Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Southern Feast

Tonight my Georgia (the state)-native mother-in-law helped me create a delicious vegan southern feast for dinner. Sorry we forgot to take pictures! I made this collage of the staples we used, which brought back memories for my MIL and got my preschooler excited about trying some new foods.

Dish #1: Pan-fried okra and potatoes. I'd never bought okra before yesterday. Honestly I'm not a big fan of the gooey vegetable. But my MIL loves it and I wanted to surprise her. I learned that, when choosing fresh okra from the store, smaller is usually better, and firm is better than flimsy. But they should not be too hard either. I think I did ok. We sliced each thin (they're very pretty once sliced, like little stars) and cubed a few potatoes into tiny pieces. I tossed them both in a mixture of flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper. Then pan-fried them in canola oil. Yum.

Dish #2: Collard greens with "bacon." Traditional southern collards almost always call for a ham hock or bacon. Or both. I pan fried some fakin bacon and used that in simple braised fresh collards. I was surprised at how yummy they were. They were my son's favorite. There's nothing like watching a 3-year-old stuff his face with cooked leafy green vegetables.

Dish #3: Blackeyed peas with "sausage." Ok have you ever tried soy chorizo? The stuff is unbelievable. And the recipe is laughably simple: 2 cans of rinsed, drained blackeyed peas, and 1 tube of soy chorizo (1/2 a package). (I used the Trader Joes brand.) Heat, stir, serve. Tastes like a complicated dish slaved over for hours.

Dish #4: Quinoa pilaf. Ok, NOT traditional southern, but I wanted to include a healthy grain. We pretended it was grits, but of course quinoa is a much better source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Dish #5: Sliced cucumbers and tomatoes in vinegar and dill. Southern, I'm not sure... but what American vegetable garden is without cukes and tomatoes? I watered down the vinegar and threw on some dried dill.

It's fun to pick a food theme and run with it. And in this day and age, there's almost nothing you can't veganize yet still maintain an authentic look and flavor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vegan Treats Get Fancy

Check out this recent story from the Washington Post -- a former Ritz Carlton pastry chef is baking vegan cookies! Every week I see more evidence of a mainstream acceptance of vegan foods and a vegan lifestyle. This article also features a recipe for vegan biscotti -- a challenging cookie to veganize. I can't wait to try it. Here's the recipe for Chocolate Ginger Biscotti, and Pecan Snowballs. One thing is for sure: vegans aren't hurtin' for dessert. And even non-vegans (as this article agrees) are jumping on the vegan dessert bandwagon -- my dad (a self proclaimed NON VEGAN) prefers the vegan version of Whole Foods bakery chocolate chip cookies to the traditional ones. It's endearing, the way he thinks he's boosting his health with these cookies as if they were steamed kale, but I'm not about to burst his bubble. And I've yet to meet anyone who did NOT take second helpings of my vegan chocolate mousse pie, made, of course, with tofu.

Now, to find a vegan meringue....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bone Health: not only about calcium

It's always been a pet peeve of mine that "calcium" is synonymous with "bone health." There's no question that bone is predominantly calcium and that dietary calcium is important. However, there are so many other factors that are crucial to bone health, but they don't get all that much attention. This is probably due to the Dairy Council's fine job at convincing most Americans that without dairy products and all that calcium, they can't possibly have strong bones. Nutrition experts know that this is ridiculous; dairy products are just one food (essentially milk from a cow), and cultures worldwide and for thousands of years have enjoyed superior bone health without a spec of dairy. Dairy farming is a relatively recent advent in history, and not practiced by all cultures. Furthermore, we know that dairy is not the secret to osteoporosis prevention, because the countries with the highest intakes of dairy products also have the highest osteoporosis rates. Calcium is abundant in whole plant foods; we don't NEED dairy products to get calcium.

Want strong bones? It's not only the calcium you take IN that matters, it is important not to LOSE the calcium that you have. And it turns out that if you're doing all the wrong things and you're LOSING calcium from your bones, all the calcium pills in the world won't do much for you. You have to RETAIN that calcium, and the best way to promote calcium retention is to practice those habits that make the most difference. These include:

EXERCISE. Weight-bearing exercise is the cornerstone of bone density. Even seniors can build bone mass by doing regular, moderate exercises. Indeed, studies have shown tremendous benefit to certain exercises with regard to reduced risk of fractures. Free weights, running, walking are all good bone-building activities. Swimming and biking are great cardio workouts but aren't good bone-builders; mix up your routine for the best results.

MAXIMIZE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. A recent study out of Boston published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that forcing an alkaline environment in the gut promoted bone retention, while an acidic environment promoted bone loss. This relationship has been known for some time, but this study actually measured the results in a methodical fashion. The authors suggest that increasing fruit and vegetable intake will naturally help lean the environment more alkaline, helping to retain bone mass. Yup, ANOTHER benefit to eating lots of fruits and vegetables! Foods like meat and dairy promote acidic environments, leading to bone loss.

MINIMIZE ANIMAL PROTEIN AND SODIUM. Both have been linked to calcium excretion.

TAKE A VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENT. The research keeps pouring in about vitamin D. Vegan or not, take 1000 IU a day. Vitamin D is absolutely crucial for bone health; indeed the #1 symptom of vitamin D deficiency is rickets, which is a bone disease. Furthermore, studies have shown that supplementing with D reduces fracture risk. See for more information.

EAT YOUR SALAD. Vitamin K is an important vitamin for bone health. It is found mostly in leafy green vegetables (raw or cooked, doesn't matter). Potassium, a mineral found in abundance in most fruits and vegetables, is also important. Do you see a pattern?

Getting back to my point that calcium intake is still important, the best vegan calcium sources include leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified soy milk and OJ, and some dried fruits. Base your diet on a nice variety among the Basic 4 (whole grains, nuts/beans/seeds, fruits, and vegetables), and follow the guidelines above, and you're well on your way to optimal bone health.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A vegan gelatin?

Has it really been this long since I've posted? Yikes, time flies this time of year, doesn't it? I'll be more consistent in '09.

Well I am excited about a story I just read, brought to my attention by the nutrition news group nutraingredients: a new vegan gelatin is in the works!

This is great news for vegans and vegetarians (since an animal must be slaughtered to manufacture traditional gelatin), because a few treats are almost always made with gelatin, most notably marshmallows. And sadly, our beloved Emes vegan marshmallows (which were made with seaweed-based "gelatin") have ceased to exist for many years now. (There are vegan marshmallows out there -- Sweet & Sara's -- but they're not priced like the Campfire ones [nor do they look like the ones we used to float in our cocoa]. You can get them at Cosmos and Vegan Essentials.) According to a recent article in Vegetarian Journal, the reason for the lack of vegan gelatin is simply cost: it is far more expensive to manufacture a vegetarian gelatin than an animal gelatin. But if the folks at Avebe (an Australia-based company) can swing it, gelatin made from slaughterhouse byproducts might become a distant memory.

Things like candies and supplement capsules often contain gelatin, so hopefully this new vegan gelatin will be the standard for such products and more.