Friday, March 30, 2012

Why Going Vegan is the Best Diet

My whole life I've been around people who were jumping on the bandwagon for various dieting fads... Atkins, South Beach, protein-packing, low-carb, low-fat... and so on.  To me, these are all just different forms of deprivation that don't work in the long run.  How is anyone supposed to maintain this kind of lifestyle?  Is it really healthy to eat lots of one kind of food and none of another?  If I could never eat carbs, I would be very sad indeed, besides the fact that I wouldn't have energy to run every day.  I have come to believe that going vegan is the best diet anyone can adopt in order to live a healthy lifestyle, whether or not that involves losing weight.

When I first went vegan, I was doing it because meat disturbed me, dairy made me feel sick, and I didn't want to be a participant in harming animals.  The health benefits were not at the forefront of this decision.  I have always been thin, and I didn't need to lose weight.  However, after about two months, I found that I had lost ten pounds.  Cutting all trans fats out of your diet will do that.  People were commenting on how great I looked, and I really did feel great.  I was running and working out more than ever before.  "Maybe there is something to this vegan thing," I began to think.

Was going vegan hard at first?  I had already been a vegetarian, but of course.  I had to change my eating habits quite a bit, since dairy was a huge part of my diet.  I was basically addicted to ice cream.  I had major cravings for the first month.  After that, the cravings went away and I started to enjoy the adventure of trying new recipes and visiting vegan-friendly restaurants.  Oprah only took on the vegan challenge for one week; that's not enough time to let your body adjust.  I realized that for a long time my diet had been quite boring, and that I had really been missing out.  My diet became so much more varied, which I think is the first part of a healthy lifestyle; incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein into your diet in lots of different ways.  Contrary to popular belief, vegans don't eat just salad.  If that were true, believe me, I wouldn't be a vegan.

Unless you spend all of your time eating processed vegan junk food, you will lose weight if you go vegan.  More importantly, this lifestyle is sustainable.  I eat lots of food, and I never feel like I have a "food baby" at the end of a meal.  I have been doing this for almost two years, and there is nothing that makes me want to revert back to my old ways.  Sure, sometimes I would like to eat a regular slice of pizza, but then I think about how gross it would make me feel.  Nah.  Unlike all of those fad diets, you're not depriving yourself or constantly hungry.  You're eating a variety of delicious foods and always feeling satisfied.  You're making informed decisions about what you eat.  That sounds a lot better to me than eating lots and lots of meat or banishing carbs from your life.  Oh yeah, and there's no calorie counting involved.

Speaking of calories, let's talk about meat and dairy for a second.  Put aside all of the hormones, antibiotics, steroids, and pesticides in the bodies of these animals, and the way they are mistreated.  Did you know that consumption of meat and dairy accelerates the growth of cancerous cells in the body?  Just putting that out there.

If you are truly committed to changing your lifestyle in order to improve your health, I would recommend picking up a book and reading more about the wonders of becoming vegan.  There are so many to choose from: The Kind Diet, Skinny Bitch, and Becoming Vegan are a few.  There are also some super documentaries out there, including Food Matters and Forks Over Knives.  Maybe you don't want to become a hippie, join PETA, or be ridiculed by your family and friends because you know what seitan and quinoa are.  If you put aside all of those preconceived notions, you just might be surprised.

Happy.  Healthy.  Vegan. 



Blogger's Soundtrack:  John Mayer: "Why Georgia"


One of my favorites.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Liebster Blog Award!


Today I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award by Elizabeth from Eating Local in the Lou!  I really appreciate this award because it means someone out there is actually reading what I write, and maybe learning more about being vegan in the process.  Elizabeth's blog is all about gaining a deeper appreciation of where food comes from, so you should definitely check it out. 

The Liebster Blog Award has a few rules:
  • Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to them.
  • Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.
  • Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 other blogs of 200 followers or fewer that you feel deserve recognition.
  • Let your selected bloggers know they have been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog.
Here are my Liebster Blog Award selections (in alphabetical order):
 
This blog has lots of great vegan recipes and beautiful photography.

I've tried out a few of the recipes from this blog and they turned out really well. 

This blog is written by a friend of mine who recently trained for and ran a half marathon.  Girl is on fire! 
 
I frequent this blog quite a bit.  Shannon writes about lots of great vegan dessert recipes.

Written by one of the first vegetarians I met when I moved out to Phoenix.





 

Vegan in Phoenix



I recently decided to do some reading about the most "veg-friendly" cities in the United States.  Every article cited D.C., Portland, and NYC as some of the top picks.  I was surprised to find that my current city, Phoenix, did not make any of the lists.  I have to say that in my opinion, if you are vegetarian or vegan, or thinking about making the switch, Phoenix is a great place to be.  I have been doing the vegan thing out here for two years and there's a variety of options for grocery shopping and for veg-friendly dining.  Here's why I think Phoenix makes the cut:

Markets

Sprouts Farmers Market
This place carries everything a vegan heart could desire.  There is a huge selection of fresh produce, and it's reasonably priced.  My favorite section is the scoop-your-own nuts, fruits, trail mixes, and more.  They also have all of the good frozen vegan goodies.

Trader Joe's
Love this place.  They carry their own vegan cookies and ice creams, which are my favorites out of any brand.  There's also a fantastic assortment of nuts and trail mixes.

Phoenix Public Market
If you haven't figured it out by now, I love the Open Air Market.  There is also the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar.


Dining

Pita Jungle
You can find me at the downtown location on plenty a Friday night.  The menu is quite extensive and includes a variety of vegan options.  The website even includes a Vegan Chart, which lists each menu item and whether or not it is vegan.  Love love love the grilled vegetable salad.

Nourish
"Where no one has to feel like the 'freak at the table.'"  I've been here a few times and everything I tried was delicious.  The menu has a key to distinguish which items are vegan, vegetarian, lactose free, and so on, which I certainly appreciate.  This is a place where everyone can find a healthy and satisfying meal, regardless of their dietary choices or restrictions.  They have a bunch of really good desserts, too.  I probably shouldn't have read through the whole menu right before dinner. 


Persian Garden Cafe
This place is a bit fancier than the previous two.  There are also options for everyone on the menu and the desserts are amazing. 

Green New American Vegetarian
Green just opened at a second location in Phoenix, and Nami is housed right next door!  The menu involves a lot more tofu and fake meats and cheeses. 

True Food Kitchen
I am kind of obsessed with True Food, because everything is just so good.  Everyone that I have brought here has felt the same.  There are not many places where I can say almost all of the vegan options sound delightful to me, but this is one of them.  I enjoy the hummus appetizer and the Teriyaki Brown Rice Bowl, which includes lots of avocado.  So yummy.

Scramble: A Breakfast Joint
Vegan French Toast.  Enough said. 


There are plenty more options, but these are my favorites.  I really feel the difference when I'm back on Long Island and I have to drive 25 minutes to find the nearest Wild By Nature market and there's only one vegetarian friendly restaurant in relatively close proximity.  I recently spoke to a friend in Massachusetts who lamented that there were no health food stores available at all-- evil of evils!  Phoenix might not be known for being liberal, but the west coast vibe can definitely be felt in some ways.


Blogger's Soundtrack: Taylor Swift - "Eyes Wide Open"

  
If you haven't read The Hunger Games trilogy or seen the movie, I highly recommend it.  My class is currently on a Hunger Games kick.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Broccoli Pesto Pasta for St. Patty's Day

Happy St. Patty's Day!  Every year I wish I were back in New York because it's just not the same in Phoenix.  It's a much bigger deal back home. I was never a fan of corn beef and cabbage, so although I saw many veganized recipes for the traditional holiday fare, I just wanted to make something green.  It is my favorite color, after all, and obviously not a very tall order for a vegan diet.  I found a recipe for "Broccoli Pesto Pasta with Chickpeas" that looked simple and delicious.  They had me at broccoli.


The dish turned out to be quite tasty.  I did not include the lemon zest or the nutritional yeast.  I would also recommend mincing the garlic in the food processor first, so that you don't have to use additional tools.  Obviously I had to pair it up with a beer. We'll just pretend it wasn't a Blue Moon.




Chef's Soundtrack: U2 - "Sunday Bloody Sunday"





Thursday, March 15, 2012

Food Trucks and Banana Bread

A Blog Entry, In Two Parts:

Part I: Food Trucks

Yesterday afternoon I finally tried out the food trucks at the Phoenix Public Market.  The Open Air Market is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but I had never been on a Wednesday before.  It's a bit different because there are less vendors and the food trucks set up around the perimeter.  There are lots of tables and chairs set up.  There was also live music right in the center, instead of on the outside.  The food trucks were as follows:

BuzznBeez Good Food Truck- soul food
Jamburritos Cajun Grille Express
Mojo Bowl - smoothies, shaved ice, and handmade pretzels
Pizza People
Q Up! - smoked meats, nachos, tacos, and sandwiches
Short Leash Hot Dogs -  gourmet hot dogs
Zone Lambay Concepts LLC - Filipino Street Food

There a number of different vegan options.  Jamburritos offered a veggie bowl.  Pizza People created custom-made pizzas, complete with vegan cheese.  Short Leash Hot Dogs had a vegetarian hot dog, but I'm not convinced that it was vegan.  I went with a vegan dish from the Filipino food truck, which involved rice, spinach, coconut milk, and mung beans.  I had never heard of nor eaten mung beans before, but they were tasty.  


My favorite part of the whole thing was eating outside because the weather has been fantastic in Phoenix this week.  Oh, and of course the good company of friends!



Part II: Banana Bread

I had a few very ripe bananas sitting on the counter yesterday, so I decided to make banana bread.  It's one of my favorite items to bake, but oddly enough, I don't have one go-to recipe.  Instead, I use a different recipe each time, depending on the ingredients I have available.  This time I used a recipe from Post Punk Kitchen, for a "no frills" banana bread, which was exactly what I wanted.  All of the other recipes I have used from this site have given awesome results, and this one did not disappoint.  I substituted 1/4 cup apple sauce in for one of the bananas, since it called for three and I only had two, and it was still great.  If you are thinking about making banana bread in the future, try this recipe, whether or not you are vegan.  You won't even miss the butter or eggs.  Really. 



Blogger/Chef's Soundtrack: John Mayer - "Bold as Love"


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spicy Lemon Black Bean Hummus

I'm on spring break, so I'm getting all kinds of things done that have been on the "to-do" list for ages.  For example, I made these cute rustic candle holders (by made, I mean I tied some lace around a mason jar and inserted a candle):



I have also been trying out some new recipes.  Today I made black bean hummus by slightly modifying a recipe I found on allrecipes.com.  You might have inferred from my title that I found the results spicy.  My mouth was on fire after a few tastes, but my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt, since it doesn't take much for my nose to start running, eyes watering, and tongue tingling.  Apparently the Southwest cuisine hasn't made enough of an impact on me yet.  I could also definitely taste the lemon juice alongside the cumin and cayenne pepper, though, and that evened things out.

 Ingredients
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper  

Directions
  • Mince the garlic in the food processor.
  • Mix all of the other ingredients in a medium sized bowl.
  • Add everything to the food processor and process until a smooth consistency is reached.
  • Chill in the refrigerator for about one hour before serving (at least I prefer it that way). 

This hummus was delicious, and I think it would also taste great with the traditional chickpeas rather than black beans. 

My cat always tries to steal our chips. 


Chef's Soundtrack: The Beatles - "Twist and Shout"
I periodically go through Beatles phases.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Morning Cinnamon Rolls

I have been thinking about making cinnamon rolls since the last time I was on break from school at Christmastime.  I often bring in cinnamon rolls for my morning class and I can never eat them!  I had originally wanted to use a recipe from Vegetarian Times for "Sweet Potato and Pecan Cinnamon Buns with Maple Glaze," but the thought of cooking and mashing sweet potatoes on a Sunday morning did not seem appealing.  I saw a recipe for "Coffee Cake Cinnamon Rolls with Orange Frosting" which seemed more doable, so I decided to use that one instead, making some of my own modifications.

The recipe was not complicated.  You make the dough, roll it out, and cover it with the vegan butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, and walnut toppings.  It was a lot of fun, and reminded me of the time we made cinnamon rolls in "Careers" class in seventh grade.  I discovered that I need a new rolling pin because both of the handles kept falling off while I attempted to roll out the dough.  I am working in a hodge-podge kitchen, so things like this tend to happen a lot.  After all of that, I rolled up the dough and sliced it into ten lovely rolls.





The recipe called for more brown sugar and walnuts, but I thought there was already plenty, so I didn't add any more to the top.  I also did not have any vegan cream cheese, so I had to forgo the frosting.  The house smelled great as these were baking, and I couldn't wait to try them.



I have to say that I was kind of disappointed with the overall flavor of  the dough.  I didn't add as much of the extras as the recipe suggested, but the dough itself didn't taste sweet enough.  Maybe sugar or cinnamon should have been added to the dough itself.  They sure looked nice, though.  Baking on Sunday mornings is the best.     


Chef's Soundtrack:  Maroon 5 -  "Sunday Morning" on Jack Johnson Pandora Station


Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Keeping it Fresh" with Fajitas

One of my favorite things to do on Saturday mornings is to go downtown to the Phoenix Open Air Market.  If you live in Phoenix and you haven't been yet, you are missing out!  There are lots of food vendors, including produce, baked goods, and local arts and crafts.  There are usually various food trucks and often live music.  I haven't tried out anything from the food trucks, but I have been told that there are tasty vegan options; more to come on that later.

Today was the perfect day to stroll around downtown and check out the Market.  I visited the Treehouse (vegan!) Bakery and picked up my favorite chocolate chip macadamia cookies, freshly made whole wheat tortillas from Tortillas Rosario, and lovely tomatoes and romaine lettuce at other stands.  I got back into my car munching on a vegan cookie, blasting The Beatles, and feeling great about purchasing fresh and delicious food and supporting local business.  Plus, the tomatoes, lettuce, and tortillas would work perfectly for vegetable fajitas tonight.

There are lots of variations on fajitas, but my recipe is pretty great.  If you want to have a fantastic fajita, make sure you have fresh ingredients first!

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 white onion
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp dried cilantro
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
1 small zucchini squash
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 lime


Directions:
1.  Heat olive oil in large skillet.
2.  Slice onion into thin slivers and simmer until translucent.  Chop garlic and continue to simmer for 2 minutes.  Add cumin and cilantro.
3.  Add sliced bell peppers and zucchini squash.  Simmer for 5 minutes or until cooked.
4.  Add black beans.  Squeeze lime juice over the entire dish. Simmer until heated.

You can add whatever you like to top off your fajita.  I went with mashed avocado, chopped tomatoes, and lettuce.  I used the freshly made tortillas I mentioned earlier, and this dish was fantastic.  I ended up with enough food to make four generous fajitas. 


A few weeks ago I found the following message written on my board at the end of the school day:


This recipe is definitely fresh.  In both senses of the word.

Chef's Soundtrack: The Beatles: "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"

 
"Lala how life goes on."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Accidentally Vegan

Being vegan doesn't mean that you necessarily have to give up all of the "normal" foods that you love.  Let's be real: there are going to be lots of changes.  And as a result of those changes, you are going to be healthier, happier, and hotter.  But that doesn't mean you can't still shop at your regular old grocery store and buy plenty of regular old foods.  There are lots of foods that we shall call "accidentally vegan," meaning that they just so happen to conveniently lack animal ingredients.  You can visit PETA to find a more comprehensive list, but here are some of my favorites:

1.  Oreos
     Thank heaven.
     Also, in serendipitous fashion, I just found out that today is the 100th birthday of Oreos.

2.  Nature Valley Dark Chocolate and Nut Granola Bars
     This flavor happens to be my favorite, but most of the others are vegan, too.
     I pack one in my teacher lunch bag every day.

3.  Frito's
     Probably the most unhealthy food I dare to consume these days.

4.  Keebler Vienna Fingers
     More cookies.

5.  Nabisco Nutter Butter Cookies
     These things take me back to my childhood.

6.  Nabisco Teddy Grahams
     You can still eat food shaped like animals!

7.  Ritz Whole Wheat Crackers
     All of the Ritz crackers are vegan.  I enjoy the whole wheat variety the most.

8.  Wheat Thins
     What's not to love?

9.  Thomas New York Style Cinnamon Swirl Bagels
     Delicious with Tofutti cream cheese.

10.  Duncan Hines Creamy Home Style Frosting - Classic Vanilla
       Much easier than frosting made from scratch!

11.  Ghirardelli and Starbucks hot chocolates
       Chocolatey goodness mixed with soy milk.  

There are lots and lots of other "accidentally vegan" foods, and you will find them too, once you start reading food labels.  You can add most cereals to the list, many varieties of chips, and quite a few candies.  I do not recommend stocking up on vegan junk food, but hey, it's nice to know you can eat a few Double Stuf Oreos at a party or grab a bag of Sour Patch Kids at the movies and not abandon your vegan philosophy.


Ingredients: SUGAR, UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE {VITAMIN B1}, RIBOFLAVIN {VITAMIN B2}, FOLIC ACID), HIGH OLEIC CANOLA AND/OR PALM AND/OR CANOLA OIL, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CORNSTARCH, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA AND/OR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), SALT, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLIN--AN ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, CHOCOLATE; CONTAINS: WHEAT, SOY

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review: Avocado Lime Dark Chocolate Mousse

If you are a vegan with a sweet tooth, and you have not checked out the blog Fragrant Vanilla Cake, go there now.  Check that.  If you are anyone with a sweet tooth, take a look at this blog immediately.  The recipes and photographs for cookies, cakes, and a variety of other desserts are out of this world mouth-watering.  I really like this blog because many of the recipes are quite inventive, and include ingredients that I would have never thought to use. 

Last weekend, I decided to try out the recipe for Avocado Lime Dark Chocolate Mousse from this site.  It was the night of the Oscars, and I thought it would a great dessert choice, particularly since the photos depicted it served in martini glasses. It's not difficult to make, but I do believe I used every dish in the kitchen, between throwing the avocados into the food processor, melting the chocolate, and whipping the coconut milk.  My pictures aren't great for this one, because once it was ready, we couldn't wait to eat it!


This is a very decadent dessert; definitely one for the chocolate lovers!  The mousse was extremely rich and sweet.  I didn't love the whipped coconut milk.  It was meant to contrast with the richness of the chocolate, but it just wasn't sweet enough for me.  Besides that, I loved the dessert.  Now I just have to decide which dessert recipe to try next. 

Lovin' Spoonfuls - Tucson

This weekend I went on a mini road trip to Tucson with my roommate.  It was our second time going there, and this time it was to watch the MLS Desert Diamond Cup.  I'm not really a soccer fan, but I figured, what the heck?  Hot soccer players and a weekend away- why not? 

If you're not from Arizona or you haven't been to Tucson, it's about a two hour drive southeast of Phoenix, and just one hour's drive north of the Mexican border at Nogales.  Arizona is obviously known for being a "red" state, but there are definitely some very chill areas of Tucson, notably 4th Avenue.  Here we found a bunch of people drawing on the side of an authentic hippie van, a homemade candle shop, and my favorite, Antigone Books, which included a shelf of multicultural reads to protest against the recent ban on ethnic studies.  4th Avenue is in the heart of the University of Arizona, and is what Thayer Street is to Providence or Telegraph is to Berkeley.  Very counterculture.

While we were in town, we decided to check out Lovin' Spoonfuls, which I had read about before, and has been called one of the best vegan restaurants in the country in some reviews.  The menu is quite extensive and I was excited to have the option of choosing anything I wanted without having to make any substitutions or special requests.  The restaurant looks like what one would expect from a standard sit-down restaurant, but actually operates more like a fast food restaurant, where one orders food at the counter.  I probably would have liked it better had there been table service, rather than having to keep going up to the register.  Besides that one issue, I really liked the restaurant.  I ordered the Falafel Pocket, which consisted of "warm whole wheat pita bread with spicy chickpea patties, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a tangy lemon-tahini sauce" along with a side of potato salad.  The meal also came with a bag of locally made kettle chips.  To start, the potato salad was amazing.  It was made from red skin potatoes, and we were all scraping our dishes clean.  The Falafel Pocket was also delicious.  I opted out of the lemon-tahini sauce, since I have an issue with white dressings on my food, and I still enjoyed the meal a lot.  My friends chose the Porta Pita and the Southwest Burger, and both found their meals very enjoyable as well.  







The entire time we were eating, I kept eying the dessert case, because there were four or five gigantic cakes, three pies, cookies, cupcakes, and muffins- all vegan!  I chose a chocolate cake with raspberry filling and a vanilla frosting.  Most of the vegan cakes I have tasted or baked so far tend to be very dense, so that's what I was expecting here.  Instead, I found the cake to be possibly the lightest, fluffiest cake I have ever tasted, vegan or not.  It was beyond delicious.  I really want to know what went into that cake.  




I would certainly recommend Lovin' Spoonfuls if you are ever in the Tucson area.  Is it the best vegan food I've ever tasted?  It definitely ranks at the top of my list.




Blogger's Soundtrack: John Denver - "Leaving on a Jet Plane"
John Denver was the background music the entire time we were at the restaurant.  I was surprised, because I grew up listening to him, but rarely hear his music otherwise.  Props.    



Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vegan Teacher


The junior high students that I teach know that I'm vegan, and they think I'm the weirdest person they've ever met.  It's interesting to hear them explain this to newcomers to our classroom. It seems to be the first thing they want to tell anyone about me:  "She's vegan.  She doesn't eat anything that comes from animals."  I take a bit of pride in the fact that my students are so enlightened and able to offer this succinct explanation.  However, I do get all kinds of interesting comments from them on a daily basis.   Here are some of my favorites:

One of my students became upset when he saw me drinking lemonade.
Student: "You can't drink that!"
Me: "Why not?"
Student: "It has sugar in it!"


Student: "You can't eat potatoes!"
Me: "Why not?"
Student: "Potatoes come from animals!"
Me: "What animal does a potato come from?"
Student: "A cow."


Student: "You need to go eat a hamburger."
Me: "Why?
Student: "You aren't getting enough nutrients in just salad."
Me: "Salad is not the only thing I eat."
Student: "Well, I'm telling you, don't hold onto too many balloons at once.  You might blow away."


Student: "It doesn't matter if you don't eat animals.  There are still lots of other people that do. So it doesn't really make a difference."
Me: "I choose to be more optimistic."


Student: "You don't eat meat?!  Then what do you eat?!"


Students: "Do you eat fish?"
Me: "No.  Fish have faces and moms and dads."
Student:  "Vegetables have faces, too.  I saw it in a cartoon."


Student: "I told my mom that you don't eat meat.  She asked me why, and I said because you are a vegetarian or something.  Then she said that you are very weird."  


Being a teacher is stressful,  but also hilarious.


Blogger's Soundtrack: Mumford and Sons - "The Cave"