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.