Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hummus: The New Crack (But slightly healthier...)

So I think I may have the best hummus recipe in the world. One of them, at the very least. It comes from The Best Recipe*and we've been making it for years. Thing is, I always knew it was a good-for-you snack, but never realized how good it was for you. One cup of garbanzo beans, for example, provides you with one-third of your daily protein and about 25 % of your daily iron. Isn't that wild? (Here's a nifty trick I learned on how to figure out how much protein your body needs: take your body weight and divide it by 3. That's about how many grams you need per day. Ends up my initial worries over not getting enough protein on a plant-based diet were for naught. Woo-hoo!) And the tahini (which is just sesame seed butter) has, in just 2 Tablespoons, 6 grams of protein, 30% of your daily calcium needs, and 25% of your daily iron needs. Perhaps you already knew all this, but it was news to me and just blew me away.

But even if it wasn't healthy, I'd be all over it because, as I said, it's crack. Whenever we serve this stuff, people crowd around it and it disappears. When we make a double-batch just for us, it's gone in about 2 days. C-R-A-C-K.

So here's the scoop. I actually usually double the recipe, but this is the original recipe, just for kicks.

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press (we a little more)
3/4 teaspoon salt
pinch cayenne pepper
3 T juice from 1 large lemon
1/4 C tahini
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 C water

Tahini is usually found near peanut butter in supermarket, but ask if you can't find it. It's gone pretty mainstream in the last few years. Make sure your olive oil is still good. If it smells even slightly rancid, get a new bottle. It's well worth the cost!

Process all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth, about 40 seconds. Transfer humus to a serving bowl, cover, and chill until flavors meld -- or as my friend Mike used to say, "until the flavors get to know each other" -- for at least 30 minutes. My guess is you could make this in a blender if you don't have a processor, though I've never tried it. Ryan sometimes likes to put one piece of roasted red pepper in there, but then you should experiment taking away a little of the water, or it gets a little soupy otherwise.

We always have a bowl of this in the fridge. We dip vegetables in it, sometimes pieces of bread or pita ... I even put a heaping sloppy bunch of it on my veggie-burgers and the taste is second to none. My friends Jen and Raffi get very saucy with their hummus (which is one of the other great hummus recipes out there but I've never been able to get my paws on it, as I think it's a family secret of theirs) -- they drizzle olive oil on the platter when it is done so that there is a shallow pool of gold on top of the hummus. But only do that if you're feeling naughty. 

If you have your own amazing hummus recipe, by all means post it and we'll host our own "hummus challenge." 

Hope you enjoy this as much as we do! Peaceful Eating!

*not vegan-friendly by any means, but there are little nuggets in there I can still use!

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Why do you suppose you like animals so much?"

Recently, I heard the piece quoted below and haven't been able to get it out of my head. An animal activist, Laura Moretti is asked this question and her answer is just took my breath away.

I always admire people that can debate topics that are close to my heart. I'm hopelessly inept at debating and have always avoided doing it because I get tongue-tied and brain-tied so easily. I don't like getting into political conversations, even though I have strong opinions, because I just end up doing a disservice to the the issue/person I believe in with my lack of ability to think on my toes. So when things start to get heated, I'll either try to change the subject or will unobtrusively leave the room to help with the dishes or some other innocuous chore. And sometimes it maddens me because I feel like I have important things to say, but I just can't seem to process information quickly. (I can process like a computer when I'm in a room of 26 third-graders for seven hours, but at the dinner table? Forget it.) I would have made a very poor lawyer.

But I'm grateful for people like Laura who are able to put into words what I often can not. 

"Why do you suppose you like animals so much?" was the million-dollar question put to me Christmas Eve (and one I hadn't provoked). I knew my family was expecting me to say something like, "I like animals because they're cute and cuddly and furry and fun to play with." But instead I said, "I like animals because they are honest."

My observation triggered a facetious comment from one of my brothers. “About what?"--as if honesty were merely about telling the truth, and everyone knows animals can't talk! His notation was met with hearty laughter; for once, they thought they'd repaid me for all the discomfort I'd caused them at other family gatherings.

"I like that animals don't pretend to be someone they're not," I continued in my reply, hushing the crowd. "To quote a phrase, 'Dogs don't lie about love.' Animals don't fake their feelings. I like that they're emotionally fearless."

We were lounging on sofas and armchairs after our feast and present opening. Coffee was being served, so I seized the opportunity. "I like animals," I added, "because they only take out of life what they need. They don't abuse their environment, annihilate species, pollute their water, contaminate the air they breathe. They don't build weapons of mass destruction and use them against others-particularly members of their own species. I like animals because they have no use for those things, or for war or terrorism. They don't build nations around genocide."

My uncle seemed momentarily lost in thought. He had been born and raised in New York City. "That's because they don't know any better," a brother-in-law argued. "They don't do those things because they don't know how."

"A pride of lions doesn't get together," I countered him, "and decide how to exterminate zebras-their very source of nourishment. I don't think it's because they don't know how. I think it's because it's counter-productive." They laughed. 

"I also like animals," I continued," because they don't punish themselves for their perceived inadequacies. They don't dwell on things of the past, nor use them as excuses for behavior in the present. And they don't plan to live some day in the future, they live today, this moment, fully, completely, and purely. I like animals because they live their lives with so much more freedom than humans live theirs."

"That's because they don't think," one of my cousins offered.

"Is that the difference?" I wondered. "'I think therefore I'm cruel, destructive, insecure, abusive?' You meant to say they don't think the way we think." The room had become strangely quiet. I was amazed at how closely my family was listening, despite the occasional grunt to the contrary.

"I like animals because they don't bow down to imaginary gods they've created, nor annihilate each other in the name of those gods; gods, they say, who are all-knowing and all-loving and just. I like animals because they only know how to give unconditional love and implicit trust. I mean, animals either extend those things to you or they don't; there are no shades of gray. They have the best of what makes us human and, as one observer put it, "none of our vices.'" "And thank God," someone injected.

"Lastly," I added, remembering why I was an animal rights activist, "Animals are the most victimized living creatures on earth; more than children, more than women, more than people of color. Our prejudice enables us to exploit and use them, as scientific tools and expendable commodities, and to eat them. We do to them any atrocity our creative minds can summon. We justify our cruelties; we have to or we can't commit them. I like animals because they don't do to themselves or to others the things we do to them. And they don't make excuses for unethical actions because they don't commit unethical acts."

"And finally," I finished, "I like animals because they're not hypocrites. They don't say one thing and do another. They are, as I've said, honest. Animals-not humans-are the best this planet has to offer." And, interestingly enough, despite my soapbox rant, not a one of them made a snide comment or a hint of laughter. The conversation actually rolled into shared stories of animals they've known, stories of animal loyalty and intelligence, their humor and innocence. And it was me who'd become the listener with the occasional comment: "Now, if only humans could only be, well, like animals." And that is why I fight the good fight; I rise on behalf of the best among us.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tacos. Love them.

So taco night has always been big in our household. Nothing satisfies the hunger, or cooks up as quickly, quite like tacos. So I wondered...would a veggie version be as good? The answer that made me oh-so-happy was a resounding, "Hell, yes!" We made them exactly the same except we used this vegan product called Smart Ground by Lightlife. I recall my friend Holli -- hope you don't mind my borrowing your idea, Holli! -- had mentioned in one of her blogs last year that she made it but, being a vegetarian who did not like the consistency/smell/taste of meat, couldn't bring herself to eat it with her husband, it was so much like actual meat.

So I thought this might be a fun thing to try for us. It worked great and tasted exactly like hamburger, except there were no pools of orange-colored oil on top of the "meat." I fried up some onions in olive oil, added the spices, and then added the Smart Ground. Super easy. We then put rice, lettuce, and tomatoes and hot sauce in them and I added avocado, and vegan sour cream (Follow-you-heart brand) to mine. I thought it tasted even BETTER than the old tacos I loved. Ry thought is was "pretty good" but wasn't raving and giggling the way I was. But that's because he's not keen on avocados like I am. Avocados, with a touch of salt, are just the fruit of the gods. Next time, I'll make a guacamole topping instead of just avos, as he likes guacamole.

While vegan processed foods shouldn't be viewed as "health foods" exactly -- nothing comes close to eating whole foods -- it's a lot better than the alternative that's full of antibiotics and fat. While I didn't make this new choice in plant-based foods for health reasons -- it was all about the animals -- it certainly is a sweet and huge side benefit that I didn't quite expect.

So -- vegan tacos? Amazing. Try them!

P.S. The picture above is actually one I got from a google image search for "vegan tacos." I have to get better at using our own camera ...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Really Cool Lady with a Beautiful Message

So I discovered, like so many have, this remarkable woman named Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, who, in addition to writing many wonderful cookbooks, has created a vegetarian podcast that is always meaningful and fascinating... She has a remarkable way of making things clear in a very approachable and fun way that doesn't "put people off." She covers a wide range of topics, including specific foods to try, different animals and what makes them so special, how to transition to a vegetarian/vegan diet, how to make holidays great, and how to work on the social aspects of changing to a plant-based diet. 

Colleen feels like one of my dearest friends, and I've never met the lady! :)  Anyhow, take a look at her website, and then check out her podcast. If you sign up through itunes, the new podcasts just arrive in your itunes as they are produced. I guarantee you will fall in love with her!

Her book, Vegan's Daily Companion, is simply a joy to read, as well as having some gorgeous heart-warming photos. It may have been one of the first things to spark my "slight consideration" of being a vegan. I saw it in a bookstore a few months ago and was intrigued. It was so beautiful. After about two months of thinking about this tome, I finally bought it. It's now on my bed table, well-loved and well-read! (Click on the link above...you just have to see some of the pictures!) It makes me aware, and feel happy and hopeful.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Yeah, you know her....Check out those shoes!"

With a nod to Blondie, I address the question many plant-based eating folk get: Aren't your shoes leather?

Yes, they are. All my leather goods (and I have many) were bought before I saw where our leather comes from. (And it's really bad, folks.) Like many people, I knew it didn't come from sunshine and rainbows, but because leather is so omnipresent, I think I just subconsciously reasoned that if it were truly a cruel industry, why would leather be such a common thing to wear? Someone would have spoken up by now, right? Looking at it logically now, I can't believe how strange my thinking was and I take full responsibility for not thinking deeper.

That said, it's a ridiculously easy trap to fall into, because our culture teaches this really odd dichotomy: baby animals are cute!, "Pat the Bunny," finish your meat or no dessert, our dog is part of our family, I love the smell of barbeque lighting up in the summer! The way we compartmentalize animals into "cute and lovable" and "meat" is, when you think on it, very subjective and very strange. In another country, your dog or cat would make a nice meal. How would you argue for someone in that country to not eat your pet? Because your pet has feelings and you love it? Cows have feelings and many people love their cows. But we think nothing of ordering a burger. So what's the difference, really? They all feel, they all love, they all suffer like we do. We're all animals, after all, so the fact that other species feel what we do should come as no surprise.

And even stranger, those animals that we do eat are often the same ones presented to us in childhood and even adulthood as "cute"! Lambs, calves, chicks -- what do you think happens to all the male chicks in the egg-laying factories? --  When you start really thinking about all this, our way of relating to animals is a bit twisted, to put it mildly.

So back to the shoes.

Where do I go from here with the remnants of my meat-eating/wearing days? (No meat dress, luckily. I could never pull off a fad.)  It's a good question. At the moment, I can't afford to go out and buy all-new shoes/belts/bags. But I definitely won't be purchasing anything leather in the future. My thinking as of today is to keep these things until they wear out and then replace them with non-leather versions. (And there are some cute alternatives out there! There are many fashionable, Hollywood types who have created their own lines of shoes/bags that don't use animal products.) At least that's the thinking for now. I have a couple of leather jackets and a pair of leather boots (that don't quite fit right anymore) that I'm going to sell to a high-end thrift store. I'll then donate the money to our local animal sanctuary. Is it ethical in this new mindset to make money off of animal skin, even if the proceeds go to help other animals? I'm not sure. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, this is pulling-out-of-the-Matrix is still new and I'm figuring things out as I go along.

In short, it all comes down to eliminating as much animal suffering as possible. You don't have to look very hard to find inconsistencies in my life. I know they lurk everywhere. But I cannot express what a relief it is to be thoughtfully educating myself and pulling out of a consumer life that depends on hurting others.

I'll end on a light note and it has nothing to do with animals/food/leather. I saw the movie Bridesmaids last night with Ryan, after he told me it got great reviews. HYSTERICAL!! (Though I will say that interesting things happen after they eat meat.) :)

Peaceful Eating!


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Memories of a snake in the garden

It was supposed to be a rainy thunderstorm-y day, as it has been for over two weeks. And yet, when I awoke, I could see gorgeous blue sky calling to me (and everyone else in New England), "Get your butt out here! It's amazing!" Hubby and I dutifully obeyed and started out the day with a beautiful walk around the surrounding neighborhoods.

After a quick breakfast, I decided this was the day to move the mint OUT of the garden. How very innocent was I, three years ago, when I build this garden and thought, "I'll just put some mint in the corner and put a few bricks around it so it won't spread to the rest of the garden." The mint just laughed at me. So today I moved it to a newly empty plot next to our house, where we cut down a couple of burning bushes that were blocking our bedroom view of the garden. It will do great there, and with any luck, our new bunny family outside will nibble at the edges and keep the mint in check.

As it was so beautiful, I decided to go to my all-time favorite place, Russell's Garden Center, in Wayland, MA. I bought the following and felt oh-so-naughty: 3 tomato plants, sweet peppers, jalapeno peppers, three kinds of eggplant, cilantro, basil, parsley, lemongrass (and one for my sister-in-law who always says, "If you see lemongrass, buy me some! I can never find it!!), swiss chard, stevia (which I've always wanted to try -- it's an herb that is exceptionally sweet and can be used to sweeten teas and such), Thai basil, and lemon verbena. After coming home, I took one of my cats, Kaci, out to the garden so she could "help" me plant everything. (The garden is her favorite spot. You've never seen a cat so happy as her when she is rolling around on the rock pathways.)

I'll have to post some pictures soon of our garden, because I'm immensely proud of it. We built it our first spring in our home and it was a ton of work. We dug a foot and a half under the ground and put chickenwire in that depression to ward off digging animals, just as a precaution. It ended up being a very good move as a pair of groundhogs moved into our yard last year (along with the bunnies) and nobody's been able to get inside the garden. Well, that's not quite true.

A garter snake got in our first year, which wasn't a problem in and of itself. The problem was he tried going out through the small chicken wire and got stuck. This snake was a stuck as one can get, and he wasn't too pleased about it. The sun was going down and it was getting chilly -- we knew if we didn't act quickly, he would die out there in the garden. Ever so carefully, my husband spent about a half-hour cuting the wire around the snake, doing an amazing job of not hurting it. When it was finally freed, it fled through the garden toward the open gate, but then took a quick turn to the right and immediately get itself stuck in the wire on the other side of the garden. Seriously. I think Ryan was about to bang his head into a wall. Suffice to say, he proved himself to be a manly man that day in my eyes when he freed the creature a second time, and then to be sure it didn't repeat the chickenwire move again, flung it with his gloved hand outside the garden, where it landed -- thud -- then slithered to safety. I looked at Ryan and said, "I think that snake needs a drink," to which Ryan replied, "I think I need a drink." Happily, the snake did not come back to repeat the performance.

Anyhow, Ryan's practicing his guitar as I write, and we're going to go out to our favorite local Framingham eatery, Big Fresh Cafe, before taking in a movie. Ryan, by the way, is mucho talented and has a wonderful band called Field Trip, that everyone should check out. They're so damned good. I always forget how good they are and then when I go to one of their gigs, I'm blown away.

Anywho, random ramblings on a beautiful day ...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quinoa ... who knew?

So many years ago, from 1996-1999, I lived as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia. There I was introduced to a new grain called quinoa. (KEE-nwah) One of my favorite ways to eat it was in a peanut soup they had there that was really tasty. (Yes, it was probably chicken stock, but I wasn't even remotely veg*an at the time.) (I just learned what that * means today. It's a way of allowing you to say vegetarian/vegan in the same word. Very efficient, don't you think?)

What I didn't realize until last night was how high in protein quinoa was. Who'da thunk it? AND I learned why it always had that odd bitter taste whenever I prepared it. You're supposed to rinse the stuff for a full minute. I rinsed a batch of it this week before cooking and -- voila -- yummy tasting quinoa and zero bitterness. 

Lately, I've been getting better at making larger batches of things at the beginning of the week so I always have snack/lunch/breakfast stuff I can heat up or combine quickly.  The system works out much better than preparing everything from scratch each night.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Delightful Lightness of Being

So I've been eating a plant-based diet for about a month and a half now and I'm quite taken aback at how good I feel. Lighter is definitely a good word. No more "backups." I never feel that "lordy-I-ate-too-much"-ouch, but have a very pleasant satiated feeling and never get those low-blood sugar MUST-EAT! attacks anymore. The best part, though, aside from how good food tastes and that lightness, is feeling whole. I always felt in my gut I was a hypocrite, and therefore only part of who I was capable of being. I loved animals and felt very protective of their welfare, but I was consuming them from an industry that, deep down, I knew wasn't treating them well. But like so many I said, "Don't tell me about it. I don't want to know!"

With each passing year of shopping at the supermarket, though, I'd feel "wrong" standing at the deli counter ordering a few slices of Virginia ham and Swiss cheese. Not wrong enough to forgo buying and consuming the meat, of course. But it always seemed like it was that moment when I had a choice and I walked through the door of denial. I'd peruse the chicken sausage and try to push away that unnameable dishonest feeling, like I was wearing clothes that were way too small. Hindsight is 20/20, of course. I was knee-deep in denial, convincing myself that I bought organic "humanely raised" meat. "Yes, it's terrible that an animal had to die, but at least it was quick."

Reality knocked those assumptions out the window. It is not quick. It is not kind. Humane? I'm not sure what that word means any more if it describes what I've seen in my search for the truth of what happened behind those closed doors. (Paul McCartney said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.")

So what made me want to know the truth? It was really the sum of many factors. I had always loved Ellen DeGeneres and was curious about her conversion to veganism, especially since she had always been vocal about loving her hamburgers. I could see cutting meat, but what was wrong with eggs and milk? Who could give up cheese, for crying out loud?? I started exploring vegan blogs, just to see what was there. I certainly wasn't going to commit to it, but I was admittedly curious. On one of of those blogs, however, were ten minutes total of scenes from the documentary Earthlings (along with deleted scenes) and I watched it. What I saw simply horrified me. There's no other word for it. And, in an instant, I was done. No more meat, no more eggs, no more dairy. (If you're wondering why not dairy or eggs, I'll get into that at a later date, but suffice to say that they are some of the worst offenders. And all the animals end up slaughtered in the end.) When I later smelled a whiff of bacon cooking and tmy initial thought was "yum!" I simply had to think back to some of those scenes, and the smell instantly stopped enticing me. 

Interview of Ellen DeGeneres

I told my husband that night that I had seen these images and I couldn't be a part of that cruelty any more. Much to my surprise, he said he'd try out the diet with me for one month. I was pretty floored, as he has always loved his meat. (I had already been wondering, "How are we going to do this? Do we make two separate dinners each night?" So he set my fears to rest.)

I ultimately did watch Earthlings, though I had been dreading it. I decided one day I was home sick to just watch it in 5-minute increments; 5 minutes one day, 5 minutes the next, and so on. After the first 5 minutes, though, I couldn't tear myself away, even with my finger on the pause button, ready to strike. I felt I owed it to the animals I had eaten and who were being slaughtered every day to simply watch it, as they were the ones who actually had to endure it. The trailer, which is not heavy but quite beautiful, is below. (The whole movie was made available for free on youtube. The producers want as many people as possible to see it.)

Trailer (no gore here) of the documentary Earthlings

So that's the beginning of the story.

I tend to love researching a topic, so I've been reading up a ton. Much much more to follow ...

Peaceful Eating!