Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lent Recipe: Hoppin’ John with Carolina Kale

hoppin' john kaleRice and beans could mean lots of things. Perhaps Mardi Gras inspired to keep my culinary effort south of Mason-Dixon with a combination of two recipes that fulfill my dietary plans for Lent. Hoppin’ John is a dish of black eye peas served with rice, and the Carolina Kale helps me toward my goal of five bunches of greens per week.

Carolina Kale

This is a dish I haven’t done for a while that I chose for being different from my usual preparation. The greens are cooked with tomatoes for more liquid. I modified the recipe intentionally by adding eight ounces of pre-sliced mushrooms to increase the dish’s nutrient density Fuhrman style. They were a great  addition, and by adding a couple of cups of cooked beans it would make a great all in one Rice and Beans and Greens Super Dish. I will definitely make this dish again during Lent.

Hoppin’ John: Yam Variation

This dish seems to be black eye peas cooked in many different ways.  I chose a variation from Alan Goldhamer’s cookbook The Health Promoting Cookbook that included chopped yam and potato and celery as the main seasoning. The yam looked huge when chopped, so I omitted the potato. It came together nicely, but when finished I realized that I should have added more yam or sweet potato.

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Choose Your Poison: Not At All!

I am often asked if I buy organic produce. Sometimes it makes me a little uncomfortable, feeling that I am being judged for spending more money than is necessary, or that I am overly obsessed about health. So I backpedal a bit and say that I am more concerned about the environmental impact of farming. I like supporting farmers who are not dumping toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil. But then the nasty side of me takes hold and I explain that if one is truly concerned about pesticide and toxic chemical exposure, then elimination of animal products from the diet is essential. The toxic residue builds up as you ascend the food chain. I had people argue, but fortunately I was sitting next to a biology Phd who nodded and agreed. Didn’t stop anyone present from eating meat. But here is more evidence of the nasty accumulation of toxic chemicals in meat. Note the stress this causes the meat industry. Not that all of it is their fault, the global environment being what it is, but how do you market poison?

Ash Wednesday

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        Lent Starts Today

        Traditionally a period for some spiritual practice, I like to participate every year. I treat it somewhat like New Year’s Resolutions, but the six week duration makes it a temporary affair. But I always use the period to try out new habits, set a goal, or even just to experiment. Since Lent only lasts six weeks, it is long enough try a new habit just to see what happens. For instance, one year I tried eliminating all sugar and white flour. I wasn’t completely successful, but I learned from my mistakes where hidden sugar was, how easy it is to slip, and how sugar craving would pop up in unlikely places. Because of this, I eat much less white sugar and flour.

I find this tradition fascinating, especially since I wasn’t raised Catholic. My involvement with Lent was actually inspired by a Buddhist friend who decided to participate one year by giving up beer. True to his Scotch heritage, the man loves his hops. He learned a lot from the experience, and the discipline he created he took with him when it was over and the beer returned. The popular conception of Lent is to give up some kind of vice or bad habit, but I think it was more a way of forgoing luxury to strengthen one’s spiritual resolve and conserve precious resources. I have noticed that many religions make a virtue out of fasting for part of the year as a way to build some spiritual strength out of physical discipline. Since Lent falls in the late winter and early spring, it may have had a basis in necessity, when food stores would likely be at their lowest and therefore make a virtue out of necessity.

A little Wikipedia research informed me that there are a zillion different versions of Lent, so I rolled my own. Traditionally, Lent focused on three areas: Fasting, Prayer, and Alms Giving. In practical terms, fasting and alms giving likely helped people survive the leanest month, and the prayer would help with motivation. For myself, I will use Lent to focus on Prayer and Fasting.

Prayer

        In place of prayer, I will use Mindfulness meditation and daily journaling. These reflections might make it onto the blog, or they may not. But I will use the daily spiritual practice in the Lenten spirit.

Fasting

        Traditionally, fasting meant a vegetarian diet, but I already do that. So, in the tradition of conservation and reducing luxury, I will eat the way most people of modest means: Rice and Beans, and Rice and Vegetables. My breakfast will remain the usual oatmeal, but all lunches and dinners will be some variation of the above.

In my own variation of using Lent as an experiment, I will change my diet a little more toward Dr. Fuhrman’s version of superfoods. I just read his new book Super Immunity, and I want to strengthen my immune system. After my recent bout with pneumonia, I learned that my immune system is not as strong as I thought. So the discipline will be to eat five bunches of his top ranked leafy greens every week. I have eight to choose from, so that will most likely be dinner every night.

Copouts and Cheating

Since I make up my own rules, I added a little variation I found used by some traditions. You get to take one day off from the disciplines a week. Traditionally this was the sabbath day, which was conceived of as a mini Easter or resurrection, where one could feast again. I think it was to help people maintain their motivation and will to get through six weeks. I will allow myself the same escape route on Sunday. I can cook and eat or drink whatever.

Making up your own rules? Yeah, buddy! It’s good to be the king.

Anybody else use the Lent season in a similar way? What do you do?

Choose Your Poison Wisely

What’s the healthiest cigarette?

The healthiest liquor?

Arsenic?

Ridiculous questions, right? But right there on my Yahoo! homepage an article titled:

The 5 Healthiest Cheeses

 Seriously?! Cheese is little more than saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein and salt. All are unhealthy and strongly linked to heart disease and cancer. But it gets better (worse.) The article goes on to call it a lean protein! At 70% fat, cheese is NOT lean, instead it is the biggest contributor of saturated fat in the American diet.

Now I’m a recovering cheese addict, so I have nothing agains the taste, but to make health claims about it is just plain wrong.

Fat Tuesday Plant Strong Style

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For much of the Roman Catholic world, today, the Tuesday before Lent, is Mardi Gras, or “fat Tuesday”, the last day of celebration before the fasting season of Lent. Cities such as New Orleans, Sao Paulo, and Trinidad kick out the jams with a party to end all. At least until next year.

        While raucous carnaval parties are not my style, why not celebrate the season with plant strong versions of New Orleans cuisine? Louisiana cooking is well know for meat and seafood in everything, but there is more than one way to cook a gumbo. Many meatless versions exist thanks to the Lenten tradition. It’s not so hard after all to go plant strong for Mardi Gras.

Over at the Engine 2 blog they linked a bunch of recipes.

Here is the usual gumbo recipe in my family. It’s not uncommon for us to eat this once a week in winter. We use chard and add 1/2t of dried thyme along with some cajun seasoning salt.

Susan at the great fatfreevegan blog is from Louisiana, and she has painstakingly converted the classics for healthy plant strong warriors.

My favorite is Real Louisiana Red Beans and Rice.

A cookbook that has some ideas is Good Time Eatin’ in Cajun Country.


For us tonight? The Happy Herbivore’s NOLA Gumbo from The Everyday Happy Herbivore, with the addition of chard.

And zydeco. Gotta have some zydeco, too. With Tabasco.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Vegans Have Better Protein Status

Where do get your protein?


Even contemplate a vegetarian or vegan diet and you WILL get this question until you want nothing more than to stuff the questioner’s head inside a can of whey protein. There are many possible responses that are research based that plant foods provide more than adequate protein. Currently I like this little gem that shows that not only do long term vegans get enough, they are actually better off than omnivores:

If I’m feeling nice, I respond with where do elephants get their protein?

Blank Stare

Green vegetables, like me.

If I’m feeling snarky, I respond with, “Where do you get you isothiocyanates? Indole-3 carbonole? Anthocyanins?”

Blank stare.

“You know, all those cancer fighting phytochemicals you hear about in the news?”

More blank stares.

Clearly, plant strong warriors, the fight must go on a while longer.

Heart Attack Grill Serves a Real Heart Attack: Ironic?

The sign on the door clearly states that the food is unhealthy. With names of burgers based on real cardiac procedures, no one pretends that The Heart Attack Grill is safe. But that doesn’t stop the customers, not in the former Arizona location or the current Las Vegas location.

Is it ironic when a customer experiences a heart attack in the restaurant of the same name?

It is,

when one customer says what most people are thinking, that you don’t think it would really happen. It’s just a joke right? All fun and games until someone loses an eye. Or a coronary artery.

It is,

when the owner and perpetrator of this says that anyone “with an ounce of compassion” would feel for the victim. Apparently we need more than an ounce not to serve up this dangerous food, take the money to the bank, and fall back on customer responsibility as an excuse. Maybe a metric ton of compassion is needed.

It is,

when other customers, after the show has ended, go back to destroying their own cardiovascular systems without a bat of the proverbial eyelash. Out of sight, out of mind.

It is ,

when the owner criticizes other patrons for taking pictures “like it was a stunt” and that even “their morbid sense of humor” would never go so far. His marketing plan appears to rely on quite a bit of spectacle.

It is ironic because the many customers of this or similar restaurants don’t expect such a tragic event to actually happen right there. But studies of “holiday heart” show that it should actually be more common after such large fatty meals.

Like The Smiths once sang, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.”

Kids These Days

When I was a kid back in the distant ’70s, we played outside and rode our bikes around our suburban neighborhood until we absolutely had to come in for dinner. There was one truly fat kid in my class, and it was because of a legitimate medical condition.

Nowadays, kids watch That ’70s Show doing little else, and there are plenty of fat kids developing type 2 (formerly adult onset) diabetes and heart disease.

It’s not their fault.

It is OUR fault.

Check out the infographic on junk food advertising. As long as we look away and mouth platitudes about consumer choice and responsibility, it will get worse. C’mon, we can do better.

Is Anybody Out There? Some Great Ones Are!

Sometimes at the end of a race when everyone else is lining up for their complimentary piece of burnt dead cow and I raid the watermelon, I wonder if there is anyone else trying to succeed athletically with a plant based diet. Just found this great site where the achievments of vegan athletes are celbrated, go check ’em out at greatveganathletes.com. It’s brought to you by the great folks at veganfitness.net.

Even though I’m an endurance athlete, I’m really inspired by the strength and power athletes who are able to get beyond all the myths and train hard. Vegan power!

Mad Cows, Maybe, Mad Humans Should be

So now mad cow disease filters back into the public awareness with two confirmed cases of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, the human variant of Mad Cow DIsease in Marin county, California. Researchers who investigated the cases confirm that they were not caused by the consumption of contaminated beef, although that is one way to acquire it. I love a conspiracy theory, so I wonder with what degree of certitude they can determine this, but I’ll let it pass. This disease is not a virus, or a bacteria, but instead caused by maladjusted proteins called prions that are resistant to all forms of medical therapy. It is also a disease that is rarely reported or seen. But part of its rarity is that to accurately diagnose it an autopsy must be performed so that the the tell tale signs of brain deterioration can be seen. Since the symptoms closely resemble Alzheimer’s and dementia, few autopsies are performed that could confirm the disease. There may be more cases of CJD out there than are acknowledged, but without autopsy studies, we don’t know, so don’t put away your tin foil hat just yet.

 

We have known about the danger of these diseases for twenty years. While Europe was going through their crisis of mad cow disease in the nineties, American former cattle rancher Howard Lyman, known as the “Mad Cowboy” went on the record on the Oprah Winfrey show to explain how modern farming practices essentially created and propagated the disease. The result? A great collected yawn from the public on their way to the drive-thru and a fat lawsuit by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association against Winfrey and Lyman for disparaging American beef. the lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but food disparagement laws followed quickly. Thank you, lobbyists, for always keeping short term paychecks ahead of public health. 

 

But with such health risks, surely the USDA and other vested federal authorities are testing for this disease in the food supply so it should not interfere with a tasty burger, right? Not so fast. Very little testing for mad cow is done, and if you are an overachiever and want to do more? Forget about it, you’ll just make the slackers look bad, and we can’t have that. Plus, that burger you eat did not come from one cow, but a massive mosh pit of hundreds of cattle. If any one was infected… well you get the picture. It is a classic case of hide your head in the sand and it all goes away, right?  Since the disease in humans is rarely seen or tested for, why bother testing the food supply? Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.

 

The solution of course is obvious: Go Plant Based. The decades old epidemics of heart disease and cancer no longer raise an eyebrow. But a rare, spooky, dramatic disease like CJD does cause concern. But getting the dead animals out of your diet will reduce or elminate your risk of these diseases. Don’t eat dead animals. Don’t eat live ones either, that’s just plain gross.