Ten Things a Vegan Kitchen Must Have

So you’re new to veganism? Congratulations on embarking upon a journey to improve to the health of your family and our planet. They say that once you become vegan you continue to find reasons to stay vegan, and I have found that to be true. Sometimes, though the recipes you find call for what appear to be exotic ingredients. But the truth is, once you outfit your kitchen, you’ll find vegan cooking to be easy and delicious. I’ll address those exotic ingredients in another post. This post is about having the right tools for the job. These are my top ten.

  1. A Vitamix. I resisted buying an expensive Vitamix because I had a blender, and I just didn’t see the point. Boy, was I wrong! I bought mine reconditioned directly from the Vitamix website (vitamix.com) and I use it every day. Seriously. Every day. I have both the standard container that comes with it and I also bought the additional “dry mix” jar. I use the standard jar for everything from lunch smoothies to vegan salad dressings to the best hummus ever. I also make vegan iced desserts and soups that take less than ten minutes from start to finish. The dry mix jar I use for grinding coffee, flour, making matcha from my homegrown tea, turning dried peppers into cayenne powder, you name it. I can even make powdered sugar out of regular sugar, or brown sugar out of sugar and molasses. I can make cornmeal out of popcorn! The cost of the machine is nothing compared to the savings on expensive sauces, dressings and herbs. Unquestionably, a must have.

vitamix

  1. A rice cooker. I spent my formative years in Hawaii, so I am a rice eater. My husband (a Midwesterner) has to remind me now and then to bake him a potato, because I never think about it. Rice is nice. A simple, plain vanilla rice cooker is all you need, one that will cook your rice to perfection and then hold it warm while the rest of the meal is getting ready. There are expensive rice cookers with lots of bells and whistles including a steamer, but they’re not necessary. I buy all my grains in bulk, and mix them together in the canister. No one pot of rice is the same as the next. I mix together long grain brown rice, short grain brown rice, jasmine rice, wheatberries, barley, rye, bulgur, and sometimes I throw in some lentils and some dried soybeans. Scan what’s available in the grain section of your market. The result is a healthy, delicious mix that goes with almost any meal.
  1. A mandolin. There are many appliances for chopping vegetables on the market, and if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you probably either have or will acquire most of them. For my money, though, a mandolin is the most versatile. You don’t have to plug it in, it rinses off easily, takes up little space in the kitchen cabinet, and is always handy. Again, you can spend a lot of money on a fancy mandolin, but it isn’t necessary. Mine is old and wonderful, with interchangeable blades for grating, slicing both thick and thin, and something else that I’ve never tried. It might make matchstick potatoes, I’m not sure. In the fall harvest, I could not survive without the mandolin for slicing cucumbers for pickles, or slicing cabbages for slaw. Slicing potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables is a breeze. The blades are sharp, though, so always use caution.

mandolin

  1. A slow cooker. This is what I made for dinner last night: 2 cans water pack jackfruit (from the Asian market), one sliced onion, one sliced green pepper, ½ cup barbecue sauce. Cook all day on low and serve over bread or on a hearty roll. Vegan Sloppy Joe’s from heaven. I threw it all in the slow cooker in the morning and it cooked on low all day. Here’s what we’re having for dinner tonight: two cans of black beans, two yams, sliced thin (on the mandolin), one package of soy chorizo sausage, and 2 cups of enchilada sauce (don’t buy it, make your own http://ohsheglows.com/2016/01/31/enchilada-sauce/ ). Let these cook on low all day and then fill a tortilla and get ready for everybody to go nuts. The slow cooker is the vegan’s best friend. There are lots and lots of vegan slow cooker cookbooks, too, to get you started on your journey.
  1. A soymilk maker. This is without doubt the biggest money saver in my kitchen. It looks like a fat coffee pot and makes a quart of soymilk in about 18 minutes from 1/3 cup of dried soybeans and some water. You can do the math on how much a quart of homemade soymilk costs, compared to what it costs in the store. Load these two ingredients into the pot, plug it in, and it cooks and grinds the beans. Mine came with a strainer and a pitcher. Strain out the soy okara (the dog loves that on her morning kibble) and voila! Delicious soy, rice, or almond milk. Dried soybeans are easily found in your health food store. I buy them in the bulk bins, and whenever possible, I get them in 25 pound bags. Between baking, our over-consumption of coffee, and morning oatmeal (made overnight every night in the slow cooker), we go through a lot of soymilk in this house.

soymilkmaker

  1. A good knife and a good knife sharpener. Vegans do a lot of vegetable chopping. There is nothing more frustrating than a dull knife. And, in fact, dangerous. We cut ourselves when the knife is dull, because we use too much pressure. Invest in a good chef’s knife and a good paring knife. Go to the knife store and spend some money, because these will last you not only for the rest of your life, but for the lives of whoever is lucky enough to inherit them. Once you have invested in fine cutlery, take care of it. Never leave a fine knife soaking in the sink. Never put it in the dishwasher. Wash it, dry it, and put it away. Have a small, simple, effective knife sharpener handy in a kitchen drawer that you can easily access to put a fine edge on your knife at a moment’s notice. You’ll be safer, and you’ll be happier.
  1. Pantry space. I know, space is always limited. But there are items that vegans use often enough that it is worth the fight for a few shelves in the garage. While I buy many items in the bulk bins at the health food store, I buy big bags (25-40 pounds) of pinto beans, soybeans, steel cut oats, and long-grain brown rice. Cooking dry beans is far more economical than opening a can. It’s good to have the option. I keep a container of “refried” beans (that I make in the slow cooker) on the top shelf in the refrigerator to add to just about everything. Not only are beans good for us, but a daily spoonful feeds the flora and fauna in our bellies so we don’t suffer from the uncomfortable gas that can occur when we only eat beans once a week or so. I buy cans of beans, tomatoes, and tomato sauce by the case as well as a few other staples that we use all the time.
  1. A library of good vegan cookbooks. I have declared a moratorium on buying vegan cookbooks. I have about twenty, and that’s enough. Although… there is always something new from one or another of my favorite authors. There are cookbooks (and websites!) for every household. Vegan casseroles. Slow cooker recipes. Standard European dishes made vegan (French, German, etc.) Ditto with Asian dishes. I have learned the wonders of Indian spices. It took me a while to get the hang of vegan baking, but with the help of a great cookbook, and some advice from friends, I can now bake with the best of them without using dairy or eggs. I annotate every recipe, always improving on it for our tastes, and I highlight ones I like in the book’s Index, so I can easily find them again. These days I’m using a different cookbook every week, so I can get more depth of insight into the author’s way of thinking.

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  1. A group of like-minded friends. So this isn’t a kitchen staple, but it is a lifestyle necessity. When I first joined the ranks of the vegan, I found a Meetup (meetup.com) group in my home town and began going to the events. I found a great community of interesting and interested people, and I learned a lot. We watched videos on nutrition, on agribusiness, we cooked together, shared tips and tricks, talked about new foods to try, and what to avoid in the grocery store. This is where I learned about the convenience of the right appliance, and the best tried and true cookbooks. I learned more about nutrition in this group than I had learned in my entire life heretofore. I found my new guru in Dr. Michael Greger (www.nutritionfacts.org), and his fact-base nutrition information. My vegan friends are happy, fun, and the light of health shines in their eyes.

The vegan lifestyle is a good one. Healthy, planet-friendly, animal-friendly, and a good choice. With the right support of friends and the right kitchen tools, this way of life can be one of the best decisions you have ever made.

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Write it in Spain this summer

As you probably know, I’m teaching the Kick Start Your Novel class this summer in Spain.

The organizers have put out this press release about the event. I’m not sure how sweet and innocent I look, but I can assure you, sweet and/or innocent I am not.

This is going to be a rockin’ good time, and you will assemble the skeleton of your new novel before we’re finished.

Come join us.

Kick Start Your Novel in Paradise

New workshop in Moorish Spain will push writers to the next level

She may look sweet and innocent, but don’t let that fool you. Elizabeth Engstrom has a reputation for forcing writers past their preconceived limits.

Engstrom has over a dozen novels and 250 published stories, articles, and essays to her credit. Among her best-known works are Lizzie Borden and Candyland, which is now a movie starring Gary Busey. She has teamed up with Writers & Publishers International (WPI) to offer her Kick Start Your Novel workshop one last time.

Running from June 19th to 25th, Kick Start Your Novel in Spain is the ultimate summer vacation for any serious writer of fiction who is willing to work hard and keep an open mind. Attendees will dramatically improve their writing skills while enjoying the colorful history, food, and culture of southern Spain.

“Not every writer can teach. I know what people need to learn, and I give them this information without subscribing to a formula,” Engstrom says. “I’ve been teaching a long time, and my students get published.”

Those students include Naseem Rakha, whose best-selling novel The Crying Tree got its start in one of Engstrom’s Kick Start Your Novel workshops. Engstrom has taught writing classes in Italy, Ireland, Alaska and the Caribbean, and has been running The Ghost Story Weekend in Oregon for almost 30 years.

“Liz is more than a teacher. She is a mentor, a friend, a coach and an encourager,” says #1 NYT bestselling author Susan Wiggs. “Her teaching becomes part of the blood and bone of a writer’s art.”

Kick Start Your Novel is not for the faint of heart, Engstrom adds.

“My students start off kicking and screaming and resisting, but by the end of the workshop it’s a big love fest,” she says, explaining that the course teaches a completely different way to write. “When you write hot and urgent on the spot, something magic happens.”

Part of that magic lies in the setting itself. Located on the southern Mediterranean coast of Spain in Andalucía, Málaga has been featured in many novels and stories. The birthplace of Pablo Picasso, this region has inspired artists and writers for centuries. Orson Wells was so mesmerized by Málaga that he insisted his ashes be buried there.

Málaga’s exquisite beauty and literary history have resulted in a thriving community of artists and writers. With its rich historic and cultural past, miles of beaches, and stunning mountain villages, this Spanish paradise is guaranteed to inspire.

Writers are encouraged to reserve their spot with a deposit, as there is limited space available and the workshop will sell out quickly.

For more information, please contact:

In North America                                                     In Europe

           

J.H. Moncrieff, Publicist                                         Tausha Johnson, Program Director

jh@jhmoncrieff.com                                              info@workshopwriters.com

+1-204-453-8215                                                    +34 682798328

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Psychology Today

I’m honored that the amazing Dr. Katherine Ramsland blogged about my new book in her Psychology Today column.

sex scene book cover

The book is available in paperback, audio and as an e-book.

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Kick Start Your Novel in Spain!

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be teaching my favorite and most popular 5-day workshop in beautiful Spain next summer.

You’ll find all the details here. Space is very limited.

Come join us and get that novel going in the right direction.

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Meat and Cancer

Yesterday the World Health Organization released a study that said that processed meat is a carcinogen. They base this not-so-startling finding on over 800 studies.

Of course PETA was ecstatic, and the meat industry dismissive. But what confounds me is the reaction of my friends.

One says 800 studies are not enough. We need more. In other words, you can have my bacon when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. In fact, another friend actually said that.

Another said, since she was already smoking, she might as well pile on the sausage. I have another friend who said that every one she knows who has quit smoking has died of cancer, so she is not quitting.

I am astonished and dismayed by this very small, simple, unscientific survey of those I interact with on Facebook.

Those who have had cancer know that it isn’t funny, it isn’t something to be taken lightly. It takes a terrible toll on general health, finances, and families. It burdens our health care systems and makes our health insurance premiums go up. It causes excruciating pain, and horrific treatments that can be worse than the actual disease. Just listen to the drug commercials on the nightly news. Listen to the side effects they’re required to list.

And you think it’s fine to risk all of that because you want bacon? Are you insane? Have you ever talked with someone who has endured the treatments for colo-rectal cancer? Being so dismissive of this finding is an insult to everyone who has ever battled cancer.

So next to the “pray for Jennifer’s healing” post with a photo of a bald teenager fighting to graduate high school, and a call for a congressional inquiry into crumb rubber on soccer fields, is a friend of mine posting photos of plates of bacon and saying “yumm…”

We’ve all done stupid things in our lives, things that we should have known better to do. I baked myself in the sun in my teens and twenties, and am reaping the melanoma harvest of those stupid decisions. They say that God looks out for drunks and fools, and I think that’s true. But once you know that what you’re doing is likely to turn out horribly wrong for you ten, twenty years down the line, don’t you think you might forfeit a little sympathy when that time comes?

You risk not seeing your kids grow up. Never meeting your grandchildren or great grandchildren. We all die, but we don’t have to welcome the early onset of a horrible disease. For ham.

I am shocked and saddened.

If you don’t like the WHO’s 800 studies, do your own research. There is plenty of information out there.

Don’t be a fool. Make the right decision for your health, for your family, for the environment.

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Clean and Sober

Today I reach a milestone: I have been clean and sober for 35 years. I have lived more than half my life with a spiritual program that keeps me without drugs or alcohol—one day at a time.

I find it inconceivable that it has been 35 years since I had a beer or smoked a joint. Inconceivable!  (And yes, I know what that means.)

It is easier for me to believe that I got drunk last week and have been lying about it.

But it’s true. 35 years.

These have been monumental years. Years of amazing accomplishments, personal and spiritual growth.

As with everyone my age, big events have taken place. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, creative accolades, cancers. Huge events. Emotional events. Certainly events worth drinking over, either in grief or in celebration.

truth and loveLife is not easy. But sobriety is its own reward.

All of these major life events are the stuff of the human experience, and I have been fortunate enough to be present and clear-headed for it all.

I think that’s our reason for being: to experience the human condition in all its intricacies.  Booze and drugs gloss over those intricacies, dull those edges, flatten out those highs and lows, fill in the cracks wherein we might mine for the gold placed precisely there for precisely us.

Drinking and drugging is a waste of time, a waste of money, and a waste of personality.

I am beyond fortunate. I am one of the very fortunate ones who have been able to get sober and stay sober. God willing, I will die sober. But I am in the minority. Drug and alcohol addiction is so sneaky, so calmly patient and doggedly persistent, that when we falter, it is there, waiting with a “fix” to whatever transient problem catches us at a weak moment.

But those aren’t fixes. They’re insulators. They’re a horror show in a bottle. They’re death by slow torture, and they take all our loved ones down with us.

I may be 35 years clean and sober, but I am only one drink away from disaster, and I think about that every single day.

Today I will go to a meeting and share my experience, strength and hope: If I can do it, you can do it. And that is absolutely true.

And then I will go about my life, living in gratitude. I am not only grateful for everything that I’ve been given in life, but grateful for every mind-altering substance I ingested that brought me to my knees and introduced me to the spiritual program that gives me solid tools for living.

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About Audio Books

I have come slowly to audio books.

While I love to listen to music on my iPod while doing this or that — pulling weeds, washing dishes, puttering around — I have always thought that reading should be a quiet activity, a reward for having pulled weeds, done the dishes and done all the necessary puttering.

But I’m changing my mind about that.

Lizard Wine Audio cover

Several of my books are now available in the audio format, and I have discovered that I enjoy listening to audio books. My favorite way to listen, of course, is still sitting quietly–so I knit and listen. But I can also listen while pulling weeds, doing the dishes and puttering.

Lizard Wine is now available as an audio book, narrated by the astonishing Voice of America, Jim Tedder. This is one of my perennial bestselling thrillers, and Jim brings a very nice depth of emotion to the narration. You can download a sample and then decide whether or not you are interested in listening to more.

Baggage Check, my latest thriller, is also available, narrated by Roger Wood.

baggage check audio cover

Lizzie Borden, of course, is also available as an audio book. As is my very first book, When Darkness Loves Us.

Lizzie audio cover

Sadly to say, my time to read for pleasure has shrunk in the past few years, but with audio books, I can “read” while driving, and while I’m doing almost anything else.

And, like browsing in a bookstore, I can “sample” a book before I buy or borrow.

Audio books have changed the way I read. I’m sorry that my life has come to this type of multi-tasking, but that is the current state of affairs. Maybe some day I will have a hammock and the type of leisure time to while away the day with superb fiction, but that isn’t my world today.

The point is, whether I have headphones or a tablet or paper book in my lap, whether I’m listening or reading, I’m still engaging with wonderful literature.

And that is my lifeblood.

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