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!