Gardening…after a fashion

A Roaring Fire
A Roaring Fire

Another rainy Denman day, but I had quite a bit of coursework to complete, so I built a big fire and have been working in front of it all day. It’s been a rather miserable spring, but it’s been great for my budding vegetable garden.

One of the many things I find gratifying about growing older is that you finally (finally) learn the difference between the things you like the idea of and things you actually like. Perhaps I’m an extraordinarily slow learner, but I swear I was well into middle age before I realized that I don’t actually like parties; I just like the idea of parties. The same goes for sailing and yoga and marathon running (though it took two marathons and five halfs to figure this one out–as I said, I’m a slow learner).

When we first got the Denman place, I had great fantasies of constructing a deer fence and growing a large vegetable garden. I could keep chickens! …and goats!! Fortunately, my hard-earned self-knowledge kicked in, and I realized I would soon lose interest in an operation that involved that much commitment. Instead, I read Square Foot Gardening, and took the concept up a notch in laziness: my vegetable garden is in a series of containers on our enormous balcony. Over the past three years, I’ve figured out which crops are worth my tender-loving care and which are not: I poured my soul into my tomatoes for two years running and the final result was one small bowl of tough, nasty-tasting tomatoes. Ditto on green peppers: ONE freakin’ pepper last year. My zucchinis were full of promise! Huge leaves sprouted up quickly, but the result was ultimately five thumb-sized zucchinis.

Baby Spinach
Baby Spinach

What I have managed pretty well are a collection of herbs, which serve me well all summer long, and a collection of various leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, lettuce–(all kinds), mesclun mix.

I have so many containers of leafy stuff going that once I get going, we can have fresh leafy greens every evening for dinner. I just snip a few leaves off a bunch of plants, and I have a salad.

Sprouting Collard Greens
Sprouting Collard Greens

Once I’ve exhausted a bin, I’ll throw a few fresh trowels of earth in and start a fresh batch of seeds, and within a few days, they’re sprouting. I planted these collard greens about a week ago, and they should be good to snip by late next week. The seed instructions always say to plant the seeds in rows and pick off the smaller shoots when they come up, but I prefer the Darwinian approach and just let the fittest survive as they will. Rather than harvest an entire head, I’ll just snip off the outer leaves.

I always fancied that I’d like watercress and liked the idea of a leafy vegetable that’s a perennial, so I grew some last year. It turned out to be tough and nasty (and kind of hard to harvest), so I dug it up and planted it in a mushy area of the lawn. It’s doing quite well down there, and if I’m ever desperate for greens, I know where to go.

My herbs are a work in progress–I couldn’t kill my mint, chives, and oregano if I tried, but my basil and dill are annuals, and I need to pick up a few plants every spring. My parsley and cilantro are a bit fickle: sometimes they come back; sometimes they don’t. My rosemary is supposed to be a perennial, but I managed to kill it last year. Oh well, I have another to kill this year. And I did break down and get ONE tomato plant, but I’m determined to completely ignore it. I’m convinced last year’s plants sensed my Willy-Lomanish need for them to succeed,  so this year I shall subscribe to Uncle Charley’s approach to child rearing: benign neglect. I don’t expect them to become lawyers, but a tomato or two would be nice.

And the easiest crop of all is the sprout! Here’s my full-grown crop ready for the harvest:


I was a little timid with my first couple of batches because I thought they were more fragile than they are. I didn’t even attempt to wash the hulls off because I thought I’d break the sprouts. I seem to have lost all reverence for the tiny little lives, however, since I tossed them all in a salad spinner, soaked them in water, and spun the heck out of them. Most of the hulls flew off and the sprouts were much crisper as a result of having been spun.

In some ways, gardening is a bit like cooking: you have to be patient, and you have to be brave (or at least not timid).  Now that I think about it, I guess that’s true of life as well.

Another lesson learned far too late.

More Proof (as if you needed more)…

One thing I love to do when I’m avoiding work is to research stuff online–I can waste entire evenings (or days!) researching some obscure historical fact or strange disease (just ask me anything about Munchausen by Proxy!). When I started my latest graduate program, one thing I was particularly pleased about was my newly acquired access to the university’s online medical journals, which gives me an entirely new avenue for “research” (or, as some would call it, “procrastination”). My current pet project is researching diseases related to tnf-alpha overproduction because two of my siblings suffer from Crohn’s Disease, which also has a genetic component. My daughter’s father suffers from psoriasis–also believed to be caused by tnf-alpha overproduction, and his brother suffers from Crohn’s Disease. In other words, my daughter may have a genetic predisposition to developing a disease related to tnf-alpha overproduction (which explains my research on the topic). Last summer, I discovered a journal article that noted a negative correlation between vegetarian diets and diseases caused by tnf-alpha factor. Since my daughter has been vegetarian since she was two and vegan since she was fourteen, I was greatly relieved by this information.

However, in my reading this evening, I came across a recent article from The World Journal of Gastroenterology that suggested that a semi-vegetarian diet has proven very promising in preventing relapse in patients currently in remission (through the use of drugs such as Remicade). Both of my CD siblings are in remission because they’re on Remicade. However, the drug could stop working at any time: this study will offer them an avenue (within their control) to extend their remission. Here are the highlights of the study:

AIM: To investigate whether semi-vegetarian diet (SVD) has a preventive effect against relapse of Crohn’s disease (CD) in patients who have achieved remission, who are a high-risk group for relapse.

CONCLUSION: SVD was highly effective in preventing relapse in CD.

Innovations and breakthroughs
The SVD was highly effective in preventing relapse in CD. Remission rate with the SVD was 100% at 1 year and 92% at 2 years. This is the best result in relapse prevention. The concentration of C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation, was normal at the final visit in more than half of the patients on the SVD, which indicated that more than half of the patients who continue the SVD will be free from relapse as long as they maintain the diet.
The SVD in this study was a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet in which eggs and milk were used. Fish was served once a week and meat once every 2 wk, both at about half of the average amount.
Peer review
This is an excellent paper with clear scientific data in a clinical area of extreme importance.”

Now, if only I can convince my siblings to join me in my plant-based-diet experiment. Not bloody likely (I say with a fake British accent).

Vegan Barbecue

I know, I know: it seems like an oxymoron, but you can barbecue vegetables, and they taste great! Tonight I made Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Perfect Grilled Portobellos–the recipe is on her blog Post-Punk Kitchen (a fantastic blog for all things vegan). I just halfed the oil and eliminated the liquid smoke: one, because I left mine at home in Vancouver, and two, because I read somewhere that it contains weird chemicals. Okay, it’s really just one, but once again, I know I should be concerned about chemicals. Anyway, here’s the recipe for the marinade, which I used for some zucchini, red pepper, and red onion as well:

1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced

Marinate the portobellos and the rest of the vegetables for an hour or two, pop them on the grill for about three minutes per side. Yum.

I served them on top of a Mexican bowl (I have a heckuva lot of that rice left over from yesterday). The layers were

1/2 c Mexican rice

1 roma tomato, chopped

1/4 English cucumber, chopped

1/4 red onion, chopped

1/4 c black beans

Mexican Bowl with Grilled Portobello, Zucchini, and Peppers
Mexican Bowl with Grilled Portobello, Zucchini, and Peppers

Top with salsa and guacamole and serve with lime wedges, grilled vegetables and portobellos on the side. The one pictured here is the version I made for J, which contains a sprinkling of grated cheddar.

I also tried making the guacamole in the food processor and it turned out very well. I just threw 1/4 of a white onion into the food processor until it was chopped very fine, then tossed in three-quarters of an avocado, 1/4 c lemon juice, and about a half cup of salsa and pulsed it until it was chunky–very quick! I left out the salt because the more I read about food, the more worried I get about sodium. And I LOVE salt, so it’s a bit hard. When I was a teenager, I used to think that food wasn’t salty enough until I could smell the salt. I’ve either lost my apparently acute sense of smell or I was insane when I was a teenager because I have no idea what salt smells like these days. I just know I love the stuff.

The other thing that I’m supposed to give up is caffeine, but hell, if I’m giving up pinot noir (with only a transgression or two), I figure I should be allowed coffee. And with coffee I can stop after one cup. Okay two.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind a cup right about now….

More on “The Bowl”….

Well, I couldn’t resist trying to recreate The Whole Bowl. I had all the ingredients, so I made it for lunch today (though slightly adapted). It was quite good, but I think I might reduce the mustard in the Tali sauce in future. First, you arrange the following in a bowl (I just spread the rice on the bottom and then arranged the rest of the ingredients in segments on top of the rice):

1/2 c brown basmati rice

1/4 c sliced black olives

1/4 c black beans

a couple of big TBs salsa (recipe below)

1/4 avocado

1/4 c shredded cheddar

1/4 c lowfat plain yogurt or sour cream

a couple of big TBs of Tali sauce (recipe below).

Here’s the vegetarian (with dairy) version:

The Whole Bowl
The Whole Bowl

And here’s the vegan (no dairy) version that I ate:

Vegan Version of The Whole Bowl
Vegan Version of The Whole Bowl

The Tali sauce is less a of a sauce and more of a spread or dip–like hummus or tahini. The recipe from The Whole Bowl restaurant is apparently top secret, but the blog I linked to yesterday offers a version of it, as does LIVESTRONG:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 3 lemons, juiced
  • 6 clove garlic
  • 1 cup chickpeas
  • 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup water

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Add additional spices, 1 tsp each (tumeric, curry powder, chili powder, cayenne, onion powder). Blend again until smooth. Keep refrigerated.

The only thing I changed was the 1/4 c olive oil, which seemed to add rather a lot of fat. In its place, I used 1/4 c vegannaise (I know, I know).

Now, the One-Minute Salsa is truly amazing: you won’t believe something that takes a minute can taste this good–so fresh! My sister has been making this for years. The original recipe is from Cooks Illustrated, but she just uses canned tomatoes, so I did too…which makes it even quicker. The original recipe calls for one jalapeno pepper, but I use a serrano pepper because it’s got a bit more of a bite to it:

One-Minute Salsa
One-Minute Salsa

Slice a serrano pepper in half and remove the seeds and centre; slice into strips and chop into little bits and place into food processor. Roughly chop 1/4 of a red onion and two TBs of fresh cilantro and place in food processor; add the juice of 1/2 a lime, 1/2 tsp salt and a pinch of pepper and pulse chop five times. Drain a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and add to the mixture. Pulse a few times until mixed, but not too smooth. So simple, but it tastes great!

For a mid-afternoon snack, I made a couple of bowls of this rather amazing Blueberry-Banana Ice Cream (adapted from an E2L recipe):

1 Banana
1 cup Frozen Blueberries
6 Medjool Dates, pitted
1/4 cup Almond, Hemp or Soy Milk
6 ice cubes
1 tablespoon Chopped Walnuts or Pecans
Blueberry Banana Ice Cream
Blueberry Banana Ice Cream

Blend in a high-powered blender, add banana, frozen blueberries, dates, almond milk and ice cubes. Blend using the until the mixture becomes somewhat creamy but still firm. Scoop out and top with Walnuts or Pecans. It’s delicious enough to serve to company. Oh, and I have no idea what “medjool” dates are, so I just used dates.

For dinner, I made my own version of Tita’s Cena Mexicana–it was very good, but I had to use white basmati rice for the Mexican rice recipe because I’d never made it before, and I suspect brown rice would have changed it considerably. I put a bit of cheese on J’s (because he loves his cheese):

Cena Mexicana
Cena Mexicana

Mine’s the same, but without cheese: refried black beans, salsa, guacamole, Mexican rice, and black olives. It’s really just another version of “the bowl”: a bean, a green, a grain, and a sauce. I was hoping that we had some Coronas or Dos Equis to go with our feast, but alas, we had to make do with a couple of bottles of Stella…though we did drink it with lime, so it seemed like Mexican beer.

Vegan Cena Mexicana
Cena Mexicana (vegan version)

Here’s my easy-peasy guacamole recipe:

2 ripe avocados mashed with a potato masher

1/4 c lemon or lime juice

1/2 an onion finely chopped

1/2 c salsa

salt to taste.

Mush it altogether and you’re good to go. It’s very good considering how easy it is to make!

And my bean are starting to sprout! I can hardly wait to try them:

Sprouting Bean Mixture

Living Food…

My dad has always gone on health jags–for a period of time in the 1960s he even followed a macrobiotic diet. He didn’t stick to that particular trend for too long, but he has retained his interest in healthy eating. He used to grow his own sprouts in the 1970s, and he taught me how to do it–not that it takes much “teaching”…it’s pretty basic. I have been thinking about growing sprouts for a while now because they seem like an easy way to add micronutrients to every meal–apparently, anything that’s sprouted increases its nutritional value by leaps and bounds. Plus, they make everything taste so fresh. In my reading last summer, someone (Michael Pollan?) indicated that the less time between picking and eating, the better. With sprouts, they’re still growing even as you pop them into your mouth–what could be better! My dream is to start growing wheatgrass, which is supposed to be amazingly good for you. Rebar Modern Food brings in fresh wheatgrass every few days for their most popular item: wheatgrass juice (I don’t really get the whole juicing thing–why not eat the whole article?–but à chacun son goût).

Anyway, when I was shopping in Edible Island a couple of weeks ago, I came across a whole range of seeds for sprouting. I picked up a package of alfalfa seeds (only because that was the sprout my dad and I grew forty years ago). I got two jars of sprouts going, and within just three or four days had two jars full of delicious alfalfa sprouts. I’m now on my third batch and have been putting the sprouts in my morning smoothie, my lunchtime sandwich, and our evening salads. So thrilled am I with the ease with which I’ve been able to grow more live food that I picked up a couple more packages yesterday when we were in town: a spicy lentil mix and a bean mix.

All you do is put a couple of tablespoons of seeds in the bottom of the jar, cover it with a cup of water for 2 – 4 hours, then drain. After that, you just rinse and drain the seeds twice a day, and they’ll sprout and be ready to eat in a few short days. This nine-minute video gives you the long version of how to grow sprouts:

I used mason jars. At first, I was using a square of muslin held in place with a wide elastic on top, but the muslin wasn’t porous enough, and the water took forever to drain (particularly with my two new mixtures). J had some leftover material for screens, however, so I tried that, and it worked like a charm.

Here are my seeds in their growing jars. The two on the right are alfalfa sprouts (my third “crop”!)–they are still in their initial soak. The two on the right have been going for about twenty-four hours, so I won’t see anything for a few days yet.


And here is the finished product: a bowl of delicious alfalfa sprouts:

Alfalfa Sprouts
Alfalfa Sprouts

The Bowl–a Green, a Bean, a Grain and a Sauce

In her vegan cookbook, Isa Chandra Moskowitz writes an eloquent homage to the elements of a bowl. “Anyone who has been vegetarian for any amount of time,” she says, “will be familiar with ‘The Bowl’–an upside-down hard hat filled with some combination of veggies, grains and beans plus a sauce or two.” When I read this I realized that indeed “the bowl” is the vegan/vegetarian equivalent of the typical North-American omnivore’s plate: a piece of meat, a starch, and a vegetable.

The bowl is my favourite type of meal to both prepare and to eat…and not just because cleaning up is so easy. This evening’s meal was something I read about on the E2L members’ forum. A member posted her plans for dinner: something she was imitating from a local vegan restaurant called “The Jerusalem Bowl.” It sounded so good that I decided to make it myself (with a few additions and substitutions). It turned out to be delicious! The original recipe, as posted, was simply brown rice topped with diced tomato, cucumber red onion, steamed spinach, with a generous spoonful of hummus, topped with sunflower sprouts, cilantro and paprika and a squeeze of lemon. I didn’t have sunflower sprouts, but I’d just grown some lovely alfalfa sprouts, so I used them instead. And, as I said, I felt compelled to add a few things. Here’s my recipe:

Layer in a large bowl in the following order:

1/2 cup brown basmati rice cooked in vegetable broth

1 roma tomato diced

1/3 English cucumber diced

1/4 red onion diced

1 cup steamed broccoli

a sprinkling of sesame seeds

a layer of alfalfa sprouts

cover with the juice of 1/2 a lemon

sprinkle with 1 TBS chopped fresh cilantro

On top of the salad in one quadrant place 1/4 of a sliced avocado, in the second quadrant place 1/2 a mango sliced, in the third quadrant place a couple of TBS red-pepper & olive hummus, and in the last quadrant a small handful of cashews.

Jerusalem Bowl
Jerusalem Bowl

I must say, I was a little worried it would be tasteless because, other than lemon juice, there’s no sauce, but it was delicious–very fresh tasting, likely because of the freshly picked cilantro. I actually did include the steamed spinach called for in the original recipe, but I wouldn’t include it again–the broccoli is enough.

I discovered another rather amazing thing today: something called Mestemacher Bread. It contains no fat and no preservatives, just organic whole kernel rye, water, organic whole meal rye flour, organic oat, organic barley, organic linseed, sea salt, organic apple powder, organic sesame, yeast. The slices are long and thin, so you can cut a piece in half to make a nice little sandwich. I usually buy Silver Hills’ Squirrelly Bread, which is very healthy (and which you can buy just about everywhere in BC). I’ve just checked the ingredients, and they’re just as healthy as the Mestemacher bread: organic whole sprouted wheat, raisin nectar (raisins, water), sesame seeds, water, sunflower seeds, vital wheat gluten, barley malt, yeast, sea salt. However, the Mestemacher is a bit moister and slightly sweet, so it makes a nice change, plus, all of its ingredients are organic (not that I really care, but I know I’m supposed to). I’ll have to remember to compare prices. I found the Mestemacher at an amazing health food store in downtown Courtenay yesterday. It’s called Edible Island, and they have every obscure health-foody-type ingredient you could ever imagine. I could spend hours in there.

On our weekly trek into town yesterday, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant across from Edible Island, called Tita’s. They had quite a few vegan options, and they even had a menu item that I’ve ordered at other Mexican places by putting together a series of side orders: a plate with Mexican rice, black beans, guacamole, salsa, and crunchy cabbage (though I don’t usually order the cabbage….it was delicious though, and added a nice crunch). It was called “Cena Mexicana.” It was so good, I’m going to make a version of it for dinner tomorrow. It was a lovely evening, buuuuuut, I ended up indulging myself a teensy bit. I decided to have a glass of wine because we were out, which turned into three, followed by another when we got back home. We were sitting on the balcony with a fire in the Turkish bowl, and it just seemed wrong not to join J in another glass. I really have no excuse because the house wine at Tita’s was a rather dull Mission Hill merlot. Four glasses of wine. Really.

Actually, I’ve often done much worse damage than that, so I should be grateful for small improvements.

Here is another bowl recipe I’d like to try–The Whole Bowl–I’ll leave it for next week though.

Why a Plant-based Diet?

I’ve been vegetarian for twenty years now, and something I noticed quite soon after my “conversion” was that I seemed to avoid many of the garden-variety illnesses that many people around me seemed to be catching. A year or so later, I read Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, Food for Life, and, after hearing Dr. Barnard speak, decided to try veganism for the first time. I felt fantastic and immediately lost the extra weight I’d been carrying around since my child’s birth three years earlier. But I didn’t have the discipline to maintain it, and since I was only in my mid-thirties, the spectre of those diseases of middle age wasn’t yet a motivating factor. After spending my forties running marathons and working out (and eating to maintain energy for these pursuits), I entered my sixth decade with what now seems to have been an appetite for indolence and indulgence. After a couple of years of eating too much cheese and drinking too much wine (and gaining weight!), I realized that if I had any hope of avoiding chronic–and often age-related–diseases (type 2 diabetes, arthritis, T.I.A.s, strokes, cancer, heart attack, etc.) that so many people my age are now enduring and if I wanted to lose weight and feel good, I was going to have to make some major changes in my habits. Another motivating factor is that my mother had a heart attack at the tender age of fifty-eight–an age I am quickly approaching. While I understand that genetics play a huge part in all of these diseases, diet and exercise can also play a part, and that’s the part we can control.

To that end, I started reading and researching. In addition to Neal Barnard’s books, I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live and Eat for Health I & II. I joined Neal Barnard’s PCRM site and Joel Fuhrman’s E2L member centre. In my online research, I read everything I could on plant-based eating and even did some research in peer-reviewed medical journals (a rather tedious task since I find these articles so difficult to understand!). One of the things at the forefront of my research was diseases caused by TNF-alpha overproduction because two of my siblings suffer from Crohn’s disease. While I didn’t find much, I did find a study that indicated a negative correlation between a plant-based diet and TNF-alpha disease.  After all my research, I became convinced that a plant-based diet and a strategic exercise plan (more on that later) would be the best protection against chronic, age-related disease, not to mention pesky age-related aches, pains, and inconveniences.

What’s fascinating is that as the baby boomers age, veganism (now often referred to as “a plant-based diet” likely to avoid associations with political radicalism) seems to be becoming not quite mainstream, but certainly acceptable (as opposed to simply flaky).

While the shift in thinking came in part with the name change, it was also facilitated by the appearance of the plant-based food movement’s central proponents: middle-aged to late middle-aged white guys wearing suits (and these guys are all in great shape): Neal Barnard, Joel Fuhrman, T. Colin Campbell, Conrad Esselstyn (and his hunky firefighter son), MacDougall. These guys are all baby-boomers….but better looking and in better shape. And they’re not flakes–on the contrary, they’re intelligent and professional. And they represent what we (the consistently vain and self-absorbed) baby boomers still have a chance to be! Check out this article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek called “The Rise of the Power Vegans” for more about mainstream veganism.

And then Bill Clinton appeared in the media, twenty-five pounds lighter and crediting a plant-based diet not only for his weight loss, but also for reversing his heart disease. If the easily tempted, appetite-driven Bill Clinton can do it, who can’t:

If I wasn’t hooked before, I was a goner at that point. Hell, if he can do it, so can I.

Now I just have to resist the siren call of the pinot noir, and I’m good to go.

A Rainy Day, a Delicious Rajma…

We spend four months of the year at our cabin on Denman Island–the least commercial of BC’s many gulf islands. It’s lovely and green and wild here, but, other than a tiny general store, there’s no place to buy groceries on the island, so we must take the little ferry across to Vancouver Island and travel into town. The ferry is prohibitively expensive, so we try to keep the trip to once a week, and at the end of the week, our larder is pretty bare of the fresh stuff…particularly when we’re committed to eating all plants! We were due to go into town today, but it was a rainy day in May, and a long hike followed by a book in front of the fire seemed much better.

So desperate was I for fresh stuff that I had to gather  the spinach, kale, and lettuce for my morning smoothie from the barely emerging plants on my balcony garden. The nice thing about Denman is that as summer approaches, many of the farms and households sell fresh produce (and eggs), but the harvests aren’t yet ready.

Lunch today was a delicious rajma chawal, which I adapted from Vij’s cookbook: Vij’s At Home, which J bought on the ferry. While it’s not entirely vegetarian, many of its recipes are vegetarian and even vegan. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Vij’s Restaurant, it’s a Vancouver favourite. You can’t make a reservation and might spend as much as an hour and a half waiting for a table, but it’s always worth it. Plus, as you wait, the host(ess)–or sometimes even Vij–will wander by with hors d’oeuvres and a offer you a glass of wine.

Here’s my version of Vij’s Rajma Chawal–the only changes I really made were to reduce the oil from half a cup to a spray of the pan and to use canned tomatoes, rather than fresh ones (but only because I’d run out of fresh ones). I also reduced the salt to 1/3 of the original.

1 chopped onion (large)

6 cloves finely chopped garlic

2 TBS finely chopped ginger

1 28.5 oz. can of chopped tomatoes (drained)

1 1/2 TBS chili powder

1 tsp tumeric

1  TBS cumin

1 TBS ground coriander

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp cayenne

6 cups water

3 – 14 oz cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed.

Spray the pan with oil and saute the onion for about eight minutes; add the garlic and saute for another two minutes. Stir in ginger, spices, and tomatoes. Saute for another six minutes or so. Add water and bring to a boil. Add kidney beans, and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for three minutes.

Serve over brown basmati rice!

Rajma Chawal
Rajma Chawal

Since the larder is bare of fresh food, but full of packaged “foodstuffs” (as J calls them), we’re going to have to rely on some processed food for dinner this evening. I have some nice Gardein fake chick’n, which I’m going to serve in hot-and-sour soup. Fortunately, the vegetable soup that I’m using for the base is a super-healthy vegetable soup I made last summer–full of cabbage and zucchini and spinach. I made a few batches last summer, and I would have a mug of it every afternoon for a healthy snack. Unfortunately, I got sick of it after about three weeks, and I’d just made a fresh batch. It makes an excellent base, however, and, as I said, it’s super healthy. Here’s the link.

Lots of Good Food….

The thing about vegan food is that it’s actually really, really good, and strangely addictive. Part of the reason is likely that when you eat plants, you feel good. I’m going to try to include at least one recipe every time I post. My current favourite cookbook is Appetite for Reduction–a low-fat, vegan cookbook–by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I heard about this book through the forums when I did the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart last January. Now that I think about it, I have been attempting a completely vegan diet for quite a while with varying degrees of success. I do think my deviations from “the plan” tend to be much less frequent these days…in terms of my diet, anyway. More often, my deviations tend to be in the form of my beloved pinot (bete) noir.

I think I read somewhere that you have to try something nine times before you develop a taste for it, and that’s what has happened to me with blended salads. A couple of years ago, I read Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live, and when I got to the part about blended salads, I couldn’t imagine ever eating something so disgusting. Over the past year, however, I have become a convert. My usual Blended Salad recipe is

1 banana

1/2 c almond milk

1 c water

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 cup pineapple (frozen or canned in own juice)

2 ounces frozen spinach

3 ounces frozen kale

a two- or three-inch chunk of cucumber

1 bunch mixed greens

1 TBS ground chia/hemp/flaxseed mix

1 TBs liquid chlorophyll

I just blend it in all up in a food processor and drink it as my breakfast. I’m starving by lunch! You can mix it up a bit though:  today, I had none of my usual ingredients because we can only shop once a week (more on that later). I used cranberry juice instead of almond milk and an apple instead of frozen blueberries. The cool part was that my garden has started growing, so I was able to use freshly grown kale, spinach, and greens. I’ve also started sprouting alfalfa seeds, so I chucked in a huge handful of sprouts. It wasn’t as sweet as my usual green drink, so I added a bit of stevia. It was pretty good!

For lunch everyday, I tend to have Vegetarian Chili–it’s full of vegetables, and I include two types of beans. The Eat to Live plan recommends at least a cup of beans per day, so the chili is a good way to get some in. Here’s my recipe:

1 finely chopped onion

1 cup baby carrots

1 cup green beans cut into one-inch lengths

1 cup chopped red pepper

1 cup chopped zucchini

1 cup broccoli

1 cup celery

1 28-ounce can of tomatoes (chopped)

1 can of kidney beans

1 can of black beans

1/4 cup Frank’s hot sauce

1 cup salsa (any kind)

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

Toss it all in a slow cooker and cook it until the carrots and celery are tender, but not mushy.

My snack is Red Pepper and Olive Hummus with fresh vegetables, which should take care of the rest of the beans I need to fit in. This recipe, which is a modified version of one from Appetite for Reduction, is so delicious that even people who don’t like hummus like it:

1 drained can of chickpeas

the juice of one-half of a lemon

4 garlic cloves

1 heaping TBS tahini

1.5 tsp cumin

salt & pepper

1/2 cup roasted red peppers pealed and marinated in balsamic vinegar

Blend on high until everything is smooth and then add in five or six chopped kalamata olives and pulse two or three times. Don’t blend the olives in, or they will turn your hummus a nasty gray colour. The balsamic vinegar in which the peppers are marinated give the hummus a nice sweetness. By the way, you don’t have to use red peppers–I’ve used yellow and orange ones, and it tastes the same. Green peppers would give an entirely different flavour, however.

Red Pepper and Olive Hummus 

Dinner is going to be Lentil Soup–a recipe that’s a combination of a few different recipes I like:

Spray a dutch oven with a bit of olive oil, and saute for a few minutes:

1 chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
1 chopped yellow pepper
1 cup baby carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 potato diced (leave the peel on)
1 cup green beans (cut in one-inch lengths)

6 cups of broth and a cup or two of water (depending on how soupy you like it)
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp pepper

1 and 1/2 cups red lentils

Simmer until the lentils are soft and mushy and the carrots are tender but not mushy (30 – 45 minutes).

Lentil Soup

I’m going to serve it with some tender new greens that I’m hoping to harvest from the garden. I say “hoping” because the plants really are quite tiny, and I have harvested once today already for my blended salad. I want to try this dressing on my salad, which is one that showed up in my e-mail box today–I subscribe to Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s newsletter. I was delighted that I happened to have all the ingredients, and it took about three minutes to make. It’s delicious!

Ginger Almond Dressing

1/2 cup raw almond butter or ¼ cup raw almonds
1/4 cup unsweetened soy, hemp or almond milk
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons tahini or unhulled sesame seeds
3 dates, pitted
2 small cloves garlic
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
Blend all ingredients together in a high powered blender until creamy. Add more water if a thinner dressing is desired.

Day One….sort of

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a couple of years now, but somehow I just didn’t get around to it, or something in me resisted.

Maybe I just wasn’t ready.

But today is the day I start my experiment in plant-based eating. Why torment myself in this way, you may very well ask? The answer is multifold, but really comes down to the fact that I don’t want to get sick. I actually don’t care about aging–in fact, I’m quite enjoying getting old! However, when I look around at my friends and family members in their fifties and sixties, almost everyone seems to be suffering from rather serious health issues: cancer, Crohn’s disease, arthritis, stroke, diabetes, thyroid problems (to mention just a few). And those are the serious ones! The not-so-serious health issues include garden-variety aches and pains and loss of range of motion and mobility.

In an effort to avoid these diseases and age-related issues, I began researching preventative strategies and have come to the conclusion that a few essential changes can make all the difference in terms of age-related disease:

1) a plant-based diet;
2) regular cardio exercise
3) regular weight training
4) avoidance of alcohol, caffeine, salt, sugar, unrefined grains.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If Bill Clinton can do it, so can I.