Al Sharpton Cometh

Al Sharpton and 15,000 of his friends are due to arrive on the shores of Staten Island tomorrow, so I decided to do all my grocery shopping today. There will be a number of road closures and networks of diverted traffic due to the “We Will Not Go Back” rally (what exactly does that mean? Is it like “Never Again?”). I have trouble believing 15,000 people will journey to Staten Island for any reason, and it’s a shame those visitors who do show up will be marching through one of the more miserable sections of the island. Despite its supposed renaissance as the next Greenpoint, St. George for the most part is not a pretty sight. Yes, there are lovely historic landmarks here and there (like St. Peter’s Church) and some well kept Victorians. But for the most part it’s blight, ugly storefronts, and lots of down and out folks hanging around. Perhaps the borough president should have organized hospitality squads to shepherd protesters on diversionary tours of our sparkling beaches and vast greenbelt. They could even take a golf break in Todt Hill.

The timing of Mr. Sharpton’s visit to the island is serendipitous because the one year anniversary of my breach from sugar is approaching, and as some of you may be old enough to remember, Al once cut a portly figure.

chubby al

My husband often waxes poetic about Sharpton’s jumpsuits and bling that are now relics of a bygone era. Despite being chubby in years past, Sharpton is now emaciated thanks to a prison fast and vegan diet.

skinny al

I don’t know, I think he looked better fat! It’s people like Al who give veganism a bad name. They look sick, gray, and withered. But I’m going to assume that like me he has also sworn off desserts, even vegan cupcakes. It was almost one year ago tomorrow that I decided to quit all desserts, and I only fell off the bandwagon once through that period when under the influence of too much wine. I wolfed down a chocolate chip cookie before I remembered it was verboten.

What is life like without dessert? Honestly, not much different. The only physical change is that I have a somewhat less tortuous time trying to sleep. My entire life I’ve had difficulty staying asleep more than two hours, and without the sugar and accompanying chocolate (my weaknesses were chocolate croissants, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate) I can occasionally stay asleep for three hours. But other than that I feel no different. No extra energy. No greater immunity to the common cold. So if you’re considering giving up desserts, too, you may not want to bother.

Not only that but two months ago I finally managed to quit bread! This means I’ve been gluten free for some time. Other than some possible withdrawal symptoms, like a severe headache and bad mood, I can report that I feel no different without gluten either. So again, you may want to avoid this current health food craze. In fact, a recent study surmises that the gluten free fad is completely fake.

The only reason I gave up desserts and bread was because I realized they were wasted calories, and I would rather my carbohydrates derive from fruits as they, at least, contain antioxidants and fiber. The only perceptible difference is that so far I’m gaining less weight with this pregnancy than I gained in previous pregnancies, but that’s only because I’m not devouring bagels, rye bread, pizza, and homemade pretzels like I once did.

Yet another radical change in my dietary life is that I’m now eating meat. After being a devout vegan for years I began eating the very occasional egg, piece of chicken, or dairy item. But once I noticed Costco sold lamb at $5.50 per lb the die was cast. If there is one meat in the world I actually enjoy eating, it’s lamb. I cook it on “low” in the crockpot for 10 hours with wine, garlic, and tomatoes. It’s utterly divine and the final nail in my vegan coffin.

However, eating red meat for the first time in nearly 20 years has not made me feel any different. As I’ve noted before, I think humans are more like rats than we want to admit: we can survive nicely on just about any calorie source, as long as it’s not outright carcinogenic or poisonous.

If I weren’t very pregnant I might venture into the fray tomorrow to take pictures for my readers, but as it is, I can barely make the rounds of Costco without bordering on collapse. I don’t know why that is, because I haven’t gained much weight, though I guess it’s the nature of babies to suck the life out of their mothers.

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Kale Tastes Disgusting

I have now tried kale steamed, boiled, sauteed, juiced, raw; baby kale and mature kale. No matter what I do to this stuff, it tastes like green, chewy gasoline. If a health nut like me can’t stomach it- literally, it gives me a stomach ache- how are normal people ever going to eat it? Costco sells huge bags of baby kale. Who buys it? Do people feed it to their pets? I guess if you juice it with a very sweet fruit it would be more palatable, but it’s so gruesome I’m not even going to consider it a food anymore. Especially when there are alternatives like romaine, spinach and broccoli.

I initially turned to kale as a non-dairy source of calcium. While dairy foods are high in calcium, they are also acidifying and high in protein, and the theory goes that these facets inhibit calcium absorption. This is why countries with high dairy intake still have high rates of osteoporosis. So even though I’m no longer vegan I thought it behooved me to seek out non dairy sources of calcium. In the vegan world you hear a lot about vegetable sources of calcium, and it’s true, some beans and leafy greens contain a surprising amount of calcium, but what they don’t get into is exactly how much of this stuff you would have to consume in order to meet the daily recommendation for calcium. Take kale for example. 3 ounces contains 15% of the RDA for calcium, and is about 30 calories. First off, three ounces is a lot of kale. Imagine a dinner plate piled 3-4 inches high with kale leaves, and that’s just 15% of what you need to eat to meet the RDA. In fact if you look at it in terms of calories, you would have to consume as many calories in kale as you would in milk to fulfill the RDA, so you’re not even saving on calorie intake by eating horrid tasting leaves all day long.

Short of taking a supplement, the best calcium source I’ve discovered in terms of calories is fortified cereal. Of course this is “phood,” not “food,” just like calcium fortified orange juice or fortified tofu are “phoods.” But for 100 calories of General Mill’s “Total” you get the same amount of calcium as in 3 1/2 glasses of milk (depending on what type of milk you buy that would be 300-450 calories). Unfortunately for vegans, I’m not sure Total is vegan, even though the ingredients on my box are vegan it contains a “D” next to the kosher symbol (perhaps something in the vitamins added? or is this the fact that it’s typically eaten with milk? I eat it dry.). But it might be suitable for non-purist vegans.

Hard to Live on Eat to Live 2

Since I last blogged about Eat to Live I’ve gone through a transformation of sorts. I accomplished a six week partial fast which I never thought myself capable of doing. I completely swore of desserts and sugar of any kind, which I especially never thought I’d be capable of doing. While my lipoma did shrink about 50% it’s still sitting on my back like an alien spawn– it’s only noticeable without clothes, and even then you have to kind of search for it, but it still bothers me. I’m unwilling to go below BMI 18.5 and I’m at 19 now. I’m not looking to lose weight, but I have been following Eat to Live for health purposes since I ended the fast, or at least I’ve been trying to.

For those of you unfamiliar with Eat to Live, allow me to recap it for you. You are allowed unlimited amounts of raw fruit (no fruit juice or dried fruit), greens (ideally half raw, half cooked without added calories or fat), non-starchy vegetables (like onions and mushrooms) and beans (again, prepared without added fat or calories). You are allowed limited (1 serving each) amounts of starchy foods (whole wheat grains, or potatoes for example) and nuts. If you’re not trying to lose weight, you can have the occasional serving of dairy, lean meat, or egg white. I don’t think anyone would argue that this isn’t a nutrient-rich way to eat, since everything you’ll be consuming is nutrient rich. But it sure is a bland, boring, repetitive way to eat, and I think totally unrealistic for your average american, if even I, a nutrition fanatic, can barely stand it.

Before the fast I could manage 50/50 Eat to Live vs. normal food (like pizza, fruit juice, dessert). Since the fast I can manage about 75/25 in favor of Eat to Live. I can do the four servings of fruit no problem. The pound of greens, the one cup or more of beans. But by the fourth piece of fruit, or the second serving of beans, the thought of more fruit, beans, or greens is a miserable prospect, and I start fantasizing about bagels and jugs of orange juice, both forbidden foods on the Eat to Live plan.

So I don’t know. Sometimes I think the emphasis on quality over quantity of food is overrated. After all, people have lost weight and improved their health on twinkie diets, and that Fat Head guy had great cholesterol levels after a month of bad food from McDonald’s (he didn’t eat the salads). But the common factor in both experiments was that their food intake was strictly limited, and they exercised lightly but regularly– usually just walking.

I’ve thought of doing similar experiments on myself, in fact the partial fast was an experiment of sorts to see if I would indeed suffer ill effects by eating less than the sanctioned 1200 calories a day. I’ve thought of going on a carb-only diet to prove you can lose weight with carbs, but since I’m five pounds from underweight that may not be a good idea.

All-Purpose Vegan “Meat”

soup

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m not strictly vegan nor do I have any agenda against meat eaters. I’m a lifelong picky eater and one of the foods I’ve always hated is meat.  However, on occasion, I do get a hankering for “something meaty,” which is where this easy fake meat recipe comes in handy.

This isn’t an official recipe as I tend to cook it on the fly, so I won’t tag it as a recipe, but I will give the basics of how I cook it.  This method is similar to homemade seitan, but doesn’t require ages of simmering.

You need to utilize the following ratio– 3 parts beans (drained and rinsed): 1 part vital wheat gluten: 1 part white flour: 1 part liquid, plus your seasonings.  So this would translate into, say, 1 1/2 cups beans: 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten: 1/2 cup flour: 1/2 cup liquid. For the “liquid” component I usually use 1/4 cup water, 2 tbs soy sauce, and 2 tbs olive oil (for a total of 1/2 a cup of liquid).  For seasoning I add a teaspoon of thyme and maybe 1/2 teaspoon salt.  But this “recipe” is very flexible and you could add whatever seasonings suit your fancy, such as onion powder, garlic, diced onion, italian seasonings, and so on.

Pick your beans according to what kind of “meat” dish you’re making.  If you want it to look like chicken, select a light colored bean like white beans or chick peas.  If you want it to look like beef, pick black, pink, or red beans.  I don’t recommend using lentils as they tend to be very watery when cooked.

Puree all the ingredients in a food processor until it is stringy like bread dough (please don’t substitute anything for the vital wheat gluten– this is the main “meaty” tasting ingredient).  Then, shape it according to what dish you’re making.  In the photographs here I made “meatballs” which I then cut into chunks of “meat” for the veggie dish and soup.  But you can stretch portions of the dough into fillet shapes, or any shape you prefer.  The dough shouldn’t be too sticky, and should be easy to handle.

stirfry

Stir fry beef… fooled you!

I like to cook the “meat” in a shallow layer of olive oil at 375F for about 17-20 minutes, flipping halfway through.  That’s exactly how I made the meatballs shown here.

You can also use these hunks of “meat” for dishes like lemon chicken, chicken marsala, sweet and sour chicken, and so on.

Vital wheat gluten may sound like an exotic ingredient, but it is available from any bakery supplier, health food store, and is in the baking section of many supermarkets.  My grocery store carries the Bob’s Red Mill variety for about $6/ 16 oz. bag.  It may seem a little pricey but you only need half a cup per recipe of “meat” (which is much less than seitan recipes call for). And of course, it’s still much cheaper than real meat.

The Klingon Offering

My mother arrived yesterday with two of my kids in tow.  They were coming off a 2 week New England vacation where, from what I can gather, they spent all day eating carnivorous meals, swimming in the pool (I got daily videos from my dad of the girls doing laps), and eating ice cream in front of Wheel of Fortune.  I’m always on edge around my mom.  For lack of a better term, she cramps my style.  She’s the kind of person who thinks seafood is vegetarian.  I like food as much as anyone else, but I have a lifelong aversion to meat.  So why does she have to bring over a pre-roasted turkey breast that is now sitting in my fridge like a grisly klingon offering?

I have no ethical issue with meat or meat eaters.  If you want to chow down on BBQ beast, then godspeed. But as she was serving the turkey up to the kids, and as I was eating plain leaves of romaine (because nothing else was readily available), what do I do but reach for that turkey and start eating some.  It tasted good at first, and I even had a second helping, but as soon as I was done I felt sick and unclean, as though I’d just viewed really weird and opprobrious pornography.

This morning, she wants to plan out the daily menu.  “If I bought salmon, would you eat it?” Oh my god, I just ate turkey yesterday!  But I said vaguely, “Uh… I’d rather not but get whatever you want to eat, and I’ll eat what’s on the side.”  She looks all exasperated at that point and said something to the effect that she would only eat what I eat.

Later I asked if I could borrow her car to go to VMJ (I let my registration lapse).  She replied brightly that she wanted to come with me.  Again, cramping my style!  She’s as bad as my husband: no unaccompanied outings.  It’s like the Taliban around here.  I warned her darkly that she definitely did not want to go to VMJ.  I’m amazed this place even has a license (do grocery stores need licenses?).  Until recently they didn’t even refrigerate their meat, they just slapped it on some bags of ice that the mexicans occasionally switched out when they melted.

Eat to Live, 6 Week Plan

I am happy with my weight; I fluctuate between BMI 20 and 21.  I’d be even happier with my weight if I had a larger pair of “girls,” because when you are small chested you have to be quite scrawny to look proportional.  I once tried buying a set of “silicon bra inserts,” but let me give you some wise advice– don’t bother.  I don’t know how drag queens have such lovely looking (non-surgical) falsies that stay in place.

Anyway, I digress.  I’m happy with my weight, but, I have a large lipoma on my back directly over my spine.  After much research, I’ve concluded that the only way to shrink this thing without surgery (which would be complex, because of its location) is to lose weight.  I can lose 20 lbs while still being considered a normal weight.  That’s a lot of weight to lose when you’re already within normal BMI!  But I am so tired of this thing on my back, that I’m prepared to take drastic measures.  My plan is to lose 10 lbs, and if that shrinks the lipoma, I’ll stop there.  Otherwise I’ll keep going.  And if the 20 lbs doesn’t work, I’ll then consider surgery (maybe they can put the fat from the lipoma into my boobs!).

So I cracked out my copy of “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  What I love about his nutritarian diet is its emphasis on nutrition.  It’s not a gimmick, or a superficial fix– it’s a medically sound, exhaustively researched system based on selecting nutrient-dense foods.  For those who don’t know, Dr. Fuhrman is a board certified physician, so he’s not some hippie guru with a degree in basket weaving.

foodpyramid-large

The nutritarian food pyramid.  Take that, Mrs. Obama.

The six week plan is the more aggressive version of the diet which is completely vegan and has no added oils.  It is also grain free, or close to it.  Each day, you eat unlimited amounts of raw fruit, greens (raw or cooked without oil), non-starchy vegetables, 1 cup of beans, and a handful of nuts.  After the six weeks you can add small amounts of whole grains, and animal products.  But vegan cookie bars are not on the list.

Breakfast this morning was a mango.  Lunch will be a green salad with 1 cup of beans, and more fruit.  Dinner will be 2 cooked non-starchy vegetables, a green salad, and fruit for dessert.  Dr. Fuhrman advises keeping things simple at first for the three meals (fruit/ salad and fruit/ cooked veggies, salad and fruit) because your body will be detoxing from all its bad food addictions, and you will be adjusting your kitchen habits to your new way of life.

Of course, I will still be cooking for my children, so I will have to stare at forbidden foods all day long, but I have already made up a long list of distractions (including blogging).

Healthy Cookie Bars

healthycookiebars

Ok, they’re not healthy, but they’re slightly less unhealthy than your typical cookie fare!  These cookie bars are just as yummy as the richer vegan cookie bars that I blogged about prevously.  This variation has more oatmeal, less sugar, and fewer chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 350F with rack in the middle position.

2 cups old fashioned oats (uncooked)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, slightly packed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 scant cup vegetable (canola) oil
1 tbs white vinegar
scant 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the oil and vinegar, and mix well.  Add the chocolate chips and combine.

After eating a little of the delicious raw dough, press it into a prepared 9X13 brownie pan.  You might have to get your hands a little dirty to do this; the dough will expand while cooking so don’t panic if it doesn’t exactly reach the edges of the pan.

Cook for about 13-15 minutes on the middle rack.  Because this is a vegan recipe, you don’t have to worry about undercooking it a tad (which will leave the bars slightly gooey).

The bars pictured above were cut after cooling for 20 minutes.  The longer they cool, the easier they will be to cut.  It’s best to cut any kind of dessert bar using a plastic dough scraper such as this one.  At $1.95 you can’t go wrong!

Spinach with Garlic

spinach

Whenever people complain that eating healthy, whole foods is too expensive, I always think of my $2.99, 3 lb blocks of of spinach from VMJ.  I defrost them in the slow cooker, wring out the water with a bath towel, then saute the spinach with copious amounts of garlic and olive oil.  Total cost is less than $3.50.  This produces about 3 huge spinach servings or 5 smaller servings.   Once you have the sauteed spinach you can put it on or in things like pizza, calzones, or stuffed bread.  Or just eat a big pile of it straight off your plate, because it’s delicious!

Obtain a 3 lb block of spinach or the equivalent.  Put it in the slow cooker, with half a cup of water, on HIGH for 4 hours.  If you are near the slow cooker, stir it a few times as it defrosts.

spinach1

(cover is just off for the picture– cook with the lid on)

Once it’s finished, place the spinach in a colander to drain and cool.

spinach3

Meanwhile, chop 5 cloves of garlic.

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Place the garlic in a large pan with a generous amount of olive oil.  I didn’t measure this, but it’s at least 1/3 of a cup.

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Take a clean bath towel (that you don’t mind getting stained) and fold it into fourths.  Place your spinach on it.

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Roll up the towel to squeeze out the water.

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Unroll it and it should look like this.

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Fluff the compressed spinach with a fork.

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Saute your garlic for a minute or two until fragrant.  Add the spinach, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir it well so that all of the spinach is coated with olive oil, for about five minutes on medium high heat.

And there you go!  You’ve transformed green glop into a delicious, healthy meal or side dish.

spinach

Vegan Before 6pm

Mark Bittman has come out with a novel idea– be vegan before 6pm.  In fact he’s written a book by the same title.  His dietary plan is to consume healthy vegan foods (so no vegan cookie bars!) during the day, and at night you can take vodka shots and eat barbecued pork with Satan.

In theory this is a good idea.  Moderation is always a good idea.  But this method is ripe for abuse.  A person could have 2 apples before 6pm, and then eat an entire chicken after 6pm.  Or a person could eat 2 apples before 6pm, and then eat a dozen vegan cookies bars and a chicken breast after 6pm.  Perhaps he goes into more detail in his book, but Dr. Fuhrman of Eat to Live fame recommends a diet that is 90% whole, unrefined grains and plant foods, and 10% animal food.  This translates, roughly, into one meal every three days that is animal based.

Many years ago my father, who has always struggled with weight, lost a significant amount of weight on a diet similar to Bittman’s.  He ate unlimited fruit for breakfast and lunch, then ate whatever he wanted for dinner.  It was on this diet that he looked the healthiest I ever remember him being.  He had more energy and was generally in better spirits than his usual dour demeanor.  It didn’t last though.  In fact he was recently told by his doctor to lose 50 pounds, if he wanted to live and remain mobile.

Mark Bittman is the author of the wonderful No Knead Bread recipe which I have made hundreds of times.

Vegan Cookie Bars

vegancookiebars

I much prefer these to cookies made with eggs and butter.  I find cookies made with butter have a slightly rancid taste once they’ve cooled, and I find desserts made with eggs taste too… “eggy.”

These can be cooked as thick blondies or as thin bars (what you see above).  You could probably even roll them into cookies, but I don’t usually do that.  The whole wheat flour is not an attempt to make these healthy; I just like the slightly nutty flavor of whole wheat. And the oatmeal gives them a chewy texture.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/3 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
scant 1 cup vegetable (canola) oil
1 tbs white vinegar
1/3 cup water
scant 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use the dairy kind, which technically makes these not vegan, but you can always use vegan chocolate chips, if you are so inclined)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixer– beat well on a high speed until the dough is formed.  Add the chips and mix at a low speed.  You might have to manually press in the chips to the dough (turn off the mixer first!).

I use a pizza pan, but you could use any pan at your disposal; I spray it with cooking spray and press the dough out until it’s about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thick.

Cook on the top rack for 12 minutes, and allow to cool before cutting.  If you cut them warm, they may be a little gooey and crumbly, but still delicious!

And of course, you can eat the dough!  My daughters often beg me to make this, just so that they can taste the dough.