Saturday, June 26, 2010

True Confessions & North Carolina

(I simply liked this painting, Tobacco Barn, by Dale Ziegler, though I didn't see many tobacco fields on my trip)

I am frequently asked how long I've been vegan, do I ever miss meat, and do I ever "cheat." I'm sure anyone who maintains what is considered an "alternative lifestyle" is asked these same questions.

First, I don't miss meat at all. I do miss people that I love feeling good about preparing a dinner for me. Or, those same people being able to take me to their favorite new restaurant without wondering what I'll be able to eat. I miss these experiences often.

Which leads to the next question: do I cheat? This suggests I'm constantly testing myself via my diet. The truth is, I'm too hard on myself already to add food to the mix. I truly love my diet and usually find eating vegan effortless. I love how easy it is, how delicious the food tastes, and the good I'm doing by supporting the part of the food industry that is least hard on our planet and bodies.

But, as I've said from the start, food is more than sustenance. And it's more than a political statement or even a value system. So, when I am with people I love, and they want to make me a meal or take me to their favorite restaurant, I go. And I don't try to change their menu, or change their ideas about their restaurant. I go and I eat happily and when they come to my house I make them something wonderful and vegan.

Now, how does this relate to North Carolina? I have two very good friends who live there, and last week I spent time with them both, while visiting for work. My one dear friend has served as inspiration, counselor and drinking buddy for about 12 years now. She, her husband and twins moved to Charlotte recently, and graciously hosted me while I was in Charlotte.

One evening we went to a divine restaurant called New South. I had wonderful fried green tomatoes, cut the tasso ham, and horseradish sauce on the side. Perfect. And for my main course I asked for shrimp and grits, without the sausage, and with extra mushrooms. It was painless, and wonderful, and we all enjoyed a perfect evening.

Raleigh was a bit more veg-friendly. My friend there has been my friend...well, I guess since we were born. My first memories of playing with her were when we were both about 4-5? And we were later roommates in college. Though we hadn't seen each other in a long while, we have taken a few of the same paths on our journey (never mind that she is married with 5 beautiful children). She teaches pilates, and when we made our lunch date she chose P.F. Chang's, as it was close for us both, easy to order vegan, and close to her little girl's singing production right after lunch. Throughout my travels I have found several restaurant chains that are friendly to those of us who opt out of animals in our diet. I believe there are lists on the internet.

I did find two amazing vegan restaurants on my trip. In Raleigh was The Remedy Diner . It was packed when I showed up for lunch, which made me smile. I bellied up to the bar, sitting beside two men who worked for Amy's, and were in town for business. That's a good sign, I think!

I ordered the bacon-avocado sandwich with vegan ranch dressing on the side, a sweet tea and a very large slice of vegan coconut cream pie for dessert. The sandwich was ok, and would have been amazing but for the type of soy bacon. I know the brand they used, and I will just say that Lightlife is the best. The guy next to me was munching on the veggie reuban, which looked divine. He said it was great, and ate the entire thing just to prove his point. While he and his partner shared their coconut pie, I happily at my whole slice, alone. I would absolutely recommend going to The Remedy Diner for both vegetarians and omnivores. They have a wide variety of beers and great drink specials.

In Charlotte I had a more challenging time finding anything truly vegetarian, but Berrybrook Farms is a wonderful market, which includes a juice bar and deli with many vegan options. I had a really fresh juice mix, that included watermelon and strawberries. It went perfectly with the Mediterranean artichoke wrap I picked up. I could have easily stayed for another hour, browsing and tasting all the farm-fresh yummies that lined the aisles. I found it to be a perfect combination of high-end whole foods store and local farmer's market.

So, I guess all of this is to say, for me, why I eat is as important as what I eat. And while I personally choose to avoid eating animals and their products when left to my own resources, nothing beats sharing a meal with people you care about. So, eat up!

Asian Summer Salad Explosion

I just returned from a long trip to North Carolina. It's Saturday, I've been taking in a little "vitamin D therapy," and now I'm starving. I have a fridge full of vegetables that desperately need to be eaten, but a regular salad sounds kind of boring. And so this Asian Summer Salad Explosion was conceived!

Mind you, I'm using all these ingredients because I have them. Use what you have, but keep it light, colorful, and let the dressing enhance everything else.


1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 packet of the soup mix that comes with ramen noodles (veggie style, of course)
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. finely minced shallot
1 tsp. agave nectar
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. sesame oil (I had light, but you could use dark for more flavor)

I put all the ingredients in a little plastic take-out container and shook. Make the dressing first thing so that everything has time to smoosh together.


1 package ramen noodles, vegan (make certain as some has chicken broth dust)
1/4 cup chopped cashews
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Again, use whatever nuts you have. Peanuts are great, as are almonds. No need to use any additional oil as everything will toast nicely using it's own nut oil. Crumble the noodles and spread on a baking sheet with the nuts. Turn oven on 350, and watch closely. After about 8 minutes I tossed everything with a spatula, then baked for another 4-5 minutes, until brown. I like mine a little more brown than some!


1 bundle of bok choy (I can't afford all organic veggies, but prefer to buy organic greens. I'm assured these are organic by the dead lady bug I find in the bok choy leaves. No doubt he lead a full life, munching happily on the critters that lived in and around this bunch)

1 shredded carrot (again, organic as the others don't even taste like carrots to me)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup radish, chopped fine (Since I hate raw onions, radishes have become my substitute. The provide that "bite," but without the smell or breath effects. I became addicted to them in Germany, eating them with butter and salt aside my beer. Try it!)

Chop all your veggies up, mix in the bowl and sprinkle on the topping. Drizzle with dressing, then go nuts! If you're going to make this ahead of time, keep all three parts separate until serving, as the noodles loose their crunch as does the delicate bok choy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer Salads of Substance

It always surprises me when people ask if eating a vegan diet is expensive. One of my primary motivators for eating a veg-centric diet is cost. As Americans, we are so removed from where our food comes from, and the true costs that are incurred to raise animals responsibly and to process them “humanely.” Buying meat that comes from factory farms is not something I’m willing to participate in, and though I hope if you do choose to eat animals you opt for those bearing the American Humane Certified seal, I would much rather you consider limiting or eliminating animal proteins from your diet.

To stay on budget I do a lot of shopping in the bulk section. Many grocery stores and co-ops have extensive bulk bin selections, and I go nuts…literally! I especially love the nuts, grains and dried fruits in the summer time. These provide a basis for great main-course salads. I’ve included these recipes as guide, but I encourage you to get creative. Mix whatever fresh veggies you see at your local farm stand, and throw on a creative vinaigrette.

TGIF Wheat Berry Salad
(serves 2-4 as a main dish)

1 cup wheat berries
¼ c. dried cherries
¼ c. chopped pecans
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
1/3 c. chopped yellow bell pepper
¼ c. chopped radish
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Bring 2 cups of water, and a pinch of salt to boil. Add 1 cup of wheat berries. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down to simmer. While this is cooking dump all other ingredients in a bowl. Pour dressing over this and let sit until wheat berries are done. Wheat berries take about 30 minutes, and should be firm and a bit chewy to the tooth. Let the grain cool then mix in with other ingredients.

Basic Vinaigrette

1 Tbsp. Dijon style mustard (make certain it is vegan as some has eggs)
¼ c. white wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Chopped herbs (I used dill as it’s what I had)
½ c. olive oil
Fresh ground pepper

Mix mustard, vinegar, salt and herbs together well. Get a wire whisk, or a hand mixer and start drizzling in the oil. Another great method is to put all ingredients in a jar and just shake like crazy.

Tabbouleh with Mint and Pistachios
(from Vegetarian Times, 2008 - serves 6)

1/4 c. fine bulgur
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. agave nectar
1 1/3 c. finely chopped pistachios
1 c. finely chopped curly parsley
1 small cucumber, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/3 c. finely chopped fresh mint
3 Tbsp. olive oil

Place bulgur in large bowl and add 1/3 cup boiling water. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and agave, and let stand 5 minutes more, or until all liquid is absorbed. Fluff bulgur with fork, and stir in remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Quinoa Salad
(this is a really high-protein grain, thus a grain you really want to get comfortable with)

1 c. quinoa
1 1/2 c. cold water
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. snow peas, shell peas, celery, or green beans
1 - 2 small carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 green or red pepper, sliced thin
1 medium ripe tomato
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, or basil
1/2 c. chopped walnuts, toasted sunflower seeds or toasted cashews
Options: Chopped scallions, dried unsweetened cranberries, raisins or apricots, Greek olives, minced jalapeno pepper, fresh mint

Soak the quinoa 15 minutes in cold water. Rinse well, pour off most of the water and drain through a fine mesh strainer. Place in medium pot with the water, salt and oil. Bring to a full boil. Cover the pot, let boil another minute, turn the heat down to simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit five minutes with lid on. Fluff gently with a fork and set aside to cool. Steam the carrots and green vegetables for 5 minutes or until tender-crisp, drain, rinse in cold water and drain again. Chop the tomatoes, herb and cucumber. Blend dressing ingredients with a whisk or shake in a jar. Gently combine veggies, walnuts, quinoa and dressing in a large bowl. Cover and chill.

Dress with 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, ¼ cup of olive oil, a pinch of salt and some ground pepper. I also add a little garlic and fresh herbs, if available.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Animal Friendly Father's Day

Father's day can be a wee bit challenging. You see, both my biological father and my step-father eat an excessive amount of animal products. Hmmmm...quite the pickle. But they also like to eat, and neither are picky eaters, so I've found some of my favorite gift items that are friendly to the earth and to cholesterol levels!

1. Love the idea of a hot sauce basket for dad. And the great guys at Hot Sauce Planet have offered 15% off for anyone who puts "bunny" in the code section of the order form. Or, for yourself? Slather a little of Blair's Chipotle Slam Sauce slathered on grilled mushrooms, or brushed on Gardein BBQ skewers at a summer cook out? Hello!

2. Re-loved cuff links. Confession = it's really difficult for me not to keep these for myself. Go to your favorite vintage or resale shop and peruse their selection.

3. For the man who has everything? Plant a tree. The Arbor Day Foundation has a fantastic program to honor loved ones for any occasion. I can honestly say, all the men in my family love to be in the woods, therefore a tree planted in their honor is perfect. Either of them might actually like receiving their own tree, for that matter.

4. Does your father think you're a wheat-grass eating, tree-hugging, veggie-freakalupagus? Though not a "vegetarian" book, Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dillema might at least get Dad's mind open.

Friday, June 4, 2010

TGIF, Baby!

I read something today that was so profound, and made so much sense I just have to share.

"We search outside ourselves for the validation we crave. And since we have no control over this validation, we can never truly be at peace or gain access to our true power in this life."*

Ever since turning 40 I’ve been trying to give some sort of theme to this decade of my life. Having never been forty before, I’ve had a hard time nailing down what I wanted to accomplish in these 10 years.

I have let the ideals and opinions of others influence and affect me in really significant ways. I have often looked outside myself for guidance on everything from what to wear and how to vote, to what God was to me. I didn’t trust myself to make the very best choices for me, but rather looked to those whose opinion I gave more credibility than my own.

The trick is, when you allow others so much influence over your actions it’s such a gamble, right? For example: almost every time I go to buy clothes I am searching for something I’ve seen in a magazine or on a celebrity. Never mind my body is shaped differently, or that I don’t like the color pink. I see something in a magazine, or on television, and recognize this look as fashion forward, thus I decide I should give it a try. Of all the outfits I can put together, how many earn me compliments from the people I am around? Truly? Maybe 6-10 out of thousands. That's a gamble with very poor odds. Needless to say, I don’t go to Vegas much.

What if I spent as much time really examining my own truth, and then based my behaviors and actions on my internal compass, rather than what was right for others? What if I looked for my own approval first, and then whatever positive reinforcement I accepted from the rest of the world would be sprinkles? It may take a little time to figure out what your truth is, but goodness, isn’t it worth knowing? And personal approval can often be just as difficult to earn as external approval, but it means a lot more in the end.

I certainly haven’t sorted my whole truth out yet, but there are a few things I’m certain about:

1. The world is smaller, and we are more alike than different. Most people believe their actions and words to be good and right, so it is essential to develop the ability to see through various points of view before reacting.

2. There is much more good than bad. These ARE the “good old days.” I’m thrilled and blessed to have been born exactly when I was.

3. I choose not to thoughtlessly take the life of another creature simply for the pleasure of consuming a meal. I don’t judge anyone for their dietary choices, but hope to offer information and really amazing alternatives to eating animals and their secretions.

4. I ask every single day what I can give to the world, rather than what can the world give to me.

5. My body is pretty amazing, and I don’t give a shit if I’m not a runner. I can easily touch my toes to the back of my head, and do the splits both ways, and I fit into jeans I’ve had for 20 years. That’s enough.

6. No one wants to be preached to, or berated. Live what you believe, and if others recognize you as a deeply peaceful and happy person, they will want to try on what you have.

7. Not speaking up for what you believe, or not supporting others for what they believe, is every bit as bad as being a bully. There is no need to be oppressive or unloving, but don’t be a wallflower.

8. Where there is oppression or extreme poverty there will be crime, and people will succumb to violent behavior. Everyone wants and deserves to be heard and their basic needs to be met, whether you think they "deserve," that or not. This is absolutely wiggle's a fact. When this doesn't happen you have problems.

9. I take care of myself, with oodles of prayer.

This is all I’ve come up with so far, but I’ll keep working on it. *I was inspired by Rolf Gates, who is one of my wonderful teachers, and who wrote an incredible gem of a book, Meditations from the Mat. I can always count on this collection of daily readings to inspire contemplation and motivation to move another step forward.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ayurvedic Eating

Do you know your dosha type? Have you ever heard of such a thing? I was introduced to an entirely different aspect of myself about 10 years ago, when I sought the aid of a nutritionist who was studying ayurevedic medicine. Through her recommendations of a diet and body treatments geared to balance my dosha type, I discovered a completely new aspect of myself, and eventually experienced a truly life-changing experience.

Ayureveda is an ancient Indian medical theory, that relates a person's essence to 3 natural elements: earth, water and fire. Each individual has characteristics of all three doshas, however will likely be dominant in one particular dosha. For example, I am a Pitta, with a very close amount of Vata characteristics, and a very few Kapha traits.

You can find many tests online to help determine your dosha, or type, but if you are really interested you can easily find ayurvedic practitioners who will determine your dosha, and tell you all sorts of things that will help you live a more balanced life.

A very simple guide:

Vata - Associated with space and air. Skin might be dry, rough and cool. Their bones are small. they might be characterized as "wiry," and have high-strung dispositions. They make friends easily, are often chilly, and would be considered outgoing. Think Cameron Diaz, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Garner and Gwyneth Paltrow. For guys, think Jim Carrey, Ben Affleck and Will Smith.

Pitta - Associated with fire and water. Personality can be fiery, but is also flowy and often moving in many directions. Although I am ALWAYS cold, many pittas find themselves warm blooded, and would also be considered high-strung. Many pittas are entrepreneurs, and self-assured. Think of females like Madonna, Martha Stewart and Jennifer Aniston. Guy pittas include Lance Armstrong, Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton.

Kapha - Associated with water and earth. Personalities are usually calm and focused. They are heavy sleepers, have great hair, and don't like humid weather. Celebrity kaphas are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey and Liv Tyler. Guys are Antonio Banderas, George Clooney, Tom Hanks and Jerry O'Connell. (FYI, I realize I'm very attracted to kaphas!)

So, what do you eat for your dosha? As a pitta I've learned I need healthy sweets. This comes as no surprise, given my cupcake "situation." Fruits. Dried, fresh, cooked...however. Watermelon, prunes, and all berries. Sour fruits aren't optimal, which would include tomatoes.

Any sweet or bitter vegetable is great for me. This would include things like artichokes, greens, squash and okra. I'm not supposed to eat fried foods, which is unfortunate, as I do love a fried squash or okra. Everything I've read recommends avoiding spicy foods, and coffee, which is really a bummer.

But, in an attempt to balance out my doshas, I dined tonight on an amazing spinach salad, loaded with slices of fresh strawberries, toasted walnuts, and dressed with a slightly sweet, seseme dressing. Ok, I'm not really supposed to have alcohol either, but couldn't resist a crisp glass of Chardonnay.

If I were to make a meal for my beautiful kapha sister, I would create a spicy Thai buckwheat noodle dish, loaded with sauteed vegetables, and a light, chili-laden sauce.

For my Vata aunt I'd opt for something warming, and calming. Right away I think of my baked pumpkin stuffed with black beans. Or my artichoke gnocchi would be good, paired with a side of warm, homemade bread and roasted vegetables (probably not these bitter greens).

I found this amazing site that really gives great, and extensive information about doshas, and how to determine which foods are best for balancing your nature. Just making a few of the adjustments can really make a difference.