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 🙂

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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Green Chili Rice with Black Beans!

I haven’t tried a new recipe in a while.  While we were away I mostly trotted out tried and true dishes to minimize time spent in the kitchen.  So it was nice to try something new tonight.  David and I saw Plant Pure Nation last night (more on that in my next post), and I had that on the brain when I went searching for a new recipe on the Forks Over Knives website.  For those of you who don’t know, these movies (made by the same team) focus on the health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet.  This health-promoting way of eating includes fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.  It does not include any processed food, meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, salt or oil.

I am now a vegan lifestyle coach and educator, and I assume that many of my future clients will be interested in going vegan in order to prevent or reverse diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  I typically use olive oil in my cooking, particularly when I’m sautéing vegetables, and I think it’s important that I’m comfortable cooking either with or without oil.  Plus, I think it’s better for my own health to limit how much oil I consume.  The Forks Over Knives website is full of oil-free recipes and you can link to this one here.

This dish may be missing the oil but not the flavor.  The first step is creating a poblano pepper, mild green chili, spinach and cilantro puree (plenty of flavor right there!).  The puree is added to vegetable broth and the rice is cooked in that.  While the rice is cooking, you sauté an onion.  In order to sauté without oil, you stir the diced onion over medium heat and add water (one tablespoon at a time) if the onion starts to stick.  Once the onion is translucent you add jalapeño pepper, black beans and cumin.  I added some salt at this point because that’s my preference, but you can easily skip it.  Once the rice is cooked you mix all the ingredients together, sprinkle with lime zest and serve it up.

Our dish came out much creamier than the original recipe.  I’m sure that’s a technique thing (me and rice!) but in the end, David and I both enjoyed the consistency which was rather risotto-like.  The poblanos and jalapeño added just the right amount of heat, and neither of us missed the oil.   So I learned something new today, and I will definitely consider using this oil-free approach in other dishes.

So guys, what do you think about oil?  Yea or nay?

The Most Beautiful Ridge Trail Ever

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It’s our last day in Montana, and for our final hike we decided to revisit Logan’s Pass and see if we could go all the way down to the lake.  Turns out, the trail down to the lake has been closed since we visited last week. Apparently, the mama grizzly and her cubs are still hanging out there.  We were disappointed by this but very grateful that we already had a chance to hike that trail.  We were treated to some spectacular wildflowers though: DSCN2989

Since last week, most of the snow has melted and instead there’s just a stunning profusion of flowers.  So all was not lost.   We went as far as we could at Logan’s (about 3 miles round trip) but we were up for something more. So, we decided to hit the Highline Trail,  a ridge trail that actually runs over 11 miles through Glacier.  We read that this trail had the most spectacular views so we decided to hike it until we ran out of gas (11 plus miles is not an option for me!).

My favorite types of trails to hike are ridge trails.  This is true anywhere I hike.  Canyon trails and forest trails can make me feel claustrophobic at times;  on ridge trails I can see not only where the trail is going but expansive vistas all around.  I love that feeling of being on top of the world with lots of big sky all around.  And I can say that the Highline Trail is a ridge trail on steroids.  So grand, so expansive, so stunning.  The photo up top gives you a little idea of what it was like to be up there.  This trail is also known for a short stretch of narrowish trails with a precipitous drop to one side.  Here’s a photo of David on that stretch of the trail.  That’s the Going To The Sun Road down below: DSCN2998

There’s a cable that hugs the mountain if you want to hang on, but it really wasn’t a big deal.  I’m so glad we didn’t skip out on this hike.  Check out these views: DSCN3005 DSCN2996

On a funny note, as we were hiking back toward the trailhead we met up with four very spunky goats: DSCN3011

Even though the trail is pretty narrow, at this point there was room for us to step aside and let them trot on by.  As we continued on our way we quickly came across a long line of at least 50 hikers;  apparently the goats had caused quite a traffic jam and the hikers couldn’t get by until they decided to move on down the trail.  It was pretty funny.

All in all, this beautiful hike was a fitting end to our two weeks in Montana.  We certainly got our fill of all that Glacier and the surrounding area had to offer.  Finally, on our way back to our condo we stopped for lunch at the Montana Coffee Traders where I had a delicious Tempeh Reuben.  You just never know where you will stumble on a great vegan meal!

I’m looking forward to our next two days on the road.  Great company, great scenery and a great audiobook…

Recipe of the Week

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Tofu Tikka Masala!

This dish is a take off on Paneer Tikka Masala, which I’ve never actually had.  I have had Chicken Tikka Masala which was one of my favorite Indian dishes in my pre-vegan life.  I figured that the firm tofu would work well and I was excited to try to replicate some of the delicious flavors of the dish I enjoyed.  The result was a tasty and authentic Indian dish, but not quite the same as the restaurant version.  I found the recipe for this dish on the One Green Planet website and you can take a look at it here.

I made this dish pretty much as written.  I did add a fair amount of salt and the juice of half a lemon for some much-needed acid. I had to track down some spices (cardamom pods and fenugreek seeds), but I had the rest of the long list of spices on hand.  And of course, this dish is all about the spices, sautéed in a bit of oil “until a nice aroma fills the kitchen”.  That nice aroma is likely to be filling my kitchen for the next few days 🙂

I was most impressed with the creamy consistency of this Tikka Masala.  This is all achieved using only one teaspoon of oil and a quarter cup of soy yogurt for marinating the tofu and peppers.  Like many “creamy” vegan dishes the creaminess comes from blending the slowly-cooked vegetables and spices in a high speed blender.  No butter or cream in sight.  Kind to the animals and much better for our health.

Flavor-wise I liked this dish but I think I can do better with it next time.  First, I would leave out the cinnamon stick.  This might be less authentic, but I’m just not a fan of cinnamon in savory dishes.  I should know this about myself already but I keep trying.  If this doesn’t bother you, keep the cinnamon in there.  Second, I think I cooked the spices a bit too long.  While I didn’t think they were burning I detected a slight bitterness.  Plus the color of the sauce was deeper than I expected, and I think it was from the same problem.

So I recommend this recipe.  If you have more experience cooking Indian food than I do (i.e. you can do better with the spices)  give this a try.  It’s a lot of satisfying flavor and creamy texture in a surprisingly healthy dish.

Recipe of the Week

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Sushi!

How gorgeous is that?

Before going vegan I never ate sushi.  Never even tried it.  I wasn’t a big fish lover in general and raw fish held no appeal for me. Hmmm, maybe I was on to something.  Since going vegan I had one sushi roll at a Chinese/Thai place here in town.  I liked it well enough but wasn’t feeling the need to run right home and make my own.

Turns out though, I recently found out that my iodine is low.  I wasn’t too surprised about that mostly because I don’t use iodized salt and I haven’t been eating any sea vegetables.  Well, I do need to up my iodine and in keeping with my “food as medicine” philosophy I decided to investigate dulse flakes, nori and kelp noodles.  I thought I’d have the most luck sprinkling dulse flakes into some faux tuna salad, but on my first attempt to make a raw sunflower seed type thing, the dish was so nasty it went straight in the trash.  I just couldn’t handle the “essence of fish”.  Okay, so no dulse for me (at least not in that form).

And that brought me to option #2, the nori. And that brought me to sushi.  At least with sushi I knew that a tasty dish was possible. When I was searching for recipes, I was delighted to find that the Minimalist Baker had an easy recipe that even used a kitchen towel to roll the sushi up.  Sounded like a win to me.  You can check out the recipe and her technique here.

You can really put anything inside these rolls, and we settled on carrots, cucumber, tofu (I had some Whole Foods sesame tofu on hand), avocado and red pepper.  You can use short grain white rice to make the rolls, but we used sushi rice that we found at Whole Foods.  Interestingly I had always assumed that the “sticky” rice found in sushi had to do with the grain, but the rice is made sticky by adding a rice vinegar/sugar/salt mixture to it.  We followed this recipe exactly as written, and it worked out great.  Luckily David was on hand to do the rolling since I was all thumbs!

These little rolls were delicious.  We dipped them in a wasabi/soy sauce mixture that David whipped up and served it all with a green salad with some miso dressing:

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So while creating this dish might have been more a labor of necessity than a labor of love, I feel pretty great about how it all turned out.  I can get some of the nutrition I’ve been missing in a really tasty way, and I discovered a fun dish that I could easily serve to company.

Before I do that though, I really do need to pick up some chopsticks 🙂

Recipe of the Week

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Sesame Ginger Quinoa Salad!

With the weather heating up here in Tucson we’ve been shifting our attention from stews and soups to lighter fare.  Several nights a week David and I find ourselves grazing on big salads for dinner, and a fresh quinoa salad with a dollop of hummus over greens is one of my favorite combinations.

I have a few quinoa recipes already in our rotation, but I’m always on the hunt for new recipes.  When I found this recipe, with its Asian-inspired flavors and ingredients, I decided to give it a try.  Just look how gorgeous it is!  You can link to the recipe here.

Because quinoa is such a light and fluffy grain, I prefer it to be lightly dressed.  This recipe calls for just two tablespoons each of sesame oil and rice vinegar and that’s just enough to flavor the whole dish.  The rainbow of veggies (carrots, purple cabbage, red pepper, yellow pepper and edamame) is such a visually pleasing and crunchy mix.  Minced fresh ginger adds a nice bite to the otherwise mild salad.

This salad is really versatile.  It’s hearty enough for dinner and light enough for lunch or even a mid-afternoon snack ( I’ve been munching on the leftovers while I’ve been writing this post). Plus, the vibrant colors are a great addition to any pot luck or picnic table.

So if you’re ready to lighten things up where you are, give this one a try.  And let me know if you like it!

Recipe of the Week

Mexican Bean Salad!

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As the weather warms up, I’m shifting my attention from soups and stews to lighter and cooler fare.  My love affair with beans, however, continues.  This simple and oh-so-flavorful dish gets recipe of the week honors not only because it’s delicious, but because the recipe makes enough for an army.  We’ve been eating it for days and we still haven’t seen the bottom of the bowl.  This is good though–less time cooking means more time for blogging!

Bean salad recipes abound and I think I settled on this one because it’s such a feast for the eyes.  The recipe is from allrecipes.com and you can link to it here.  This salad is all raw and I used canned beans which made it a snap to put together.  If you look over the ingredients you may see some quantities that look pretty large like a full tablespoon of salt and 1/2 cup each olive oil and vinegar.  But as Ina Garten is fond of saying “it’s a lot of salad”.  In this case she’s right.  I made the dish using the exact quantities written.  The only change I made right off the bat was to substitute garbanzo beans for cannellini beans but that’s just my taste preference.  As other reviewers noted, you can really cut the oil and vinegar by half and still have the beans well-coated, but  I actually liked having the extra vinaigrette dressing pooling at the bottom of the bowl.  I could dip in (or not) if I wanted more liquid along with the beans.  I also used Trader Joe’s fire roasted frozen corn which held up really well and added some nice smokiness.  The only change I would make next time is to reduce the amount of sugar to one tablespoon since the veggies are plenty sweet on their own.

So, if you’re ready to get your spring on or you need the perfect pot-luck dish, this bean salad will not disappoint.  Hope you’ll give it a try!

 

 

Recipe of the Week

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Black Beans and Rice!

Really?  So much excitement over black beans and rice?  Well, yes, it’s that good, and my only criteria for a “recipe of the week” dish is that it has to taste great.  Check.

Before I get into this simple, but full-of-flavor recipe, I’d like to share a photo of my latest kitchen gadget:

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I finally had to admit that I am incapable of consistently making a good pot of rice.  Just when I thought I had those proportions down I would end up with something gummy or crunchy.  I resisted the urge to buy a rice cooker probably because its utility seemed kind of limited.  But in my vegan life, rice is a staple so it had to be done.  The good news (aside from consistently good rice) is that I found this smallish model at Bed and Bath, and with the 20% off coupon it cost less than twenty bucks.  So now I set it and forget it.

On to the beans and rice…

When I searched for a basic recipe I realized that folks out there are getting very creative with their beans and rice.  Asian- inspired, Indian-inspired, etc.  But I just wanted something that had a Mexican vibe, good flavor and a little kick.  Plus I wanted it to be an easy “any night” kind of dish.  So I settled on a recipe from the “Tasty Home” website, and you can link to it here.

Here’s a look at the ingredients–mostly items I usually have on hand:

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I followed the recipe as written except I used canned diced tomatoes with jalapeño and cilantro which added just a bit more heat.  The bean mixture starts with a quick veggie sauté:

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Once the veggies are soft, you add the rest of the ingredients and let the whole thing simmer for about 15 minutes.  Here’s what it looks like when it’s done:

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I love the color in this dish!  You can just see both how delicious it will be and how good it will be for you.  The addition of some apple cider vinegar (every dish needs some acid!!) makes this simple dish a craveable meal.  Spoon it over your perfectly cooked rice (yes!), and it’s done.

Finally, this recipe, which makes 5-6 servings, is very inexpensive and takes no time to prepare.  I used canned beans but you can cut the cost even further by making your own black beans. If you are short on money or time this recipe is definitely for you.   I hope you’ll give it a try.