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Archive for the ‘The Journey’ Category

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!!!

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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!

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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

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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!

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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!

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I have really had a busy two weeks.  It has been go go go for nearly 2 weeks straight.  Not always fun and it has seriously cut into my blog time.  I swear we have had to go somewhere nearly every day.  Normally the weekend is relax time but this past weekend consisted of getting up both Saturday and Sunday at 4:45 am (YUCK) in order to get my kids to their swim meet on time (they did awesome by the way).  Between homeschooling, being on the run and the swim meet, I pretty much look like a zombie.  I can’t wait until Saturday.  I may sleep the day away.

So while I have not blogged in 12 days (not a good thing), I am still tiptoeing towards a healthy heart.  We recently got our hands on some coconuts.  We have three coconut palms in our yard but the past two years my little area of  Southwest Florida has had some terrible winter freezes and that nasty cold weather has prevented my palms from producing.  It’s like they would start to put off baby coconuts and then they would just fall off and die.  Not good for one who loves coconut and fresh coconut water.

This year however, I think we are in business.  My palms are looking great.  The winter has been a very warm one.  There are  baby coconuts and they are looking very healthy.  Soon I will have my own.  Knowing I love coconuts, my father-in-law sent some over from his tree.

Grill King grabbed a machete (a large sharp hatchet looking knife that could easily dismember one who did not know how to use it) and went to work.  In a matter of minutes, I had a pitcher full of coconut water and the kids and I were digging out and eating fresh coconut.  We all still had our parts connected.  Grill King is a professional coconut opener and doesn’t let any of the water escape.  That way I have more to drink.

Coconut water is full of electrolytes and much better for you than a sports drink.  Coconut goes great in just about anything.  You can make your own coconut milk or use the coconut meat in things like smoothies and baking.  My favorite is just eating it raw right out of the shell.  I drink the juice/water for several days until it is gone.  It is just so refreshing.  There is nothing like fresh coconut water.

A friend of mine recently told me about this coconut milk she was buying in the grocery store.  I tried it and I just have to say YUM!  It is called So Delicious Coconut Milk.  One serving of this stuff gives you 50% of your vitamin B 12.  Hello non-meat eaters!!!  Here is the B 12 you’ve been looking for.  This company also makes a cultured coconut milk (I haven’t tried this yet) and a frozen dessert.  Basically a non-dairy, soy-free “ice cream”.  It is wonderful.  I am so happy that now when my kids want some ice cream, I can share in the joy!  Actually, we got an ice cream maker and I am going to try to make my own vegan ice cream.  I am going to attempt this on Saturday once I pull myself out of bed.

Anyway, if you have never had the privilege of drinking fresh coconut water  straight out of the shell, I recommend that you try it.  It is super delicious and while shredded coconut from the store is really yummy, nothing beats the fresh stuff.  So go find yourself a coconut palm and shimmy yourself up it (like us locals do, yeah right!), then pick one (a long stick looking tool with a knife thingy on the end works better).  If there are no coconuts growing in your area, check the grocery stores or fly down to South Florida.  Either way, go enjoy one.

By the way, today is Grill King’s Birthday.  Happy Birthday Honey.  I Love You!

Here you can see two of my coconut palms.

Just say Yum! Fresh Coconut and Coconut Water.

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It was bound to happen.  I had predicted it.  Grill King was stomping around the house feeling the need to rip into a hoof, beak or varmint.  We entered the grocery store and as we neared the meat aisle, I could see his eyes light up, then glaze over.  Before I new it, there was a cow carcass lying in my buggy.  It was a t-bone.  I can remember once sharing this with Grill King.  He always gave me the filet side.  Such a nice guy to share his kill with the one he loves.

I looked at the carcass with disgust.  Grill King, on the other hand, beat his chest as if he had just run out of the cave and chased down this ferocious beast with a single spear.  Ahhh Ahhh Ahhh! (is that how Tarzan yelled?)

Looking at the meat aisle, I realized for the first time that I was actually disgusted by the look of all that meat.  I guess that was going to happen eventually.  It has been 4 1/2 months since land meat has entered my body.  Cooked bacon still makes my mouth water.  I think that’s the only meat I dream about now.  While I gave up eggs 2 months ago, I am sure that over Thanksgiving and Christmas some sneaked into my body.  However, since the holidays, I have stuck to my guns.  Dairy will be leaving soon.  It is slowly packing it’s bags and only has a few items still lying around.  I hang out with fish and seafood a couple times week.  We are buddies and I still am not sure I will be able to cut that connection off.  Other than those couple of nights of hanging out with seafood, I am a veggie girl.

Once home from the grocery store, I went to work to see what could be served with grilled carcass and without grilled carcass.   I preferred the latter.  We did have some asparagus that would go great on the grill and since that baby was obviously going to be smoking, may as well use it for something healthy.  I am not a big fan of asparagus.  I eat it because it’s good for me and it doesn’t make me run for the porcelain god.  But really there are so many other vegetables that I would rather have.

Since cooking butternut squash for the first time a few weeks ago, I have come to love it.  I decided to try something different by adding it to couscous (I have a big bag of Israeli Couscous from Costco).  Together with potatoes and an onion, this turned out super yummy.

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes

3 small potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

1 small onion chopped

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1 1/2 cup couscous

2 1/2 cup water

vegetable bouillon cube

fresh parsley

Salt, pepper, granulated garlic to taste

Put the vegetable bouillon cube in the 2 1/2 cups of water and set aside for it to dissolve.  Place the butternut squash and potatoes in a bowl, pour about a tbsp of olive oil on them, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic.  Mix well, then place on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, place 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pot and saute the chopped onions until translucent.  Add the couscous to the olive oil and onions.  Keep stirring until it just starts to brown, add a tad more olive oil if needed, and then pour in the 2 1/2 cups of water with the vegetable bouillon cube and the sliced almonds.  Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Take the roasted butternut squash and potatoes out of the oven.  Add to the pot of couscous and mix well.  Place in a bowl, sprinkle chopped parsley on top and serve.   Enjoy!

This recipe passed the Grill King test and the kid test.  Even my picky eater ate it.  I will be making it again.

Butternut Squash and Potato Couscous

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