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.