3 cup pomegranate arils
1/4 cup red radish, julienned

Maple Mustard Dressing:
1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 Tbsp stone ground mustard
1 tsp mellow brown rice miso
2 1/2 tsp raw coconut aminos
1/2 tsp thyme, chopped

Topping:
small handful of pepitas, sprinkled on top

Directions:
-Cut off the bottom of the collard leaf stem, and shave off some of the thicker part of the stem.

-Prepare the slaw and set aside.

-Mix dressing together in a bowl with a fork. Toss slaw with the dressing.

-Divide the slaw evenly between the collard leaves. Top with pepitas.

-Plate the tacos and enjoy!

November 04, 2012

Happy Puppiversary Part 1: A Dream No More


On October 23, 2011, J and I began an unimaginably rewarding chapter in our lives. We became dog parents to our sweetheart (now) 8-year-old beagle named Tucker.

We always talked about adopting a dog, but never felt the time was right. We wanted to insure that we could commit to him or her fully. The issue of time – time for walks as well as time for socialization with both humans and other dogs – was brought up. Travel, work, and sports ate up our time. Money was another issue. Sure, we had enough for the essentials. But caring for many animals in the past, I know the value of having a stash of emergency vet funds. Until we had that cushion, I wasn't ready to adopt. And what about love? Oh, that is never an issue in this house.


Cudding with Fox
So, we dreamt away. We dreamt of a dog spooning with us on chilly winter nights. We dreamt of woodsy walks with a curious canine at our sides. We'd crinkle our noses at the ecstatic, trusting, and utterly adorable dogs in the neighborhood. As time rolled on, it was obvious that adopting a dog was no longer a long-term dream but a short-term goal.
Stuck in the cold rain in the middle of the woods
During a long-awaited visit from my best friend, I shared my desire for a furry companion. I suddenly exclaimed to J, “Let's get a dog!” I'd said that countless times, but something made it real this time. I don't know what it was, but J felt it, too.

This came at the perfect time. I was plateauing in my recovery from the mold and feeling more than a little frustrated. Not yet sure how to reach that next level of healing, I was searching for my next steps forward. I knew that having a companion animal has been shown in studies to have positive effects on health, not that I even need a study to tell me that! When J and I came to the decision that we were ready to adopt, I knew it would help me move beyond the ol' boring health plateau I'd settled down on.


The regal beagle
   
Because of my health condition, I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with a super energetic dog or maintain sanity with an extremely mischievous dog. We didn't want to get a puppy because everyone wants a puppy, and we didn't want a very old dog because we didn't want the risk of additional health-related stresses. We preferred a medium sized dog for a lot of reasons, but size was no make-or-break determinant. So, we concluded that our perfect dog would be mid-size, mid-age range, mostly trained, playful but laid-back. I hated to be so specific about their temperament and age, but I knew I was making a responsible decision based on my capabilities and the fact that we were first-time dog parents.

Because of the sheer number of pitbulls in the shelters and their amazing, loving personalities, J and I really wanted to get one. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to rent here with a dog. Make that dog a pit bull, and you may as well squat in the nearest abandoned building. We would be moving in a few months, so this was a concern. (Our current landlord was thankfully pretty cool about us getting a dog with only a few stipulations.)
 
He adores kids. He and Maddox are best buds!
The river is a favorite hangout spot.
























Perusing Petfinder, we found several dogs we wanted to meet. One of them was at a shelter about 40 minutes from the city. He was a black corgi lab mix which J freaked out about because he loves corgis so much. My dad, who has talked about wanting a dog for as long as I can remember, came with us to the shelter. I'm surprised he didn't leave with a dog for himself as well. My mom isn't a big animal person (understatement of the century), so I don't think there are any dogs in his future. For now, he's happy enough with his fur grandchild!

Carbone, the corgi mix, had been at the shelter for awhile. I called 2 days prior to our visit to make sure he was still there. When we arrived at the shelter, he had just been adopted out the day before. We decided – as if we had any other choice – that it was meant to be. Carbone had finally gone home with someone who would love him, and another dog was waiting for us. 

Luckily, this shelter had many other animals that we thought would be a good match. We had made a list of other dogs we liked since we weren't 100% set on bringing Carbone home, and took a walk around the shelter to see if there were any others we liked who weren't featured on the website. We told the volunteer who we wanted to meet and she brought them to us one at a time for a small visit. Among them were an animated jack russell mix named Herman, a psycho one-eyed pomeranian named Ickus (so cute, so loud), a corgi mix named Dixie, a terrier named Shaggy, and a beagle named Tucker. 


Basking in the sunlight

We narrowed our choice down to Dixie or Tucker. We visited both of them one more time. Dixie was sweet but didn't seem very interactive. She had just come into the shelter and she was only 2. We thought she'd have more of a chance of being adopted out soon because of her young age. (Turns out we were right about that.)

Tucker was very sweet and excited to be around us. This was his second time at the shelter – he was there when he was a baby, too – and this stint had lasted over 3 months. Most recently, he was surrendered by a family that was moving and couldn't take him along because the pet deposit was unaffordable. I know this is a hard time financially and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I also really, really hate that excuse. 

When we went out to get him for the second visit, he was standing on the top of his dog house, as if he knew we were coming back and was just waiting for us to return. That is the moment we knew he was coming home with us. 

"I'm on my way to my forever home!!!! Whee!!!"
When we walked him to the car, he hopped in like he'd done this with us a million times. He settled down on an old Powerpuff Girl blanket I'd brought along (one that he still sleeps on regularly) and smiled with complete contentment. As we drove down the country road toward his new home, we rolled the windows down. It was a gorgeous fall day, and we wanted to soak it in. Tucker jumped up and stuck his head out of the window. He'd look at us then back out the window. He is forever safe with us. With the wind in his hair..er..floppy ears, he could smell freedom and the beginning of a new and wonderful life. 


Living in luxury. Spoiled much?

Stay tuned for part 2 when I'll gush about my puppy love, talk about what we did to celebrate the special day, and pose the question, "who exactly saved who?"