How we do Vegas (baby!)

 

Doing Las Vegas when your family eats a WFPB diet, with little to no oil may seem like it’s a contradiction, right?  What is Vegas if not gluttony, alcohol and excess?  Well at one point I would have agreed with you because Mike and I had a long, glorious Vegas history.

Our Vegas history started back when we were omnivores, living in Flagstaff, AZ.  We’d go about 2 times a month during the winter months to get away from the cold and snow.  Mike was newly out of his fellowship, we had extra money for the first time and we had a lot of fun.  We were newly into wine as well and spent a lot of money on wine pairings and ridiculously expensive dinners.  We’d go for 4-5 days and come back 5-6 pounds heavier, lose the weight just in time to go again.  It was quite the cycle.

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After having children and moving to the inland Northwest, we rediscovered Vegas but as vegans and it was a bit different.  Thankfully, Steve Wynn was a new vegan and had directed all the restaurants at his 2 hotels to have several vegan options if not a whole vegan menu.  Eating was very easy and we did it a lot, still gaining the vacation weight, having to lose it.  It just seemed to be what we did.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, Mike started reading Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live and shared it with me.  We had started eating plant-based by mostly replacing favorite foods we’d loved with vegan versions.  It was delicious but not necessarily healthy.  ETL changed all that.  Reading that book was like reading a  scientific journal with all the citations and references.  Reading him sent us to read more from Neal Barnard from the Physicians Committee, we found Jeff NovickDr. Greger and many others that showed us definitively that while being vegan was wonderful and the best decision we’d ever made, it didn’t necessarily mean it was healthy and by doing our yo-yo way of dieting, by eating a high fat, high salt diet, we were stressing our bodies almost as much as if we’d stayed carnivores.  It seemed a change was in order.

Change we did!  I’ll spare you the various permutations of how often we shifted our eating styles but the basics have shaken out to be this:  We keep it simple, we rarely eat out and we stick to whole foods as much as possible.  Most of our meals have a starch of some kind, vegetables, beans and some kind of sauce.  We don’t do a lot of food porn recipes (and I’ll get into why in a future post; google pleasure trap if you want a sneak peek) and we don’t spend a lot of time making our food.  It may sound boring but it’s anything but.  With all the varieties of grains, tubers, greens and sauces, I never feel like I have the same meal twice.

You would have thought that once we made that change that Vegas would have been out.  After all, Vegas is all about excess: it’s food, drink, shows, more food but somehow we managed to pivot and still enjoy our time immensely.  We stay on the strip but we usually stay at Vdara which is a hotel that was originally going to be a condo hotel which means it has kitchens!  We arrive, check in and immediately make a run to Whole Foods.  We use canned beans instead of dried, maybe do boil in bag brown rice instead of the longer cooking type, hummus, and Whole Foods no oil dressings instead of our own sauces but other than that, we transplant our home routine to Vegas.

Now, you may wonder, “Where’s the fun in that?  I don’t go on vacation to just do what I do at home!” and I totally get it.  The first time we vacationed this way I felt a little cheated and more than a little resentful.  I was used to feeling entitled to eat whatever I wanted, and I didn’t see how we’d been doing it as problematic.  It took a frame shift and it didn’t happen overnight but when we decided to make the switch to not having our vacations being about a week long cheat day and more about the experiences we wanted to have, it was so much better.  Coming home feeling bloated and fat was never fun and had begun to feel less and less worth it.  Coming home feeling as light as when we left and without the drain on our wallet was completely without downsides.   We still go out to eat a couple times (we love Panevino and Vegenation!) but since they aren’t fighting for recognition in a week long eating free-for-all, we really enjoy and appreciate those meals.

We apply this way of living whenever we go outside our homebase.  We relocated our household to Seattle for 3 weeks while Diva went to a summer day camp and we used these same tactics to explore our home away from home.  We rented a house, did a big grocery shop to get us started and branched out from there. We did eat out at a few restaurants but with our way of doing things, we returned to Spokane feeling the same and weighing the same.  And instead of having to go on a diet to lose 5-10 pounds, we were able to pick right up where we left off but with brand new memories to cherish.

 

Pita pizzas!

Okay, I just looked back and I’ve ended every post title (which makes 4 right?) with an exclamation point.  Pretty sure that’s violating some grammar or blogging rule because nothing is always that exciting, so I’m going to watch that from now on. Except for today’s post.  Because I figured that if I’m going to show you how we make eating a whole foods, plant based  (which I’m going to abbreviate WFPB from now on…my typing is NOT up to snuff and the less I have to type, the faster I can get a blog post out) diet work for our family, littles included, I should show you some of what we eat and today that is pita pizzas!  See what I did there?  Another exclamation point.  Apparently I can’t help myself around this topic.

As an aside, while I don’t envision this becoming a recipe blog, it makes sense that if you want to follow this way of eating, from time to time it might be nice to see how others make it work for them.  Recipes were the way I transitioned to being vegan and then again to being more WFPB so I definitely intend to include them.  At first, most of these are going to be inspired by (or outright poached from) other bloggers who have serious recipe development talent that I do not but fear not, all credit shall be given.  My hope is that as I continue doing this and also continue further in my Rouxbe chef training I’ll become better at coming up with my own recipes.  As of now, I don’t tend to follow recipes except as a guide, but coming up with my own from scratch stumps me.  One more place for growth, right?

But, pita pizzas! (Doh, there it is again!)  These came about because I was needing a meal for the girls and didn’t have anything planned.  I’ve made pizza dough before and like doing it; there’s something satisfying about punching the risen dough down, kneading it with all your weight pushing into the dough and stretching it out to fit your stone or pan.  However, it’s a long-ish process and it doesn’t work when it’s 5:00 and the yeast is still in the package.  So I was hunting for what to make and I saw a package of Ezekial pita bread in our refrigerator.  I knew we had sauce and most importantly, we had cashew ricotta from a recent batch of potato and kale enchiladas leftover, so the idea for pita pizzas was born.

mise en place

These pictures are from my first Rouxbe assignment where we had to show our mise en place, a preparation picture and the finished product.  It was a great exercise and really has made me want to take better pictures.

As far as ingredients go, they were pretty basic.  I had the pitas, I had sauce already made but could have used any jarred sauce.  We tend to make our own or use no added salt sauces, again so we can control what we are eating.  It’s so easy to eat way more salt than is healthy so when we can control it, we do.  I had the cheese made already and then I just grabbed what we had in the frig.  Here you see tempeh, red bell peppers, olives and a greens mix from Costco.   I also added some steamed broccoli.   Pitas came out of the package, sauce was spread, I put on all the veggies and dotted the top with the cashew cheese:

in process

I’d pre-heated the oven to 450 degrees and popped them in.  After about 15 minutes I checked and the cashew cheese was getting a bit browned so I pulled them out.  They were piping hot and even better the pitas had crisped up and resembled a delicious thin crust.  Score!

plant based pizza!

My girls devoured them and have done so every time I make them.  It’s an easy way to get whole grains and vegetables in them because no matter what I put on them, it gets eaten.

As far as recipes go, there’s not one per se.  Ingredients are: pitas (I haven’t done this with any other pitas than Ezekiel so I don’t know if they crisp up as nicely), sauce, either homemade or jarred, vegetables and cashew cheese.  Here’s the cashew cheese recipe:

From Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This is from memory as my book is loaned out at the moment but if it’s not exactly their recipe, it’s what I always make so I know it tastes awesome.

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup cashews

1-2 garlic cloves

1 package firm tofu

1 tsp basil

1 tsp salt

combine lemon juice, garlic and cashews in a food processor until a thick paste forms.  Add crumbled tofu and process till smooth. Pulse in basil and salt.  This functions like a ricotta cheese and is rich and delicious!

One time, I was without cashew cheese and `made a cheesy drizzle for the pizza out of hummus, milk and nutritional yeast, aka nooch.  I mixed them together until it was thickly pourable and drizzled it over the pizza…worked like a charm.  Girls still scarfed it up?  Down?  Anyway, all the pizzas were eaten and they asked for seconds.

Glimpse number one of some of the food we eat, done!

 

Plant powered kids in practice!

Okay, last post I promised I’d cover how we do food with our littles.  As I wrote in that post, we are trying to create a palate that is satisfied by whole foods without a lot of added salt, fat or sugar.  The current American diet is slowly and painfully killing those who eat it and we want to spare our girls that heartache if we can.   I’m having trouble writing about this without it being a laundry list of food we eat.  Ain’t nobody gonna get those 5 minutes back if I do that so I’m trying to figure out how to capture what we do and how we do it.

I think the first thing to say is that, it’s not easy.  At least from the outside what we do looks like a lot of work.  We make almost everything they eat and we do it 3 meals a day, most days. We don’t eat out a lot and there is a very small percentage of food that comes from a box already prepared.   There is a lot of cooking, preparing, plating going on in our kitchen and the dishes seem to be never ending; there are times when 2 dishwashers wouldn’t seem amiss.  My mother-in-law once commented that she wouldn’t like to eat vegan because it was too much work.  My response to that is that it’s not so much about our being vegan as it is us being more whole foods based.  We have made a conscious choice to control what goes in our bodies, and not abdicate that responsibility to someone who does not have our best interests at heart.  That’s not saying that there aren’t healthy choices that come in packages but percentage-wise it’s not the majority.  While it’s time consuming, it’s become our lives so maybe saying it isn’t easy isn’t entirely accurate.  We’ve gotten it down to several systems that make meal times flow pretty easily.  A few times a week we make big pots of beans and grains.  We always have greens and vegetables in the refrigerator and fruit lives on our countertop.  Meals tend to vary on a theme that incorporates all of those things in one form or another.  They could be as simple as cut bell peppers, jadra (lentils and brown rice, it’s fantastic!) mangos and cauliflower or as complex as a cashew cheese grilled quesadilla with steamed broccoli mixed in.

The second thing to say is that, for the most part, I think that our strategy is working.  They have had what we call “junk” food before, several times even, and they like it as they were meant to.   But what I find interesting is that more often than not, after eating out at a restaurant (which means way more fat and salt than they are used to), or when eating at a vegan potluck which tend to focus more on vegan comfort foods, they’ll complain about headaches and stomach aches.  They’ve even noticed it and the last time we ate out at a restaurant, Diva told Sassy that they better have more vegetables to mix in with the other stuff so they wouldn’t feel so bad.  They are in tune with their bodies way more than I was even 10 years ago.  My hope is that they will internalize these message they are getting from their bodies and will choose to eat healthier more times than they don’t.  I remember loving McDonald’s diet cokes over all other drinks but I finally realized that the worst headaches of my life would happen after I had one of those diet drinks and I kicked it.  I was in my 30s.  Hopefully with a headstart, the girls won’t take as long!

It needs to be said that we struggle with some of the same things parents struggle with (first)world wide.  They get into ruts and then all of a sudden they won’t eat what they asked for seconds of yesterday.  And just when I think I’ve got a groove going, “Mom, I forgot to tell you, I don’t like that anymore.” is heard at the table.  They also take turns being picky-ish.  One day Sassy devours her plate, asks for more, the next, it’s Diva.  There’s no rhyme or reason…as the saying goes, the struggle is real.

You may wonder how this works out in the “real” world.   Kids will be kids, right?  Candy, cookies, cakes, nuggets, chips…they’re out there almost everywhere you turn.  A number of factors go into how we deal with all the temptations.  For one, we do give the girls treats; there’s a fabulous vegan bakery that makes delicious cupcakes, I make yummy desserts; they have chocolate pudding for breakfast sometimes (chocolate cherry chia pudding…so healthy but you’d never guess) and a local restaurant makes a killer vegan mac and cheese.  For another, like I mentioned before, they are starting to see the connection between how they eat and  how they feel and they are already making changes based on it.  Another way we deal is by not expecting perfection.  We tend to operate on a 90-95% rule of thumb: if 90-95% of what they eat is from us and healthy, we aren’t going to sweat the remainder.  We have no desire to be hovering and monitoring everything that goes in their mouth.  We did that for a bit and it was exhausting and no one enjoyed it.  We’re well aware that sooner than later, they are going to be out on their own, responsible for their own choices and we are going to have to live with them.

Finally, we also don’t dumb things down for them.  They know where their food comes from and have no desire to participate in the atrocities that happen on a daily basis.  We look at ingredient labels and try and pronounce them, much to their amusement/disgust.  One day, Diva looked at a snack cake and wanted to try it.  We looked at the label and she shuddered and said, “That looks more like a bad science experiment than food.”  At 6 she’s already more aware than many adults.  All we can do is model good eating ourselves and give them the knowledge they need to make the best choices they can.  Anyway, let me know if you want more specifics on what kinds of foods we make (my pita pizzas and tofu scrambles are out of this world, if I do say so myself) and I’ll get more detailed.    Till next time!

 

 

Plant powered kids!

I’ve got 2 littles, Diva and Sassy who are 6 and 4 respectively and they’ve been vegetarian/vegan since birth.  Diva ate eggs and cheese but never had meat and transitioned to vegan when she was 2 and her sister was born.  Sassy has never intentionally consumed an animal product; I’m fairly sure well meaning grandparents have accidentally given them things that have had eggs  (cookies) or animals (McDonald’s french fries, eww!  Why, oh why does a potato need beef juice on it to make it taste good?  Oh right, it doesn’t.  But I digress…) but other than that, she’s been vegan her whole life.  For them, it’s normal and they think the rest of the world is a bit weird because they eat animals.  They know they are different but it doesn’t seem to bother them.

To be clear, just because something is vegan by no means guarantees it is healthy.  We are trying to teach the girls that the question to ask when presented with food that’s not from us, isn’t necessarily, “Is it vegan?” but, “Is it healthy?” and they do pretty well for the most part.   They like lots of different vegetables and grains, eat peanut or almond butter and a wide variety of fruit.   What’s interesting is that when I try to feed them with food that carries lingering prejudices about what children like to eat, they won’t touch it. For example, conventional wisdom holds that kids don’t like veggies unless they are slathered with ranch or hummus.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put veggies on their plates with hummus or a vegan cashew ranch or other sauce and they refuse to eat them, only want them plain.  It’s the same with pasta.  Diva wants it plain, Sassy wants cheesy sprinkle (a cashew, nutritional yeast blend) but no sauce.

We have the reputation in our families of being too strict with the girls and what they eat.  One family member once threatened to call CPS because she thought we were too harsh in what we feed the girls.  Despite what our families think, we aren’t doing it to be mean, and we aren’t even as uncompromising as they think we are and there’s a very good reason for why we do it.  We have what we loosely call “control” over them for such a short time and these years are absolutely key in forming their palates.  If we bombard them with high fat, highly salted, highly palatable but low nutrient food, that’s what they are going to want. They will form preferences for them and may struggle with addictive type eating that may in time, and I’m not exaggerating here, kill them.  Kids aren’t born loving chicken nuggets or french fries, but if they are offered them, it is almost guaranteed they will like them and prefer them over say, cauliflower because of how our brains are wired to seek pleasure which these low nutrient “foods” provide.  If we can spare them the pain of that addictive struggle by flooding their senses with delicious, highly nutritive dishes that are fantastic to eat and also happen to provide all the components their little bodies need to grow healthy and strong, help prevent cancer and so many other maladies, why wouldn’t we do that?

I was overweight as a young adult and constantly struggled with food issues.  I remember going to Wendy’s drive through and ordering not only their 1/4 pound burger but also the baked potato with broccoli and cheese.  I knew I was being unhealthy but wasn’t able to resist the siren call of that type of food.  You bet I want to do anything I can to save the girls from that.   How’s it all working?  How do we do what we do with the girls?  I’ll cover that in my next post!

 

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Is Change Possible?

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  So the saying goes and I had it thrown at me by a family member who was trying to justify a different family member’s refusal to make meaningful change to improve his health.  While it’s  a familiar refrain, it’s definitely not true.  I had a student change her diet to completely plant-based after having a heart attack at age 56; she had a severe health scare and it was the launchpad for her to eat better.  Thousands of others like  her have done the same thing; they’ve seen their health declining or threatened and have effected meaningful change to stop that threat.   The aforementioned family member, however has had open heart surgery, requires oxygen on an almost constant basis, is overweight and still partakes in fast food, eats high salt foods and rarely allows a vegetable to pass his lips.  What makes one person embrace change in a way that is going to improve their life while another, despite all the evidence indicating they should, stays mired in their unhealthy ways?

Reading various articles on what makes people change didn’t answer the question definitively but it did give me some insight.  Change comes about when someone perceives a need for that difference in their life. It could be something as simple as needing a bigger (or smaller house) or something as grand as a career change after 15+ years.  Someone sees that the status quo isn’t acceptable and they make strides to introduce upheaval.  Desire or wanting also play a factor.  If someone wants something badly enough they usually take steps to achieve it.  What’s interesting is that both the desire and the need are the result of  some type of anxiety, some unrest in one’s life,  but leaving that status quo also produces anxiety. Change will happen if one type of stress is greater than the other,  if the need to leave the status quo overwhelms the uncomfortableness that results from playing it safe.

When it comes to changing one’s life for health reasons, a couple of things come into play.  The pharmaceutical industry has done a bully job of convincing the American public that all their ailments can be cured, resolved, lessened or attenuated with a pill.  Watch any prime time television program and you are likely to hear the familiar refrain of, “Ask your doctor if ___ drug is right for you.”  Doctors take classes on pharmacology, not nutrition (or very few do) and thus are very comfortable writing a prescription for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol medications, for example, however very few are comfortable prescribing a whole food plant-based diet and assuming a posture of watchful waiting. In their defense there are any number of things that cause them to write a prescription:  doctors are trained to DO something, not watch and wait and since plant based diets aren’t considered standard of care (yet!,) in today’s litigious climate if a doctor has a patient with a potentially deadly condition and they don’t do something with rapid effect and the patient is hurt or dies, the doctor is in a lot of trouble.  The end result of this is that many people come to their doctor expecting that they can be cured with a simple pill.

The second thing coming into play with health changes can be that many people view diseases like diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and cancer to be maladies that are either inevitable or out of their control.  It’s easy to see why: those 4 consistently make the Centers for Disease Control’s top 10 leading causes of death.  And with our 2/3 of our population being overweight or obese, it becomes common, almost expected, to know someone affected by one of these.  When an entire population believes that being afflicted with one or more of these is inescapable, individually we stop believing we can affect the course of our health.  And if the stroke or heart attack is inevitable, then why not enjoy the path to get there (in the form of cheeseburgers or other highly palatable, processed food)?  It’s going to happen no matter what I do so I don’t need to change  (goes the thinking).

The tragedy in that type of thinking is that it casts the person as a victim, but in fact, when it comes to your health, you have the power to control much of your body’s destiny.  You do have to do that one, not so little thing…change.  Changing how you eat can be easy, it can be difficult but a lot of it has to do with your mindset.  If you focus on all the things you can’t do, all the things you can’t eat, eating a whole foods, plant-based diet will be a hardship.  But if you look at it as an adventure, as a gift you are giving yourself and allow yourself the freedom to explore the myriad of options, you can thrive and be grateful you took the risk and allowed yourself to metamorphosis into a new, healthy, happy person.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for Life, baby!

I found out about Food for Life after going to the Lifestyle Medicine conference, and like I said, I knew I wanted to do it.    I went home and within a month, had a video with a cooking demonstration on YouTube as part of my application and paperwork filled out and I settled in to wait.  And I waited.  And waited.  When I submitted my application, I didn’t realize that the deadline for submission was 5 months away with a decision date of 2 months after that!  In order to fill my time I took a plant-based nutrition class through eCornell which I thoroughly loved.   I enjoy learning and while I’d considered myself well read on the benefits of a plant-based diet, I was gaining new knowledge with every class.

Finally August came and I was off to Washington DC for my training.  I had no idea what to expect, even down to how many people were enrolled.  I had in my head that maybe 20 were attending but had no idea where I got that number.  It wasn’t 20, but 80!  The room was packed with people as excited as I was to start learning the process of teaching Food for Life classes and the energy was so high, you could almost see it.

The people ranged from health professionals to restaurant owners, fitness professionals and reporters.  Their experiences were all personal, whether it was getting off diabetes medications themselves or wanting to help a loved one increase their survival.  The thing that we all held in common was feeling passionate about wanting to spread the “gospel” so to speak.  Also, there seemed to be a sense of relief about being around people who got it.  I am lucky in that in my everyday life, I get to surround myself with people who are interested or curious or on the same page as I am and sometimes I forget that the majority of the world doesn’t eat like I do.  Sometimes I remember because someone says something that is just jarring , usually about eating meat.  And then I remember that as far as the rest of the world is concerned, I’m the abnormal one.  Being in the same room with these people felt like being home in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.  I didn’t get to meet even half of them but it didn’t matter; the commonality was just soothing. I made sure to sit someplace different every chance I could so I could meet someone new and even though I’m an introvert by nature, I found myself walking up to new people and sticking out my hand for an introduction.  The fact they were at that class meant that I wanted meet them!

The training was great.  Some of it was rehashing of stuff I already knew, some of it was just fandom (Neal Barnard, what?) but a lot of it was real life experience with tips and tricks for how to really run a class.  And there were a lot of questions.  There really wasn’t time for all the questions we had but they sure tried to answer as many as they could.  And as I’m trying to figure things out a month or so later, I didn’t even know what to ask.   But I’m figuring it out slowly.  And in the meantime, I made some friends and contacts and created a support system that will carry me through this journey so I couldn’t be more excited.

American College of Lifestyle Medicine and Food for Life, baby!

A brief caveat:  I haven’t written anything besides an evite since nursing school and I’m sure I’m going to struggle finding my voice in this blog.  I know I used to be a good writer lo, these many years ago, and I’m excited to get back to that.  Please, God, let me get back to that.  I’m cringing right now, reading my stilted prose but I promise to get better, as fast as humanly possible…

Almost a year ago, my husband and I went to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s conference in San Diego.  It was an event for a couple reasons: it was the first solo trip my husband and I had been on since our daughters were born 3 and 5 years prior (cue angels singing) and it was a veritable who’s who of nutrition dignitaries.  Dean Ornish, T. Colin Campbell, Michael Gregor and Caldwell Esselstyn were just a few of the notables speaking; I geeked out just being on the same elevator as Michael Gregor and even though I’d basically heard his speech before, somehow hearing it from HIM made it better.  The other thing was that the conference was at least 500 people, correction, 500 like-minded people who all believed that Americans are slowly killing themselves with a knife and fork AND that we have the power to prevent and even, reverse disease.  It was a heady experience.  Oh, and the food was amazing.  A-MAZing.  I felt bad looking at the boring food other conferences were being subjected to.  Well, not that bad.

Prior to this, I’d worked as a pediatric nurse, mostly in the intensive care unit.  I applied to Master’s programs in both peds and adult medicine but the latter was very begrudgingly;  I didn’t like working with adults and their co-morbidities and there was always the vague blaming going on.  Blaming, in that they had brought this on themselves because they didn’t have enough will power to put down the potato chips, cigarettes and candy.  Graduate school was delayed by the birth of my daughters and in that time, I started eating plant based, then started eating healthy plant based and learning more about how the food industry stacks the deck against people being healthy AND I started working in an adult ER.  This was eye opening, mostly in that now I had individual faces who were suffering, it wasn’t faceless statistics on obesity, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.  I was seeing people losing digits and limbs from diabetes, losing their lives from clogged arteries and knowing that it was all so preventable made me angry, but I still felt powerless.  I’d gently mention a plant based diet here or there, answer vague questions on protein and calcium  but I could tell I wasn’t getting through.  I felt like I didn’t have the credentials to persuade people and I was leery about my ability to counsel someone through a change.

At the ACLM conference I found out about Food For Life, the PCRM’s community outreach arm (at least, that’s what I call it) and the spark that had been being nurtured burst into flame.  Here was a turn-key, guided nutrition program with recipes, scripting if desired and the full support of the prestigious Physician’s Committee.  I went for it, hook, line and sinker, turning in my application within a month (had to get my cooking demo just right, ya know) and then realizing that the deadline for submission was 5 long months away.  Finally, June 12, 2015 came and when I received my congratulatory email, I may or may not have screamed, startling my 5 and 3 year olds who then joined me in a celebration dance around our kitchen.  I was going to go to Washington D.C. in August.

What happened in August?  That’s a topic for next time, my lovelies.