Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Homemade Pickles!

I absolutely LOVE pickles. I have to confess that my inspiration to start making them myself started with a small obsession with an adult beverage called picklebacks, which involves pickle brine. I wanted to make this beverage at home, but couldn't find pickles in the store which weren't laden with chemicals. The organic pickles I found were unbelievably expensive. I then discovered something amazing: it is about the easiest thing on earth to make your own pickles. It is probably the simplest thing I will ever post on this blog. The one caveat is that these easy pickles cannot be stored in the cupboard. You have to put them in the fridge.

Here is how to make pickles:

Boil 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1tbsp salt.
Pour this mixture over a bunch of cucumbers, cut up or not as per your preference, in a jar.
Leave the jar in the fridge for 3 weeks.

If you want to get a little fancy, chop up a couple cloves of garlic and about 2 tbsps of fresh dill and throw that in too. I did so and the result was the closest thing I have ever had to a Kosher Dill from the Jewish deli on Kings Highway in the 80s, which probably no longer exists.

Once you have piggishly eaten then entire jar in 2 days, you can reuse the brine at least once, just add more cucumber.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Vegan/Vegetarian Thanksgiving Survival

The holidays are often stressful, but being a vegan/vegetarian at Thanksgiving, traditionally an orgy of animal foods, can be miserable if you don't have a supportive family. Here are a few suggestions on how to make it more enjoyable:

Discuss your diet with the person or people cooking in advance. Explain that you can't eat stuffing that was inside the turkey or vegetables cooked with meat. Something as simple as leaving the marshmallows off the sweet potatoes or the ham out of the collard greens might open up several more options for your meal, and your host may be happy to oblige. For vegans, see if it's too much to ask for mashed potatoes or squash to be made with non-dairy milk and butter.

If your host won't oblige these requests or you still feel your options will be too limited, bring your own food to the party. Offer to be in charge of the vegetable dishes to take some of the pressure off the cook. Suggestions include butternut or acorn squash baked at 350 with Earth Balance, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of sugar; potatoes mashed with Earth Balance, almond milk, and fresh dill; collard greens or kale sauteed in olive oil and garlic; baked yams; barbecue blackeyed peas; homemade bread; lentil walnut pate... The possibilities are endless and chances are, your guests will not miss the dairy or meat traditionally in these dishes after gorging themselves on turkey and gravy. You'll actually be performing a public service. Too lazy to cook? Check out Whole Foods and Trader Joe's for a host of premade vegan foods, or go super gourmet with The Cinnamon Snail's Thanksgiving menu. Most health food stores also carry vegan pies and pastries.

Finally, have a discussion with someone you're close to who will be at the gathering and explain that being singled out as The Vegan or having your diet critiqued or analyzed makes you uncomfortable and unable to enjoy the celebration. Announcing to the whole room "These green beans are for Suzie because she's A VEGAN" is not nice, nor is saying "come on, just eat the pie, it's Thanksgiving, it won't kill you," nor is getting all huffy because Suzie won't eat the nice souffle Grandma spent all day making, nor is asking where you get your protein, etc etc etc. You are going to politely refrain from talking about the miserable life and death of the poor turkey and how high everybody else's cholesterol probably is, so everyone else can refrain from making you a pariah or a conversation piece. Enlist supportive family and friends to intervene on your behalf if these remarks come up. Or you can just send people this article.

Finally, if you aren't obligated to go to someone else's house, consider hosting your own plant-based Thanksgiving and inviting others to join in the feast!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vegan Pate

Pate is one of those fancy foods it seems one will never eat again after going vegan. When I discovered something called Faux Gras, a vegan version made from lentils and walnuts, in the health food store, I was hooked, but deterred from buying it frequently as a tiny container is about 6 bucks. One day after making too many lentils, I invented this extremely simple recipe and discovered I could make an equally delicious version for pennies at home! This scrumptious pate is great with crackers, bread, raw veggies, or apple slices. Bon appetit!

4 cups cooked lentils w bay leaf + garlic
2 cups walnuts
Juice of 2 lemons
1 package of dry miso
Splash vinegar (apple cider or balsamic)
Splash tamari or soy sauce

Blend on high for about 5 min. Pate!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Vegan Food Truck With A Big Heart

I recently had the pleasure of eating at The Cinnamon Snail, a gourmet-ish vegan food truck which serves in a different neighborhood every day! Part of the fun is finding the truck. The best way to stay in the loop as to its whereabouts is to subscribe to its facebook page where daily updates are provided. The truck serves in Midtown, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. The day I went, I got there about 30 minutes before it closed and was disappointed to see many of its treats were sold out. I had been very much looking forward to sampling a bourbon creme brulee vegan donut and a lavendar pear turnover, but alas, they were all gone. I ordered a maple pumpkin glazed seitan with spiced roasted pecans, marinated kale & dark beer whole grain mustard on grilled baguette and a ginger cookie and was THRILLED. I vowed I would begin making weekly visits to this delectable truck.

And then the hurricane hit. The truck was out of commission for a few days, and then its owners decided they would get back on the road-- only they would be going to some of New York's hardest hit areas and serve people for free. They are now doing this indefinitely. Obviously, this makes me like them even more. They are requesting donations to support this effort to their paypal: thecinnamonsnail@gmail.com

After seeing many instances where people were subsiding for days on hastily made PBJs, cold food out of cans, or nothing, I think it is amazing that this truck is enabling people to get hot, fresh, gourmet vegan food for free. I'm sure it's lifting a lot of spirits as well as filling a lot of bellies. And I will certainly be patronizing this truck whenever it returns to normal service!

Finally, if you are interested in sampling their food for Thanksgiving, they have a special menu here where you can pre-order their delicacies and then pick it up Thanksgiving day. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vegan Broccoli Cheddar Soup

I can actually take credit for having invented this recipe! Once again, nutritional yeast takes the place of cheese to create the same rich, velvety flavor but substituting the cholesterol for a wallop of B vitamins.

1 large potato, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup non-dairy milk (unsweetened)-- I used almond
1 cup water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Saute the garlic in the olive oil until soft, then add the potato chunks and stir for another 3 minutes. Add all of the other ingredients and mix well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer on low about 20 min or until all chunks are very soft.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Two Simple Blackeyed Pea Recipes

Two Simple Blackeyed Pea Recipes

Blackeyed peas are nutrition-packed: high in calcium, thiamin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, folate and manganese. When I first was introduced to them I was unsure what to make with them, but they actually are very versatile. Here are two extremely easy recipes:

BBQ Blackeyed Peas, Southern style
First, cook beans using soak and cook method here.
Saute 1 onion and 1 garlic clove, chopped, in olive or other veg oil, about 5 min
Add 2 c cooked blackeyed peas, 1/4 c chopped parsley, 1/4 c chopped cilantro, with a little water from the beans
Simmer 2-3 min
Add 2 c barbecue sauce (I like Annie's Naturals, or you can make your own)
Add a little more water from the beans, around 1/4 c
Simmer covered on low heat for 15 min.

I recommend pairing with a thick, whole grain bread and a salad.

Peanut Butter Blackeyed Peas, Ghanian styleSaute 1 onion, chopped, in peanut oil, about 5 min
Add 3 c cooked blackeyed peas
Add 4 tbsp natural peanut butter
Add a little water from the beans, about 2-3 tbsp
Simmer on low 5 min
Add 2 large tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Simmer on low another 10 min

I recommend this one paired with buckwheat groats (kasha), although brown rice would also do, and a side of fall squash such as acorn or butternut.

Both have a nice, hearty comfort food quality with a high level of nutrition!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Potato Latkes, Applesauce, and Cashew Sour Cream

Latkes were always one of my favorites around Jewish holidays. This recipe with all the fixings plus a bonus dessert is 100 percent from scratch, totally vegan, and delish!

3 lbs potatoes, grated (I used red and didn't peel)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp whole wheat flour
2 Ener-G egg replacers (can be found in health food store)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
Mix well, then let congeal in the fridge for an hour or two.
Heat vegetable oil (safflower is my recommendation, avoid soy or canola) over medium heat in a large frying pan. Drop in tablespoons of potato mixture and flatten slightly with a spoon. Cook 3-5 min on each side. You will know it's time to flip when the spatula slides underneath easily. Makes about a dozen.

Cut 4 apples into chunks. (I used Macintosh, did not peel.)
Put in small pot, add 3/4 c water
Add a tsp of cinnamon
Add a pinch of salt
Bring to a boil, simmer on low 20 min. 

Cashew Sour Cream
Soak 2 c raw cashew nuts in cold water overnight in the fridge.
Drain and rinse.
3/4 c water
1/4 c lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
Blend in food processor until smooth.

What I did was then halve the cream, and add to one-half:
1 tbsp agave (maple would work too)
1 tsp vanilla extract
And blend again. I then used the sweet cream to make:

Peach Parfait
Layer crumbled Graham crackers (ok one thing wasn't from scratch), chopped peaches, and sweet cashew cream in individual parfait dishes. Depending on the size and shape of your cups amounts will differ. For my cups, which are conical, I did:
1 graham cracker square
1 tbsp cream
1 tbsp peach
2 graham cracker squares
1.5 tbsp cream
2 tbsp peach

Cool in fridge a few hours, then gleefully devour.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

To Soy or Not to Soy?

One of the debates I sometimes have with other food-conscious friends is about soy. Is it good for you or bad for you? On one hand, soy is high in protein, low in cholesterol, high in iron, phosphorus, and magnesium, vitamin B6, and fiber, usually calcium-enriched, and extremely versatile. On the other hand, there are arguments such as this one:

"Soybeans are also high in phytates, an organic acids which blocks the uptake of calcium, magnesium, iron, and especially zinc and contributes to widespread mineral deficiencies. In fact there are more phytates in soybeans than in any other grain, bean, or plant studied and these phytates are remarkably resistant to reduction techniques. Only a long period of fermentation will significantly reduce the phytate content of soybeans. The phytates and other anti-nutrients in soybeans are only partially deactivated during ordinary cooking and can produce gas, reduce protein digestion, and create chronic deficiencies in children."
To read this entire informative article, click here

If you look at traditional Asian diets which tend to use soy, they usually use either fermented soy, in the form of miso, tempeh, or tamari; or tofu, which is unfermented, but usually paired with sea vegetables such as seaweed, which effectively counteracts the anti-nutrition qualities listed above. Even the most passionate anti-soy articles I've come across seem to agree that fermented soy is fine, at least in moderation. The problem lies in two places, one obvious and one more insidious:

The obvious issue is those who take on a vegan diet and start replacing almost every food they used to eat with soy. Soy burgers, soy hot dogs, soy ice cream, soy cheese, soy milk... Most of these foods, aside from not meeting the aforementioned fermentation standards for maximum soy safety, are processed foods, where the original soybean has been transmogrified beyond recognition. Usually if there's that much science involved in any food, it's no longer that phenomenal for you.

The more insidious way that soy creeps into our diets is through processed food. Read the label of just about any food in a package-- bread, crackers, cookies, cereal, candy, nuts, TV dinner, whatever-- and I will bet the vast majority of them contain soy. Soybean oil, soy lecithin, soy protein isolate, soy flour-- these ingredients are totally ubiquitous in processed food. I would actually bet that as a vegan who occasionally eats soy junk food such as tofu hot dogs but besides that essentially buys NOTHING pre-packaged, I eat less soy than the average American omnivore who wouldn't know a brick of tofu if she tripped over it but eats mostly processed food. Additionally, if the adage that you are what you eat eats adheres, then those who consume meat, milk, and eggs are probably getting some soy residue, as it is routinely fed to livestock.

If you google "soy benefits," a zillion pages written by seemingly reputable sources (MDs, PhDs) pop up. If you google "soy dangers," an equal number of pages pop up. The same exact thing occurs if you replace the word "soy" in your search engine with the word "dairy." Why might this be? I suspect very strongly that it is because both of those foods are inextricably mixed up in politics, i.e. foods subsidized by the US government and foods distributed by industries which lobby in Washington. At best, both should be consumed in moderation only. I feel there is compelling enough evidence against dairy for me to eschew it from my diet completely, I also don't feel well physically when I eat it. This article here is one of hundreds I've read from a variety of sources which basically say the same thing about why dairy isn't good for you. The potential that the cows were mistreated and the possibility they were given hormones or antibiotics seals the deal for me: no milk in my kitchen. I choose to eat a small amount of soy because I don't feel bad from eating it and every once in a while, I really like a tofu hot dog. Let's face it, no one should be eating a "real" hot dog, made of parts of an animal most of us would prefer not to know about and ridden with salt, nitrates, and additives either. I don't look at the occasional (read-- less than once a month) tofu dog as a health food, nor would I start eating one every day.

I don't think that the potential hazards of soy are any reason at all to give up on a plant-based or 100% vegan diet. It doesn't seem that we really need dairy OR soy to eat well. There's yet to be a study I'm aware of warning us off of lentils or kale. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, and things made from these ingredients WITHOUT a bunch of additives seem to be our best bet for optimum health. And for those comfort foods we just can't live without, here are some suggestions:

Milk can be replaced with almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, oat milk, coconut milk, or hazelnut milk.
Non-dairy ice cream can be made or obtained using any of those above-mentioned milks, fruit sorbet is also an option.
Raw cashews or macadamia nuts can be made into a host of delicious creams for desserts and garnishes.
Olive oil can be used in many recipes in place of butter, Earth Balance nondairy spread also offers a soy-free option.
Portabella mushrooms can be added to recipes to give that chewy, "meaty" texture often gained by adding soy products.
Veggie burgers can be made from beans, grains, and vegetables.
Seitan, or wheat gluten, while not a super healthy food, also makes a delicious meat substitute and is soy-free. It is often listed as "vegetarian duck" in Thai restaurants.
Daiya cheese, while also a processed food, is made from tapioca and is soy-free. It melts well in recipes.

Whatever your choices regarding soy, I think the lesson to be learned here is, as usual, avoid processed foods, and when possible, choose foods which don't have a label at all.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Quick and Easy Homemade Bread

I got this recipe from a fellow dancer. It is a no-knead, no-rise bread without yeast. It literally took about 3 minutes to put together and was very tasty with some non-dairy butter spread, dipped in miso soup, and used to sop up barbecued black eyed peas!

Preheat oven to 400.

3 cups whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp thyme (any dried herb can be substituted--I'm going to try with fresh herbs too)
1/4 tsp sea salt
Black pepper to taste

1 1/2 c water
1/4 c olive oil

Mix well, I kneaded lightly with damp hands as it was too thick for a spoon.

Put into loaf baking pan and bake for 40 min. Cool a bit before trying to remove from pan.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vegan Lasagna

I never like lasagna as a kid, and the ricotta cheese always upset my stomach. This recipe is a hybrid of several I found, and it is tres delicious and much lighter than its dairy equivalent.

Tofu Ricotta:
2 14 oz packages of firm tofu, drained and squeezed for excess water
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt

Combine the above ingredients in a food processor and blend til smooth.

Vegetable Tomato Sauce
4 cups of fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup of basil leaves, chopped
1/3 cup water
Sea salt to taste

Combine the above ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat about 15 min. Cool, transfer contents to the food processor and blend til smooth. Return to saucepan and add:

1 lb mushrooms, chopped
1 lb spinach, chopped

Simmer another 10 min over low heat.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a dash of salt and add 12 strips of whole wheat lasagna. Simmer uncovered for 10 min.

Preheat the oven to 350.
Use a 13" x 9" baking pan. Your layering should go like this:
3 strips Pasta
3 strips Pasta
3 strips Pasta
3 strips Pasta

Bake in the oven for 45 min and then let set for at least another 30 min before serving. Serves about 6, or 3 days of meals for 2. Goes great with a spinach salad!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vegan Sources of Calcium

Recently a friend of mine who is pregnant mentioned a dilemma she had: while not officially a vegan, she had never eaten much dairy as she felt it had a negative affect on her sinuses and digestion and she disliked the taste. However, she knew it was important to get adequate calcium during her pregnancy. With milk being one of the most common food allergies, she is far from the only person who has a conundrum of this sort. Other reasons to eschew milk products are the high fat and cholesterol levels in whole milk and cheese, the cruelty towards dairy cows in factory farms, the frequent use of hormones to induce milk production, and the fact that no other species consumes the milk of a different species. The dairy industry would have us believe that milk is the only viable source of calcium, but this simply is not true. If you consider many Eastern cultures which consume no dairy whatsoever, it becomes logical to imagine that it is possible to get plenty of calcium, even during pregnancy, without milk.

A cup of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. Below is a list of other calcium-rich foods and their calcium amounts. When researching this, I found quite a stupendous amount of plant-based foods which have calcium, I stuck to those which have 100mg or more for this list.*

 Green Veggies
Collard greens: 1 cup: 350 mg
Turnip greens: 1 cup: 250 mg
Kale: 1 cup: 180 mg
Okra: 1 cup: 170
Bok choy: 1 cup: 160 mg
Mustard greens: 1 cup: 150 mg

Nuts and Seeds
Tahini: 2 tbsp: 130 mg
Almonds: 1/4 cup: 90 mg

Beans and Legumes
Black-eyed peas: 1 cup: 210 mg
Tempeh: 1 cup: 215 mg**
Navy beans: 1 cup: 125 mg

Blackstrap molasses: 2 tbsp: 400 mg (wow!! this rich sweetener is also super high in iron!)
Various dried fruits such as figs and apricots also have some calcium

Additionally, all non-dairy milks such as almond, rice, hemp, and soy are fortified with calcium and Vitamin D to bring them to levels equal  to or greater than that of milk. Calcium fortified cereals and orange juice also abound. I wanted to point out, however, that all of the aforementioned foods are whole foods with nothing added to them, so one need not rely on synthetic supplementation to get plenty of calcium daily.

* I searched and cross referenced multiple internet sources for this information and the amounts listed were consistent. Interestingly, when I came across a website which had USDA information on calcium, among the foods listed as sources of calcium were tacos, cheeseburgers, pizza, eggnog, and onion rings. Actually it is difficult to identify any actual foods in their list. I wish I were kidding. These are the SAME PEOPLE telling us we will crumble to the ground with paper bones if we don't drink milk. In any event, as with any source, please DO cross-check my information for your own edification!

** Among the info I found, many soy products including soybeans, tofu, and soymilk were listed as high sources of calcium. I included only tempeh in this list because of various controversies around soy products as related to reproductive health. Because tempeh is fermented it is supposed to be safer to eat. Obviously, it is not necessary to eat soy OR dairy in order to get adequate nutrition, but tempeh is protein-packed and yummy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vegan Cheesecake

Cheesecake is one of the things I missed a great deal when going vegan. This tofu-based alternative recipe is light, fluffy, creamy, easy to make, and not nearly as caloric.

Preheat oven to 375.

For the crust:
Crumble 1.5 cups Graham crackers (about 2 sleeves)
Pour directly into a 9" pie or cake dish
Add 3 tbsp veg oil and 3 tbsp water
Mix until a thick paste forms, roll into a ball in the center of the pan. Use your fingers to spread and press until pan is covered (covering the sides not essential.)

For the filling:
2 14 oz packages of medium firm tofu, drained
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c veg oil
1/2 c agave syrup
1/4 c sugar

Put the above ingredients in the food processor and blend til smooth. Pour into baking pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. It will appear slightly risen on the edges but not in the center. It will look fairly firm but is still going to be soft, so be careful.

Allow it to cool a few minutes and then optionally top with fresh fruit (strawberries with the bottoms dipped in agave are a good choice.) Chill in the fridge overnight. Serves about 6.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The World's Best Vegan Pancake Recipe

This is an adaptation of the Candle 79 recipe, which calls for white flour, a substance banned in my kitchen. My use of whole wheat did not detract from these pancakes awesome fluffiness. I also opted for a soy-free version.

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp raw sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinammon
1 tbsp Ener-G egg replacer (dry, not combined with water)

Mix well, then add:
1/4 cup Earth Balance spread, melted**
2 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Use a whisk to fold ingredients together until fully combined into a thick batter.

Spray a nonstick pan with cooking spray over medium heat. Wait a minute or two for pan to heat up, then ladle a nice healthy dollop of batter into the pan. You can do huge IHOP style pancakes or several smaller silver-dollar type. You will know it is time to flip when bubbles have formed and then popped around the edges: about 2-3 min per side.

Enjoy topped with maple or agave syrup and fresh fruits.

** I use the Soy Free variety of this excellent, chemical-free and hydrogynated oil-free brand. You could use any butter substitute but try to avoid those laden with chemicals. I melt mine in a little dish in the toaster oven.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Homemade Calamine Lotion

This is, as usual, a hybrid of info from several sources, and I don't vouch for it being a panacea, but it is very similar to commercial calamine lotion, which certainly comes in handy after a camping trip ridden with mosquitoes, as I unfortunately just experienced.

Take 1 tbsp unscented kitty litter and grind to a powder in the food processor or coffee grinder. Add 1 tbsp baking soda, 1 tsp sea salt, and 1 tsp zinc oxide. Add water until it forms a paste. Add a few drops of peppermint and eucalyptus oil (perhaps like, 1 drop of each. I went with a liberal sprinkle and currently feel a little more tingly than I'm comfortable with.) Apply to affected skin.

The one active ingredient that commercial calamine lotion has that this doesn't is iron oxide, which is usually only 5% to 95% zinc oxide, and which I omitted because I don't think it's possible to buy or make it. The zinc oxide is the main ingredient, as it soothes, dries, and heals damaged skin. The kitty litter is made of bentonite clay, which absorbs impurities in the skin, and the salt and baking soda reduce itching. I'm not sure what the essential oils are doing besides setting me on fire, but calamine usually does give you that hot-cold sting, so perhaps it's serving some purpose. At the very least, it's a sensation which distracts from the itching!

The resulting goop will be grey rather than pink.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Raw Vegan Lasagna

This "lasagna," another recipe adapted from the Candle 79 Cookbook, does not require pasta-- or cooking! It does require a food processor, and nutritional yeast, which creates a cheese flavor and also is a massive powerhouse of B vitamins. Also, all of the vegetables are currently in season and came from the farmer's market!

The Parts:
Cashew Cheese
Soak 3 cups of raw cashews in water for 6-8 hours. Rinse and drain.
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
Process in food processor until smooth (it will take a while.)
6 basil leaves and a tbsp parsley, chopped fine, mix well

Tomato Sauce
2 large tomatoes
1/4 onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 basil leaf
Salt and pepper
Cut the veggies into large chunks and pulse 3-4 times in the food processor

1 cup basil leaves
1 cup fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup pine nuts**
Place all in food processor and puree.
** I couldn't find pine nuts in my neighborhood so I used a melange of raw sunflower seeds and raw pumpkin seeds, about a half cup total, and it didn't seem to detract in the slightest.

Raw Vegetables
2-3 big tomatoes, sliced
2-3 zucchini or yellow squash, halved and sliced very thin length-wise
1/2 onion, chopped, and soaked in a tbsp of olive oil and a juice of half a lemon, with a dash of salt and pepper
(The original recipe calls also for sliced mushrooms but I had none so I skipped it.)

The process:
Create a tower:
Spoon of tomato sauce
3 slices squash
Dollop (heaping tbsp)  of cashew cheese
Slice of tomato
Spoon of onion
Repeat once.
Top with another spoon of tomato sauce and a healthy dollop of pesto.

One squash and one large tomato makes about 2 "lasagne" servings. I had enough "cheese" and pesto for 4 servings total. The towers will be probably be a little messy and precarious.

This seems complicated but in actuality it took maybe 25 min because basically all of the "cooking" consists of using the food processor. It was even yummier the next day.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vegan Chocolate Mousse

This is another one from the Candle 79 Cookbook, which is super simple and quite decadent. In my usual fashion, I didn't totally stick to the recipe.

The original recipe calls for:
2.5 cups semisweet dark chocolate chips
1 cup soy milk
1 lb silken tofu
3/4 cup maple syrup

I used:
1 70-percent cocoa chocolate bar (about a cup of chocolate)
1 cup soy mlik
1 14-oz package of silken tofu
1/2 cup agave

Either way, what you do is dissolve the chocolate in the soy milk over a double boiler. Add the mixture to the tofu and sweetener, blend in the blender for about 3 min. Pour into cups and chill in the fridge overnight.

The whole process takes about 20 min, tops, and the result is a super-yummy and relatively low-fat dessert!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Black Bean Burgers

This dish is from the Candle 79 cookbook, which contains recipes made at the very upscale vegan restaurant Candle 79. Most of the recipes in this book either A. Would take me all day to make or B. Involve ingredients which are difficult to find and probably expensive. This was one of the simpler recipes (still much more time-consuming than my usual cooking), and the only things I omitted were a piece of kombu (sea vegetable) and I used regular chile powder instead of chipotle. 

It requires:
1.5 cups dried black beans
1.5 cups brown rice
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 onion
Paprika, chili powder, olive oil, salt

Soak the beans overnight, drain, re-cover with water, and add a tsp of chili powder, 1 chopped onion, and a sprinkle of salt. Cook 1.5 hrs in a regular pot or about 15 min in the pressure cooker.

Meanwhile add 3 c water and a pinch of salt to the brown rice, cook 45 min in a regular pot or about 20 in the pressure cooker.

Saute the pumpkin seeds in olive oil , pinch of salt, and a tsp of paprika (the recipe called for "smoked paprika" so I added a splash of liquid smoke flavor) about 5 min on medium heat until browned.

Combine these 3 ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Take half of the mixture and puree it in the food processor, then mix it again. You should now have a not-too-goopy mix you can form into patties. Make patties about 3 inches wide and one inch thick and fry in olive oil, about 2 min on each side. Baking is also an option: grease a pan with olive oil and bake at 350, 15 min per side.

I served these initially on whole wheat buns with the traditional lettuce and ketchup. A more interesting choice would be to top them with salsa and avocado.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Vegan Marshmallows

Stumbling home in the blistering heat on Sun night, a sight on Lexington Avenue in the mid-50s stopped me in my tracks: Sweet and Sara vegan marshmallows were visibly apparent through the store window from the street. Like a moth to a flame, I followed them in, and purchased a vegan s'more (vegan marshmallow on a super-rich homemade graham cracker enrobed in thin, rich dark chocolate) which I inhaled immediately, a vegan rice crispy treat made from organic brown rice, and a variety pack of marshmallows, whose flavors include vanilla, strawberry, and coconut.

Those blissfully unaware might want to skip the rest of this post, but, newsflash: marshmallows are made from meat. So are Starburst, Skittles, Gummy Bears, Jell-O, and a host of pudding and pie fillings. Gelatin, the offending ingredient which gives these treats their chewy texture, is made from cow or pig bones, hooves, skin, gristle, and other undesireable parts. Gelatin has absolutely no nutritional value and is made from parts of the animal which would otherwise be thrown out.

For marshmallow lovers who are also veggies, however, there is an answer. I had not eaten a marshmallow in 20 years (and had NEVER HAD a rice crispie treat) before I was turned on to Sweet and Sara, a tiny, single-female owned local business in Long Island City which almost exclusively makes vegan marshmallows. Their brand has rapidly branched out from solely being available online (my favorite mode of purchase as they often have special discounts) to being available in a host of local health food stores (albeit, in my experience, at a substantial markup from their online prices) to now becoming available, unbelievably enough, at a corporate chain such as Duane Reade which normally I would systematically avoid, and at VERY reasonable prices!

Now, I would not go so far as to call S+S a health food, and I will give this caveat: you may become horribly addicted, order 60 bucks worth of marshmallows at a time, eat all of them with your husband in 3 sittings, and gain 5 lbs. Not that anyone I know would do such a thing. S+S mallows are mostly sugar and contain corn syrup, but to their credit they don't have any super-weird chemical additives, preservatives, or artificial colors or flavors. And let's face it, traditional marshmallows are a junk food, so at worst you're replacing something already bad for you with another junk food which is not contributing to animal suffering (not to mention supporting a sole proprietorship run by an innovative young woman, which is a noble cause in and of itself.)

I am shocked that a corporate company like Duane Reade would carry a specialty item by a local artisan, delighted that it is, very happy for Ms. Sara, hopeful that this may spark more vegan awareness, and grateful that this favorite treat of mine has become more readily and affordably available.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chickpea Meatless Balls

 This is a yummy and healthy alternative to the traditional spaghetti and meatballs.

Put 2 slices of whole wheat toast, a pinch of salt, and a liberal sprinkle of Italian herbs in the food processor. Blend until bread crumbs are produced. (You could use packaged crumbs, but why, when this is cheaper, healthier, and takes 15 seconds.) Pour crumbs into bowl.

Put 2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained, (save the water) in the food processor and blend until a crumbly texture is achieved. Combine with bread crumbs, mix well. 

Add 2 Ener-G egg replacers or 2 beaten eggs to the mix, mix well.

Place entire contents back into the food processor, add water from  chickpeas a tbsp at a time while blending until a thick paste is formed. (Err on the side of less water, if it becomes liquidy all hope is lost.)

Form the paste into meatball-sized balls.

In a large saucepan, saute 1 onion and 1 garlic clove in olive oil until soft. Add the remaining water from the chickpeas, a quarter cup ketchup*, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, another generous sprinkle of Italian herbs, and a tbsp of nutritional yeast**. Stir well, then drop the balls in carefully. They should be about half covered, if there is too little gravy add a bit more water.

Simmer on low heat for about 25 min. Periodically gently turn the balls over with a spoon. They are not going to become hard, but should somewhat congeal.

Serve over pasta or alone.

*This is a recipe which as far as I know was invented by my father, who due to having lived through WWII has certain poverty foods he is attached to, such as pasta sauce made with ketchup and baked beans on toast. Having grown up eating these dishes made by him, there is a comfort-food factor in the flavor of a ketchup-based sauce for me. If you find the idea of seasoning with ketchup unbearable this dish would probably also be fine if the balls were cooked in tomato sauce.

** Nutritional yeast, which is not used in my father's version, gives the sauce a rich, cheesy flavor and is also chock-full of Vitamin B12.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Vegan Blueberry Pancakes

 This is a very simple, quick, and low-fat recipe.

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 c soymilk or almond milk
3 tbsp Ener-G egg replacer + 2 tbsp warm water**

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk in wet ingredients until a batter is formed. Add about a cup of blueberries and mix well. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan and drop in clumps of batter by the heaping tablespoon. This batter is thicker and less liquidy than normal pancake batter and the pancakes will come out more like very soft biscuits. Fry each side on medium heat for about 5 min or until brown and crispy. Top with real maple syrup or agave and Earth Balance vegetable oil spread.

** There may be other ways to replace the eggs in the standard pancake recipe, such as silken tofu, but I find this brand, which is made from potato starch and calcium carbonate, thickens up nicely and is very inexpensive. You can find it at most health-food stores.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Vegan Ice Cream

Nothing refreshes like a creamy cup or cone of ice cream on a hot summer's day, but what to do if you are avoiding dairy? Fortunately, options abound, and we vegans are not limited to sorbet or FrozFruit (although those, too, are viable options, as are Italian Ices and CocoMango icies.)

Several vegan ice cream parlors exist in the city. The best of these three is Stogo in the East Village, across the street from St. Mark's Church. They have almost as many flavor options as a Baskin Robbins, and I haven't yet found one I didn't like. Soy, coconut milk, and hemp milk based ice creams as well as sorbets are available. One can also have an ice cream sandwich made-to-order with vegan cookies.

Another option is Lulu's Sweet Apothecary, which I don't go to that often because it's way over on Avenue B and 6th street, but the ice cream is very good. This place is kitschy and designed like an old time sweet shop, and along with a host of flavors (some gluten-free, as well) they have a zillion toppings, sundaes, malted milkshake, etc. Some of their ice cream is also offered at Sustainable NYC, which is on 9th and A and is a little less of a schlepp.

I was delighted to discover that a vegan ice cream option also exists in Midtown! Kyotofu, an Asian restaurant on 48th and 9th Ave, has soymilk soft serve which will fool even the most diehard Mr. Softee fan. 2 flavors are available daily and a small comes with a free topping, most of which are vegan. I sampled the green tea and black sesame flavors recently and they were terrific.

Additionally, most vegan restaurants serve vegan ice cream, although generally not to take out. Most health food stores sell a variety of vegan ice creams as well. Tofutti is a well-known brand which has been around for years, primarily to serve the Jewish Kosher community who can't have a dairy dessert after a meat meal. I don't particularly advocate this brand because, despite being quite tasty, it has a lot of chemicals. Other options have sprung up, however including Soy Delicious, which offers soy and coconut milk ice creams with a minimum of additives, Tempt, which is made from hemp milk, and Rice Dream, which is made from rice milk and is very light. I also highly recommend Ciao Bella's Blackberry Cabernet sorbet.

Even if you are not a vegan, if you are lactose intolerant or watching your weight or cholesterol, these various vegan treats are superior to their dairy counterparts, and you will not be missing anything taste-wise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roasted Beet and Fennel Melange

I made this with everything fresh from the farmer's market:

3 beets, peeled and cut into chunks
2 apples, cored and cut into chunks
3 fennel bulbs, sliced thin
3 carrots, cut into chunks

Marinated in:
2 tbsps olive oil
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp agave
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Bake at 400 degrees in a roasting pan until beets are soft (took about 1.5 hours)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Falafel, Vegan Snack

A delicious and easy-to-obtain vegan fast food option is falafel. Falafel is a Middle Eastern snack consisting of fried balls of ground up chick peas and/or fava beans and mild spices. Usually these crunchy balls of yum are put into a pita bread and topped with veggies and tahini (sesame paste). Some places also top with yogurt sauce, if you are not doing dairy it's easy enough to leave it off. The bean/bread/seed combination renders this meal and excellent source of complimentary proteins. My criteria for choosing a good falafel are as follows:
1. Has it been contaminated with meat? I do not eat from the Halal carts as they appear to fry the meat in the same oil as the falafels, this is a matter of preference in how much of a purist you are regarding animal products.
2. Is a whole wheat pita an option? (If not, I may skip the bread and order as a salad if possible: the white bread doesn't digest well and is just empty calories.)
3. Are there lots of veggie toppings? The more veggies available, the yummier and more nutritious the sandwich.

Here are some of my favorite spots for falafel in the city:
Maoz, which has rapidly become ubiquitous, is an all-vegetarian falafel spot which offers whole-wheat pita and has a DYI salad bar. Their falafel is tasty and inexpensive. The negatives about Maoz are that I find their falafel excessively salty and they stuff the pita so chock-full of falafel balls there is little room for salad (an ideal falafel sandwich for me would be a pita bursting with veggies and a couple falafel balls floating around, the whole thing dripping with tahini.)

Moshe's is a kosher, all vegetarian falafel truck on the corner of 46th and 6th which appears to be open only weekdays (and probably closes early on Fridays as the owners are Orthodox.) I have to admit, rated based solely on quality of falafel balls, theirs are RIDICULOUS. I have no idea what they do to make their falafel so superb, but flavor-wise they  undoubtably reign supreme. I foolishly ordered the full-size sandwich, piggishly demolished it all, and was unable to eat anything else for about 16 hours subsequently, so I would suggest the half-size portion. On the down side, their pita is white, and their salad is meager (lettuce, tomato, and onion only, with a side of extremely yummy pickles which they are a little stingy with.)

Mamoun's is a well-known haunt with a few locations in the East and West Villages. At 2.50 a piece, their falafel sandwiches are among the least expensive, but are smaller and more like a snack than a meal. Their falafel balls are tasty, whole wheat pita is an option, but salad is basic (lettuce, tomato, onion.) They have a host of tempting desserts which are decidedly NOT vegan (laden with butter and honey) so don't be fooled. Some side salads like tabouli and babaganoush can be ordered separately.

There is another spot I am going to recommend despite not actually having had their falafel in Midtown East. When I visited Soomsoom I was intrigued by their more unusual options, which included some sort of "Sabich" (Israeli sandwich) which was sort of like a potato knish stuffed with fried eggplant (too greasy for my taste). After ordering I noticed their incredible salad bar which included options such as roasted butternut squash and various types of beets, cabbage, and olives (to name a few-- there were seriously about 20 vegetable options). I regretted not ordering a falafel sandwich with salad toppings included, and will be returning at some point to sample their fare.

An honorable mention goes to Duzan Mediterranean Grill in Astoria Queens off of Steinway Street and Astoria Boulevard. I am too suspicious of their grill to order a falafel there, but I have on many occasions had a hummus pita which is absolutely divine. A host of pickled this and that (red cabbage, beets, cucumbers, etc) tops a creamy homemade hummus in a whole wheat pita topped with an equally delicious tahini. The workers are also friendly, which is great, because sometimes I stay a little longer and have seconds. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Raw Foodism for the Lazy

In an attempt to boost my overall health, I've been emphasizing more raw food. A fully raw food diet only works for me for a few days as sort of a cleanse, but my goal has been to consistently eat 75-80 percent raw foods. Often when I mention this to people they think that this is an an incredibly exotic way of eating, but it actually is terrific for someone who is lazy. There are certainly plenty of cookbooks, websites, and in NYC, specialty restaurants which have made an art out of raw food, creating crackers out of ground up dehydrated nuts, carving zucchini into fettucine, et al. However, what I've mostly been eating as a partial raw-foodist is fruit, salad, and trail mix. Not exactly exotic! I've been attempting three tactics:

1. Add raw food to a cooked-food meal. For example, rather than have a full bowl of cereal for breakfast (cold cereal is a cooked food as it has been cooked prior to being put in the cereal box), I'll top a small amount of cereal with a banana, 5 strawberries, raisins (dried fruits count as raw), and raw sunflower seeds. Still getting the cereal experience, but overall much more nutritious.

2. Replacing cooked snacks with raw snacks. This one is particularly useful. While I am not usually snacking on Snicker's bars, my snacks tend to be heavy on the bread/crackers end, which isn't terrible but is only providing a limited number of nutrients. Seriously, how great for you are Wheat Thins? Not that great. Instead of my usual midday bagel, I've been reaching for raw almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dried fruits, and fresh fruits. Since all of those foods have a fairly high calorie content (which is GOOD-- you want to eat calories so you don't keel over) they keep me going through the day.

3. Replacing some cooked meals with raw meals. I've discovered that eating 100 percent raw usually doesn't fill me up, but at least one meal a day I will eat almost entirely raw food. For example: a typical dinner for me was rice and beans cooked with a couple vegetables. Instead, I've been making a big salad with 5-6 veggies (lettuce, tomato, carrots, fresh dill are my favorite staples, then whatever else looks good at the market) with some raw seeds, some cooked beans for protein, a big dollop of homemade guacamole, and some lemon juice and olive oil dressing. Every time I make it I think I won't be full, but invariably I am actually satisfied for hours and crackling with nutritional goodness.

There are many more creative ways to accomplish a raw diet, including dehydrating, juicing, and sprouting, but for my current time/energy level this simple approach is working well.

There are many advantages to consuming the extra enzymes and vitamins in raw foods, but to me the biggest plus with eating this way is that it keeps me away from junk food and constantly consuming fruits and veggies, which let's face it, we all know are the best foods for us. My skin and energy level are definitely much improved from going this route.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Trini Curry Channa

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time. You need a particular type of curry: Chief brand Trinidadian curry powder, which is not very spicy and exceptionally yummy.

Chop a large onion and a clove of garlic and saute in about a tbsp of vegetable oil til soft.
Add 2 heaping tbsps of curry, plus a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a dash of cumin, stir until the veggies are coated and saute for another 3 min, watching carefully to ensure it doesn't burn. Add 4-8 leaves of cilantro and saute another minute.
Once curry is very lightly browned, add 3 cups of cooked chickpeas (channa) with about 3 tbsps of the liquid from the cooked beans. Stir thoroughly until the peas are well-coated in the veggies and spice. Simmer covered on a low heat for about 12 min, until some, but not all, of the liquid is absorbed.

This is delicious over brown rice, with Basmati being the best option. This is also absolutely superb paired with roti if you can obtain it.

There is another version with potatoes which I find harder to make because the cooking time for the potatoes is tricky. I also find it too starchy with the rice. However, if you wish to use potatoes, I would suggest partially boiling them separately, cutting them into small chunks, and adding them to the mix a few minutes before you add the beans, and using about 2 tbsps more water.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vegan Brunch Options

The pleasures of a weekend brunch, preferably plein air and featuring mimosas, are many, but at a traditional brunch locale vegan options tend to be few. If you enjoy the savor and the ambiance of going out to brunch but eschew the ubiquitous omelette, here are my two favorite locales featuring a vegan brunch.

Caravan of Dreams, on 6th street, has a superb vegan brunch which runs late into the afternoon and offers both a prix fixe option which includes sangria and coffee, as well as several a la carte choices. Sweet and savory options are included, with a highlight in the former department being their vegan french toast with fresh fruit, and the latter being several choices of tofu scramble with different vegetables. The sangria is a rich and complex melange of fresh squeezed juices and organic fruit bits with a dash of wine, and they offer soy or almond milk with their coffee or tea. A host of smoothies with raw, exotic "superfoods" such as maca, acai, spirulina, young coconut, and cashew cream can be ordered on the side. Their menu is exclusively vegan, mostly organic, has many raw options, and many items, such as the almond milk and cashew cream, are made fresh on site. I've actually never been to Caravan of Dreams for dinner as I find their prices a bit high, but their prix fixe brunch is very reasonable and quite filling. Outdoor seating is available. 

I recently stumbled upon a second vegan brunch option, Mana, a farm-to-table restaurant on 91st and Amsterdam, which has a pesca-vegan general menu (vegan with options for wild fish) and an all-vegan brunch menu. Farm-to-table means that the majority of items come from small, local farms. All items in this brunch menu are a la carte, including the beverages, but mimosas and bellinis are offered, as well as a peanut-vanilla smoothie which was delicious and filling. Their wheat- and egg- free oatmeal waffle is filling, tasty, and unsweetened, and comes with a side of maple syrup and almond cream, as well as a few berries. Paired with a side of tempeh bacon, which is refreshingly neither greasy nor salty, this meal satisfies both the sweet and the savory palate.  The basil pesto tofu scramble with a side of tempeh bacon and a field green salad is also quite delectable. Brunch for two sans alcoholic beverages came to about 40 including tip, which is not bad for the Upper West Side. There was no outdoor seating, but the ambiance and decor were excellent. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Skinny Wha...?

I recently purchased a copy of "Skinny B****" by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, because I was intrigued that a diet book written by models was advocating a vegan lifestyle. The book is an extremely quick and easy read, and does indeed have some useful information and advice, yet in my opinion has many shortcomings. In summary, this is my opinion of this book.

I really love that this book emphasizes the importance of eating food which is food. One of the best lines is, "Whenever you see the words 'fat-free' or 'sugar-free', think of the words 'chemical s***storm." The authors are adamant about the fact that in order to lose weight and be generally healthy, one cannot fill up on so-called "diet foods" which are actually nutritionally void and laden with harmful additives. The book also has an entire chapter dedicated to listing various common food additives and their harmful side effects. The book strikes a good balance between expressing why once should eat a natural plant-based diet for weight loss, why meat produced by factory farming is inhumane and unsanitary, and why a proper diet is important for health. Its language throughout is extremely simplistic and crass, but since simplistic and crass sells so well, they obviously had a marketable idea to create a health food book that sounds like it was written by Snooki. I didn't especially care for the tone, but if swearing and snide humor can get a certain factor of the population off of Slim-Fast and onto kale, I'll take it.

The main thing I found negative about this book is that while the first chapters edifying the authors' overall food philosophies emphasize whole foods, practically every suggestion in the "Let's Eat" chapter involves processed food, with an emphasis on fake meat. I can see how someone who has been living on Wendy's would find it easier to transition to eating tofu scramble and Boca burgers than to eating brown rice and pinto beans every day, however, if this book is advocating a healthy lifestyle, it would have behooved them to include a few tips on cooking. I do NOT think that it is possible to be skinny and healthy while dining on soy-based fake meat every night, and while organic vegan cookies are certainly better for you than Chips Ahoy, an excess of vegan junk food will indeed make you fat/broken out/tired etc. (A recent horrible addiction to Sweet and Sara's vegan marshmallows illuminated that fact for me.) They pay lip service to moderation of vegan treats and fake meats, yet their meal plans are absolutely ridden with them. I also disagree heartily with their idea that breakfast should be light and dinner heavy. It makes no sense to eat a piece of fruit in the morning before starting a rigorous day of activity, and then eat an 800 calorie meal 2 hours before going to bed. I have found my weight and energy to be the most optimal when having a hearty breakfast and a piece of fruit or bowl of cereal for dinner.

This was far from my favorite book about nutrition, but I am glad to see that a book exists in the mainstream which is a more sensible, if unsophisticated, response to fad diets such as the Atkins diet. If you appreciate raunchy humor and want a very easy-to-understand guide to veganism, this book isn't bad, but I would take their meal plan with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vegetable Rice with Black Eyed Peas

I like thyme combined with black-eyed peas in this simple yet hearty recipe.

Place 2 cups of brown rice, 5 cups water, a generous sprinkle of garlic, pinch of thyme, pinch of salt, and splash of oil in a pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer 35 min.

In a separate pot, combine 3 cups of cooked black eyed peas, 2 chopped tomatoes, 1 chopped onion, and 4 stalks of chopped celery. Add about a half cup of water (more if beans are drained) and a half vegetable boullion cube. Start simmering this when the rice is 10 min from finished.

Once the rice is done, add the rice to the beans pot and stir well. Simmer the entire medley another 5-10 min until most, but not all, the liquid is absorbed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


In a further attempt to deal with my skin rash, I made an appointment at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, which provides acupuncture, massage, and herbal treatments. For 45 bucks you can be seen by an intern, which seemed to be a good option for the uninsured (me). I also preferred to consult with a person who understood natural remedies, since many Western doctors are ignorant about even nutrition (I've had doctors tell me vitamins were pointless. No lie.)

I was seen by an intern and an assistant, who interviewed me on my medical history for over an hour, very patiently and thoroughly. The intern then scrupulously inspected my tongue, took my pulse several times, took my blood pressure, and probed my abdomen. They shared their findings with their supervisor, an actual doctor, who came by to briefly inspect me, and recommended an acupuncture treatment. If you've never done acupuncture, expect to have about 10-20 needles inserted. They hurt a bit going in, but they are inserted very superficially, and don't generally continue to hurt once inserted. Sometimes you will feel a nerve pain elsewhere, this is sort of the point, because the purpose of acupuncture is to use pressure points to realign systems in your body. They then leave the needles in for about 20 min while you lie still, and then remove them. The main challenge is to stay very, very still, or they will hurt as your muscles tense to move.

I didn't fully understand what they told me they thought was wrong, and they also warned me that acupuncture is not always an instantaneous fix. I was advised to return in a week for a follow-up, where they might prescribe herbs, and decided due to the reasonable rates I would do so.

I don't especially feel any different having done the acupuncture, but I appreciated the thoroughness of the exam and am willing to try a few more sessions to see how it goes. At the very least, the worst case scenario is that the acupuncture doesn't improve my skin issue, but at least it will not hurt me and I am not ingesting any potentially harmful drugs.

As a side note, I should mention that I have, in the past, used acupuncture to heal muscular injuries and found it almost instantaneously effective.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2 Raw Recipes

In my continuing battle against my slowly-improving face rash, I decided to adopt a mostly raw-foods diet for the week to try to boost nutrients back into my system. Mostly I've been eating fruits, nuts, dried fruits, and salads, but to mix things up, I prepared these two dishes:

Half a ripe avocado and scoop out the insides into a bowl.
Add the fresh-squeezed juice of one lemon.
Add pinch of salt.
Mash vigorously with a fork until creamy.

I personally prefer this to other styles with tomato etc and a bowl of it eaten with a spoon did nicely for dinner last night. The high fat content keeps you from feeling like you're going to die of starvation while eating raw.

Raw Banana "Ice Cream"
Peel and mash two overripe bananas. 
Add a tsp of raw agave syrup, mix well.
Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla extract. (Are these raw? I'm not sure. They are tasty. Please do not alert the Raw Police.)
Put into container with lid and freeze for about 4 hours. Top with walnuts. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

DIY At Home Spa Treatments

I can't figure out why, but my skin has been super irritated lately. My guess is it's the abrupt seasonal changes. After days of suffering from an itchy, red, irritated face, I decided to take action. Here were some of the spa recipes I improvised:

Step One: Exfoliator
Take about 2 tbsps of raw oatmeal and drizzle warm water on it til it forms a paste. Rinse your face with water, then use the paste to gently scrub your skin. Rinse again. (Caveat-- if it gets in your hair, it's a pain to get out.)

Step Two: Toner
This was my toner recipe:
1/2 cup Witch Hazel
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp aloe gel
1/4 tsp Willow Bark extract (natural salycic acid, which is commonly used in acne medicine)
Rub over face with soft cloth or cotton ball

Step 3: Moisturizing Mask
All the recipes I had looked up for moisturizing masks called for either eggs or honey, neither of which I keep in my vegan home. So I invented this one:
1/4 avocado
1/4 ripe banana
Smear on face and leave on 15 min, rinse.
The avocado oil is a good moisturizer for your skin. I'm honestly not sure what use the banana is except as a binder, but it was in some of the recipes I found online too. (I also ate some. It was pretty yummy.)

A nice warm/hot bath with epsom salts and apple cider vinegar is great for the skin and for sore muscles. I poured about a half cup of each in. Then I also threw in the leftover oatmeal from the exfoliator for the soothing properties.

It remains to be seen if any of this is helping my skin look better, but it made it feel somewhat better!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Herbal Remedies

I'm not much of a fan of pharmaceuticals, and usually I stay pretty healthy just through diet and exercise. However, I am fond of a few herbal remedies when certain health issues come up. As a caveat, one should use caution when taking any medication, herbal or otherwise, and if you take prescription drugs or have a health issue, it would be wise to consult with both your doctor and an herbalist (don't expect your regular doctor to know anything about herbs) before using an herbal medicine. If you're basically healthy, googling the herb and checking for the side effects or interactions is probably sufficient. I will say that my husband and I have taken the herbs I'm about to mention with no side effects whatsoever.

Cold/Sinus/Allergy Herbs
Echinacea (this one is fairly commonly known, it is a general immune booster)
Nettle (this stuff tastes VERY strong but is good for allergies and sinus-- its super-strong taste alone is enough to clear out your sinuses!)
Schisandria (helps with sore throats)
Sage (also soothing for throats)

I suffered from horrible PMS until I discovered some of these herbs. It was life-changing. I should mention that I DO NOT take oral birth control and those who do should potentially not use these herbs.
Dong Quai (helps to generally regulate cycle and reduce PMS discomfort)
Black Cohosh (this one helps the uterus to relax and shed-- I take it the last 8 days of my cycle and can keep myself on an exact 28-day cycle if I remember to take it the last week, it also helps with cramps during menstruation)
Evening Primrose Oil (also brings on menstruation and aids with cramps, I have known pregnant women who were late delivering and used it to induce labor)
My personal favorite is a melange sold at Westerly Natural Market in Manhattan known as Fem Cycle. If you can't get to this store, there are many tinctures which contain a series of female herbs. Fem Cycle contains Chaste Tree Berries, Wild Yam Root, Dong Quai, Red Raspberry Leaf, Licorice Root, Oregon Grape Root, Cramp Bark, Nettles Leaf, Fresh Garrya Herb.

Willow Bark (natural salycic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin)

St. John's Wort (mood stabilizer, a natural version of Prozac. Helps with depression and anxiety. Has a host of potential interactions and side effects, so google extensively before deciding to use it. Super helpful if it's right for you, good for short and long-term use.)
Kava (helps with relaxation and sleeping. Take in moderation and do not mix with alcohol)

These various herbs can be taken as tinctures (dried herbs soaked in alcohol-- similar concept to vanilla extract) or as infusions (similar to tea, usually an expensive option.) The least expensive option is making your own tinctures, which I do. In order to do this, cover 1 parts herb to 1 part water to 2-4 parts grain alcohol. You have to adjust according to what the herb is, this information is easily found online. Dried herbs can be purchased in New York at Flower Power in the East Village. The women who work there will be sure to tell you that they cannot give medical advice, and then proffer a bounty of useful information.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Breakfast Porridge

This is a great way to use leftover cooked grain from dinner the night before and can be done with any grain such as brown rice, quinoa, kasha. I used bulghur wheat left over from my taboulli.

2 cups bulghur wheat, cooked (or other whole grain)
1 cup almond milk (soy would also be fine, and high protein)
1 tbsp agave syrup (you can use honey, which isn't vegan, if you choose, or maple syrup-- agave has the lowest glycemic index)
Pinch of cinammon, nutmeg, and cardamom (all have anti-inflammatory agents)
1/4 cup dried fruit (I used raisins and dried cranberries)

Combine in a saucepan and simmer on medium heat until it thickens into a soupy paste similar to oatmeal. Delicious warm or cold.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tabouli and Chickpeas-- Fancy

There is a more traditional recipe for this which I'll post at another time. This is an "Iron Chef" version I made using what ingredients I had on hand, with some helpful hints from a chef friend of mine.

Bring 4 cups of water with a dash of salt to a boil. Add 2 cups of bulghur wheat, simmer about 20 min or until water is absorbed.

Chop one onion and combine with 3 cups cooked chickpeas.
Mix together with juice from 2 lemons, dash of salt, oregano, one crushed garlic clove, dash of pepper, and 1/4 cup olive oil.
Dice 3 tomatoes and add to the mix.
Add the cooked bulghur wheat, mix well.
Saute 2 yellow squash in garlic and oil about 5 min and add to mix.

The final fancy element, which is optional, but delicious:
I happened to have a type of lemon called Meyer's lemons, which are especially soft and sweet. You can tell if you have one by the soft smooth slightly orange-y feel and look to the skin. The peel of these lemons can be boiled in very salty water and then chopped up and added to your tabouli mix for a delicious zest.

It is delicious warm, but even more delicious cooled in the fridge for several hours.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New York Classics, Vegan Style

As a native New Yorker, there are a few foods that one finds hard to live without, having consumed them practically since birth, but most of them sadly do not fit the bill for vegan requirements. The following are a few suggestions for keeping to a vegan diet without sacrificing some classic NYC delights:

This is the quintessential NYC food that I thought I would never taste again after going vegan. However, there are two excellent alternatives now:
Two Boots Pizza, with locations on 45th and 9th, in Grand Central Station, and in the East and West Villages, has two vegan options, the delicious V for vegan with a cheese made from tapioca, artichokes, onions, and a decadent basil pesto sauce (my personal favorite) and the Earth Mother, which boasts an assortment of veggies on a thick whole wheat Sicilian crust. Recently they added the option of ordering any of their pies with the vegan Daiya cheese.
Viva Herbal Pizzeria has a location on 2nd Ave between 11th and 12th, and another one on Broadway between 97th and 98th streets. They have many options which are either cheeseless or use Daiya cheese, with endless combinations of veggies, tofu, and seitan toppings. The crusts are usually whole wheat or spelt, and there are gluten-free options. They also offer an assortment of terrific vegan pastries.

Bagels and Cream Cheese
There's just nothing like a toasted bagel with a schmear, and luckily, many bagel shops throughout the city now offer not one, but many, tofu cream cheese options.
Brooklyn Bagel, my personal favorite, has a location on 23rd and 8th in Chelsea and 3 more in Astoria, Queens. They have a host of delicious options for bagels and mini-bagels, as well as several flavors of tofu cream cheese.
Ess-A-Bagel, with locations in Gramercy and Midtown East, has an even wider selection of tofu cream cheeses and classic Jewish bagels.
These are merely the standouts-- the number of locations now offering tofu cream cheese is so large now that I could not possibly name them all in this post. If you're craving a bagel, it pays to just pop into the nearest bagel shop and ask if they have tofu cream cheese. The answer is increasingly likely to be yes!

Hot Dogs
Hot dogs, I have to confess, are the ONLY meat food I missed when becoming a vegetarian. When I have a craving, I usually just pick up some tofu hot dogs from the health food store and prepare them at home, but sometimes on a summer afternoon, a yen to walk down the street while stuffing my face with a hot dog will strike. If I happen to be on the Lower East Side, I have a few options.
Crif Dogs on St. Mark's offers a vegan dog with veggie toppings which is quite reminiscent of a hot dog stand hot dog. If you don't mind buying from a place which also serves meat, their dogs are quite yummy.
Kates's Joint on 4th and B has several hearty options for vegan hot dogs, including those topped with vegan chili, vegan cheese, onions, and BBQ sauce. Their restaurant is entirely vegetarian and offers a host of vegan junk food options.

While the foods mentioned here may not be stellar examples of healthy eating, their vegan versions certainly pack less of a fat and cholesterol punch than their originals. Who says healthy eaters can't indulge??

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Food for Your Face!

If you go into a cosmetics store the options for skin care are endless and often confusing. Then if you read the labels on some of the "natural" skin care products, your head will really start to spin from the list of unpronounceable chemicals! Since I tend to have bad reactions to a lot of skincare products, I prefer to use food on my skin whenever possible. The following are some simple foods which are great for skin care:

Green Tea (good for irritated skin)
You can either gently rub a warm, wet tea bag on your face or simply rinse your face with some lukewarm tea. It gently cleanses and soothes irritation.
Apple Cider Vinegar (good for broken out, oily, or dirty skin)
This is good for blemishes and/or makeup removal. Dilute in water before putting on skin. Really deep clean. I wouldn't use it every day or your skin will get irritated.

Turmeric (good for red, irritated skin)
Make a paste with milk or soymilk and rub gently on your face like a mask. Leave on for 15 min or so then rinse off. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory, so it helps to soothe red, inflamed skin. An ayurvedic technique.

Coconut Oil (good for dry skin)
Coconut oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities, so it reduces irritation and cleanses impurities while also moisturizing. Can be used on the entire body.

Aloe Gel (good for everything)
You can get aloe gel made for the skin, but it usually has a host of additives. Pure aloe straight from the plant is best, but you can also get food-grade aloe which has fewer additives. Sunburns, irritated skin, shaving bumps, aloe helps it all.

Corn Starch (good for heat rash, baby diaper rash, or sweaty, irritated feet)
Just sprinkle on like baby powder. You can, of course, also purchase corn starch baby powder, but it's usually double the price. There is controversy around whether talc is bad for humans, but cornstarch will definitely not hurt you (or your baby.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Southern Hospitality, Veggie Style

Memphis, TN and Nesbit, MS were the two sites of my recent vacation. I did not have the highest hopes of finding good vegan cuisine, or even much sympathy towards my diet in these locales, given their fame for specialties such as BBQ pork; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find not only several enjoyable food options but a Southern hospitality which extended to a complete respect for herbivores.

At Bonne Terre Inn, a quaint yet upscale Mississippi B+B situated by two lakes and a host of gorgeous, serene scenery, the proprietors were exceptionally sensitive to my requests, which were quite uncommon. Upon our arrival, the registrar scrutinized me as to my breakfast desires, and when I asked about soy milk for coffee and cereal, he immediately sent his wife, the hostess, to the store to procure some. While other guests dined on bacon and eggs, our complimentary breakfast consisted of: Kashi w soy milk (the hostess picked up two varieties for me to choose from), homemade Hash Browns, whole grain toast with strawberry jam, OJ, and a fruit bowl with strawberries, blackberries, and grapes. When I requested ketchup for my potatoes, the hostess exclaimed approvingly, "Ketchup? You ARE Southern!"

Bonne Terre's chef, whom I later discovered was actually the Inn's computer technician with a knack for cooking who had temporarily taken over the kitchen while a new chef was found, was kind enough to create a unique vegan menu for dinner for us the two nights we stayed. Meal one consisted of two salads, one of cucumber and fresh mint and one of beets and string beans (not a leaf among these salads, which is just the way I like it), followed by an asparagus and spring pea risotto, all of which was superb. The following night we started with a thick, cold tomato-based gazpacho, moved on to another beet salad with raw asparagus, had an entree of mint-basil pesto pasta which was so rich I double-checked to see it didn't contain cheese (the chef ensured me it didn't), and closed with a homemade raspberry sorbet so fresh and fruity we were picking out seeds. 

Our venture into downtown Memphis also yielded more food options than I had anticipated. At a bistro-style cafe near the National Civil Rights museum, I ordered a veggie burger, the only vegan item on the menu, and had the option of about 15 complimentary vegetable toppings (a hero sandwich was also available with any combination of veggies I might desire.) The burger was black bean-based and smacked of cumin, which was a pleasant surprise given the prevalence of soy burgers in New York. A few moments after we were served, the owner rushed out to assure us that more vegan options would soon be available, should we return in a few weeks. While obviously I won't be back anytime soon, I was pleased to see that the inclusion of plant-based meals was becoming a priority.

Later that evening, we were combing the streets looking for a dinner spot (and not finding too many meatless options) when a woman outside a small cafe with live music practically dragged us in to see the show, which was admittedly excellent. When we began to protest that we were in search of dinner she pointed us towards the menu, which boasted about 5 items scribbled on a chalk board. When I declared I was a vegan, she recommended the greens, which I was immediately suspect of since traditionally they are made with pork or turkey. "No!" she declared, "ours are MEATLESS greens! You gotta try them!!!" Her enthusiasm was so overwhelming that we decided to stay and eat bowl after bowl of greens for dinner while enjoying the blues act. They were not only decidedly vegan, they were absolutely delicious with a mildly spicy seasoning.

What Memphis lacked in variety for vegans (if any Memphis chefs are reading this I have two words for you: barbecue tempeh), it made up for in its astonishingly sympathetic catering to our needs to the best of its ability. The final note of kindness came in the airport, where a young man at a sandwich counter noted I had ordered the Veggie Sub and asked me if I would like him to change his gloves before preparing my food. The sandwich was nothing to write home about, but the extra mile of courtesy will ever remain in my memory of this vacation.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Milk Alternatives

While the dairy industry would like to have us convinced that milk does a body good, there is plenty of compelling evidence to the contrary. Milk has only been in the human diet for a few centuries, and many Eastern cultures do not consume dairy at all. Tons of people suffer from lactose intolerance and dairy allergies, and milk and milk products are high in cholesterol. Additionally, if you are consuming non-organic dairy products, they are often ridden with hormones and antibiotics. Finally, corn-fed cows emit methane gases which hurt the ozone layer (grass-fed cows do not, but the vast majority of commercial dairy is from corn-fed cows.) I was a hard-core dairyist, with a particular weakness for cheese and cream-based desserts, until I finally decided it was hypocritical of me to shun meat yet support the dairy industry, in which cows are often treated badly and male calves are slaughtered for veal. Within a few days of eliminating dairy, I felt more energetic, my digestion improved, my sinuses cleared, and within a few weeks I dropped about 10 lbs.

If you're interested in reducing or eliminating your dairy but feel it would restrict your diet excessively, here are some non-dairy alternatives which are tasty, often as rich in calcium as milk, and lactose- and cholesterol-free. 

Soy Milk
Uses: can be substituted for dairy milk in pretty much any scenario, from coffee or cereal to cooking, baking, puddings, etc.
Varieties: endless, flavored, sweetened, unsweetened, zillions of brands. Ideally, go for an unsweetened organic variety which is GMO free.
Pros: easily obtainable (even grocery stores in low-income areas are starting to carry it and bodegas now commonly have it as an option for coffee, as does Starbucks), high in protein, calcium and vitamin D enriched, extremely versatile, very long shelf life even after opening. 
Cons: can be hard on the tummy if you drink it constantly, sometimes has a weird aftertaste.

Almond Milk
Uses: can be a dairy milk substitute in almost any scenario, although I've found it doesn't thicken well in puddings.
Varieties: there are a few brands, and most of them have the down side of using some sort of starch to thicken the milk, which can be unpleasant or clumpy in coffee. The brand I prefer is Almond Breeze, which has the fewest additives and comes in unsweetened, vanilla, and chocolate varieties.
Pros: versatile, light, very tasty, relatively easy to find, most varieties vitamin D and calcium enriched, also naturally high in vitamin E
Cons: not appropriate for those with nut allergies, low in protein

Rice Milk
Uses: ok for coffee, cereal, drinks. Not the best for cooking
Varieties: plain, vanilla, chocolate
Pros: light, easy on the tummy, relatively easy to find
Cons: I personally think rice milk is watery and has no taste. If you are allergic to nuts and soy, however, it is a viable option and is usually vitamin enriched.

Hazelnut Milk
Uses: absolutely delicious in coffee. In my opinion, too rich for anything else. Varieties: generally only plain, which is quite rich and tasty
Pros: yummy, high in several vitamins and minerals, calcium enriched
Cons: hard to find (you really have to go to a health food store for this one), not terribly versatile. I like to get it as an occasional treat for coffee use. Also somewhat higher in fat than the first three items.

Hemp Milk
Uses: I feel that hemp milk is good for smoothies and that's about it. It is WAY too rich for coffee or cereal in my opinion.
Varieties: plain, unsweetened, vanilla, chocolate
Pros: Hemp is a complete protein with all essential amino acids, although hemp milk has a lower protein content than soy milk. Also naturally rich in magnesium, potassium, iron, and a host of other vitamins including calcium and D.
Cons: It has a rather high fat content (still less than whole milk and no cholesterol), which in my opinion renders it way too rich for a beverage by itself. If you liked a thick, creamy whole milk though, this might be a good option for you, and it makes a terrific smoothie or milkshake. It can be found mostly in health food stores.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trinidadian Cuisine

Thanks to some wonderful family friends, I've been eating Trinidadian cuisine since before I could talk. To me, it's Indian food meets comfort food: I enjoy traditional East Indian cuisine, but often find the spices too hot and the flavors too complicated. Trini food has all the savor of India with all the mmm mmm good of soul food. It is an omniverous cuisine, but due to the heavy Hindu influences of the region, it is extremely easy to find vegetarian fare on the menu, and many of the Trini specialities are in fact vegan. Dal, aka lentils, channa, aka chickpeas, roti, aka flatbread, and a host of veggies and fruit chutneys prevail.

The best Trinidadian food I've ever eaten was of course made by my adopted Trini grandma Maria, followed by the beach vendor food I ate while visiting Trinidad, and I've often lamented that the few places to get authentic Trini food in New York are in the wilds of Queens and Brooklyn. Thus, imagine my excitement when I discovered the grand opening of Elsie's, a Caribbean restaurant on 135th and Lenox (aka 7th), which has a big sign outside declaring those magical words: We Have Roti!!

Elsie's doesn't specify which region of the Caribbean its cuisine hails from, but the Trini influences are unmistakable. Their primary claim to fame is their roti. If you've had East Indian roti, it pales in comparison to its West Indian counterpart. Trini roti is an enormous, ultra-thin, doughy bread pliable enough to fold up like a burrito (yet even softer and chewier than a tortilla), with an internal layer of delectable crumblies made from dal (lentils) and assorted spices. (It's also known as a dalpuri, but isn't exactly like East Indian dalpuri either.) Roti can either be cut into triangles and used to sop up other foods or filled with curries and folded up like a burrito. At Elsie's they use the second option, and you can choose 5 fillings for your veggie roti (which, incidentally, is roughly the size of your head, so come hungry.)

The most traditional filling for the roti is channa aloo, aka curried chickpeas with potatoes. (It's so traditional that when the waiter asked what I wanted in my roti and I answered, channa aloo, he said, well obviously, but what else?) I've happily devoured pounds of roti filled only with this delicacy, but at Elsie's one has other options to supplement the staple ingredient. I highly recommend the callalloo, another Trini speciality which Elsie's does to perfection: chunks of spinach and okra are blended into coconut milk for a result so rich I almost can't believe it's vegan (it is-- I asked). Their callalloo is reminiscent of alfredo sauce with its thick, cloying decadence. Yams, rice and peas (not the green ones Mom made you eat-- West Indian "peas" are beans), plantains and several other veggie options. The food is well-spiced but not water-guzzling hot, and so filling you will wish they had a bed for you to lie down in immediately after eating!

I highly recommend that you A. Visit Trinidad, B. Find a Trini grandma of your own, or C. Venture to the aforementioned wilds of Queens or Brooklyn (Lefferts Blvd and Crown Heights are probably your best bets) in search of truly authentic Trini food (or start making your own: recipes coming soon), but in the interim, Elsie's is a welcome addition to the Harlem Caribbean restaurants for those of us who live uptown and simply cannot survive without roti!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vegan Complete Proteins

One question that vegetarians and vegans quickly tire of hearing is, "but where do you get your protein??" My personal favorite answer to this question is "Mind your own business" (lol), but for those interested in a plant-based diet yet concerned about protein, here are some useful facts.

A food is rendered a complete protein by its containing all 9 essential amino acids necessary for human nutrition. Conveniently, when one combines any legume (beans, lentils, or peanuts) with any whole grain (rice, bread, pasta) they form a complementary protein in which the amino acids lacking in one are made up for by the other. However, contrary to popular belief there are a select few single vegetable food sources of complete protein available.

This food has become newly popular. It contains all 9 of the amino acids on its own and is light and quick-cooking. It is technically a grass, but has a grain-like appearance. It can be used in place of rice or barley or marinated with veggies for a yummy salad. I've also cooked it in almond milk with fruit for a dish akin to rice pudding. I've heard that for optimum nutritional content it should be soaked in water overnight prior to cooking but it will cook fine boiled in water for about 12 min without soaking.

Buckwheat (Kasha)
Can I even begin to go on about how delicious kasha is? It is a delicious substitute for rice and has a fantastic nutty, chewy flavor. If you buy the toasted variety it cooks very quickly-- about 5 to 10 min max. Delicious with mushrooms and onions. I also love it with blackeyed peas and collard greens. It is a staple of Russian, Polish, and Jewish cuisine.

No THC, I promise! The protein in hemp comes from the seed, not the leaves which have a far different well-known attribute :x Hemp powder can be added in to a smoothie and doesn't have much affect on the taste. Other than that I can't think of too many uses for it, but it's a good protein and energy booster as a supplement and is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.

This is one of the most commonly known veggie complete proteins and is incredibly versatile. Stick to tofu, tempeh, and soymilk and keep foods such as the highly addictive yet super-processed and salty tofu hot dog to a minimum! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Arthur Aviles, Professional Dancer, Shares His Story: Part One: Diet, Age, and Genetics

Arthur Aviles is a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, whose most notable accomplishments include being a soloist and featured dancer in the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane company, founding his own company Arthur Aviles Typical Theater, and creating a performance space in Hunts Point called the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance--BAAD! This is just a small sampling of his extensive career. Arthur and I recently began a dialogue about his new diet and weight loss, and he agreed to be interviewed for my blog! This is part one of a two part post.

Arthur is 48 years old, and realized over the past 6 years that his body was no longer what he wanted it to be. Arthur is 5'3" and extremely muscular and dense. When he began his new weight loss plan, he weighed 179 lbs, up from between 145-151 in his late 30s. Arthur said he had essentially eaten the same foods his entire life, but around age 36 the weight started to pile on. He attributes some of it to a reduction in the amount of dancing he was doing, but feels that it mostly was because of a change in metabolism. We discussed how many young people who are naturally slender and physically active tend to think they are infallible when it comes to diet, and that the junk food they consume has no effect on their well-being.

Arthur mentioned "I'm glad...young people are getting the discussion, cause I never really had the discussion, with anyone, when I was younger about, like, what I was eating, and how lucky I am... to have my metabolism so strong and that I'm a dancer... That's important, and I think when we're young we don't really know how amazing that is for us to have such strong, able bodies, and then they way in which we abuse them, at that moment is ok for us because our bodies keep tellling us it's ok...and our bodies aren't telling us, you don't know, but in the future it's not going to do that anymore. And you can start to train yourself on a different path now. And that's what I'm doing now at 48. I'm trying, I'm doing my best." Arthur said he wished he had made certain dietary changes earlier, as changing one's habits at 48 was certainly a challenge.

Arthur described his "before" diet as a typical breakfast of eggs and bacon or ham with potatoes or pancakes, lunch of a pork chop or fried chicken and vegetables, and usually no dinner. Generally his meals came from fast food or takeout restaurants. He had grown up eating similar foods as a child. He also snacked throughout the day on candy, and in the past 3 years started drinking loads of soda-- sometimes up to 2 liters a day. It is important to point out that this is not a really gluttonous amount of food. It was clearly Arthur's high consumption of meat and refined sugar which caused the weight gain.

In order to lose weight, Arthur chose to go to an extreme. He set his limitations as "no meat, no sugar, no liquor, only drink water, no eating after 6pm," all of which seem somewhat reasonable. However, his interpretation of these requirements translated into an ascetic diet of oatmeal for breakfast, a variety of vegetables for lunch, and essentially nothing else. He subsided on these foods alone from December to February and started aerobics and yoga classes at Crunch gym. These combined factors brought him down to 151 lbs at the date of the interview.

I shared with Arthur that as a female dancer who had always struggled to meet the stringent weight requirements of the dance world, I found veganism to be the most liberating diet because I was able to maintain a low weight while not having to obsess over calories. If I stayed within the "confines" of the vegan diet I could eat freely and remain slender. He responded, "What we seem to have in common is, there's a structure. And the structure actually dictates the direction that you can go into in a way that really makes it easier for you to actually go in that direction. You see, my extreme diet only had four elements to follow, and if I follow those, I just have to see where it takes me. And so, every time I came upon something, I was like oh, there's sugar in that! There's meat in that!... Any anything, it's all sugar! You can't go into any store and find a drink product which doesn't have sugar!"

I asked Arthur what his long-term plan was, since clearly a diet of solely oatmeal and veggies was not sustainable forever, mainly because it has such a low protein content (although I think it should be noted by protein fanatics that he neither wasted away nor keeled over during this 3 month period of a very low protein intake.) He admitted he was unsure, and spoke of trying to find a balance between eating things he liked and eating things which were maintaining his optimum weight. He mentioned that he doesn't cook, which certainly limits his options, but seemed open to the idea of expanding his choices, stating "If I can make oatmeal, I could learn to make other things".

Arthur said he feels "great" after his weight loss. "Overall, I feel way better. I feel good about my body. I feel light. And light in spirit... When I walk, I can tell the difference between how fat feels and how a solid body feels. And you don't have to be a 'fat' person or a 'skinny' person to understand that... It's not about 'skinny'." His one complaint was that his energy level was lower, but noted, quite profoundly, that "it sounds weird, but I don't think you necessarily need to feel energetic in order to do things and be alive in the world." I pointed out that his reduced energy was probably due in part to not eating any protein, and suggested he add some brown rice and beans to his diet, an idea he seemed enthused by.

Arthur's final thought was regarding genetics. He said he came from a "Botero family" of stocky people who tended to be overweight, but asserted "I think, and I know, that we could counteract what our genes tell us we're supposed to be doing. And that's important because I think a lot of people use genes as an excuse, and I think that no more is it an excuse, because (while) you can't change your genes, you can change the direction that your genes want to send you into. And I say that because I know my family are robust people...and I know I have the affinity to go in that direction. My genes... are telling me to get bigger. And I'm saying... I don't have to be unhealthy in that reality. I'm no longer going to take genes as an excuse. I'm not going to accept that anymore."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Westerly Natural Market

Westerly Natural Market on 54th St and 8th Ave, is in my opinion the best health food store in the city, second only to the Fourth Street Food Coop. Conveniently located in midtown, Westerly's narrow aisles are stocked to the gills with nearly more health food possibilities than the mind can fathom, with prices which leave the Whole Foods down the block in the dust. Your first visit to Westerly may overwhelm you (there are actually 47 different kinds of organic almond milk? who knew??), but if you've grown accustomed to visiting a conventional supermarket and being limited to about 2 percent of the offerings there, the hyper-variety may come as a welcome change. Westerly is also often on the cutting edge of new health food products and supplements, and often have free samples available of products ranging from probiotics to medicinal honey to raw acai juice.

Raw foodist? Macrobiotic? Gluten free? Partial to kimchee or kombucha or nori or garam masala or vegan marshmallows? Only want certified fair trade? Compostable? Westerly is the place for you. Their products include an entirely organic fruit and veg section; organic and raw dairy as well as non-dairy milks, cheeses, and yogurts; organic and pastured meats and fish; breads and crackers which include sprouted, gluten free, organic, and whole grain; a modest bulk bin section with various grains, beans, and nuts; a wide variety of fair trade chocolate, coffee, and tea; a huge variety of multi-cultural foods, particularly Asian and Indian; snacks ranging from vegan muffins to tofu jerky; a large section of specialty raw foods such as dehydrated kale chips and raw chocolate truffles; a hot soup bar and a fresh juice bar; and a deli-style section of sandwiches and salads to take out. Whether you're planning a four-course gourmet meal or having one of those weeks where you thank humanity for the invention of frozen veggie burgers, Westerly has something for you. And that's just discussing the food! There is a whole other section to the tiny store which contains a zillion nice natural soaps, beauty products, aromatherapy oils, candles, and natural cleaning products and still ANOTHER section wherein you may purchase any herbal remedy, vitamin, or nutritional supplement you could possibly think of.

Here's why they remain number two under the Co-op:
#1 they don't have a good system set up for bulk. If you bring your own containers, which I'd imagine someone buying in bulk would want to do, the cashiers look at you like you're an alien and refuse to subtract the weight of your container.
#2 their produce prices in particular, and their prices in general, are sometimes exorbitant (seven dollars a pound for peppers? No thank you.)
#3 their checkout clerks are often harried and unfriendly (although their floor clerks are incredibly helpful.)
On the other hand, you can only get a fraction of the items available at Westerly at the Co-op, or most other health food stores for that matter.

If you want a bargain, you can't really do better than the Co-op, but you can definitely get a good deal at Westerly if you shop their sale items, of which there are always a ton. I actually like just going in and buying stuff on sale because their variety is so extreme I inevitably end up trying something I never would have tried otherwise (my last trip yielded mustard greens, watercress, and rutabega.)