Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sprouting Seeds

As of yesterday, I’ve been vegan for two months. That’s all. It’s not much, I know. To those who know me, it probably feels a bit longer because I started actively transitioning last summer, but it took those six months to fully understand what I needed to do. In some ways, this change seems abrupt, but ultimately, I think it was an inevitability – not a question of if, but when. As it turns out, when was January 26, 2014.

The seeds of veganism have been scattered throughout my life, but like most people who unknowingly subscribes to carnist ideology, I was too oblivious to properly nurture the seeds. For instance, I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was a kid, but I have always loathed touching raw meat. In retrospect, it’s hard to overlook the absurdity of feeling viscerally disgusted by flesh that I would then cook, and put in my mouth. Why would an otherwise insightful person put something that completely grossed them out into their mouth? I suppose I thought there was something wrong with me for feeling disgusted, not something wrong with buying, cooking, and eating parts of an animal. Carnist ideology makes for rather infertile soil.

Finally though, last July, the seeds began to sprout. I had the realization that there was something about veganism that resonated with me. I embarked on my journey, away from complicity and conflict, towards greater compassion and kindness. During those months, I learned, I listened, I reflected, and I was mostly vegan. However, in January, I came to the unavoidable conclusion that I needed to embrace and live my values in order to feel joy and peace. I committed to being vegan.

"Emergence" by Mike Lewinski
“Emergence” by Mike Lewinski

I started this blog because I needed a new dedicated outlet for sharing and exploring my experiences. So far, it’s been hard for me to find the words though, so I’ve mostly posted recipes. Delicious food is pretty concrete – ingredients, instructions, mediocre photo of the results (yes, I need to work on that). In contrast, my thoughts and emotions continuously vacillate, and more often than not, feel like a slippery blob that evades definition and description. There are moments when I feel liberated and so full of joy because my choices are more aligned with my values of nonviolence and compassion. I’m no longer just living in this world; I’m living with this world, making more conscious choices to foster this interconnection.

All the emotions and awareness that have been stifled for most of my life, that I had to deny and suppress in order to eat meat, are rising to the surface, like I’m living 40 years of emotions in just one breath. Now that I have the clarity that escaped me for so long, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with grief and hopelessness, imagining the suffering of animals, victims of the world’s ambivalence and apathy. It becomes a circular train of thought… I want to save them all. I can’t save them all. I can only save the ones I spare. I can encourage others to join me. So many people don’t want to change. So many animals suffer. I want to save them all. Optimism and hope tangle with sadness and loss. It drives me mad, but compels me forward.

In addition to trying to reconcile these thoughts and emotions, I’m also trying to reconcile the life I was living and who I was with the life I aspire to live and who I am becoming. Granted, we are always becoming new versions of ourselves – learning, integrating, changing – but going from carnist to vegan has been transformational. Needless to say, I’m still the same person, but I’m closer to the person I want to be. I have new priorities, and see many possibilities and directions ahead of me that weren’t apparent until I opened my eyes. When I finally looked, really looked, I saw that the familiar had become abhorrent, but I also saw that I was empowered to take action against the injustice I saw.

So, no, two months isn’t much, especially within the context of my 41 years, but it’s been a rich two months. I’ve learned about myself and our world, I’ve gained clarity on how to live according to my values, I’ve experienced joy from practicing compassion, I’ve eaten the most delicious food that has nourished my body and spirit, and I’ve lived in peace with the animals. Vegan for two months, vegan for life.

Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole

My quest to find or create vegan recipes that Husband likes, and could potentially take to work for weekday lunches in lieu of conventional frozen meals continues. The last recipe I shared, Southwestern Spaghetti, was intended to be a casserole, but it was delicious without the final baking step I initially envisioned. For whatever inexplicable reason, I had casserole on the brain though, so in order to satisfy this admittedly peculiar desire, I turned to the familiar favorites of broccoli, rice and cheese.

I scoped out several different recipes, and then developed my own version. The final verdict is that we both liked it. It ended up being very cheesy, more than I expected, but I love cheese, so I was pleased. Husband was less enthusiastic about the extra cheesiness, but he’s never been a fan of too much cheese, regardless of the dish. His feedback was essentially that he liked it, but it was too cheesy to be a main dish. He has been eating it as a side dish for the last couple of days. I’m happy with it as a main dish though, and have been eating it as such.

Vegan Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole
Vegan Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole

Vegan Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole

Casserole
2 tablespoons evoo
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced or crushed
1 green pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
2 broccoli bunches, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 ounces sundried tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
3 cups cooked brown rice
1/2-1 cup breadcrumbs

Cheese Sauce
1 stick Earth Balance margarine
1/2 cup flour
2 cups almond milk
1 teaspoon tamari
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups Daiya cheddar shreds

1. Saute onion, garlic and green pepper, stirring occasionally, until softened.
2. Add celery, zucchini, broccoli, sundried tomatoes, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Saute on low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened. Make cheese sauce while vegetables are cooking.
3. Melt margarine in separate saucepan. Whisk in flour. Add milk, tamari, black pepper, and garlic powder. Whisk to combine.
4. Add Daiya shreds to milk, and stir until thoroughly combined on medium heat. Mixture should be smooth, so increase heat if shreds aren’t melting into sauce.
5. Add rice to vegetables, stir to combine.
5. Add cheese sauce to vegetables and rice. Stir to combine.
6. Pour vegetable-rice-cheese mixture into large 3-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top.
7. Bake for 25-35 minutes. Casserole should be bubbly, and breadcrumbs lightly toasted.

Sauteed Veggies
Sauteed Veggies
Vegan Cheese Sauce
Vegan Cheese Sauce

Southwestern Spaghetti

One of bigger challenges I have encountered since embracing veganism is the fact that Husband wants to continue eating animal products. Satisfying solutions aren’t always easy because I want to be fair and respectful to him, and I want to compromise because I value my marriage, but I also want to be fair and practice compassion towards animals. I have read some articles and discussions about managing this conflict of interests – some helpful, some less so because people can be really nasty about non-vegan spouses/partners. I’ve also listened to podcasts by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau that have addressed this issue for guidance and ideas. The most helpful kernels of wisdom that have emerged for me are to be patient, compassionate, remember that I too was a carnist (so I can identify with his current attitudes and beliefs), and that delicious food is my best advocacy tool.

One of our long-standing food habits has been eating frozen meals for weekday lunches. Since going vegan, I rarely eat these kinds of convenience foods anymore. I still keep one or two vegan frozen meals in the freezer, but usually I’ll have leftovers of something I’ve cooked, or a PBJ. Hubs has continued to rely on frozen meals for lunches though. The ones he likes all have meat, and I have continued to buy those for him. Naturally, I would prefer not to buy them, but I am trying to focus on the positive changes he has made, while I identify possible alternatives that will make us both happy.

One idea I had was to make more meals that could be portioned into single servings, frozen, and easily taken to work, since delicious food is the best advocacy tool. When I suggested this to him, he was receptive. Although he’s not making a conscious effort to reduce meat, he does want to eat more fruits and veggies, and fewer processed foods. This recipe for Southwestern Spaghetti was our trial recipe, and he really liked it. He took it for lunch a couple of days last week, and also had it for dinner a couple of times. We’re making this up as we go, and trying to figure out how to compromise on these new issues, but delicious food is something we can agree on.

Southwestern Spaghetti
Southwestern Spaghetti

Southwestern Spaghetti

2 tablespoons evoo
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, crushed or minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 lb. zucchini, coarsely chopped
1 can diced chili peppers
1 can pinto beans
15 oz. can crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted
15 oz. can diced tomatoes, fire-roasted
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 package Upton’s Naturals Chorizo Seitan (or other vegan meat of choice)
10 oz. spaghetti
Daiya pepperjack shreds

1. Saute onion and bell peppers in evoo until vegetables begin to soften.
2. Add zucchini, and continue to cook until zucchini softens.
3. Add chili peppers, beans, tomatoes, spices and seitan. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
4. Cook spaghetti until al dente.
5. Remove vegetables from heat. Add spaghetti, and combine.
6. Serve with Daiya shreds.

* I was going to make this a casserole, mixing in cheese and baking as a last step, but the night I made it, it ended up being too late, so I didn’t bake it. We’ve been serving it with vegan cheese sprinkled on top and reheated. I think the cheese is much better when it’s melted.

“I Could Never Be Vegan Because I Love Cheese”

When some people consider veganism, they think it’s a sacrifice to give up certain foods. I was as guilty of this as anyone. For years, I would say, “I could never be vegetarian because I like chicken too much.” Chicken was one of my favorite foods. I had a personal investment in maintaining my belief that eating chicken was ok because I have fond memories of baked chicken and homemade chicken soup my mom made when I was a kid. I carried those traditions into adulthood, and once married, I made many meals with chicken for Husband and I to share. Reframing a symbol of family and nourishment into something unjust and ethically wrong took time and reflection. I was challenged to gain clarity about how to more respectfully and authentically “like” chickens, amazing sentient beings with robust, fulfilling social and emotional lives when they are allowed to live free from the threat of becoming someone’s dinner

The Last Block of Cheese
The Last Block of Cheese

Once I reconstructed what chickens meant to me, I faced the hurdle of all hurdles. Cheese. “I could never be vegan because I love cheese too much.” I said it many times. In listening to various podcasts about veganism, I’ve learned that cheese is often the last hurdle for many vegans. Since I started my vegan journey, several people have expressed to me their opposition or reluctance to give up cheese, and I can’t help but relate. I was an admitted cheese snob. American cheese wouldn’t do. I liked fancy cheeses of all sorts, from domestic artisan to imports. There are probably ten different supermarkets that are closer to me than Whole Foods, but I would schlep to Whole Foods just to get my favorite cheese, Wensleydale with cranberries, and while I was hovering over the cheese selection, I’d grab some Asiago, Piave, or maybe some Stilton, just to mix things up. Cheese was a simple snack that didn’t assault my blood sugar too much, and I enjoyed it. Giving up chicken was one thing, but I couldn’t fathom sacrificing cheese.

Towards the end of last summer, I was enthusiastically on the path towards veganism, but still eating omnivorously. I was grappling with changing beliefs and mixed emotions, and in retrospect, I think keeping animal products in my diet gave me a sense of security that I wouldn’t disrupt my family and social life too much. I was committed to having at least one vegan meal a day, although most days I was having two. I even had three vegan meals on occasion, but I was still having some non-vegan snacks. I bought a block of Wensleydale cheese with cranberries in early September, intending to eat it for snacks. I bought it because it was familiar. I bought it because I’d been buying it for years. I bought it because I associated it with pleasure, gratification, and comfort. We had served this cheese as part of the cocktail hour of our wedding reception, so I bought it because I had positive memories associated with it. However, I remember picking up that last block of cheese, placing it in my basket, and feeling unease and doubt.

It sat in the fridge, and occasionally, I’d pull it out to inspect it for mold. As days turned into weeks turned into months, I was increasingly surprised that I didn’t see any mold on it. I’d put it back in the meat & cheese drawer, and tell myself to eat it before it became inedible. I really do hate wasting food, which continues to be a struggle for me as I look though my cabinets, fridge and freezer at non-vegan food items, almost all of which I bought before I ever imagined going vegan. “Just eat it so it doesn’t go to waste, and then don’t buy anymore.

Expired Cheese
Expired Cheese

I couldn’t do it though. I pulled it out a few days ago to inspect it. It was buried under Field Roast chipotle sausage, Daiya pepperjack shreds, a half-eaten Daiya cheddar wedge, and Upton chorizo seitan. It looked like maybe there was a bit of mold growing under the cellophane wrap. Finally. I held it, I studied it, and I took a couple of photos. I thought about what it represented once upon a time, and what it meant to me now. I thought about the cows that gave their milk for that block of cheese, and wondered about the calves who were taken from them. Amid the quiet morning, the cheese made a resounding thud as it hit the bottom of the trashcan.

As symbolic as that untouched 5-month old cheese became, I actually don’t recall the last time I ate dairy cheese. I’ve been eating Daiya cheese at home for months now, most notably on grilled cheese sandwiches and sprinkled on veggie-seitan tacos, so I haven’t missed dairy cheese. The last dairy cheese I ate would have been at a restaurant or as a guest in someone’s home back before the New Year. When I ate it, I didn’t mean for it to be the last dairy cheese I ever ate, but as it turns out, dairy cheese isn’t as hard to stop eating as I thought.

I thought giving up cheese would be a sacrifice. I imagined a vegan diet was defined by sacrifice. Now that I’m all in, I’ve come to a new understanding. I think the best analogy is perhaps having children. Do you sacrifice a lot to have children? Being childfree, I can only comment as an observer, but I think it’s fair to say that people do sacrifice a lot. However, as far as I can tell, the parents I know don’t define parenthood as a thankless sacrifice. In exchange for what they give up, they get so much more in return. So. Much. More.

I think that aptly describes veganism too. Veganism is not a sacrifice. Veganism is a gift.

It’s allowed me to open my heart, extend my compassion, feel more deeply, and connect to my world more authentically. No perfectly roasted chicken, scrambled egg or block of cheese has ever given me such joy. Now that I do not intentionally contribute to death, I am finally living, and as it turns out, not sacrificing animals isn’t a sacrifice at all.

"Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary" by Mark Peters (Some rights reserved)
“Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary” by Mark Peters (Some rights reserved)

Can Anyone Hear Me?

Now that I feel committed to veganism, I find I have moments when I feel like I’m moving among people who are frozen in time. I’ve standing in front of them, telling them how veganism has changed my life for the better, I’m showing them videos that explicitly show the horrors of factory farming, I’m sharing articles and websites with ideas and information that seem irrefutable. I’m admittedly enthusiastic, but I’m trying to be positive and gently encouraging. Yet they remain frozen, and I wonder, how are they not compelled? Why does it seem like they don’t care? In resignation, I move about my business. They wake up, sort of, but they’re still asleep, eating bacon, burgers and cheese, as if I hadn’t been there at all. Am I invisible? Can anyone hear me?

I remind myself that my awareness of the atrocities that happen to animals has been increasing for several years, and it took time and reflection for me to arrive at the obvious conclusion: I had to stop being complicit, the way I eat needed to reflect my values. I remind myself that perhaps something I’ve shared is being absorbed, and it needs time. After all, one doesn’t plant a seed, and instantaneously have a tomato plant heavy with ripened fruit. Maybe I’ve planted a seed that will germinate and grow, but maybe I’ve planted a seed in infertile soil, or maybe my technique is wrong, and nothing will take root. When I’m ignored, dismissed, challenged, or mocked, by default, the animals I’m trying to represent are ignored, dismissed, challenged, or mocked. I don’t want to fail them. I could never have anticipated the elation and clarity that veganism has brought to me, mixed with disheartening defeat that everywhere I turn, it seems people don’t care. It is an unlikely and disorienting combination of emotions.

A couple of days ago, I caught a discussion on Facebook about an article that said sugar contributes to high cholesterol. The responses to the posted article amounted to a chorus of friends and friends of friends singing the praises of eggs. I tried to gently suggest that regardless of health benefit or cost of eating eggs, there are other implications for eating eggs that are worth considering, including public health issues, environmental costs, and of course, the despicable treatment of egg-laying chickens who suffer immensely. Let’s just say my comments weren’t well-received, and seemed to be misconstrued. Then, as if my comments were irrelevant, someone contributed a comment about the supposed merits of eggs and liver. Liver.

I was surprised at how taken aback I was. I would have been just as offended if that person said they barbecue golden retrievers over an open fire, and everyone chimed in about how delicious barbecued dog is. At its essence, it would be no different from how the consumption of a cow’s liver was enthusiastically promoted. It felt so surreal to have this clear notion of how barbaric his comment was, and yet, no one saw it. At that point, I was done. I was so upset by the liver comment, and the defensive responses to my comments that I left the discussion, sorry I even tried.

I’m new to this. I want to reach people. I want to change the world. I want to save the animals and the planet. I don’t have kids, but I want to make the world a better, less violent place for other people’s kids. It’s hard in the face of opposition, hostility, ambivalence, and silence though. It’s hard to inspire people who are unwilling to change, who close their eyes and tune me out, who are stuck. It’s hard to compel them to move.

"Not Listening" by Christian Bucad
“Not Listening” by Christian Bucad

Birthday Dinner! Sriracha Ginger Stir Fry (Recipe) & Cake

Sriracha Ginger Stir Fry
Sriracha Ginger Stir Fry

My birthday was yesterday. I love my birthday, and I’m always eager to celebrate, but this year, Hubs and I kept it low-key because he’s been under the weather. Happily, my birthday fell on a Friday, which meant I had painting class in the morning. Doing something artsy-fartsy was the perfect creative beginning for my 41st year, and for me, serves as a metaphor for all that I hope to create for myself and the animals this coming year as I fully embrace veganism.

Painting was followed by lunch with a friend at Chipotle. I sampled their new sofritas in a salad, and thought it was quite good – a slight spicy kick and meaty texture without being overtly tofu-y. I think sofritas could be appealing to people who might otherwise turn their nose up at tofu. Coincidentally, late last night, I saw several posts on FB that Chipotle is introducing sofritas nationwide. I loathe restaurants where my choices are reduced to fries and a house salad, minus half the listed ingredients. I don’t want bacon, cheese or questionable croutons, but if I’m hungry, which is normally the case when I end up in a restaurant, I can’t say that a bowl of iceberg lettuce with random carrot shreds and, if I’m lucky, a couple of grape tomatoes, is my first choice either. Compared to that, I’m grateful that it’s so easy to order vegan fare at Chipotle.

After Chipotle, I hit Whole Foods for dinner and cake ingredients. As I’ve become more aware of vegan businesses in my area, part of me wanted to support a local vegan bakery I recently discovered, but the other part of me didn’t want to pay $30 or $40 for a cake when I can make one myself. Historically, I usually make my own cake anyway because it’s fun. For the first time this year, I was not only going to have a vegan cake, but I was going to make a cake from scratch instead of a box mix (even though I know there are vegan box mixes). After perusing various recipes, I honed in on Post Punk Kitchen‘s Just Chocolate Cake. Instead of the accompanying chocolate ganache, I opted for The Cake Merchant‘s vegan vanilla frosting. As a side note, instead of 8″ springform pans, I used well-greased 9″ regular cake pans, and the cakes came out without any issues. The frosting recipe made way too much frosting. If I use that recipe for a double layer cake recipe again, I’ll halve the recipe. (See photos of the cake below.)

Dinner and cake ingredients in hand, I stopped at a regular supermarket to pick up candles, and had planned to get something to decorate the cake, but using the handy ‘Is It Vegan?‘ app, discovered that none of the cake decorating items were vegan. So my homemade, slightly lopsides non-bakery cake ended up looking quite rustic. Maybe next year, I’ll more thoughtfully source simple vegan cake decorating options.

Dinner was a stir-fry with rice noodles. I made chicken salad last weekend, but Hubs isn’t a fan of chicken salad, so he had yet to try Beyond Meat, so I decided to use that in my stir fry to see what he thought. There are challenges to figuring out how to eat together in a way that honors each of our dietary preferences, but to his credit, he’s been willing to try most anything I make as long as it doesn’t contain ingredients he doesn’t like. Overall, we’ve had more successes than not, and the sriracha ginger stir fry was no exception. When I asked him what he thought of the vegan chicken, it seemed that he didn’t even notice that it was vegan, so as I said when I shared the chicken salad recipe, Beyond Meat is a great compromise that is likely to please mixed herbivore-omnivore homes like ours.

After dinner, we created a considerable fire hazard with my birthday candles, but I’m a traditionalist who prefers the exact number of candles. Hubs ate his cake with dairy ice cream, while I tried vanilla almond milk ice cream for the first time. I’m not sure I’d want a plain bowl of it, but that’s more because I prefer more exotic ice cream with swirls and chunks of stuff in it. That being said, with a slice of cake, the simplicity of it with its subtle nuttiness worked. We topped our cake and ice cream with dollops of Soyatoo soy whip. I don’t usually eat whipped cream, but hubs is a big fan, so I was happy that he liked it. He really liked the cake and the frosting too – another small, but meaningful plant-based success!

Sriracha Ginger Stir Fry

2 tablespoons dark sesame seed oil
1 tablespoon garlic, minced or crushed
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1/2 sliced red onion
1/2 cup soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons sriracha (to taste)
1/2 cup low sodium vegetable broth
Black pepper to taste
1 package Beyond Meat or other vegan chicken ( I used the lightly seasoned variety)
3 pounds stir fry vegetables (I used broccoli, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, and bok choy)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

1. Heat oil on medium heat in wide skillet or wok, and cook garlic, ginger, and onion until onion is softened.
2. Add soy sauce, sriracha, broth and black pepper. Stir to combine.
3. Add vegan chicken and vegetables. Cook until vegetables are almost to desired tenderness, stirring frequently.
4. Add scallions, stir to heat through, and remove from heat.
5. Serve stir fry atop rice or noodles, and sprinkle with cilantro leaves.

Classic chocolate with vanilla frosting, veganized
Classic chocolate with vanilla frosting, veganized
Birthday cake & ice cream, veganized
Birthday cake & ice cream, veganized