Sunday, December 9, 2012

Key Lime Chia Bread

Growing up, we had a Key lime tree in our backyard, as Floridians do. Let me tell you, that tree was the source of a lot of my mom's famous Key lime pies. (Hers is the best. Don't listen to anyone who tells you differently.) We lost that tree during the citrus canker scare (the government cut it down, though it was perfectly healthy), and I've been sad about it ever since. Yes, I know you can get a bottle of Key lime juice at Publix, but it's just not same.

Of course, even if we still had the tree, I've yet to find a soy-free vegan Key lime pie recipe that works for me. So when I found my beloved limes on sale at the farmer's market 15 for $1, I had to come up with another way to use them. And here it is! This revamp of a classic lemon-poppyseed bread has a lighter, brighter flavor with Key limes, and the chia adds a tasty dose of Omega-3.

Key Lime Chia Bread

1 ½ cups organic pastry flour
1 cup organic sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
½ cup Key lime juice (about 6-10 Key limes) *
1 tbsp Key lime zest *
½ cup water
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp chia seeds

Preheat oven to 350°. Spoon flour into the measuring cup, then pour into mixing bowl. Mix in sugar and baking soda. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add liquid ingredients. Add the vinegar last and stir the wet and dry ingredients together. It may sizzle or foam a bit as the acids (lime juice and vinegar) blend with the base (baking soda). Stir in the chia seeds.

Spray an 8 inch loaf pan with baking spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until it springs back when pressed.

*If you do not have fresh Key limes, substitute bottled Key lime juice and use the zest of a lemon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Creamy spinach dip

I was in a bit of a bind. I really wanted to make a spinach dip for a friend's wedding shower, but it had to be (1) vegan, because that's how I roll, (2) soy-free, because no one wants to see me go all She-Hulk from the weird reaction I have to soy, and (3) nut-free, because the bride-to-be has nut allergies. How do you make something vegan that's creamy without either soy or nuts? There are three keys: artichokes, tahini, and a good food processor!

This dip was not only wonderfully creamy, but it really captured the flavor of a traditional spinach dip. If I didn't tell them, I don't think anyone would've known it was dairy-free.

Creamy Spinach Dip

2 (15 oz) cans quartered artichoke hearts
1/2 to 3/4 cup vegan mayo (to desired creaminess)
1/4 cup tahini
1 tsp onion powder
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to drain
1 can diced water chestnuts

In a food processor, blend artichoke hearts, mayo, tahini and onion powder until smooth and creamy. Add water chestnuts and spinach and pulse until well combined.

I served the dip on carrot chips for a gluten-free option, and also in little tortilla chip scoops topped with a little shredded carrot for the more traditional hor d'oeurvre feel.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

'Save the Tuna' Salad

There are a million versions of chickpea-based mock tuna salad out there on the interweb. This one is my personal variation.

Save the Tuna Salad

2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas
3 stalks celery, diced fine
1/4 cup red onion, diced fine
3 tbsp vegan mayo
1 tbsp yellow mustard
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp granulated dulse
1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
2 tbsp relish (optional)

Take chickpeas and mash with a fork or pulse in a food processor until there are no whole beans left (be careful not to turn into a paste - it should be a little chunky). Move to a mixing bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. (If dry, add more mayo or mustard. For a more oceany taste, add a bit more dulse.)

For hors d'oeuvres, I omitted the relish and instead served a dollop of the salad on a dill & sea salt flavored Trisket, topped with half a grape tomato.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Going (Vegan) Native

Let's get this out of the way: The term "going native" at its origin is patronizing, Eurocentric, and... well, kind of offensive. But it's also the only term I can think of that represents the idea of adaptations to a lifestyle different than one's early indoctrination becoming ingrained to the point of feeling more natural than the lifestyle into which one was raised. So for lack of a better term (and feel free to suggest one for my future use)...

I've gone native.

Here's the thing. For me and the majority of vegans in the U.S., we're raised in a highly carnistic culture. The lifestyle ingrained in us from youth revolves around the unhealthy, unkind foods that we vegans give up. Think of any culture-specific activities in the U.S., and chances are they involve carnism. Independence Day? (Or Memorial Day, or Labor Day?) Hamburgers, hot dogs and apple pie with ice cream on top. Super Bowl party? Hot wings or chili con carne. Thanksgiving? Yeah.

Of course, it's not just meat and dairy. Sugar, fried food, high sodium foods, chemical-laden pre-packaged foods are all part of our daily lives, and we're indoctrinated to think of them as culturally necessary. We can't conceive of going to a movie without popcorn slathered in chemical-based "butter" flavor or a big box of sugary candy. When we need a bite in a hurry, we run through the closest fast food drive-thru. It's normal to toss in a bag of chips and a Twinkie with your child's sandwich when you pack them a lunch. And a day without soda? When does that get fun?

When you go vegan, that thinking doesn't magically disappear. I can't count the number of times in the first few years of being vegan that I was running late for work and just thought, "Well, I'll grab breakfast on the way to work," not even remembering that fast-food vegan breakfasts are not a thing that exists. Or the number of times my eyes ran down the snack foods lining the checkout in my local grocery store, thinking I'd find some little treat to impulse buy.

Even when I got over that, I still had the subtle "vegetables are a chore to eat, unless they're deep fried" mindset. Not that I didn't like veg, but if you gave me a choice between carrot sticks or salt-and-vinegar potato chips as a snack, I wouldn't think twice about grabbing the chips. Chips are "fun" food; vegetables are "health" food.

Here's what happened today: I went to the farmer's market and bought my fruit and veg for the week. I stopped at their little vegan cafe counter and bought some raw zucchini chips and a chocolate mint brownie. Not having had lunch, on the drive home I pulled out the chips and brownie. And ignored them.

Without thinking about it, I stuck my hand in the big bag of fresh spinach and chomped on a leaf. Then another. Then another, like it was a bag of potato chips in the 'old days.' By the time I got home, I'd eaten half the bag.

When I realized what I'd done, I was pretty shocked. Right at hand, I'd had seasoned 'chips' (even if they were healthy dehydrated ones instead of fried carbs). I'd had a sweet chocolate-y brownie (even if it was a raw, natural one). I'd had fruit, for cryin' out loud! And yet I subconsciously chose to eat a leafy green veggie in its utterly unadorned state - no salt, no oil, no tangy salad dressing.

At the point when your subconscious bucks that lifetime of indoctrination and chooses your new way of thinking, then you've officially gone native, right? As far as I'm concerned, today is a milestone - the official end of my transition from carnist to vegan.

Feel free to congratulate me!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Vegan on the Road: Green Wave Cafe, Plantation, Fla.

Today, "Vegan on the Road" refers to my local roads. About 20 minutes from my house is a raw vegan cafe that everyone raves about. Together with my friend Connie, I set off to see if it lived up to the hype. (Here's a spoiler: it absolutely does.)

The Green Wave Cafe in Plantation, Fla. is an unassuming little restaurant in a sleepy little strip mall. With only five tables and a few seats at the counter, its appearance doesn't really hint at how beloved it is by the local vegan and healthy eating community. However, from friends vegan and non-, I've heard nothing but praise.

The staff were friendly and welcoming when I arrived, and took the time to explain the cuisine - raw except the soup, soy-free except tamari, and all vegan. The menu features all familiar foods raw-veganized: nachos, pizza, burgers, spaghetti, brownies, ice cream, cheesecake. It was tough to decide what to try!

Our entrees, at $14 per, came with either soup or salad, but we decided to go with the whole raw experience. The salad was extremely generous - probably twice the size I'm used to getting as a starter in a typical restaurant. It was filled with more than just greens, too - peppers, sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers.

The menu features several homemade dressings. I tried the red pepper dill - which was so creamy and flavorful, but without being overpowering.

Next, the entrees. Connie opted for the "cheese" burger, while I had the open-faced hummus sandwich. Once the food got to the table, looking so appetizing, I asked her to split half and half.

The "cheese" burger was a raw vegan patty with a mushroom flavor. The texture was actually more burger-like than any veggie burger I've had. The cheese sauce had just a touch of spice to it. But the real star on the plate is the raw onion bread. Delicious!

The hummus was made from fresh sprouts and topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and alfalfa served on that delicious onion bread. The only thing missing was a hint of acid, which I resolved with a squeeze of fresh lemon. This was light but so filling.

I initially passed on dessert, but then I remembered my friend Nicki highly recommended the ice cream. I couldn't resist giving it a try. Connie ordered coffee ice cream and I ordered chocolate.

If we'd known how large the servings were (they were about 8 oz, for a mere $4) we would've split one. Even though I could only finish half, I'm secretly glad we didn't share, since it meant getting my first taste of coffee ice cream in over three years. (I'm glad I didn't order it myself because, as absolutely delicious as it was, I would've had a heart attack; I'm caffeine-free and the servings are huge.)

In the last few years, I've tried three or four brands of vegan ice cream, and many are good. But I can't say I've had a single one that captured the flavor and texture of ice cream as well as this. I actually was on the verge of questioning the server to make sure it really was dairy-free when I realized how ridiculous that would be to ask in an all-vegan restaurant. As I dawdled over it and it began to warm, the texture on the edges became a little bit like a mousse, but when frozen, it was indistinguishable from dairy ice cream.

Let's be frank, eighteen dollars for lunch is 20 - 30% more than you'd pay for a sit-down meal at a non-vegan restaurant. As a person on a budget, it's not something I'm going to do every day. But on the other hand, the food at Green Wave Cafe - fresh, organic, packed with nutrients unharmed by the cooking process - is without question the healthiest restaurant food you'll ever have. Amazingly, it's some of the tastiest too.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Are there fat vegans? Yes. And you can be one too.

It's been nearly eleven months since I started this blog. Thinking about where I intend to go with it in the next year led me to carefully examine my site statistics. What I found made me realize that there was an important question that I needed to answer.

You see, what I found was that the most popular article on this blog, accounting for a whopping 14% of total traffic over the past year, was Fat Vegans: Why We Matter. It has 3.5 times as many reads as the next most popular article. 

Of course, that could theoretically have been because it was linked to by at least one prominent vegan author. So I took a closer look at the search terms leading people to my blog. Here's what that showed:

Top 5 Keyword Searches for IAVM

5. fat vegan
4. roasted beet kale salad
3. are there fat vegans
2. chocolate cherry dump cake
1. fat vegans

Yes, three of the top five terms leading to this site seem to be from people wondering if this elusive creature actually exists. Is there really such a thing? Or is this the vegetarian community's version of Big Foot?

So, Curious Googlers, this post is for you! Here is the answer to the question you're pondering: Yes, there are fat vegans. That's a real thing. And yes, you can be one too. 

Up until now, you may've believed that all vegans were skinny and that the vegan community would judge you and harangue you if you tried to join their ranks. Be comforted! The reports of our militant requirements for "membership" are grossly exaggerated. The only requirement you have to meet to be welcomed into the vegan community is to stop eating or using animal products. Aside from that, you can be fat, thin, tall, short, quiet, loud, or anything else you are and no one will care.

Well, not "no one." I won't lie to you. I once got into an argument with a fellow vegan online who was offended that I didn't think my fatness made me a bad person who needed to be ashamed. And PCRM did make those ridiculous ads. But by and large (no pun intended), we fat folk are made welcome in the vegan community! Yes, I get the occasional look of surprise when I meet new vegan friends, but then they hug me and we sit down to talk about how much we love otters or what the best vegan mayo is and they immediately forget that I didn't look like they expected me to look.

See, here's the thing: the vegan community is built on compassion. It's what we're all about. So if you're thinking about trying out this vegan thing, don't let the relative size of your body determine the relative amount of your love for all living things. Just go for it - be a big, fat vegan with a big, fat vegan heart!

UNA 2012 Advocacy Award acceptance speech

Last weekend, I was presented with the United Nations Association - Broward Chapter's 2012 UNA Advocacy Award for my work with multiple sclerosis, homelessness, and eco-vegan advocacy.

My aunt asked me to post a copy of my acceptance speech. To be honest, it was extemporaneous, but I remember roughly what I said. This is an approximation, minus the obligatory corny joke and the thank yous..

In nearly twenty years with the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, I've learned something very important: You do not have to be wealthy to help others; you do not have to have high connections. The only thing you need to make a difference in someone's life is the desire to do so. All you need to be an advocate is your voice - a willingness to speak out when you see someone in need. 
At the MSF, we often see people use unexpected skills or interests to raise funds or awareness. One couple who enjoys riding motorcycles organized a charity Harley ride. A woman who enjoys sewing and quilting organized a charity quilt show. Artists have donated their work for auction or arranged for exhibitions to raise awareness. People are taking whatever talents they have and putting them to positive use. 
That was the philosophy I was operating under when I started The Humble Stitch Project, a project for knitters and crocheters to make cold weather items for the homeless here in South Florida. Unlike other areas of the country, we don't have coat donation programs - you all know that your coats sit in your closets for years and years, never used frequently enough to wear out. And if you're a knitter or have a knitter in your family, you know there are only so many scarves you can make your relatives. So I had a hobby, others had a need. And I also had a voice, to ask others for their help. Today, hundreds of people from around the country participate. 
The same principle drives my vegan advocacy efforts. When I learned of the positive impact our food choices can make on the environment and world hunger, I used my love of cooking and baking - working with groups like Compassion Barn - to share delicious vegan meals with others. At the eco-vegan news site This Dish is Veg and through my blog, I used my skills as a writer to try to help others understand that what we choose to eat is a global issue that affects more than just our own health and well-being. 
Each of you here today has the same opportunity to make a difference. Take stock; think about your skills, your talents, your hobbies, you interests... Maybe you like riding motorcycles, or quilting, or maybe you're a knitter like me. Or maybe for you it's volleyball or singing. Maybe you're good at organizing, or decorating, or just good at following directions. Whatever you're good at, whatever you love to do, there is a way to do it for the greater good.  
Whether it's something material, or your skills or hobbies, or simply lending your own two hands, you do have something to give - to help others and make the world a better place.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lazy Rotten Cheater's Mustard-Glazed Carrots

This is another one of those "I make it in the microwave at work" kind of dishes, but honestly it could make a really nice side dish too. I thought of it because my mom used to make boiled cabbage, potatoes and carrots and we'd eat them dipped in spicy mustard. I always loved carrots with mustard because of that and decided to see how they'd taste glazed in a little agave mustard dressing I had left over. The result? Yum! 

Just lightly steam some baby carrots (I use a microwave steamer, but you could do this with a regular steamer at home, or just toss a serving in a loosely covered dish with a tsp of water and microwave for 2 - 2.5 minutes). Then toss them with just enough agave mustard vinaigrette to coat. If I were at home and planning to serve them as a side dish, I'd also add a sprinkle of parsley, preferably fresh.

That's it! Easy and delicious.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Photos: Fall in Michigan

Here are a few of my favorite shots from my recent trip.

Vegan on the Road: Franklin & Farmington Hills, MI

On a recent business trip to the Detroit area, I was delighted to find not only some wonderful vegan-friendly restaurants and stores in that area of Michigan, but such fresh, delicious food that I wanted to analyze their recipes and try to make them at home!

The first destination my host took me to was the Franklin Grill & Tavern, in the quaint historic shopping area of Franklin -- "The Town that Time Forgot." There I had a sandwich called The Art of Sicily (minus the cheese) and it was artful indeed: an open-faced focaccia sandwich piled high with marinated portabellas, artichokes, red onion, and spinach. Delicious!

Dinner that evening was at Camelia's Mexican Grill in Farmington Hills. Now, I have high standards for Mexican food, and any attempts at it I've tried in Northern climes have rarely gone well. Camelia's was the exception! I had the vegetable fajitas -- a sizzling platter of peppers, onions, tomatoes, and portabellas served with guacamole, pico de gallo, and lime wedges with freshly grilled tortillas and a side of the most delicious pintos and rice. It was fresh, light, and not over-seasoned at all so the flavors of the vegetables came through.

My final stop the next afternoon before heading to the airport was Plum Market. It breaks my heart that this store, similar to a Whole Foods, is only found in the Midwest... their prepared foods were outstanding! Much fresher at 4:00 in the afternoon than the dried-out goods you'll find on WF's hot bar at that time of day, for sure. I had a kale salad that blew my mind. I'm already trying to replicate it at home (without success so far). I also had a cucumber, onion and corn salad, some marinated white beans, and the most wonderful wrap. It was called the Mediterranean wrap, and was hummus, tabbouleh, and stuffed grape leaves wrapped in spinach lavash. Guh. I want one now.

So, you'll notice the lack of photos here. Like a dork, I didn't think to take out the camera once while eating. But here's a photo of the leaves changing to make it up to you!

Lazy Rotten Cheater's Smoky Bean & Bac'n Soup

I have made this recipe twice this week... and still haven't remembered to get a photo. Why? Because it's so good! Once you start eating it, you don't think about stopping to get the camera!

But more than tasting delicious, this soup is easy, nutritious, and packed with protein. My kids and friends from work will attest that it's loved by vegans and non-vegans alike. And it only takes 15-20 minutes from start to finish!

Bean & Bac’n Soup

32 oz vegetable broth or stock (or a corresponding amount of water and veggie bouillon)
1 can each kidney, cannellini, & garbanzo beans
1 can tomato sauce
½ cup diced carrots
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1 - 2 tsp “Hickory Bacon Salt” (or any vegan Bacon Salt flavor, or any seasoned salt + a dash of Liquid Smoke)

Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans and carrots are tender.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why I'm Caffeine-Free

Let me tell you about the worst, most abusive and dependent relationship I ever suffered through - my love affair with caffeine.

We met when I was very young, through our mutual friends Tab and Diet Coke. We had an on-again, off-again thing for a few years, but then it became serious. By the time I was fourteen, we were living together full-time.

I was drinking a 12-pack of Diet Coke a day, at least. Interestingly, around that time I was first diagnosed with migraines and cluster headaches. The doctor prescribed Cafergot (a medicine that includes a dose of caffeine) without ever asking how my caffeine relationship was. (I also started to show strong symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as fibromyalgia. Recent research has connected over-consumption of caffeine with an increase in fibromyalgia pain.)

For the next several years, I struggled through a cycle of getting headaches if I had too little caffeine, treating that with caffeine, then feeling crummy from having too much caffeine. It was a constant struggle to find a balance in our relationship. Finally, I decided I'd had enough. I decided it was time for us to break-up.

I won't kid you: that was the worst two weeks of my life. I have never been sicker (and this is from a woman with two autoimmune diseases). The headaches, fatigue, and all-over aching I felt were miserable. I thought I might die.

But I got through it. You can guess what happened next - the headaches disappeared. No more cluster headaches, fewer migraines. More energy, less fatigue and general malaise. So there's my happy ending, right? I moved on to healthier relationships and never messed around with caffeine again? Hardly.

Caffeine is as addictive as any other drug, but here's the dangerous thing about drugs: even breaking the physical addiction is not enough.You have to be convinced that it's poison for you. If you think there's anything redeeming about it, you'll go back. It only took one bad enough day with too little sleep the night before and I would run right back.

I've been off the stuff for several years now, because I finally realized that it is a drug and it is poison for me. Here are some things you may or may not know about caffeine:

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine has interactions with certain common antibiotics (such as Cipro) and herbal supplements (echinacea). In the years of caffeine addiction, I certainly used both of those and was never told this by my doctor or pharmacist. Were you?
  • Are you one of those people who says "caffeine doesn't affect my sleep" just because you don't have a problem falling asleep? Caffeine can also affect the quality of your sleep, or because of its diuretic properties, cause interrupted sleep.
  • For women, caffeine has been linked to a higher risk of 1st trimester miscarriage. There is also some reason to believe it may have an effect on endometriosis and fibrocystic breast pain.
  • Caffeine can compound the symptoms of many common health conditions, such as acid reflux, high blood pressure, irritable bowels, anxiety, and (surprise!) headaches and fibromyalgia.
  • Important for vegans and those with anemia or bone density issues, caffeine can inhibit the absorption of iron and calcium from your food.
This isn't to say that caffeine doesn't have any positives. For example, it's been shown to have a positive effect on asthma. But of course, it makes sense that there would be genuine medical benefits... since it's a drug. Drugs do have uses in the treatment of disease. But what's the difference between a drug and a poison? Very often, the only difference is when you use it and how much. If you're using caffeine for something other than the treatment of a condition it's known to help, how is that different from prescription drug abuse?

I'm sure there are people out there with appropriate caffeine intake (generally defined by the medical community as 1-2 doses per day) who can experience the benefits without any significant consequences. Just  like there are people who can have a glass of red wine every day for the health benefits and not become alcoholics. But just because some people can use these drugs responsibly doesn't mean there's not a risk for the rest of us. If you're a caffeine addict - a person who just can't manage to limit themselves to 1-2 doses a day - consider whether you need to go in for a lifetime of 'caffeine sobriety.'   

Halvah cookies! They're gluten-free, MoFos!

One of the treats I grew up with was halvah - a delicious sesame candy that you'll most often find in Jewish delicatessens or Middle Eastern markets. To people who've never had it, I always describe it as "sesame fudge", and while that gets the point across, it's not wholly accurate. There's something totally unique about the flavor and texture. It's not really quite like anything else... until now! 

This variation on a sesame cookie (such as Whole Foods' non-vegan recipe) has more of the flavor and texture of halvah, but in convenient cookie form! Imagine a halfway point between halvah and a peanut butter cookie and you're there. 

Halvah Cookies 15 oz container of tahini
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp ground flax mixed with ¼ cup warm water
Sesame seeds for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the flax and warm water; set aside to thicken. Mix the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients, add the flax mixture. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on parchment paper. Press dough in a crosshatch with fork.  Bake for 10 minutes or until edges start to brown. Immediately sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cool for 10 minutes on the pan before removing.
Note: It's important to make sure the edges are starting to turn golden before removing from the oven, and to allow them to cool for the specified time, otherwise these cookies will crumble. When you take them out, they will still be very soft. They firm and solidify as they cool. If you go to remove the first cookie and it crumbles, even though you've allowed it to cool, return the cookies to the oven for 3-5 minutes and then cool again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Whole-Wheat Croutons

It can be hard to find vegan croutons. All the prepackaged ones have Parmesan or whey for some reason. But here's a little secret I'll share with you... The prepackaged ones kind of suck anyway. Did you know that? Probably not, unless you've had fresh made croutons recently. Somehow we tend to forget. 

The beauty part about making your own - other than the fact that it's almost disgustingly easy - is that you can give them at least some redeeming nutritional value by using a good, hearty whole wheat bread. (And then slathering it with tasty fats. Hey, I said some value.)

Whole Wheat Croutons

1 garlic & herb salad dressing mix (0.75 oz)
½ cup melted Earth Balance vegan butter
¼ cup olive oil
16 slices whole wheat bread, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly toast bread in toaster or oven. Discard crusts, cut into cubes. Mix other ingredients and toss with bread until well coated. Spread in single layer. Bake 12 -15 min or until outsides begin to crisp. Let cool on pans. Store in an airtight container.

While I'm at it, let me tell you what goes beautifully with these croutons: a slightly bitter salad with a sweet dressing is offset beautifully by these savory little bites. It's like the flavor trifecta. 

Here I used OrganicGirl 50/50 blend (mixed greens with 50% baby spinach), plus shaved fennel, shaved sweet onions, cherry tomatoes, and an agave mustard vinaigrette. Scrumptious!

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's Mandel Brate, MoFos!

We have one true family recipe in my house, one recipe that everyone knows and loves, handed down for generations - Great Aunt Roz's mandel brate. (Before anyone fusses, this is the way we spell it. I know it's not Wikipedia-approved.) Of course, everyone seems to have their own slightly different version: Mom's has walnuts, her brother Frank's has coconut. My sister Jenny's version is soft in the middle, where Mom likes hers cooked through. But no matter how they tinker with it, some essential part stays the same. Somehow, it always tastes like home. And for three years, I have not had a single bite of it. Until today!

Well, to be fair, I had an approximation of it yesterday. That's because my first attempt at veganizing it fell short. I took a piece to my mother - the final authority on the tradition, having received the recipe directly from the source - and she pronounced yesterday's batch "edible." Damned with faint praise.

But today's recipe? She took a bite and said, "You got it right." And a choir of angels sang! My joy knew no bounds.

 Aunt Roz's Mandel Brate - Veganized!

6 tbsp ground flax
¾ cup warm water
3 ¼ cups unsifted flour
1 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp vanilla
1 cup oil
6 oz choc chips
6 oz chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix ground flax and warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes. Combine dry ingredients (excluding chocolate and nuts). Add wet ingredients and flax mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. 

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray lightly with cooking spray. Split dough in half and form into two loaves. 

Bake at 350 for 38 - 45 min, or until edges turn golden brown. Let cool for 15 min. Slice into bars.

Alternate ingredients: In place of chocolate and walnuts, try 1/2 cup diced apricots, 1/2 cup slivered almonds, and replace 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract with 1/2 tsp of almond extract. That's my variation on the original.

Enjoy the taste of tradition! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Carrot Vegetable Soup, Lazy Rotten Cheater Style

This carrot vegetable soup looks completely awesome, right?

(Excuse the cheesy cutting board - it's in the kitchen at the office.)
It looks fresh, bright, hearty and delicious. And it is! It also takes absolutely zero work. 

This is how you make it: 

Imagine soups are my go-to lunch. You can't beat this for taste, nutrition, or cost. One box of soup and one bag of steamed vegetables will last me for three lunches -- for an approximate cost of $2.50 per serving, which is cheaper than a can of soup, and tastes so much fresher. They're also low in calories, and even adding a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper & sea salt, it's lower in sodium than most canned soups.

It's quick to make (the first day takes the longest, when you have to steam the veggies, but the next two days you just toss the leftover veggies into the soup before reheating). Plus, you can have endless variations. Today's soup was creamy carrot almond with asparagus, corn, and baby carrots. Yesterday's was creamy broccoli with peas. When I need something a little more filling, I'll just enjoy the whole bag of steamed veggies with my soup, or toss in some leftover grains - rice, bulgur, quinoa, whatever is on hand.

For quick vegan lunch at work, I think this is a terrific and healthy solution. But honestly, I wouldn't be embarrassed to put that lovely bowl on the table at dinner either! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

It's breakfast, Mo-Fo style!

Welcome to my first official Vegan MoFo post. This is actually my second year participating, but my first since starting this blog. I'm excited to try to reach the goal of a minimum of 20 posts about the wonders of vegan food during October. I hope to include lots of recipes, but a busy life has kept me from pre-planning as much on that front as I had hoped... so right now I'm winging it. Some recipes I do know for sure will be coming your way include a gingerbread chia pudding, sesame cookies, and some interesting uses for bulgur wheat. (You're intrigued now, right? Bulgur always gets 'em.)

As of this morning, I've added an index of recipes to the site, so new visitors won't miss anything I've already posted. I'm pretty pleased with how many new recipes I've created and posted in less than a year!


Let's talk about breakfast.

Frankly, I suck at breakfast. I always have. Oh, not in an "I can't cook breakfast foods" kind of way - I am a Southerner, after all, and a ridiculous breakfast spread is kind of our thing. Come a Sunday brunch-time when I have woken up slowly and have nowhere to be, I can whip up a heaping breakfast spread. No, more like "I suck at breakfast" in an "I'm not a morning person, I hate mornings, I think mornings should DIE" kind of way. I'm usually dragging myself out of bed on too little sleep, rushing to get the kid to school on time, running last minute errands, and fighting the traffic to get to work.

Before going vegan, breakfast generally consisted of one of two things: McDonald's or a chocolate chip muffin. Now, obviously, I'm trying for something a bit healthier. But my challenge is that I never know if I'm going to have time to prepare something in the morning, and honestly, I really don't care for reheated breakfast. So what can you have that's fast, hearty, and convenient?

Every Monday morning I bring a box of cereal and a container of almond milk to work and eat that for breakfast all week (taking home any leftovers on Friday). But I try sneak extra nutrition in there too. This week, I brought a bag of dried fruit bits to mix in. Some weeks, I'll bring a little container of pumpkin seeds, or slivered almonds, or grab some fresh fruit in the morning to mix in. It's not the sexiest breakfast, I know, but it does the trick.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Q.) What are vegans allowed to eat? A.) Anything.

There is a particular thing that non-vegans sometimes say that drives me crazy. I know it's innocently meant, but it just pushes my buttons. It comes up at work fairly frequently, and it goes like this:

"There's [insert name of food here] in the kitchen. Are you allowed to eat that?"

Allowed? Allowed by whom?

I'll have patience with it the first time, maybe even the second. Though I always answer the exact same way, the answer comes out a little bit snippier each time I have to repeat it to the same individual. Because it seems no matter how many times I explain it, the question keeps coming back. And the answer is this:

"I am allowed to eat anything I want. I choose not to eat anything that contains animal products."

There is no Dr. John Q. Veganizer, M.D. writing a book to specify what I'm 'allowed' to eat. Saying something is 'allowed' implies that there are consequences if one does that which isn't allowed. There are no personal consequences here. There cannot be, because I make this choice not for reasons of my personal health, nor from societal pressure to conform in my personal appearance, but for the benefit of other living creatures.

It's important to understand that veganism is not a diet. People who choose to stop eating animals for health or appearance are following a plant-based diet - strictly speaking, they are not vegans. The word vegan applies to those whose decisions are based on ethics and go beyond just food, including also clothing, toiletries, medicines, and entertainment that exploits animals. Veganism comes from a totally different root than following a diet.The act of dieting is rooted in a concern for self. Certainly that can be a good and right concern - I'm not saying there's anything necessarily wrong with it. The point I'm making is that veganism is rooted in the concern for others, and no one can 'allow' you to put others before yourself. That's a choice only you can make, so to say "allowed" becomes subtle downplaying of a person's agency in making this choice.

If someone tells you they're following the South Beach Diet, or Atkins, or even a doctor-recommended meal plan for a certain health condition, asking what they are 'allowed' to eat makes sense to some degree. These diets were essentially thrust upon them, either by a healthcare professional, a personal health concern, or by society, in the form of a belief that they must meet a certain weight standard. They still made the choice to stick that diet, yes, but probably not because they really wanted to do so. Ask anyone who is on a diet for health or weight reasons, and they're pretty likely to tell you they wish they could eat the things they did before. 

No so with vegans. (Or at least, not so with those of us whose convictions are firm and habits are set - I admit, it can be tough when you're making the transition from the old way of doing things.) Veganism is a conscious decision based on ethics; the underlying motivation is different. I want to be a vegan, and I want to be a vegan for life. I have no wish to return to the way I ate before.

When it comes down to it, veganism is simply not restrictive. You do not miss doing something that you don't want to do. I made a choice not to eat animals, and that choice brings me peace and contentment, not a sense of deprivation. To ask me what I'm "allowed" to eat demeans that choice.

So for the record, non-vegan friends, the appropriate question is this:

"Is that something you'll eat?"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A vocabulary lesson for the Fish & Wildlife Service


  1. A condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble.
  2. Something providing such shelter.
Synonyms:shelter - asylum - sanctuary - haven - harbor - harbour

Right now, officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are contemplating allowing the hunting of alligators for sport inside the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is the northernmost remnant of the Everglades, a delicate and threatened ecosystem in which alligators play an important role.
Alligators are an important part of the Everglades ecosystem and are considered a keystone species of the park. The nesting activity of female alligators is important for the creation of peat. Several turtle species, such as the Florida red-bellied turtle (Chrysemys nelsoni), incubate their eggs inside both active and old/abandoned alligator nests. Water remains in alligator holes throughout the year except during severe drought conditions. As the dry season approaches and water dries up from other areas within the Everglades, the retained water causes alligator holes to become a refuge for a variety of wildlife. [Source: National Park Service]
The National Park Service also points out that this is a species that was previously hunted to the threat of extinction.

Dwindling populations of alligators were the result of hunting and loss of habitat, and the American alligator was listed as an endangered species in 1967 under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The number of alligators began to rebound when alligator farms opened and hunting was outlawed, easing the pressure on wild populations. However, even after hunting was prohibited in Florida, illegal poaching continued into the 1970s because the belly skin of alligators produces high-quality leather. Were it not for additional changes in the law controlling the movement of alligator hides, extinction may have been possible. Populations have since improved considerably, and alligators were removed from the list of endangered species in 1987 and are continuing to thrive in Florida today.

While it's true that alligators populations are currently stable, today they also face a threat from the invasive Burmese python. While the alligator was once the apex predator in the Everglades, now they have competition for food supply. Also, the Burmese python has been known to eat juvenile gators. The long-term impact this threat will have on alligator populations is yet unknown, but considering the loss of prey, the outlook isn't positive.

All of these are good reasons for the FWS to say no to alligator hunting on the refuge. But perhaps a better reason is in the name of the park itself - the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

The concept of a refuge is an ancient one. Cities of refuge for humans are documented as early as the 8th century B.C.E. The first known animal refuge was established in the 3rd century B.C.E. In the United States, the tradition of wildlife refuges goes back nearly 150 years, or more than half of our history as a nation. We established these park lands to protect wildlife and plant life from the constant threat that we ourselves pose through encroachment on their habitat. But more than that, these areas of sanctuary are a reflection of our desire to preserve and enjoy the natural world in a pristine state..

And at the Loxahatchee NWR, we do just that. While fishing and limited waterfowl hunting is already allowed on the site, FWS says that the majority of the 300,000 visitors to the site each year are "non-consumptive users" -- those of us who are there to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, trail walk, or photograph.

National Wildlife Refuges are the only public lands specifically set aside for wildlife. Allowing any hunting on site is against the spirit and purpose of these lands. However, alligator hunting is particularly barbaric. The sport hunting proposal under consideration describes the allowable means for capture:

Alligators may be taken using hand held snares, harpoons, gigs, snatch hooks, artificial lures, manually operated spears, spear guns, and crossbows . 

Harpoons. Hooks. Spears. Crossbows. These weapons are designed to painfully injure during capture. And an injured alligator does not become docile. No, these powerful creatures will fight their capture, prolonging their pain and suffering until their ultimate death.

Is this the sort of "sport" you want to witness when you're peacefully hiking or boating through the park? Allowing sport hunting of alligators not only robs the alligators of peaceful sanctuary, it robs the hundreds of thousands of us who are "non-consumptive users" of this natural haven too.

I regularly drive 45 minutes to visit Loxahatchee NWR and take solitary walks along the levies. I take my children to the festivities for Everglades Day. The pristine natural beauty of the preserve, the opportunity to observe our native fauna in their natural habitat, the very peace of the place is under threat from this proposal, just as the alligators are. I say NO to the cruelty of alligator sport hunting at Loxahatchee. I say NO to diminishing an animal population that is already under pressure from loss of habitat and invasive species. I say NO to a violation of the very idea of a refuge. I say NO to the violence threatening to intrude on a place of peace.

A public meeting is being held Sept. 20, 2012 to discuss the issue, so action is critical now. [UPDATE: The deadline for comment has been extended to October 21, 2012!] Please sign this petition, Say NO to Killing Alligators on a Wildlife Refuge,  and/or email Rolf Olson, Deputy Project Leader at (Please mention if you have been to or plan to visit the refuge when you write.)

Please let your voice be heard on this important matter today!

Click here to view an album of my photos from: Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Preserve

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Photos: Leu Botanical Gardens - Orlando, FL

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Leu Botanical Gardens. These are a few of my favorite photos.

The tropical section

In the rose garden

In the butterfly garden