Tag Archives: vegan cooking

If You’re Going to Stop Eating One Animal, Please Let it be Chicken.

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Yes, I gave away the message of this post in the title, so if you’re not ready to learn some tough stuff, read no further – just trust me and quit. eating. chicken!  (Of course in my ideal world industrial animal farms would become obsolete, but we must begin somewhere, right?)

And let me be specific; I’m not talking about chickens raised sustainably and humanely and happily by your local farmer or friend; I’m discussing the 7+ billion “broiler” chickens raised on industrial farms per year, that are, arguably, the most abused, unhealthy animals in our food system. Delivered to dark, windowless, filthy chicken houses at one day old, they only see the light of day on their first and last day of life as they are transferred to a slaughterhouse. They suffer greatly, jammed together with 30,000 other chickens and being continuously stuffed full of antibiotics, hormones, and whatever feed rapidly fattens them up, including old cookies and crackers covered in fat and sometimes even waste from chicken slaughterhouses.

The over 450 million “laying hens” have it no better, living out their days in dirty cramped cages with their beaks seared off so they cannot peck at one another. Male chicks, numbering up to 100 million per year, are of no use to an industry that cannot use them for laying eggs or their meat, so they are simply thrown away to suffocate or (worse?) ground up alive.  How can we stop this?  Refuse to buy anything but pasture-raised, organic eggs.  Even better, raise your own chickens or get eggs from a friend.

All chickens are descendants of a gorgeous, flying, wild bird in Thailand called the red jungle fowl.  Although scientists consider chickens to be as intelligent and inquisitive as cats and dogs, there is not one federal law that protects them from constant abuse.

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So how in the world did we get here?  During the early part of the twentieth century, chicken meat was provided by hens who had grown too old to lay eggs and had lived for up to six years. Chickens were usually sold whole, but this changed during the 1960s, when chicken producers realized they could make much more money by “recycling” damaged carcasses rather than just discarding them.  An absolute game-changer occurred in 1983 with the introduction of the Chicken McNugget, a seemingly healthier option (NOT) at a time when our FDA was pushing chicken as preferable to red meat.  Within one month McDonald’s became the nation’s second largest buyer of chickens (after KFC). There was even a new breed of huge-breasted chickens developed–known as Mr. McDonald. Today, broiler chickens live just over six weeks and have been unnaturally re-engineered to grow obscenely huge, to six times their natural size. To put this in perspective, if you’re a woman of medium build and weigh 130 pounds, you’d weigh over 800 pounds; a man of 160 pounds would weigh a mere 1000 pounds.  Our legs would give out, too, or we’d keel over from a heart attack at a very young age, as many chickens do, their hearts coated in a layer of fat.

The McNugget changed the entire way chicken were raised in this country and officially separated the egg and chicken meat industries. Four companies control over half the market today for chicken meat, but they only deliver and collect the chickens to be processed, they leave the the work of raising the chickens to contract farmers in the rural South. Many of these farmers hoped to remain independent but have instead – overwhelmingly – fallen deep into debt. They make on average $12,000 per year. Workers at the fast-paced slaughterhouses, poorly paid and lacking benefits, have at times admitted to abusing chickens or not stunning them properly before they are boiled. After the chickens are eviscerated they are thrown into a large vat of cold water with thousands of other birds; workers refer to this as “fecal soup” for obvious reasons, but producers keep the system going because more liquid absorbed leads to heavier weights and a larger price tag at the store.

Industrial chicken farming is a nasty, cruel business.  If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thank you — I know this is difficult information, but I sincerely believe knowledge is power and that we can each make a significant difference by influencing our own circle of peeps.     

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Kale, No! The Dark Side of Leafy Greens

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock — and if you have, I sincerely apologize — you have probably tired of all the hoopla surrounding kale, officially named the “It” vegetable of 2013 and proudly riding that title into 2014. Kale is the bad-ass of Superfoods — impossibly high in iron, oozing Vitamins K, A, and C (step aside orange juice, I’d rather have kale juice, fool!), bursting with antioxidants, helps one detox, and is an anti-inflammatory (except your ego, which kale is known to inflate). But wait, there’s more to this CV: immune system boost, hydration support, lowers cholesterol.. . and who knows, kale can probably massage my feet and help clean my kitchen!  What’s not to love, you ask? I can already feel the angry cyber-stares of kale groupies, and I want you to know, I’m one of you. I *heart* kale, I really do, but recent events have caused me to question my carefree waltz down the green leafy path of raw kale consumption.

I received a Vitamix for my birthday, and if there is anything more amazing then whipping up a delicious, kid-friendly green smoothie that actually consists of huge swaths of raw kale, spinach, and flax seeds, then please do let me know. So, in short, I’ve been blending and eating more raw kale lately than ever. That is, until my friend’s discovery stopped me cold.

One of my dear friends, let’s call her Matilda, recently found out she’s been a fabulous host –as in host to a freaking parasite!  (I will spare you the details, which resulted in considerable mental anguish.) Now, if Matilda ate undercooked meats on a regular basis or had traveled to exotic locales in recent months this might be more understandable, but Matilda is a dedicated vegetarian.  She rarely eats meat of any kind, though she did consume a few bites of sushi around the holidays.  One thing Tilly and I have in common is our healthy blending habits, however, and her gastroenterologist mentioned that a significant amount of parasites can be spread to humans via — you guessed it — leafy greens that have not been washed well enough to rid them of tiny, undetectable parasite eggs.  Leafy greens are sometimes grown using “night soil” as fertilizer, a fancy name for human waste. Now, before you go all wacky, most of the time this waste is treated to remove all bacteria so it is considered safe (and what else is humankind supposed to do with all of the poop in the world? This is a deep, dark question, my friend). At times, though, when farmers are not allocated enough water — as happened in Spain in 2005– they have turned to unregulated night soil and things have gone to sh*t health-wise, so to speak.  Matilda’s doctor thinks she probably contracted her parasite from greens, but of course no one can be sure. Aside from parasitical worries, I’ve also been reading about the dangers of eating too much kale (ie, juicing, blending, and/or eating significant amounts of raw kale on a daily basis), the most serious of which is hypothyroidism and its sidekick, goiters.  If your joints are aching, you’ve gained weight, and your neck resembles the Hulk’s, this might be worth a doctor’s visit.   

So what are kale lovers to do?  I wish I knew how to quit you, kale. .  .but that’s not an option.

Never fear! Here are some easy suggestions for how to deal with the dark underside of leafy greens:

1) If you’re going to eat/juice/blend raw kale (or spinach, swiss chard, et al), make sure you soak and wash the leaves thoroughly in cold water. You may want to add a few sprays of natural veggie cleaner to your bowl of water or salad spinner.  You can make your own spray, too – just combine 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon), 2 tablespoons white vinegar, and 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. (Martha Stewart just called, she wants her job back!)

2) Try freezing bags of leafy greens to use in smoothies, which is quite yummy and eliminates any possible “guests.” They like it warm.

3) Lightly steam or saute kale and spinach. One of my favorite ways to eat kale is with garlic — simply saute 1 minced clove of garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes, then add one bunch of washed kale leaves (minus stems) and cook for another 5 minutes or until bright green. Add salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes for an extra kick.

4) Adding iodine to your diet (Brazil nuts, seaweed) can help offset the effects of hypothyroidism, and can only be healthy for the rest of us, right?

I am going to keep eating kale, in spite of this bump in our otherwise fabulous friendship, and I hope you do, too! 🙂

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Yes, I’d Like it My Way – Hold the Dough Conditioners!

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I realize it’s been said that man cannot live by bread alone, but I’ve generally interpreted that very literally – as in men may be able to live without bread, but not the ladies. I know plenty of women who can indeed subsist quite happily on baked goods, thankyouverymuch. (And maybe coffee.)  My long-term love affair with baked goods has been deflating, however,  as I’ve discovered just what keeps many of our favorite billowy treats so predictably fluffy and chewy. 

I’ve often considered bagels from a well-known chain or a Subway sandwich the least objectionable (and easily vegan) fast food options while traveling; I mean, Subway bakes their own breads, right?  Well. Don’t be fooled by the fresh aromas and hot ovens — Subway dough is highly processed and delivered daily from a factory, each roll uniformly pre-formed and programmed to puff up perfectly and without any large holes every time. How do they do this?

The bread your sandwich is served on at Subway and most other fast-food restaurants (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, to name a few) usually contains “dough conditioners,” including a chemical known as azodicarbonamide (please repeat this four times, fast), which is also used to make yoga mats and the soles of tennis shoes. Yes, that’s right – you’ve been ordering and eating gym equipment all these years.  As if this weren’t bad enough, when heated to a certain temperature, azodicarbonamide breaks down into several products, one of which is urethane, a known carcinogen. Are you lovin’ it??  Subway has recently announced that it is phasing out this particular binder, and I certainly hope they do, but really – don’t we want to be able to pronounce and recognize all of the ingredients we’re putting in our bodies? Wouldn’t you trade a seemingly-immortal, perfectly-uniform roll for a natural product? Of course. The problem is that this information is not widely known.

You may want to put down your bagel for this next negative nutritional nugget: Dunkin Donuts, Dominos Pizza, and Einstein Bros use another type of dough conditioner in their baked goods, an ingredient called L-Cysteine, which is — I can’t believe I’m typing this –usually made from duck feathers and/or hog hair.  I probably have a streak of gray in my hair, an ulcer, and three new large wrinkles in my forehead from digesting this information. For some reason I thought all humans were on the same page re: the sacredness of bread.  Sadly, my friends, this is not the case. 

Luckily, natural bakers abound.  You need look no further than the health food section of your grocery store (Ezekiel 4:9, Dave’s Killer Breads), the farmer’s market, local bakeries, or your own kitchen for baked goods full of healthy, whole ingredients you can pronounce and feel good about eating.  I will be the first to admit I have not baked my own bread for years, but I’m about to start grinding my own flippin’ grains!  I’ll post some bread recipes soon. 🙂

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Coffee, How I Love Thee. . .but dost thou need to be organic?

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So many coffees to sample. So little time. Love love love! (insert crazy face)

Ever since the American Revolution — when tea and powdered wigs were officially deemed un-American — coffee has been our hot beverage of choice (we also consumed insane amounts of whiskey and rum during our early years, but that’s for another time, as is the health effects of huge vats of coffee).

Today Americans consume about 400 million cups o’ java per day — over 4 billion dollars worth of imported coffee beans a year – and I’m afraid I’m responsible for more than my share of these staggering numbers. We actually have a coffee budget in our home, which I blatantly disregard whenever I encounter a beautiful coffee shop, and my students have been known to raise their hands and ask me to slow down if I’m in caffeine-induced super-fast-lecture mode. (Hmmm . . . is this bad?) 

I love my morning (and who am I kidding – late morning, early afternoon) cup of coffee, but I haven’t always paid attention to whether or not I’m buying organic coffee.  It’s not on the Dirty Dozen list of organic foods, and therefore easy to overlook for many of us, but after doing a bit more research into the topic — and finding out that coffee is one of the most chemically treated crops in the world — I’m planning to cut back to one cup a day and make sure I’m drinking an organic brew.  

Most of our coffee today comes from Latin America.  Farmers would like to grow coffee organically, which is cheaper and better for the environment and people’s health. However, because coffee is such a massive market, if we’re not willing to pay a bit more for our beans, they’re going to continue to produce most coffee laden with pesticides and chemicals – to the tune of 250 pounds of chemical fertilizers per acre (yes, you read that correctly!).  A high consumption of pesticides has been linked to various cancers, miscarriages, and all kinds of other nasty health problems, so I think we’re all in agreement that we’d like to avoid them when possible.

But, wait – isn’t your favorite coffee at the ubiquitous Starbucks “Fair Trade Certified”?? This does not necessarily mean farmers are using organic growing methods, but it does ensure they were treated fairly and paid well, which is also important. Unfortunately, only 1.6% of the coffee Starbucks purchased in 2012 was organic. What the what, SB?  Your best bet is to only and always purchase coffee labeled “Fair Trade Certified” and “Organic.” 

Here’s to a beautiful, pesticide-free, fairly-traded day, my friends! 🙂

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May I Introduce Cashew Cream, Your New Best (Vegan) Friend

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My relationship with cashews has been on-again, off-again. Yes, they’d sit in my cupboard, waiting to be chosen as a snack or occasionally crushed up on noodle or rice dishes, but I never really considered them for a central role in a dish. . . until I used them as a base in a vegan macaroni and “cheese” recipe a couple of years ago (uh, yum) and realized cashews are — aside from being lovely and humble and delicious– extremely versatile.  Since this epiphany, I’ve used cashews in many other dishes, and I’ve not been disappointed yet! 

Cashew trees are native to Brazil, and the cashew nuts we enjoy are actually the seeds that adhere to the base of the cashew apple. Cashew shells are toxic, which leads me to wonder who was brave enough to first figure that out? But don’t be put off by their poisonous exterior; cashews actually have a mild flavor. They would also like everyone to quit saying they are fattening. Yes, cashews contain fat (which is why they can be turned into such a rich-tasting sauce), but they have a lower fat content than other nuts. (About 20 cashews, or one ounce, contains 12 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein, compared to 16 grams of fat in 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.) Cashews are also high in copper (we need this to create collagen, make new red blood cells, and boost our immune system), manganese (think strong bones, normal blood sugar), magnesium (very important for bone health by balancing calcium absorption), and phosphorus (a mineral that helps with kidney function and muscle contraction). Further (did you really think we were done here?), cashews help prevent cardiovascular problems and gallstone formation, and women involved in a cashew-eating study (sign me up!) were able to lose or maintain weight much more easily than those not consuming cashews.

So, get on out there and reintroduce yourself to the cashew, just in time for the holidays!

Cashew Cream Sauce:

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 3/4 – 1 cup water
  • 1/2 t. sea salt (optional)

1) Cover the cashews with water and soak overnight (or a few hours if you just don’t have all night!).

2) Drain cashews, put in the food processor (or blender) with water and salt and blend for about 3-4 minutes. And you’re done! If you’re using in a hot dish, you can simply heat up the sauce on the stove, adding in spices or fresh herbs.  

3) Of course there are ALL kinds of ways you can use this yummy sauce.  Some of my favorite savory ideas are to add 1 tsp. curry powder and use over roasted vegetables, add fresh basil or rosemary and put over pasta –or add some cream sauce to marinara or pesto, or use as a base to soups or mashed potatoes. You can also use cashew cream in desserts, but this is for another post.  You’re definitely ready to bedazzle your guests next week with some ridiculously tasty and stealthily-healthy dishes.

I whipped up some cashew cream this evening, adding black pepper and chopped scallions and enjoyed it over pasta with roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato. Happy blending! 🙂

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Olives: Not Just For Pizza Anymore

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Ever heard of the dove who returns to a sea-bound ark with an olive branch in its beak?  Remember Jesus preaching on the Mount of — wait for it — Olives? 

Olives are one of the most perfect foods on the planet, in my opinion. Spherical, shiny, salty. . . they are beautiful to behold and even better to eat.  Olive oil gets most of the attention these days for its health benefits and delicious taste, but I’d like to draw attention back to the source of this nectar of the gods, the olive itself.

Like most of you, I grew up only running into flavorless black olives on my pizza (healthy meal? check!), or at the occasional dinner where I would engage our guests with the obligatory look-I-have-ten-olives-on-my-fingers routine. My parents were so proud. Can most kids down an entire bowl of olives in 7 minutes flat? I don’t think so. Alas, my 1980s family was also all about the margarine and the ranch dressing.  I don’t know when the divine pairing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil took place, forever altering the culinary course of bread and salad, but I’m quite sure it was not in Idaho.  But I digress.   

Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean, Asia, and northern Africa, though of course they are now grown in many temperate parts of the world, including California and New Mexico.  The olive tree can thrive for hundreds of years, and between its gnarled trunk, gorgeous branches, and delectable fruit, it is easy to see why the Ancient Greeks and Romans considered olive oil sacred (who doesn’t? My husband would drink this stuff by the glass if it were socially acceptable) and presented olive wreaths to Olympic champions.  (On that note, don’t you think victorious athletes of today would much prefer a glorious plant-based wreath to a bulky solid-gold medal and Wheaties contract? Of course they would.) Another fun historical/literary fact: the bed of Penelope and Odysseus (yes, that Odysseus) was apparently constructed around the trunk of an olive tree. I leave you to interpret. Let’s just say that the Greeks, who today use 60% of their agricultural land to grow olives and produce 20% of the global olive supply, take olives very seriously. 

I know, I know, olives are high in fat.  But remember, my little fat gram counter, there are good and bad fats, and olives happen to fall squarely in the good column, providing a healthy serving (usually about 1 gram per olive) of monounsaturated fat, along with antioxidants, calcium (olive milk, anyone?), fiber, potassium, and vitamin E.  Because olives are too bitter to be eaten when raw, they must undergo some type of curing. Greeks process ripe olives, then cure them in one of three ways: dry-cured (rubbed with salt), sun-cured (left out in the sun, wrinkled), or oil-cured (soaked in oil for several months). Kalamata olives (uh, yum) are cured in red wine vinegar or wine; the ripeness and fermentation give them their depth of flavor. Canned black olives, which we are most familiar with in America, are picked unripe and soaked in an alkaline lye mix for several hours, oxidized with air, then rinsed. Iron is added to keep the characteristic dark color and firm texture, and chemicals are used to help the olives stay strong for the de-pitting process.  Lye leeches out the flavor, but these short-cuts make for much quicker production.  Convinced yet to give whole, wrinkly olives with pits a try?  (I am loathe to abandon my favorite, garlic-stuffed jumbo green olives, but I will at least branch out.)        

I love to add olives to pasta or grain-based salads, slice them onto flat-breads or hummus, make them into pates for appetizers, or simply eat them as a satisfying snack. Olives, olive you!     

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Oh Pumpkin, My Pumpkin!

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I love most pumpkin-related foods: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, roasted pumpkin seeds, and even plain baked pumpkin with a bit of salt. And I love saying the word pumpkin. Pumpkin. Pumpkin. (Okay, now it’s starting to look weird. Gourd grief!)

And yes, I’m baking pumpkin bread (or cake, I haven’t exactly decided how sweet to take things) for my book club tonight. We’re discussing Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which I highly recommend, and I think something pumpkiny will be very comforting.

So, from whence comes this lovely gourd?  And is it more than just a beautiful, orange, carved face? 

First of all, pumpkins, like all squashes and cucumbers, are actually fruits masquerading as vegetables. Pumpkins are 90% water and packed with beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein — nutrients which give them their lovely hue and magically turn into Vitamin A in the body.  In case you’ve forgotten, you need Vitamin A to (among other things) create new blood cells, keep your immune system strong, and improve your eyesight, including night vision (trick-or-treating? A breeze!).  Other awesome sources of Vitamin A include sweet potatoes and carrots.  Don’t throw out those pumpkin seeds when you’re done carving, either – they are full of zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, iron, copper, and protein (and they’re mighty tasty, too).  Here’s how you can roast them to perfection: scoop them out of said pumpkin, wipe off excess pulp (don’t rinse), spread on paper towels and let them dry overnight; the next day, place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer, add salt or a little oil for flavor and bake at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Store them in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container and add to salads, baked goods, oatmeal, or curries for an added crunch.  (I found this picture at thymebomb.com and couldn’t resist – look at the broom next to the roasted pumpkin seeds? Too perfect!)

How did this humble squash become an edible mascot for all things fall?  The Irish are credited for bringing pumpkin carving to the United States in the mid-1800s. (In Ireland they carved turnips, but found pumpkins easier to grow and carve.) Nathaniel Hawthorne was the first American to use the term “jack-o’-lantern” in his 1837 collection of stories, Twice-Told Tales: Pumpkins from the Crypt (sorry, I added the subtitle).  Legends of “Jack of the lantern” — a farmer too evil to go to heaven and barred from hell after winning a bet with the devil–had been around for a long time.  Irish children used to carry jack-o’-lanterns door to door on All Saints Day (November 1) to represent the souls of the dead and beg for “soul cakes.”  (Remembering a soul wandering with only a satanic, ember-filled gourd by dressing up and eating loads of candy?  I’m IN.) 

I’m trying out a new recipe for pumpkin bread tonight, and I’ll certainly post the recipe later.  In the meantime, carve those pumpkins sitting in your kitchen (or outside looking “natural” – yes, we have those too), roast those seeds, and blend up some pumpkin curry soup to ward off any evil cold-inducing spirits.  Happy Halloween!

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