Tales from my Doorstep

I’d like to take a brief moment to wish my fellow Canadians a belated Happy Canada Day (did you see the photos of our PM in the Toronto Gay Pride parade? He’s been going for years, but this was his first attendance as prime minister), those in the US a belated Happy 4th of July, and those in the UK….well…I’m not quite sure what to say. Congratulations of your Brexit vote? Maybe not….

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I spent Canada Day sitting at home with my beloved and the cats, doing very little. Any thoughts of heading out to see bands or fireworks were thoroughly dampened by the weather even though Mother Nature gave us a nice thunderstorm in lieu of fireworks. It was actually really nice to be home and not working. No laptop, no writing, no research…just chillin’

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Lazing around the house on Canada Day was a nice change from the everyday, even though I work from home. Most days find me slaving away either at my desk or in the kitchen, aided and abetted by my tech-savy cats.  Laundry, cleaning bathrooms, gardening and other mundane tasks are not sufficient to tempt me away from my desk – that’s what weekends and evenings are for. Phone calls (I have call display and an answer machine) probably won’t get answered except for some friends, my hubby or my kids. I love email and facebook messenger, both of which allow me to “chat” without either leaving my desk or having to actually have a conversation. And yes, I prefer to text rather than phone.

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The doorbell, however, is quite tantalising and can, on occasion, lure me away from my keyboard. Not every time mind you. If I’m not expecting anyone, haven’t ordered anything from Amazon, or it’s driveway-sealing-promo-season I’m less likely to budge. But sometimes that unexpected ding-dong (or a firm rap on the door) piques my interest. I’ve met some very interesting people on my front porch. Biggles usually checks them out through the window to make sure they’re OK.

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I think the most surprising porch-encounter happened during the last local election. The doorbell rang while I was washing strawberries, and since I had already left my desk to attend to this task I wandered over to the door to see who wanted to enliven my day. It was somebody from the Green Party – the only political figure who bothered to come a-calling. He told me something about his party’s manifesto and asked me if I was concerned about the environment. “Yes” I replied “I’m a vegan, so I’m well aware of the damage factory farming is doing to the environment.” His face contorted a little. “You’re a vegan???” “Yes” I smiled. “And you?” He looked around for inspiration and found none. “I can see you’re very busy” he stammered “So I’ll leave you to whatever you have to do. I hope we have your vote.” and with that, he fled over the lawn to find a safer place to canvas. I don’t know why the thought of talking to a harmless lettuce-eating veg-head would cause him to flee, and I returned to washing my strawberries feeling bewildered. Yes, I’m vegan…but I’m quite nice when you get to know me.

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A more amusing episode played out last week when a tall, muscular young man knocked on the door. He was holding a clipboard towards his chest and he gave me a big, confident smile. “Hi” he started “I’m Pat (made-up name to protect the innocent) and I’m doing your neighbour across the road.” I couldn’t help laughing out loud. “You’re doing my neighbour?” He nodded his confirmation. “Would you like me to do you too while I’m in the neighbourhood?”  I was trying not to snort at this point and I looked at him closely to see if he was being deliberately funny. Nope. No trace of humour intended. I took a deep breath to keep my voice steady. “I can’t see your clipboard. What exactly are you doing with my neighbour?” Realisation dawned on him and he showed me his clipboard, uncovering the badge on his t-shirt as he did so. “I’m from a lawn company. I’m doing her lawn.” He looked a bit flustered as he turned to look at my grass. “Er….do you do your own lawn maintenance?” We both looked at my lawn in silence for a while, and there was no point in denying the obvious truth. “Let’s just say that I do my own maintenance, but I  haven’t done any recently.” The 39’c days and lack of rain had taken their toll on my grass, and my reluctance to stand there with a hose pipe showed. Pat offered to maintain my lawn for me, for “a reasonable rate.” “I’m sorry” I said “but I’m really cheap. I can’t pay someone to do something I should be doing myself.” He asked if I’m Scottish. Some of his relatives are Scottish and they’re really cheap too “which makes me part Scottish” he continued “and I wouldn’t pay for someone to do my lawn either.” We both shrugged at the irony of his summer job before he set off to see if the Carolyn next door wanted “doing”.

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A couple of days ago I was tempted away from my desk by banging on the door near getting-up-to-make-dinner-time. A man from Disabled Veterans Support Canada was there, doing their yearly door-to-door campaign. We chatted for a while about the charity – they’ve increased funding for the suicide prevention phone line – and as he handed me a receipt he asked if I studied reiki. I shook my head. For those who, like me, have little idea of what reiki is (I’ve googled it now), it’s a Japanese relaxation and healing system which “channels life force energy.” He enthusiastically told me that he thought I studied reiki because I’m “obviously very grounded and spiritually open, and positive life force energy is flowing into me through wide paths”. I said nothing, wanting to neither encourage nor discourage him. He wanted to know what my secret is to being so grounded. I had to say something. “I’m vegan.” He smiled and said “That must be what it is. It’s very important to be in tune with what you eat and how you live.” “So you’re also a vegan?” I asked, thinking it was a fair question at this point. No. He’s trying to give up red meat, but he still eats fish and chickens and pigs. “It’s a good place to start” I told him. “Perhaps next year when you come back you’ll tell me you no longer eat any animals.” “I think you’re right” he replied. “I can see that happening. I thought I would always want to eat meat, but now I can see that giving it up would be the better way. It’s important to follow the positive paths we encounter in our life’s journey. Thank you.” And once this soap-opera-worthy speech had been delivered off he went, hopefully travelling not only towards my neighbour’s porch but also towards a greater connection to his food and a healthy, guilt-free, positive-energy diet.

By the following morning the “positive energy flowing into me” must have run out. I walked into the shower door. I ran over my foot with my office chair (don’t ask). The electronic doors at Canadian Tire wouldn’t open for me. A car nearly reversed into my (big shiny bright red) RAV4. The electronic measuring machine at the optometrists wouldn’t save my data. My environmentally-friendly water bottle flipped its lid and drenched my gym bag. My (thankfully almost empty) shampoo bottle leaked in my gym-bathroom-bag. My perfectly-ripe-avocado was black and soggy inside. My new spiralizer (hopefully more about that next week) arrived with the handle broken off and has to go back. I stepped on an unexpected pile of cat poop in the middle of my dark brown rug. And as for the blue hair dye debacle…..let’s not even go there!!!!! Poor Sparta finds all this negative energy quite exhausting.

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Life is strange. One day might be full of sunshine while the next one has more cat poo than one would like. But we’re always moving into the future, making choices as we go. Some, such as dropping the meat or eating more veggies, are good choices. Some (especially those involving blue dye) are perhaps not so good. But we’re all on a journey of some kind. If your journey brings you to my front porch feel free to ring the bell. You never know, I might actually answer the door. And if  you want to do a little free lawn maintenance while you wait, I won’t object…

Karen 🙂

 

When Vegans Go Bad

A few weeks ago I saw a blog posted by someone who used to be vegan but has gone back to eating animals. I’m not going to mention her by name – she’s had way too much attention already – but she’s not the first person to make big announcements about her dietary flip, and she won’t be the last. It happens every day. Vegans start eating meat, omnivores stop eating meat, dairy and eggs. Hollywood superstars start a raw diet. Fred down the road goes paleo. Mary turns to the Atkins diet. Sandra gets her stomach stapled and lives on a liquid diet. A bunch of firefighters start eating a plant-based diet. People changing diets is nothing new. So why is there sometimes a big flurry on social media when someone who made a name for themselves by “being vegan” eats meat? Does it mean there is something wrong with the premise of an animal-free diet? Or that vegans everywhere should follow suit “for health reasons”? No. Of course not. Being vegan, when done sensibly, is a healthy way to live.

So why am I blogging about this topic? Honestly, it’s because some of the things I read in the ex-vegan’s blog made me laugh out loud – and I’m not just referring to her “Learn How to Attract Money and Miracles into Your Life Now” scheme. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing the lady for changing her diet – everyone has the right to make their own choices – but some of her reasoning made me wonder about her motives in doing this so publicly. And with so much anger. She refers to vegans as “dumb” and “brainwashed”. But honestly, this is coming from a woman who ate food she bought for her cats! Yes, it was cans of tuna, not Friskies or Wiskas, but really? She was so desperate for animal products that she ate her cat’s dinner? And even omnivores should be wincing when she describes eating a rare cheeseburger, ignoring the potential for food poisoning from ground, undercooked meat.

But the bit in her blog that really made me sit up and question her reasoning was this:

It is abundantly clear that it is NOT POSSIBLE for most humans to get the nutrition they need on a strict vegan diet. …Because even the most well-informed nutritionists have no idea about the unknown factors … what we don’t even understand yet about how combinations of nutrients lead to optimal performance in human beings.” What on earth is she talking about? Even the most well-informed nutritionists have no idea about the unknown factors? Er….OK. Whatever. But even more remarkable was this statement: ” There may be a few people on this planet who can maintain optimal health long-term on a vegan diet….And I am willing to bet a lot of money those people who can maintain optimal health on a vegan diet are few and far between.

Now here’s the thing. In America alone there are 7.3 million people following a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 1 million of those are vegans. In addition 22.8 million people in the U.S. say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. That’s a lot of people.  http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/. I belong to a few vegan groups on social media, which have 8,000 members between them. There are lots of other vegan groups around, but I have a limited amount of time available for social media things. I started to wonder if, unknown to me, all the other vegans in these groups were taking the 25 or so supplements the angry ex-vegan-blogger had been taking, so I asked them. And the result? Most of us take B-12. Some take plant-based iron supplements. North Americans sometimes take vitamin D. A few people with special requirements due to ongoing non-vegan-related health issues take other supplements. But no-one who replied to my question was a pill-popping junkie. I know this proves nothing, but  it just shows that happy, healthy vegans exist.

Given that there are a million vegans in the U.S, why are the headlines not filled with articles such as “Vegan runners pass out at the start of the Boston Marathon due to lack of protein.” “Vegan mountain climber stops after 1 meter due to lack of energy.” “Brain-fog causes vegan bus drivers to get lost” ? There are many happy, healthy, not-famous, not angry, not pill-popping vegans quietly eating plant-based diets and living normal lives. We’re the ones who won’t be in the headlines or making our fame and fortune on social media.  We’re writers, home-makers, marathon runners, lawyers, dentists, sales associates, doctors, body builders, TV watchers, engineers, dancers, teachers, office workers ……. normal people going about our normal lives, without eating animals. One more angry ex-vegan doesn’t invalidate the vegan diet. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. But in the meantime more and more people are discovering how good it can be to eat a plant-based diet.

Want to know more? Check out these articles. They’re not all pro-vegan by the way 🙂 And no, I haven’t put a link to the angry ex-vegan who’s eating cat food and rare burgers.

Karen 🙂

Vegetarianism In America http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/

16 Million People in the US are Now Vegan or Vegetarian   http://news.therawfoodworld.com/16-million-people-us-now-vegan-vegetarian/

Vitamin B-12  http://www.vegan.com/b12/

New Study Reveals Surprising Benefits of a Vegan Diet  http://www.fitbie.com/2015/03/02/new-study-reveals-surprising-benefits-vegan-diet?cid=social_20150309_41754526&adbid=574940987794944000&adbpl=tw&adbpr=80033564

Do Ex-Vegans’ Stories Make the Case Against Vegan Diets?  http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/11/do-ex-vegans%E2%80%99-stories-make-the-case-against-vegan-diets.html

I’m not vegan anymore  http://alexandrajamieson.com/im-not-vegan-anymore/

 If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

Supplements?

I’m not posting a blog today. Instead I’m posing a question to my followers (I’d appreciate comments) and folks in my social media networks. What dietary supplements do you take? And what diet do you identify with most – omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, raw food, paeleo or something else? I’m looking to get answers from “regular” folks, not mountain climbers, body builders or marathon runners, who have very specialised needs.

So peeps, what pills are you popping?

Answers will help me write a pill-popping blog in the very near future, so watch this space!

Karen 🙂

To fu or not to fu? That is the question…..

I don’t usually get involved in discussions about eating GMO foods, the rights and wrongs of pesticides vs organic farming or get into fights about the dangers of estrogen in soy products. But while working at the Kathy Smart expo recently a lady told me she couldn’t be vegan because she would have to eat tofu and she couldn’t do that because of – you know – all the problems with estrogen. I looked at her blankly, with no idea where she was going with her comments. “You know….estrogens in tofu. It’s supposed to be really dangerous? It gives you breast cancer?” I asked her for more information, but that’s all she knew. Someone, somewhere, had told her that soy products would give her cancer. Personally I would be more worried about arsenic in chicken, heavy metals in fish and salmonella in eggs if I were her, but hey, what do I know? Not very much apparently.

In all fairness, I knew less about the potential dangers of eating soy products than the lady who was using them as an excuse for not being vegan. So to redress the balance, I’ve now spent some hours investigating the matter, and I’ve come up with some interesting stuff. Please bear in mind that I used to be a medical research scientist, so I find it really annoying when people make sweeping statements without adding citations to back them up. Or quote statistics without quantifying the size of the study or qualifying what the control group was. A study of 5 people is very different to a study with 5,000 subjects, and a study group of 15 white male college students is going to give different results to one involving 100 people of different ethnic backgrounds, ages and gender. It seems that health and nutrition pseudo-science readily ignores the realities of actual science in order to sell more books. I’ve avoided putting links to Dr. Oz shows, popular magazines or anecdotal stories. Let’s try to find some actual facts!

So, is eating tofu as an adult (I’m not getting into the murky waters of breast feeding vs soymilk baby formula today!) likely to give you cancer?

These are some of my findings, based on recent research:

Consumption of soy foods is associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men. This protection may be associated with the type and quantity of soy foods consumed.
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/4/1155.long

Soy isoflavone intake could lower the risk of breast cancer for both pre- and post-menopausal women in Asian countries. However, for women in Western countries, pre- or post-menopausal, there is no evidence to suggest an association between intake of soy isoflavone and breast cancer.
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089288

Animal study shows why long-time consumption of soyfoods reduces breast cancer recurrence
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150419193910.htm

The most recent studies support the idea that eating soy is a good thing as far as cancer is concerned. There are some low-key papers commenting on the benefits of eating fermented soy products rather than unfermented ones, but the actual data to support the claims is thin on the ground.  However, it seems to make sense that eating tofu or tempeh is a better choice than munching on heavily processed faux-meat soy based products.

The flip side of the coin is that some studies indicate that eating soy may reduce the efficiency of thyroid medications. This abstract (written in 2006 – I can’t locate the full article) suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16571087.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on this issue, even though it featured in some chatty magazine articles from a few years ago.

Talking of chatty articles: If facts and figure’s aren’t your thing, check out this light-weight article written by some guy called Mark Hyman. I’m not endorsing him or his ideas in any way shape or form, I just thought this article was pretty good.  http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/08/06/how-soy-can-kill-you-and-save-your-life/#close

Sorry if this blog reads as if it was produced by the soy marketing board, but I’m just reporting what I found. Of course, as an ex-scientist I know that anyone can find research to support whatever theory they wish to propose. The biggest forms of deceit are lies, damn lies, and statistics lol.  I’d love to get feedback from you if you have an opposing view about soy with, of course, current research to back up your claims.

I know that once the Pandora’s box of eating tofu has been opened, topics such as “The dangers of GMOs” will pop out, but they can wait for another day….I don’t think my brain can handle any more scientific research papers today! I’m going to stop writing and cook myself some lunch. Yes, it’s got tofu in it 🙂

Tomato Miso Soup

If you want to turn this soup into a meal, double the amount of tofu and ladle the soup over two bowls of freshly cooked noodles.

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 large king oyster mushroom, thinly sliced OR 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 5 cups dashi or stock (Make sure your dashi is vegan! Look for konbu instant dashi with no bonito)
  • 1 cup (about 225g / 8oz) silken tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp red miso
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped

Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.

Heat the oil in a medium pan and fry the tomatoes, leek and mushrooms for 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the dashi, tofu and soy sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Mix the miso with a small amount of the stock from the pan and add to the soup. Allow to simmer gently for 1 minute – do not let it come to a full boil. Divide the soup between four bowls and top with green onions. Stir gently before drinking because the miso will separate out while the soup is sitting in the bowl.

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Karen 🙂

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FOK 30: Day 30! The End is Nigh!

30 days ago I decided to try the wholefood, wholegrain, no refined oils, no white rice / flour / pasta, no refined sugar Forks Over Knives style of eating. I’ve been plant-based for many, many years, but my aim was to eat an even healthier diet than I was already doing. I figured 30 days was a fair trial period, and I’ve stuck to the plan the vast majority of the time, apart from a slight slip-up or two, such as when I added coconut oil to a mushroom curry.

So what did I do differently compared to my usual diet?

I continued to eat my vegan diet of no meat, no fish, no poultry, no seafood, no dairy, no eggs. I replaced white rice with brown rice and replaced white pasta with whole grain pasta. I tried faro and bought amaranth (but I’ve not tried it yet!). I’ve eaten more greens than usual, including dandelions (big round of applause). I’ve eaten tofu, tempeh, lentils and beans, and have barely touched vegan “meat alternatives”. Movie-night chips were replaced with crispy pea snacks (I can’t believe how yummy they are!) in convenient one-portion packets. I’ve reduced the amount of wine and beer significantly (insert sad face here), and I’ve replaced cooking oil with stock or water. And the meals have been delicious (can I boast and add “as always”?).

SAM_4804 (Copy)Please pretend there isn’t any white pasta in the photo. It’s one I took last year and I can’t be bothered to photoshop it out for this blog 🙂

And the result of modifying my diet?

Well….

  1. I’ve lost weight. Not “Oh My Goodness I’m Suddenly Thin!” weight, but I’m definitely a shade lighter than I was, even taking into account my weight-wobble zone. You know what I mean – the weight you can apparently gain or lose by getting off the scales and getting back on again 5 minutes later. Or maybe that’s just those of us with cheap scales? Anyway, there’s less of me than there was 30 days ago. I find this really surprising, given that I thought I already ate a healthy, balanced vegan diet. Only time will tell if my fat has just taken a mini-break and will be back in a couple of days, or if it’s real long-term weight loss.
  2. What I lost in weight I gained in gas. Trapped gas, bubbling around gas, escaping in public places gas, blowing the bedcovers off gas – I got it all. I’m told this is a temporary feature of switching to a whole food diet, and I’m already much less inflated than I was a couple of days ago. Some people report being gassy for months, but since I was already a bean eater I hope that my secret little problem will dissipate sooner rather than later. Preferably quietly in a non-public place.
  3. My hair and skin are really dry. I never ate much fat to begin with, but cutting out the refined cooking oil and replacing it with water seems to have reduced my fat intake too much. I’ve adjusted my diet to include more “healthy” fats such as avocado, nuts and olives, and I’ll see how it goes.
  4. I maintained my energy levels, despite cutting refined sugars out of my diet. I’m adding a bit of raw sugar or maple syrup here and there, but I’m not exactly pining for the white stuff.
  5. I’ve realised that, even if I really liked drinking my meals or snacks, I’m simply not a smoothie girl when it’s feckin cold outside. Maybe I’ll enjoy them more when the snow melts.

I’m enjoying my healthy eating, even if I winch every time I pay $2:99 for a bunch of kale or spinach which will cook down to almost nothing, and plan on continuing to eat this way most of the time. I can’t promise that I won’t fry spices for a curry in a bit of coconut oil every now and again, and I can’t promise to stay away from a Friday-night-after-Tango-class glass of wine, but the brown rice and whole grain pasta can stay. Most of the time. I have some large bags of Jasmine and sushi rice in the pantry to slowly use up, but it’s no longer going to be white rice every night.

So what happens next?

I’ve been blogging daily about my forks over knives adventure (except on weekends), partly to keep myself on track with the plan. From here on, you can expect to hear from me once or twice (or maybe three times if I get really excited about something!) a week. There will be some Japanese dishes (I’m waiting to get the draft of my book back from my editor) and I’ll be cooking up some Indian fare as I reminisce about my trip to Rajasthan, and probably some “European” dishes as I look forward to a trip to Germany. Whatever happens, it’s going to be fun and I hope you’ll follow me and my culinary adventures.

In the meantime, why don’t you go and eat some lovely whole foods and maybe get something to gas about with your friends?

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

FOK Day 19: A Problem with FAT!

I’ve been eating a non-meat diet for many years, and I’ve heard frequently that people are concerned about the amount of protein vegans eat. But for some reason people keep telling me I should eat more fibre. These are usually people who wouldn’t know a whole grain if it chased them around the yard and bit them on the butt. “Eat more fibre!” they cry. I want to tell them that if I ate any more fibre I could auction my body off as granola. Perhaps they should worry less about my fibre levels and try eating some of it themselves. Beans, lentils, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, oats – they’re all over my menu for the week. The item currently missing is fat. I used to add a splash of olive, coconut or safflower oil to my cooking, but this is frowned upon in the forks over diet plan, which I’ve been following for the past 18 days. So where is my dietary fat supposed to come from? I’m not a fan of toast…but apparently I shouldn’t be covering that with evil Earth Balance vegan margarine anyway. There’s a limit to how much pure-peanuts peanut butter I can add to meals – although I did put some in a soybean stew earlier on in the week. Avocados are not cheap – and Alan hates them so even if I use them to add fat to my diet it won’t work for Alan. And nuts? Aw, nuts. I’m really not a fan. I tried a raw food diet a while ago out of curiosity and quit after 3 days because I couldn’t face eating even one more feckin’ nut.

However…..

The basis of the “no cooking with oil” part of the forks over knives plan is that processed oil is bad for us, but unprocessed plant oils are good for us. OK – I can see some logic in that. So I’ve stopped whining, taken a blueberry oatmeal crisp out of the oven, added some help hearts and walnuts to it and popped it back in again. So now I’ll be having healthy fats with my breakfast for the next few days. How easy was that?

bluberry_walnutCrisp (Copy)But the question of “how much fat is needed to be healthy?” remains. Within the plant-based diet group answers have ranged from “you don’t need any fat in your diet” to “eat all the avocado and nuts you want!”, which is quite a spread. As in a statistical spread, not as in a layer of butter on your toast. If you see what I mean. Pseudoscience articles on the web cover everything from “Eating fat makes you fat” to “Not eating fat makes you fat”, including an article which clearly states “Bacon doesn’t make you fat – Pasta Does!” and another taking the rather obvious line of “Junk food makes you fat!”. But my question isn’t “what makes people fat?” but rather “How much fat should someone eat to be HEALTHY?” And the internet says…………? ARRRGGGHHH! You know, I’m just going to stick with the very simple premise that processed fat = bad and natural unprocessed plant / nut / seed fat = good, and we’ll see where that takes me. In fact, I can see a tofu satay containing coconut milk in my very near future!

Tofu in Satay Sauce

  • 2 packs firm tofu, cubed
  • ¼ cup soya sauce
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 230g / 8oz rice noodles (Or use brown rice noodles or wholewheat spaghettini if you prefer.)
  • Large pot of boiling water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (replace with hot water if cooking without oil)
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 2 cups beansprouts
  • 1 cup thinly sliced snow peas

Sauce: Mix together:

  • 1 ¼ cups coconut milk
  • ¾ cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 4 tbsp soya sauce
  • 3 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp unrefined raw sugar
  • 1 tsp crushed dried red chillies
  • ¼ cup fresh basil or mint

Garnish:

  • Baby greens (optional)

Put the cubed tofu in a re-sealable plastic bag. Add the soya sauce, lemon rind and crushed garlic and set aside. This can be left in the fridge overnight if you like. Soak the rice noodles in hot water for 5 minutes, or as per instructions on the packet. Drain. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Pat the tofu dry and place it in the pan. Cook over a medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until it starts to turn golden brown. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the carrots, beansprouts and snow peas. Cook for 1 minute or until hot. Stir in the sauce and, stirring constantly, heat without boiling. Serve on top of the noodles garnished with baby salad greens.

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Try it – It`s totally fat-tastic!!!!

Karen 🙂

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FOK Day 16: The Privileged Diet

There’s recently been some in-fighting in a group I belong to, with the discussions focusing mainly on the morality of eating eggs and dairy products. The vocal supporters of both veganism and vegetarianism have been bombing each other with words and pictures, with both sides supporting their arguments well. Pictures of engorged cow’s udders competed with pictures of happy chickens running around a farmyard. Everyone involved in the discussion believed, rightly or wrongly, that their view and their way of expressing their stance was correct. The result, as expected, was not that vegans decided to raise chickens, nor that vegetarians suddenly stopped riding their horses or putting rennet-free cheese in their omelettes. It did, however, make a lot of people in the group very sad. And it reminded me how totally privileged we are to be able to have such debates. We don’t have to ask ourselves “Shall I feed myself tonight, or shall I give it all to my children?” or “Can we afford to have beans with dinner, or are we just having porridge tonight?”. We can sit at our leisure and discuss the inhumane way factory animals are treated in our society, and think about the ethical implications, pros and cons of owning a chicken or two, but those of us in such groups are rarely starving. And I wonder how grateful we are for being in such a privileged position. cowAlan (Copy)Alan and I recently spent 3 weeks in India, mostly traveling around Rajasthan. We saw a lot of cows wandering around the villages, fields and streets, each owned by someone living nearby. One evening we dined in a family home in Mandawa, and when we were ready to leave we found a cow standing outside the house next door, mooing loudly. “She’s hungry, so she’s come home for her dinner” we were told. Cows in India are sacred. They live out their full lifespan, providing milk for the family they belong to and roaming at will, then at the end of their lives their skin is turned into leather. The families we met in Rajasthan were all very poor. They ate mostly beans or lentils with rice or bread, supplemented by cheese and yoghurt supplied by a cow owned by themselves or a neighbour. We didn’t see many vegetables, just the occasional desert bean dish or spiced eggplants. They didn’t sit around discussing veganism vs vegetarianism – they ate what was available and what they could afford. There are vegans in India – we visited a couple of beautiful Jain temples – but the people we met and with whom we shared family meals were all vegetarian, sometimes because of their religion and sometimes for economic reasons. Did I eat the paneer and yoghurt they offered to me? No. And did we have long, heated discussions about why they eat dairy and I don’t? No. They respected my right to be vegan, and I respected their right to be vegetarian. And we were all grateful for having something to eat.

I think that, here in the so called first-world, we forget how privileged we are. We can make the choice of whether or not to eat meat, dairy, eggs, fish and seafood. We can also make the choice to eat beans, lentils, vegetables, tofu, tempeh, seitan, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, herbs and so much more. We can choose the best diet for our health – I obviously believe this is the vegan option. But we can also chose to be kind to others who make a different choice. To show respect. Kindness. Compassion. And gratitude for being able to make the choice in the first place.

Dinner tonight will be a simple affair. It’s adapted from a recipe given to me by a family who shared a meal with us in the suburbs of New Delhi. This version is made without oil because I’m trying to stick to the forks over knives diet.

New Delhi Kidney Beans

  • 1 can diced tomatoes (28oz)
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 green chillies
  • 1 black cardamom, crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick (I used 2 because mine are really old)
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 green cardamom, crushed
  • 1 – 2 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 can / 2 cups cooked red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 of a block of creamed coconut (use about 60g / 2oz)
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed and roughly chopped
  • Fresh coriander ( for garnishing)

Put the tomatoes, ginger, chillies, black cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves, green cardamom, salt, paprika, coriander and cumin in a frying pan and sauté over a medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes have thickened. Stir in the beans and coconut, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the spinach, recover and cook gently for a final 5 minutes. Stir in the coriander before serving with rice or chapattis. kidneybeans DELHI (Copy)Yes, I know the photo is lacking in spinach. I forgot to put it in (duh), so I had to return dinner to the pan and finish cooking it with the greenery. By which time I was too hungry to take another photo, so you’ll have to cook it yourself to see the finished result.

Karen 🙂

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FOK Day 11: Weekend on a Wednesday

Dear blog followers (thank you!), it would appear that some of you noticed that I didn’t post a blog last weekend. While I suspect you secretly enjoyed not having my rants appear in your mailbox for a whole two days, I appreciate you letting me know that I did not meet your expectations. No, I didn’t spend the weekend guzzling “forbidden fruits” and, apart from Saturday night, going into early Sunday morning, I didn’t just party the weekend away. I spent it doing fun (?) things like grocery shopping (while comparing the prices of fresh and frozen green things) and menu planning – although I suspect I should have done that the other way round!! I was so sick of foodie-stuff by mid-afternoon on Saturday that, in an almost unprecedented move, Alan, under instruction from the breakfast bar stool, cooked dinner. We tried the twice-baked potatoes from forksoverknives.com, which is not the type of thing we usually eat but I thought we’d give it a go. It seemed like a lot of work, and by the time Alan had got to the “scrape out the inside of the potatoes and put the stuffing in” part we were both a bit fed up with it all. We scraped out the potatoes while they were still hot, mixed the innards with the stuffing and ate it from a bowl. I’ve saved the skins to sprinkle with salt and bake at a later date when I want a crispy treat. As for the meal – it was OK. Quite tasty, but it could have done with some chillies in my opinion. It wasn’t pretty to look at, but the left-overs came in useful as Alan’s breakfast for the next few days. It’s not our sort of thing, but if you like potatoes give it a go. I mashed extra baked potatoes with cooked parsnips and carrots yesterday and served them with a quick, ever-so-easy sauté of tofu, garlic, baby spinach and “Montreal chicken spice” for a no-effort dinner. Now THAT was yummy!

tofu_mash (Copy)

We spent Saturday night playing games with a couples group. Let me be clear here – it’s NOT a swingers group! It even says so on the Meet-Up intro page, after some mis-understanding by people who wanted to join the group when it first started. The confusion apparently arose because the first meet-up involved a hot tub. We didn’t go to that one! Anyway, the non-swingers on Saturday spent the evening drinking copious amounts of wine and / or beer (or, in my case, sipping occasionally on a virtuous glass of sparkling elderflower) and snacking. I couldn’t believe how much cheese was eaten over the course of the evening, unaided by Alan and I. It was easy for us not to be tempted – I can’t eat dairy products without disastrous consequences in my digestive system and Alan simply doesn’t like the stuff, except for a couple of crumbly British cheeses which occasionally appear in our Canadian stores. We didn’t want to try the creamy dips next to the raw veggies, and there was no way either of us would ever nibble on cheesy corn puffs. Woo hoo! This wholefood plant based diet is SO easy! It made me realise, however, that I needed to look for healthy, low fat snacks for movie nights at home. We sometimes make air popped popcorn but, to be honest, it just tastes too healthy to be any fun. It almost makes us want to pull on our snowsuits and go for a jog. Almost. I’ve bought some pretzel sticks, but they’re really boring. My local grocery store doesn’t sell baked chips or baked tortilla chips anymore, and all the veggie-chips (claiming to be a “healthy” snack) have almost as much fat as regular chips. I have some baked potato skins lurking somewhere in the fridge waiting to be sprinkled with salt and re-baked until crispy, but that sounds a bit desperate to me! But let me introduce you to my new nibble-friends. They’re all a lot healthier than potato chips and have a lot less fat than a handful of nuts. And, of course, they’re all vegan. Alan is out at krav maga (a martial art) this evening, and I think a chick-flick is on the agenda for me, enhanced by a salty nibble or two.

chips (Copy)

Karen 🙂

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FOK Day 10: Tasty Tempeh!

This is a blog I never thought I would write. Tasty tempeh? Really? Tempeh and I have had a bit of a tempestuous (yes, that’s a play on words for you clever folks) relationship over the years. I think the crowning moment in our interactions occurred two years ago on a campground in Ontario, about 45 minutes from where we live. I’ve never been a huge fan of camping – and I mean REAL camping in a tent, not wimpy camping in a fully equipped trailer with plumbing, showers and flush toilets. It was a great activity to do with the kids when they were small, unhooking them from movies and gaming consoles to let them experience the delights of bug bites and deflating air mattresses, but it was never something I really looked forward to. There was way too much planning, pre-cooking, packing, unpacking and washing involved! It was quite a relief when the kids asked (asked!!!) to be sent away to summer camps, where they could enjoy the delights of long-distance canoe trips, cold showers and out-houses without me having to join them!!! To my surprise, one of my indoor geeks even went on a 4-week wilderness canoe trip, coming home happy and mostly undamaged.

The kids have grown up and currently reside in Toronto, leaving Alan and I to re-discover each other and find out what it is that we, as two lone adults, like to do. Last year, in a fit of unexplainable enthusiasm, I suggested that we should try camping as a couple, taking a small tent and with the minimum amount of fuss. We might enjoy the experience if there’s only the two of us. So someone (that would be me) went hunting in the basement and dug out the necessary supplies, stocked up on easy-to-eat-in-the-woods food supplies, checked the current regulations on firewood and beetles, found an ultra-thick queen-size airbed (which completely filled the small tent), and off we went.

camping (Copy)

When we arrived there was a small child sitting on our campsite by the river, but he quickly ran away when he saw that we intended to stay. It was a lovely location, and setting up one small tent took a lot less time than prepping a family campground. We’d bought a bug-tent to protect us from the wildlife, and we sat in our uncomfortable folding chairs reading our books enjoying the view. Dinner went well, the fire burnt brightly, and the stars twinkled over the shimmering river. Idyllic. Apart from the bugs. And the outhouse. And the cold damp chill in the air. And the sheer effort of making a hot cup of tea. And the really loud camper-van of French-speakers drinking huge amounts of beer and playing loud music until the wee hours of the morning. And the deflating mattress with a man snoring loudly in the middle of it, elbowing me every time he shuffled trying to get comfortable.

camping2 (Copy)

By morning I was, let’s be honest, quite tired and tetchy. Alan lit the camping stove, made me a cup of tea and cooked breakfast. I’d found a packet of something called “tempeh bacon” in the grocery store, and I thought it might be something nice to try while camping. Oh my goodness – was I ever wrong! I took one bite of my tempeh-on-toast and spat it into the shrubbery. I don’t remember ever tasting anything so nasty. That was the final straw. Within 30 minutes the campsite was emptied, the car packed, and we were sitting in a little roadside cafe sipping coffee and eating a nice breakfast, sans tempeh. Since then, tempeh and I have avoided each other like the plague. Until now.

When I decided to try a wholefood plant-based diet I realised I needed to find replacements for the occasional faux-meat products which appeared on my meal plans. The word “Tempeh” kept cropping up in recipes, so I decided to give it one more try. I made smoky tempeh from a Thug’s kitchen recipe, and gave it a good, long marinade of 3 days before feeling brave enough to eat it. I was really surprised by how good it was! Like, REALLY surprised. So much so that I’ve cooked tempeh again! It turns out that tempeh, properly marinated to get rid of its slightly bitter taste, is not bad at all.

I’ve recently tried 3 types of marinade for tempeh, but if you Google there are many recipes out there waiting to be played with. The method for all three of the following is the same:

Mix together the marinade ingredients, add ¼” – ½” (whichever you prefer) slices of tempeh, cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days. I’ve also thrown the tempeh and marinade in the freezer and left it there until needed. Heat a frying pan (I use non-stick, but I know some people don’t like these) and cook the tempeh until brown, about 3 – 4 minutes a side. Alternatively, heat the oven to 375’F and spread the marinated tempeh on parchment paper on a baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through. I prefer to fry mine – I find the oven makes it too dry and crispy for my personal tastes.

Smokey Tempeh (Modified from a Thug’s Kitchen recipe)

  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tbsp liquid smoke
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 8 oz / 225g tempeh
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced (optional)

I served it with chunks of potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions, simmered in vegetable stock with 2 crushed cloves of garlic until tender (20 – 30 minutes), partially drained and then mashed into chunks.

tempehAndMash (Copy)

Garlic Miso Tempeh

  • 8 oz / 225g tempeh
  • 2 tbsp red miso paste
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed

I served it with store-bought vegan kimchee and buckwheat soba noodles tossed with veggies and ponzu sauce. Buckwheat noodles have a strong flavour, which may not be to everyone’s liking. You can use brown rice spaghetti or noodles instead if you prefer.

Thug_tempeh (Copy)

Italian Herbed Tempeh (Modified from a recipe at forksoverknives.com)

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed a bit with your fingers
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz / 225g tempeh
  • ½ tsp salt if needed

I served this with wholewheat pasta and homemade mixed vegetable sauce, but I forgot to take a photo before we munched on it.

So. That’s it. The tale of Tasty Tempeh. Go try it and let me know what you think!!

Karen 🙂

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FOK Day 9: People, They Ain’t No Good

According to a song by Nick Cave, people suck.

People just ain’t no good
I think that’s well understood
You can see it everywhere you look
People just ain’t no good

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn-wrPf5Ls0

I don’t totally agree with this statement – I know many really lovely folks – but there’s a repeated experience which always leave me wondering about people and shaking my head. It starts simply enough with general introductions, followed by the inevitable question “So, Karen, what do you do?”……

At the weekend I had the pleasure of being at a games night with 5 other couples, some of which I had met before and some of which I was meeting for the first time. There was loud chatting and laughter in the room until someone asked me “the question”. I tried to dodge it with a reply of “I worked as a kitchen designer for Home Depot, but now I just work from home”. Someone who’s met me before wasn’t happy with my answer. “But don’t you write things? I’m sure I remember you saying that’s what you do now?”. I paused and took a deep breath. Here we go again. “I write cookbooks.” “Wow! That’s so amazing! What type of cooking?” “Vegan”. The room grew silent. No exaggeration. It was as if I’d just declared that I was actually a time traveler from the future. Or an alien. Or the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. It was like the scene from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” but without the lady loudly shouting “What do you mean you don’t eat no MEAT!”. Total, absolute silence. Someone reached out and grabbed a cheese slice off the snack table. Nobody looked at me. I waited. The lady to my left was the first to break the silence. “I just love meat. I especially like chicken, and I eat it with most meals. Mmmm. Chicken. It’s so easy to cook and tastes so good.” “Did you read the article this week claiming most chickens in America are contaminated with arsenic?” I asked. Everyone shook their heads, and the chicken-lover said “Oh, I’m sure it’s just fine. Besides, I eat other meat too.” For the next 4 minutes 37 seconds (I timed it) the ladies swapped tales of their favourite animals to eat (I love elk – we kill it ourselves so we know it’s fresh…. We hunt deer – it’s so much better for us than beef…..I really should eat less meat, but I can’t imagine having a meal without it….). When they had safely established that I was the only vegan in the room, and that they all LOVED to eat animals, the conversation took up where it had left off. “So, Patty, what are you doing these days? Are you going away in February again?”.

I’ve seen this happen so many times. The dental hygienist who filled my mouth with tools and talked the whole time about meats she likes to cook. The bored grocery store assistant who comments on my healthy food selections then tells me why they could never eat that way. I’m rarely, if ever, asked why I eat a plant based diet, and people don’t want to hear why I don’t eat flesh. Sometimes they get as far as “But you still eat cheese?” No. “Eggs?” No. “But you eat fish, right?” No, it’s really not necessary in our society. “Sheeeesh – I couldn’t do that! Sheila, do you remember that fabulous cheese fondue Kathy brought to my pot-luck?” And so it goes on.

Why do people get so defensive when faced with a plump, healthy, gym-going, middle-aged woman who eats a plant-based diet? I’m really quite nice when you get to know me! I suspect that, deep down, the omnivores are afraid that I’ll ask them to justify their diet, knowing that I can justify mine. If I’m ever asked. Which, incidentally, I’m not. It’s not just a matter of animal cruelty (although, for me, that’s very much part of my reason), but also a matter of health. I can wave low cholesterol and blood pressure numbers at them for both myself and my hubby. I can talk about movies documenting the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I can refer to statistics about osteoporosis increasing in societies as milk consumption goes up. I can talk about arsenic in chickens. I know about e-coli and listeria. I can mention links between eating meat and cancer. Mad cow disease. Heavy metals in fish. Clogged blood vessels. Heart disease. But I’m never asked. I read recently that “You can never “win” an argument with a vegan because the argument is with your own conscience”. Is this true? Do omnivores feel bad about the possible health issues created by eating meat? Do meat-eaters care about intelligent creatures such as pigs living out their lives in awful conditions but continue to eat them anyway? Or, like a very honest friend of mine said, do they like the taste of meat so much that they would rather not look at the reality of the situation and keep their head in the sand? I asked someone why he still eats meat when he dines out despite enjoying a plant-based diet at home. His answer was “I feel conflicted, but sometimes they just taste so good.” Is that reason enough? For me, obviously, the answer is a resounding “no”.

Not everyone who eats meat is unhealthy. Not everyone who eats a plant-based diet is fit and well. But there seems to be a better chance of living a long healthy life when eating a wholegrain plant based diet than eating meat, eggs, cheese, fish and animal bi-products. I just don’t understand why there is so much resistance to it. I’d appreciate your thoughts / comments on the matter whether you are a plant-based person or an omnivore.

Karen

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

Arsenic in chicken: http://www.globalresearch.ca/fda-finally-admits-chicken-meat-contains-cancer-causing-arsenic/5353189

Forks Over Knives: http://www.forksoverknives.com/

Food Matters: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1528734/

The China Study: http://www.amazon.com/The-China-Study-Comprehensive-Implications/dp/1932100660#

Engine 2 Diet: http://engine2diet.com/