Holistic Holiday At Sea- Review

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Wow!  I haven’t blogged in such a long time that the entire WordPress layout looks different.  Well okay, I will figure it out as I go.

David and I just returned from a week vacation called the Holistic Holiday at Sea.  I don’t remember how we learned about this cruise but I’m sure it had something to do with finding a vacation where we didn’t have to cook for ourselves or scramble around searching for vegan food.  Here is a description of the cruise from the HHS website:

“Holistic Holiday at Sea™ is a body pampering, relaxing, and educational vacation aboard the new MSC Divina, one of the world’s most luxurious ocean liners. A perfect combination of luxury, fitness, knowledge and entertainment, our 7-day holistic cruise stops at exotic ports of call and offers a wide variety of lectures, workshops, and private consultations by leading authorities in the fields of alternative health and holistic healing. All this while dining on specially prepared natural foods, swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, and lounging in saunas and Turkish baths.”

Sounds pretty great right? To be more specific about the “knowledge” portion of this, the featured speakers included Dr. Neal Barnard, T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Michael Klaper and many others. If you are not familiar with these names, these are the rock stars of plant-based nutrition–the folks who write the books, stand up in the face of traditional western medicine and research and declare that the path to good health and disease prevention and reversal is NOT pills and surgery but a shift from the Standard American Diet to a whole foods, plant-based diet. The prospect of meeting and hearing these speakers was very exciting.

I had never been on a cruise before, and frankly I never had any desire to take one.  I’m not a big sea lover, and in general I like to keep my feet on the ground.  However, the promise of hearing and meeting people I so admired combined with the not-cooking-for-a-week thing was so compelling that I decided to give it a try.  Plus, we figured it would be exciting to be among 1300 other vegans where we could speak freely and share stories over dinner. We had very high hopes for this cruise, and some of our expectations were met and others were not.  Here’s what I thought:

First, let me dispense with my view on cruising.  Since I’d never been on a cruise before, I can’t say whether my lack of enthusiasm for this sort of vacation was specific to this cruise line or ship or what, but I simply don’t like being on a cruise ship.  With over 3000 people on the cruise (HHS cruisers were not the only ones on the ship), the only time I liked being on the ship was when everyone got off to visit the ports-of-call.   While we had pretty nice weather and calm seas there was a day or two where I felt like I was in one giant airplane, listing from side to side.  Not comfortable and no way out.   We did have a balcony room which we thoroughly enjoyed and the swaying that I hated during the day I kind of enjoyed when I went to sleep.  Plus the breezes and sound of the ocean were pretty great.

Our ship, the MSC Divina seemed to have all the bells and whistles.  We were not interested in any of it.  Just really not our thing. We were more about the lectures, demonstrations, etc.  I guess there was some night life;  we were happily tucked away in our room by ten o’clock.   That being said, the service on the ship was awful.  From housekeeping to waitstaff it just wasn’t there.  And much, if not most of the service staff didn’t appear to speak English.  Not so easy to get that mini-bar restocked.

This ship stopped in St. Thomas (that gorgeous photo up top was the view from our room in port), San Juan, (Puerto Rico) and Nassau.  There were some lectures scheduled on port days but we chose to lace up our sneakers in St. Thomas and San Juan to get some outdoor exercise and explore.  San Juan was particularly lovely;  Nassau looked awful so we didn’t get off at all. We passed on excursions preferring to enjoy the ship and catch some sun when the decks were empty.  This actually worked pretty well and was relaxing.

So, in short, one cruise was enough for me.  If you like the experience of cruising, I imagine you would like this aspect of HHS well enough.

Next on to the food.  This was easily the most disappointing aspect of our trip, which is particularly unfortunate because it was one of our reasons for wanting to come on the cruise.  Admittedly we probably didn’t read this paragraph in the promotional materials well enough:

Meals will be non-dairy, vegan/natural cuisine and organic when possible. Desserts will be sugar and dairy-free and prepared by our own pastry chefs. Macrobiotic quality, organic/naturally fermented condiments such as miso, shoyu, umeboshi, and sun-dried sea salt will be used exclusively. Non-dairy and sugar-free beverages will be served.”

 

Apparently the HHS was originally a “macrobiotic” not a “vegan” cruise, but over the years the fastest growing segment of travelers has been whole foods, plant-based cruisers. While there is significant overlap in these cuisines and approaches they are not the same. I know very little about Macrobiotics and you can read about it here if you are interested in knowing more. My comments are in no way a critique of Macrobiotics but rather my simple assessment of the food on the cruise. In short, the food served in the dining room (several courses each meal) was pretty much rice or grain-based, brown or tan in color with an almost compete absence of fresh, bright vegetables or fruits. As a whole foods, plant-based person who “eats the rainbow” this was not going to work for me. After two days of this David and I discovered another buffet which had a salad bar, vegan pizza and lots of fresh fruit. We did not return to the dining room. To be fair, we were just as happy with the more casual, spacious buffet area, but we did lose out on dining with other like-minded people, although we saw plenty of HHS folks waiting for the vegan pizza.

I don’t know if the cruise organizers are married to the macrobiotic cuisine but it’s worth asking about if you think about going on this cruise.  Aside from feeling disappointed about the general quality of the food, I felt disappointed that the veg-curious folks on the cruise would associate that food with a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle.  In fact,  I met as many veg-curious people as committed vegans, and none of the people I spoke to were enthusiastic about the macrobiotic food.  This felt like a huge lost opportunity to me, since many of these people who wanted to improve their health were not exposed to the glorious array of plant-based food available.  Most of us WFPB folks do not eat miso soup for breakfast.  Sigh.

OK, so now on to the good stuff.  The educational offerings on this cruise were truly superb.  I can only imagine the amount of work it takes to put a program of this magnitude together.  Each day there were numerous options at every time slot.  Here’s a look at one day’s offerings:

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We took full advantage of the lectures and each featured speaker offered many different talks.  David was actually getting continuing education credits so our focus was on those options.  Not only were the lectures inspiring, informative and entertaining, but there was ample time for Q & A and one-on-one chats with the presenters who were open to getting feedback and fielding questions about personal issues.

It’s actually hard to put into words how inspiring it is to be among doctors and other healers who value health and wellness over the status quo.  These doctors exhibit courage and commitment that I believe is very rare.  David and I had both done a ton of reading and researched about these doctors so we knew there was much to admire in the way they have fought for a medical model based on whole food plant-based nutrition and lifestyle rather than pills and surgery.  Rather than go into detail about every single talk I thought I’d focus a few of the highlights for me:

  1.  Dr. Neal Barnard’s reversal of diabetes talk.  Yes, type 2 diabetes can be reversed, contrary to what most doctors will tell you.  It is not a life sentence.  By eating a WFPB diet it can happen very fast.  You can read more about this here.
  2. Dr Michael Klaper’s “From Operating Room Table to Dining Room Table”. Dr. Klaper spoke about his own evolution which included an awakening to the violence inherent in eating animals.  He has all the western medical credentials (in spades) and as he says over and over “it’s all about the FOOD”!  He’s a marvelous human being and you can check out his website here.
  3. Dr. Michael Klaper’s bone health talk.  No, dairy is not good for bone health.  Just the opposite in fact.  And Dr. Klaper gives a scathing review of the meds for osteoporosis.  I knew about this from David who sees his dental patients’ inability to heal after taking meds like Fosamax.  It’s all about the diet and weight-bearing exercise.  If you’re still eating”dairy for calcium” I urge you to read further about this on his website or others.
  4. Dr. Thomas Campbell’s talk about his journey from co-author of the China Study to conventionally trained western doc. This was particularly interesting because Dr. Campbell went to medical school after spending four years working with his father writing The China Study.  He gives a first hand view of how difficult it is to bridge the divide between lifestyle medicine and our current system of treating symptoms with drugs and surgery.
  5. Recovery Panel.  A group of 12 people who healed their late stage disease (heart disease, cancer, auto-immune) by changing their diets shared their stories of recovery.  It can be done but it won’t happen using the current medical model.  I wish more people would consider nutrition.  Our bodies are designed to heal us if we nourish them well.

Pretty impressive, don’t you think?  The HHS folks also had a pop-up bookstore on the ship which enabled people to get the resources they need to learn even more.

So, in sum, our trip was a marvelous and inspiring educational experience.  A great number of people signed up for next year’s cruise already, but as I said, for me once was enough.  Interestingly, at one dinner we spoke with a couple who had been to Dr. John McDougall’s travel adventures.  These include trips to Hawaii, Costa Rica and Alaska.  I have my sights set on Costa Rica where we can hike in the rain forest, sit on the beach and eat bright, vibrant vegan food.  Oh, and Dr. McDougall might have a few interesting things to share as well😉.

Want to join us?  You can read about it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Veganuary”-Calling All Volunteers!

I wrote this a year ago, and my offer to provide information and support to anyone who wants to go vegan for the month of January is still open. What have you got to lose, except maybe a few pounds and a nagging feeling that your actions may not be in line with your values?! Why not make 2016 a year that is truly something special…

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One of my favorite blogs these days is called “The Friendly Fig”.  It’s a veg-friendly site written by two young women who blog about vegan and vegetarian lifestyle issues.  While I get my recipes from other trusty “foodie” resources I enjoy their blog because they research and provide good information about cosmetics, travel and other “being in the world as a vegan” topics.  You can check out their site here.

Today, The Friendly Fig gals are promoting a new Vegan Magazine called Vegan Life and they will be on the magazine’s blogging team.  I will, of course, be subscribing.  What specifically caught my eye though was this:img_8268

Of course I was drawn in by this wonderful photo montage, but more to the point, “Veganuary” is an initiative that involves asking others to be vegan for the month of January.  Clearly there’s an attempt here to get on the “resolutions”…

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Grateful for Wellingtons

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I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving.   We had a wonderful holiday.   We hosted a gathering of family, old friends, new friends and one family we had never met before–18 in all.   At our dinner there were vegans and non-vegans, and while we talked some about veganism, we ate, drank and connected around all sorts of topics.   All of our guests contributed to the Thanksgiving meal, and it was a real feast.  I am most grateful for the spirit of openness that each person brought to our home.  It was very special.

So what’s with the Wellingtons?  I wasn’t actually going to write a blog post about the Wellingtons because most people in my inner circle are probably sick to death of hearing about them.  But I decided to share about them as sort of a public service announcement to vegan Thanksgiving hosts everywhere.

Here’s the thing–when David and I decided to host a vegan Thanksgiving this year I knew that while I would certainly not miss having a dead bird on my table, I still wanted a “centerpiece” dish that would elicit the oohs and aahs usually reserved for the bird.  I like to think that I could fully enjoy the spirit of the holiday while eating just about anything, but I really wanted a dish would conjure pre-vegan Thanksgiving meals.  I don’t usually get too caught up in that kind of thing but this time I did .  Maybe it was because not everyone at the gathering was vegan. I wanted the meal to be full of traditional Thanksgiving flavors rather than “nouvelle vegan” (is that even a thing?).

As I thought about this, I remembered that my friends, Sylvia and Myo at Main Street Vegan Academy had shown me photos of their 2014 Thanksgiving and they told me about the Wellingtons–sliced seitan, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, stuffing and kale all tucked inside  beautiful puff-pastry.  A centerpiece dish for sure!  I remembered that they bought their Wellingtons frozen from Native Foods Cafe, a vegan chain located mostly on the west coast.  Unfortunately there’s no Native Foods Cafe in Arizona and they don’t ship to individuals.  Undaunted, we looked at our options.  Luckily there is a Native Foods Cafe in Palm Springs where my in-laws live so we decided to pay them a visit and pick up our Wellingtons there.  We hauled our four frozen Wellingtons and four containers of mushroom shallot gravy back to Arizona in an ice-packed cooler.

While procuring the Wellingtons took some doing, preparing them did not.  One hour in the oven and voila, the golden brown Wellingtons you see above were done. This freed me up to focus on side dishes–some I made, some I bought and some I asked others to bring.  Here’s the spread…

Cornbread stuffing from Whole Foods.  Surprisingly authentic (you know, too much salt) and delicious:

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Mac N Cheese from The Simple Veganista (always a hit):

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Freshly baked dinner rolls from Minimalist Baker (thanks Denise and George):

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Shaved brussels sprouts with nuts and cranberries and green bean/artichoke/mushroom casserole with vegan parmigiana.  A very tasty new find.  (Thanks Julia and Jeff)DSCN3192

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Mixed green salad with lemon tahini dressing (thanks Denise and George)and chopped kale salad from Oh She Glows:

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We also had mashed potatoes (think there was enough starch?) and a lovely quinoa and veggie salad (thanks Bob and Lana) but I didn’t get pictures of them.  I had completely forgotten to take pictures and found myself clicking away last minute as hungry guests were lining up at the buffet.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of dessert either–pumpkin pie, cranberry pumpkin oatmeal cookies, peanut butter chocolate cups and apple crisp.  YUM.

We  had a real Thanksgiving feast.  And the Wellingtons?  Divine.  They did not disappoint.  Maybe most people wouldn’t drive out of state to pick up their main dish but I’m so glad we did.  We had a nice visit with David’s folks in Palm Springs and we got to treat our guests to something special.

I believe a new tradition has begun.

 

 

What I Want For My Birthday

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Tomorrow is my birthday, and the thought of that makes me smile.

 I’ve always loved my birthday.  There was always something about it being the one day that was “mine”.  When I was younger, I enjoyed being showered with attention and presents.  When I was raising my three children I celebrated my birthday by shifting attention to myself and doing exactly what I wanted to do.  Sometimes that meant celebrating with my family, and sometimes it didn’t.  The freedom was the real gift.  As I’ve gotten older, I still have some of that feeling that November 5 is qualitatively different for me than every other day of the year, however, what I enjoy most is getting birthday wishes from my kids, friends and family.  It warms my heart to know I am remembered.  I don’t need gifts although I am touched when someone chooses to give me one.  Bottom line?  I have enough stuff.

This morning, when David asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I realized that things feel a little different this year.  Just about a year ago (the actual date was October 24) we went vegan, and this past year was different than any of the previous 55 in ways I could never have expected.  I have had many “momentous” years in my life.  Getting married (twice) and the births of my three amazing children created shifts that I could not have anticipated, in terms of both struggle and pain and intense love and joy.

At this point though, I am passionate about something outside of myself.  I learned about the suffering and violence inflicted on billions of animals used for food, clothing and entertainment.  I learned about the relationship between animal agriculture and the destruction of the earth and oceans.  I learned that eating animals is related to the nightmarish state of our collective health.  I vowed to stop eating and using animals for all of these reasons, and I decided to dedicate myself to educating others about these issues and provide support to those who want to also make changes in their own lives.

As any animal activist will tell you, this is quite an uphill battle, one that can feel isolating and discouraging.  For me, the most difficult part of this activist journey is that the vast majority of people simply do not want to learn or be challenged to look at themselves in any way and this makes healthy, substantive discussion very difficult.  I feel like I know so very little about how other people see this issue because it seems that only the vegans are willing to talk about it!  I understand the psychological goings-on better than most, but I never get used to how little people “wonder” about their motivations and their behavior.  And what I know is that “wondering” is the precursor to change.  Wondering if something is true.  Wondering if we are culpable or hypocritical or doing the best we can.  Wondering if there’s another way.  Going vegan doesn’t mean I stop wondering.  What is my role in the defensiveness?  How can I say things better?  How can I be more compassionate?  Am I being realistic?  Am I being true to myself and is that always the most important thing?  I don’t have answers to all these questions but I’m working on it.

So what I want for my birthday is for people to start wondering.  I believe that most people are kind, decent and compassionate, and there are defensive walls and blind spots that get in the way of people acting in a way that is truly in line with their values.  It’s all about connecting the dots.  Here are some questions that might get your “wondering” juices going:

–  If I believe that it is wrong to torture and kill animals for pleasure can I be true to this belief while continuing to eat animals?

-Can I be an environmentalist while ignoring the issue of animal agriculture?

-Do I believe that I need to take responsibility for my own health and wellness?

If you’re wondering up a storm and want to talk about it, please leave a message and let’s get a discussion going.  If you don’t want to engage with these questions, I can accept that too.  After all, even in grown-up birthday world, we can’t always get what we want:)

Revisiting Esther

My daughter’s take on compassion and empathy. The messages here apply to human and non-human animals alike.

Just the One Anne

This year, maybe for the first time ever, I attended all of the High Holiday services, singing in the choir at a synagogue in the northern suburbs of Chicago. On Yom Kippur morning, the rabbi’s sermon was about how the Torah is actually a blueprint for how to live a happy Jewish life, if you’re reading carefully; the thing that stuck with me was his emphasis on making time for study, reading and reflection. A week later, at the church where I am a section leader in downtown Chicago, the scripture reading was from the book of Esther. I found myself listening to the reading and the sermon and realizing that actually, I didn’t remember much about the book of Esther. A friend at church described the reading as “the one where they hang some guy at the end.”

…do they really? Where had I been? Had I ever actually…

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Heal Thyself

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As I posted on Facebook, I recently completed a certificate program in plant-based nutrition.  In case you missed it, here’s proof:

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This program was incredibly eye-opening,  and I thought I was pretty well-informed before I started.  There was so much information, not only about the nuts and bolts of plant-based nutrition (protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals) but the course also provided an excellent overview about the relationship between nutrition and disease, understanding and evaluating nutrition research, and how research does and does not impact public policy.

Before I talk about the highlights of this program for me, I’d like to say that it is very possible to eat a diet free of animal products and not be particularly healthy.   Soda is vegan.  So are many processed foods like donuts, cookies, crackers and chips.  There are dozens of frozen and prepared vegan entrees full of fat and loaded with salt.   A whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPBD) eliminates all animal products as well as processed foods, sugar, and most, if not all, oils.   It includes vegetables, potatoes, beans and legumes, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds.  This program taught me a great deal about the relationship between nutrition and human health.  Here are the themes that stood out most for me:

Doctors Know Best-NOT

Unless your doctor is an alternative healthcare provider of some kind or a doctor who has taken this course (lots of participants were working in health care) or a similar continuing education series, I probably know more about nutrition than your physician does.  That’s not because I know it all, but because he or she probably knows next to nothing.  The fact is that nutrition is seldom taught in medical school.  Imagine your car mechanic not knowing the difference between diesel and regular gasoline!  Not so great. So, if you’re expecting your physician to educate you about the healing properties of food you’re barking up the wrong tree.  That’s also true if you’re expecting your doctor to endorse a way of eating that he or she is uninterested in trying for themselves.  It wasn’t all that long ago that doctors were recommending cigarettes to their patients and smoking themselves.  Doctors profiled in this course  sought out new ways of preventing and treating disease because their patients simply were not getting better with conventional, western approaches like pills and surgery.  They discovered that a whole foods, plant-based diet addressed the cause, rather than just the symptoms of disease. Sadly,  docs like these are in the minority, but the information is out there.  We can and must educate ourselves.

One Diet To Help Everything

There is plenty of compelling evidence that shows that eating an animal-based diet contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and a myriad of other chronic diseases and conditions.  At the same time, there is also evidence that shows that switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet can slow or even reverse these diseases as well–with no side effects.  Consider  a person suffering from Type 2 diabetes.  This person might also be struggling with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Treating the diabetes with medication might control blood sugar but won’t touch the underlying cause which is most likely obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.  A whole foods, plant-based diet will naturally lead to weight loss while at the same time positively impact the diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure.  Name me a pill that can do all that!  In this program,  we heard stories of many patients who traded in their bags of pills and syringes for whole plant-based foods.  Even chronic and progressive illnesses such as MS, fibromyalgia, arthritis and asthma could be greatly helped with a change to a plant-based diet.  People eating this way routinely experienced improvements in a very short period of time, and many were able to get off all medications.

Forests, not Trees

Eating healthfully on a whole foods, plant-based diet means eating from a wide variety of foods–eating the rainbow, if you will.  If we do this, we no longer need to fuss with how much of this or that nutrient we are consuming  (with the exception of vitamin B12  which should be supplemented).  What a relief!  By eating a mix of colorful vegetables, potatoes, beans, lentils, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds we have it all covered.  If you’re interested in the details, there are great books out there that show typical plant-based meals and how they stack up nutritionally against options one might find in an animal-based meal.  Let’s just say there’s no comparison in terms of the good stuff.  And in case you’re wondering, yes, there’s enough protein and calcium and  omega 3 and all the rest of it.  This is a gestalt approach to eating well, rather than a vitamin here, a mineral there.  A major point made in the program was that the body is infinitely complex, and if we eat the right foods our body will do right by us.  No single nutrient, vitamin or mineral can change our overall picture. I imagine though, that most of us who begin a WFPBD need to get educated about all the plant-based foods that are out there in order to benefit from the full spectrum of nutrients available.  For me, these “new” foods were beans, lentils, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds and nutritional yeast.  Again,  we have to take responsibility for what’s on our plates.

Follow The Money

It will lead you right down a path of poor health.  The horrible state of our collective health is a direct result of money to be made by corporations, individuals and organizations at every level.  Would it surprise you to know that at one point half of the members of a committee in the FDA assigned to create new dietary guidelines for public programs (such as school lunch, hospitals and programs for women, infants and children) had ties to food industries that had a financial stake in the policy?  It’s no wonder the kids in our country eat junk in their schools.  Scientists have known for decades that milk is unhealthy, yet it’s still touted as necessary for our kids.  Dairy lobby anyone? It’s all for sale.   It’s virtually impossible to not find conflicts of interest everywhere, and the goodies go to the highest bidders.  Consider who would lose money if everyone hopped on the whole foods, plant-based bandwagon.  Hospitals that make most of their money from heart surgery,  doctors, big pharma, big agra, and supplement manufacturers to name just a few.  So if you’re thinking that your health comes first, think again.  Our poor health is very big business and there’s no money in broccoli.  This certainly explains why a recent article in the NY Times was discussing the exorbitant cost ($14,000 per year) of a new class of (much needed!) statin drugs.  So much hand-wringing about that insane number, yet not a word about the cheaper and more effective way to lower cholesterol through a plant-based diet.  Business as usual.  We get sicker and lots of people get richer.

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to our health and nutrition, but I think the title of this post, “Heal Thyself” says it all for me.  The days of thinking that our institutions (government, medicine, education) will work tirelessly to keep us informed and healthy are long over, if they ever really existed.  But that does not mean we can’t educate ourselves and take matters into our own hands.  I am a 55 year old woman, and between my parents and two sets of in-laws there has been one quadruple bypass, two prostate cancers, two colon cancers, leukemia, liver cancer, dementia and chronic lung disease.  Two have passed away from these diseases.  While there are no guarantees when it comes to disease, this program convinced me that by switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet we can greatly reduce our risk of getting any of these diseases.  That is exciting and empowering, and I can’t think of a reason not to try.  Can you?

If you are interested in learning more about a whole foods, plant-based diet I recommend starting with the movie, Forks Over Knives, which you can access online.

Recipe of the Week

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Twice-baked loaded potatoes with coconut bacon!

Like most women my age I have tried my share of diets over the years.  Starting back when I was in college I put on the predictable “freshman 15”, and I tried many ways to get rid of the weight.  I still remember eating a salad bowl full of fruit one day on The Scarsdale Diet.  Oy.  Eventually though, after having a baby or two I joined Weight Watchers and lost the extra pesky weight for good.  Probably the best thing I learned from WW was what a normal portion of food looked like (3 oz. of meat = a deck of cards).  Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Now that I’m vegan and my gold standard (what I aspire to, not necessarily what I achieve) is a whole foods, plant-based diet, I am often revisiting some of the messages I received in those WW days that have little to do with health and more to do with calorie restriction.  This is a long-winded way of saying that for years I believed that white potatoes were the equivalent of white rice and white bread–empty calories with little nutritional value.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  While there’s no place for white rice and white bread on a whole foods, plant-based diet, that is not the case with potatoes.  In fact, baked potatoes (skin included) are a good source of protein and a bunch of other nutrients.  Click here for a quick overview.  As such I’ve decided to bring baked potatoes back into my dinner rotation.  Oh, and did I mention that I love a crispy baked potato?

You may be wondering about these loaded potatoes.  Aren’t they also loaded with fat? Not at all.  There is a small amount of fat in the almond milk and coconut but that’s it.  Yet, these are as delicious and satisfying as they look.  There are four parts to this recipe:  potato mixture, “queso” sauce, pico de gallo and coconut bacon and it’s very simple to put it all together.  First I baked the potatoes for an hour, and scooped the potato out and mixed it with sautéed onion (I did it without oil), cilantro, liquid aminos and spices.  I also added in about 1/2 cup of black beans and two tablespoons of unsweetened almond milk to make it a bit more creamy.  Then I put this filling back in the potato shells and put it back to bake for another 20 minutes.  To make the queso, I blended almond milk, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, lemon juice, liquid aminos and spices and warmed it all up on the stove.  The pico de gallo is a simple blend of diced tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeño and lime juice.  Finally the coconut bacon is large flake coconut blended with liquid smoke, liquid aminos, maple syrup and water and baked until crispy.   When the filled potatoes were done baking, I spooned the queso and pico over them and added a sprinkle of coconut bacon. These potatoes are simply fantastic and you can check out the recipe here.

This was my first time making queso, pico and coconut bacon.  The queso is truly a cheesy tasting, creamy sauce that would also work well as a dip for veggies or chips.  The pico is tangy and refreshing and I plan to make more to add to salads.  I have to say that while the coconut bacon looks great, I’m not really a fan.  It’s just a little sweet and strongly flavored for my taste.  David loved it though, so if you’ve never tried this vegan staple, I encourage you to make it once and see what you think.  Many folks swear by it.

If you’re a fan of twice-baked and /or loaded baked potatoes this healthy alternative will not disappoint.  And for all you weight watchers out there, it really is okay to eat the whole thing😉.

Recipe of the Week

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Balela!

We haven’t made too many new recipes lately.  During the hot summer we’ve been eating mostly salads with some combination of greens, grains, beans, hummus and avocado.  When we were taking refuge from the heat at Costco (is that anyone else’s favorite weekend errand?) we found a big container of Balela and it quickly became a favorite of David’s.  So I decided to find a recipe online and make it myself.  This way we can control how much oil and salt goes into the mix.

Have you heard of Balela?   Balela  is a Mediterranean-style bean salad.  The basic recipe is a combination of garbanzo and black beans, tomatoes (the Costco version had sun-dried), red onion, mint and parsley.  The dressing is a zesty emulsion of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and jalapeño pepper which has a lovely kick.  The recipe I used is here.  It makes enough for an army so we’ll be eating it for the next week (score!).  This would also make a great Labor Day weekend salad for a crowd.

Even though school is already back in session in Tucson (those poor kids!),  it still feels like summer to me.  I will keep sunning, swimming and eating salads.  If you’re still eating salads where you are, give this one a try.  And let me know how you like it!

Veganism–Simple, Not Easy

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I’ve spent a bit of time lately trying to decide on a name for my vegan coaching business.  Aside from having to deal with details like searching for availability of domain names (you’d be shocked what names are actually already taken!) I’ve really had to think about what I want to communicate to the public about both what I can do and what being vegan is about.  I think I’ve settled on something, but I’ll share that in a later post when I’m a little further along in my branding.

As I considered dozens of names and tag lines I wanted to be authentic in how see veganism and what aspects of this lifestyle I wanted to highlight and communicate to others.  As I went through this process the words “simple” and “easy” came up in conversation many times. That makes sense, right?  After all, suggesting that being vegan is difficult is hardly a way to induce others to sign on and give it a try.

Years ago, when I was training to be a community mental health counselor I remember working with clients for the first time, and they often lamented that making changes in their lives was not easy.  While no two situations were the same, it became clear to me that the changes people were trying to make in their lives were often simple yet seldom easy.   For a person suffering from depression, for example, the “simple” act of taking a daily walk could, in practice, be quite difficult.   As I thought about the transition to veganism I realized that it is helpful again to consider the difference between what is “simple” and what is “easy”.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that going vegan is indeed simple, yet seldom  easy.

I can sum up in just a few sentences how to be vegan.  For me, it means eliminating the use of all animal products from my life–for food, clothing, personal care, and entertainment.  It also means promoting alternatives to these things so that others can learn from my example and start to consider how to live without exploiting animals.   Once I decided to go vegan,  living this way became a pretty black and white thing.   If the food contains animals products, no thank you.  If the clothing has leather or wool or silk or down, it’s not for me.  If the product was tested on animals, I’ll pass .  No to rodeos, zoos, circuses and aquariums.  Not so complicated.

Aside from having to read labels and do a little internet research as I phased out some products and replaced them with others, the “how-to” of it all has been pretty straight forward and simple.  As I’ve become more and more educated about all the excellent alternatives to animal-based products it’s become even more simple.  And if David and I lived  in our own vegan bubble and never ventured out I would say that nothing could be easier.  That is not, however, where we live, and neither does any other vegan that I know.

I can say that what feels “not easy” about being vegan usually involves some combination of the emotional and the practical.  Here are examples of some “not easy” experiences I had just over the past few days:

-My favorite (mostly) vegan restaurant just closed.  There are very few vegan restaurants in Tucson, and The Food for Ascension Cafe downtown was the place where David and I celebrated our birthdays, brought friends and relatives and went weekly to unwind.  The calm, relaxing environment was unique among the other veg offerings in town.  We are sad, both because they could not make it work economically and also because we are really left with no comparable options where we live.  Unfortunately, for those of us who do not live in a major metropolitan area, this is all too common.  Let’s face it, for non-vegans there’s always “another place”, for us not so much.   This can feel limiting and not so easy.

-I was catching up with my friend, Diana (from Main Street Vegan Academy)on the phone yesterday and we were commenting that no one we talk to ever asks us anything about veganism.  Ever.  At all.  We wondered if this is because people fear being lectured to or simply because our veganism is too disconcerting for other people to discuss given their own food choices.  I can’t answer that one but the reality of the situation can feel stressful.   I am interested in the lives of others and like to think that I’m curious about what’s important to my friends and family.  It is the rare non-vegan who can be truly interested in my passion (veganism/animal rights) and not feel defensive, consequently I usually feel like I’m censoring myself in one way or another in most social situations.  This may be necessary for peaceful relationships, but it’s not an easy trade-off and it isn’t very interesting for me.

-Following the horrible story of Cecil, the lion, Delta Airlines decided to stop transporting dead trophy animals in their planes.  While that sounds great, my mind goes immediately to the dead animals being served for meals on that plane, because I know that each of the animals raised and killed for food suffered far more than poor Cecil. I encounter this kind of moral schizophrenia daily as it is truly everywhere and a deeply entrenched part of our culture.    I am more acutely aware of this and other forms of hypocrisy and injustice than I ever have been before.  It comes with the territory, but it’s not easy.

OK, so maybe with these examples I’m making a good case that going vegan is simple but not easy.  So what?  Why point out these difficulties?   Well, I think it’s important to be honest with others about our experience because this is the real story.  It takes commitment, perseverance, courage and a thick skin to navigate these kinds of situations.  That being said, I don’t doubt for a moment that a person committed to living a vegan lifestyle can handle them.  The transition brings about changes in our relationships with other beings (human and non-human) and sometimes these changes are challenging or painful.

Yet even with all this said, I don’t know a single person who regrets the decision to go vegan, and I think that’s because the most important changes that happen when we go vegan are the ones that happen within us as we begin to live our values.  As we live our belief in justice and compassion for animals we deepen our belief in justice and compassion for all beings including ourselves.  As our health improves we feel a desire to help others as well as the earth to heal.  Life becomes full of possibility, and we find the courage to face our own fears and step boldly forward.   We become aware of the interconnectedness of all things. This is the stuff that transcends convenience, comfort and “ease”.    And for me, that’s what makes life worth living.

 

On the giving of names

Beautifully stated and thought-provoking. Thank you.

There's an Elephant in the Room blog

Firstly, my apologies for hitting the ‘publish’ button before this post was ready and for any confusion this may have caused.

1000764_546600108729933_625046711_nToday, yet again, social media resounds with vilification of an individual who quite unashamedly killed a fellow sentient individual named Cecil. There was a time when I could never even have imagined the howls of indignation and outrage, the cursing, the contempt that such an event would precipitate. I had no idea that there was so much hate in the world. But there is. And in a culture such as ours, underpinned by inflicting violence and death on the vulnerable and helpless while we delude ourselves that we’re kind and caring, I suppose it’s hardly surprising.

I’ll get something out of the way here. I despise what this individual did. But then I despise ALL killing of those of other species for pleasure, ALL unnecessary killing. Which means that I also…

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