Friday, May 29, 2009

Protein shakes

Brendan Brazier came and spoke at our local Fiddleheads a couple of weeks ago and I unfortunately found out the day after. For those of you not familiar, Brazier is a vegan triathlete, holding titles in Ironman competition. He has been an amazing symbol of the capacity of the vegan diet (and has single-handedly helped limit the common stereotype that vegans are protein-deficient, sickly and at health risk). His book Thrive is a best-seller, discussing a whole foods approach to dieting. Admittedly I haven't read it yet...believe me, I will get there, but my thesis has really been weighing down my reading-for-interest capacity as of late.

He is also the creator of Vega, a vegan nutrition product line, which includes vegan versions of many popular fitness-related food items (i.e. protein shakes). The husband has been working on his fitness quite intensely lately, and has been missing the whey protein shakes of his teen years. On our weekly trip to Fiddleheads, we spent some time looking around the protein supplement section. Now, I have to admit, I am a bit skeptical about the shelves and shelves of vials containing "ancient, natural" ingredients promising relief from every ailment under the sun: acne, obesity, greasy hair, cancer. I'm not sure one single vial can do anything for you, and I also don't believe that just because something is labelled natural it is somehow safe for consumption. There are a lot of big business corporations with their hands in the natural industry and so this is not the same as picking a flower in the wild and then making it medicine. Similarly, there are a lot of things on our planet that do occur naturally and are still not safe for human consumption. I'm not knocking the natural health industry (that would be counter-productive, as I work in it), it all just reminds me of the South Park episode where people rush to the new age store to buy the most random things (i.e. "cherokee hair tampons") because "if they are natural, they must work". All I'm saying is that a little skepticism never hurt anyone.

Anyway. Protein supplement shakes are really no different than the vitamins we all (vegan or not) should probably be taking everyday, because we're not as diligent with monitoring our food intake as we could be. So, Paul picked up a trial pack of Vega meal replacement to see if it could compare to what he remembered of whey shakes.



This review of it is based entirely on Paul's experiences, as the second he mixed it with rice milk and lifted the lid on the blender he announced that it smelled like mushrooms and I ran for the hills. I have this weird aversion to the smell of mushrooms...yes, I'm aware that this makes me a giant baby. I am not big on mushrooms at all, I can take them or leave them, but I take them more often than not to reap their nutritional benefit. I will eat fresh mushrooms, but I cannot handle the smell of canned mushrooms. And I cannot, cannot think about how they smell while I am eating them.

He tasted it and announced that it not only smelled like mushrooms, it tasted like mushrooms. And chocolate. And rice milk. Um, yum?

He downed it and chased it with orange juice, so I think the verdict is that he did not care for it. Not knocking Brendan Brazier here. I can barely contain my excitement over Thrive and incorporating his tips into my diet...it is just this particular product that was a bit of a miss in our household. I believe the word Paul used was "inedible", which is strange, because he pretty much eats anything. Perhaps chocolate wasn't the right flavour, but I think he might be scarred from trying another one.

The one thing he did like was the high amount of protein and the boost it gave his daily run/workout. So, we thought we'd try our hand at making our own protein shake:



Now, we by no means are advocating this as a meal replacement as we have no idea what goes into making a shake like that. This is just a high-protein pre- or post-workout refreshment. It contains orange juice, rice milk, mixed frozen berries, a banana, and for protein, hulled hemp seed and ground flax. Also, a crushed vegan multi-vitamin to amp up its nutritional value.

The verdict...delicious. And no mushroom smell coming from the blender. He is now gone for his run to see how it really measures up, and I am sitting here getting ready to bake cupcakes - cupcakes are so much more fun, no? Even I am not that ridiculous. I am missing today's workout but only because I am baking these cupcakes as a gift (and also because I am lazy).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Teriyaki Quinoa, Pan-Fried Tempeh & Steamed Broccoli



Quinoa and tempeh recipes from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan. Broccoli is just steamed and lightly sauced with sweet chili and some of the leftover teriyaki.


I honestly can't say anything bad about Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink and Be Vegan. You'll notice that I make a lot of things from it, and honestly now it's become a game to me, to try and find something from that book that isn't good. So far I am losing. We did try one of her chili recipes back when I first got the book (and wasn't yet vegan) and weren't too keen on it...but honestly, back then I was pretty incompetent in the kitchen and I probably just messed up the recipe. One of the reasons I don't post recipes is because I don't want to take credit for someone else's hard work, I just like to provide a bit of a running commentary on them, because I know how hard it can be trying to determine whether or not you will like a recipe just by reading the ingredients and not having a picture to drool over. So, enter This is Vegan.

If there are one or two recipes that you would like to try before handing over your hard-earned dollars, that is more than fair, and as always you can contact me. But, if you are looking for a versatile cookbook that combines simplicity (i.e. not having to google what the heck certain ingredients are) with elegance and most importantly, nutrient-packed eats, pick up this cookbook and have no regrets.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WUH) is a staple vegan ingredient because although it is not technically a grain (it is related to spinach, beets and chard) it can be used in place of any grain and is a complete protein (contains all nine essential amino acids, unlike the standard grains which contain some, but not all). While a bowl of brown rice is definitely a healthy option, there is more nutritional value in a bowl of quinoa. It can be used anywhere that rice is used and is good in both warm dishes and cold dishes. While I do still prefer rice, I sub-in quinoa every now and again to reap the benefits of easy-access protein and the more I eat it, the more I like it.

I believe that a lot of the backlash against quinoa results from improper preparation, accounting for the "bitter" taste that some people claim it has. Mother nature protects quinoa with a coating of natural preservatives called "saponins" which ward off insects and fungi outbreaks. These are not harmful to you in the way that synthetic chemical sprays are, they just taste really, really bad. Modern quinoa goes through a cleansing process in the factory, but it's still a good idea to rinse your quinoa in plenty of cold water before cooking it.

And this is where my main annoyance with it comes in. It is kind of a jerk to prepare...partly because I don't have a proper sieve with small enough holes to let out the water while still retaining the quinoa. Instead, I go through a delicate process of running water over the sieve, catching it (and half the quinoa that goes through in another bowl) and repeating over and over again until the quinoa is clean and all in one place. Plus, once it is wet it gets really sticky to the touch, and so when I am transferring it from bowl to bowl and sieve to sieve it gets stuck all over my hands, my sink, my kitchen window....the dog (don't ask).

I should probably just get a better sieve.

Anyway, all this hassle is worth it because quinoa is delicious, nutritious and versatile...

Eat Your Quinoa!
Quinoa has been linked to helping such ailments as migraines and cardiovascular diseases (based on the high magnesium content, which aids in relaxing blood vessels). As a vegan, it is one of the easiest ways to ensure you are getting enough protein (although most vegans are - such a myth that we are all deprived and sickly, when was the last time an omnivore calculated their protein intake? They might be surprised by the result). It is also high in fiber and contributes in the way that whole grains do (preventing heart failure, providing energy and has even been linked to protection against breast cancer). Some studies have even linked having a diet rich in whole grains to decreases in childhood asthma, decreasing incidents of wheezing and attack (see whfoods.com for more details and study sources).
I spent my early adult years being a slave to Atkins and other low-carb diets, steering as far away from grains as humanly possible ("omgz, they will make me so fat!")...while I'm not denying that these diets will make you lose weight (I dropped a solid 10 pounds at the time...but suffered a whole host of other ailments that I didn't link to my food choices), you are depriving your body of much a much needed resource. So eat your grains...and eat your non-grain grain replacement, quinoa!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Avocado Black Bean Burgers w/ Pasta Salad



Avocado Burger patties recipe from Cupcake Punk and Pasta Salad recipe from Vegan Planet.


Veggie burgers are found somewhere on the lesson plan for Veg*ism 101. Boxes of frozen soy patties are usually the go-to item for new veg*ns as they are easy, versatile and sometimes are even easily confused with their meaty counterparts. They are an excellent item for those transitioning into a veg lifestyle, and compared to the alternative, I would say that many on the market are a health-conscious choice for open-minded omnivores (note: some...there are some seriously unhealthy veggie burgers on the market and also tons that are vegetarian, but not vegan, so read your labels).

But, in typical Mary fashion, I do have a problem with them, as I seem to have a problem with everything. I am viciously anti-supermarket freezer aisle because for me, veganism is about health and natural living, and preservatives (although some may be vegan) do not fall in that category for me. I am also very paranoid when it comes to what is put in my food, and for me, frozen meals that require little more than being tossed in the oven is the same as dining in a restaurant - you kind of know what is on your plate but you can't guarantee that adheres to your standards of what is appropriate for your body. Ten years ago it was much more difficult to consume unhealthy and unnatural things as a vegan because they simply weren't available, but the corporations have realized that they have something to gain from our lifestyle and have poured millions of dollars into the mass production of such a variety of frozen and prepackaged vegan foods that Chef Boyardee himself might be shocked.

Some of these items, while vegan, are laden with preservatives, sodium, MSG and other chemical items to maintain their flavour after months in the freezer. Further, the vast majority use soy protein isolate to mimic non-vegan flavours (meat, cheese, cream, etc.). Isolated soy protein is a highly processed food, and it's worth in veganism is currently under hot debate. On one hand, it ensures that veganism is more accessible to the mainstream (even hot dog stands have a veggie option now), but on the other, it is contributing to the fast food culture which many of us are disenchanted with. Don't get me wrong, these "meat analogs" are actually quite delicious and are still so much better than the mystery meat that's in a regular hot dog. But all the same, they should be considered a convenience and a treat...a vegan answer to Michelina's on a particularly busy evening. I'd be lying if I denied my love for ground round taco night at our place. However, I've reduced the use of soy protein isolate to once every few weeks, at the most (usually at the request of the husband, but I'll own up to that second helping of chili I had last night).

One of my new year's resolutions involved taking extra steps to eat things as close to their natural state as possible (yes, I am going to try my hand at raw too!) and really, our use of analogs has waned since my first months as a vegetarian (now well over two years ago). But, the weather has turned after a frigid Canadian winter and that means it is barbeque season. While I don't miss the hormone-infused burger patties of my omnivorous youth, I do crave the connection between summer and the grill...and while grilling veggies is delicious, it is just not the same as a burger when friends gather to celebrate summer. As a result, I have been experimenting with various homemade, soy-free burger patties, looking for something to take me through the summer, the above being the most delicious.

The problem is it doesn't hold together. At all. It's not suitable for a bbq grill, not even when using foil or a grill buddy. Avocado is sticky and no ridiculous amount of breadcrumbs seems to hold these crazy things together (believe me, I tripled the amount of bread just to see if it would work). The problem is that they are insanely delicious...and so I am saving the recipe to do them on the stove and serve them in pitas falafel-style, where it doesn't matter if they fall apart and turn to mush. If you have tried this recipe and can get it to hold together, by all means teach me a lesson. I just can't do it.

So, the search continues for a grill friendly patty for the summer of '09. For now I'll continue with grilled eggplant and portobello...and the occassional boxed veggie burger.

Finally, as I'm sure my blogging is already getting tedious for the handful of followers I actually have here (thanks for reading guys!), in honour of the four avocados that go into a batch of 12 of these (waiting patiently in my freezer, since we only do up 3 at a time)....

Eat Your Avocado!
Avocado gets a ridiculously bad rap from fad diets because it is high in calories and fat (but so is cheese, and I always find that in diet books with little apology). So, it's probably not best to eat avocado every meal for the rest of your life (but oh my god, what a glorious world that would be - avocado is by far my most favourite of all of mother nature's treats!) but it is important to note that fat is not always the enemy, and avocado is an example of what is referred to as "good fat" in that it is an unsaturated fat. It contains essential fatty acids that promote heart health (and have been proven to aid in lowering cholesterol), and have been linked to fighting cancer, particularly in the case of prostate and breast. Further, it helps absorb vitamins from the other foods you do it (see whfoods.com for more details). If you're vegan, you're already doing so well with limiting your consumption of fat that reaping the benefits of avocado by sacrificing a couple extra calories every now and again is more than allowed!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pet Care: Replace Raw Hide Bones with Carrots!



I have to admit, I love Martha Stewart. There's something about her show that calms me. While the world is closing in on itself in its own infinite madness, there is Martha, weaving a wicker basket in her pastel kitchen. It's stability in an unstable world.

Today she had a segment on natural human food suitable for dogs. Foodstuffs that help with various ailments, and I have to admit I was intrigued. Before I begin, let it be known that I support the view that dogs, like humans, can thrive on a vegan diet. Dogs are omnivorous (like people), so their digestive system is easily adapted to a vegan diet (I'm happy to provide sources for anyone interested in this further). Now, my Dora is admittedly not a vegan, but a pescetarian (pescetarian = no land-based meat or birds, but still seafood). She has severe food allergies and an incredibly sensitive stomach, and so the organic sweet potato and herring combo available from California Naturals is the only meal plan that doesn't result in puke all over my hardwood floor. Let it be known, though, I have not given up on a veg diet for my girl (vegan dogs defy odds!). It will just take a little bit of time and a little bit of experimentation, but I have faith that I will get there.

Martha had a guest on her show today to talk about human foods suitable for pups (I was working away on my thesis at the time and so I didn't catch his name), and one trick that particularly stuck out during the segment involved replacing the raw hide bones, the ones we all grew up giving dogs to help clean plaque and tartar off their teeth, with a raw carrot. Like a raw hide bone, pups will gnaw away on the hard carrot (make sure you don't cook it!), dislodging the gunk that may be caught between their teeth. While raw hide breaks apart and has been known to cause splinters in the dog's digestive system, carrots are full of vitamins A and C and are just as beneficial to our canine friends as they are to us.

I decided to give it a go..the only issue was that all of the carrots I had on hand happened to be huge. So when I gave it to Dora she didn't know what to do with it, just kind of licked it and nudged it across the floor. Paul picked it up and held it for her and eventually she grabbed it and took it to her bed to work on - just like she used to do on the bones we bought her back in pre-veg days. Success! Dora doesn't like having her teeth cleaned...so any help we can get in that department is welcome. As if carrots weren't awesome enough already!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Golden Vanilla Cupcakes w/ Buttercream Frosting



From Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World


Eat Your...Cupcake?
Okay, I can't even pretend like these are remotely healthy. But you know what, life is short, and taking the time to indulge every once in a little while may not be good for the body, but I firmly believe that it can be good for the soul. Celebrating life's triumphs (and defeats) with a little treat now and again can rejuvenate your spirit. It won't kill you, just limit it to one (and don't eat the leftover frosting for breakfast, like I did .. :\).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thai Stir & Steam



From myvegancookbook.com.


This recipe gets bonus points for two reason 1) it is ridiculously easy and takes all of twenty minutes and 2) it involves steaming veggies as opposed to stir frying them (meaning you're getting more nutrients per bite!). The only minor issue I had with it was that I found the sauce to be a bit too sour for my taste (I much prefer a sweeter peanut sauce), so the next time I make it I think I will tone down the red wine vinegar a bit to suit my demanding palate.

Eat Your Broccoli!
Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains the phytonutrients sulforaphane and the indoles, which have significant anti-cancer effects. Research on indole-3-carbinol shows this compound helps deactivate a potent estrogen metabolite (4-hydroxyestrone) that promotes tumor growth, especially in estrogen-sensitive breast cells, while at the same time increasing the level of 2-hydroxyestrone, a form of estrogen that can be cancer-protective. Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to suppress not only breast tumor cell growth, but also cancer cell metastasis (the movement of cancerous cells to other parts of the body). Scientists have found that sulforaphane boosts the body's detoxification enzymes, potentially by altering gene expression, thus helping to clear potentially carcinogenic substances more quickly (World's Healthiest Foods, 2009).

Broccoli has also been connected with the prevention and treatment of stomach ailments such as ulcers, as well as cardiovascular diseases like heart disease. It has ridiculously high amounts of not only calcium but vitamin C, which means it is believed to be an even better source of calcium for the growth and maintenance of strong and healthy bones than dairy products (which contain no vitamin C). So if mainstream media has brainwashed you into thinking vegans have brittle bones, rest assured that you don't need a cruelty-filled glass of hormone (aka cow's milk) to stay strong.

Do you seriously need more reasons? Okay, how about the prevention of birth defects and cataracts, healthy weight maintanence? And if you have sunburn, try applying broccoli extract to the source and perhaps even reduce the carcinogenic damage?

I'm no scientist so I can't prove these effects...but seriously, what do you have to lose? The calcium alone makes it worthwhile. Eat your freaking broccoli!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sweet & Sour Chipotle Tempeh with Sweet Potatoes



From Eat, Drink & Be Vegan


Eat Your Sweet Potato!
A great source of Vitamin A (beta-carotene) and vitamin C and are so believed to have high antioxidant capabilities regarding the elimination of free radicals (chemicals that damage cells and cell membranes and play a role in such conditions as colon cancer and diabetic heart disease). They are also believed to have anti-inflammatory qualities stemming from these nutrients and so are thought to aid in relief from conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. There are also studies linking it to diabetes prevention and maintenance because of it's low glycemic index rating. An important note to consider though, potatoes are a Dirty Dozen member, meaning they have some of the highest rates of pesticide use. If you can, buy your potatoes organic, or grow your own!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Red Lentil Fettuccine



From Vegan Planet.


Eat Your Lentils!
Lentils are very rich in fiber and are small but mighty when it comes to the battle of cholesterol. Not only do they help lower cholesterol levels when part of your diet, they are also proven to help keep blood sugar levels in normal ranges because of their heigh fiber content, particularly if you (like me) have problems with blood sugar spikes immediately following meals. This means that they are a great resource for those looking to boost their energy levels. They are rich in two types of Vitamin B and are a protein powerhouse while still staying very low in fat. If you want more energy, you don't need the cup of coffee or the red bull....have a cup of lentils instead!

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