Why I'm Vegan

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I'm often asked (offscreen) why I'm vegan, so I thought it was time to write a post about it. This will be the first post officially tagged #crueltyfree. And because it's not just about diet, but about living on this earth with more kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, I'm going to be exploring and sharing cruelty-free design, lifestyle, and beauty along with recipes and other food-related bits. (Like sugar - did you know that non-organic white sugar is processed with bone char to make it white? )

Becoming vegan didn't happen for me overnight. It's been a 20 plus year journey. I didn't wake up one day and go from eating hamburgers to slurping down kale smoothies (I still don't like kale smoothies, by the way.) So, this is not in any way meant to be preachy and shaming. But I wish I knew then what I know now. And hopefully, by shedding some light on things that I have learned over the years (and I'm still learning, because we never stop learning), I can help spread a little more kindness and compassion in this world. But we have to start with ourselves. So let's all be kind and compassionate to our own souls first, ok?

My vegan journey began in college. I stopped eating beef and pork because my boyfriend at the time did. I was kind of mindless about it. Like, ok...you're not eating it? I won't eat it either. I can remember the last (cow) hamburger I ate. I was sitting on my kitchen counter and stuffing this greasy, juicy blob into my mouth that I had taken home (in styrofoam, no less) from the restaurant where I worked. I can't remember the last piece of bacon I ate, but I stopped eating pork at the same time, too. 

I would get some comments about being weird. But since I was still eating poultry, fish, dairy and eggs, I wasn't labeled as too much of a freak. People would ask me why I didn't eat beef and pork and I just said I felt better.  Lighter, I would tell people. And I did. At that point, it really did feel like a health decision. A selfish change, with unselfish consequences.

I really didn't miss the taste or the texture of cow and pig. And never felt like I was missing out on the joy of eating. But I was still eating many animal-derived foods. Somehow, chicken and fish felt "different". Like less of an animal. And dairy and eggs? Well, that was ok. That didn't hurt anyone. I had yet to really think about the origin of meat and other animal-derived foods. Yes, of course, I knew I was eating animals, but ethically, I still hadn't made the Big Connection.

A few years later, I stopped eating poultry. Again, it was more for a "health" reason than anything else. I had broken up with a boyfriend, and one day declared to myself "No More Chicken." (I'm not 100% sure why that correlated in my mind. I'll save that for my next therapy session.)

Again, I had this feeling of just being lighter. Not so weighed down by food. And I was starting to feel for the animals. I was starting to tell people, when they asked why I didn't eat meat, that I "did it for the animals". Not quite the Big Connection, but a connection, nonetheless.

For many years, I continued to eat fish, eggs and dairy - though not much dairy, because I was lactose intolerant, I found, after getting terrible stomach aches every time I ate cream cheese on Bagel Mondays at work. I started taking Lactaid to help me digest dairy. Now, it seems so absurd. If my body doesn't respond well to a food, there must be a reason, right?

It wasn't until several years ago that I stopped eating animal products alltogether. My dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and I thought "This is the ONLY body I have. The only one. I will not get another one in this lifetime, so I better treat this one as good as I can." 

I vowed to cut out all animal products from my diet. And eat healthy, healthy, healthy. Meaning, lots of plants. 

It wasn't so much about the animals. At first. But this is when I started to learn about the horrors of the animal agriculture industry. If there was ANY bit of me that might have thought about eating animal products from a health perspective, the information I started to expose myself to was putting an end to me eating animals forever.

How could I play a role in this suffering? How could I support this?

I couldn't. I can't. I don't want any animal to suffer because of what I choose to eat. 

And I also don't want an animal to suffer for the clothes I wear, the makeup I put on my face, the hair products I use, and anything I bring into my home. So I gradually stopped buying leather, wool, feathers, beauty products and household items tested on animals, and anything else I discovered/am discovering uses animals in any way, shape or form. It may seem extreme to some people, but honestly - isn't it more extreme to kill and abuse living creatures for a cute pair of shoes or a ham sandwich?

You may not agree with me. I get it. There are a lot of arguments out there supporting the "use" of animals for food, fashion, and entertainment. I've heard most of them, but to me, it still comes down to this: I want to live kindly and compassionately and step gently in this beautiful world, and I can't do that if I am contributing to the death and abuse of sentient beings.

I love animals. I don't want them to die for me. They have a right to live as much as I do. I believe we are all connected. And the death of even one animal has a ripple effect through our own spirits. Maybe this is a little woo-woo for some, but this is what I truly believe. This, to me, is the Big Connection.

Is being vegan hard? Sometimes, but not really. It's not hard to stay firm in my decision to be vegan, but it can be challenging at times to find your way through a mostly non-vegan world. Finding non-leather shoes, belts and purses isn't super easy. Finding an area rug that isn't made from wool is a BIG challenge. Finding a pillow that isn't filled with down can be hard, too. Also, being told that you aren't getting enough protein can be tiring (ugh, really? We're still talking about this?)

But surprisingly, eating a vegan diet is pretty easy. And delicious. I've learned about so many "new" ingredients (hello, tempeh!)  and new ways to prepare "old" ingredients (cashew cream and walnut tacos? Yes, please!) that I feel so excited about cooking again. The vegan food business is booming, too, so there's certainly no shortage of yummy cruelty-free treats. 

The hardest part of being vegan, I think, is the self-examination and self-awareness that has to happen. And the questioning of what we've been taught our whole lives is "normal". We have to be willing to look at the ugliest parts of humanity - this is very hard - and admit that we, ourselves, have played and are playing a role in animal abuse. The hardest part being willing to see the truth. 

I still have a hard time learning the truth. It's hard to take in. And, some of the ways animals are treated are so horrific, we don't even want to believe it's happening. It's pretty easy to turn the other way. But it is a choice that we have. We have a choice. The animals don't, but WE do. 

And I choose to be vegan.

I know that going vegan may seem overwhelming. I know it can seem extreme. When I was vegetarian, I once referred to myself as "not one of those crazy vegans". And now here I am - one of those crazy vegans.  I wear this badge proudly now. For me, there's no going back.

 

Summer Vegetable Soup with Heirloom Tomatoes and Arugula Hazelnut Pesto

There's just something about soup. I've written a few blog posts over the years where I've featured recipes I've concocted, and they always seem to be soups. 

This soup recipe was born out of necessity. We planted a bunch of tomato plants in our new yard this season - 21 to be exact - and we are bombarded with bowlfuls of beautiful red fruit. We've got Black Krims, Ace, Brandywine, Glacier, Supice, Sweet 100s, and a handful of others. And I've got to say, they are deeeeelicious! But, we have a lot. And there are a lot more to come. Not that I'm complaining! But, I do have to figure out what to do with them. Salsa is my usual standby, but I'm afraid that the size of this bounty takes me way beyond Pico de Gallo.

Here's our beautiful tomato "jungle", as we've coined it. It used to be very pretty and proper and fully supported. Now the supports are makeshift, and the morning glory has happily wound itself up many of the branches. We fought it at first, and then gave up, as they didn't seem to be harming the plants and were making the bees quite happy. (Actually, I just did a quick bit of research and found that these morning glories might better be called bind weed. If anyone has more info on this plant, please share! I personally think they are beautiful, even if "invasive".)

And here is a small portion of our harvest. They do look beautiful against our deep teal walls (which I will unveil in my next blog post.) So, if you have a bunch of tomatoes you aren't sure what to do with, make some soup! If you don't have any, go buy some. And if you are local and ask nicely, I might also give you some. 

 

Summer Vegetable Soup with Heirloom Tomatoes

For the soup:

3 Tbsp olive oil

4 carrots, diced

3 celery stalks, diced

1/2 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup white wine (optional)

8 cups water

4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped (heirloom or other)

4 small yellow potatoes, diced

3-4 fresh thyme sprigs

 3-4 fresh marjoram sprigs

1/2 cup fresh fennel fronds, finely chopped

1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced

salt 

freshly ground pepper

Heat olive oil on medium heat in soup pot. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add white wine (if using), water, tomatoes, potatoes, thyme, and marjoram. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes, then add fennel fronds and fennel. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes until potatoes and fennel are done. Fennel can be cooked al dente, if desired. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

 

Arugula Hazelnut Pesto

2 garlic cloves

Juice of one lemon

3 cups arugula

1/2 cup hazelnuts

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

salt 

freshly ground pepper

Note: For this recipe you can use a food processor or a hand blender with mini-processor attachment. I prefer the low-fuss of the hand blender. It works great for small batches of pestos, salsas, dips and sauces. 

Put garlic, lemon, hazelnuts and approximately one cup of arugula in processor. Add approximately 2 tablespoons of oil. Process until blended thoroughly. Add another cup of arugula and enough oil to mix. Process until hazlenuts are coursely blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve soup with a spoonful of pesto and a garnish with a few fresh basil leaves. 

I can't stress enough how unimportant it is to follow these exact instructions. Soups especially, are meant to be modified, in my opinion. I used the vegetables I had on hand. You could add many other vegetables, and even omit some ingredients I've used. You can use more onion or less onion. You could add green beans instead of fennel. Or summer squash instead of potatoes. And the pesto could be made with walnuts and basil. Or cilantro and pine nuts. It's really about making do with the ingredients you have and not being afraid to modify a bit. You'll never know what delicious flavors you can create unless you try.

Bon appetit!

Vegan Chili Recipe

I used to love meaty chili as a kid. We'd often have a big bowl of it for dinner, using a flour tortilla as the base and topping it with grated cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Since I no longer eat meat - haven't for about 15 years now - I had to devise a way to get the same flavor and texture profile as my childhood favorite, vegan-style.

I've made vegetarian chili before. I simply followed a traditional meat-filled recipe and left out the meat. Good, but definitely not worth blogging about. That was before I had my secret ingredient: Rancho Gordo Beans.

If you haven't heard of Rancho Gordo Beans and you love beans (or even like them...you'll probably love them after you try them) please go check them out! They are out of Napa, and provide the most wonderful product - Heirloom beans from Mexico and Central America. 

"The Rancho Gordo Story"

 provides a great read on the company's history and philosophy.

"American cuisine seems to be in a position of re-inventing itself and I'd love to include ingredients, traditions and recipes from south of the border as part of the equation. I love the concept of The Americas. I feel as if it's just as important as the European heritage many of us share." - Steve Sando, Founder of Rancho Gordo

I love that.

Ok, on to my recipe. Enjoy!

Vegetarian Chili (w/ Rancho Gordo Ayocote Morado Beans) 

Ingredients

1/2 lb of Ayocote Morado (Purple Runner Beans), rinsed and sorted (

BUY here

)

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 carrots, diced

1 onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 cups canned diced tomatoes

2 bay leaves

1 tsp oregano

1 Tbsp Chili powder (more for spicier, less for milder)

1  tsp Chipotle powder (more for spicier, less for milder)

salt

pepper

avocado

cilantro

Soak beans in water a large stock pot in water for approximately 2 hours (or until they double in size and soften a bit.) Make a mirepoix with the carrots, onions and celery. (This just basically means you saute the ingredients together with a little olive oil and cook until softened.) Once the beans are soaked, add the mirepoix, canned tomatoes, bay leaves and oregano to the stock pot. Turn on the heat to medium-low and simmer away for a couple of hours. You may need to add more water periodically, depending on how much water the beans were soaking in. The amount of water and the cooking time will determine how thick or thin your chili will be.

Near the end of the cooking process, add the chili powder, chipotle and salt and pepper to taste. (I stick a spoon in every once in awhile to taste the beans for doneness.) You may want to add the chili powder and chipotle in gradually to adjust for your personal spicy meter. I like things on the spicy side, so these proportions might have a bit too much bite for some of you.

Then - and this is the trick to giving the chili a more meaty texture - mash up about half the beans with a potato masher. Simmer for another 15 minutes or so, and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.

Serve with warm tortillas or tortilla chips and top with fresh avocado and cilantro. (Note: photo shows cotija cheese as a topping, but this can easily be replaced with a vegan cheese or no cheese at all.)

Potato Leek Soup with Homemade Herbed Croutons

One of my favorite fall recipes is Potato Leek Soup. Easy, hearty, healthy and veggie - can't get much better than that! The original recipe came from my parents who pulled it from some food magazine, but I've made it so many times, I don't follow a recipe any more. And the Herbed Croutons are my yummy little addition. As far as I'm concerned, everything's better with croutons.

Potato Leek Soup

2 leeks

1 white onion

6-8 potatoes (I used Yellow Wax, but other varieties are fine, too.)

2 TBSP olive oil

6 cups water and/or veggie broth

salt and pepper

Herbed Croutons

stale bread

olive oil

salt and pepper

dried herbs (I used Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle and Turkish Oregano)

1) Trim, wash and chop the leeks.

2) Slice the onion.

3) Heat olive oil in stock pot.

4) Saute onion and leeks until soft, about 15-20 minutes.

5) Peel and cube potatoes.

6) Add potatoes and broth (and/or water) to onions and leeks. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are soft. About 20-25 minutes. 

7) Bust out the immersion blender. This is an amazing kitchen tool. Go buy one if you don't have one. (You can also transfer soup to a blender in batches, but it's a little trickier.)

8) Puree soup to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

For croutons...

1) Pull out your rock hard stale bread...whatever you have on hand.

2) Chop bread into cubes. (If it's really hard, you'll need a sharp Chef's knife, not a bread knife. And you may need safety goggles to protect your eyes from shooting bits of crust.)

3) Transfer bread cubes to bowl and generously coat with olive oil and/or butter. Season with salt, pepper and dried herbs. (I use whatever's on hand, but 

Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle is a really delicious blend.)

4) Toast seasoned cubes in toaster oven (or bake/broil in regular oven) for about 5 minutes. They are easy to burn, so keep your eye on them!

Perfect little croutons! I rarely buy store-bought croutons anymore because these are so tasty and easy...and they use up something that might otherwise be thrown away.

And there you have it - Potato Leek Soup with Homemade Herbed Croutons. Mmmmmmm.

I tend to make a lot of soups in the fall and winter, so maybe I'll share more recipes as the cold weather kicks in. Soups are such a wonderfully comforting food.

Enjoy!