December 03, 2013

My Vegan Thanksgiving

Just like last year, I celebrated Thanksgiving with both my family and J's on separate days.  2 Thanksgivings! I didn't take any pictures of Thanksgiving at J's house, but we pretty much had the same thing as we had at my family dinner the next day. Preparing for his Thanksgiving was easy because we were just feeding the two of us. Though I must note that our food looked so amazing that even the picky eaters and kids had hefty portions of our mac and cheese and sampled the mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing with delight. Since we were making the bulk of the food for my family, it took a lot more preparation. It's a good thing I'm a list maker. And it's a really good thing that I get so much joy out of cooking for others. I had a blast!

We started with brunch on Thursday morning. My mom made egg and sausage mini quiches as well as some breakfast pastries. She also set up a waffle bar with fresh fruits, nuts, and chocolate chips. My dad made a delicious tofu scramble, and I brought ingredients to make gluten-free cornbread waffles to which we added fresh blueberries and cranberries. They have a double waffle maker which is so convenient when you are making waffles for a bunch of people! We've never done Thanksgiving brunch before, but I'd definitely like to keep doing it. It was really fun to take a break between prepping and cooking for a while and just hang.

Our Thanksgiving was intimate, with just 6 of us attending, so my mom asked if we'd make extra of our vegan food so we could share with everyone. Um, yeah!!! Everything was vegan except 2 things: a small turkey and one of the stuffings. My mom and brother are not interested in a full-on vegan thanksgiving, so they made enough of those things for the two of them. I was really excited to contribute in such a large way to our meal of thanks.

We always take a minute before eating on holidays to remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. As I mentioned, I adopted Tulip through Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey program, so I also dedicated the meal to her (she's still "with us"!) and in remembrance of all of the animals who were not as lucky as her. I was going to have the adoption certificate on the table, but it didn't come in time. It came in the mail yesterday though, so you can see it above. It's sitting on my piano now next to my adoption certificate for Jake.

This is what our vegan Thanksgiving looked like (if only you could smell and taste it, too!):

pictured: Cranberry Relish from Crazy Sexy Kitchen, balsamic glazed brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes with cashew cream, macaroni and cheese adapted from this one on the PPK, Field Roast en croute, mushroom walnut stuffing, and Thick 'n Rich Gravy.

After taking a few hours to digest and play dice, it was time to unveil the desserts. Once again, my mom asked if I minded making all the pies because it wasn't worth getting a bunch of non-vegan pies that only 2 people would eat. I absolutely did not mind! Fran Costigan's chocolate pecan pie was the first to disappear, and everyone raved about it. The other desserts were really good, too, so that's really saying something!

Chocolate Pecan Pie and Pumpkin Tiramisu

You can find the recipe in her hot new cookbook Vegan Chocolate. The photographs by Kate Lewis are stunning and the recipes are divine. I've got my eye on the magic cookie bars and chocolate chip almond biscotti for Christmas treats. This book would make a great Christmas gift for any chocolate lover and/or person who loves to bake! The more you look through it, the longer the "must make" list will get.

Our dessert spread: J's pumpkin pie, Chocolate Pecan Pie from Vegan Chocolate, Dreena Burton's gluten-free Apple-of-My-Eye Pie, Chloe Coscarelli's Pumpkin Tiramisu made gluten free, Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream from Make it Vegan.

There was someone else who enjoyed a vegan Thanksgiving meal and had so much fun being around the family. Guess who?

November 25, 2013

Showstopping Vegan Sides: Thanksgiving Kale Salad

 As vegans, we're used to making meals out of the side dishes, so when Thanksgiving comes along--a holiday that is all about the sides--it's nice to know a few side dishes that will really wow the other guests at dinner. People are more likely to try your vegan creations as they are passed around the table with other foods, so why not go big? If you are looking for a showstopping side for Thanksgiving this year, look no further. This kale salad is it.

Thanksgiving Kale Salad

For the salad:
1 bunch of kale, destemmed and ripped into pieces
1 cup butternut squash, cut in 1" cubes and roasted
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup raw hazelnuts*, toasted and chopped

For the dressing:
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt
pepper to taste

-Preheat the oven to 375 F. Peel the squash with a knife or vegetable peeler and chop into 1" cubes. Place them in a casserole dish with some space in between the pieces and toss them in enough olive oil to coat them as well as a sprinkle of salt and pepper. (I roasted an entire squash and used 1T olive oil)
-Roast the squash for about 45 minutes, stirring at the half way point for even cooking. When it's finished, let it cool for about 10-15 minutes. You want the squash to be slightly warm in the salad, but not hot.
-While the squash is roasting, toast the hazelnuts in the oven as well for about 15 minutes. You'll know they're ready because they'll get really fragrant. Keep a close eye on them so they don't burn. Once they're finished, let them cool for about 5 minutes before chopping them.
-Once the kale is destemmed and ripped into large, bite-sized pieces, wash and dry the leaves thoroughly. Place in a large mixing bowl.
-Mix all of the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, and then pour onto the kale leaves. Massage the dressing into the leaves with your hands for a few minutes until the leaves are soft and wilted.
-Toss in the cranberries, chopped hazelnuts, and squash.

*If you have a nut allergy, you can add in pumpkin seeds instead. They will only take about 5-10 minutes to toast in the oven, and you don't need to chop them before adding to the salad.

November 14, 2013

My Sanctuary Story + Support Animal Sanctuaries This Holiday Season

It was late September 2012. The leaves were flecked with gold and crimson. I turned to give J a cheerful smile before returning my gaze to the countryside. I stared intently out the car window, eagerly anticipating the first glimpse of the red barns. It had been 13 years since I acknowledged that voice of compassion inside of me and began my transition to veganism. Now, I was on my way to see animals that were saved by people who were driven by that same compassion. I was on the road to Farm Sanctuary.

A year prior, still in the infancy of my illness, I was reading 4-5 books a month. It brought me great pleasure to step away from my struggles and enter the worlds of others, both fictional and real. One book that I picked up was Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur. I was so moved by his gentle yet steadfast approach to vegan ethics, and I was incredibly inspired by his work for animals.

"Don't go yet! Let's play!" This little buddy nudged me from behind as I was leaving.

At the time, my dad was becoming more sensitive to what befell the animals on his plate. I noticed that he paid more attention to my stories about animal suffering, intelligence, and emotion, and I saw that flicker of connection in his eyes. Because of his interest, I started to share more things about veganism with him, and at Christmastime, I bought him Baur's book, Farm Sanctuary. Inside the front cover I wrote a proposition: Let's read this together and then plan to visit the sanctuary next year. He accepted!

Soon after the holidays, J decided that he wanted to eat more healthfully and include more vegan meals in his diet. He gave himself one cheat day a week, but ate vegan the rest of the time. (Spoiler alert: when he left the sanctuary, he left his cheat days, too.) Because of his piquing interest in animals, my dad and I suggested he come along with us. And then we were three!

When we started planning our trip the following summer, I came up with another proposition for my dad:"Let's sponsor an animal together so we can visit them on the trip!" There were so many great organizations that I wanted to support, but I had the limitations of not being able to do volunteer work (too sick) or donate (too broke). But with my dad's growing affection for farmed animals, I saw an opportunity. He, again, agreed to my proposition, and we now sponsor a goat at the Watkins Glen shelter named Jake.

Jake and I, happy as can be

Once at the sanctuary, I fully expected to start crying at some point of the tour (not just because it's an emotional experience but also because with adrenal fatigue often comes heightened emotional responses), but I didn't. These animals that I met were so happy and calm, that I couldn't help but be happy and calm, too. Love overfloweth. It wasn't until after the tour was over that I got a more pronounced emotional response. No tears, but plenty of intensity.

After the people on the tour trickled away, I had a chance to really soak in my surroundings. It was just me and the animals. I listened and heard nothing, felt nothing but peace in the stillness. The stark contrast of the horrific situations all of these beautiful beings came from and the utopia in which they will live out their lives really choked me up. What horrors did their eyes see? What torture did their bodies endure? What atrocities did their noses smell? What pain did their hearts feel? How many children are they mourning? Did they ever know their mother's warmth? Surely, these images and sounds in my head could only be fiction, a sadist's sci-fi fantasy. Surely, I thought, looking at the serene, sweeping hills around me, those evils cannot exist when this peacefulness does.

Of course, those evils do exist, but not in these magical places. People are creating spaces for rescued animals, so that they have a safe haven to live out the rest of their days, whether their lives stretch 8 more days or 8 more years. They will learn to trust again, they will form loving bonds, they will be happy, they will be free, and for the first time in their lives, their individual needs will be above the need greed of human beings.

Yes, it took me 13 years of the veg life to visit an animal sanctuary, but in those 13 years my compassion was blossoming (isn't it always?). My visit to Farm Sanctuary served that path further, and stretched my heart so wide open that I felt like I was letting the whole world inside. It was such a powerful experience that it's now becoming a yearly tradition. Last month, we took our second sanctuary trip, and we're already anticipating our return.

You can sponsor Turpentine this Thanksgiving!
During the holiday season, we are bombarded with images of dead animal bodies on platters. At our family dinners, the lifeless bodies of turkeys, chickens, and pigs are displayed as the table centerpiece, their own histories erased. They die for tradition. I have nothing against tradition itself, but when it is used as an excuse to perpetuate the killing of living creatures then it's time for some new traditions, am I right?

Last year, half of the dinner guests at my family's Thanksgiving ate a vegan meal. I feel good about that, but this year I wanted to do something more. I've just adopted Tulip through Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey program, and her picture will be displayed at my Thanksgiving table this year. Check out this awesome program, and adopt a turkey this holiday season.

I also encourage you to seek out sanctuaries near your home. Find one and plan a visit! Be aware that some of them do not do tours in the winter. While you're waiting for them to start up again, look into other ways that you can show your support, like donating supplies or sponsoring an animal. If you're in or near the Pittsburgh area, there is a new sanctuary called Hope Haven just north of the city. I can't wait to visit there (and maybe sponsor an animal there, too!). You can find more information about Hope Haven on their website.

Shannon welcoming us to her abode. She loved eating grass from my hand.

November 13, 2013

Finger Lakes in 48 Part 2: Ithaca is Gorges

After an awesome morning at the farmer's market, we were off to Cornell to visit the Lab of Ornithology and the sanctuary onsite called Sapsucker Woods.

Sapsucker Woods was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. The following pictures are unadulterated and taken with my phone. It was that beautiful. I felt like I was plucked out of the real world and dropped right in the middle of an impressionist landscape painting.

My dad loves bird-watching, so we were filled with anticipation when we picked up the extensive checklist of birds in the area. Although we did see one very interesting bird (that we've yet to identify), the woods that day were quiet except for the occasional chatter of goldfinches, the telltale knock-knock of the woodpecker, and pitter-patter of tiny chipmunk feet darting through the leaves. The entertaining chipmunks, fall foliage, and total tranquility more than made up for the fact that we didn't see many new birds.

One of the main tourist draws in Ithaca is all of its gorges and waterfalls. And their town motto, "Ithaca is Gorges", is one of the coolest I've heard. Because we had such a short time in Ithaca, we weren't able to go to some of the more famous falls like Lucifer Falls and Taughannock Falls. We told ourselves, "Next time. Next time we'll have a day just for hiking the gorges!" Fortunately, there is no shortage of spectacular scenery there, and we were able to find some easily accessible waterfalls right in town.

The first was Ithaca Falls. You could see it from the road, and it took only a few minutes to walk to the base of it. There was a lot of flat rocky space near the water which would make a great picnicking spot.

Our final stop before dinner was Cascadilla Falls. The entry is right off of a residential road in town and would be easy to miss. The trail, which is mostly stairs, winds up the steep hill and passes nine waterfalls before reaching the end at Cornell University. Half of the trail was closed for renovation, but we were tired and totally ok with that.

After all the hiking and sightseeing, we were famished. We stopped at Viva! Taqueria and Cantina for a bite to eat. I had scoped out vegan-friendly restaurants before we left home, and this was a place that had gotten a lot of good reviews. People loved the food, the vegan options were plentiful, and the prices were really affordable. I was expecting your run of the mill Mexican joint, but this place was so much more than that.

I was really impressed by their clear labeling of vegan and gluten-free options on the menu as well as their commitment to homemade and locally sourced ingredients. Being in a college town certainly has its perks.

Close up of the menu

We started off the meal with chips (freshly made, not overly oily either) with salsa and guacamole. It's so easy for restaurants to cut corners by using bagged chips and jarred salsa and guacamole, but it is so, so worth it to make everything fresh. This was a great starter.

For our main dishes, my dad got a vegan burrito, which was stuffed with rice, beans, zucchini, and corn and then smothered with an amazing tomato sauce. It was served with slaw, guacamole, and pickled vegetables on the side.

I got vegan enchiladas with mole sauce which was served with rice and black beans as well as pickled vegetables and guacamole on the side.

The seasonings stood out without overpowering the food, which was (again) so fresh and satisfying. For the quality of the meal we got, I would have been happy paying double what the actual bill was. It was worth it. If you're ever in Ithaca, check out Viva! Taqueria and Cantina. You won't be disappointed.

Our bellies full, we drove back to Watkins Glen and tucked ourselves into bed, giddy with anticipation for the next day's trip to Farm Sanctuary and visit with out sponsor goat, Jake.

November 10, 2013

"Operation: Kill This Cold": How to Kill a Cold Fast

J and I have just returned home from an incredible 9 days in New York City, and I'm not returning empty-handed. I have a piece of paper with a few letters tacked to the end of my name that read VLCE. Yes, that's right. I am now a certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator through the Main Street Vegan Academy! I'll have much to write about this unbelievable experience--including what I plan to do with this certification--, but before I get to that I want to talk about what happened before I even left... 

If you follow my blog, you know that a few years ago I fell ill from toxic mold exposure. Well, a couple weeks before that started, I participated in a sports tournament in NY. J tagged along, and on the way home, we stopped by NYC for a two day mini-vacation. At the time, J wasn't vegan yet, but we had so much fun bopping around to as many vegan restaurants as we could (not that many!). When we left, we vowed to return soon so that we could fully explore what the vegan culinary scene of New York City had to offer. That may have been what we wanted, but life had other plans for me. 

I called it the NYC restaurant tour, and it was one of my motivators while in the midst of my deepest healing. I just wanted to "be normal" again, travel, be in a super vegan-friendly city, go on vacation with my partner. But what is "normal" anyway? Sometimes life deals you a tough hand, and you have to get on with it however you can.

When I first read about the academy on JL Goes Vegan, and then again on Bonzai Aphrodite, I felt such a strong pull towards the program. I scribbled "MSVA" on a post-it and stuck it to my computer. I looked at it everyday, reminded of my desire, and was determined to make this happen for myself as soon as I was well enough. I asked for help from those who believe in me, and, with their help, I did find a way to make this happen!

I was accepted into the academy in the spring, and was determined to improve my health enough to enjoy it thoroughly. I had just sought out a new doctor that was to help me with this massive improvement, but was having negative symptoms due to my body rebalancing. After that period of a few months passed, I began experiencing a surge of good health. Things were looking up in a big way. Then, my body started reacting differently to my supplements. And then I got a cold. A bad one. 3 days before my big trip to New York. You might think, "So what? You have a cold. Suck it up!" But for someone like me with a chronic illness like adrenal fatigue, a measly cold can turn into being in bed for weeks with no energy at all.

So, I let myself freak out about my misfortune for a few minutes, then made a game plan. I decided to launch Operation: Kill This Cold. It wasn't so much that I needed the cold to go away, but that I needed to strengthen my immunity so my body wouldn't get worn out from fighting the cold. By the time I left for the airport, I was feeling so much better. Operation: Kill This Cold had been a huge success, so I want to share my strategy with all of you.

There's really no way to cure a cold, per se--you've got to let it run its course--, but there are steps you can take to speed up the process. Here are a few things that I did that were really effective:

"The cold will stick around until you make it a point to slow down."
  • Rest and don't stress- Get as much rest as you possibly can, and keep stress to a minimum. You don't want to rob your body of valuable healing energy. Go to bed early and take naps during the day. Lie down whenever you can to truly give your body a rest. It's really hard for us to slow down our fast-paced lives, but this should be your first priority when getting sick. Even if you do all of the other things I recommend below, the cold will stick around until you make it a point to slow down.
  • Drink Liquids- Drink liquids like water, herbal tea, and green juice. When I'm under the weather, I've found that I need to double, or even triple, the amount of liquids I drink in a day. Each day, I drank a few liters of water, 2-3 cups of ginger tea, and also 1-2 green juices. I keep water near my bed, too, so that I have something to drink when I wake up parched in the middle of the night. Also, it's not a bad idea to lay off of dehydrating, salty foods until you're feeling better.
  • Nourish Your Cells- The focus here is to eat the highest quality food within your means, and prepare the food in ways that are easily digestible. Some examples of things that I ate: miso broth with carrot, celery, broccoli, dark leafy greens, quinoa, and kimchi; green smoothies; salads (chewed really well); fruits high in vitamin C like kiwi, berries, and oranges; oatmeal with fruit and homemade nut/seed milks. 
  • Press the Points- Use pressure points to relieve cold symptoms. I had never used pressure points for colds before, but I found a great resource here that explains everything well and has instructional pictures. I created my own sequence using these pressure points, and did the sequence 3 times a day. I was amazed by how well this technique worked, and I highly recommend trying this out.
  • Supplement- When I'm sick, I like to take a high quality, whole-food multivitamin. I didn't have any on hand and couldn't get my brand before I left, so I decided to supplement in other ways. I used a whole-food vitamin C powder that is supercharged with amla (the highest antioxidant food), camu camu, rose hips, and acerola. I also used a greens powder (not a replacement for eating your greens but a great supplement to a diet), and I ate lots of pumpkin seeds for extra zinc.
  • Stretch, Twist, Invert- I have a yoga flow that I love to do several times a week, but it was too much for me when I was sick. However, I knew that there must be certain yoga poses out there that would be useful for relieving cold and flu symptoms. I'm not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to yoga, so I searched around for some info. I found this video which I did twice a day before I left, and then once daily for the first couple days I was in New York City. I encourage you to either do a video like this or find one that suits your specific needs. Doing this along with the pressure points really helped to loosen up any stagnation in my head and speed up the healing. 

After doing all of this, I was ready to embark on my NYC trip and fully enjoy this experience of a lifetime!

October 27, 2013

Pomegranate Pear Oats + Tulsi Hazelnut Latte

It got really cold really fast. One day I was eating acai bowls and icy cold green smoothies, and the next day I was sipping on miso soup and making macro bowls. I don't know where this strong desire for warm--and only warm--comfort food and drink came from. I am not one to stop eating cold foods just because it is cold outside. I am a green drink junkie year-round. Salads remain a staple for meals through the blustery holiday season. And yet, here I find myself gravitating towards steaming hot foods before true winter has even hit.

Luckily, I'm a total go-with-the-flow kinda gal when it comes to my diet. I love--love!--raw foods and how they make me feel, but I don't shove them in my mouth just for the sake of eating them. If I feel the desire to include cooked foods--or in this case eat mostly cooked foods some days--, then that's what I do. The most important thing I can do for my health (not to mention living authentically and staying true to my ethics) is to eat a vegan diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. It's the foundation of the diet, the everyday choices, that define one's level of health.There's no need for me to worry about raw-to-cooked ratios or the occasional treat with gluten or fried oils if those are the choices I am comfortable with making at the time. I know how my body will react to certain foods, and I generally choose the ones that make me feel the most energetic, balance my mood, and support my long-term health. And those times that I make less than stellar food choices? I don't sweat it.

Basically, that's my long way of saying that when you eat from nature's bounty, you don't need to micromanage your diet*(see note at the bottom of this post). That's it. Simple!

If you've been feeling the chill in your bones like I have, why not make this warming and colorful oatmeal bowl? While you're at it, jazz up your morning tea, too! It's really easy and is significantly cheaper than a specialty drink at a coffee shop.

Before this cold spell, I hadn't eaten oats in so long. I really can't even remember the last time I had them! This oatmeal bowl is not only a good source of fiber, protein, iron, and vitamin C, but also the blackstrap molasses provides extra calcium, iron, and potassium. If you want another nutritional booster for this bowl, sprinkle some pumpkin seeds on top. You'll get even more iron and also a generous amount of zinc to protect against seasonal colds!

Pomegranate Pear Oats
serves 2

1 cup rolled oats
2 cups water
1/2 cup hazelnut milk, or milk of choice
2 tsp blackstrap molasses
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1 small bosc pear, diced
pomegranate arils, to garnish
pumpkin seeds, ideally raw and soaked/sprouted or lightly toasted (optional garnish)

- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add oats and simmer until water is absorbed. It should take about 5 minutes or so.
- Add the milk in and cook on a low simmer until the oats thicken to your desired consistency. This should only take a few more minutes.
-Stir in blackstrap molasses, ground ginger, and the diced pear.
-Scoop into 2 bowls and top with pomegranate arils. Add pumpkin seeds if desired.

Tulsi Hazelnut Latte
serves 2

2 tulsi tea bags, or any other neutral-tasting tea of your choice
12 oz boiling water
4 oz hazelnut milk, or milk of choice
3-6 drops of english toffee stevia, to taste, or sweetener of choice to taste
1 1/2-2 Tbsp Dandy Blend

- Place a tea bag and 2 tsp-1 Tbsp of Dandy Blend into each teacup.
- Pour 6 oz of boiling water into each teacup.
- Add about 2 oz of hazelnut milk and the desired sweetener. Stir.

*Sometimes, being extra meticulous with diet can pay off, like if you're dealing with a chronic illness or medical condition. But even with health battles, such intense dietary precision can backfire. I was often encouraged to be more restrictive than was necessary or that I was comfortable with. The stress of these situations proved to be more harmful than the actual foods I was instructed to forgo, and when I began to eat more intuitively I experienced much more progress towards healing (part which was due to diet changes and part which was no doubt due to the lowering of my psychological stress surrounding meal times.)

October 25, 2013

Finger Lakes in 48 Part 1: Ithaca Farmer's Market and Apple Tasting

Last month, my dad and I took a trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York. It was originally going to be my family vacation (J and Tucker included!), but our summer was kind of hectic and that didn't work out. Our main reason for the trip was to visit Farm Sanctuary and our adopted goat, Jake, but we were also excited to explore other areas of the Finger Lakes like the town of Ithaca. We packed a lot into 48 hours, but it never felt rushed. In fact, it turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I returned home with such peace in my mind and inspiration in my heart.

When I saw that Ithaca had a wildly popular farmer's market with about 150 vendors, I knew that was how we'd start our Saturday. We had no idea what a cool experience it would be though! It is a huge open-air market right on the banks of the Cayuga Lake. Outside of the large pavilions and scattered along the lake, there is plenty of seating with scenic views of billowy trees, sun-kissed water, and the pier. Under the pavilion, it is bustling with locals, college students, and travellers alike. The vendors were all very friendly, and I sampled and bought a lot of things before we moved on to our next destination.

 Some of my awesome finds:

These sprouts were so good. I've never had buckwheat lettuce, and I couldn't believe that they actually tasted like lemons without the acidic bite! I couldn't pass up buying a 1/4 lb of assorted sprouts. We also got some (unpictured) greens since I was craving a nice salad. We got a bunch of tat soi, a bunch of hardy purple greens that are in the mustard family, and a bunch of this really mild and delicate green that is perfect for salads. I made a huge bowl of these greens topped with sprouts, salt, and pepper, and I drizzled a bit of omega oil (olive, avocado, flax) on top. Delicious.

When I found this garlic, I had to explain my excitement to the vendor, who was looking at me like I was a little bit crazy. I am part Carpatho-Rusyn, so this garlic comes from one of the regions that my ancestors are from. It's a cultural identity that is not associated with any specific country (it spans many countries actually) and is not very well known. So, to see this garlic in the basket was a really cool thing for me. I bought a bulb, of course.

After perusing the market for awhile, we were ready for some lunch. There was a stall called Macro-Mama that served macrobiotic food. It was one of the more popular food vendors there, and the menu looked great. But then we happened upon a stall with Cambodian food. Neither one of us had ever had Cambodian food before, so that fact made the decision for us! Pictured below: My dad got curry with pineapple, peas, sweet potato, and tofu. I got a rice noodle salad with mango, basil, carrot, tomato, and plum sauce. We got two appetizers to share: fried banana with sesame seeds that came with sweet and sour sauce and veggie numpao which was a rice bun with taro, monk bean, onion, and carrot.

I also sampled a few flavors of (cheeseless!) garlic scape pesto, admired the teeny-tiny eggplants, sniffed the homemade vegan bar soaps, admired the beautiful flowers, and then, in all the excitement, forgot to pick up a pint of ground cherries on my way out.

This one apple stand had so many different kinds of apples that I'd never had before, and I was eager to try some of the different varieties. I chose 8 of them for purchase, and my dad and I took them home with us for an apple tasting. Since many of them looked alike, I took a picture of me holding the apple to its corresponding sign to help me identify them.

The following weekend (thank goodness apples keep for a long time), my dad came over for our apple tasting. I've never done any kind of tasting formally, but with all the fun I have doing them at home I bet I'd really enjoy them. Here's how this one went:

        Top row: Snapdragon, Esopus Spitzenburg, Karmijn de Sonnaville, Pink Pearl

Bottom row: Margil, Crimson Crisp, Liberty, Sansa

There were many more varieties of apples, but I'm happy with the selection we brought home. I didn't realize it at the time, but one of the varieties I get from my CSA is the Liberty apple, so that's the only one I've tried before.


*The favorite of the evening was the Karmijn de Sonnaville. It was really tart but also really sweet and was delighful for snacking.

*Other favorites were the Snapdragon, a new Cornell apple of which the Honeycrisp is a parent, the Sansa, a Japanese apple which crosses the Akane and Gala apples, and the Margil, which had the most unique flavor. It had a neutral flavor that was followed by a delicate nuttiness. I kinda wish I'd brought back a whole bag of the Margil apples.

*Best named apple goes to the Sansa. Ok, ok. This Game of Thrones fan may be a little biased.

*The prettiest apple was the pink pearl. It was so tiny and had a rosy hue inside. If I had more of these apples, I'd make some beautiful food art.

*This isn't so much a highlight, but our least favorite was the Esopus Spitzenburg. It was described as the "Thomas Jefferson apple, sweet + fruity with tingling tartness." The flavor was nice, but we couldn't get past the texture. It was really dry and made my tongue feel dry, too.

All in all, our trip to the Ithaca Farmer's Market was a smashing success. And, it was only the beginning of the rest of our magical 48 hours.

To be continued...

October 02, 2013

Celebrate National Kale Day with a Cajun Kale Salad

Happy National Kale Day to all of my fellow kale-obsessed vegans out there! I thought I'd drop in today to give you a recipe for this awesome kale salad I made last week. It is so quick to put together and only needs a few ingredients.

This beautiful cherry tomato medley was my inspiration for this recipe. The dark green kale made a nice complementary backdrop to the lively colors of the tomatoes, and I was able to squeeze a few more tomatoes into my diet before they disappeared for the season.

I added raw corn to this salad, too. Our CSA got a late crop of corn this year, so my fridge was overflowing with ears of corn just waiting to be used for something delicious. I just love raw corn. Many people are surprised to learn that you can eat it raw; they think that raw corn is really hard and needs to be cooked to make it edible. Not so! It is pleasantly crunchy and sweet in its raw form. The reason it is so sweet is that cooking converts the sugars in the corn to starch. Adding raw corn to your meals is a great way to add sweetness without adding sugar. If raw corn is not available to you, frozen corn (thawed) should work for this recipe. Just drain off any excess water before you add it to the salad.

As far as methods to cut the corn off the cob, there are a quite a few demos out there. It seems the popular method is to stand it upright in a bowl and shave it down with a sharp knife. I find this method to be unnecessarily messy. Even with a really big bowl, corn kernels fly every which way. I like to lay the cob down on the cutting board and run the knife down the sides, rotating as I continue to cut. It's so much less messy than the other way. Take a look:

Lacinato kale, also called tuscan kale or dinosaur (dino) kale, is a fairly delicate variety of this beloved green. I love to slice it in very thin ribbons to use as a salad base. It's so tender that I don't even massage it.  I do use some lime in this salad for flavor which will also help the leaves become even more tender over time if that's the texture you want, though I must admit that I ate this whole bowl right away. It was just too good!

Cajun Kale Salad
vegan, raw, gluten-free

1 bunch of lacinato kale
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
2 ears of corn, raw
1/3-1/2 avocado, depending on the size and/or your preference
juice of 2 limes
1/4 tsp cajun seasoning*

- Wash and dry kale thoroughly. remove the ribs and chop into thin ribbons. Place in a large bowl.
- Add the juice of one lime and toss to coat the kale leaves.
- Quarter cherry tomatoes and cut off corn kernels. Add both to the bowl.
- Squeeze the other lime and add in cajun seasoning.
- Toss for even distribution.
- Cut avocado and arrange on the top of the salad.
- Serve.

*If you don't have/can't find cajun seasoning, other seasoning mixes like chili powder would be great. I also went really light on the seasoning because I wanted to primarily taste the fresh vegetables. If you want more spice, start by adding another 1/4 tsp of seasoning to see if that helps.

September 27, 2013

Sunshine Selenium Cereal with Oranges and Figs

In the last post, I sang the praises of my favorite fruit, the nectarine. In this post, I wanted to share with you a recipe I've been making frequently with another one of my favorite fruits, figs.

3 years ago, I'd never tasted a fresh fig. I only knew the flavor of figs through eating fig newtons years earlier. Boy was I missing out. The first thing I ever made with fresh figs was a fig and rose smoothie, and that was all it took to hook me in. I even tried to grow a fig tree with a trimming I acquired. Sadly, it didn't take root, but I'm going to try again this year.

I decided to give this fig cereal a nutritional boost by adding a couple of brazil nuts. Why? Well, brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium. Selenium is a crucial mineral for vibrant health. Make sure you're getting enough! Brazil nuts are the best source of any food (plant or animal-derived), but a few other vegan foods that provide it are brown rice, oatmeal, spinach, and to a lesser extent, cashews, lentils, and bananas.

Selenium boasts a full range of health benefits. It works in tandem with vitamins C and E in the body, boosting antioxidant power. It is anti-inflammatory, is crucial for an optimally functioning thyroid and hormone production, supports a healthy immune system, is protective against cancer, helps balance cholesterol, and is an important mineral for beautiful skin.

This bowl is an antioxidant party, filled with selenium and vitamin C that will keep your body going strong in the present, and aid in rejuvenation for your future gorgeous self! Just one serving (1/2 of this recipe) provides a whopping 364% of your daily selenium needs, as well as 146% of your RDA for vitamin C. In addition, you'll get 1/3-1/2 of all of the B vitamins and zinc as well, 90% of the RDA for magnesium, 16 grams of protein, a good dose of calcium and iron, and a dash of vitamin E.

Sunshine Selenium Cereal with Oranges and Figs 
serves 2

1 cup of raw buckwheat groats, soaked at least 2 hours (or overnight)
10 figs, chopped
2 oranges, peeled
4 brazil nuts
1/2 tsp allspice
dash of cinnamon

- Soak buckwheat. Strain and rinse well. Place in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
- Chop figs and mix with buckwheat. Separate the mixture equally into two bowls and set aside.
- Put peeled oranges in a high-speed blender with the brazil nuts and allspice. Blend on high until it is smooth.
- Pour liquid over the cereal.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

September 19, 2013

Nectarine Dream Ice Cream + The Gut and Your Immune System

I've been following a new healing protocol with a doctor since early spring, and I was getting frustrated that my health was going in the opposite direction than I'd hoped. While my gut healing regimen over the last couple years has been successful, I am experiencing newer pitfalls in health that stemmed from my injured gut. Luckily, I met with another doctor who would help me on the same protocol I've been doing since spring, only she's tweaked it for the better. For years I had hoped to find a doctor like her; she's attentive, proactive, knowledgeable, and practical. She doesn't judge me or speak to me in an accusatory tone. It was really nice to finally be treated like a human being in a clinical setting. I respect her as a doctor, and she respects me as a patient. Why is that so hard to find?

She listened to my current woes and adjusted my treatment accordingly. I'm hoping things are on the upswing. So far, I've noticed some improvement which makes me so happy after months of going downhill. The past couple of months have been really challenging, so I'm looking forward to some relief.

Did you know your gut houses 70% of protective immune cells?

Yes, it's true. Some even estimate that it's as high as 80%. So imagine what can go wrong when your gut is damaged, and how important it is to look at medical issues from a whole body approach. Even if a problem doesn't seem related to a gut imbalance, it is of great benefit to strengthen the gut anyway because that in turn strengthens the immune system.

There are a lot of things that you can or may need to do to build up your gut health. I'd like to do a post in the future that details how I recovered from a severely impaired gut, but for now, here are 3 simple gut-strengthening tips that can benefit everyone.

1. Fiber is friendly, sugar is foe. White sugar and other processed sugars, even 'healthier' sweeteners like agave are best limited to small amounts, if used at all. They are all isolated from the whole food -- stripped of fiber and most (usually all) minerals --, and extracted from the vast matrix that nature has created. Altering foods in this way disrupts the body's natural digestive processes and causes imbalances in gut flora by feeding the bad bugs. The same goes for other refined carbohydrates like foods made with white flour. Eating these foods often is not the best habit to keep if you want healthy gut flora and a strong immune system. 

Focus on nourishing, whole foods: Don't fall into the hype that all sugar is bad. Look to fruits, whole grains, and legumes for solid energy sources. These whole food carbohydrates provide the body with sugar (energy), but do not promote the proliferation of unhealthy gut bacteria. Because they contain fiber, sugar absorption is slowed down so that it is not all dumped in the body at once. In addition, some of the fiber in these foods, like inulin, are prebiotics. Prebiotic (different than probiotic) foods are correlated with an increase in beneficial gut flora and a stronger immune system.

2. Less stress is best. Anyone who suffers from gut impairment will tell you that stress, even seemingly harmless smaller stresses, can cause major flare ups. Stress signals the fight or flight response. In attempt to conserve energy for the fighting or fleeing, the body shuts down any non-vital processes including digestion. Being in a chronic state of stress can wreak havoc on your digestion, leaching valuable energy from your body's stores and interfering with proper nutrient absorption.

The chill pill prescription: Often, meditation and yoga first come to mind when stress reduction is mentioned, but even smaller everyday things can help reduce stress. While I love both yoga and meditation, playing with my dog, going out in nature (even if it's just a 10 minute walk or sitting in the grass), talking with a friend on the phone, singing and playing piano, putting flowers and plants around the house, and making dinner with J are all effective stress relievers for me. If allotting a large portion of time isn't in the cards for you, try sprinkling your day with small things that give you a feeling of peace. And remember to breathe. Everything helps.

3. Sleep long, sleep well. With lack of sleep comes low energy, and with low energy comes the need to conserve. Lack of sleep is known to increase stress in the body. As we know from point #1 above, stress = digestive shut down.

Also, when people are sleep deprived, they often crave processed carbs. It makes sense since the body, lacking in energy, is craving quick fuel. Processed carbohydrates will give you just that. However, those foods are highly refined, which means they have no fiber and will eventually result in a sugar crash. Also, they often have a lot of unhealthy fats added in them. Neither of these factors lead to steady, sustained energy. Look for immediate stimulation, and not only will the stimulation be fleeting, but it will only cause more sleep issues in the future.

I know what not sleeping well can do to one's digestion. When I have a crappy sleep, it really affects the way my food goes down. My stomach feels uneasy and I become so fatigued after a meal, especially the heavy ones. When I have a really, really crappy sleep, I only want blended foods and juice. Otherwise, I feel even more sluggish and tired because my body is lacking energy to digest adequately.

Fuel for the sleep deprived: Think about the foods which are most easily digested. Fruits, steamed vegetables, green smoothies, soup, blended salads. These foods are full of nutrients that will make you feel the best you can after a bad night of sleep, and they won't bog down your digestion. Eat lightly, and then make it a priority to get some sleep the next night.

Now that nectarine season is winding down, I have been eating them morning and night to try and get my fill of this amazing juicy orb of goodness! Nectarines are my most favorite fruit of all time. I dream of the day that I have a backyard with a nectarine tree. It will be heaven, I tell you. Absolute heaven.

I've been making a lot of things with my stash of nectarines, but I had yet throw them into banana soft serve. Bananas are a good sources of inulin which means that they are an excellent food to help support your healthy gut flora.

I have one more nectarine left in the kitchen, and I'm planning on making 1/2 this recipe for an evening snack, though not while I catch up on Breaking Bad. Remember what I said about stress and digestion? And, geez is that show stress-inducing. 

Nectarine Dream Ice Cream vegan, raw, gluten-free, nut-free
makes 2-3 servings

5 bananas, cut into chunks and frozen
2 nectarines, sliced
4 dates, pitted and two of them chopped

-Peel and freeze the bananas overnight. (You can cut them before or after frozen.)
-Place bowls in the freezer to chill them for about 5-10 minutes. 
-Chop two of the dates and set them aside. 
-Blend the bananas, nectarines, and 2 of the dates in a food processor or high speed blender* until smooth. It will have the consistency of soft serve.
-Scoop the ice cream into the chilled bowls and sprinkle chopped dates on top.

*I usually use my vitamix (with the tamper) on a low-medium setting for banana soft serve, but a food processor works just as well if not better. If using a food processor, it will take a little bit longer. First it will ball up into one mass, but it will soon smooth out into a luscious soft serve consistency.