Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Awesome" Avocados

Today one of my eighth graders used the word "awesome" at least five times in her persuasive essay.  As a teacher, one of my favorite things to do is to go through and circle any words that have been repeated multiple times.  That might sound mean, but I actually really enjoy editing other people's writing.  I'm a major perfectionist. 

Anyway, this evening I was preparing my dinner, and as the day's events were running through my mind, that word "awesome" popped into my head again.  Lately, I have been incorporating avocados into all of my salads, and yes, that word just about sums it up.  I recently acquired an avocado slicer, and it has become my new favorite kitchen tool.  I slice up an entire avocado and toss it into a spinach salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and red bell pepper, flavored with an olive oil and vinegar dressing.  Delicious and nutritious (sorry about that one).  Other times I will mash up an avocado and eat it with tortilla chips without adding other ingredients to make it official guacamole. 



Avocados are high in dietary fiber, vitamin K, and folate, to name a few key nutrients.  They are a high-fat food, but it's the healthy kind!  The fat in avocados promotes heart health and aid in the absorption of carotenoid antioxidants, among many other benefits.  My class recently read Pam Munoz Ryan's novel Esperanza Rising, in which the title character uses avocados to ease her dry and cracked skin.  I haven't tried that one out yet.  But it sounds pretty "awesome."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nami

This weekend I discovered that there is a vegan ice cream shop right down the street.  I'm not quite sure how long this has been going on without my knowledge, or how I was not immediately made aware, considering the obsession I have had for ice cream since say, birth.  Anyway, the place is called Nami, as in tSyonami, a soft serve, soy-based ice cream.  All of their "tsundaes" (I came up with that one) start off with vanilla tSyonami, and then they mix in all sorts of other vegan goodies.  You can check out the menu for yourself, but there are about twenty different options!  Today I tried the P.B. 'n' Chocolate, which contains organic peanut butter and organic chocolate.  This place is like the hip, vegan version of Dairy Queen.  They also serve coffee drinks and baked goods.  Be still my vegan heart!  The cups are made from plant-products and the utensils are biodegradable.  Obviously.  Amazing.  I might be stopping by here every day after work, especially since it's just around the corner from the Burton Barr Central Library, my favorite place to pick up cookbooks and CD's.  It's located on 7th Street, just north of McDowell, right next to Green New American Vegetarian restaurant.  Try it.  Now. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Start

For a while I was under the impression that living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle was more expensive than a “normal” meat-eating one.  I guess I just assumed that hard to find substitutes and organic produce would break the bank.  Not so.  When you initially re-stock your cabinets with vegan alternatives, you will spend a chunk of money.  After that, though, I would argue that it’s not terribly expensive to be vegan, especially if you know where to shop and what to buy.  Making the transition to a vegan way of life doesn’t have to be difficult.

If you’re going vegan, I would recommend eating all of the food you already have or giving it away as you make the transition, rather than just throwing it in the trash.  After all, a big part of this lifestyle is lessening one’s impact on the environment.  Also, slowly making changes is easier than going cold turkey- at least I thought so.  I found that by the time I got to my last few non-vegan items, it felt kind of gross even eating the stuff.  Frozen cheese pizza instead of a fresh vegetable stir-fry?  No bueno. 

The next issue will be to sort through the variety of options you now have to replace the former food staples in your kitchen.  Here are the products I would initially buy to re-stock my refrigerator and cabinets:

-          Soy Milk or Almond Milk – plain or vanilla-flavored
-          If you are a fan of sandwiches, vegan bread (no milk or eggs) or whole wheat wraps
-          Olive oil
-          Earth Balance vegan alternative to butter
-          Several cans of your favorite varieties of beans
-          If you’re like me and you like to snack, yummy vegan snack foods: tortilla chips, vegetable chips, hummus, granola bars, trail mix, etc.
-          3 or 4 items you can use to throw together a salad: spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, red bell peppers, avocados, and a vegan salad dressing, like olive oil and vinegar
-          Vegan cereal or breakfast food (most cereals are vegan, so this really isn’t too tricky)
-          Vitamin B12 and Omega-3 Supplements – Vitamin B12 is not found in plant-based diet, and Omega-3 fatty acids exist, but not in large enough quantities
-          Pasta
-          Rice

If you like to bake, you will have to pick up different items here and there, depending on the recipe and the cook books/websites you use.  Some recipes call for xanthan gum, arrowroot powder, or different kinds of flour.  Since these items can be rather pricey, I would advise waiting to purchase them until you are sure they will be of use to you.  It is a good idea to have the following items available, though: 

-          Agave sweetener
-          Applesauce
-          Vegan chocolate chips


With these items in your pantry, you will be at a good starting place to start whipping up some vegan dishes.  Remember to use seasonal produce, which is cheaper, more flavorful, and contributes less to globalization and global warming.  Try shopping at farmers markets.  For busy nights, try out soups and frozen dishes from Amy’s Kitchen, sold at lots of mainstream grocery stores these days.   You don’t have to buy and try every vegan product all at once.  Becoming vegan is a process and a daily adventure.  You can do as little or as much as you want to start out.  Sure, there are lots of expensive products out on the market, but if you are a smart consumer, I think you will find that your grocery bill will be reasonable.  Just try not become a smug vegan as you walk out of the store with your healthy vegan groceries in your canvas tote bags.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Vegan Year in Review

To prove that vegans do actually eat amazing dishes, here are some of my favorite creations from over the past year:

chocolate cake with fresh strawberry filling and vanilla frosting


carrot cake cupcakes with vanilla frosting


                  
 vegan chili and spinach salad


 
  zucchini squash stuffed with barley and vegetables


chickpeas, couscous, and zucchini squash


 stuffed peppers and wild rice


penne in a garlic sauce with vegetables


 
 stuffed peppers

                    
pizza with roasted vegetables on a homemade crust



stir fry with sweet potatoes


 avocado pesto pasta


Here's to another year of amazing vegan cooking!  Happy New Year!