Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mexico Mañana

I'm off to Mexico tomorrow! So excited for this little getaway, and a little nervous about the food situation down there. We're taking a sunset dinner cruise one evening, to celebrate my son's 30th birthday. Looking at the cruise line's website, I noticed there's a lot of meat and cheese on the buffet menu, so I sent them an email asking about how the rice and beans are prepared. The response was pretty funny actually...

Yes, the beans are fried with lard, the rice is not cooked with broth, we
use chicken  stock in powder.
Fruit, nachos, guacamole, salsa.

This was a good reminder to me, that they use a whole lotta lard in Mexico, and that people who eat animals often have no idea that broth - or chicken stock in powder - haha! - actually count as "meat" products. Fortunately, there's fruit on the menu... and an open bar! With fruit and booze, I'll be a happy cruiser!

I also learned from a friend that the Spanish word for butter, mantequilla, also means lard, and any other fat used in foods. That simplifies things for me a little bit. I can point to a dish, cock my head quizzically, and politely ask, Mantequilla? 

I have a feeling this could be sort of a spa vacation for me, with lots of fruit and little else. I'm okay with that. And besides, I'll bet a week of fruit and margaritas will be something like a cleansing fast. Well, sort of.

I promise a full food update when I get back. 
Till then, eat your greens!
xo Kim

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vegan Nutrition for Beginners

I've been doing a lot of reading on vegan nutrition lately. Maybe too much, from too many sources. My head is spinning with information overload. As with my beads, it's time to settle down and simplify. Thankfully, I've finally found someone I trust to give me good information. Of course you need to trust your own instincts and your own body, and you need to do your research to be sure you're getting everything you need in your diet.

If you're new to all this, I can recommend a great book I think every vegan should have (I have plenty, and this is by far my favorite). Vegan For Life, by Jack Norris, RD, and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD is a terrific guide to good vegan nutrition. You can also visit Ginny Messina's blog, the Vegan RD. Start with the page on recommended supplements. You'll instantly solve some of the biggest vegan nutritional mysteries so you can get on with cooking and eating some delicious vegan chow.

I had hoped to share some basic nutritional information with you here as I blog along, but I've changed my mind. My job here is simply to share the joys of being vegan. I'm not an expert on nutrition, but there are plenty of other people who are. When I find other good ones, I'll send you their way. Otherwise, count on me for food, fun, and occasional tidbits of useful information. Oh! I feel better already!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cooking for Ravens

Arthur Rackham - Who Has been eating off my plate ?

I made a totally disgusting dinner last night. It took hours, and it all seemed so promising while I was making it. But sadly, very disappointingly, the final result was just... yuck. It happens. It's okay. It's actually even a good thing, once I get over the humiliation. I mean, I'm supposed to be a pretty good cook, so how could I come up with something so completely inedible? Well, I could, and I did, and I'll probably do it again.

In my other life as a beadmaker, I've often told friends who are new to the torch to, Make Ugly Beads. Of course they look at me like I'm crazy. But then I explain that if they aren't making ugly beads from time to time, they aren't stretching themselves, they aren't risking, learning, creating. If all we ever make is Beautiful Perfect Stuff, we're just playing it safe, and that can get boring pretty quickly.

It's the same with food. My new motto has to be, Make Ugly Food, I guess, even though I really don't want to. There's more at stake here - like dinner, for instance. We had popcorn last night, which Rick made, after taking the Horrible Glop out to the yard for the ravens to eat, because I was just too deflated to make anything else. I pouted and picked on myself and seriously wondered what in the hell I'm doing, pretending to tell people how to cook. I felt like a fraud, a failure, and I went to bed not caring if I ever cooked another meal or posted another blog again.

Thank God for sleep. This morning I feel better. I can see the humor in my failed culinary experiment. And best of all, I can see the value in it. So it didn't work. So what? So I don't have a recipe to share with you today. So what? The world won't end, and I learned a few things. I'll try it again. I'll do it differently. And I realize it's totally okay to cook for the ravens now and then. They're a great crowd to feed. They'll eat anything, they're entertaining, and they're always grateful for a home cooked meal, no matter how bad it is. If I ever open another restaurant, I think I'll call it The Raven's Table. I really do appreciate these guys.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Slippery Subject

Fat is something of a dirty word in our society. We don't want it on our thighs or bellies, so we tend to think it's a bad thing to have in our food. I've been reading a lot about fats and oils lately. There's a lot of conflicting information out there, but I'm beginning to see some common threads weaving through. If you're confused about how much and what types of fat to get in your vegan diet, maybe I can distill what I've read down to something simple and reasonable for you. Of course, I'm not a nutritionist, so please check the resources for yourself. Learn as much as you can to be as healthy as you can!

Basically, we need some fat in our diets to help us absorb fat soluble nutrients. In fact, healthy fats even help us lose weight. Men need about 30% fat in their diets, and women need about 20%. These figures vary of course, and some people believe we need far less than these standardly recommended amounts, although it's not a good idea to go below 10%. It's kind of a personal thing, and you have to listen to your own body and come up with what works for you. It's possible that many vegans who find themselves not feeling well, and go back to eating meat because they assume they need more protein, are actually feeling the need for more fat in their diets.

I've been pretty unconcerned with the amount of fats I've been getting, because I figured it would be hard to overdo them in the absence of animals products. And since only animal products contain cholesterol, I haven't been worried about the amount of oil I normally use in cooking, at least from a cholesterol standpoint. I've lost weight since I went vegan, but I wouldn't mind losing a bit more, especially since the Holidays, with all those lovely, rich foods I was cooking.

I'm rethinking my use of oils since I watched the following short video with Jeff Novick. I haven't seen his full DVD, From Oil To Nuts, but I will order it soon, and let you know what I think. This clip is very interesting...

I've never looked at it this way, seeing oils for what they are, only the concentrated fat from the food, without any of the nutrients. Would we sip corn oil and think we were getting fresh corn on the cob? Or pretend avocado oil was as healthful as nice fresh guacamole? Or to bring it around to a place even meat-eaters can understand - just for a moment here - would you look at a slab of lard on your plate and think it's the same as a steak? I'll bet not...

I tend to go to extremes sometimes... so when I saw that video the other day, I immediately took all the oil out of our diet. Most of the other things we eat contain very little fat, so it only took about 24 hours for both Rick and me to start feeling light-headed, low-energy, and kind of generally crappy. But since I was paying close attention, and hadn't changed anything else, I knew it wasn't protein we were missing, but fat. I ate a small handful of almonds (which are about about 74% fat), and like magic, I felt better within minutes. I had Rick do the same, and it worked for him too.

I've been reading the blog, by Ginny Messina, which I highly recommend, along with her book, Vegan for Life. Her take on olive oil is less alarmist than Jeff Novick's. (Read the blog post, Olive Oil Health and Advocacy) I really like what one of her commenters said - "The best piece of advice I ever heard about oil is to think about it like sugar. Both are near pure, stripped of most of the nutrients. It isn't good to get a chunk of your calories from either, but a teaspoon here and a teaspoon there to make your food more enjoyable is a good investment. It keeps you from eating out where you might not get such a good nutritional deal." Yes indeed. Keeping a vegan diet enjoyable is a huge part of wanting to stick with it. No matter how dedicated we may be to all the health, environmental, and animal rights reasons for going vegan, most of us are unlikely to stick with it unless it tastes good.

So back to the oils themselves - I use only olive oil and coconut oil for my cooking, and always the best organic virgin oils I can get my hands on. If you want to use other oils, please be sure they're organic, especially when it comes to corn and soy. Since these are commonly grown as non-food crops, they get away with using all kinds of nasty chemicals and genetic modifications. And while the jury is still out on coconut oil, I use it because it can take a higher heat than olive oil can, it adds wonderful flavor to Asian dishes, and it's touted to be super healthful. While coconut oil is composed of mostly saturated fat (olive oil is 14% saturated fat), it's chemical makeup is different from other saturated fats, and it may actually have some health benefits. Again, do your own research. Start with this article on Like olive oil, or any other oil, coconut oil is pure fat, so now, rather than sloshing it all over everything,  I use it "sparingly on the inside, and generously on the outside." It's a great moisturizer for skin and hair, and makes you smell like a tropical beach.

My swing from unlimited use of oils to cutting them out completely has come back to some middle ground now. I understand that there are actually plenty of the necessary fats to be found in a varied, balanced, whole foods, plant-based diet, and I see oils now more as condiment to be used sparingly. I want the fats, but I want to get them from actual food, along with all the fiber, nutrients, and flavor. So when I want a nice pasta puttanesca or crunchy bruschetta, I'll chop up some really good olives. I'll use more nuts in dishes I cook, and keep them handy for snacks. And there's no guilt at all in that avocado I spread on my toast in the morning. Maybe it's my imagination, but I feel better already.

I still have a lot to learn, and while I have no interest at all in becoming a nutritionist or dietician, I do want to know as much as I can about what's best to keep my human body running. After all these years, it really makes sense to me to eat the whole food, whatever it is, whenever possible. I love the Mae West quote, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful," but I trust she wasn't talking about olive oil.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Orange and Green Smoothie

My smoothie kick continues. If you're new to smoothies, and wonder why they might be better than juices, my personal opinion is, you get the whole food, including all that lovely fiber, from smoothies. Juicing is tedious to me, and takes so much fruit or veggies to squeeze out just a smidge of juice, and then you're left with all that discarded pulp to deal with. I know there are wonderful health benefits in drinking the concentrated nutrients found in fresh juices, but when I want food, as in for breakfast, when I'm hungry and need fuel, I'll take a nice thick smoothie over juice any day.

I've ordered the book, Green Smoothie Revolution: The Radical Leap Towards Natural Health, by Victoria Boutenko, from Amazon, because I want to know how to mix it up, so to speak, in the most healthful way possible. While I wait for it to arrive, I'm inventing my own smoothie delights, based on things that are easy to get year round. Here's another one for you to try. Can you tell I love kale?

Orange and Green Smoothie
1 small banana
1 cup frozen organic peaches
1 carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 T chia seeds
3-6 kale leaves
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup nut milk

The process is the same as for the Easy Green Smoothie. Place everything in your blender in the order given. Tear the kale leaves, and place them in to fill the blender jar, but don't pack them too tightly. Then just buzz it up till it's smooth. This one turns the most beautiful, vibrant green, but you can really taste all the orange goodness.

And here's a tip for cleaning your blender - put a few drops of dish soap and some hot water in the jar, and buzz it up for a few seconds. When you take it apart at the sink, everything will just rinse right out.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Easy Green Smoothie

Did you know that when you drink your greens raw, you get way more of the nutrients than if you cook them and chew them up? It makes sense, but somehow you have to make it taste good if you're going to get it down. There's a lot of, uh, "buzz" out there about green smoothies. In fact there are entire books devoted to them. I'll look into that, but it seems kind of excessive to me. Around here, we like to keep things simple, you know. So in addition to our favorite English Muffin & Avocado breakfast, we've been making morning smoothies with some simple, basic ingredients that are easy to keep around. They're filled with truly super foods that will make your body grin from within, and keep you going all morning. And while you'll get a good dose of green goodness, what you'll taste is the fruit.

Easy Green Smoothie
1 banana
1 cup frozen blueberries
2 T chia seeds
3 - 6 kale leaves
1 cup nut milk
1/2 cup orange juice (or additional nut milk)

Load everything into the blender in the order given. When you get to the kale leaves, tear them into pieces and fill to the top of the jar, but don't pack them in. Blend on high speed until it's all nice and smooth, and voila, you have a smoothie. Cheers!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Staying Vegan on Vacation

It's easy to "keep vegan" at home, where we do our own cooking. It's less easy in local restaurants, but if we ask a few questions, most are more than willing to veganize menu items that come close, like leaving the cheese off of something, or substituting tofu for meat. But what happens when a vegan goes on a little vacation to a foreign country, where said vegan doesn't speak the language? That's where it might get challenging.

We're going to a little family birthday celebration in Cabo San Lucas at the end of the month, and I'm already getting kind of nervous about food. As much as I love Mexico, and look forward to time with my kids and the ocean, I know it's going to be tricky to eat in restaurants there. Part of the joy and adventure of traveling is eating the local foods, and I really don't want to be a Food Nazi. Still, I believe in my vegan lifestyle, and intend to walk my talk. My strategy is to bring some favorite snacks from home, like nuts and dried fruit, Power Balls, grainy crackers, and instant miso soup, so not every meal has to be a restaurant ordeal. I can also buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the local market, and I'm doing some research ahead of time on veg-friendly restaurants. As it turns out, I'm not the only one this is important to. I found a few listings for vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Cabo on, which is surprising and encouraging! Now if they're actually still in business when I get there, I'll be happier than the cows I'm not eating.

I think I can do it, and even though I intend to leave my laptop at home, and just enjoy my sunny winter vacation, I will keep a camera and a notebook handy, and will report back when I get home. And one other thing... We're going for a party, and I will not ruin the party by being all icky picky about my food. If I end up eating a bit of cheese due to a language miscommunication (although I do know how to say no queso, por favor), it's not the end of the world, and I won't beat myself up over it. I'll do my best, which is all I can ask of anyone else.

The trip is still almost 3 weeks away, but I'm planning for it, dreaming of it, and so looking forward to it (except for the swimsuit part). I see it not only as a fun winter warm-up, but also as a challenge, sort of a personal and journalistic assignment. And I'm ready for it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Paul's Corn Pudding

We had a few friends over for New Year's Eve, and decided on a Taco Bar, so everyone could put their food together the way they wanted it. We had spicy black beans, rice, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, Daiya cheese, and a couple of salsas, with organic corn tortillas. As a side dish, I made Paul Graham's Vegan Corn Pudding, which he recently posted on his blog, Eating Vegan in Vegas. The tacos were good. Really good. But the corn pudding stole the show.

Paul's original recipe is here. It's fast and easy to make, with things like my favorite Daiya cheese (they really should pay me for all the promoting I do for them!), diced green chiles, and vegan sour cream. I changed it up a bit, using things I had here at home. I made the sour cream from cashews, and the parm from almonds and nutritional yeast. I had some local green chiles in the freezer, so used those, and improvised on the breadcrumbs and egg replacer. It all worked, but I'll admit to making it a more complex recipe than Paul's. What can i say? I like making things from scratch. Try it either way that works for you. You just can't go wrong with this beautiful golden dish of comfort food.

Paul's Corn Pudding

4 oz melted Earth Balance butter (they should be paying me too!)
4 cups frozen corn (always use organic corn)
3 T chia seeds
6 T water (chia seeds and water make a dandy egg replacer that binds the other ingredients well)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vinegar (baking powder and vinegar help the dish to puff up a bit)
1 C vegan sour cream -
          (To make this, soak 1 cup of raw cashews in water for 20 minutes or more. Drain and rinse the            cashews, and buzz them up in the food processor with some lemon juice and salt, and a little nut milk to get the right consistency.)
1 package Daiya Pepper Jack shreds
1/2 cup cornmeal (I had polenta, and it worked fine)
1/2 cup or more diced green chiles
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegan parmesan -
          (To make this, buzz up 1 cup nutritional yeast, 1/2 cup raw almonds, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder. If you have time, slowly bake the mixture on a tray until it's crumbly. In this dish, it works fine moist.)
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs - I let a gluten free rice English muffin dry out, then buzzed it up with some herbs. Perfect.

In the food processor, buzz up 1 cup of the corn with the melted butter. Then, in a large bowl, stir the blended corn/butter together with all the other ingredients, except the parm and bread crumbs. Place the mixture in a well buttered casserole dish, and bake for about 35 minutes at 350º, or until golden brown on top. Let it set for a few minutes before cutting.

Oh yeah... after writing this, I think I have to make it again for dinner tonight. And I'm glad there won't be so many of us to share it.