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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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How to go from Vegan-Curious to Full-Fledged Vegan

I was lucky; I was highly motivated to change my diet. I was getting older and my numbers (cholesterol, weight, blood pressure etc.) were getting worse. I made the change to vegetarian in one moment after a visit to the doctor, and then a couple of months later, after reading about eggs, milk, and cheese, decided to go vegan. It has been—well, not effortless, but an interesting, rewarding, and delightful journey.

So what if you want to take this step but don’t know where to start? Here are my suggestions.

  1. Find a vegan group. I found mine on meetup.com. We have gatherings twice a month where I learn new recipes, can ask questions, find new cookbooks, and find out a lot of information. (Thanks, J.J.!) People who are vegan-curious go to those meetings as well as those who have been vegan for 35+ years. They’ve got a lot of information to share, like “Where to get your protein?” The answer? Everywhere. Cows are vegan. Elephants are vegan. They seem to get enough protein.
  1. Educate yourself. Here are some films to find and watch: Forks over Knives; Cowspiracy; GMO OMG, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and Dr. Greger’s three amazing videos from http://www.nutritionfacts.org: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day–Preventing Our Most Common Diseases, and From Table to Able–Combating Disabling Diseases with Food. Some of these are only about nutrition, and some are about environmental issues. None of these have footage of tortured animals, but they will change your idea about how meat, cheese, and dairy is produced, marketed, and delivered to the table. It ain’t pretty. Read The China Study, and The World Peace Diet.
  1. Buy a couple of vegan cookbooks. I have amassed a nice collection, but the one I seem to continually come back to is Vegan on the Cheap, because it has good recipes for vegan mayo, vegan sour cream, a delicious mushroom gravy, and all those basics that I threw out and didn’t want to replace with expensive ones in the grocery store, especially if I didn’t know whether or not I would like them. Vegan yogurt? I still haven’t tried it, but I do love vegan cheese—in small doses. Baking without eggs can be tricky, but The Joy of Vegan Baking has never failed me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Know that you’re going to have some failures. Not every culinary experiment is a winner. Annotate your cookbooks. Make adjustments. Cross out the terrible ones.
  1. Make a journal. This is an entirely new way of eating for our household, and I didn’t want to get stuck making the same three things over and over again. So when I get a new vegan cookbook, I read it, and mark the things I want to make. I write those down in the back of my journal. Then when I make them, I put them in the front of my journal, along with a grade. Some things I’ll never make again; some things have become staples.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Make a menu and a shopping list every week. I do this, and once the food is in the house, I only have to look at my menu and know what I’m going to cook for the evening. Sometimes these recipes have what seem like exotic ingredients, but once your pantry is stocked, you will be amazed at how little you spend on food every week. This week, for example, for two evening meals we’re eating leftovers from the freezer (love that Crockpot!), and for two other meals I only needed to buy a cabbage and some red bell peppers. I already have everything else. (Note: I have a soy milk maker, so I make our own soy milk and almond milk. (Thanks, Karen!) The appliance cost about $110, and I buy organic, non-GMO dried soybeans in 25-pound bags, so a quart of soymilk costs me about 25 cents.)
  1. Stock your kitchen with the basic appliances. I love my Crockpot, and have a couple of vegan Crockpot cookbooks. I was on this culinary journey for 18 months before I bit the bullet and bought a Vitamix and now I can’t imagine living without it. (Thanks, Jerry!) Soymilk maker. A rice cooker is mandatory, (Thanks, John and Mike!) as are good vegetable chopping implements, like quality knives and a mandolin.
  1. Take the time to look and appreciate at how beautiful your food has become. It has a variety of colors, textures, and flavors. Notice how you can actually feel the micronutrients energize your cells after a good meal with healthy food. Watch your numbers come down and know that you are reversing the heart disease that the Standard American Diet has created in your arteries.
  1. Don’t be afraid to go out to eat. I can always find something to eat. Most kitchens are happy to accommodate my requests. And when they do, I make an extra effort to thank them, and post reviews on Yelp and Happy Cow. Best is the great array of vegetarian and vegan restaurants that are popping up all over. People are becoming aware.
  1. If you don’t want to commit, don’t. Start with Meatless Mondays. But the more you know, the less meat and dairy you will consume. It’s not just a health thing, it’s an environmental thing, it’s an animal thing. And because of all that, it becomes a spiritual thing. But whatever you do, don’t stick your head in the sand. What we eat has significant consequences.
  2. Let me know how it goes. I’m interested.

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Two Years Vegan

I embarked upon the vegan adventure two years ago today.

They say that the longer one is vegan, the more reasons one finds to stay vegan. I have found this to be true.

First, let me say that I do not miss animal protein one bit. No meat, milk, cheese for me. It was easy to give up. And I am convinced – without a shadow of a doubt – that what I am doing is reversing the heart disease I spent 60 years acquiring with my standard Midwestern meat, milk, and cheese diet. I have read that those eating the standard American diet have heart disease by the time they’re ten years old.

Let me also say that I effortlessly lost 35 pounds, bounced back up 5 pounds, and here I have stayed for over a year. I have never maintained my weight in my life. I was always dieting — gaining or losing. This seems to be my body’s weight, and I’m happy here. I eat everything I want (well, almost everything – I still have to watch my intake of bread and sweets), as much as I want, as often as I want, and my weight remains the same.

My cholesterol and blood pressure are down. I usually have two or three or four colds a year, but my immune system is so rock solid now that I haven’t had a cold in two years. Vegan food is much less expensive. All we eat are fruits and vegetables and grains and legumes. The least expensive food in the grocery store.

How is it that it took me this many years to find this lifestyle? Better late than never, I guess.

Food is delicious and nutritious and beautiful. There are amazing vegan restaurants in town, and while traveling, I never have to worry about finding vegan food, mostly because of the extensive directory of vegetarian and vegan restaurants on Happy Cow, but also because restaurants and chefs seem to have gotten the message. Recently, on a trip to Washington, D.C., when I asked about vegan options, I was actually brought a separate vegan menu! You just have to ask.

I came to this lifestyle for health reasons. I stay not only for health reasons, but because I see no reason to eat an animal. I love animals. I see no difference in eating a cow or a pig than eating my dog, and you know I would never harm a hair on sweet Jook. There are many animal activists in the vegan community who blast us with horrific images and information about how animals are treated in the meat and dairy industries. I don’t want to look at that stuff because it’s so disturbing, but my awareness has expanded, just because I hang out with vegans. Not everybody comes to this lifestyle for health reasons. And I truly appreciate the activists’ efforts.

I saw a statistic not long ago that said if everyone in America went meatless on Mondays, the carbon footprint effect would be that of taking 69 million cars off the road. That is the effect of the meat and dairy industry on our ecology and our climate. Add in antibiotics and meat-borne diseases, and the fact that no other mammal drinks milk after weaning – especially the milk of a different species – and going vegan begins to make really good sense.

I have joined a vegan Meetup group. This weekend, I am going to VegFest in Portland, Oregon. It is through these efforts that I have learned the right cookbooks to have, some tips and tricks, what meat-and-dairy-substitute foods taste good (vegan cream cheese, vegan cheddar, vegan sausages), how to bake without milk and eggs, etc.

My husband has been a very willing participant, and although he has not embraced the vegan lifestyle as I have, we maintain a vegan home (except for the salmon he catches – he prepares and eats that himself), he eats very little meat when we go out. Like as not, he orders from the vegan menu as well. He can tell the difference the past two years has made in his health.

Here are some resources, in case you’re vegan-curious.

  1. Nutritionfacts.org – Dr. Greger scours the scientific reports on nutrition and posts his findings. Don’t miss his informative, entertaining and enlightening hour-long Year in Review videos, Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day: Preventing Our Most Common Diseases, and From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food. These are available for free on his website; they’re also on YouTube if you want to stream to your television.
  2. The China Study – the most comprehensive study of human nutrition ever conducted.
  3. Forks Over Knives, the documentary film, available on Netflix.
  4. Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, the documentary film, available on Netflix. Very entertaining and inspiring. I hear Joe Cross has a sequel out now, FS&ND2, but I haven’t seen it yet.

You don’t have to go all-in. Start with going meatless on Mondays. Check out a vegan cookbook from the library and try a few recipes. Do a little research on the internet.

It won’t kill you. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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