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VegWeek Day 6, Easy Banana Oat Bars

30 Sep

“None of us like to think that we can’t trust the institutions we’ve grown up with, but being a truly healthy person means exploring important issues deeply and thinking for yourself.”
-Alicia Silverstone, The Kind Diet

VegWeek_2011The Kind Diet is a book I happened upon at Borders a few years ago, but am just now getting around to reading. And so far, I love it. This is going to be a library-to-own book, for sure. I know some people feel that celebrity activists are annoying, that movie stars have no place talking about politics, or whatever. And to them I say, psshaw. Celebrities are people, too. (Yes, really!) If someone is passionate about a cause and can use his or her fame to make a significant impact in the world, I am all for it. Alicia Silverstone joins hundreds of celebrities in the vegan cause, people like Kelly Clarkson, Bill Clinton, Ellen Degeneres, Leonardo DiCaprio, Melanie Griffith, Paul McCartney, Alanis Morisette, Kevin Nealon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joaquin Phoenix, Liv Tyler, Barry White, Kate Winslet, and many others. Her book is worth checking out, and here’s why.


The Kind Diet is a great intro for those who are new to vegetarianism. Silverstone presents the issues in a systematic and comprehensive way, while keeping the tone relatively light. She writes in the conversational, friendly way you might expect from her. Of course, the decision to go veg is a big deal and not to be taken lightly. It’s not a fad diet, it’s a lifestyle change, and I feel that concept honored throughout this book. Silverstone offers gentle advice for people at every stage, whether “flirting” with changing their diet, ready to go vegan, or onto the “superhero” lifestyle (macrobiotic). She also provides fab recipes for each stage, a breakdown of commercial vegan products, and a primer on natural sweeteners.

Alicia-Silverstone-cookieThis is the adorablest picture in the front of the book.
And yes, dessert recipes are included!

Silverstone describes her transition to veganism and then the macrobiotic diet this way:

“I noticed that my whole body felt lighter. I was more vibrant and spunky. I felt like my heart had sort of opened a bit and my shoulders could relax, as if an overall softening had taken place. I no longer carried heavy animal protein in my body, which takes tons of energy to digest. Plus, I didn’t have the heaviness of the suffering in me; frightened animals produce lots of cortisol and adrenaline right before slaughter, and we can become stressed from eating their meat.”
-What’s so kind about dieting?, p. 10

I’ve read about this heart-opening, compassion-growing experience in multiple places now, and I have to admit, the idea is incredibly alluring. Who doesn’t want to be a more peaceful, loving version of themselves? The thought of eating the pain and suffering of animals also resonates more than any excuse I can make for eating meat. Check this book out. Let me know what you think.

You can listen to Alicia talk about her inspiration for the book here:

Easy Banana Oat Bars

Recipe Source: Adapted from The Kitchn

When I came across this recipe last week, I knew I had to try it ASAP. It’s so ridiculously easy, and so natural, so good for you! There’s no added, refined sugar, but plenty of natural sweetness coming from dried dates and super-ripe bananas. And I was happy to discover, the two combine to create a really fantastic, slightly gritty chewiness and substance that is oh-so-satisfying.


There aren’t too many ingredients, at least not for me, but you can add or subtract from these however you see fit. The recipe below is my adaptation of the Kitchn’s adaptation. It can be adapted further still!

banana-oat bars

These bars are great for breakfast-on-the-go, an after-school snack, a little fuel before a workout, or a not-too-guilty dessert.

Makes one 8×8-inch pan.

2 large, very ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1/4 cup pitted, chopped dried dates
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Cinnamon and nutmeg

Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 8×8-inch square baking dish with coconut oil or other fat.

Peel the bananas and mash their flesh in a medium mixing bowl. Mash very thoroughly until no large chunks remain; the bananas should be essentially liquid (a small food processor or hand-held blender works well for this). Mix in the vanilla extract and salt. Then stir in the oats, flax, dates, nuts, and coconut.

Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan. If desired, sprinkle the top lightly with nutmeg and cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to crisp up.

Place the baking pan on a rack to cool. When the pan is mostly cool, cut into bars and enjoy with a glass of milk or tea.


VegWeek Day 5, Mexican-inspired Vegan Rice & Beans

29 Sep

“Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”

VegWeek_2011Welcome to Day 5 of VegWeek – we’re almost to the end! There are a number of great documentaries out on the state of our food system, and if you have Netflix, many of these are available on-demand. There’s a new documentary that just came out this year, called Forks Over Knives. It promotes a vegan diet from the health perspective. As I mentioned on Monday, health concerns are one of the reasons many people opt to reduce or eliminate animal products from their diet.


Meat-eating has been linked to a plethora of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. According to the film’s stats, a person is killed by heart disease every minute in the United States, and 1500 a day die from cancer – over one million combined a year. A third of people born today will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

Forks Over Knives tells the story of two doctors, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., whose independent research ultimately brought them to the same conclusion: the simple prescription of a whole foods, plant-based diet could reverse the leading causes of death in the world today. Specifically, this diet includes whole, minimally refined fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, and avoidance of animal-based foods such as meat, dairy, and eggs, as well as processed foods like bleached flour, refined sugars, and oil.

The film details the history of the American diet and shows how the rise in processed foods and meat consumption directly correlated with a rise in heart disease and cancer. These findings were common throughout the world, in places where the American diet is new, as well as places where meats and dairy have been scarce for a time due to war and poverty. When the meat is gone, disease decreases. When it’s back, disease is on the rise.

To further explore this idea, Dr. Campbell conducted a test with rats, to see how they responded to casein, the main protein in dairy products. The rats’ intake of casein was adjusted between of 5% and 20% of overall diet – the increase our culture has seen – at three-week intervals. Rates of cancer followed this single change, down and up and down again. “This was so provocative, this information,” says Campbell. “We could turn on and off cancer growth just by adjusting the level of that protein.”

There’s so much more valuable information in this documentary, but you’ll have to watch it to learn the rest. I hope you will. Do your research – decide for yourself.

Everyone knows the old adage, “you are what you eat.” If I think of myself being a cow or a chicken or a goat, that might not be so bad. There’s kind of a cool, reincarnationey feeling about it. When I think of myself being a frightened, abused, diseased cow or chicken or goat, it gets a bit harder to stomach. But then, think of this – you are what you eat and everything that you ate, ate. What comes to mind when you think about grazing cattle? Grass, bugs… dandelions? How about feathers, hair, skin, hooves, and blood? Manure? Plastic? All these and more get digested by factory farmed animals and show up in their meat. Chew on that next time you’re craving a burger. [Source: Union of Concerned Scientists]

you are what you eatAnother problem with our diet is the cost of food. Fast food is cheap, loaded with instantly gratifying flavor including massive amounts of sodium, which we’ve our palates adjust to, and, well – it’s fast. Convenient. Logical… There is a distinct correlation between obesity and economic status. But education and awareness could be factors, too. Here is a great article to debunk this commonly held, woe-to-us idea. Food for thought, if you will.
New York Times: Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

Still not convinced? Eat a vegan diet and you, too, can be buff!

Vegan bodybuilders Derek Tresize and Robert Cheeke debunking the myth about plant foods and building muscle. Image via Forks Over Knives.

Mexican-inspired Vegan Rice and Beans

Rice and beans is a humble, staple kind of dish, but I never thought to make it until I caught a quick glimpse of the hottie firemen in Forks Over Knives making it. I love jasmine rice and black beans, and had a host of great companion veggies on-hand, so I decided to try it.

Rip EsselstynHonestly, though, this guy could convince me to eat almost anything.

I love how versatile this dish is, and that it’s a one-dish meal. It’s perfect for workweek lunches. Last week, I made my rice and beans with garlic, red onion, bell pepper, lime juice, avocado, and cilantro.

rice & beans

This week, I decided to try out some “El Burrito Soyrizo.” (Man, I love the name! Had to buy it.) Veggies included were shallot, bell pepper, tomatillo, tomato, lime juice, avocado, and cilantro.

soyrizo rice & beans

My preparation from the first night is below. But go ahead and experiment with this dish, and whatever veggies you have. Olives? Jalapenos? Spices? Vegan cheese crumbles? The sky is the limit!

1 cup jasmine or other rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 (14 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as safflower
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Juice of 1 lime
1 avocado, sliced into cubes and scooped
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Prepare rice according to package directions. Saute garlic until just lightly browned, then add in onion and bell pepper. Cook until slightly softened, between 5 and 10 minutes, then add black beans and rice to warm through. Garnish with lime juice, avocado, and cilantro.

And now for something completely different! A book club.

1 Sep

Last month I had the good fortune of stumbling across a foodie book club, The Kitchen Reader, via a blogger I follow (Jules of stonesoup), on another blog I follow (Write to Done: 7 Reasons Why Joining a Book Club Will Help Your Writing).

book club

I’ve many times blown off invitations to book clubs, in part because I was worried the selections wouldn’t interest me, in part because I’m dodgy about committing to projects in general, and in part because I’m dodgy about finishing books in particular. (I like to think of these as the torments of the terribly brilliant and creative.) But Jules managed to convince me, especially since this club is centered around food – a subject I love writing and reading about.


If the coincidences in the first paragraph weren’t enough for you, this month’s book selection was Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone – very a propos for the recent change in my relationship status.

So without further ado, my review!

Since this is a book about food, I suppose it’s appropriate to compare it to a restaurant. Or a diner, to be exact. Eggplant is written by several authors, so there’s a variety. You can have pancakes at 6 p.m. And like any compilation, I liked some of these stories more than others. A few left me cold, I passed through them onto the next. A few felt secret and conspiratorial, like a wink to my inner voyeur. And plenty made me laugh out loud.

One thing I can say about all these stories is I was impressed by the authors’ level of introspection on a subject that happens daily, but can easily be overlooked. Some seemed to feel that eating is an activity meant to be shared, and for them, solo dining is viewed as temporary – even if it’s actually the norm. Others outright embraced their aloneness, as an act of rebellion, to people-watch (or waitress-watch), or just not bother with the bore that company can be.

In Que Sera Sarito, Steve Almond says so many things I can relate to, it a funnier and franker way than I would say them. For example, on how he learned to cook: “It is certainly true that cooking is therapeutic, creative, and all those other faintly creepy self-helpish words. I would love to tell you that learning to cook was part of my journey toward actualization. I would love to tell Oprah this. I would love to tell Oprah this while weeping. But I learned to cook for a much simpler reason: in the abject hope that people would spend time with me if I put good things in their mouths.” In my About page, I wrote something high-brow about giving people a gift through the fundamental act of nourishment, or some such. But basically, we’re saying the same thing: feeding people makes you friends.

I also related to a story called Thanks, but No Thanks, which is curious for this compilation as it’s pretty anti-foodie. Courtney Eldridge makes no bones about her distaste for food snobs and food snobbery. And reading her words just made me think of my best friend and me, how we grew up without much, with single parents, in a small town. We both live in big cities now, we cook and we go out dancing. We appreciate foreign films and fancy shoes. But we’ll never forget where we came from, and can just as easily listen to mariachis as Mozart. There’s a sort of stubborn pride in humble beginnings, and if you’re not from our town, you might not understand. But I felt like Eldridge did, and that meant something to me.

The story White-on-White Lunch for When No One Is Looking just made me laugh. Anneli Rufus’ mother was an avid Atkins Dieter, and her dutiful daughter avoided starches for the first half of her life. My own mother was no fanatic, but I grew up on my share of dietary doctrine – the food pyramid, no fruit roll-ups and such – and I, too, feel its influence at every meal. If I could bring myself to eat a Pop Tart, only a Pop Tart, and call it breakfast, I’m sure I’d feel guilty for the rest of the day!

Some stories, especially Colin Harrison’s Out to Lunch, made the daunting act of eating alone in a restaurant seem like an adventure. I really liked these, because if I ever plan to eat alone, I make sure I’m armed with a book. But outside his New York City office, in his well-worn, back-corner window seat, the world is a stage. Harrison watches people hurry about their days, fascinated, from his “voyeuristic fishbowl.”

But back to cooking at home, Dan Chaon put my adventurous notions to shame. His Wild Chili has variously included any of the following: “African bird pepper, alligator jerky, artichokes, beer, beets, bourbon, carrots, celery, elk, epazote, fennel, garbanzo beans, green bell pepper, harissa, horseradish, hot dogs, Kahlua, jicama, lavender, lobster, mango, red wine, spinach, turkey breast, vinegar, yeast, yogurt, zucchini.” I’m not even sure what some of those are!

And finally, there were the authors who relished eating one food obsessively. In Asparagus Superhero, Phoebe Nobles is completely attuned to the seasons, when Michigan spring yields only one crop. I’d tell you what it is, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise…

When I’m alone, I’ve been known to call my dinner a can of warmed Ranch-Style beans (original flavor), popcorn drizzled with rosemary oil, and a glass of wine.

What are your guilty pleasures when eating alone?

happy eggplant