April 18, 2013

A Few Fond Farewells: Part 2

You can find A Few Fond Farewells: Part 1 here.

In a week, my favorite dinner guest is getting hitched and moving to New Orleans. Of course that meant I had to give her a spectacular send-off! I picked out my menu from Crazy Sexy Kitchen. Coincidentally, it happened to be very similar to the 'Taste of Gourmet' menu in the back of the book. Great minds think alike! "Gourmet" is the perfect word to describe what I was going for. When I have guests, I like to make something fancier than what I make on a daily basis for myself but not so ambitious that it becomes overly complicated or unnecessarily expensive. The menu I picked out looked just right. 
Since Michele is moving to New Orleans, serving Tal Ronnen's Hearts of Palm Crab Cakes was a no-brainer. I've been reading endless raves of these seafood patties and have been waiting for the perfect moment to try them out. They were incredible as was the remoulade that topped them. I made a few tweaks to the recipe such as using sprouted grain bread for the breadcrumbs and whipping up my own raw vegan mayo instead of using store-bought. J and Michele agreed that the crab cakes tasted more like salmon cakes. It's been way too long since I've eaten fish, so I didn't have much of a frame of reference. I think I know what they mean though. The cakes were really delicate and almost flaky. We started with 2 cakes each and all went in for thirds. Then, J went in for fourths!

While I was looking at the recipe for the crab cakes, I leafed through CSK to see if anything else in there caught my eye. Hello, Tartlets with Clementine Sorbet and Lavender Syrup! This dainty dessert screamed springtime, and with the temperature in the 70's I could think of nothing I wanted to make more. I have a fondness for lavender in desserts and that combined with citrus, coconut, and macadamia nuts sounded to die for! I swoon.

I had a main and a dessert picked out, but I still needed a side to round out the meal. I was never a seafood lover and have only eaten a crab cake or two in my life (essentially a bread cake with a crab-like aftertaste that came from the grocery store deli). I wasn't sure what is traditionally served with crab cakes. After consulting my oh-so-knowledgable friend (ok, so it was google), I had a few ideas. Corn on the cob would have been great, but it's not in season. Asparagus spears? Yum! But, I've already made a dinner with asparagus for my cousin and I wanted something completely different. Potato salad? No way. That would be too heavy. 

Since I've been practically living on citrus lately, I thought a citrus salad would be delightful. Plus, it tied into the dessert theme. I checked out the salad section in CSK and there it was. Lettuces and Citrus, the perfect salad for a spring evening, comprised of butter lettuce, orange and grapefruit segments, toasted pecans, and a light and spicy wine vinaigrette. 

This salad was the big surprise of the night. Now, I love salads. I mean, I love salads. I make my salads into meals, and I know that it doesn't have to be extravagant to be a killer salad. But, this simple salad surprised me. The butter lettuce was so pleasantly mild and crunchy. The grapefruit and mandarin orange were splashes of sweetness that subdued the spicy red pepper flakes. The earthy toasted pecans leveled out the waves of sweet and spice, and brought me back from whatever magical salad dreamland I'd been carried off to. I wished that I could scoop up the whole bowl of salad in my arms and savor every last bit all by myself. 

When I wasn't drifting off into salad dreamland, I was loving every minute of my last dinner date with Michele (at least, the last one for a long while). We had all the windows open and the breeze smelled like a looming rainstorm. Ahhh! Since mother nature decided not to grace us with a storm, we ate dessert in the backyard. Even Tucker got dessert. We gave him a vegan dog bone and he trotted away to a corner of the yard to eat in peace!

While I'm going to miss my cousin, I can't wait for her to experience life in a new city for the first time with the love of her life. Oh, and she better have her guestroom ready!

Farewells = party time; new adventures; wishing you had another giant bowl of salad. Ok, joking about that last one. Kinda. Whether it's saying goodbye to a band you really love or a cousin/friend who was one of your best friends growing up, nothing is ever really lost. Things just get bigger and better, and the best thing about farewells are the great things to come.

April 15, 2013

Vegan Dietitians, FTW: An Afternoon with George Eisman, RD

I'm wont to devour just about any vegan nutrition book I can get my hands on. It's not just because I want to eat a healthy vegan diet, but also because I love to see data from all the newest studies that have been done and to learn about nutritional concepts that may be beyond the content in any other "go vegan!" book.

Even better than reading books is listening to the experts speak. I can still remember back in 2005 attending a presentation at the now-defunct NCOR (National Conference on Organized Resistance) by Michael Greger, M.D., the face behind those handy and succinct nutrition videos at NutritionFacts.org, and being fully engrossed in his every word. I wanted to hear more, more from him and other esteemed vegans in the health world. I haven't had many in-person opportunities, though the rise of online conferences like Veganpalooza are great to take advantage of. We have a huge Vegetarian Festival every summer here where I would have a chance to meet brilliant vegan minds, but the whopping price tag has kept me from attending so far. The speaker list (including the official gourmet vegan chef for the week) reads like a who's who in the vegan world. One day, I'll find a way to attend, and it will be awesome! I've heard nothing but good things from attendees, and I've heard many of the speakers before in online conferences. If you have the money to spare, I would definitely check it out.

George Eisman (there's a great bio of him here) talks at events around the U.S. including the Vegetarian Summerfest in Johnstown. I met a friend of his last fall, and she said that because of my enthusiasm for vegan nutrition I'd really enjoy speaking with him sometime. When our local Meetup group announced a handful of his speaking engagements around the city that were free, I jumped at the chance to attend one.

My dad has been more and more interested in eating plant-based in the past few years – seeing aging people around you fall prey to modern lifestyle diseases can do that to anyone – and I thought he'd greatly benefit from joining me at this talk. He was really excited to do so, too, and found much of the information extremely useful.  

The talk was centered around eating for cancer prevention, but Eisman touched on other subjects especially when an unrelated topic came up during Q and A. He did a fantastic job at presenting complex scientific processes in an accessible manner. People like my dad had no problem grasping the ideas that he was explaining. Even for someone like me, who is no newbie to nutritional concepts, the talk brought up new facts and perspectives to ponder. I feel that as someone who would love to educate people about nutrition in the future, I have much to learn from his teaching style. I'm definitely going to let yesterday's events marinate in my mind for awhile and take all that I can from it.

Here's a summary of some important points that he touched on:

  • The beautiful design of a vegan diet. Whether you want to eat for the earth, the animals, and/or your health, a vegan diet is best for all of them
  • Dairy is a no-no. The negative environmental impact of the dairy industry is large. The dairy industry is every bit as cruel as the meat industry, if not more so. Consumption of dairy will increase your risk for cancer and heart disease. 
  • Goat vs cow dairy. Many people think that goat's milk/cheese is healthier than that from cows, but goat's milk has higher amounts of growth hormone than cow's milk. Growth hormone encourages all cell growth, including the nasty cancerous ones!
  • What people should eat: Eat lots of leafy greens, brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, and unprocessed, whole plant foods. Organic and local are major bonuses. 
  • Vegan deficiency. He dispelled the common myth that b12 deficiency is only a concern for vegans (and how it is becoming a problem largely because of the sterile environment we live in) and of course addressed the ever-annoying question, "But, where do you get your protein?!!". He also expressed his thoughts about building muscle on a vegan diet. He referenced Robert Cheeke's book Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness, and explained that because an athlete is going to increase their calorie intake when they're training, the protein intake will naturally increase too. In most cases, protein powders are not necessary.
  • The link between animal protein consumption and increased cancer risk. He described the process the body goes through as it breaks down protein, and discussed how too much protein, especially animal protein, can be hard on the kidneys and can, in the long term, cause significant calcium loss in the bones.
  • Osteoporosis vs Osteomalacia. Osteoporosis is from the bones weakening from the inside out due to bodily stresses like too much animal protein, being sedentary, caffeine, and smoking cigarettes (really anything that promotes an acidic environment in your body). Osteomalacia is the result of the bones softening due to calcium deficiency (also inadequate levels of phosphorus and vitamin d). This drives home the point that increasing calcium intake from milk or supplements is not an effective preventative measure against osteoporosis! 
  • Full-fat animal milk vs. low-fat and fat-free animal milk. Pick your poison. If you want to increase your risk for cancer, drink fat-free animal milk (higher in protein), if you want to increase your risk of heart-related diseases, drink full-fat animal milk. If you want to lower your risk of both diseases, drink plant milks!
  • Intake of beans and legumes. He recommends far less legume and bean intake than some other vegan nutrition educators I know. Because one only needs about 20 grams of protein per day to maintain proper nitrogen balance, a serving of about a cup of beans or legumes contains plenty of protein. (and to this I will add that if you are eating a lot of leafy greens, you'll be getting protein from them, too!)
  • Oats vs wheat. Oats, unlike wheat, have both soluble and insoluble fiber. This is one of the reasons that oats are a better choice.
  • Fiber needs to be chunky to do its job. I could be wrong, but I don't believe that he means to advocate the alarmist "green smoothies are bad for you" hype of last year, but only say that blending and grinding should not be relied upon as a sole source of fiber intake. Babies don't need fiber (it's not in breast milk) which one reason that pureeing food well for them is good for their digestion. 
  • The proper macronutrient ratio. As far as macro ratios, he thinks that 80/10/10 is a good guide. (That would mean 80% of calories come from carbs and 10% each from protein and fat.) This ratio closely resembles recommendations from the likes of Dr. Joel Furhman, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall, and obviously, author of The 80/10/10 Diet, Dr. Doug Graham. 
  • Are raw vegan diets healthy? Raw vegan diets can be very healthy as long as you don't eat too many nuts/seeds and dried fruits. He mentioned that he likes the 80/10/10 diet and that he's pleased that Dr. Graham is not rigid about excluding cooked carbs. (I like this inclusive approach, too. I mean, if your choice is to eat a bag of raw almonds or a plate of quinoa and steamed vegetables, the quinoa and veggies is a much more sound nutritional choice.) 
  • It's all about language. Someone asked him if he ever got in trouble for going into schools and promoting plant milks instead of cow's milk. When speaking in schools or to a generally non-vegan crowd, he doesn't use the "v words" but "plant-based". Furthermore, he doesn't say "animal milk" and "plant milk", but just "milk". Which milk is better for you if you want to have a healthy heart? Kids will get the gist of it without you having to throw adjectives in front of the word. (Personally, I don't think we should step down from our vegan soapboxes, but sometimes a gentler approach like this is warranted, too. I think they're both good as long as we can recognize which one will get our foot in the door first, and it's always different. That's why it pays to be conscious of your audience!)

  • Focus on the positive. When you put a positive spin on something, people want to listen. They want to improve their health and they want to feel good. (As I mention in the previous point, it comes down to the educator to decide if or when it's the most effective time to address the negative side of one's diet. And, it doesn't have to be either/or! I've found it to be most effective for presenters to start off with the negative and finish off with the positive. This is just what George Eisman did at our presentation. He started off talking about the environmental impact of animal food, the depressing details of the meat and dairy industries, and how certain foods that people eat increase risk of disease, but moved on to the multitude of positives of a vegan diet. When information is presented in this way, you leave feeling empowered.

All that I have left to say about yesterday's talk is that if you ever have a chance to hear George Eisman speak, take it! 

April 11, 2013

A Few Fond Farewells Part 1

“I see colors when I hear your voice.
Grab your wings, 
they're putting gravity on trial.”

-Synesthesia by Andrew McMahon

There are some things in this world that make me feel invincible, choke me up with tears every time, give me no choice but to believe that magic does exist. Andrew McMahon's music is one of those things. His beauteous songs have been setting soundtracks to my life for the better part of this millennium. I have to clutch my hands to my chest lest my heart flutter away. I almost don't want to try and explain my nirvana because most of the time it feels beyond comprehension.

I don't know what it is that draws me to him so much, but anyone who's ever been entranced by someone's art (who hasn't been?!) can undoubtedly relate. His poetic lyrics know where my soul lies, and the notes streaming from his hammers and strings are only more brilliant because of their simplicity. I'm unbelievably shocked that he isn't a big star with a wall of platinum records. He is the music world's best kept secret, and because of this secret I got to see him perform in a tiny club. Lucky me!

I've only seen him in concert once before though there were many other times I would have loved to see him. In April 2010, I met up with my brother at University of Pittsburgh where Jack's Mannequin played a free outdoors show. The scenery made the show. It was a sun-shiny day, the birds sang (along?), and the budding trees and flowers surrounded the stage. I could tell Andrew was in his element; his performance reflected the vibrant life surrounding us. This was one of the last amazing memories I made before the mold turned my life upside down, and I treasure it immensely.

This show was equally memorable but in a much different way. Fresh off of the amicable split of Jack's Mannequin, Andrew McMahon embarked on this solo tour to play music from both his Jack's days and his days in Something Corporate. He played some new music, too, with which unsurprisingly I fell immediately in love! It was a rare opportunity to hear songs that spanned his entire career!  

My dad joined my brother and I for this show. He was the oldest one in the crowd which balances out all the times my brother and I go to Yes concerts with him and are the youngest in the crowd! We weren't in an expansive environment like my last show but a small, intimate club. Because the stage was so low, I couldn't always see him well when he was sitting at the piano, but his vibrant energy that I became acquainted with at the show years ago enveloped the crowd. Some people just stood still as if frozen in time, but me? I fed off of his infectious energy, taking full advantage of a rare night out to dance, sing, and feel the music deep in my bones.

As I said, the last show was one of my last memories before falling ill. I like to think of this show as a memory I make during the turn-around of my health. The positive, buzzing energy that I carried home with me that night is one of several things right now that have the power to accelerate my progress in healing.Right now, I'm excited for the new chapter in Mr. Andrew McMahon's career! First up? He's releasing an EP on April 30 entitled The Pop Underground. He played 2 of the 4 songs at the concert (Synesthesia and Learn to Dance), and they rocked! 

Farewell, Jack's Mannequin. It's been fun!