Between Rage & Serenity

We went to see X-men: First Class with a couple of friends last week (excellent movie, by the way) and one line in the movie stood out to me.  It’s where Professor X is trying to help Erik harness/control his power and he tells him that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity. 

True focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.

I think this is so true and couldn’t help apply it to the vegan “movement.”  Some people go vegan for health reasons, some for environmental causes, and some for animal welfare.  Most of us, I’m willing to bet, chose to switch to a vegan diet due to some degree of concern for each.  But what caused us to make such a strict dietary change for life?  What made us decide to accept the jokes and jeers and awkward holiday meal conversations, not to mention the amount of research we sometimes to have to put into our vacations or get-togethers with friends at meat-and-potatoes restaurants.  I can only speak for myself, of course, but it was partly due to rage. 

I was outraged to see what I had never thought of before or had chosen not to think about, and especially what our government lets happen behind closed doors.  I was so infuriated and heart-broken after watching the Meet your Meat documentary.  Factory farm conditions and workers can be deliberately, disgustingly, monstrously cruel.  The conditions we keep the animals in, all for the sake of a few extra dollars, are filthy prisons.  But most factory farm workers aren’t treated much better.   They’re forced to work in filthy, unsafe working conditions and are denied what most of us consider basic human rights in the work place.  Meat production isn’t efficient; it’s polluting our air and wasting our water and energy.  Because of these things, and so many more, I was full of rage and sadness.  Why do humans so often, when capable of such greatness, choose to do such harm?

But I had to move past the rage, although it’s still inside me.  We can’t just sit around being angry or sad at the state of the world.  We can’t let these emotions paralyze us, but rather we have to use them as a catalyst.  Rather than let them hold us down, we must use these feelings to push us forward.   When you make a choice to better yourself and represent positive change, it makes you feel good.  Some might say we do these things partly due to selfish reasons, and that may be so to some degree, but if it benefits the greater whole or pushes us all in a better direction, I think we deserve to feel good.  In the peaceful, compassionate, good choices we make, we find a bit of serenity in knowing we’re doing our part to make our world a better place for years to come.  This balance, between rage and serenity, is where most great change is accomplished.

What angers you?  What change would you like to see in the world?  Would this change benefit only you or will it also help others?  Why haven’t you made the change in your own life yet?


Quick & Easy Lentil Tacos

The brown lentils in this recipe require no soaking.  The package might say they do, but it’s all lies!  That said, I do occasionally soak my lentils overnight with the assumption that they cook quicker and that it reduces gas, but that could be a complete figment of my imagination.  If you do soak them, discard the soaking water and add fresh water for cooking the next day.

I’ve found the lentil cooking method that works best for me is leaving them in the crockpot (with enough water to cover + 2 inches or so) on low while I’m at work (8 hours) and then they’re done when I get home.  You can cook them on the stove in about 45 minutes or so though.  Whatever your method, just make sure your lentils are cooked before you start this recipe!  You’ll have dinner on the table in less than 10 minutes!

1 small-medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cups cooked lentils
1 package taco seasoning
8 taco shells (soft or crispy)
toppings such as lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, vegan sour cream, etc.

Saute the onion in 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, chop your tomatoes, lettuce, and prepare toppings. 

Add the lentils, 3/4 cup water, and taco seasoning to the onion and simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally,  until the water is absorbed/evaporated.

Spoon lentil mixture into 8 taco shells (about 1/4 cup per shell) and add your favorite toppings.

My Top 10 Vegan Snacks Cont. (6-10)

I decided that since the 5 snacks on yesterday’s list were a bit on the unhealthy side, I would try to do better with these 5…

#6 Popcorn with nutritional yeast is awesome!  Just make a batch of popcorn (instant or shake-the-pot-over-the-stove kind, whatever) and sprinkle it with salt and nutritional yeast while it’s still hot.  The nutritional yeast will give it a slightly cheesy flavor and add TONS of vitamins.

#7 Mock Chicken Salad w/ Crackers or Fruit
To make the chicken salad, pulse a can of chickpeas in the food processor (after you’ve drained and rinsed them) until flaky.  Mix with shredded carrot, finely diced celery, Vegenaise, chopped pecans, salt, and pepper (or whatever you like in chicken salad).  Of course this is great on toasted bread for a sandwich, too!

#8 Homemade muffins
Make a batch of muffins over the weekend and you have breakfast and snacks for the work week!  My favorites are lemon poppy seed and blueberry oatmeal.  (PS add a cup of sugar to that lemon poppy seed recipe.)

#9 Stacy’s Pita Chips
These chips are so addictive and they come in several flavors.  The Simply Naked ones are good for dipping, but since we’re not discussing hummus here, I have to mention the Cinnamon Sugar and Garden Veggie Medley flavors.  SO GOOD!

#10 Fruit + fruit dip
This fruit dip is so awesome, you might just find yourself licking it straight from the bowl during a long bubble bath  … no?  Maybe that’s just me!  Mix 8 oz vegan cream cheese and 8 oz or so of vegan marshmallows (Sweet and Sara or Dandies brands are both good) and whip the hell out of it with a food processor or electric mixer.  Prepare to surrender your soul!

Ok so I know I was supposed to try to keep it healthy, but you’re dipping fruit into it!  What more do you want from me!  : )

Top 10 Vegan Snacks (1-5)

I came across this cute comic illustrated by Gemma Correll the other day and had to share it.  It made me think about how boring veg snacks can be if you’re not creative.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love hummus with carrot sticks or a PB&J, but I don’t want it all the time!   I want my 2:00pm treat to be so good I can hear it calling to me from my lunch box, begging me to eat it.  I want to look forward to snack time (yes, adults have snack time too!).  So I’ve compiled my top 10 vegan snacks for those of you who are less creative or just need some good ideas.  These are great for everyone!  Enjoy 🙂

#1 Warm toast with dark chocolate peanut butter (Peanut Butter & Co is my new fav brand) or Jason’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter is amazing!  This is good for breakfast or a late night snack too.  If you want to make it really orgasmic, slather a slice of bread with one of the two spreads mentioned above, top with vegan marshmallows, and put in the toaster oven until the marshmallows are gooey and brown.  OMGYUM!

#2 Chocolate smoothie with 1 1/2 cups almond milk, 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder (or either of the spreads mentioned above), 1 frozen banana, 3 ice cubes, and a tablespoon or so of agave nectar.  Blend until smooth and enjoy!

#3 Graham crackers “sandwiches” with banana slices and peanut butter

#4 Non-dairy yogurt with homemade granola is great for breakfast or a snack.  Granola is actually pretty addictive by itself.

#5 Nature Valley Oats ‘n Dark Chocolate granola bars (ok they do have honey in them.  I know some vegans care about that and some don’t,  so I’m just telling you ahead of time.  If you don’t count honey, nearly all of their crunchy bar flavors are vegan.)  The Cinnamon, Apple Crisp, Roasted Almond, and Maple Brown Sugar flavors are all vegan to my knowledge.  If you don’t feel like making homemade granola, you can break these bars up into your yogurt as well.

DIY Sugar Scrub

A couple of Christmases ago, my significant other and I decided that we would give only homemade gifts to one another.  It was definitely an interesting experience, especially since we both gave sewing a try for the first time.  I’ve been into DIY (Do It Yourself) projects ever since.

One of the stocking stuffers I made was sugar scrub, and I’ve started making jars of it for women in my family each year because it’s such a thrify way to say you care.  What woman doesn’t like sugar scrub?  Men can use it too, of course.  It’s great for a pre-shave exfoliation.  In stores, sugar scrubs go for around $10-20 a jar, which is insane.  For what it costs to buy a 2 lb bag of sugar, a 16oz bottle of sweet almond oil, a bottle of vitamin E, and a couple different types of scented oils, you can make around six 8oz jars of sugar scrub for around $5/jar! 

The measurements below are approximate.  How much you need of each ingredient will depend on the size of your container and your preference for how much oil you want.  I sort of mix and add as I go, smelling to see if I have a strong enough scent or feeling the texture to see if I have enough oil.  You can’t mess this up though!

I recommend sweet almond oil, but you can use olive oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, etc.  Sweet almond oil absorbs into the skin easily and won’t be as greasy as other types of oil.  The best deal by far that I have found is the Now Foods brand that they sell on Amazon for $12/16oz.  Search around though; you may find a better deal per oz.  Also, Hobby Lobby has a great price on scented oils at $2.99/bottle.  Stock up when they’re on sale for half off!  You can choose to use real, essential oils of course, but you’ll be paying more.

1 cup sugar (you can use white, brown, or a mix)
1/3 – 1/2 cup sweet almond oil
1 teaspoon vitamin E (you can buy the oil by the bottle or break open capsules)
10-20 drops of scented oil or essential oil (essential oils will be stronger so you may want to use less)

Mix it up and adjust the ingredients to your liking.  Store in an airtight container.  Be careful; the oil will make the tub slippery!

I keep used salsa jars year-round for sugar scrub at Christmas.  Just wash the jar once the salsa is used up; remove the paper label; and wrap the lid in fabric, a pretty sticker, or ribbon to cover up the logo.  You can even tie little spoons bought from the thrift store to the jar with some ribbon to be used as a scoop.

Beauty, Recognition, and Reaction

The following excerpt was taken from Sharman Apt Russell’s book Anatomy of a Rose:

Subtract flowers from the world and the whole world is dead from a human point of view. The non-flowering plants on earth include the mosses, liverworts, conifers, cycads, ferns, and ginkgo trees. Almost every other plant, everything we and other animals eat, requires a flower for reproduction. We know that flowers are beautiful. We forget that they are also essential.

I think this is true of many small things in the world– they are essential in some way.  Often in our hectic lives, they go unnoticed or un-valued, yet if they were gone, it would affect us in a huge way.  We end up taking these small things for granted because they have always been there and we believe they always will be, as we have been shown no evidence to prove otherwise. 

 However, there are some very big things we take for granted too.  And when I say “we” here, I suppose I am talking about the majority of people living in most developed countries.  Two biggies are clean air and clean water.  You have the occasional ozone alert day, but other than that, you don’t tend worry about air quality.  Most of us don’t have to wear masks when we go outside and our cities are usually clear of smog and visible air pollution.  We don’t have to be afraid of drinking our water straight from the tap.  We can shower daily, wash our clothes, cook, and brush our teeth with the water that comes out of our faucets.  If we are out and about and we get thirsty, we can just grab a bottle of water from a gas station or grocery store.  They even sell bottled water in department stores, movie theaters, and sporting goods stores now.  Schools, hospitals, colleges, libraries, and corporations have water fountains in every hallway.   We have swimming pools, water parks, and car washes. Clean water is never far away.

So I can’t say I’m surprised that many people don’t recycle because they either don’t think about it or don’t see why it’s important.  A lot of people even see it as a hassle. We’re taking a lot for granted. 

Where I work, we have recycling bins for cans and plastic set up in several places on every floor.  But when I walk by the trash can in the cafeteria, I see plastic bottles and cans in with the food waste.  What’s sad is that the recycle bins for those materials are right next to the trash cans.  It would have taken nothing more than the simple realization of that fact for someone to put their Coke can into the recycle bin instead of the trash can. 

I’ve spoken with a few people to get their thoughts on what I consider a strange resistance to recycling.  Most people say that they just don’t think about it.  It’s not intentional, but since they don’t have a recycling program in their neighborhood and therefore don’t recycle at home, they just don’t think to do it while they are at work.  Some people just don’t see the value in recycling.  They don’t understand why it’s important and they don’t think that it affects them.  They haven’t had to do it in all their years of life; why now?

In this way, most of us are blessed:  we don’t live near a landfill.  We don’t see one on the way to work, on our weekend shopping trips, or on vacation.  We don’t have rainwater runoff from tossed out batteries, oil waste, rotting food, and toxic chemicals draining into the lakes we get our drinking water from or the fields we grow our food in (at least not that we know of).   When we throw something away, it goes away in our minds.  But what we fail to understand is that there is no “away.” 

We may have mostly-clean air and drinking water freely available to us now, but what about our children?  Our grand children? Our great-grandchildren? Our great great-grandchildren?  What about generations 100 years from now?  Will they live next to a landfill?  Will they have runoff seeping into their water and soil?  Will they have clean air to breathe? 

Of course, we don’t think about that when we toss out our bottles, paper, glass, and cans with the garbage, do we?  We don’t think that we, as individuals, could have this sort of impact on the future.  We don’t remember that we are part of a collective whole, sharing one planet, the ONLY planet, that we have to live on.  We live in the moment.  But somewhere, right now in this very moment, there are families living next to a landfill.  That’s what they see and smell every day.  Their water is undrinkable.  They get sick.  But we never see these people do we?  And since we don’t see it, we don’t think about it.

I’ve written before about the butterfly effect– essentially Newton’s Law in a less physical sense.  For every action, there is a reaction.  Everything we do sets into motion a series of events and we may never know the full consequences of our actions, but they affect everyone else on this planet.  I know that’s a huge idea, but I strongly believe that.

John Muir once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

I urge you to find out about recycling programs in your area.  If one doesn’t exist, ask for one.  I also urge you to find creative ways to reuse items before you recycle them.  Clean salsa jars make good containers for storing soup or homemade sugar scrub.  Glass water bottles of all different shapes and colors make beautiful vases for flowers.  Paperboard containers that rolled oats and breadcrumbs come in can be covered in decorative paper and used for giving baked goods like cookies (they’re like mini cookie jars!).  Local animal shelters often take newspapers to line puppy and kitten cages and some even take paperboard toilet paper tubes to stuff alfalfa in for bunnies.  Colored paper can be put through a paper shredder and used for Easter basket grass instead of buying that plastic stuff year after year.  Get creative!

If any of you have good ideas on how to re-use common items, I’d love to hear them!  Please comment and let me know how you extend the life of items that would normally be tossed out.

Butternut Squash & Chickpea Stew Over Couscous

I made this recipe from Vegetarian Time’s new cookbook Everything Vegan last night and it was so easy and very yummy.  You get so much flavor with very little effort.  This would be a comforting meal in the wintertime, but I’ll be making it again and again, year-round. 

I modified a few things:  The original recipe called for red bell pepper, and they are so expensive right now, I left it out.  To add a bit of summer, I tossed in some fresh, white corn that I cut off the cob.  I also didnt’ have any cumin seeds, which the original recipe called for, so I just substituted an equal amount of cumin powder and it was fine.  I’ve also tweaked the directions a bit.

This serves 6.

2 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium carrots, diced
1 small onion, diced (1 cup
1 Tbs. cumin powder
1 dried bay leaf
2 16-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 32-oz. container butternut squash soup
1 1/2 cups couscous (unprepared)

Heat oil in over medium heat in a medium skillet or saucepan. Sauté carrot in oil 3 to 5 minutes.  Add onion and sauté 3 to 5 minutes more.  Stir in cumin.

Purée 3/4 cup chickpeas and 3/4 cup butternut squash soup in blender until smooth. Add to carrot mixture along with remaining chickpeas, soup, and the bay leaf. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes. If the mixture is too thick to simmer, add a little vegetable broth to the pan to thin it out a bit.  You don’t want it too soupy though, because this is supposed to be a stew. 

While the soup is simmering,  place couscous in heat-proof bowl, and add 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Cover, and let stand 3 to 5 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Fluff couscous with fork.

Once the soup is done, remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.  Place couscous into your bowls for serving and ladle some stew over the couscous.

picture from