Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hot Summertime = Cool Raw Soups

The Vita-Mix has opened up a whole new world of simplicity and ease. We finally invested in one and couldn't be happier with what we've got in return: a powerful blender that we use to make an assortment of awesomeness every day.

One thing we've been making a lot of, during these drenchingly hot summer days, is raw soup. Cool, fresh, and light, these soups really hit the spot and cool the brow. I usually serve them alongside the ubiquitious kale salad. It makes for a filling, interesting, and light dinner. It's also hella nutritious.

Last night, we made Kristin Suzanne's Harvest Soup, served with a side of kale salad.

It was lovely. The soup was flavorful and filling. We topped it with some chopped tomato and the other half of our avocado. It has definitely earned a spot in our raw soup rotation now.

I highly suggest making some raw soup, even if you don't have the fantastic Vita-Mix. There are plenty of blender friendly recipes out there to experiment with.

I wanted to leave you with a few articles that I've found interesting this week:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"It's a Personal Choice" - Rethinking an Old Standby

I admit it. In conversations about my veganism, I sometimes take the easy road - the simpler explanation, the easier-to-swallow discussion, the quick dismissal of the conversation when it reaches a level of discomfort.

In a conversation with someone about my veganism, I’ve been known to say something very peaceful and non-confrontational, along the lines of “It’s really a personal choice. I don’t care what other people do.” Usually, this puts me in a safe place where I don’t appear to be pushy and the other person can walk away without thinking too much about what I’ve said.

It’s a crutch I fall back on all the time, because I’m a non-confrontational person. I don’t really like having an argument or discussion about animal rights all the time, so I cop out sometimes.

I used to think that there wasn’t anything wrong with this statement. And maybe there isn’t, but for me lately, I’ve been rethinking my position on this common statement of mine.

When a person supports factory farms (or small farms), they are making a choice. That much is true. The statement itself is not incorrect. It technically is a choice that people in society make. But when I say “it’s a personal choice,” I give an impression. I’m indicating eating animals is something that can be done casually.

In reality, the way animals are treated on factory farms is horrific. By saying “it’s a personal choice,” I downgrade what is truly at stake here - the life of living, breathing beings – to a casual choice. I present the body of an animal as something a human can carelessly choose to destroy or not to destroy. It is not a casual thing. It is desperate, painful, and charged with feeling. By reducing it to a simple “choice,” I rob the situation of the truth, while reinforcing the status-quo.

By not taking a moment to feel uncomfortable and really talk about what I truly believe, I let a chance slip by where I can really make people rethink their stance.

I don’t have to be crazy, confrontational, or angry. I could just be up front and honest. Instead of lying and saying, “I don’t care what other people do,” (I do care) I can say simply, “I refuse to support or participate in the suffering and death of animals.” That statement is simple, powerful, and true.

As much as I hate someone thinking of me as “that angry vegan,” I think I’d rather speak my truth, be a little uncomfortable, and take a stance for those ever-suffering farm animals.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Last month, I did 108 Sun Salutations As (and Sun Salutation Bs) in about an hour and a half. If you know what a Sun Salutation is, you may have gasped a little. If you don't know what that is, look at the videos I linked to first and then come back to this post.

Okay, so that is a pretty intense workout, right? I thought my arms would be completely useless after my 50th Chaturanga. And they were. I was modifying my Sun Salutations by plopping onto the ground with a sweaty grunt and doing a half hearted Cobra instead of an Upward Facing Dog. I was prepared to have ridiculously sore arms and shoulders for at least a week.

Surprisingly, my arms were barely sore at all. It was as if I had a moderate weight lifting day at the gym.

The muscle group that was the most sore surprised me: my hamstrings.

I have never had a sore muscle like this in my entire life. Seriously. I grunted in pain every time I sat down or moved a little. Walking up and down stairs was wincingly painful. The thought of stretching my hamstrings in a yoga pose made me want to throw up. My hamstrings were insanely sore for almost a full week and a half.

Several weeks later, I could still feel the soreness, deep in the tissues of my hamstrings. I had a yoga teacher training class while my hamstrings were still sore and while we didn't focus on the hamstrings specifically, it was seriously painful. It was a full weekend of yoga, with lots of stretching. I thought that might be good for my hamstrings. It might give them a bit of a stretch after a full week of avoiding anything that might pull those tortured muscles. Then, later as I fought the urge to throw up in Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose, I realized I was probably doing more harm than good by stretching them, even gently, even by modifying my usual poses.

Why is it so hard for us to give our bodies the necessary time to heal? The thoughts floating around in my head were silly, if not outright ridiculous. "I'll lose all the work I've put into limbering up my hamstrings!" "Your practice will suffer!" etc, etc. I actually had to argue with my own mind to give my body the rest it needs to repair itself. The hamstrings are notoriously slow to heal. I needed to give my legs at least three weeks ("Three weeks! You'll forget how to do Standing Forward Bend!") and then I need to strengthen them with weightlifting. It'll be a long process, but it was clear my muscles were over stretched and maybe even ripped. I needed to let them heal.

I know a lot of people, besides myself, probably fight with themselves over this same issue. We don't want to take the time to heal ourselves for fear that we'll lose the work that we've put into our chosen activity. Our minds scream that we don't need to take a break, it'll be alright, you're strong. But it's that gut feeling (you know, the throw-up reflex) that lets us know that we must let ourselves heal. We can't continue to grow as a yogi or a runner or a cyclist if we don't let our bodies rest. The poses I'm so worried about losing flexibility in have suffered tremendously because of this injury. I can't get myself in a full Standing Forward Bend if I wanted to. My hamstrings literally won't let me. Even the half Standing Forward Bend has my face scrunched up in pain.

It's time to let myself heal and ignore the voice in my head that wants me to bend a little deeper. My hamstrings will thank me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Heaven = Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

When I watched Chef Chloe sweep the Cupcake Wars episode she competed on, I knew I had to make one of her cupcakes. Luckily, she generously posted up the recipe for her winning cupcakes. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to try what ended up being the best cupcakes (vegan or otherwise) I have had to date.

She has two of her other winning cupcake recipes up and around the Internets – Chocolate Orange and Raspberry Tiramisu. These look a smidgen more difficult than the Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes.

I decided to do the easiest one first and if it was good, then I’d try the rest. I tend to trust only a few vegan bakers, namely Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and if it’s not her recipe, I look at it with suspicion.

After baking these delicious pretties, Chloe makes my short list of vegan bakers I trust. I’m definitely making the rest of her cupcakes!

I made the frosting with coconut oil, which was a first for me. It turned out well, with a sweet, slightly coconut taste. I had to omit the espresso, because I couldn’t find it and I wasn’t in the mood to go on a search. I don’t believe I missed it at all.

The only word of warning I’d like to give about these cupcakes is that the strawberry slices tend to get watery after they sit around for a day or two, causing the frosting to melt and the cupcake to get a little soggy. I’d either leave the strawberry off until serving time or eat them all in one sitting.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vegan Junk Food: Tofurky Pizza Review

It’s official.

The crappy frozen pizza you loved to scarf down as a child is now vegan… and awesome.

Tofurky has recently released a frozen, thin crust pizza with its faux meat and Daiya cheese. Yes, you heard that correctly – Daiya cheese.

The Husband and I tried two different kinds: Pepperoni and the Italian Sausage with Fire-roasted Veggies. We didn't try the last variation, Cheese Pizza.

On both pizzas the crust is very thin and crispy, so it yields to the strong flavors of the Tofurky “meats” and the Daiya cheese.

The Roasted Vegetable and Sausage Pizza had a respectable amount of thinly chopped veggies (mostly peppers), which held their own in the flavor department. The sausage was crumbled in small pieces and had a wonderful flavor. I’m not normally a fan of Tofurky sausages. (I don’t think they taste the best. I’m a Field Roast fan.) Yet, somehow, they really worked in combination with the other flavors present. The Daiya cheese was the perfect backdrop to the rest of the pizza. It tasted just like it should – perfectly cheesy.

The Pepperoni Pizza tasted like… pepperoni pizza. It was pretty amazing actually. It tasted like what you remember frozen pepperoni pizza tasting like. The Daiya and the pepperoni worked together fantastically in this pizza.

Overall, I’d say Tofurky’s new pizzas fill a much needed gap in the vegan junk food department. The Husband always says that, for whatever reason, he misses junky, frozen pizza most of all from his pre-vegan days. I suspect many others feel the same. I wasn’t ever a huge fan of frozen pizza, but I am a huge fan of Tofurky’s new pizzas. They are a perfect, light easy dinner alongside a crispy salad.

These aren’t in many stores yet. We found them at our favorite health food store in Maryland when we were up there visiting for the 4rth of July. We put them in a container with ice for the road trip home. If you don’t see them in your local health food freezer, make sure to put in a request for them to carry the new Tofurky Pizzas.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Exercise Makes You Smarter

Yesterday, the NY Times Well Blog cites a study showing that exercise increases the production of neurons in our brains, thus improving thinking. Apparently, our brains have bone-morphogenetic proteins (BMP) that control, or often destroy, the growth of new brain cells. Exercise increases the amount of a brain protein, awesomely called Noggin, that cuts BMP production by up to 50%. Thus, allowing the growth of more brain cells. The article points out that there is some questions still remaining about how too much Noggin or too much BMP might cause some craziness in the brain, but it seems like exercise won't create an overabundance of Noggin, even if you run for hours.

I think this is fascinating stuff. It seems to me that our bodies are genetically equipped to reward us for movement. I mean, think about it. Our ancestors had to move around all the time just to survive. It makes sense that our brains are wired to reward us for all that exertion by making us smarter.

I'm definitely not a scientist, but it makes me wonder if our brains adapted to all the movement we had to do, creating more brain cells, making us smarter and helping us survive and procreate.

If nothing else, this news really reinforces a commitment to working out. That can be a new mantra as you sweat away on a run or on your bike: Create more Noggin!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Patience is a Garden

I know it's been a ridiculously long time since I last posted. I tend to get the blogging blues. I run out of things to say or I get discouraged at the concept of all my words and pictures languishing unread and unappreciated. Thus, the long time between posts. I come back determined to write regularly about the things that are important to me - veganism, food, yoga, and health. So, hopefully, I can keep it up for real this time.

Like my gently sprouting resolve to write more on this blog, The Husband and I have planted a new garden.

This is when we first planted the garden. We were so proud!

Our backyard was completely and sadly unkempt when we first moved in, so we decided to fix it up and grow some food. This summer is our test garden. We didn't plant a lot, being totally gardening newbies. We slaved away in the ridiculous NC humidity to clean out the backyard and force it into some semblance of order. We bought organic soil (yay for Whole Foods and their $3.99 soil) and organic veggies (once again, thanks to Whole Foods), then planted them with lots of tredipation and hope. We planted:

- two cucumber plants
- three tomato plants (heirloom varieties)
- purple jalapanos
- yellow bell peppers

So far, we have yet to kill any of them. Although it is still early. Our purple jalapanos plant has actually produced. The pepper is adorable and looks like an itty-bitty eggplant.

One of the cucumber plants has grown and flowered, while the other one seems to be stunted. It hasn't really grown, but it hasn't yet died. So, hope lives on that it is just a runt.

The tomato plants are getting huge, but haven't yet flowered or produced. We finally got some of those little cages that keep the tomato plants from falling over. Now we just need them to get big enough to fall over...

The bell pepper hasn't grown much either, nor has it produced or flowered.

I'm so interested in the garden and check on it all the time, like by watching it closely I might catch a flower blooming or a tomato ripening. You know a watched pot never boils, so I guess a watched garden never grows! Send me patience! :)