Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cookies for a Wedding, Forks Over Knives, Bye Bye Birdies

One of my oldest best good friends is getting married at the end of September.  She's not having one of those stupid weddings that we've all been to a hundred times with the DJ and the ugly bridesmaid dresses and the church and cliches.  Instead, she's having one of those awesome, great-times weddings that each of us only gets to go to a handful of times in our lives.  There's going to be a real band playing, not a wedding band.  The bridal party does not contain ladies only, there will also be some gay men, and we can wear whatever we want to wear ("Just look hot," she told us, "and be comfortable").  It's being held on an organic farm out by Chester County, not at a church, and it is not being officiated by a religious figure.  Actually, my father is officiating the wedding.  You must understand that Rosalie is a very old, good friend of mine and of my whole family.  She's cared for my family in sickness and been witness to some of our most intensely-personal moments.  My friend Kristin and I were her birth partners for the natural childbirth of her son, Ocean.  She and I lived together for many years.

The reason I'm telling you all of this is because COOKIES!

It has become apparent to all of my friends and family over the past few years that I'm, like, really, really into cooking and baking.  During Rosie's bachelorette party weekend at the beach, I was hurrying to get out of my apartment in Pittsburgh after work and rush over to Ocean City, NJ, but I still managed to grab, like, some peanut oil, soy sauce, Ener-G Egg replacer, corn starch, bouillion cubes, and rice, figuring I could cook up a simple Asian-style stir fry if I just went to the store and bought some tofu and veggies.
This is actually a picture taken a different time I made this randomly at my dad's house.  It was less-good in this picture because somehow I failed to adequately crisp the tofu, and I overcooked the veggies.  FAIL.  It was way better when I made it for the bachelorette crew, but there are no pictures from that time.

I had also made and brought zucchini muffins using zucchini from my own garden before they committed suicide.

So, anyway, Rosie was kind enough to ask me if I would want to make cookies for the wedding.  Something Autumn-themed and sophisticated.  Two-hundred and fifty (250) of them!!!!

Now, I'm not caterer.  I've never cooked professionally, and never made a really high volume of anything.  But I thought, you know, why not?  And I started to experiment with recipes.

The first one I tried was Autumn Clouds Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies from from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur.
Nothing like taking pictures in your dark kitchen in the evening, huh?
But I quickly eliminated this recipe from the running.  They're not sophisticated.  They're not even very good.  They're too soft and fluffy and don't store well enough to be able to make them the morning before the wedding and serve them the following evening.

Then I got to really thinking about what sort of thing I wanted to make.  It should taste like maple syrup, I thought.  And be kind of crunchy.  In my mind, I imagined the kind of crispy and crumbly almond cookies you could buy at Chinese restaurants, except with a really strong maple flavor.  I looked through all of my books and finally discovered this description in Veganomicon of Terry's Favorite Almond Cookies: "These crisp cookies are inspired by the kind one might find in their local Chinatown; flat, crunchy, with a distinctive almond aroma but without the obvious texture of chopped almonds."  Yeah, OK, now we're talking!

What's more, the recipe contains brown rice syrup, which a bit of Google-sleuthing easily allowed me to replace with maple syrup.  Then I went online and bought two pricy but critical things: grade B maple syrup (better and stronger than grade A) and pure maple extract.

I changed the recipe only slightly to make these into almond-maple cookies.  Took out a teaspoon of almond extract, added a teaspoon of maple.  Used 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and 1/2 tablespoon more almond milk instead of the brown rice syrup.  Presto!  Almond-maple cookies.
They really are uber-cute, but next time I'll press them down more so they'll end up flatter and crispier.  I thought they might spread, but they didn't, so I flattened them only very slightly.  I used a whole almond on top instead of sliced ones because I thought that it might be more sophisticated-looking, but what do you guys think?  Should I use sliced ones so that you can get some almond crunch goodness in every bite?  Or is it worth the sacrifice for the elegant simplicity of a single almond?

In other news, I just watched Forks Over Knives for the first time and isn't it funny how you can realize you're so close but not doing well enough?  I made fun of not using oil a bit before, but I think I'm going to give not using oil a real try.  And... I'm going to... cut down on... my nut-eating...and...my baking.  But I don't wanna!  I mean, I'll do my best to eat more whole foods meals.  I've already got the whole plant-based diet thing down, so that's cool.  I really was not expecting this movie to end up changing how I ate.  I was all, "Yeah, plant-based, cool, I know."  It's that whole foods part that I need to really improve upon.

Maybe I'll actually pick up a raw cookbook.  I cannot believe I just typed that.  But.  That blogger at Almost Vegan released a raw cookbook not too long ago, and her blog is, like, real awesome & junk.  I'll get it as soon as I've got the cookbook-buying spirit.  In the meantime, I think I should try some more Happy Herbivore recipes because she's all about the oil-free, whole foods way of cooking.

And, in other other news, the mourning doves took off today... 
...but they left their poop behind for me to remember them by.
I must admit that yesterday, I went out to look at them and I was like, "You guys are big now, it's time to take off, kiddos."

Seems like only yesterday, they looked like this:
Memories!  Good luck to you, little squabs.  It's a big world out there.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Birds, The Best Cookies & Worst Falafels, Pittsburgh Vegan Eats

Oh hi, what are you doing here?
Yes, yes, I know, it's time return to posting about food.  I shouldn't let my new bird family take over my life, even though they hang outside the kitchen door, whispering to me while I cook, "Melissa.  Hey Melissa.  Join us.  Join us.  You want to fly, don't you?  Join us and fllllllly."

Just kidding, actually, they look at me nervously while I take pictures of them.  I ain't crazy.  Yet.

So, food!  About two weeks ago, some friends of mine threw a little potluck party, which was held at Kate & Taku's awesome apartment.  Kate is vegan, and almost everything people brought to the party was vegan.  I brought two things: Mini Falafel from Party Vegan and Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Vegan Diner.  One thing I did not bring, however, was my camera.  BLAST!  Kate's got a nice camera, and she let me use it, but it's, like, a really nice camera and I couldn't seem to figure out how to make it take pictures and stuff.  Kate's friend Lora hopped right in, "I'll take them!"  Which was so nice of her, but they are certainly not the greatest pics ever.  Still, I cropped 'em and stuff, it's fine.

So, the falafels.  They're... OK.  I wouldn't make them again.  Very plain, but maybe it's my own fault because I left out the 1/2 teaspoon of coriander because I could have sworn I had coriander!  But then I didn't.  And the harissa mayo.  I'll admit, I always thought it was gross to eat mayo sauces.  This is made from the grapeseed oil kind of Veganaisse, but, I dunno, I still think it's kinda gross.  I added the amount of harissa that Robin Robertson said to add, but it was really plain, so I added lots more.  Still really plain.  Then I added a bunch of sriracha cuz, you know, when all else fails, sriracha.  Then it was alright.  People ate them and were polite, but these were really not too great.  Also, I think I food-processed them too much, they should have been chunkier and had more onions or something.

BUT THEY LOOKED COOL AT LEAST.

The cookies, though.  I've made these chocolate chip cookies, like, 10 times since I got this cookbook.  These are the best chocolate chip cookies.  Better than any of the ones in any of my other cookbooks, and I have a lot of cookbooks.  They are, as advertised in the name of the recipe, soft and chewy and totally perfect and excellent.  Plus, it contains no expensive ingredients like Earth Balance; instead, it's got canola oil and, frankly, not very much of it.  Only 3 tablespoons!  Plus, with the ground flax seed, you could, like, almost call this cookie, "healthy."  Or, if not healthy, you can at least say it's lower fat than most cookies and will give you some omega 3 fatty acids.

Because I love you, I've googled and found the recipe for you: Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies by Julie Hasson.

One more picture from the party, which I'm posting because in the background you can see one of the two quinoa salads at this party.  They were both good, but Taku's was better.  Don't tell Lora who made the other one!  And don't tell Taku, his head is big enough!

In other news, I've done a bit of eating around town.  I've mentioned before than on Thursdays, the law firm where I work buys us lunch from a local restaurant.  Usually, I have to get them to omit stuff and be like, "Can you add this and this and this to it?" in order for it to be still good and at least mostly vegan. I never know about bread ingredients, and also, sometimes restaurants are just flippin' tricky with how they cook stuff.  I don't overthink it, I just do my best.  BUT, every so often, a restaurant WILL have a vegan item.  One such restaurant is The Sonoma Grille, located in the Cultural District downtown.

They do really well with having a few vegetarian options on their lunch menu (see the menus at the above link), but especially exciting is they have one item that is vegan without adjustment: The Lo Mein and Vegetable Stir-Fry.  It can be ordered with meat or with tofu.  And it's good!  I mean, I really liked it.   I took a picture, but when my co-workers went to pick up our order, they had forgotten one item and had to wait a while before it had been cooked and brought out.  By the time they brought the grub back to the office, it looked like it had been sitting.  When I've gotten it before, it looked nicer.  Anyway, here it is:
Lo Mein and Vegetable Stir-Fry with Tofu from The Sonoma Grille in Pittsburgh, PA
For the record, my non-vegan, non-veggie coworkers also consistently like the food from this restaurant.

And then I also got some food during the opening weekend of a place in Shadyside called Steel Cactus.  They had one item on their menu that did not have cheese on it automatically, so I ordered it.  I knew I could have gotten something else and just had cheese omitted, but it just seems like the right thing to do to order the one vegan item.  It was the tofu tacos.
Tofu Tacos from Steel Cactus in Pittsburgh, PA
I was actually the only one at the table who enjoyed my food, though.  My two friends had mostly complaints about what they got.  Guess they should have gone vegan, cuz I thought this was good.  The tofu wasn't soft--they must have actually bothered to press it--and it was peppery, which I liked.  It had a lot of stuff on it, so, you know, that's cool.  To be fair to this place and my friends not digging it, though, 1) it was opening weekend 2) it was really, really crowded.  So who knows what this place will be like in the days and weeks and months to come.  I'm sure that most modern restaurant-owners know enough to read feedback on Urban Spoon, right?  Whatevs, I appreciate their vegan option, although I do not think they did it on purpose.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mama Bird and The Tweets, Part 2

There is so much to post about, but I'll start with the birds.

So, Mama Bird and and the Tweets are definitely mourning doves.  My facebook friends were kind enough to identify them.

For the longest time after my last entry about them, the adult bird never left the nest for me to take pictures of the nest, and see if any more eggs were laid.  Finally, five days ago, I heard the trilling sound Mama would make when she took off or landed and I rushed outside to see the nest.

She was there, but, for once, not sitting on the nest.  I took pictures.
I was kinda puzzled by what I saw.  I was like, "Are those babies, or did Mama Bird let her nest get moldy?"  Only because there was absolutely no movement in the nest, and no sound.  But thank Frith for the internet!  I Google image-searched for newborn mourning doves, and sure enough, that bunch of brown lumps is what they look like.

You know what else I learned?  First, that mourning doves always have broods of just two eggs.  So the clump of lumps was only two little 'uns.  Also, that trilling sound of their wings is one of their famously defining characteristics.  And, most astonishingly, did you know that mourning doves are one of the very few birds that produce some stuff to feed their young and "nurse" them with it?  I definitely saw the bigger bird doing something weird that seemed to be nursing.  What I'm unclear on, though, is does only the Mama bird nurses the young, or can Papa bird do so as well?  Because guess what?  Mourning doves are monogamous and they switch off to take care of the eggs and squabs.  COOL, RIGHT?  So Mama Bird and the Tweets has actually been a nuclear family band this whole time. 

At first, the parents seemed to sit with the squabs pretty much constantly.  They just sit right on top of them, squish squish.

But then yesterday when I came home from work, the nest had no adult supervision, yayyy!  Camera time.
Squee!
I was freakin' out, they're soooooo cute and little.  The whole time I was taking pictures, I was saying, "Look at you little puffballs, you're so cute, I just want to give you kisses, little baby baby puffers" like the big giant dork I am.

This morning, they were no longer unaccompanied minors, but when I came home from work today, they were once again by themselves and I got back up on my chair again.  They changed so much in one day!

While I was standing there saying, "Stop being so cute, you're making me die, I'm literally about to have a heart attack because you're so freaking adorable and I love your little faces!" one of the guardians suddenly returned.  I ain't afraid of no mourning dove, though.  I kept photographing!
Awww, the one on the right is sleepy.
I'll be back to food this weekend.  I have many things I'm dying to post about.  This week, instead of blogging, I kept deciding to, like, clean my apartment, and go to the laundromat, and get rid of excess junk on craigslist and freecycle and, you know, GET MY DAMN LIFE IN ORDER.  It needed to be done, and I have no regrets.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Vegetarians" Who Eat Fish

Few things get me as passionately upset as someone who claims to be a vegetarian, or who says they "don't eat meat," but who makes an exception for fish.

Let's get one thing straight.  The definition of "meat," according to dictionary.com, is "the flesh of animals as used for food."  I don't think that anyone out there will claim that fish are not animals. 

Maybe this is some old Pope's fault.  During Lent, Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Fridays.  So some old fool decided that "meat" did not apply to fish, insects, or reptiles.  Yet, people who are otherwise entirely non-religious, who went veg generally for humanitarian reasons, often decide to adopt this fallacious Catholic definition for their own.

And let's be honest about why they do this.  They do it because they want to eat meat, but they also want to not feel guilty.  They've heard of countless vegetarians who eat fish, so they join in with that.  Even Fiona Apple, celebrated vegan (and a musician I legitimately love), said in recent interview that she sometimes eats fish.  Look, I understand.  I understand that it's hard to give up meat, and that it may go in fits and starts.  I understand that many people crave animal flesh enough that they have to have a sacrificial lamb, as it were--one animal or type of animal that it is somehow "acceptable" to eat.

Of course, this takes some intellectual maneuvering.  The first time I ever heard the idea that fish don't have feelings, it was in the Nirvana song, "Something In the Way."  The line is, "It's OK to eat fish, 'cause they don't have any feelings."  I remember, though, that even as a child of roughly 9 or 10 when I heard this, I thought that Kurt Cobain was being sarcastic, making fun of people who would make such an odious claim.  Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't, I really don't know.  But if he was being serious, it's almost excusable, because it wasn't until 2003 that it was scientifically proven that fish feel pain. 

Here is a terrific article from The Daily Mail about what science has to say about this question of whether or not fish have feelings: Do Fish Have Feelings Too? It's a Slippery Question for Science.  It explains that fish are not as mindless as we once assumed.  And, most importantly, it has this to say at the end:

Humans currently kill a staggering 500,000,000,000 fish a year. And the way we catch - and kill - fish is not pretty.
Forget the riverside angler. Huge trawlers net fish in their tens of thousands. They are then dumped on deck, their swim bladders swelling grotesquely in the the low air pressure. The animals slowly suffocate. It is a very unpleasant death.
I'm glad this article at least brings up the issue of trawling.  I object to trawling mainly on the grounds that it empties the ocean of all life, both plant and animal, causing irreversible damage to ocean habitats that make it almost impossible for any animals that actually manage to evade capture to continue to survive, as their home and food sources are destroyed.  But they're also brought en masse quickly to the surface, killing them with the sudden pressure difference.  Suffocating them. 

I, for one, believe that fish have awareness and fear.  If you chase a fish, it swims away.  They care for their young, they have will to survive, and I believe that they are probably aware that there is something very, very wrong under the sea.  There are far fewer of them than there used to be, and the predators (us) become more and more sophisticated while they become more and more screwed.  Large fish can't even make it to an age where they're able to reproduce anymore--juveniles are hunted relentlessly despite their smaller size, as we've already hunted all the most profitable large mature fish.  You think that fish don't feel horror when they're hunted before they're even of age?  I think they do, but you can feel free to disagree with me if you like, and say I'm placing mammalian values onto fish.  That's your right, but it does not change that, at least, fish experience physical pain.
Nemo is scared.

I really do understand that it's difficult to give up all meat.  It's even more difficult to give up animal protein altogether.  I do my best, personally, and do not beat myself up or quit if I eat something non-vegan.  I just go back to cooking vegan for myself as soon as is possible.  I have two tips, though, for everyone out there struggling with not eating any meat:

1.  When I crave meat or other crappy things, I eat something good that I've cooked myself and I know is healthy and vegan and delicious, and once I'm not hungry anymore, I find that ALL cravings cease.
2.  If I really am thinking about or craving meat, I'll either make my own vegan sausage or, if I'm being totally lazy, buy some Tofurky whatever.  This really helps to pass the cravings.

Please do not eat fish!  Fish are animals, and they're endangered ones.  I know people think it's very healthy, and it would be the healthiest meat if we didn't live in a world where our waters are disgustingly polluted, but since we DO live in a world with grossly polluted water, fish is really not a very healthy meat.

And, please, if you're going to insist on eating fish, do not say you don't eat meat or otherwise call yourself a vegetarian, because you're not one.  I still support you eating less meat, but I wish it wouldn't be at the expense of fish, which happens to be the most environmentally problematic animal.  Yes, I'd argue even more problematic than cows, despite the enormous greenhouse gases that cows produce.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Work Lunch and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tomatoes?

So, remember I told you I'd had some vegan veggie stew for lunch in my entry Eating Vegan and Weight Issues?  Well, back to that.

Here is an actual picture of the lunch I ate that day, complete with my desk's telephone chord and some notes I'd scribbled onto scrap paper (I tried to eat them, but they weren't that good).
Pretty healthy fare, right there.  I had the bread without any type of butter or anything, dipped into my stew, because I was too lazy to pack some Earth Balance, and also, it's Pittsburgh BreadWorks bread: absolutely delicious unadorned.  I think about buying a breadmaker sometimes, or just getting into baking bread myself, and maybe someday I will, but because it is so easy for me to walk over to Donatelli's on a Saturday (their limited hours mean I cannot get there on a weekday) and buy BreadWorks thick Italian bread for $1.99, it's really difficult to NOT just do that.

Anyway, the stew is the Tofu Bouillabaisse from The Vegan Slow Cooker.  I picked this recipe for two reasons, really.  One, it calls for tomatoes--either canned or fresh.  I had a bunch of fresh ones from my garden ready for use, so I used them.  Two, it called for the spice saffron, and my friend Sara, after traveling abroad, brought me a baggie full it!  I was excited about this, but because it is such an incredibly expensive spice that most people do not have on hand in their fridge like I do now, not many recipes call for it.
I made an executive decision to replace one potato with a yam because I prefer them.  Also, the woman at the grocery store, when I went to buy a bulb of fennel was all like, "Ummm, what's this?"  "Fennel," I said, "a bulb of it."  She puzzled and puzzled over her screen for a long time.  "Is it an onion?" she asked.  "No," I said, "It's a vegetable herb thing. I think it's closer to celery?"  She called a co-worker over.  "What's this thing?" she asked, holding it up and glaring at it with bewilderment.  "Anise," the guy said, and left without even looking at her.  "Ohh, yeah, anise," I said, a bit ashamed.
But, for the record, I don't think anise and fennel are actually the same thing, though they're quite similar.  Whatever.

Anyway, the Tofu Bouillabaisse was pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but I got sick of it before I was out of what I'd cooked.  I ended up giving a bunch to my friends in containers and throwing out about two cups-worth.  Pity.

What's a girl to do with a ton of tomatoes, huh?  It seemed like all my tomatoes became ripe all at once.  I decided to make an old favorite, which I've written about on this blog before, Vegan Yum Yum's Super Quick Tomato Basil Cream Pasta.
I love this recipe.  I love that its two fresh ingredients--tomatoes and basil--are both growing out on my porch.  I love that I keep everything else on hand.  I love that I've made it enough times to remember to NOT add water, as she says to, but instead to ONLY add the "optional" wine.  I love that because it uses fresh tomatoes which may vary in taste and size, the recipe never tastes exactly the same twice.

Now, I don't have a fancy blender.  Laura Ulm, the author, suggests that you might need a Vita-Mix to get the creamy consistency you want in this recipe.  Well, maybe so.  But all I've got is a low-end food processor, so that's what I used.  OK, it's not completely creamy.  Still, I have no complaints about the taste.  Maybe someone out there wants to help me out by having a sham marriage with me in order to receive expensive kitchen gifts?  We can totally go our own ways afterward and split the take if you like.  Bonus if you've got citizenship to a country that has universal healthcare--then I'll put out.  Hahahaha!

For the rest of the tomatoes, I was super-excited to use the instructions from The Vegan Slow Cooker for Preserve-the-Harvest Diced Tomatoes.  I love love love the first section of this book that's all about making kitchen staples like beans and bouillon and ketchup and glazes.  As she instructs, I diced my tomatoes, slow-cooked them, then placed them into freezer-safe baggies in 1 and 1/2 cup measurements, which is about equivalent to a can of diced tomatoes, to freeze for the winter and use in place of cans in a recipe.  I had already been doing that with beans per her instructions, and her Chickeny Bouillon has absolutely improved my life.  No more buying bouillon cubes, I've got something better stored in my freezer.

I started this post with lunch, let me end it there.  Every once in a while, I fail to pack my lunch and have to search out some affordable vegan lunch in Downtown Pittsburgh.  I tell you, it ain't an easy quest, and I'm always mad at myself whenever I don't pack.  But, my favorite place to go is this new tiny little Mexican place called Madonna's that is on the corner of Smithfield and Forbes.  I went in there one day and saw that on their menu, they had a "value burrito" that contained only rice, beans, and hand-cut salsa.  The "chico" cost $4.50, the "grande" $5.60.  I ordered the smaller one and the owner/cashier asked me if I wanted and cheese or sour cream.  "No thank you," I told him, "No animal products."  He got all excited.  "Vegan??" He pronounced it, "vey-gan."  "I cook all the food vegan!  All veggie broth, nothing added unless you want cheese or meat!  I always eat vegan myself, except maybe once a week meat!"  Which, you know, cool.  I'm all for progress, even if it's not 100%.  And, also, how could I not love this guy?  He's so cool!  Anyway, the burrito was good, and quite large, and I sat in the restaurant and ate it with a lot of hot sauce and got really full and it made my blood sugar super-high later (whoops).
Madonna's Rice, Beans & Fresh Hand-Cut Salsa Value Burrito - $4.50, already over half-eaten

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mama Bird and the Tweets

I love my whole container garden, but my real pride and joy is the homemade Topsy-Turvy.

You've seen the commercials for Topsy-Turvys, right?  Apparently, everyone has.  I actually haven't, because I only watch TV off Netflix Watch Instantly, and never see commercials.  But while investigating about container gardening, I read about them, and I thought they sounded cool, but problematic.  Seems like a lot of people struggle to make things grow out of them, but I wanted to try anyway.  And I wanted to make my own, which I'd read on the internet I could do.

So, I took a large juice bottle, like the kind that they sell Hawaiian Punch in, cut the bottom off, put duct tape around the whole thing (because roots die if they're exposed to sunlight), drilled a hole on either side to put twine through, and put a plum tomato plant out the bottom, the former spout.
My homemade Topsy-Turvy
I planted some flowers at the top, and I was really proud of how the whole thing was growing!  All those people of the internet were saying that they don't have success with this style of planter, but my little plum tomatoes quickly bore fruit, and the flowers atop were thriving.  It all just looked really nice.
Then one day I noticed that the flowers on the top were dying in the middle, thriving around the perimeter.  And I didn't understand why.  It was a mystery that I sighed about but ultimately just accepted.

Then, one morning, I got up on my chair with my watering can and immediately screeched.  There was a bird sitting in the top of my planter!  She scared me, and I retreated off the chair.  Mama Bird was unmoved, though; she remained, stoically staking her claim to this brilliant spot.  I got my camera to take a picture of her.  I shot off only one blurry pic before my camera's zoom buzz spooked her and she took off.  Then I climbed on my chair to see if there was an egg or anything where she'd been sitting.
 Nothing.  But I could see now that this bird had been the one crushing my flowers for some time.  And then I left home to go to work, as I'm required to do.

When I got home, Mama Bird was back. I shot some pictures, and this time she just eyed me with suspicion, but didn't fly away.
I was getting excited.  Baby birds!  Right outside my kitchen door!  I already planned to call them Mama Bird and the Tweets, like they were a doo-wop girl group.

The next time she was gone, I got my chair, a container of water, and the camera and took another gander at the nest.
I was both excited and disappointed to see only one egg.  Not gonna lie, I was hoping for a few more!  Figuring an egg would survive my watering the remaining flowers and the plum tomatoes underneath, I poured water on the nest and went on my way.  I was actually there when Mama Bird returned, and she made this delightful little trill as she landed.

A day later, I was sitting in my living room when I heard the trill again and I went to check it out.  Turns out, she makes that noise whenever she takes off or lands, and once again, she was gone.  I wanted to water my plant and spy on her home up close with my camera, so I gathered my supplies and climbed onto the chair.  Sure enough, Mama had lain another egg.

How many more will she lay?  I hope a couple more!  I couldn't be more excited if I had laid these eggs myself.  She gets more active every day.  Maybe she's preparing for them to hatch?  I was finally able to get a pretty good picture of Mama Bird today, maybe you readers can help me identify her?  I really do not know what kind of bird she is, but I'm very curious.
Any experienced birders out there with some insight into types of city birds?  I have a feeling she's a dove--a female pigeon, but it's literally just that--a feeling.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eating Vegan and Weight Issues

I read this post today on the Gawker site Lifehacker: How I Lost 100 Pounds.  This will come as a surpise to exactly no one who reads this blog, but it has a real anti-vegetarian bent.  Diets go through trends, and right now, in our post-Atkins haze, there is a major pro-meat craze going on. This will change, of course, cycle back.  The conventional wisdom on food shifts so dramatically so often in this society that it's truly no wonder people are so confused about how to eat right.
I've been somewhat lucky when it comes to weight issues in my own life.  I do not struggle the way that many others do.  However, I have type 1 diabetes, which makes all eating, well, difficult.  I've been counting carbs since before it was cool.  I have done it so constantly for so long that it's second nature, something I could never simply forget to do because I do it without any thought (and often do wrong, truthfully).  Everything I eat must be counted and followed with a shot of insulin.  That's just my life. 

I first started eating vegan because I read a review of the book Veganomicon in Bust Magazine, and I thought it sounded interesting.  I wasn't even a vegetarian at the time.  But I bought it, and I kept it on my shelf for maybe close to a year before I ever actually cooked anything from it.  The ingredients scared me, and I didn't know where to get so much that was listed.  But the first time I ever baked anything from scratch besides the chocolate chip cookies recipe that is on the back of Nestle chip wrappers, it was the grocery store-friendly Chewy Chocolate-Raspberry Cookies  from V-Con, and it was actually an utter fail.  My oven, having never been used, overcooked everything at first, and the cookies both burned and melted.  But I didn't give up!  I made them again, lowering the baking time, and had a success on my hands.  The first dinner recipe I made was the Shepherdess Pie, once I'd located tempeh at the store.  And I expanded my food and cooking knowledge from there.

What I found, cooking and eating from this book, was that when I ate vegan, it was easier to control my blood sugar.  Many diabetics eat just the opposite--I know of many paleo-diabetics.  They eat practically nothing but meat, it seems to me, and they say that the protein keeps their sugar level, or some such thing.  But, in my experience, no food keeps your sugar "level."  Either your sugar is rising from food and you need to inject some insulin, it's going down and you need to eat something, or your sugar levels-off naturally from not having any food being absorbed at that time.  When I eat too much protein, my sugar keeps rising, slowly, over the course of hours, requiring multiple injections.  I prefer to eat lower protein, lower fat.  Carbs don't bother me--I can count them, give myself some insulin to counter them, and stop worrying.

Now, look, I know that many other diabetics are on a pump, which delivers insulin constantly, so maybe I can see why a high-protein diet would work for them.  Frankly, this is one of the many reasons I never intend to switch to a pump.  It would not work for my diet, it seems, now that I am committed to a plant-based diet.

But back to the article.

The author, James Golick, states that he had been a vegetarian for ten years before he went on his weight-loss journey, but gave it up because he thought it made it more difficult to lose weight. His reason for believing that, actually, is sound. He writes:
At home, cooking my own meals from my own groceries, vegetarianism was perfectly fine. But, every time I ate in a restaurant, on the street, or even at a friend's place, my options were nearly invariably some combination of pasta, bread, and sugar.
I may not be totally qualified to comment on this question of how to lose a lot of weight, but I'm going to offer my opinion anyway.

First and foremost, I think that one must cook for one's self if he or she intends to eat well and lose weight.  If you cook, you can completely avoid processed food.  You can make it low fat, you can make it low carb, you can avoid stuff you don't like, whatever.  Eating out will always break your diet.  It breaks mine!  You have no idea how often I end up with non-vegan ingredients when I eat out.  I don't freak about it, but I always wish I were eating something I made myself that would no doubt taste better and be healthier and be vegan. 

Cooking makes you appreciate food.  It brings a joy to eating that does not come when you eat out, even if you eat at a good vegan restaurant.  There is an importance, I think, to eating mindfully, not mindlessly.  I think it's interesting that Golick, in the above quote, mentions eating "on the street."  I'm sure he means from food carts or something.  But I think it speaks to a tendency to just pick up food wherever.  I do not think this is conducive to weight loss. 

I do agree with Golick that one must eliminate processed food from one's diet.  But, for some reason, he considers sugar, in general, to be processed.  Same with flour.  I disagree.  Those things might not help you to lose weight, but that does not mean automatically that they are processed foods.

Golick writes:
My current diet is really simple: no processed carbs (that includes 'carbless' sugar replacements except stevia). I go through periods where I eat a ton of fruits and vegetables, but lately, I've mostly been eating meat and fish.
Do I miss chocolate and ice cream? Definitely. But I eat guilt-free bacon or chicken wings whenever I feel like it, and seeing results makes the sacrifice more than worthwhile.
A few things about this. First, as a person with diabetes who uses sugar substitutes (usally Equal) in her coffee and in other things occasionally, and drinks diet soda, I beg to differ. Those things are TOO carbless. They don't raise my blood sugar. If they did contain carbs, they would raise my blood sugar. Plain and simple, dude. It's not some conspiracy to make you gain weight. These chemical things may not be health foods, but they are not filling you with carbs.

But, more importantly, just what kind of ex-vegetarian is this guy?  Why was he even a vegetarian before?  Did he just do it because it used to be a trend he thought was cool and now it's not?  I mean, I'm mainly an environment/health vegan-eater myself, but most people do it for the animals, and the outrageous cruelty of factory farming.  But this guy eats "guilt-free bacon and chicken wings whenever [he] feel[s] like it"?  How can he not suffer guilt?  He should REALLY suffer guilt about this, if he was ever a vegetarian.  And fish!  FISH???  He really should know that fish are going extinct so that people like him can fool themselves into thinking they're eating healthy while they're actually eating something that, at best, is filled with all the chemical pollutants and crude oil and mercury we've ever put into our oceans, and, at worst, will very soon no longer exist, for we're eating them all.  Feel guilty, man.  Feel really, really guilty.

And, if he's eating these things whenever he wants, he's not keeping that weight off.  I'm sorry.  This dude has spoken too soon.

Golick writes about exercise:
Exercise has never helped me lose weight. For much of the time that I was grossly over weight, I was also extremely physically active, often whitewater kayaking or downhill skiing for several hours 4 or 5 days a week, and continuing to put on fat.
Man, I hear ya.  I struggle with exercise myself, because it makes my blood sugar drop, which makes me have to eat more, which makes it so that you don't lose any weight as a result of it.  I don't engage in any heavy exercise.  The only thing I do is bicycle to and from work.

But let me tell you, ever since I did start that daily bicycle trip, I have become more toned.  I get out of breath less easily.  I don't think my weight has dropped, but I have no doubt that it is important and healthful to add what I call "incidental physical activity" into your life.  So, this doesn't mean you should go out of your way to exercise really hard.  It means you should drive less and walk more, or bicycle.  A morning brisk walk to work may be just the thing.  When you exercise, your body uses insulin more effectively, which is basically a fancy technical way of saying it increases your metabolism.  I'm not an expert in this, but, frankly, I think that low-impact, extended, consistent exercise does more to speed your metabolism than high-impact, quick, exhausting bursts of it every-so-often does.  Also, is "downhill skiing" exercise?  I really don't know, so feel free to answer that question.

Here's where Golick says something right again, though:
The best diet is the one that you can stick to, even if the weight loss is slower.
See, I think that every diet will help you lose weight, at least for a time.  Even if we take on vastly different diets, either one can and probably will result in lost weight.  I do not doubt this.  So, the question is, how do we eat in a way that doesn't cause destruction to the earth, and also to our souls? How do we stick to a diet? The answer is definitely not in eating more meat and fish.  One of the brilliant things about a vegan diet is that you can be driven by not just your own self-interest to stick to it, but also by a holistic desire for a better world.  Personally, I'm a lot more likely to be driven by my principles than by vanity.  I know not everyone is like that, but I don't think that having principles to drive how you eat as well as your own self-interest can possibly do anything but help you stick with it.

Today, for lunch, I had some homemade vegetable stew (which I'll post about soon), one slice of thick Italian bread, some salad with balsamic vinaigrette, cucumbers from my garden, and sunflower seeds, and a peach.  If I get hungry later, I've got some roasted, salted peanuts to snack on.  My stew has onion and garlic that was cooked in olive oil, so it's got fat.  The dressing in my salad is also oil-based, plus the sunflower seeds are fatty.  The stew contains potatoes, which NPR told me is the food which, no matter in what way you eat them, correlates the strongest to weight gain (nuts and seeds correlate the strongest with weight loss).  And the bread, of course.  Carbalicious.

Now, I'm not trying to be bossypants here, but I'm fairly certain that if this guy ate what I ate for lunch today, and ate things like that every day, and stopped eating out, he'd keep on the weight-loss train. 

But, to be honest, I do not judge him for his weight.  I think if he ate a healthful vegan diet, he'd be relatively svelte, but even if he wieghed 500 lbs, I would not think any less of him.  I only think less of him for eating a meat and fish-based diet, and promoting it to strangers on the internet.  And, frankly, he would not have earned my notice or ire if he hadn't stated that he was formerly a vegetarian but gave it up.  I'd have just ignored his article. 

James Golick, eat fruit and veggies.  Nuts, tofu.  Whole grains.  Not too much.  Eat slowly, mindfully.  Cook for yourself.  Don't always deny yourself sugar, unless you just don't want any sugar, which is fine too.  If you feel you must eat animal products, get some organic eggs.  Indulge in meat mindfully and enjoy every second of it, because it is a treat that costs the world both in terms of resources and suffering.  Don't write articles that discourage others from eating vegetarian and vegan because that's not nice.  So not nice, in fact, that if there were such a thing as hell, I think it could  possibly cause you to go there.  Writing off veg diets is like being a global warming denier.  It's both wrong and dangerous.  I want you to like yourself and to be happy, but I don't think extensive weight loss through these unsustainable diets where you're still eating "on the street" is the way to peace of mind and happiness.  Let me give you some good cookbooks.
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