Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tips for Going Plant Based - Investigating Cookbooks

One question I get a lot is 'which vegan cookbooks do you recommend?' and it's a hard question to answer because the good and bad things about a cookbook can vary from person to person.

Personal Taste

You have to take into account how a person eats. If you have a meat eater that lives on fast food, they won't find much in a cookbook that uses whole foods to create healthy vegan fare. If you hate broccoli then you shouldn't buy a broccoli cookbook!

If someone is newly vegan, I wouldn't let them go near mac & cheese made with nutritional yeast because they will probably hate it until they have detoxed off dairy.

It takes a good three weeks to change your taste buds over to a new way of eating.

I have a ton of cookbooks and every one has recipes I love, some I changed to work for me, some I didn't care for and some I won't ever even make. You can make a recipe and put it in front of 20 people and some will love it, some will hate it, some will think it's ok and some won't even try it so you can't make sweeping judgements about a recipe.

Some recipes will never work for you simply because you don't like something about it. I hate green peppers so a stuffed pepper will never be something I'll make. If you have a hatred for a specific dish, like pasta or broccoli then you will never like a recipe that has those as the main focus.

Experience & Skill Level

You have to take into account the experience and skill level of the person cooking or baking. Someone that can hardly boil water and thinks cooking is placing a frozen meal in the microwave, will not appreciate being asked to make a roux or use a candy thermometer.

You can increase your experience and skill by cooking and baking more or taking classes.


My kitchen is some sort of Pampered Chef museum. I seriously own pretty much every gadget and appliance on this planet. It took me trying to cook in other kitchens to appreciate that not everyone owns a whisk, a dehydrator, a food processor or a rice cooker. Things I use often.

Some people barely have a spatula.

If you are trying to make raw recipes, you are probably going to need to invest in a dehydrator. If you are interested in making your own almond milk then you need a decent blender and a nut milk bag.

These things aren't necessary in order to make certain recipes but they make baking and cooking so much easier and enjoyable. If there is a chore you hate (like cooking rice, chopping onions or making bread) then you need to search for a way to do it that makes it easier, like a rice cooker, a chopper and a bread machine. They are investments in your health and sanity!


My most favorite part of a cookbook are the chapters leading up to the actual recipes. You might learn about the writer and their journey to having the cookbook or they may share their diet philosophy and cooking tips. You may learn about nutrition and health. They may give you information on ingredients and techniques. You'll often be told how recipes were created and how they measured their flour, you may get a chart listing substitutions.


How creative is the person cooking? Are they able to look at a recipe and make changes to accommodate personal tastes, allergies/sensitivities or what they have on hand? Some people simply can't deviate from a recipe while others are very good at playing around with them.

The only way to cultivate creativity is to get into the kitchen and mess around! Start by subbing in ingredients you love for the ones you aren't crazy about. Have you ever looked at a recipe and thought 'that sounds good except for the ___' .. well, get rid of what you don't like and add in something else!

If you have gluten issues, learn about alternative flours. Allergic to a certain food? Learn what will work in place of it. If you make a recipe and you like ti but don't love it, figure out how to change it to work for you. I've done that with many recipes and now they are things I eat every week!

For example, I'm not a big fan of using wheat gluten in recipes because too much can make the final product chewier in texture than I personally like so now I know to cut the gluten and sub in some breadcrumbs instead.

Time Issues

How much time do you have? Some recipes are simple and quick and you can have dinner on the table in 5 minutes while some recipes can take all day to make.  It's good to have both types of cookbooks in your kitchen. I have one cookbook that I dislike because it is too simple. Every recipe has three or four ingredients and I find that boring so I just don't ever open it up but some people want that type of cookbook.

Visual Stimulation

Some people are very visual and need a photo of every recipe while some people don't even care about photos. I like to have photos because it shows me what the final recipe should look like and photos stimulate my appetite. I love photos of great food.


You have to consider what ingredients are normal in your kitchen. I have a couple cookbooks I rarely use because the writers use soy creamer, soy yogurt and processed faux meat products in the recipes and I just don't use those products and they aren't in my home on a daily basis. However, I have things in my kitchen that other people think are odd  - nutritional yeast, tamari, plum vinegar, raw cashews and homemade almond milk.


A recipe should be considered 'good' if it's clear and concise and the final product is what you were going for in general. Usually, recipes in cookbooks go thru a testing phase where a variety of people are asked to make it and report back. If you don't like the flavor of the final product that is probably your personal taste and not necessarily the fault of the recipe. If the cake falls flat or the noodles aren't cooked thru then it could be your error or the recipe. You might need to try it one more time to be sure.

So, how do you find a good cookbook?


Go the bookstore to browse. I prefer to buy my books online thru Amazon so I use the 'look inside' feature so I can get a basic sense of the cookbook. You can usually read the table of contents, get to see the first few information pages and even see some of the recipes to get an idea of what they are like. I can usually tell by flipping thru a book if I'm going to use it or not.


Many authors have websites or blogs and you can often find recipes posted there. You can try a few recipes to see if you like their style. I often google for recipe reviews when I see a recipe I want to try. 

Lots of people have blogs these days so many will make a recipe and post a photo and talk about their experience with it and they are usually honest. I googled a popular cult classic recipe before making it and I got lots of tips from bloggers.

Read Reviews

You have to be careful reading reviews. You want to look for certain things in a review. You want to look for mentions of incomplete or confusing instructions and inconsistent ingredient listings. Don't worry about comments made about how it tasted bad or it was too complicated because you can't know the personal taste or skill level of the person writing the review. Take into account the number of good and bad reviews... if you have a cookbook with 300 reviews and most people said they liked it then you're probably going to like it but read thru the ones that gave it a bad review and see why so you can determine if you may have issues with it. I passed by one cookbook because many of the reviews mentioned that the recipes used processed faux meat products and I don't eat those very often.


Go to the library and check out the cookbooks before buying them. If you know someone like me, ask to borrow a cookbook or two. If it's a book I use a lot then you'd have to come over and check it out at my house because I won't let it leave!

That said... here is my post on cookbooks I like!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tips for Going Plant Based - Ask Questions.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm the only person that ever asks questions.

When I see a word I don't recognize, I look it up. If there is a new ingredient in one of my recipes that I'm not familiar with, I google it. If there is an article that makes me think.. I start researching the topic. I don't assume what I'm told is real or true or correct. I find out myself.

If more of us asked questions, we'd become enlightened to new realities and truths. We'd step out of the boxes we grew up in. What if everything we thought was true, didn't make sense anymore? What if you had to re-think, re-learn, re-evaluate all the things you just take at face value? Isn't that what learning is? Discovering new truths?

I touch very briefly on a few topics here.. please research on your own to get in depth info and details on these topics. There are many reasons to change to a plant based diet. There are ethical and moral reasons as well as health reasons. At the very least, consider it for your health.

One movie I highly recommend is Forks Over Knives.  The movie will change your life. I've seen it happen with people I personally know. It is a movie about nutrition and how food can heal us. It is not a movie that discusses animal cruely or treatment so don't use that as an excuse to not watch it. If you have Netflix, it is streaming and available on DVD. You owe it to yourself and all the people you love to watch this movie.

Let's talk about why we drink the body secretions of other mammals.

So, we already know from grade school that mammals have babies and they produce milk for those babies. We can relate because as humans, we are mammals and the females of our species produce milk for their babies. Breastfeeding a baby is the greatest gift you can give to that child but eventually the baby grows up and no longer needs that milk so the mother stops producing it.

Now, logically you'd come to the conclusion that if the mother is no longer producing the milk then perhaps the baby doesn't need it anymore. The baby moves on to solid foods.  If the baby needed milk thru it's lifetime then wouldn't mothers continue to produce milk and continue to feed their babies well into adulthood? 

Doesn't it make sense that at 30 years old, you'd still be drinking your mothers breast milk?

No? Well then why are you choosing to consume the milk of another species? Sounds pretty illogical and rather disgusting, doesn't it?

Your first instinct might be to defend your milk consumption with the old wives tale of 'we need milk for calcium and protein' .. guess what? Not true. Where do you think the cows get their calcium?

Plants. Yes.. plants are full of calcium and protein. Practically all foods have protein.

You may argue that we need milk for strong bones. Not true. The civilizations with the highest numbers of osteoporosis have the highest milk consumption numbers and those with the lowest numbers of osteoporosis are the civilizations that don't consume the secretions of other mammals.

A little bit shocking, huh?

The milk of a cow is the perfect food.... for a baby cow. It's meant to quickly increase the weight of baby cows. It makes baby cows fat and that is what it does to humans. Obesity rates are highest among dairy eaters. Dairy also gives us the wonderful gifts of blocked arteries, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. The secretions of other mammals are filled with hormones (both natural and injected), pus, blood, and who knows what other gross things. That really isn't anything I'd want to consume on purpose.

Let's talk about eggs.

Eggs are just as disgusting once you think about what they are. It's basically chicken menstruation. They are unfertilized eggs. That is all I have to say about that topic. It's really gross if you spend half a brain cell thinking about it. I would think that you wouldn't need much more to justify not eating them. They are bad for your health and your heart.. so there is another reason if you really need one.

Let's look at the eating of flesh.

Eating meat has been a society choice for many years. Humans choose to eat meat. Humans don't 'need' to eat meat. There is no dietary reason to consume the flesh of another living being. You can get every single nutrient you need via plant based foods except B12. Animals do not produce B12.

B12 is a bacteria.

The reason animals have it in their system is because they ingest bacteria while eating plant based foods and then people ingest the animal. In early times, you could get B12 in the soil and people consumed it when they ate plants but these days things are so clean and washed and sterilized that it's nearly impossible to get B12 thru soil sources. These days there are lots of foods fortified with B12 as well as other vitamins and minerals and it's nearly impossible to be deficient in it if you are following a balanced, plant based diet. You can also take a multi-vitamin. Pretty simple.

You only need 2.4 mcg a day of B12... a 3/4 cup of fortified cereal will give you 6 mcg and then if you use a fortified nut milk on it. .well, you've added even more!

If you study the human intestinal process you'll discover that we are not carnivores. Nothing about our jaw, teeth, stomach or intestinal track will tell you were are carnivores. We do not have sharp teeth and claws to rip, tear and chew flesh, we do not have the speed or agility to chase and attack prey, we do not have night vision for hunting, we do not have the necessary stomach enzymes needed to break down raw and rotting flesh (carnivores don't cook their flesh, by the way.. you don't see lions on the plains with a Weber) and the length of our intestines indicate that we are herbivores. It's very straight forward scientific facts. Research it!

Ask Questions. Learn. Grow.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tips for Going Plant Based - Convenience Foods

I try and eat mostly whole and non-processed foods but there are a few things I do eat that can be considered 'processed'. Some processed foods aren't that bad and they can be convenient for times when you're traveling, in a hurry or are simply stuck with no other alternative. If you can try and keep your consumption of processed food to less than 20% of your diet, you should be fine. There are lots of vegan junk foods but there are also a group of products that may seem junky but they aren't too horrible if you're paying attention to ingredients. I tend to stick to those.

Please check the links I've given you as almost all of the websites have coupons you can print out to use on your next purchase!

Here are my favorite processed foods:


Tofurky is a what gluten and organic tofu lunchmeat alternative. It is made without Hexane-extracted soy protein isolates, it is certified vegan  and it contains no nitrates or MSG. All the ingredients are normal and nothing weird is added. This may seem junky but in my opinion, it really isn't.

5 slices has 13 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of fat.

I tried these deli slices a number of years ago when I first went vegetarian and I didn't like them but now I am addicted. I guess maybe my tastebuds have changed and I can truly appreciate them! I picked up a Tofurky Roast for Thanksgiving this year and I thought I should give the deli slices another chance since the slices are just the roast, sliced thin. I love to eat 3 slices on a whole wheat bun with Vegenaise, dijon mustard and sliced campari tomatoes. You can get 5 sandwiches out of a package if you do it that way. My carnivore husband even eats these. My fave is the naturally smoked hickory but the oven roasted is good too. I am going to try the other flavors soon. They also have other things like sausages, pepperoni, tempeh and frozen pizza.

Zatarain's Beans & Rice

Sure, this can be made from scratch but this is a great alternative if you want to eat rice and beans fast! These are also a great side dish to take with you if you need to bring a dish to pass or if you need to take your food along. We like to mix in the Field Roast Chipotle Sausage for a complete meal!


How can you not love a Triscuit? They are baked and the original/plain has just three ingredients - wheat, oil and salt. In a one ounce serving you get 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein! I like to use them with nut butters, my homemade cashew 'cheese' and for any of the various dips I make.

Field Roast Sausages

I have these a few times a year when I make the hour trek to Whole Foods. These are sausages made out of vital wheat gluten. No weird ingredients. In fact, this is actually a product you could make in your kitchen. The sausages come in three flavors: Italian Sausage, Smoked Apple Sage and Chipotle. The chipotle are my favorite but they are spicy! I usually cut it in half and in half again for a serving and pan fry it so it gets kinda crispy. One whole sausage has 23 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and 12 grams of fat but only 1 gram is saturated. We love them mixed into the red beans and rice or as the star in a traditional English breakfast. They are also delicious with baked beans!

Upton's Naturals Seitan

Upton's Seitan is another wheat gluten product. Again, made with just a few non-weird ingredients and something you can make at home. There are 4 flavors  - italian sausage, chorizo, ground beef and traditional. I've tried the italian sausage. I like to pan fry it in a little oil and then use it to top my pizza! A 2 oz serving has 15 grams of protein and 1.5 grams of fat.

Fritos (or any brand corn chip)

Fritos are my junk food. They only have three ingredients - corn, oil and salt but they are fried so that is why they are truly a junk food for me. We buy the 1 oz individual bags because they stay fresh.  Any plain corn chip will only have those three ingredients. Stay away from Doritos and the like as those are coated with chemicals.

Energy Bars

Energy bars have saved my life on several occasions and have probably saved the life of others on many more occasions! I get sorta mean if I am allowed to get hungry. These are perfect to toss in my bag when I'm going to be away from home. I try and eat every few hours so I have to have something appropriate on me in case I end up starving. These should not be something you have every single day but a couple of these a week aren't going to cause much trouble. Use them strategically. There are many brands that are a good choice and you may need to try a few to find ones you like. Just pay attention to the ingredients and look for something with decent protein and fiber numbers.

One tip to remember is that the higher the protein, the chewier the bar will be. Also.. these bars are found away from the cereal and granola bar aisle.. if it's in the vicinity of the Pop-Tarts and Lucky Charms, you are not in the right area! Those are not energy bars.

My faves are Luna bars. Crunch bars and Mojo bars, all made by Clif.

Luna Bars have about 9 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Those numbers can vary slightly according to flavor. They come in a large variety of flavors, taste like a candy bar and are usually 1/4 dipped in a chocolate type coating.. which is never a bad thing. They have 23 added vitamins and minerals and they do have a higher sugar count than I'd like but these are not something I eat every day. They even have mini sizes of these which are really great to carry in your bag!

Mojo Bars have 9 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber and 70% organic. Like the Luna bars, they have more sugar than I like to eat in a single product but a couple times a week for bars is fine. The Mojo bars do have honey in them so they aren't vegan but I don't eat them that often so I'm willing to bend my rules.

Crunch bars are perfect for anyone that likes the Nature Valley crunchy granola bars. These are a more traditional type of crispy oat bar.

Vegenaise is a vegan, gluten free, and dairy free mayonaise alternative. The ingredients in the original are Non-GMO Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, Brown Rice Syrup, Apple Cider Vinegar, Non-GMO Soy Protein, Sea Salt, Mustard Flour, Lemon Juice Concentrate.

In my opinion, Vegenaise is the best but they do have other brands on the market so you may need to try a few to find the one you prefer. I use it mainly on sandwiches and in a couple recipes like dips and salad dressings but because it's oil, it should be used sparingly.

Veggie Burgers

I make my own veggie burgers because they taste better, there are no unnecessary ingredients and they are a whole lot cheaper but I do realize that sometimes buying a box of burgers is easier for some people. Unfortunately, many big brands of burgers do have unnecessary ingredeints but using these as needed and not on a daily basis may be helpful. Personally, the only reason I'd buy them is if I am out of town and staying with someone and was unable to make my own but I'd have to stick with the vegan varieties.

There are many varieties of veggie burgers (grain based, soy protein based, bean based or vegetable based) so you'll need to taste test some but these were my favorites before I went vegan and started making my own but most aren't vegan so I couldn't eat them now anyway!

Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers

Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Patties

Amy's Kitchen California Burger - just a note about Amy's. That company has some incredible convenience foods so check them out! They have frozen and canned.

Walnut Burger (these have cheese so I can't eat them anymore but they are super good... but fattening... and expensive ... but so worth it!)

Again, I usually make cookies from scratch but I do buy a box here and there so I can use them when I pack a lunch to go someplace. These cookie brands are made with simple, whole ingredients, mostly organic and are free from artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors and they are usually made with non-hydrogenated oils.

You can find versions of your fave non-healthy types of cookies like Thin Mints, Oreos, Fudge Stripes, Nilla Wafers, and even Teddy Grahams!

These are the brands I buy, but there are several others that are good as well:

Back to Nature
Late July Organic Snacks
Newman's Own Organics

Just a note.. these companies make more than just cookies! They have crackers and tons of other products so poke around their websites.

Sorbet & Non-Dairy Ice Cream

I am not an ice cream person by any means. I could go forever without it and it wouldn't bother me a bit. However, a few times a year it looks good to me so I'll buy a container. Non-dairy ice cream is wonderful because there is no cholesterol! However, they do still contain lots of sugar so they should be a once in awhile treat.

Almond Dream Bites - these are yummy almond milk ice cream bites covered in smooth dark chocolate. They have one gram of sugar per bite and I like that I can have just one because that is usually all I want anyway.

Ciao Bella Sorbet (their website never works for me) - I like their sorbet.

There are other bands on non-dairy ice creams like So Delicious made with coconut milk or soy milk, Tofutti made with soy, and a few others. Coconut Bliss uses coconut milk and agave nectar. Try a couple to find the ones you like! You can even find bars and ice cream sandwiches!

Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Blend

This is my one true indulgence. This is a vegan sort-of version of Nutella. I make my own chocolate almond butter but the cost of hazelnuts and the fact that they need to be roasted and dealt with prevent me from making that homemade. It's pretty much the same price if I make it or Justin makes it so have at it, Justin!

Just a side note regarding palm oils ....  this product contains palm fruit oil, it is not the same as palm kernel oil.

I got this info from Smart Balance regarding the difference: Palm fruit oil comes from the fleshy, orange part of the fruit, and is rich in monounsaturates or “good” fats. Palm kernel oil, on the other hand, comes from the innermost kernel, or nut-like core, of the plant. The kernel contains highly saturated fats that can clog arteries.


Yes, I eat processed cereals BUT I eat the healthy kind. I like Grape-Nuts and Shredded Wheat, which are just.. um.. wheat and whole grains and salt. The junkiest ones you'll find me eating once in awhile are Barbara's Shredded Multigrain Spoonfuls, which is a healthy version of Life cereal and I love to munch on that as a snack and Full Circle Organic Frosted Flakes for when I want to go back to that sugar-bomb cereal fix... but these are made with evaporated cane juice instead of HFCS! I also eat oatmeal, of course and in the dead of winter I'll go for a hot bowl of Malt -O- Meal or Cream of Wheat!

Tofutti Cream Cheese and Sour Cream

Great when you need these types of products but want to stay away from dairy! These are oil so use them sparingly as you would the real thing.

Pirate Brands Original Tings

Hip, vegan Cheetos! Cornmeal, oil, salt and nutritional yeast.. yes, these are seriously junky but sometimes a girl needs something hollow and almost devoid of nutrition and these fit the bill.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.

I recently watched 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a film detailing the 60 day juice fast of Joe Cross. It is an inspiring film that chronicles Joe's personal mission to regain his health. Going on a juice fast for any amount of time is pretty radical for most people but the message in this film is important.

I was so appalled when Joe was talking to strangers he met along his journey. These strangers said many of the same things I'd heard come out of the mouths of people I know and love. I'm so stunned by how people have no regard for their own health and how they can look at the truth and facts in front of them and still make bad choices when it comes to food.

One particular exchange has really stuck with me. One man mentions that he's had heart surgery and Joe wonders if it's changed his eating habits and he says it hasn't. He thinks life is about eating what you enjoy and to hell with health and longevity. Joe wonders if he'd change his diet if he could get an extra 10 years of life and he pretty much says no. He then asks Joe what Joe do with those extra 10 years. Joe asks if the man has kids. The man has 6 kids.

Joe says if he were him, he'd want to be there to watch his kids grow up, get married, find careers. Be a grandpa.

So.. here is my point... if you can't make the change to better nutrition for yourself then maybe your motivation lies with the people you love. Wouldn't you rather not eat that donut so you could walk your daughter down the aisle? How about increasing your vegetable intake rather than be bedridden with cancer in 15 years?

You need to do what is necessary to be there for the people you love. You need to be there as inspiration and wisdom. Not a burden. Living into your 90's isn't going to be fun for anyone if you are popping pills, huffing oxygen and are overweight enough that walking to the car is a chore for you.

My grandmother is 82 years old and she exercises more than I do. She watches what she eats and stays away from sugar as much as possible. I'd like to think that she's here today because she loves her family and she wants to be around as long as she can. She is my last living grandparent and I cannot tell you how much it has meant to me to have had her in my life as an adult, to be able to know her in my forties. I can't imagine my life without her.

As another example, I am sad when I see a motorcycle rider that isn't wearing a helmet. That person may think, 'well, it's a personal choice. It isn't hurting anyone else if I don't wear one'. However, if that rider has a family then it's his repsonsibility to wear a helmet for them. When you have a family or other people depend on you then those people must be considered in any choice you make and that includes whether or not you wear a helmet, how fast you drive your car, how much alcohol you drink, whether or not you do drugs, and what you put in your mouth.

At what point in our lives did the lesson of consequences fall by the way side?

As humans, we make sacrifices daily for our kids but it's time to make choices for ourselves. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of other people or you'll be the one that has to be taken care of. My main goal as I enter into my second half of life is to not be that person that has multiple prescriptions to take and pay for, to not be that person that needs a caretaker, to not be that person that faces a decision about chemotherapy, radiation or heart surgery, to not be that person that can't fit in an airplane seat. I don't want to have to inject myself with insulin.

I want to do what I can NOW in order to be the best I can be LATER. Don't wait for a heart attack or a diagnosis of diabetes or cancer be your wake up call. Wake up early and do whatever is necessary to not ever get that wake up call in the first place. Stop being so stubborn. Start being smart.

People that live for today very often aren't around for tomorrow.

Do you have the freedom to stuff your face with overly processed, sugar-laden, unhealthy food? Of course you do... but should you? No. You also have the freedom to make better choices every second of the day.

Look into the faces of the people you love and tell them you don't care enough about them to take care of yourself. Don't you want to live to see your grandchildren or great grandchildren? Wouldn't you rather not have to spend $500 a month on medicine because your insurance doesn't cover it? Wouldn't you like to have energy and not be overweight? 

Is that donut or that steak important enough to make you say 'who gives a fuck?'

Stop being selfish.