Tag Archives: vegan

I’m Going Nuts

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Maybe it’s the fact that I collected 80 essays today, or the mountainous mounds of clean, unfolded laundry lounging on my bed, or perhaps it’s the endless paperwork and errands surrounding our upcoming move to New Zealand, but one thing is certain:  I feel a wee bit overwhelmed lately, slightly nutty. Which got me to thinking about, well, nuts, and how much they enrich my life.  

It sounds like a silly, simple thing, but nuts are the vegan’s secret (energy) weapon.  Unfortunately, for those of us who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s, nuts were considered of the Dark (ie, Fat) Side.  Instead of munching on a handful of almonds, walnuts, or cashews, I was the TCBY worker’s worst freaking nightmare, asking to taste all eight “low fat” or “fat free” flavors.  I would have done well to note that Seventh-Day Adventists — many of whom consumed record-breaking amounts of all kinds of nuts, but walnuts in particular, were some of the oldest living humans on earth.  (I’m sure avoiding hard drugs helped their longevity, too, but really, it’s clearly about the nuts.)       

Protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, and healthy fats — nuts have them all, baby!  Before you take a spatula straight to that jar of natural peanut butter, however, let me remind you that nuts are like tiny power bombs, so a few go a long way.  Which nuts are best?  Simply put, all nuts are good for you, so experiment — toast hazelnuts to add to your hot cereal, try chopped walnuts and pecans on salads, and crush cashews or peanuts on Pad Thai and savory stews.  Blended raw cashews with water creates a creamy sauce that can be seasoned in endless ways, and combining finely chopped walnuts, rice, lentils, onions and simple seasonings can a very fine vegan meatball make. A few nuts add incredible texture and flavor, turning a simple dish into a masterpiece.

One confusing side note about nuts: should we eat them raw, or roasty-toasty?  In terms of health benefits, it’s best to either eat nuts raw or roast them yourself at low heat, and not too long (take it easy, Iron Chef).  Apparently roasting nuts at high heats for too long kills off many nutrients and can also create carcinogens — aside from tasting like charred gravel.  Certain bacterias can thrive in raw nuts (especially almonds) and toasting or blanching them reduces the risk of contracting a food-borne illness when you’re trying to eat like a health goddess. 

I will post more nut-related recipes soon. Until then, my friends, I’ll be folding laundry. And going nuts. Join me?   

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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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Just Say NO to Factory-Farmed Meat

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the politics of food lately, and about factory farming in particular, and my reading list has reflected this trend (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, and several articles on CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations), including Rolling Stone‘s “In the Belly of the Beast” (http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/belly-beast-meat-factory-farms-animal-activists). Then the other night I watched the documentary “Blackfish,” which chronicles the captivity and exploitation of orca whales by Sea World.  I was in tears by the end of the film, but not just over the treatment of the majestic, beautiful orca; I was thinking also of the American system of meat production – this “cycle of destructive extravagance” as Maureen Ogle calls it — that currently slaughters over 10 billion land animals per year in only 13 slaughterhouses.  So here’s my question: When are animals smart enough to warrant human consideration and respect?  Pigs are as intelligent as a 3 year-old child, and cows as emotionally complex as dogs.            

Americans — who now on average consume over 200 pounds of meat annually — have long demanded cheap, abundant meat, and government subsidies and mass production keep the official costs low.  A Big Mac today costs $4.00 and a cheeseburger $1.30, while a hamburger made from humanely raised, grass-fed beef runs about $7.25 in a casual restaurant (when you can find it). Individual monetary costs alone do not begin to account for the health issues and environmental problems that come as unavoidable sides to your burger and fries, however.  And, of course, every piece of meat comes from a living, breathing creature – and therefore, I think it should be eaten sparingly and conscientiously. Meat is expensive, even if we don’t see the immediate costs at the cash register.   

The more I read about our modern meat industry, the more sickened and critical I become.  I truly believe that people want to eat well, and ethically, but there is so much secrecy and misinformation swirling around that giving up – or not looking for the truth — becomes the easier option.  This vague sense of cows frolicking on a family farm somewhere is no accident. Slaughterhouses do not want you to see your next burger collapsed in its own waste.  Michael Pollan writes, “Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.”  I am increasingly convinced that factory-farmed meat is wrong – on every level, and for everyone. 

You don’t need to know much to take a stand against this cruel industry, and you don’t have to become a vegetarian, either.  We simply need to educate ourselves about how most meat is really produced in this country and understand the effects it’s having on our society, our health (both individually and as a whole), and our environment.  The system is entrenched, but could be changed if enough of us refused to eat factory-farmed meat.  If you choose to eat meat, please consume only humanely-raised animals.  I agree with Jonathan Safran Foer when he argues that “when we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”  

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Press This: Garlic Rocks

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Everyone knows garlic repels vampires, wards off envious nymphs, and protects against the Evil Eye, so I thought it might just be an appropriate topic for this time of year.  (If you really want to do this right, wear a necklace of garlic cloves, hang a head of garlic with chili peppers and lemons in your kitchen, or rub fresh garlic on your chimney and keyholes. I guarantee this will keep questionable spirits at bay!)

I adore garlic, but we have not always been on such cozy terms.  In fact, I used to think garlic was just weird and stinky and I had no idea how to cook with it (oh, the naivete! The missed opportunities!).  A man who attended the church I did as a kid ate raw garlic every single day, and boy, did we know it. (I didn’t realize at the time what a total bad-ass he was.)  When I was a sophomore in college and had just moved into my first off-campus apartment, my roommate Jenn and I invited friends over for dinner.  I decided to make a creamy spinach garlic dip as an appetizer; delicious and easy, right?  All I remember is people stepping away from the table, clutching their throats, and grabbing drinks.  I realized with horror that instead of adding two cloves of garlic as stated on the recipe, I had added two heads of garlic.  (My boyfriend was the only guest who “enjoyed” the spinach dip, and even he had to make an early, garlic-induced departure.)  Clearly I lacked exposure to, and experience with, this beautiful little vegetable.  

Neither herb nor spice, garlic truly is in a class of its own. I’ve read that garlic is a member of the illustrious onion genus, an allium vegetable and flowering root plant (other relatives include leeks, scallions, and chives). Any way you mince it, garlic plays an integral role in cuisines around the world.  Originating in Central Asia about six thousand years ago, garlic has been revered and used as both food and medicine over the centuries.  There is an Islamic myth that when Satan was thrown out of the Garden of Eden, a bulb of garlic grew up in his left footprint and an onion in his right.  (I’m not quite sure how to take this.)  The Egyptians considered garlic sacred (they never disappoint!), and I’m totally with them on this. I sincerely hope to find garlic in the hereafter. 

Aside from adding incredible depth of flavor to your favorite recipes (99.9% of them, anyway), garlic provides your bod with antioxidants, detoxifies your blood, aids in circulation, helps fight inflammation, stimulates the immune system, and reduces plaque in your arteries, thereby lessening the chances of having a heart attack when you encounter that vampire. Garlic has long been used to battle colds and respiratory problems, warts, ear infections, and athlete’s foot, among countless other ailments. Even better, fresh garlic has been shown to kill certain harmful bacteria (E coli and Salmonella, thankyouverymuch!) and may also help fight the development of prostate cancer and colon polyps. Serious nutrient smack-down! If you’re concerned about getting enough fresh garlic love in your diet, don’t pick up pills totally devoid of garlic taste or aroma; the process of aging garlic destroys many of its health benefits. If you are going to supplement, go for garlic oil or a coated pill that dissolves in the intestine rather than the stomach.

Two teaspoons of garlic are what we should aim for daily (Is that all, you ask).  I happen to love fresh minced garlic in salad dressing or on vegan pesto pizza, but yes, it does leave my mouth zinging, the taste lasts for hours and I have few friends.  I was happy to discover that cooking does not diminish the heath effects of garlic, so you can add its subtle flavor to soups, roasted or sauteed vegetables, mashed potatoes, curries, and scrambled tofu without fear or regret.  

This garlicky goodness is not for wimps. Proceed with caution.

Delicious Kick-Your-Cold-To-The-Curb Soup (kudos to Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Soups

  • 4 cups chopped green cabbage
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced (oh really, not left whole?) 
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced and diced in fancy shapes
  • 12 garlic cloves, 6 sliced and 6 minced (I told you I wasn’t messing around)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 green chili, seeded and diced
  • juice of one lime
  • 1/3 cup white miso
  • 12 oz extra firm tofu, cubed (optional)
  • 1 package somen or soba noodles (optional)
  • Several drops of roasted sesame oil (optional)

  1. Boil 6 cups of water in a large pot. Add cabbage, celery, carrots, sliced garlic, and onion. Cook (covered) for about 15 minutes.  If you’re adding tofu or soba/somen noodles, add them in and cook for another five minutes. (Or, you can cook noodles separately and add in at the end if that’s how you roll.) 

2. Stir in minced garlic, ginger, and chili and turn off the heat. Add lime juice and miso, making sure it’s completely dissolved. You’re done! You can add a few drops of oil to jazz up your bowl, but I like it just fine without.  This soup is restorative if you’re sick, and a preemptive strike if you’re not. Enjoy!

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Baking with Sparkling Water: Who Knew?

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I heart waffles. And pancakes. And crepes. And muffins. And scones. You get the idea. 

When my stepmother was on bed rest years ago expecting my sister Caitlin, for some reason I got it in my 12 year-old mind that she needed to be fed home-made chocolate chip cookies every single day.  I still often remind Caitie that she’s about 73% cookie dough!  I’m not sure how many weeks this baking frenzy went on, but I don’t recall anyone asking me to stop (with the exception of the time I was too lazy to actually form cookies and smashed the entire bowl of dough into a casserole dish). The moral of the story is, even though I went off to boarding school a couple of years later and entered almost a decade of cafeteria food, I have always loved to bake.  

When I stopped eating dairy I thought I might have to (gasp, choke) give up my beloved baked goods, too, but of course that fear has been repeatedly vanquished via successful baking endeavors.  In place of eggs, I have generally used apple cider vinegar mixed with almond or soy milk or flax seed meal mixed with water.  Recently, however, I discovered that using sparkling water actually provides baked goods – particularly quick breads such as waffles and pancakes — with an extra lightness that is just scrumptious. 

Here’s a variation on a waffle recipe from Candle 79 (please do visit this incredible vegan restaurant the next time you’re in the Big Apple!).      

Sparkling Waffles (serves 2 very hungry small people, or 3-4 normal appetites)

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 3 t. flax seed meal
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 2 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 1/2 cup sparkling water (I used lemon essence, because I’m fancy and that’s all I had)
  • 2 T melted Earth Balance buttery spread (or coconut oil, of course!)

1. Combine all dry ingredients in medium sized bowl.

2. Add vinegar to milk, then stir in the sparkling water, vanilla and melted buttery spread/oil.  Add to dry mix and whisk like it’s the last whisk of your life!

3. If you want to be seriously gourmet, add 1/2 cup chopped nuts, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, and/or fresh fruit such as blueberries or bananas. 

Yummy. I may make these again for dinner. 🙂

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Variations on Red Cabbage Coleslaw

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Nothing says “I’m aging gracefully” like a keen and unexplained interest in revamping the coleslaw of one’s youth. . . right? 

I don’t understand my motives; I detested slaw as a kid, considering it an imposter –part salad, part side dish–and weirdly crisp long after being placed on the table.  Slathered in puddles of creamy, sugary dressing (sweet or savory? pick a side!), coleslaw has to be one of the most abused dishes in our nation’s history, perhaps second only to jello molds replete with suspended nuts, fruits, and cottage cheese curds.   

Green cabbage adds wonderful depth and texture to vegetable soup.  There’s a delicious recipe for “sick person’s soup” in one of my cookbooks that I whisperingly begged Ryan to make for me last year after randomly coming down with strep throat.  He did, though went off-recipe a bit by adding extra jalapeno peppers which he had sauteed in oil.  My first – and last – sip of soup went down like oily liquid fire.  But I digress.

I love the color and patterns of red cabbage with its curling flames of fierce magenta, but I’ve admired it from afar.  Red cabbage must have been on sale that fateful day.  I waltzed over to it, pretty as you please, and purposefully picked up a bizarrely heavy, purple head of cabbage like I knew what I was going to make with it.  I had no idea.  I asked friends for suggestions.  They looked at me like I had lost my mind: “Coleslaw!” Of course. I had to know more. 

I figured a plant as gorgeous as red cabbage must be a freaking super food, and I was correct.  Flavonoids? Check. Phytochemicals? Yessir. Cabbage is part of the notoriously healthy cruciferous family (distinguished siblings include Brussels sprouts, turnips, and broccoli).  Red cabbage, in particular, has been shown to reduce inflammation and fight bacteria, and its plant-based chemicals (that’s the bright red color) help repair cell damage caused by carcinogens.  Even more exciting, red cabbage is surprisingly high in vitamin A (33% DRV, eyesight, anyone?), vitamin C (56% of DRV! Arrgh, scurvy be gone!), and vitamin K (28% DRV, helps prevent osteoporosis).  (By the way, all of the percentages are for 1 cup of chopped cabbage, in case you were wondering just how much slaw you were going to have to consume!)    

Since that first batch of 21st century coleslaw a few weeks ago, I’ve been experimenting a bit.  These are my favorite variations so far. 

Fresh Red Cabbage Salad (doesn’t this sound better than “slaw”??)  (serves 4)

  • 1/2 head red cabbage, chopped 
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped finely or grated
  • 1/2 cup vegannaise
  • 1 t. dijon mustard
  • 1 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 t. maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder (or fresh garlic to kick it up a notch!)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Lightly Dressed Red Cabbage Coleslaw (adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)- serves 4

  • 1/2 head red cabbage, sliced and diced
  • 1-2 carrots, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 T apple cider or red wine vinegar
  • 3 green onions, chopped (white and green parts!)
  • 1-2 t. olive oil
  • pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley or cilantro (most definitely optional; you know how I feel about cilantro)

Feel free to add a variety of chopped nuts, seeds and/or vegetables to your coleslaw – really make it your own. Don’t you want to be known as that relative who “always brings slaw” to every event?  I thought so. 🙂      

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Vegans and Fat: An Uneasy Truce?

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Dear Fat,

Please forgive me for hating and avoiding you for much of my life.  When those misleading government reports came out about you in the late 70s and early 80s, I totally bought into it.  I mean, they said you would cause heart disease and high cholesterol!  (I couldn’t take that risk, even as a 7 year-old.)  I hope you understand.  Along with most people I knew, I trusted these sources.  Then, I started hanging out exclusively with — I can hardly say it now — Sugar and Refined Carbs.  These two jokers — can you believe it??  I was never satisfied, of course; jealous, scheming for my next “fix,” it was more like an addiction than real friendship.  Talk about betrayal. Root canals, weight gain, bad skin, headaches, moodiness — I blame them!  (I suppose I can’t pin my spiral perms and velour phase on them, but I’d like to.)  It took me years to see them for what they truly are, backstabbers wrapped in pretty plastic.

Anyway, I want to make amends and I hope you’ll forgive me.  We’ve been spending more time together, you and I, and I’m loving it!

Your friend and advocate, Hannah

p.s. are we still on for dinner?

I think we know one another well enough at this point to discuss the F-word.

Most of us have had a conflicted (if not downright hostile) relationship with fat.  Now that we’re tenuously eating fat again, we never know how much is too much, where to get our fats, and how to use it once we find the “best” sources.  Part of this is not our fault.  The information about fats seems to constantly change. One day you read that it’s absolutely essential to gag down a golf-ball size omega 3 supplement with every meal; the next you hear you can’t actually cook with oil, you can only catch a whiff as you lightly spritz it on your filling lunch of 12 lettuce leaves and 4 walnuts.

I’m with you.  I spent years (as in about 20) carefully monitoring my fat intake, until I realized it didn’t seem to matter at all in terms of how I felt or how much I weighed. At this point I am much more attuned to the amount of sugar or carbs on an ingredient label, and most of the time I don’t even read the numbers, just the ingredients.  My new rule is, if I can’t identify or pronounce the ingredients, we don’t eat it.

But I digress. Are you, like me, curious about how much fat (and what kinds) you should actually be eating?  I’m also assuming people are wondering about healthy fat sources here, not the kind found in such technically vegan delights as potato chips and dairy-free scones.

Basically, fat is critical for good health, and, especially if you’re vegan, you need to be conscientious about getting sufficient amounts into your diet. Fats not only make it possible to absorb other nutrients, but they just make our food more satisfying to eat and keep us feeling fuller longer.  Reading about ALA, DHA, EPA, omega-6, and omega-3 makes me just want to bury my head in a box of Krispy Kremes, but I will try to simplify so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

Studies vary, but from what I’ve read you should be consuming about 1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3 per day, depending on your age and weight. Our bodies don’t produce these essential fatty acids, so we must get them from food. (Trust me, you are getting plenty of omega-6, as it’s found in vegetable oils, but you do need to be aware of your omega-3 intake to offset other, unhealthy fats.)

The best sources for omega-3, aside from fish oil or eggs, is flax seed oil (1 T), flax seeds (1 T ground), walnut oil (1 T), brussels sprouts (one serving = 1/3 amount of omega-3 daily requirement), and avocados.  Hemp seeds, hummus, soybeans, cauliflower, and dark leafy greens also provide omega-3s. I think the best way to ingest flax seeds are ground and in my smoothies or hot cereal. You can also put flax seed or walnut oil on your salad or veggies. [Disclaimer: Your partner may not love you using your coffee grinder for flax seeds, so do this in the dark of night.]

If you’ve been neglecting the lovely brussel sprout, for shame! Give this veggie another try – you won’t be disappointed.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • 1. 5 pounds b-sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in half
  • 2 T olive or coconut oil
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1/2 t ground pepper

Stir sprouts with oil, salt, and pepper to coat. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, stirring once or twice to cook evenly.  Serve with a drizzle of walnut oil if you’re feeling so inclined!  🙂