Day 7 -or- Strawberry Maple Pecan “French Toast”

Whole Foods had this crazy-amazing sale on organic strawberries yesterday ($1.99/lb) and I got silly-happy and bought 3 pounds.  Now I have to find a way to use them all!

This is such a yummy,  easy breakfast.  Give your stove the morning off.  Put that skillet away!  You don’t even have to cook to have a nice, warm french toast!

Ingredients for one:
2 slices of your favorite whole-wheat bread
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Toast both slices of bread.  While they’re toasting, whisk the maple syrup and vanilla together.  Pour evenly over both slices of toast and let that sit for about 1 minute.  (If you use a dense bread like I do, you may need to let it absorb the syrup mixture for another couple of minutes to get semi-soft.  You can even pop the syrup into the microwave for a few seconds to get it warm).

While the bread is busy absorbing all that sweetness, chop the pecans and slice the strawberries.  Pile them on top of your toast and dust with powdered sugar, if using.

(Now go do some Pilates because that was a lot of sugar!)

Advertisements

Day 6 -or- Veganism and Honey

While trying to plan a head for the weekend, I went to the online menu for California Pizza Kitchen because I know they have a section about menu options for vegans.  I noticed that a lot of the options were removed because they have honey in them, such as their honey whole wheat crust, which has dehydrated honey.  I told the server I wasn’t concerned about that and ordered my pizza (sans cheese) on that crust.

I know a lot of people who find out some vegans don’t eat honey find it completely absurd. Bees make honey whether or  not we interfere, just as cows produce milk, so it’s common belief that we’re not doing any harm in taking their honey for our own personal use.  They’re just insects right?  They’re small and insignificant.  They probably don’t even feel pain.  (This is not my opinion, but I’m just saying that it is the common reaction to the matter of vegans and honey).

It’s been a while since I read up on the matter of vegans and honey, so I decided to refresh my memory with a little research.  Why do some vegans choose to also eliminate honey from their diet?

Jo Stepaniak of vegsource.com explains that, “Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life.”  PETA explains that “honeybees are victims of unnatural living conditions, genetic manipulation, and stressful transportation … Profiting from honey requires the manipulation and exploitation of the insects’ desire to live and protect their hive.”  Apparently irresponsible beekeepers may starve bees burn hives to avoid “complex maintenance.”  Studies have shown that bees do feel pain and that they are in fact “intelligent,” whatever that means for a bee. 

And of course we know why bees are so important:  a lot of our food (fruit, for example) relies on bees to develop.  Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)  is becoming a real problem, and since over 1/3 of the world’s crop production depends on bees, as well as bats and birds, we should all be concerned.  In January of this year, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that bee populations had declined by as much as 96%.  I know I personally used to see bees everywhere in the summer, and now I hardly see any (besides carpender bees).  In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a lot of dead bees on the ground.

What it boils down to is A) bees are harmed in a process that exploits nature, B) large-scale bee deaths are occurring and this affects our food production in a pretty major way, and C) there is no nutritional need for us to consume honey.

Here’s how I personally feel: I generally just use agave nectar, but I happen to have access to a local source of honey from which I know the beekeeper.  He knows the imporance of bees, how they are linked to the environment and to humans, and he has a true concern for the CCD problem. I have a feeling if most of us put a little effort into it, we would find someone like this nearby.  Ask local bee keepers questions.  Ask to see their hives.  Tell them any concerns you have and see how they reply.  Judge for yourself whether you think they are just exploiting bees and nature for a profit, or whether they are actually working to save the bees from CCD.

Here in Alabama, the Jefferson County Beekeeper’s Association is actually trying to increase the number of beekeepers in order to rebuild colonies and increase the bee populations.  So I will probably go on as usual with my honey consumption, which is really only about 1 jar a year, as long as it’s from a good source.

Day 5 -or- A Yummy Recipe

I’m all about spreading the word that healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive.  One of  my favorite cookbooks is Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson.  None of the recipes in this book cost more than $2 per serving and all of them are flavorful meals that I would make again and again.  The recipe below is my modified version of Robin’s “White Beans and Lemon Potatoes with Olives and Tomatoes.”  This recipe is around $1.50 per serving.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with the flat-side of a knife blade
grape seed oil (you want a high heat oil)
1 15oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1 small-medium yellow onion, diced
3 cups baby spinach leaves
juice of  1 lemon

Preheat oven to 400.  Lightly oil an iron skillet (or baking dish) with a little grape seed oil and add the potatoes and garlic.  Drizzle with a little more oil and season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat.  Bake for about 45 minutes or until tender (the smaller the dice, the quicker they’ll cook).  Stir the potatoes around every so often to make sure they are evenly done and aren’t sticking to the pan.

When the potatoes are about 15 minutes from being done, saute the onion in a little oil over medium heat until soft and beginning to caramelize (about 10 minutes).  Add the  beans, tomatoes, and olives to the onions and turn the heat down to medium-low. 

At this point, we just want to heat everything up.  Add in the spinach and stir around until it wilts. 

Toss the bean mixture with the potatoes and add the lemon juice, parsley, and extra salt and pepper (if needed). Serve hot.

Day 4 -or- Vegan Companion Animals

A coworker brought up the subject of vegan dog food today, and it got some mixed reactions at work.  Some people feel that it isn’t natural for dogs and cats to be vegan and that humans are projecting their own choices onto their pets who have no say in the matter.   Perhaps they aren’t taking their pet’s best interest into account and they use their own reasons for going vegan to justify altering their pet’s natural diet.
 
I have read many accounts of vegan dogs that thrived and lived long, healthy lives.  Their coats were shinier, their eyes brighter, and they had more energy.  I read of a dog  named Bramble, who lived to the age of 27 on a diet of grains, lentils, and organic vegetables.  In 2002, Bramble was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living dog in the world!  Still, I can imagine that if a dog weren’t fed a well-balanced vegan diet (or a human, for that matter) that a lot of health problems could result.
 
Studies have shown that animals have ailments related to a meat-based diet just as humans do:  allergies, cancer, heart, and bone problems.  But I have to wonder if it isn’t the quality of the meat and other ingredients in most pet food that’s causing these issues.  Cats and dogs are carnivores by nature (dogs are more omnivorous, whereas cats are almost entirely carnivorous).  Most pet food is made up of ground-up animal parts deemed as unfit for human consumption by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (often due to the fact that the animals used for food were sick, unable to walk, or dead). Also, let’s not forget that most pet food is full of fillers, over-processed soy, GM corn, sweeteners, and preservatives. It isn’t any more natural for a cat to eat these things than it is for them to eat a vegan diet. And in the case of most pet foods on the market, one might argue that a vegan diet is indeed healthier! 
 
There is the matter of anatomy too.  Whereas humans have a digestive system that more closely resembles a herbivore, cats and dogs have the digestive system of a carnivore (again, dogs are closer to omnivores on this continuum).  They have pointed teeth and claws and innate hunting skills.  They don’t need tools and weapons and fire. Their teeth and claws are meant to grab, hold, and tear raw meat. Their stomachs can handle un-chewed chunks of raw meat and their colons are different from ours.  Carnivores have short, smooth intestines and they quickly pass the meat they consume.  Humans have long, ribbed intestines not effective for digesting meat (although it is still possible to). Even how our saliva works in the digestive process is different. We need enzymes in our saliva to help digest our food.  Dogs and cats don’t. The pH of their stomachs is much more acidic (for digesting meat).  You can read up on the details of these differences, but what I’m trying to say is that what is right for us may not necessarily be right for our pet, and in fact, could be very wrong for them.
 
Since animals cannot speak for themselves, it is up to us to make the best choices that we can for those that are in our care. Of course, companion animals could also be pigs or rabbits, who are herbivores.  Certainly most vegans out there would think it preposterous for an omnivore human to feed their companion rabbit meat just because they eat it themselves!

Here’s what I think:  the animals in our care are unable to speak, but they have ways of telling us what they want and need.  We have to be intuitive and respectful of our pets and their needs, even if those needs differ from our own.  It is our job as loving pet owners to pay attention to what makes our pet healthy and happy and try to provide those things in the best way possible.  Ideally, I would never have to support the meat industry in any way for the rest of my life.  But that’s just not possible, cats or no cats.

We have to be realistic, not selfish, when it comes to taking another life into our care.  I wouldn’t force a certain diet on my pet any more than I would my theoretical child.  In the case of a child, they can make the decision for themselves once they are able to understand the ethics of it all, but what I mean is that I can’t project my ideals on another living thing and automatically assume it’s what’s right for everyone involved.  I have looked at my individual situation (as every pet owner should), which is that I am the proud parent of two cats, and they are true carnivores.  So even though I’d rather not buy meat, I do it for them, and I make sure I get a good quality, holistic pet food with wholesome ingredients.

Panini with Lemon-Basil Pesto

As promised, here is one of my favorite recipes from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Vegan Table.   The pesto is amazing and would be wonderful mixed with pasta and grilled veggies. I’ve bought a couple of basil plants to keep me in good supply for the summer. Pine nuts are expensive, so if you want, substitute walnuts or pecans.  The recipe makes 4 sandwiches.

Ingredients for Pesto:

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil  leaves
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Ingredients for Panini:

2 medium-size roasted red bell peppers, cut lengthwise into slices (I use the jarred kind)
3 zucchini squash, sliced and roasted or grilled (I find that one zucchini is enough for 4 paninis and I pan saute them)
1 medium-size red onion, sliced
1 or 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
8 large slices Italian bread, such as ciabatta (I use Publix’s homemade Italian bread)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil, for brushing

To make the pesto, combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, and salt in a food processor or blender.  Mix until smooth.  Add oil and lemon juice; process until smooth.  If not using immediately, store tightly covered in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

To make the panini, divide the bell peppers, [zucchini] squash, onion, tomatoes, and avocado evenly among four slices of bread.  Drizzle each with [balsamic] vinegar, spread on some pesto (about 2 tablespoons) and sprinkle on salt and pepper, if desired.

Top each with remaining bread slices, lightly brush outside with a little olive oil, and press in a panini maker or place on a tabletop grill.  Press until lightly browned and hot.  You also could cook the lightly oiled sandwiches in a skillet instead of grilling them (This is what I do.  I put the panini in a skillet and place another, smaller skillet on top and press down or use a couple of canned goods to weigh it down.  Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes until the bread is golden brown and then flip over and repeat).  Serve immediately.

359 calories each, 9 grams protein, zero cholesterol

Day 3 -or- What inspires you?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” –John Quincy Adams

I want to introduce you to someone who deeply inspires me: Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Colleen is the author of several cookbooks including Color Me Vegan, The Vegan Table, and The Joy of Vegan Baking. She has spoken at many vegetarian conventions and runs an award-winning podcast called “Food for Thought” from her website, www.compassionatecooks.com.

She is impossibly compassionate, even in the face of adversity, and is a true source of motivation to all who seek to live life with more understanding and consideration for all living things. She reminds us that our actions—and reactions—affect more than just our lives. The consequences of the choices we make are like pebbles dropped into still waters. No matter how small we may think they are, they cause a ripple effect outward, setting into place a series of events we may never know about. To act out of love and compassion and set aside our selfishness can be a true challenge. To do as little harm as possible… well I think that’s something we can all easily work towards one step at a time.

I’ve heard it said that we can’t save the world. We can’t stop what has already been set in motion. No REAL change for the environment seems likely. A coworker sent me this Machiavelli quote:

And one ought to consider that there is nothing more difficult to pull off, more chancy to succeed in, or more dangerous to manage, than the introduction of a new order of things. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. In consequence, whenever those who oppose the changes can do so, they attack them vigorously, and the defense made by others is only lukewarm. We must distinguish between innovators who stand alone and those who depend on others, that is between those who to achieve their purposes can force the issue, and those who must use persuasion. In the second case they always come to grief, having accomplished nothing.          -Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

I feel this, in the back of my mind, sometimes. I feel despair when I think about what we’ve done to our world and what we do to each other. My father told me that God will end this Earth when He sees fit and there’s nothing we can do about it. That seems so negative and hopeless—like saying you’re going to die one day anyway, so why bother taking care of your health. It also seems very selfish to throw our hands up and do nothing because we know we can’t do everything. In times where things seem hopeless, I remind myself of the simple, yet powerful Chinese proverb:

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

There will always be darkness in people, and thus in our world. I would be a fool to think that everyone will suddenly change their life-long habits and open their eyes to what they are doing to us all with the choices they make.  And I don’t exclude myself from this because I am far from perfect and never will be. But I don’t think that means I should give up. Rather, I think it means I should not be “lukewarm.” I feel that people who advocate change, while they may not accomplish everything, certainly aren’t accomplishing nothing. Every kind act, every selfless deed, every “better” choice, makes a difference; I truly believe that. We may never know what that difference is, but I believe it matters.

Even if we do not “save the Earth,” perhaps we can give one child a better future, or put food on one more hungry person’s plate, or save one more animal from suffering. Because it matter to them, it should matter to us.  We may not change the collective mind of the masses, but perhaps we may gather together (those of us with like minds) and be happier and more enlightened for it. And we can encourage others to join us, although not everyone will. We can stand in the sun, and feel its warmth, and give thanks for that.

Certainly these things matter.

(Recipe by Colleen to be posted later today!)

Chocolate Chunk Brownies

These brownies are so chocolatey and rich, you’ll definitely need a cold glass of almond milk with them!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup non-dairy milk (I use almond)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of your fav vegan chocolate bar, cut into chunks (or semi-sweet chocolate chips, if you like)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Whisk together the first 4 ingredients.  Sift the dry ingredients (except the chocolate chunks).  Mix the wet and dry ingredients just until blended and then fold in the chocolate chunks.  Bake 45 minutes.