Monday, April 15, 2013

Savannah's Journey. . . How I went from SAD to Plant-Based

Thanks to Sophie and Cathy who generously invited me to contribute to their blog!

My journey is a little bit of an unlikely one.  I'm kind of like the "accidental vegan" in that I never intended to be a vegan. Far from it, in fact.  I had been raised on the standard American diet (SAD) and raised my own children, who are all adults now, on it.  I loved a nice steak and ate eggs a couple of times a week.  Weight has never been a huge issue, although I have struggled from time to time.  I'm active and overall, figured my nutrition was pretty decent with a reasonable amount of fruits and veggies.  But then a couple of things happened. . .

First, someone close to us had a heart attack at not quite 40 years old. He wasn't particularly overweight, but he definitely ate the SAD heartily.  He coded in the ambulance and had to be resuscitated.  It was huge wake up call for this father of two.  When it was time to start his cardio rehabilitation, he rejected the notion that he would just clean up his diet a little bit and hope for the best.  He adopted Furhman's Eat To Live way of eating, and now six months later, he has lost 30 pounds, his lipids are amazingly low now, and he is committed to a whole food, plant-based diet for life.

My husband, who does struggle with his weight, and I talked about our friend's heart attack quite a bit.  We were skeptical at first, but started to open our minds that maybe there was something to the overall concepts put forth by Drs. Furhman, Esselstyn, McDougall, Ornish, Barnard, etc.  We started to entertain the notion that perhaps we were meant to eat plant-based foods.  As by nature we are not people who generally jump right into anything, we continued to discuss and knock it around. . .

And then my husband's sister died of cancer.  Beyond our grief was the knowledge that she was only one year older than him and she died far too young.  We didn't blame her diet, per se, but it made us take up the conversation again with renewed vigor.  

Then we broke down and watched Forks Over Knives.  We had put it off because we had heard the evidence was pretty compelling and we weren't sure we wanted to hear it.  But at that point, we were ready.  Once we heard the information, we googled and researched like crazy for a couple of days, looking for any evidence that this was just outright quackery.  Instead, we came away with the just the opposite impression:  there was no turning back.

We slowly started emptying our home of anything with animal proteins, oils, and just junk in general.  We knew we needed a plan because, in a practical way, we had no idea how to be vegans, so we read a number of books by respected authors who advocate for a plant-based diet and settled loosely on John McDougall's The Starch Solution as our blueprint.  One major reason for our choice in this regard is that with McDougall's plan, there is no need to be hungry.  I knew that if my husband was going to have to be hungry a lot, he wouldn't stick with it.  That, and on McDougall's plan, avocados are not the devil, and I just need some guacamole now and again.  We made a shopping list and headed out the door for Whole Paycheck and the die was cast.

The first week my husband lost 7 pounds and I lost 3.5.  Two weeks into it, he had lost a total of 11 pounds and I lost another 3.  And here's the thing:  we are never hungry at all.  In fact, I had to get used to feeling quite full.  I love so many of the things I'm eating, I love the way that I feel, I love the energy I have. . . and I love that my husband is on the road to regain his complete health, get off blood pressure medication and toss his sleep apnea machine out the window.

As with Sophie, animal protection didn't weigh that heavily in our initial decision.  I was aware of the abuses in big agribusiness, and bought free-range and grass-fed animal proteins when we could, but it was not a decisive factor.  However, I have begun thinking about it more and more and am continuing to evolve in my thinking.  I guess my position now is that I'm happy to no longer be contributing to animal suffering.  Our main motivator, by far, was our health, but once you start thinking like this, pretty soon the concern for the environment and animals starts to figure into it, too.  Anyway, that's enough for now. . . 

One of the best things about it is the food is yummy and hearty!  Here's one of my favorite recipes, which I gleaned from the February 2003 edition of The McDougall Newsletter:

Tunisian Sweet Potato Stew

1/3 cup of water
1 onion, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped (I substituted some milder peppers)
2 teas fresh minced ginger 
1 teas minced fresh garlic

1 1/2 teas ground cumin
1/4 teas ground cinnamon
1/8 teas crushed red pepper
1/8 teas coriander
2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 14.5 ounce cans chopped tomatoes
2 14.5 ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (I pureed these in my food processor b/c I don't like the texture of most beans)
1 cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Place the water, onion, jalapenos, ginger and garlic in a large pot. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add cumin, cinnamon, red pepper and coriander. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Add sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, green beans, vegetable broth and peanut butter. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Stir in cilantro and let rest for 10 minutes. This can be served over rice or quinoa, too, but we just like it by itself.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Raw Vegan recipe

So I did not think I was going to post today, but I finally got around to make this recipe, and oh my is it good!!!! So good! I, of course, had to learn that there is a no liquid rules in my 6$ Goodwill food processor (hello splashed counters!) although there might be a similar rule in all processors! ha!

Anyway, moving on. You can find the recipe here on a blog called This Rawesome Life. Although I do not eat raw (ok I admit to finishing whole zucchinis slice by slice in front of the TV more that once), many of the dessert recipes sound so appetizing. (see for instance this cheesecake, that I so want to make!). I even admit to laughing while reading an article hat I cannot find anymore, where this long distance runner admitted that he had to limit his raw intake since he basically run out of time to chew!

So this is the recipe for Banana Ice Cream Floats as I made it:

1 1/2 frozen bananas
3 dates
1/2 a 500mL container of coconut water
a dash of vanilla

Em on that Rawesome life tells us to blend each separately. I used a food processor for bananas. It looked like it was not working too well at first, but after some time "processing" it started looking like soft-serve ice cream, bingo!

I used a blender for the "root-beer" like concoction. After a good blending (dates are a little hard to blend), the liquid turned whiteish and was ready. Pour in a tall glass, add the banana ice cream on top and voilĂ !

You get awesome banana ice cream float! It's raw, and all the sweetness is natural. Enjoy :D

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sophie's story (part 2)

Wow! It’s been a long time. I was taken by my doctoral exams and then September just flew by, I did not ever realize it! I feel like it is time to talk about how I became vegan. I stopped at my hands getting better treatment by using natural dishwashing soaps, and in general natural household products. So my apartment was getting a gentle treatment, free of harmful chemicals. I, on the other hand, was still using body products that used parabens, and other harmful chemicals. Then I found this video while going to a class. If you have 5 minutes, watch it! I realized that the chemicals in our body products were just not regulated. Worse, they were not tested in combination with one another! I realized that I was putting on my skin a chemical pot-pourri of substances that were not controlled or tested together for harm. If you are interested in checking what is in your products, go to Skin Deep. Sometimes the information is dated, but I still think it gives a good idea of what is in most products. But to be honest, it seems incredibly daunting (and expensive!) to switch all my body products to natural ones. Most natural products are more expensive than base lines you will find in pharmacies. But they are certainly cheaper than higher-end lines (that still have the same chemicals than base-line products). So I started small: I started with trying new deodorants. I knew that aluminum was controversial (it might be implicated in breast cancer) and tried several deodorants. I think since then I must have tried about 8 different brands, out of which I really liked 4. My favorites are Aubrey’s Organics roll-on, Lafferoll-on, Veleda Rose spray, and one I found in my current Natural Food Coop  Herbal Aloe All Natural. (No I have not been paid by any of those companies, I just want to share my finds).

I now have switched all products, except one: perfume. I love perfume (you can tell I do have French genes in my body!). As of now, I only spray perfume on my clothes and avoid putting it on my skin. I tried several brands of perfumes (Burt’s Bee, Love & Toast – I do love their hand moisturizer though) but I find that the smell does not stay long, and it is not as strong as I like (although I do like the smell per se). I have decided to not replace the perfumes I currently own, and hopefully by the time they are finished I will have found suitable replacements!

When I met Cathy, it was the day she moved in my apartment to become my roommate for 4 months. At that point I was not eating too much meat, still drinking cow milk (although I stopped that same semester, it was making me sick) and very much liking cheese (on pizza or pasta). Cathy did not buy natural household or body products, but on the other hand she was vegetarian, liked organic produce, and cooked every single meal she ate (I am still impressed!). I think she thought I was intense about body products, and I thought she was intense with her cooking from scratch all the time, and being a vegetarian/temporarily vegan at home. She was also very passionate about being a vegetarian. Although I did not decide to be a total vegetarian while I was living with her, discussions with Cathy made me think that maybe, if I was working so hard to have good household products and body products, maybe I should care about the quality of what I put in my body.

I moved in with my current roommate, who is pescetarian, and started to think more intensely about eating meat or not. At that point I would still be buying 2 chicken breasts a month, eating fish, and cold cuts of meat. After several months, I decided to just cut meat altogether and labeled myself “pescetarian”. I was eating fish twice a week, and eating tofu, some faux-meat, or cheese to replace the protein. I continued that until last May when I started a 30 day vegan online program. I had heard about it the previous year, my very good friend Sarah-Claude had wanted to take advantage of the bring your friend special and split the cost. I was not ready the year before, but this year, I felt like I needed a cleanse. The semester had been rough, and I was still stalled on my weight shedding (I had too much triglycerides too at the time). I thought that it sounded like a great idea and started doing that.

I felt so good. I never felt bloated anymore, I was cooking all the time (and loving it!), running was fun. I really felt awesome and it was not hard for me. I felt like I did have some sushi cravings (I like raw fish. I like raw meat too. Yes, I’m a freaky vegan lol), but that was really easy to handle. During the 30 day vegan program, the host was a 90% vegan type of person. I thought, oh that sounds good, maybe I can eat vegan all week, but then have one meal of pizza or sushi (really the two things I miss the most). So I pretty much decided I would do that.

During that online class, I also decided to look at resources about veganism (why it is good, etc). I already owned several vegan cookbooks, I knew I liked the food. I did not really liked the “oh you have to be vegan what kind of a person are you for not being one!!! Poor AnimalS!!!!” discourse. Not all authors are like that, and I actually do not own any book of an author that says it so bluntly. I decided that I would watch Forks Over Knives (Free on Amazon Prime) and listen to their arguments about being vegan (I watched Food Inc some time ago, but I do recommend it, it is a good movie to watch about the treatment of animals in the food industry). In Forks Over Knives, we follow two doctors who have independently of each other, reached the same conclusions: eating a plant-based diet is healthier. Eating animal products raises the risks of heart disease, and has some carcinogenic effect. Their studies and the evidence convinced me. After all, I had been trying to be healthier all along. I felt awesome, and those studies showed it was healthier for me! Sold!!! (By the way no more triglycerides for me! yay!)

I also discovered how much of a strain on the environment it is to raise animal for meat. Foregoing animal products actually means that my impact on the environment is more limited, and that is something that goes along with other personal commitments.

I did not really care too much about the animal protection part of the deal but really thought I could make a health change by becoming vegan. But as I am now starting month 5 of being vegan, I find myself thinking that the conditions animals are kept in are not good. That having an industry of raising animal for meat is wrong, and defends moral principles that are not mine. I read Veganist [insert link], and was very moved by the descriptions of the treatment of cows in the industry, the constant impregnation of cows, the taking of their calves with which they bond instantly, the bad treatment in some of the farms… It just made me realize how uncomfortable this made me feel. I find myself getting on the fair treatment of animal wagon, and I never expected I would!

So here I am now, vegan. September is over and the only animal product I had were 3 cupcakes from my friend Lili’s birthday. The first 2 I ate to help her out (she had bought many and I felt like I could help), and the last one I ate because I can’t have sweets in the house and not eat them (yes Lili, you are reading this, but I was not the only one to have a cupcake on Saturday!! Yes Rachel, I totally just dished you out). I felt bad about that third one, but I really can’t help myself! Although usually I pass easily on sweets that are not vegan, I just could not that day. All in all a good month animal-wise! No sushi, no pizza, and really I realized I could get protein at sushi places by eating edamame salad. That just leaves pizza. But I also decided that if I want to cave in to the pizza call, I’ll buy organic pizza.

That was a long post, but I hope you can see that I never thought I would get to where I am now, that changes were always incremental, and that for me, it was about the environment and my health, rather than a compassion for animals, although it does end up I care about that too!

See you soon with pics from the blueberry picking and jam making from July, pics from apple picking, and hopefully more recipe, and discussions!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Flax & chia seeds bread recipe

Long time no see! Ha! I’m preparing my doctoral exams and these days I just feel empty in the evening after having spent the day writing, writing, writing! But a friend of mine asked for a good bread recipe, and I love this particular one. Now it’s a very strange bread recipe for me: I usually only eat whole wheat bread. But two things happened: 1. My bread maker broke. Yes, I was very sad. I needed to get a particular piece at a Lowes, but I have not gotten around to it yet. Partly because I need a ride, and then partly because I found the piece I needed (unsure if I can actually use it) but now have misplaced the piece it is supposed to be attached too! So yeah no bread maker. And 2. Well I ran out of whole wheat flour. Simple as that. So I decided I might as well use my regular flour stripped of all the fibers, and other good nutrients. Now, I also knew that making a bread like that, I would feel very bad about eating a bread devoid of fibers. So I looked in my pantry and found flax seeds and chia seeds. Perfect! Those have fibers too. So look here is the bread I made (I was inspired by a handmade whole wheat recipe I received in my 30 day vegan online workshop, I adapted it quite a bit though). This is not a perfect bread (I tried to calculate and maybe about 15 gr of fibers are missing for the whole recipe), but it is so delicious! Flax seeds have Omega-3 and lots of fibers and chia seeds have fibers, some protein and are just delicious!


1 cup warm water
2 tbsp agave nectar/maple syrup
1 tbsp yeast
2 cups flour + more as needed during kneading
½ cup flax seeds meal (just get your flax seeds through a coffee grinder – human cannot process whole flax seeds, you can only get nutrients from grinded flax seeds. I hear grinded flax seeds go bad fast, so I always buy whole. However, I still grind a cup or so at a time and keep whatever is left in the fridge).
¼ cup chia seeds
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp of oil

1-    Proof the yeast: put in a glass the cup of warm water, the yeast and the liquid sweetener. Wait for about 8-10 min until it is well foamy
2-    In the meanwhile, put in a big bowl the flour, flax seeds meal, chia seeds and salt. Mix a bit.
3-    Add in the oil and mix. Add the proofed yeast in the center of the flour and mix with a wooden spoon. Put more flour as needed to make this mix more into a dough.
4-    Once it comes together as a dough, use your hands and knead, adding flour as is needed for the dough to hold together and form a nice rounded dough. Knead for a bit (about 5 minutes).
5-    Put in a warm place (I put the light on in my oven and put the bowl with the dough inside) covered with a moist clean towel. Leave it to rise for 1 hour 15 min.
6-    After the necessary wait time, punched down your dough to get the air out (you can sprinkle some flour so that the dough does not stick too much to your hands) and knead. There is no particular set time for kneading – don’t do it too long (too long would be 10 min I think), but still do it enough (like 4-5 min).
7-    Once you feel you have kneaded the dough enough, either put it in a bread pan to form a loaf, or do like I do and cut it to make individual portions of bread. If so, put it on some baking paper, and space it wide enough, it does rise a bit!
8-    Leave it in a warm spot for the next 30-45 minutes.
9-    I usually use the point of a knife to cut the dough a bit like on French bread. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.
10-Pre-heat your oven to 350°F and put your bread in for 20-25 min.
11-Enjoy! (with nice homemade blueberry jam or homemade hummus!)

It might seem like a lot to do, but honestly it does not take that long. The first part might be 10 minutes long, the second part might be a little bit less than that, and then you just have to put it in the oven. So it’s perfect for those days where you’re at home for a good period of time, which as a PhD student happens to me a lot. I love to take breaks to make some delicious bread!

On the Kombucha front everything is great! The last was a bit bitter, I think a full 1/3 cup is really needed for the Kombucha to have that great taste. I hope your bread making will be great. And I apologize for the lack of pictures… I ran out of yeast so I cannot do it again and take picture for a while!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cathy's Sustainable Awakening

Baby Goats at Point Look Out Farm. Don't they look happy?
This week, I weeded some garden beds at Point Look Out Farm where I’m helping teach teenagers about environmentalism and horticulture for 6 weeks in Wilmington, Delaware. As I weeded around the tomato plants, I had a feeling so strong of nostalgia for farm life, and remembered why I’ve come to love having dirt underneath my fingernails. There are few things that connect you more to earth, the environment around you, and the fact that everything –not just humans – is alive. I certainly wasn’t always this aware or drawn to nature, let alone cognizant of how humans are impacting planet Earth. I recently watched a documentary called No Impact Man (see his blog here:, a film that follows writer Colin Beavan’s year-long project to have zero impact on the environment, carried out through his radical life-style choices, as some critics claimed. 
He began his project with more modest undertakings, such as eliminating waste, shopping strictly from local food sources such as farmers’ markets, and reducing his consumption of ‘stuff’. Six months in, he turned off his electricity in his 5th avenue New York City apartment, where his wife and daughter also partook in his experiment for a zero impact lifestyle. Why am I telling Colin’s story rather than my own? you might wonder…

As I watched No Impact Man, I found myself reflecting on my own journey to living more sustainably. Maybe some of you read my entries from my personal blog that documented my WWOOFing experience last fall out in Kings Valley, Oregon. Thrown onto a farm in the middle of nowhere, it first seemed, was really where my attitude changed about how we as humans can connect to and interact with the environment in a positive way. I admit that I may have gone from one extreme to the other during that time, finding it hard to imagine the return to eating anything out of a can, or throwing away recyclables, or (gasp) flushing poop down a water-bowl toilet. I think I even declared that I would refuse to consume non-organic cosmetics. Since then, I’ve been trying to find a happy medium where I do what I can with the time and resources that I have. But if I were to really go as far back as I can in my sustainable awakening, I’d have to thank a New York Times bestseller, Skinny Bitch. My mother gave me this book for Christmas of 2009. In January 2010, I ‘pledged to be a veg’ for 30 days. At first I had no idea what to cook for dinner, since all of my meals centered on meat before the dawn of my vegetarianism. But after reading the (I’ll admit) preachy pro-vegan text of Skinny Bitch, it was hard to just erase from my conscience the facts I had just read. Animals live in their own feces? They’re pumped with hormones and antibiotics purely for the fact that they wouldn’t survive without them, given their inhumane living conditions? Nobody’s eating any freaking food besides those grown from Monsanto seeds? And don’t even get me started on high fructose corn syrup. 

(ATTN: Those ads you see on tv that claim HFCS is the same as sugar? Let’s be smart, people, it’s propaganda!)

While the authors of this book preached veganism in a way that kind of made me question their sources, it did successfully implant two key things in my brain: 1. Pay attention. And 2. You have choices. I wasn’t paying attention to where my food was coming from, and as a result, I remained very much in the dark. After auctioning off my last package of Perdue chicken breasts to my roommates after reading Skinny Bitch from cover to cover, it became hard not to pay attention. I had the choice to buy local, hormone-free meat. But also, I had the choice to not eat meat at all. Perdue lost my dollar, along with a lot of other agribusiness companies. What would happen if all the humans paid attention, and seized their right to make positive, sustainable choices?
Chickens! at Point Look Out Farm
Being born blind to the fact that humans aren’t the only important living organisms on the planet, it’s taken some time for me to see how our choices can and do impact the space we live in. And it’s been one hell of a time re-learning to how to live.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Making your own Kombucha

Once a long time ago, I was making my own kefir. A co-worker had given me some of her kefir. I liked the taste, and it was really low maintenance. It was however, a little hard to do by myself, I had to drink Kefir every 3 days or so, and well it reproduced very quickly! So I dropped it, and now that I don’t drink cow milk, I don’t really think I can do it again (but I might be wrong). In any case, it’s still only me, and that’s a lot of Kefir for one girl!

But, something else I found really good, and good for your health: Kombucha. Except Kombucha costs about 4,10$ at my local natural food store. That’s a lot of money. Then I heard of other friends who actually made Kombucha at home! So I thought I should give it a try. I looked online on how to purchase a Kombucha mother (also called Scoby). But everything I found, they cost like 25$+shipping. I thought ugh no way I am spending that much (and you know, if it gets moldy or if fruit flies go on it… what will happen?). So I looked online again and found you could start your own Kombucha mother from a regular store-bought bottle! 4,10$ to start my own Kombucha? Yes we have a deal!

Before going into what tutorial I used, what are the benefits of Kombucha? Well from what I read on the bottles, it has probiotics, which are awesome bacteria for your guts (and other places where you might need good bacteria). It also has yeast inside. It should help with digestion, and intestinal health. Probiotics also help keep away yeast infections! As a vegan it’s a good way to get those probiotics too. Of course as with any natural products, there are some precautions to take, among others, have clean hands and clean utensils. To be sure if you want to try it at home, I recommend you look online at what the very little research has shown! Also I encourage you to splurge and buy a bottle and try it first, to see if you like it or have any allergy.

With that said, I followed these instructions, and after one week, I had Kombucha!!!

I took some pictures along the way.

First step align all ingredients (Green Tea, Sugar, Jars for the tea, cheesecloth to put over the jar)

Two bad things can happen to Kombucha mothers: fruit flies or fungus! So it is important to have clean conditions when you brew the tea, and to cover your culture to limit contamination (Kombucha cultures produce gaz, do not close the jar!). I used cheesecloth folded in 4, hoping that would prevent fruit flies from coming in. But I saw a youtube video advising to use an old T-shirt to keep fruit flies away. Up to now, I haven’t had any problems!

First you brew some sweet tea (the original website was quite useless for measurement, so I winged everything. I think I put like 3-4 tablespoon sugar.Then you add the bottled Kombucha (once the tea has cooled down)

Then you wait for a week and check out if it’s ready. I got a glass straw for that purpose since I don’t have straws.

Here are pictures of the Kombucha mushroom (which is not a mushroom, this only how most people describe it). I’m sorry they’re blurry, I’ll try to take better ones next time! 

So I’ll report back in a week to tell you if the production is still going. 

Until next time! 


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Where did it all start? Sophie's story

Where did it all start? Well, it all started with a cup. A menstrual cup that is. Yes good start on a new blog, uh? But it’s true, I started being aware of the environment and what I could do on my part with a menstrual cup. See my best friend was in this student women’s group and they sold Diva Cups. At the time there was this policy of satisfaction guaranteed. I have never been unsatisfied though! It’s been 6 years now, and still loving it! (I might write another post on benefits of a menstrual cup later on a separate post)

My friend, though, seemed to me so intense at the time: she was using glass containers, bamboo utensils, using homemade cleaning products, buying more organic foods, making most of her food from scratch (and it looked good!)… Wow, for me it was of a “she’s really neat but I’ll never be able to do that”. Well here we are and I do that (except I kind of fell of the wagon of homemade cleaning products…). I realized as I tried the cup that maybe it was worth pursuing the other options. Although it was a money commitment to try those new ways, it still worked so wonderfully with the cup, the other options might surprise me. I also met other people who were into the more natural, less negative environmental impacts. This led me to believe maybe they were not crazy, and that it might be worth a try!

So after the cup, came the natural household products. To me it seemed easier and cheaper to do that. Easier because there were less product change involved. Cheaper, because well you (ok I) don’t buy that many cleaning products during a year so it was a small money commitment. It was still expensive in the sense I transitioned from dollar store cleaning products (yes I just flinched too) to natural products I could find in grocery stores. Before I switched, I always needed to wear gloves to do the dishes. My hands would look horrible after washing without gloves. But as I switched to natural products, my hands looked so much better, I did not even need gloves anymore! I think that contributed with getting over (very progressively) with my hating cleaning the dishes!

Things got cleaned in the same way as they did before, but my hands looked much better! I thus started being hooked up on natural things. I started to read more about it online… (to be continued)