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Taking a Break

So it’s been a while since my last post.  A year….a very busy year filled with so many changes that those who know me understand how busy I have been.  We’ve turned our lives upside down, moved, put the kids in school (teenagers now, no more homeschooling for me) and could not be happier than we are at this very moment.  We have beautiful beaches, friendly people and great schools.

I have still not entered Vegan Land and at this point that is probably not going to happen any time soon.  I just am not ready to give up seafood.

I can say that I am healthier, happier, and feel great since all land meat has exited my diet.  I will not go back because 40 points came off of my cholesterol numbers and that’s a pretty big deal.

I eat lots of vegan meals, vegetarian meals, and pescatarian meals (my seafood).  Grill King still lights up the grill only now the meat sizes are smaller and it is not as often.  If I come across some fantastic vegan recipes and they taste wonderful, I will share them here.

Meanwhile, I am off to another journey because turning 45 has brought about some interesting happenings.  Feel free to check me out at www.waytoohot.me

Until then eat healthy, stay happy and Enjoy, Leslie

 

I started my journey towards a healthy heart at the end of last August.  What prompted this journey was a visit to my doctor who informed me that my cholesterol was way up there and I needed to get my butt on some medication.  If you want to know the whole story, read my about me page.

Heading down the road to veganland has not been an easy one.  The only thing I have stuck to 100% is that since last August, I have not eaten any land meat.  Nothing that walks the earth has entered my mouth.  If it has hooves or a beak, it is safe from me.  I miss things like a good hamburger and bacon; the two go together quite well.

In my home I do not cook with dairy or eggs 90% of the time.  I have found some great alternatives.  I am still having trouble finding a great tasting flavored “coffee mate” and “whip cream” replacement for my morning coffee which I enjoy about 3 times a week .  I still eat seafood.  I am not ready to stop that yet.

When I go out to eat I don’t usually stress too much.  I do not order meat, however, I know that many of the things I have ordered include eggs or dairy in the ingredients.  This is what I have a hard time with, then of course there’s chocolate but that’s another story.  While recently eating out with meat eaters, I got the eye roll while I was ordering because I was asking questions.  It’s not easy because there is not this huge support system and I don’t have any vegan friends.  My husband aka “grill king” has been extremely supportive and has actually cut way back on his meat intake.  He even went with me to a vegan restaurant recently (I’ll blog about that later).

I live in a small town and recently went to one of the restaurants where I learned that the only thing I could safely order was a salad and a baked sweet potato.  All of their vegetables and beans had meat parts floating in them for “seasoning” and “flavor”.  What is up with that?  Basically, a vegetarian cannot eat there.

Now for my health status….  I recently had my blood tested again while off my medication.  I was really nervous about having this done because I did not want to hear from any family members about how I’ve been doing all this non-meat eating stuff and it hasn’t worked and blah blah blah blah blah.  The truth is I would never hear the end of it if my cholesterol was not lower and everyone would expect me to go back my meat eating ways. Not happening!!!

And the results (drum roll please)……while my cholesterol is still not as low as it needs to be, it has DROPPED 40 POINTS!!!!!!!  Yes folks, that is 40 points just from giving up land meat.  What has this done for me….it has encouraged me to continue on my path and to find a way to completely rid my diet of dairy and eggs, cut back on the oils, say goodbye to fried foods and cut back on the “whites” while adding in more whole wheats/grains.  Once I get this mastered, I’ll have that blood work done again and see if I dropped further.  The only thing I am not yet giving up is my seafood but I may limit it to twice a week.  So, I am somewhere in the middle of my journey and my blood test results have made it a happy middle.  Having a happy middle validates everything I am doing and encourages me to keep moving forward.

For all my relatives out there that have this “hereditary cholesterol gene,” take note and stop eating all that meat!!!!  That goes for you Uncle George and you Aunt Peggy and you too sister dear.  There are others;  you know who you are.  Go have something healthy and meatless instead.  I love you all.  Enjoy!!!

I grew up in one small town and currently live in another not far from the one I grew up in.  The area is surrounded by vegetable farms, sugarcane, and cattle.  The towns are small, the people friendly, everyone knew everyone else and if you snuck out at night, your mama knew before you got home because most likely someone called her.  Why did they call her…because they knew what time your curfew was.  Friday night football games were the thing to do and afterwards you hung out in a parking lot.

Until recently, on the table of restaurants, you found salt, pepper, sugar and raw sugar (we were in style before the rest of the world).  There was no equal, sweet-n-low, etc.. because we were surrounded by sugarcane fields.  If your parents didn’t work for the industry then you knew someone that did.  The sugar industry supported the small town.  Still to this day, I DO NOT PUT THE FAKE STUFF IN MY FOOD OR DRINKS!  I want real sugar, not some fake manmade sweetener that can’t begin to compare to the real stuff and only God knows what that fake stuff is doing to our bodies.  I grew up munching on stalks of sugarcane.  After more than 40 years, I think I can safely say that sugar ain’t that bad.

Now in towns filled with vegetables, sugarcane and cattle, you can safely assume there is not any tofu to be found.  Asking for Tofu usually gets the response, “God Bless You,”  because surely that was a funky sneeze and not a real word.  Sometimes you get, “What is it?”  or  “Toe What?”  or “Is that some kind of new Martial Arts?”  It’s not always easy living where time seems to stop and people don’t get out much.  Usually it takes traveling to the “big city” 30 minutes away to be able to find what one needs for my vegan dishes.

Having not too long ago visited a Thai restaurant and walking away having had a fabulous meal, I really wanted to finally bite the bullet and cook tofu.  It’s something I have been wanting to do since taking the walk to veganland.  A place I have yet to completely reach because I made a pit stop at “Veganland by the Sea” and can’t seem to move on.  What this means is I have pretty much given up all animals and by-products except for my seafood.  This would make me a pescatarian vegetarian/part time vegan.  I am really liking this little place and do not know if I will leave it.

Anyway, at home I decide to cook tofu for the first time.  I took it out of the package and well, it looked like a big off-white sponge. Not appetizing at all.  I proceeded to cut it up into chunks.  This is what it looked like:

Chopped Firm Tofu

I don’t care who you are, the stuff looked nasty and I started getting nervous thinking there was no way this was going to tastes good.  I set it aside.  I chopped up 1/2 an onion and set that aside.  Then I mixed together 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp ground ginger (because I didn’t have any fresh), 1/2 tsp white pepper and 1 1/2 tsp curry powder.   Then I  grabbed a big pot and put in 1 can of coconut milk, 1/3 cup coconut flakes, the chopped onion and the mix of seasonings.  I let that simmer for a little while until the onion was nice and cooked and then added the chopped tofu and about 4 cups of stirfry veggies.  Once the veggies were tender and the tofu looked okay (not sure what okay means since it was a first for me).  I served it over brown rice.  If you think you need more coconut milk, feel free to add some.

Coconut Milk Mixture

Thai Coconut Tofu Curry

Now, while I did not have any bok choy or lemongrass, two things I would have liked to add to my recipe, this turned out FANTASTIC!!!  I was so thrilled with it and the coconut curry flavor was mouthwatering.  I had never attempted to cook Tofu or Thai.  This was so good that I truly cannot wait to try it again.  The tofu chunks were delicious and took on the flavor of the dish.  I am going to have to attempt another tofu dish.  I just don’t know what.  My whole family ate it and there was just enough left over for me to have it for lunch the next day.

So if you are straddling the fence and wondering whether to Tofu or to not Tofu.  I say go for it and try it like this.  You will not be disappointed.  Enjoy!

Gravy and the South go hand in hand.  No true Southern Lady would ever put something on the table alone if it can be smothered in good ol’ gravy.  Growing up we had every type of gravy you can think of –  tomato gravy, onion gravy, mushroom gravy, brown gravy, meat gravy (if a meat can make some grease than it can be turned into gravy), turkey giblet gravy.  I’m sure there are others that at this moment have escaped me.  My mom and Aunts will remind me of them later.

When visiting the Savannah/Hilton Head area which is one of my favorite Southern spots, I make a habit of trying everyones shrimp and grits.  It is always smothered in gravy of some kind.  Everyone does it a little differently and I’m still not sure who has my favorite.  I haven’t been there since I started my journey.  It is going to take an iron will and possibly some handcuffs and shackles to keep me from putting that in my mouth.

My Mama served gravy to go over every meat dish, rice dish, or mash potatoes.  My mom and my Aunt Eleanor still laugh about the time they went to my sister’s house for dinner.  At the time, my sister had just gotten married.  She served them rice with dinner and committed a Southern Crime.  There was no gravy of any kind to go on top of that rice.  The eyebrows raised and the smirks started.  How, they wondered, could someone raised to understand that gravy was it’s own food group, sit rice on the table with no gravy?  Surely she was about to get up and go get the homemade tomato gravy that was still on the stove or maybe it was some sort of brown gravy made from the meat item she placed in front of them.  They waited….nothing.  They put a little butter on their rice, some salt and pepper, and to this day have still not gotten over it.

Since tiptoeing to veganland, the only type of gravy I have had is tomato gravy.  It’s good and goes well with rice.  The other day, I was dying for some good ol’ gravy of some kind; any kind but tomato to go on my rice.  In the pantry, we had some of those gravy packets and I thought I would just use one of those but looking at the ingredients and seeing “beef fat” quickly changed my mind.  I am far from a full fledged vegan but land meat has not entered my mouth since last August and probably if I put meat in my tummy now, I would probably get sick.

Close to the gravy packets, I saw packets of Lipton Onion Soup/Dip Mix.  I thought hmmmmmm and looked at the ingredients.  It looked safe – no hooves, beaks, or varmint parts included.  So, I decided to go for it and see what happens.  In a saucepan over low heat, I poured the packet and 1/4 cup water.  Then added 3 Tbsp of unbleached all purpose flour.  I stirred till all the lumps were out and it was thick and pasty, then started slowly adding water 1/4 cup at a time and stirring in between till I liked the consistency.  IT WORKED!!!!  I had just made onion gravy that was edible.  Served over rice; I was pleasantly surprised.  It was very oniony so if you don’t like onions or onion dip, don’t do it.  If you do and your a vegetarian or vegan, well then, you just opened your door for gravy again.  It also opened my brain because now I am going to try to come up with a homemade onion and mushroom gravy. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

I can now have my Mom and the Aunts over without the eyebrows raising and the hidden smirks.  They may not like it, but at least it will be on the table in front of them.  I have just saved myself from being talked about for years to come.  Enjoy!

Onion Gravy

Visiting my sister is always fun.  This time though it took a little extra planning.  She calls me to check about the weekends menu.  Everyone, it seems, worries about what to feed the non-meat-eater.  For one meal, the kids and carnivores decided on hamburgers.  My sister and I settled on a veggie burger.  She isn’t a big meat eater.  With it went rice, steamed broccoli and corn.

Her new hubby of 10 months is a HUGE CARNIVORE and refuses to eat a meal without meat.  This is not a joke.  The man thinks it is not a real meal unless there is a carcass hunk laying next to the other stuff.  His favorite meat is chicken which totally gives me the weebie geebies.  He reminds me of Grill King before I turned his world and grill upside down by changing my diet.

While Grill King has been most accommodating with my new life change, my brother-in-law and I have had a few discussions on why I think this life change is necessary.  It is not one he understands nor do I believe it is one he could handle if my sister were to venture down the same path.

Together, he and my sister have 6 kids.  Add in my two and the two elder carnivores and well, you can see for yourself how many hamburgers it takes to fill a grill.

grilled cow carcass

It was a fun evening.  Unfortunately, my sister and I live at two different ends of the state and since Florida is extra long, there are about 7 driving hours between us.  Not always fun for the kids who miss each other the second we leave.

On another note, I recently passed the bacon test.  Real bacon is one of those things that use to make my mouth water.  The other day Grill King pulls some out for breakfast.  I gave him the look that basically asked “do you value your life?”  He said he really needed to use it up and had been putting it off knowing that I may possibly scalp him for it.  I prepared myself for the smell of the bacon frying but then I even surprised myself.  No part of me felt like ripping him limb from limb.  My mouth did not water and I had no desire to eat the plate of bacon.  While this may not seem like a big deal to most for me it was a big step forward.  Tofu anyone?

Speaking of Tofu, I need to figure out how to cook the stuff.  I looked at in the other day in the grocery store and thought about buying it but it was just way too alien to me.  I had absolutely no idea what to do with the stuff.  I recently had some at a Thai place that was fabulous.  If I could cook it like that, I would be thrilled.  I guess I just need to bite the bullet and go for it.  If anyone out there has any great recipes with tofu, please send them my way.

It’s been 8 meatless months.  I’m talking land meat here; seafood and I still have a close relationship.  We visit about once a week.  Matter of fact I was slurping some oysters down just the other day.  Do oysters have a mama?  It seems to be a controversy. Other than the occasional seafood meal , I cook completely vegan.  I cook with no dairy or eggs at home.  I don’t stress too much if I’m eating out.  Right now it just makes it easier.

My kids have handled this whole change quite well.  My daughters favorite dinner is my spinach bean patties.  My son is not huge on meat either and would rather have a plate full of all the other stuff.  Grill King eats along with us and then has the once a week land-meat craving where he chases down a grocer and comes back with either a hoof or a beak to grill.  Both the kids really enjoy fish and like I said, I cook it about once a week.

My latest fish dish (I cooked this last week) was a new one that turned out quite well.  First I cooked some hashbrowns.  Then I put the hashbrowns in a baking dish and covered them with fresh spinach.  After that I place fish filets on top that had been seasoned with salt, pepper and old bay.  On top of that went a mixture of chopped tomatoes, 2 kinds of olives, capers and a little olive oil.  Then I baked it and WOW did this come out good.  See the for yourself:

Hashbrowns covered with spinach

Ready to go in the oven.

Time to eat.

If you like fish, give this one a shot.  It’s something a little different that tastes really good.  If your a vegan or vegetarian, leave off the fish.  Either way Enjoy!

I’m running behind on my blogs.  Sometimes life gets in the way of the things we really enjoy.  Writing is something I enjoy but the last couple of weeks have been filled with homeschooling, swimming and lots of little things that seem to trip me up.  I have not worked on my book nor have I blogged.  I have been eating well though and have discovered that I can still eat scalloped potatoes if I cook them.

I think I mentioned before that when I graduated from high school my Grandma gave me a cook book.  It was filled with yummy southern dishes and went with me off to college.  It has always been one of the cookbooks I grab when looking for something super tasty.  The problem with this cookbook is now that my diet is limited, I can’t just cook everything in there.

I already veganified the rice pudding recipe which turned out really good.   We had some potatoes that needed cooking so I decided to try to veganify my favorite homemade scalloped potato recipe that was in the cookbook.  Homemade scalloped potatoes are yummy, comforting and oh-so-southern. The boxed stuff just can’t hold a candle to the homemade.

Obviously these turned out fabulous or I wouldn’t be blogging about them.  I have had stuff not turn out and well that is always a disappointing waste that aggravates me to no end because of the time I spent on something that ends up down the garbage disposal.  Very frustrating because when you are cooking vegan, well, YOU HAVE TO COOK and cooking takes up time and you expect to be able to eat it in the end.  If that doesn’t happen, well then, you are pretty much ready to hurt someone.  These scalloped potatoes can be eaten in the end.  Everyone can feel safe.

Recipe for vegan Scalloped Potatoes:

About 5 large potatoes or 7-8 smaller ones (any kind will do, this time I used red), peeled(up to you, I didn’t peel all mine) and sliced

1/4 cup non dairy “butter” (I used Earth Balance)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

1/4 cup unbleached flour

1/8 tsp pepper

1 tsp salt

2 cups almond milk

Melt the “butter” in a sauce pot.  Add the onions and mushrooms.  Cook till tender but not browned.  Add the flour, salt and pepper.  Stir till mixed then pour in the almond milk.  Stir and cook till thick and bubbly.  Then cook about 2 minutes longer.  Turn the heat off and layer half of your sliced potatoes in baking dish.  Pour half of your thickened mixture over the potatoes.  Layer the rest of the potatoes and then cover with the other half of your thickened almond milk mixture.  Bake covered for 30 minutes at 350˚.  Uncover, stir gently and bake another 30 minutes.  Then take out, serve and chow down!

Layered potatoes

Potatoes with Sauce on top

Scalloped Potatoes Cooked and Ready to Eat!

I love Southern Comfort food.  I won’t be biting into a big piece of meatloaf but at least I can now have my Scalloped Potatoes.  Healthy Food, no guilt and super yummy.  I’ll have to make these for the next family gathering.  Now go make you some and Enjoy!

Several years ago, my mom, sister and I decided we would make a point to get together at least once a year for a mom daughter weekend.  Well the first year, the three of us went to Walt Disney World.  We had tons of fun and the most memorable part was oogling (a word?) over the french waiters at the French Cafe in Disneys Epcot.  Both the food and the sights were fabulous.

The second year, we went to New York City.  My Aunt Sallie went with us.  The four of us had a ball.  Four small town girls in the big city made for so much fun.  The food was killer, the sights amazing, and the electricity that you feel through out your entire body in such a city is just magical.  We found this little french cafe (seems a trend is coming) where we had the most amazing breakfasts in the mornings.  The croissants and the french toast were truly mouthwatering.  We saw two broadway plays.  We picked these two because they were both classics and had been running on Broadway for many years.  We watched the Phantom of the Opera which just mesmerized us.  Then we watched CATS.

Now I realize there are tons of CATS fans out there, but I have to let the cat out of the bag and say that the four of us hated it.  Remember this is just our opinion and everyone is allowed to have one of those.  I mean sitting there listening to people dressed as cats taking turns singing did not appeal to us at all.  We kept looking at each other and saying “are they serious?”  There was a lady in front of us who mentioned that this was her 10th time seeing CATS and that she loved it.  My thought was that she didn’t get out very much or really needed to go see something like Phantom of the Opera so that she would know how bad this really was.  We were laughing and giggling all the way through it and went it was finally over we scrambled out of there laughing at the fact that we actually sat through the whole thing.

After our New York City trip, life started happening.  Mostly kids started happening and for some reason we completely forgot about our mother daughter sometimes Aunts trips.  My son turns 14 this year.  That’s how long it’s been.  So this year we decided to do it again and keep it somewhat close to home.  No kids, no husbands, just us.

I suggested we go to Winter  Park, Fl.  My sister lives in North Florida.  We live in South Florida.  It was a nice middle spot.  Hubby, the kids and I had happened upon Winter Park about a year ago when we were visiting Mickey Mouse.  A friend had mentioned the farmers market that they have there on Saturdays.  We went and I was thoroughly delighted by the city itself.

At the last minute, we invited my Aunts to go with us.  My Aunt Eleanor and her daughter (my 1st cousin) Stefanie ended up going.  We had a fantastic Mother, Daughter, Aunt, Cousin weekend.  Winter Park is such a delight.  It’s this hidden jewel in the middle of the State that you may never think to visit.  The farmers market on Saturday morning happens just off Park Ave and is absolutely incredible.  Tons a vegetables, fruits, plants and so much more.  I bought vanilla beans  to make my own vanilla.  There are all kinds of homemade breads, pastries, and juices.  We ate breakfast there.

The whole area around Park Ave is shops and cafes where you can eat inside or out on the sidewalks.  There are benches to sit on and a park.  Trees line the cobblestone streets and it is so friendly, welcoming and quaint.  It is a remarkable place for a girls weekend.  A place to relax, window shop, and eat great food.  It is a very dog friendly place so feel free to bring the pooch.  We happened upon a Thai Restaurant for dinner one night.  I was thrilled to see all the little “V’s” next to dishes letting me know I could eat it with no guilt.  I had a green curry sauce with vegetables and tofu served with brown jasmine rice.  It was to-die-for-good.  The place was called the Orchid and all dishes are served with an orchid on the plate. It was my first time having tofu and I was pleasantly surprised.  I guess I need to experiment cooking with that stuff and I have definitely got to learn to make green curry sauce.  I had forgotten how much I like Thai food.  It’s not something that is abundant around my neck of the woods.  Of all the cafes that we hit, I was able to find something to eat in all of them.  Winter Park is vegetarian/vegan friendly.  Our last morning there, we ate breakfast at a French Bistro.  It was very yummy. The whole French thing makes me think that we need to go to France.  Maybe our trend is leading us somewhere.

Though I am far from being a total vegan, I have to brag about the fact that I have now not had land meat in over 6 months.  I would classify myself as 80% of the time Vegan, 20% of the time Pescetarian Vegetarian ( yea, I’m still loving my seafood.)

Park Ave. Winter Park, FL

My sister Carisa, Mom, and Me

So if you are looking for a weekend place with either friends, family or for romance, Winter Park is the place to go.  We will be going back and will probably make it a yearly thing.

Once home, Grill King informs me that he ate meat all weekend and gained 4 pounds.  I guess the minute my car pulled out of the drive, he went into hunting mode, slapped on some leather and furs, some warrior paint, grabbed his weapons and headed for the local meat market.  The grill smoked all weekend, he beat his chest and the children must have cowered under their beds hoping it wasn’t Hansel and Gretel all over again.

As much as I ate in Winter Park, I didn’t gain a pound.  I was thrilled with that.  I’ve lost a total of only 4 pounds since I started this thing.  Good, but not good enough.  I am about to get very serious because I want 5 more pounds GONE!!!  Time to kick up the exercising.  Meanwhile, if you have a free weekend, go to Winter Park and Enjoy!

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