Archive for December, 2009

January Challenge

(Nirvana by E. Pi Longo via Flickr)


I just love that word. It brings to mind calming waters, a clear pasture, a smooth stone, and all that other Zen-y jazz. I’ve spent the past few months really focusing on doing just that. Simplifying my life. Getting rid of excess. Clearing space so I can clear my head.

Notice I said “Simplify” and not “Organize.” I spent years and lots of energy trying to organize my life. Multiple notepads and lists, labeled clothes baskets, holders for my ten million pens, boxes for the twenty million toys, bulk buying of stuff we don’t even really need (just in case!), endless hours planning and re-planning our “next big organization project.” Enough. I’m done with trying to rearrange junk to make it all fit. I love the look and feel of clear surfaces, near-empty drawers, and unused space. Come to find out, we don’t actually need more space in our home. We just need a lot less stuff.

An important figure in my life liked to collect things. Well, “liked” is a strong word. She felt a compulsion to hold onto items. She felt more secure when she had multiples of the same item, just as back up. Her house was clean, no doubt, but so cluttered that it was difficult to breathe in there. No clear walkways, no clean surfaces. Every table had neat stacks of magazines or books on top, or nick nacks or mixed-matched picture frames. She had furniture on every wall and in every available space. Half-finished projects sat around waiting for attention. Bookshelves overflowed with books that hadn’t been touched in twenty years. One of the bedrooms was so full of junk you couldn’t even see the bed. All this so she would have her “stuff,” just in case. After she passed away we found lists made on note cards detailing the contents of cabinets and drawers. She had so much stuff, yet her imbalanced desires for organization and hoarding drove her to list out exactly how many plastic containers, bread machines, and pairs of scissors were in each drawer. She died with all of these unfinished projects left, ones that had been a burden on her for years and years. I can’t tell you the number of times she muttered the line, “I need to get that back bedroom cleaned out. Then I can turn it into…” She never got around to it, in the 18 years she lived in that house. My sister and sister-in-law did it in a weekend.

I don’t want this for my life or for my children’s lives. I don’t want “stuff” to dominate my thoughts and patterns. I want to be free of excess, whether that be actual things or the way I write or how I choose to spend my leisure time.

The goal of the month for January is Simple. That’s it. Just keep it Simple.

This month I’m going to share some steps I’ve taken to create a more simple existence, as well as try new ways of making my everyday life flow more smoothly. I’m always open to suggestions via comments, and I hope you’ll choose to go on this journey with me. Happy New Year, everyone!

(My single favorite resource for Simple Living is the blog “Zen Habits.” The author has another site called “Mnmlist” that’s got a ton of information on how to simplify. Consider them required reading for the next month!)


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Vegan Challenge Roundup

Today is the 30th day of my Vegan Challenge, and I feel great. The first couple of weeks I felt tired and weak, but after tweaking some things (laying off the processed crap and relying more on natural foods and less on “fake” meats) I feel much better.

It hasn’t really been that difficult. The hardest thing for me was the planning, because it’s not like I could just run in a fast-food place while I was out running errands and grab a chicken sandwich. At some places, I can’t even eat their fries because they have animal lard in them. Once I learned to pack a PB&J sandwich or some almonds, I was good to go.

I slipped once, and that was on Christmas Eve. Other than that, I wasn’t really tempted after the first few days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t lose any weight in the end. I lost a couple of pounds at the beginning, but once I mastered the art of vegan cookies, it was so on. Needless to say, I’ll be back on the Weight Watchers program come January 1st. (1/3 cup tofu, 2 points!)

I feel so much better without dairy that I plan on continuing that throughout next year. I’m not going to be super strict about it, though, and will eat when I’m invited to someone else’s house and they prepare a meal with butter or milk or cheese. So, yeah, invite me over and serve cheese, please!

As far as meat, I’m a bit torn. We have local, hormone-free beef in our freezer, and I’m not sure how I feel about eating that on occasion. I’m thinking I will at some point, but I’m not ready just yet.

I do have to be honest and say that I’m eating sushi tomorrow for my New Year’s Eve dinner and I’m gonna tear it up.

I hope this last month has been eye-opening to someone out there, as it sure has for me.

Check back tomorrow when I go into detail about January’s Challenge…Simplifying!

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Cheatin’ with Santa

It was the sweet potato casserole with pools of butter on top that got me. And the lemon icebox pie, which is my favoritist dessert my mother-in-law makes just for me. I was fine for an hour or so after scarfing it down, but let’s just say later that night and most of Christmas day, I was hurtin’.

I guess my body had gotten used to not having dairy in my system, and when I reintroduced it with so much at once, it protested. Loudly and painfully. I experienced cramps and bloating and some other unmentionables. I noticed lots of tiny blemishes on my face the morning after my dairy binge. I also felt lethargic and run-down and had the sniffles, which have now disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

This incident makes me aware of just how much our bodies depend on good nutrition, and also how great a plant-based diet is for our digestion and overall health. It also reinforced my belief that cow milk is for baby cows, not humans.

As many as 80% of African Americans, 90% of Asians, and 60% of Hispanics have some degree of milk intolerance. Overall, about 75% of the world’s population, including 25% of those in the U.S., lose their lactase enzymes after weaning. This means the ability to break milk down into digestible forms is gone once we hit childhood. It used to be said that folks who didn’t have this enzyme were “lactose intolerant” but now we’ve found that those of us who can tolerate milk as adults actually have a genetic mutation, labeling us “lactase persistent.” So who’s the freak now? (I kid, I kid).

One more issue I want to touch on (and there are many many reasons out there to stop consuming milk, by the way. I’m not discussing them all in this post, but I do urge you to read up on milk intolerance and anything related to dairy consumption and our health. Just make sure it’s not sponsored by the dairy industry!) is the myth that milk prevents osteoporosis. This has been proven to be false. In fact, after doing my own research, I believe over-consumption of meat and dairy products may actually be the main cause of weak bones. It’s true that milk contains a lot of calcium, but animal protein causes a loss of calcium in our bones by actually leaching it out. So any potential gain in calcium by consuming dairy is canceled out by the animal protein.

Think about it…how many of your parents or grandparents have broken hips or fractured other bones in their old age? And you know you’ve seen these same people chow down on cheese, eggs, meat, and milk their entire lives. Why is it that Americans have a higher rate of osteoporosis and hip fractures than do women in China, who consume very little dairy? Maybe starting our morning off with eggs, yogurt, and a big glass of milk isn’t such a great idea after all. (facts found on Cornell U’s website)

How do we get calcium without consuming dairy? Easy:

Table 1.
Calcium and Magnesium in Foods
Food Source Calcium Magnesium
Barley (1 cup) 57 158 57 158
Black turtle beans (1 cup, boiled) 103 91
Broccoli (1 cup, boiled) 94 38
Brussels sprouts (8 sprouts) 56 32
Butternut squash (1 cup, boiled) 84 60
Chick peas (1 cup, canned) 80 78
Collards (1 cup, boiled) 358 52
Corn bread (1 2-ounce piece) 133
English muffin 92 11
Figs, dried (10 medium) 269 111
Great northern beans (1 cup, boiled) 121 88
Green beans (1 cup, boiled) 58 32
Kale (1 cup boiled) 94 24
Mustard greens (1 cup, boiled) 150 20
Navel orange (1 medium) 56 15
Navy beans (1 cup, boiled) 128 107
Oatmeal, instant (2 packets) 326 70
Orange juice, calcium-fortified (1 cup) 350*
Pinto beans (1 cup, boiled) 82 95
Raisins (2/3 cup) 53 35
Soybeans (1 cup, boiled) 175 148
Spinach (1 cup, boiled) 244 158
Sweet potato (1 cup, boiled) 70 32
Swiss chard (1 cup, boiled) 102 152
Tofu (1/2 cup) 258 118
Vegetarian baked beans (1 cup) 128 82
White beans (1 cup, boiled) 161 113
Source: J.A.T. Pennington, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1994.)
*Information from manufacturer

If an adult female’s daily calcium requirement is between 1000-1500 milligrams, you can see that it’s not too difficult to meet this on a plant-based, non-dairy diet. Oatmeal and orange juice at breakfast takes care of about half my day’s needs.

For more information on lactose intolerance, calcium, and osteoporosis, check out The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

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Plant Protein

Adequate protein consumption is something most vegans are concerned with at one time or another. Food combining was once thought to be essential in getting proper protein through a vegan diet. It used to be believed that all amino acids had to be eaten at the same time to form complete proteins. We now know that incomplete proteins can be stored in the body for many days to be combined with other incomplete proteins. As long as all essential amino acids are in the diet, it doesn’t matter if the proteins are complete or incomplete.

That being said, I know my body  functions much better when I’m getting protein at every meal. I also lift weights in an effort to gain muscle mass, and I know that protein is required for muscle building. (Watch out, Serena Williams. I’m trying to grow thighs that will rival yours.) The main reason I like getting protein with each meal/snack, though, is that it satiates me and allows me to go longer between meals without feeling like a ravenous beast.

I’m aiming for around 70 grams of protein a day, which is based on the following calculation:

1. Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
2. Weight in kg x 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm

Use 0.8 if you’re pretty sedentary, 1.8 if you’re training for a marathon or working out on that level. I’m going to use 1.0, since I’m by no means sedentary, meaning I have a job that requires physical energy and I also lift weights several times a week, but I’m not running for miles and miles, either.

So, my weight of 125 lb (give or take 5 lbs, depending on the time of year and the amount of available sweets within my reach) divided by 2.2 = approx. 57 kg.

57 kg x 1.0 = 57 gm

Let’s take a look at what plant-based foods I can eat to get the protein my body requires.

Tempeh    31gm per cup
Soybeans (cooked)    30gm per cup
Tofu (firm)    8-15gm per 4oz.
Lentils    15gm per cup
Quinoa    11gm per cup
Soymilk    10gm per cup
Peas (cooked)    9gm per cup
Peanut butter    8gm per 2 T
Chickpeas, Kidney Beans, White Beans    6-8gm per 1/2 c.
Spaghetti (cooked)    7gm per cup
Spinach (cooked)    6gm per cup
Sunflower seeds    5gm per 2 T
Oatmeal    5g per 1/2 c.
Brown Rice    5gm per cup
Broccoli    5gm per cup
Baked Potato    4gm per 6 oz.
Whole grain bread    5gm/2 slices
Cashews    5gm per 1/2 c.

I’ve also found an edible rice protein powder that I ingest within 30 minutes of my workouts. It contains 12 grams of protein per serving.

Pretty simple! Here’s what a sample day might look like:

Post workout:

Protein powder (12 gm)


oatmeal (5 gm), soymilk (10gm)


bread (5gm) with peanut butter (8gm)


tofu (10 gm), brown rice (5 gm), spinach (6gm)

That’s 61 grams of protein, not including the protein found in other veggies I’ll eat with my meals and snacks.

Even if one doesn’t want to give up meat entirely, it’s nice to know there’s some healthy protein alternatives in plants foods.

(For a great article on food combining and vegan protein needs, see The Savvy Vegetarian.)

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Factory Farming

I’m about to make a huge confession. I’m not a pet fan. You know how single guys get when they’re around new babies? Like, “Don’t you want to hold the baby?” and they recoil in horror? Or, if you left them in the same room alone with a baby, they’d avoid all contact and just pretend it wasn’t there? Yeah, that’s me with your dog. Indifferent, unless it gets too close.

You know those emails you forward me with the cats saying funny things while falling into fish tanks or the monkey lying harmoniously on the tiger’s head? I delete these as soon as my brain registers what’s going on, and then I internally debate whether or not to block your IP address from every computer in my home.

My lack of animal love has made me able to make statements like, “I love cows, they are so yummy!” and “I’d eat a live chicken, that’s how hungry I am!” (I know, you animal lovers are now deleting me from your stuff…hang in there, I’ve got a point, and you might like me a little bit once I make it)

So all this being said, I choose not to own a dog, or a ferret, or a cat. (Wait, we’ve got a cat, but she’s different.) I’ve got kids to take care of, and I just don’t want the added responsibility of a pet, and really, I don’t understand human/animal relationships, even though I’ve heard endless stories about how a dog comforted a depressed old man, or something along those lines.

When I decided to try the vegan challenge for a month, I’m sure it was assumed that I did this for animals. This assumption is absolutely correct. Though I don’t get the whole dog whisperer thing, I also don’t understand how we can treat animals like we do in our country and why in the world this mistreatment doesn’t get more attention. I understand we’ve got starving children and folks without health insurance and kids going off to foreign countries for war, but this is still an issue that’s important in our nation, and the lack of coverage on it startles me. What would happen if Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann dedicated an entire week to the mistreatment of factory farmed animals? (I just love putting those two in the same sentence)

I first heard about factory farming and the horrific conditions that chickens, pigs, and cattle endure several years back, and it was enough to make me think about it for a while but slowly disassociate the meat on my plate with the squealing pig crammed into a cage it’s entire life. It’s amazing how one can desensitize oneself sometimes.

I was awakened again to the realities of animal abuse when I watched the documentary, “Food, Inc.” this past summer. While this film hits on many issues such as genetic engineering, foodborne illness, and obesity, it was the conditions that the animals endure that struck a nerve with me.

Here’s a clip from Food, Inc. that shows how the chickens we buy in the grocery store are raised.

Dairy cows have a life that brings tears to my eyes.

This link from the Humane Association has a wealth of information on dairy cow treatment. (Mastitis is extremely painful for mamas, whether human or not)

While I’m not a card-carrying member of PETA, in that I’m not against eating meat altogether, I don’t think there’s any excuse for us to be treating animals the way we do in this country. Of course, the primary reason for this is mass production (money), but surely there’s a better way than torturing animals, which is really what’s going on here?

So what can we do to make a difference? Well, we could all give up meat and dairy from factory farms, but I don’t foresee that happening any time soon on such a large scale that it would effect productivity (my husband is sitting beside me as I type this, destroying a burger, though I’m happy to add that we know the source and the cow was raised humanely).

I think the first thing we can all do is to educate ourselves further on this issue, since education is always the first step toward change. I’ve listed some books under “Booklove” that can help, and I encourage you to watch Food, Inc.

The next step after learning the realities of what’s happening is to decide what’s right for us, and what we feel lead to do as individuals to help these suffering animals. Maybe you wanna go all out and give it all up at once? If that’s too drastic at this point, perhaps you can encourage your family to go meatless/dairyless for a meal or two each week?

Please visit this site for more information about factory farming and what you can do to help.

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I’m two weeks into my vegan adventure, and I’ve learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with others. Let me preface this by saying that I had no doubt that vegan junk food was unhealthy for me, but, being up for the challenge, I indulged in the name of science. You’re welcome.

Last week I felt like crap. Tired, a bit achy, irritable (yes, sounds familiar to some of you, but this was to the extreme). I thought back on what I’d eaten in the days leading up to this, and, while it was dairy-and meat-free, it was hardly what one would call a “healthy diet.” Barely any greens, zero fruit, heavy on the simple carbs and fake meat stuff. I also discovered that I was now consuming high quantities of Omega 6, in the form of oils. And here I thought earthy-sounding oils like soybean and sunflower were helping me out! On the contrary, high intakes of these oils can cause an imbalance in your Omega 3’s and 6’s, and we want these to live in harmony in our bodies. Too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3 can cause all sorts of bad things to happen due to inflammation, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and auto-immune disease (which I see a lot of in my line of work).

So how am I getting so much Omega 6? Captain Crunch Peanut Butter cereal is the bomb. And contains cottonseed oil (see??? Doesn’t that ingredient sound all innocent?). Stacy’s Tuscan Herb Pita Chips. Come on, it’s Pita bread! Unfortunately, it also contains Sunflower oil. My snack list could go on and on, but the one thing they all have in common is high amounts of Omega 6.

Now, let me say that Omega 6 isn’t necessarily the bad guy. We all need some in our bodies (though not in the form of the processed crap I’ve been inhaling). The key is to get it in quality forms, and to also balance it out with Omega 3’s. Omega 3 is beneficial in many ways: it helps with memory, learning, and mood & behavior (depression, Schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD). If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard that it’s been added to baby formula in the form of DHA. This is because it helps with the brain development of children.

Enter what could be viewed as the difficult part of a vegan diet. There’s a lot of science behind this, and though I loooove to talk nerd as much as the next guy, I’m going to simplify this as much as possible.

Some sources of Omega 3 go straight to ya…these are found in cold water fish such as salmon and mackerel. Other sources (vegetarian) like walnuts and flaxseeds require the body to convert it to usable Omega 3. Some people’s bodies seem to be great at this, while others struggle due to unknown reasons (though some speculate that getting too much Omega 6 can actually interfere with Omega 3 absorption…dang!)

So what’s a gal to do? Well, I’m going to be very conscious of my snack-attack times, and plan for them instead of just heading straight to the Teddy Grahams. I’m also going to increase my consumption of healthy Omega 3s in the forms of wheat germ and flaxseed oil. We’ll see how the next two weeks go as far as energy level and mood.

The Savvy Vegetarian
was a great source of info, as was Heather Eisen, a dietitian and all around brilliant gal who lives in the NYC area.

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When one thinks of a raw food diet, images of lettuce, juicing machines, and Skeletor-looking Zen-ed out Moby-ish folks come to mind. At least, to my mind. Who knew raw food was not only healthy for you, but freaking fantastic to taste?

Raw food is defined as unprocessed and uncooked plant foods. Nothing is cooked above 116 degrees F. Anything above this temperature is believed to destroy the enzymes and “life force” of the food.

Some benefits of a raw food diet include weight loss, better skin appearance, increased  energy, and improved digestion (makes sense since you’re eating veggies, no?).

So, what does a raw foodist eat? ( I found the following list here.)

Unprocessed, preferably organic, whole foods such as:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dried fruit
  • Seaweed
  • Unprocessed organic or natural foods
  • Freshly juiced fruit and vegetables
  • Purified water
  • Young coconut milk

Yeah, that doesn’t sound too appetizing to me, either. Luckily, there are people out there who know how to combine all these foods to make something actually edible and filling.

Pure Food and Wine in New York City is a raw food lover’s heaven on earth. It’s also a bit of a Paradise for the rest of us.

My dinner companions and I crashed the place sans reservations on a Tuesday evening but our stunningly good looks and glowing personalities got us seated right away. Actually, we lucked out that someone had just canceled.

We started out with sushi rolls, an iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese dressing, and a “Salad of Mache, Summer Berries, and Fennel with Truffle Framboise Vinaigrette.” ( I just sat here for three full minutes trying to put this salad in my own words, but it’s impossible.) Now, don’t forget that this place doesn’t serve dairy or meat. So how in the world did we get blue cheese? Cashew butter and some type of blue algae. It tasted dead-up like some homemade authentic blue cheese dressing. Crazy!

We moved on to the entrees of lasagna made with zucchini, basil pistachio pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, three different pizzettes/mini pizzas ( spinach pesto arugula, margherita, and crimini and kalamata with summer truffle) and enchiladas with pumpkin seeds and raw cacao mole. All of them were incredible, and I loved that satisfied-but-not-stuffed feeling I get when I’m eating some place that doesn’t serve ridiculously huge portions. I realize I could just stop eating before I get to that super-full point, but it seems to be in my genetic make-up to lick a plate clean. Can’t help it.

Dessert was chocolate mousse covered with a dark chocolate ganache and creme freche. There were  little fresh blueberries, and then blueberry ice cream…yum. Insanely delicious.

Sorry no photos, but it was dark in the place and when I mentioned turning on the flash, I got a look of disapproval shot from both sides of the table. Do check out the menu, though, as it is a good representation of what the food actually looks like. Unlike, you know, how most places front that their food’s gonna be all pretty and it turns out looking so different you think for a moment you ordered the wrong thing. Yeah, this place isn’t like that.

I was treated to this meal out, so I don’t have the costs, but looking at the menu, I’d say this is one of those very special occasion places. Good thing I was considered VIP.

At this point, I’d say a strictly raw food diet is not something I’m interested in, but I’d love to learn more about it and hear from those who have experienced it or are living it. Please feel free to comment or email me with any thoughts on this.

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