Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Butter-and-Artichoke-Fiend Finds her Way

Butter - I guess you could say it was one of my favorite food groups. I certainly knew it wasn't a health food, but the rest of my diet was pretty healthy, so I allowed myself my butter. (Ok, fine --- AND my whipped cream.) Butter was my Elmira Gulch, always after me and my little dog. I did my best to stay away, but then she'd always show up with annoying persistence. But as Elmira would certainly agree, being bad is sometimes so darn good. If you are/were a butter-fiend, you know what I'm talking about.

One of my all time favorite vehicles for butter was artichokes.

My earliest memory of eating an artichoke came from my father's house. There was a small bowl of melted swirly butter, a giant bowl for the spent leaves, and a bowl of whole artichokes. I remember pulling one of the leaves off  of the artichoke, and filling the leaf with butter like it was a nature-made spoon. I slurped it with gusto as I ate the meat off the leaf. I was in heaven. A messy, tasty heaven.

Even as the years passed, artichoke eating was always like this. Sometimes, I'd actually wear a bib to keep the butter off my clothes. Whenever the season for this vegetable arrived, my pants would always get noticeably tighter. But it was totally worth it. I even had one friend look at me uncomfortably as I made contented eating noises and ask, "Would you like to be alone with your dinner?" I loved them that much.

Which was one important reason that going vegan struck me as insane. Give up THAT?

Even before I gave up animal products, though, I learned a new way to enjoy artichokes from my good friends Stacey and JJ. (Look guys -- you're on the world wide interweb!) I was dubious, but figured I'd try it since they seemed to enjoy their version with equal gusto. And who am I to turn down a fantastic culinary experience?

Their way won me over, and I started cooking artichokes sans butter from then on. I will share this wonderful and simple way of preparing this flower bud so that you may enjoy your artichokes to the embarrassing degree that I do. They can run a little on the expensive side, but it's so worth it.

First off, only buy artichokes when they are still a tight flower bud. Once they start to open up, they are not as fresh.

Next, wash them and cut just a smidgen off of the bottom of the stalk, so that the bottom cut is green, but you still have a stalk to serve as a handle. Some people like to trim the ends of the leaves, though I never bother. 

Next, put a couple of inches of water inside a big pot. Holding the artichoke stem down/bud up, pour some olive oil over each artichoke so that it settles itself inside the leaves. (sigh...) Then squeeze some fresh lemon juice from a real lemon (not a bottle -- very important!) over the top. Put the discarded lemons into the water and then place a steamer basket on top of the lemons and water. Place the artichokes bud-side down on the steamer basket (or on their side, if that doesn't work) and put a lid on the pot.

Now boil the water to steam the artichokes. I've never timed it, but it seems to take around 1/2 an hour to cook them thoroughly. You will need to pour more water in (I have a boiling teakettle at the ready) or all of your water will evaporate and burn the pot/artichokes. I usually pour in more water at least once or twice during the whole steaming process. If they are resting on their side, I'll usually turn them over halfway through cooking.

You'll know when the artichokes are done when you can pull off one of the outside leaves with no effort. Even if there is the slightest resistance, they're not ready. They should just fall off when you pull them. (I use a pair of tongs to do this, not my lily-white hands.) It's advisable to test it often: you don't want your artichoke raw or crunchy, but you don't want them overdone and soupy either.

Ready to enjoy? Then pull off an outer leaf, turn it upside down, and put most of the leaf in your mouth, pulling all the meat off with your teeth in one fell swoop. Discard the leaf and go on to the next! (You'll definitely want a discard bowl. The leaves will start to pile up!)

Once you get to the center of the artichoke, the leaves will become less meaty. You'll know it when you get there.

Now you're ready for the heart, you lucky-duck. Pull all the remaining leaves and "fuzz" out and you are left with the gorgeous heart. I actually just eat it as is, but you may be more refined and use a fork and knife.

So there you have it. No butter needed! The taste is subtle yet succulent at the same time and slightly lemony. You've got to try it to believe it. See ya, Elmira.

You may have recipes or foods like this that seem to haunt you persistently. But you might  surprise yourself with a simple substitution or a new recipe. If a butter-fiend could happily turn her back on butter and find her way back to the Merry Old Land of Oz, then I suspect you might be able to bid adieu to whatever animal-unfriendly food is holding fast to your heart. And "fiend" is only one letter away from "friend." Instead enjoying a food that is fiendish to animals, consider one that is friendly. It's not a big leap! Just one letter! You're so close!

So. What is/was your Elmira Gulch?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Admit it -- you're intrigued

Skipping products that are made of (or came from) an animal. You hear about the benefits. You've heard people talk about the movie Forks over Knives. **  You're a little shocked that Bill Clinton is vegan. As soon as someone mentions what the animals go through in the meat/dairy/egg industries, you feel awful and try to focus on something else as it's just too painful to contemplate. You suspect there's a lot of good in this kind of lifestyle. But man -- it just seems so extreme! And what about eating out? How would you even explain this to your family and friends? What about Thanksgiving and other special holidays? Wouldn't it ruin everything? Can you possibly give up bacon? Or cheese?

The Making of Forks Over Knives

Here's my advice. Just try it for thirty days. That's it. Then, if it's too hard or if it's not working for you, you can go back. 30 days goes by so fast. (You know it's true. Doesn't it always feel like you just paid your mortgage or rent and then it's suddenly due again?)

In the end, it is just about changing habits. Initially it feels odd to be doing something different. And it can even feel a little scary, deviating from what people describe as "the norm." But studies show it takes about three weeks to change a habit. Add a few days on there for good measure, and you're on your way.

When I started out last April, I was determined to change my habits but was admittedly very nervous about how people would perceive me. (I always like to think others' opinions of me don't matter. But dang it, sometimes they just do!) After my first month, I noticed a big difference in my energy level. I didn't get my weird 3 pm I-need-sugar-and-salt attacks. I didn't feel "stuffed" after eating. (I didn't feel deprived and hungry at all, just perfectly satiated.) And I thought, "You're kidding me. I would have done this ages ago if I'd known how easy it was!"

I wish wish wish I'd had the book The 30-Day Vegan Challenge when I'd started out. The author (whom I've mentioned enough times to probably annoy you) touches on everything you would want to know. I even left a review for the book on amazon:

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars I've never used this hackneyed phrase before, but this book is worth its weight in gold. More than gold, actually., August 25, 2011
This review is from: The 30-Day Vegan Challenge: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Cleaner, Getting Leaner, and Living Compassionately (Paperback)
If you asked me 6 months ago if I'd ever go vegan, I'd have told you that you were off your rocker. Give up meat? Maybe. Give up butter, eggs, cheese, and cream? Nope. No way.

Long story short, five months ago I watched a video showing what animals went through in the meat, dairy, and egg industries. My world changed instantly and I knew I'd never touch another animal product again. So I was left to fumble about a bit on my own and gradually educate myself on how to do this healthfully and sanely, all while hearing dire warnings from well-meaning family and friends. Luckily, I discovered this author's podcast pretty early on in the process (Vegetarian Food for Thought at compassionatecooks.com), so that helped me enormously. (She has, however, ruined other podcasts for me, as hers are so good.) I have never been happier. That sounds trite, but I could not put it any simpler. I am a very happy person now. (And much much healthier!) But I really wished I had had this book five months ago. How lucky are you, soon-to-be-reader?

It is amazing on many counts, but I'll narrow it to four:

1) The chapters in this book hit all the points a person in transition would ask or be asked. All the nutritional aspects are covered. Types of products are covered. Tips on making cooking easier, quicker, and more enjoyable are covered. But just as important, the social aspects are covered. In fact, the advice about social situations may be one of the ways this book is most helpful. It's hard to put into words, but she has a way of explaining things that makes you really understand where your concerned loved ones are coming from. Her words can help you toe the fine line between speaking your truth and being compassionate to all people in a very non-kumbayah-way; no drumming circles or tie-dye necessary. :) I've benefited from following her advice -- my family and friends have relaxed and are even trying my (her) recipes. Which is a good segue to point number 2.

2) The recipes are incredible. My husband, a former big animal-meat-eater is addicted to the Better-than-Tuna salad. And they're very do-able. The ingredients can be found in any supermarket. I've never had to scurry to find that elusive (and expensive) ingredient that I'll never use again. (We've all been there, right?)

3) The whole tone is very non-judgmental. You never feel bullied or guilted into making these changes. I got quite excited, in fact, to change. Moreover, I know that I (one little person on this vast planet) am making a remarkable difference in the world. I see it every day.

4) It's extremely organized, gorgeous, and easy to use. No fluff here. This book is such a bargain for what you are getting. I actually feel a little guilty -- like I should have paid much more.

So that's it in a nutshell. If you aren't sure if going vegan is for you, look at it this way: It's just 30 days. And you're paying the same price you'd pay for one month at a really cheap gym.

Go for it. You will be amazed. 

So there it is! I'd be curious to hear from some of you. If you are vegan or vegetarian, what was your transition like? If you are neither, what kinds of things are holding you back?

** Forks over Knives is getting MAJOR buzz...Ryan heard a bunch of non-vegan folk at work discussing it just this week. We watched it the other night on Instant View with our Netflix and it was incredible. No gore -- just incredible medical proof from respected scientists that animal protein is wreaking havoc on our bodies. In fact, we'd ordered the DVD on Netflix and, even though it was #1 on our queue for weeks, it kept not showing up in our mailbox. Confused and a little annoyed, I looked at our queue and saw some notes in red next to the title that said "Very long wait." I've never had that happen before with Netflix. Maybe that's why they put it on Instant View?   

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let's hear it for the cow!

Short post, but a cool one. Similar to Kayli (mentioned in an earlier post), another cow named Yvonne managed to escape slaughter, only this gal evaded capture for over three months in the mountains of Bavaria. Animal rights activists pushed to get the shoot-on-sight order eliminated and they ultimately located and captured her. She now resides in the Gut Aiderbichl animal sanctuary in southern Germany with her son and sister. How great is THAT?

May the day come soon when cows like Yvonne and Kayli have no death sentence to escape from. :)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dogs, Pigs, Cows and The Matrix

A book had been sitting on my nightstand for a few weeks, and I finally found a lovely summer day to read it in my relaxing vegetable garden (with kitty Kaci by my side, of course.) It was a quicker read than I'd anticipated, and a very powerful one. The author, Melanie Joy, is apparently local and, as we found out rather serendipitously, a good friend of one of Ryan's bandmates. (Don't you just love stumbling across those funny little connections?)

The book is called Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. It explores oh-so-effectively the disconnect so many of us have to the abuse of certain non-human animals and why we  categorize those animals the way we do. It's a very do-able read, even if you're squeamish. There is only one chapter in the book that delves into what is actually done to some animals, but the author does it in a way where I think anyone could come through it unscathed, yet better informed. (But if it's too difficult for you at this point, just skip it and read the rest of the book. You don't want to miss out on this!)

What especially captured me was its allusion late in the book to the movie The Matrix. As soon as I swore off animal products, I saw the world in an astonishingly new way, like a thick layer of gauze had been removed from my eyes. And it immediately felt like that scene in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves' character decided to literally unplug himself and see the world for what it was, not what he was fooled into thinking it was.  I was always surprised that I didn't see any mention of the movie in any vegan literature before, as the parallels between the movie and the meat/dairy/egg industry jumped out at me. In fact, I'd brainstormed a list of topics for this blog back in June and "The Matrix" was one I was going to write about. Luckily Dr. Joy beat me to the punch, and did it far more competently than I could have at this point.

If you haven't seen the movie, I urge you to see it. If you have, then I recommend seeing it again with new eyes. Yes, it is a blockbuster. And yes it is also an action movie. But it is also an amazing mind film. And once you start to disassociate yourself even slightly from what has been considered the acceptable standard diet (and its dependence on abusing, mutilating and killing sentient beings) you begin to see how very strange the whole thing is; how Matrix-like.

When I was still eating animal meat, dairy, and eggs, I always sensed that something was off. Just the fact that I couldn't bear to look at factory farm footage or even see pictures of the confined animals told me that I was in some sort of denial.  I loved the Laurence Fishburne line, "You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world.  You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind." Bingo.

About a year or so ago, we dropped our cable and instead became Netflix junkies, mainly to cut costs. Not only was it cheaper, but we had way more variety to choose from! What I didn't expect, though, was how strange TV would be after we'd stopped watching it. The other day we were eating out and there was a television in the restaurant. (Why do they do that? Do they assume our ability to just talk to each other is that deficient?) It was astonishing how quickly the screen hypnotically flipped from image to image, never truly settling in on anything. Talk about brain overload!

But most notable was how much animal meat was advertised on TV. (Along with the advertised medications for people with problems stemming from eating animal protein.) I'd never noticed it before. But it's pretty constant. Which is why I find it interesting that some people claim that vegans have an agenda. (I've run into this comment on occasion!) And while I do have an "agenda" to make the world a more peaceful and enjoyable place for human and non-human animals -- oh the horror! -- the meat/dairy/egg industries have quite the agenda themselves, and a very effective and violent one at that. Like the Matrix, it is everywhere. Everywhere. I don't say this to suggest there is a conspiracy theory or, like the movie, that we're all being used as human batteries. :) But the messages we are bombarded with get the message across loud and clear. Eat your meat, drink your milk, eat your eggs. And top it all with cheese. To do otherwise is, frankly, weird and un-American (apologies to readers from other countries).  And when you pull out of this whole way of life and say "no" it creates quite a stir because we are so entrenched in the idea, for example, that a person will waste away if they don't consume dairy. It's no conspiracy theory. The higher-ups in the industries simply want to make a boatload of money and to do so at minimal financial cost. (But at great cost to all animals, both human and non-human.) I'm not one to tout my opinions as gospel -- I can in fact be annoyingly flexible when talking about issues -- but this one's just a no-brainer. There's a lot of greed out there.

So I encourage you to read the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows and to see the movie The Matrix. And keep taking those babysteps! :)