Coping With Being the Holiday Green Sheep

snowflake-balls-balls-gold-streamers-toys-christmas-holiday-christmas-new-yearKermit said it best. It’s not easy being green. I guess I’ve been “different” than my family and  friends for such a long time; I’m used to not fitting in when it comes to food. I’ve had allergies since before I had teeth, so not always being able to eat what my friends were eating became pretty standard right from the get go.

As I look back at being vegetarian since high school, gluten free for the past 13 years and now vegan for the past three, I realize I’ve come up with some coping mechanisms to survive social situations.  Food is such a big part of our social life and is often the centerpiece of gatherings. I have to admit that holidays are still some of the hardest times to be different than your family and friends. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a social network that eats mostly like you do, prepare for some awkward and uncomfortable social situations.

It’s not about the food – or is it?

I think the most important coping mechanism I use is to disassociate food from the function.  Ask yourself why you’re attending the social gathering.  Are you going because you care about the people?  Maybe you feel obligated?  Your boss said you had to go?  Whatever the reason, keep in mind you have choices.  Do you really have to go? If don’t want to be there and don’t have to be there, than say “no”.  If you just need to make an appearance, disappear before dinner or arrive after dessert to say your hellos and good-byes. Just make sure the host or hostess knows you have other obligations and will stop by but will miss the meal. If you do need to or want to go for the entire event, remember the reason you’re there and look for all the positives you can.  Focus on the social interaction, the networking, the conversation – anything but the food.

Don’t be shy – get something to eat.

If you’re going to a restaurant or hotel, let the organizer know you need a special meal and then call the establishment to make sure they understand your needs a day or so before the event. Eating establishments should be able to accommodate.  If you’re going to someone’s home, offer to bring a few dishes to share that will fill you up.  I don’t expect people to cook something special for me but I am happy to bring something special to share and I know I’ll have something to put on my plate.  I can’t tell you how many family dinners I’ve gone to where all I can eat is what I bring. I’ve even gone to a few vegan potlucks where my dish is the only one that’s gluten-free.  To cope, sometimes you have to be OK with that.

It’s Your Right to Eat the Way You Do

You don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself for your dietary choices. You’re an adult and they’re your choices.  Don’t put up with being bullied or harassed. If people are offended by what you’re eating, it’s their problem not yours. I’ve had people ask me about my diet during dinner when it becomes obvious I’m not eating what they’re eating.  I try to keep the conversation lightly informative.  If they are genuinely interested in why I’m vegan or gluten-free, I give my animals, planet, health trifecta; talk about how much I love being vegan; and suggest some great resources, books or movies they can explore. I avoid the gory details of slaughter houses or intestinal discomfort while people are eating.  If someone is rude or nasty about what I’m eating (and sometimes this happens) I do my best to ignore them, stay positive, stick up for my choices and change the subject.

It’s OK to Feel Down

Sometimes it can get downright depressing to find your holidays filled with food centered events where you can’t or don’t want to eat.  If you’re vegan, it’s hard not to think of all the animal suffering that seems to be amplified and glorified during the holidays. Scream into your pillow and sucker punch the air.  Cry. Call a sympathetic friend. Better yet, find a friend or group where you can enjoy the food together.  I’ve been saved by MeetUp.com and the many vegan dining and social groups where I live.  Hubby and I attend potlucks, dinners and other fun events to make sure we can break gluten-free, vegan bread with others.  And we have each other to lean on.  For years, as a vegetarian, I was on my own and hubby really didn’t understand my issues with family dinners.  Having a vegan spouse now is wonderful.  Having vegan friends is too. Find your peeps. They’re out there. And if you live in a remote part of the earth where there are no peeps living nearby, find them digitally.  Facebook, blogs, Twitter, even Linked In have vegan groups where you can chat and participate in dialog.  It really helps to know you’re not alone.

Find Joy

Take time to go out and smell the fresh air. Bake some vegan cookies or your favorite vegan dish and take in the aroma.  Dance to your favorite song.  Draw a picture. Play a game.  Do yoga.  Do what you love.  Be kind to yourself and make time for yourself. Make your choices wisely.  Pay attention and question all the “shoulds” you think you need to do during the season.  Find the happy in holiday. It’s out there if you look!

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15 Gluten-Free, Vegan Holiday Recipes

I’ve been writing my blog since 2011, and have many recipes scattered throughout the posts perfect for a holiday feast.  I thought it would be handy to compile their links into one post to make it easier for you to find them all this year.

I am thankful for all my blog readers, your comments and your commitment to a kinder world for animals.  May you all have a blessed and peaceful holiday season!

Red Lentil Loaf

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Stuffing

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Savory White Bean Gravy

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Fat-Free, Vegan and Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole

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Simply Healthy Sweet Potatoes

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Savory Sweet Potatoes

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Marvelous Mushrooms

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 Greek Potatoes

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Thick and Creamy mmMushroom Gravy

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Crispy, Not Fried Onion Rings (add these to your green bean casserole!!!)

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Eat Your Beets

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Simply Delicious Cranberry Sauce

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Raw-kin Awesome Pumpkin Pie

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Raw, Vegan Cinnamon-y Apple Crisp

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Gingerbread Smoothies

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Fat-Free, Vegan and Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole

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Green bean casserole was a Thanksgiving tradition at our house.  I loved the combination of green beans, mushrooms and those crunchy little onion rings.  Here’s a variation that will make your guests want seconds and leave you licking the bowl.

Fat-Free, Vegan and Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole

5 cups cooked green beans (canned or fresh)
1 cup marvelous mushrooms
1
 cup fat-free, vegan Swiss cheese sauce

Toss all ingredients together, heat in oven, crock pot or pan and serve warm.

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Fat Free Vegan Swiss “Cheese” Sauce


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I love the fat free cheese sauce I posted last April, and have been itching to try a Swiss version. I finally got the chance to experiment yesterday, and the results were absolutely blog-worthy!  I love it with mushrooms and green beans.  What would you pour it on?

Fat Free Vegan Swiss Cheese Sauce

2 cups unsweetened plant milk (I like rice milk)
2/3 cup white miso paste
1/2 cup white potato
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
4 tbs organic corn starch
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp garlic salt

Add all ingredients to a high powered blender and blend until very smooth. Pour into pan and heat on stove top, stirring until thick.  Turn down heat, and serve or store in refrigerator and reheat as needed.

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Simply Healthy Sweet Potatoes

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Sometimes using less ingredients and allowing the natural taste of food to come through is not only simple and healthy, but also pretty tasty.  That’s the case with these sweet potatoes.  I’ve brought them to holiday potlucks and family dinners and they always get rave reviews! With two ingredients, it always amazes me how much people like them, even people who aren’t eating vegan or gluten-free.  And you can make them ahead of time and reheat – they’ll still taste great.

Simple Sweet Potatoes

5 cups pureed cooked sweet potatoes
1 tsp cinnamon

Yep, that’s all the ingredients! I clean my sweet potatoes, remove any dark spots and cook them in an Instant Pot pressure cooker with just a bit of water until soft. You can also bake or boil them. Just make sure they are fully cooked and soft.  Add the cooked sweet potatoes, skins and all, to a high speed blender or food processor with an “S” blade.  puree until smooth, if needed, add a bit of water, heat and serve warm.  So simple!

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White Bean Pesto Spread

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I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, “I’d go vegan but I just can’t give up cheese.”   Sure it’s tough to give up cheese.  I feel your pain. I used to eat a lot of cheese. All dairy products contain casomorphins, fragments, derived from the digestion of milk protein caseinthat actually have an opiate effect. Can you say “addictive”?  It has to be because cow’s milk is designed by mother nature for baby cows to grow up to be big cows and bulls. But even calves don’t eat cheese. Cheese is super concentrated milk fat so it has more casomorphins and yes, that means it’s REALLY addictive.

When you think about it, what other species, when old enough to eat solid food, continues to drink the milk of another species?  Most people, if offered a glass of human milk or dog milk, would refuse to drink it, right?  Yet, we’ve been conditioned into thinking drinking cows milk or eating goat cheese is normal.  We don’t need milk. We’re not calves. And once you begin to learn all the wonderful, healthy ways to get that umami flavor (found in cheese and other savory foods), you really won’t miss it. Learn about the wonders of white miso and nutritional yeast. And try out this recipe the next time you need a tasty spread for crackers or veggies.

Skip the dairy and use beans to make this creamy “cheesy” spread.  It’s super easy to prepare in your food processor and healthy too. The spread above is pictured on my gluten-free tart.

White Bean Pesto Spread

2 cups cooked white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup vegan pesto
1 Tbs white miso paste
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/8 cup water
1/2 tsp garlic salt

Place all ingredients into food processor with “s” blade. Blend until smooth and creamy. Spread over crackers or use as a sandwich or wrap spread.  Store in refrigerator.

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The Dark Underbelly of Veganism?

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This morning I watched the story on ABC about blogger Jordan Younger and her battle with orthorexia. It could have been a great story about self acceptance and overcoming a physiological disorder. Instead, it’s a blatent bashing of vegansim.  Though disappointing, I’m not writing to debate Jordan’s choice to give up on veganism, that’s another topic for discussion. I’m writing because I’m angry – really angry – about how the media continues to portray our vegan lifestyle choice as the reason for people’s suffering.

I too had an eating disorder. My senior year of high school, I struggled with anorexia. My weight dropped from 135 pounds down to 86 pounds and I’m 5’7”. I remember clearly when the switch flipped on and when it flipped off for me so I could heal. I grew up eating the standard American diet. It wasn’t the diet; it was me and my brain.

According to NationalEatingDisorders.org, orthorexia is defined as:
Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.”

Orthorexia is not an official eating disorder. The site shares that orthorexia appears to be motivated by health, but there are underlying motivations, which can include safety from poor health, compulsion for complete control, escape from fears, wanting to be thin, improving self-esteem, searching for spirituality through food, and using food to create an identity. The site makes no mention of a vegan diet being the culprit. And that’s because it’s not the culprit.

I hadn’t even heard of orthorexia until this morning, but if I had to make a guess, I would think it could affect people on paleo diets, unprocessed diets, raw (not necessarily vegan diets), low fat, carb…diets and anyone who becomes so concerned about what they eat, they end up reeling out of control from an overly controlled state.

I know this feeling from my anorexic days. I could count every calorie on my plate. I knew the fat content of what I ate. I added numbers in my head and if something didn’t fit into my mindset, I literally couldn’t pick up my fork and put it into my mouth. And I couldn’t just enjoy a meal without thinking obsessively about what I was eating. It’s an odd feeling and it’s a psychological disorder unrelated to any specific diet. It’s about control, acceptance, self-esteem and so many issues young people and a few older people, mostly women, deal with.

While I wish Jordan a healthy and happy life (and shame on those who made death threats at her because of her decision), I am disappointed she chose to give up her vegan lifestyle, since healing is not about what you do or don’t put on your plate, but about what goes on in your mind. And as a vegan, I still believe it’s the best way to eat for animals (there’s no such thing as “humane” slaughter), the environment and yes, health.

What disappoints me even more is the attitude and comments from the media, starting with JuJu Chang, when she uttered, “You basically exposed the dark underbelly of veganism.” “Exactly,” replied Younger. It is here that I vehemently disagree.

A few weeks earlier, the news reported about a young mother who refused to get medical treatment for her dehydrated baby, locking herself and her baby in her home until social services had to intercede and get help for the baby. They took the baby out of the mother’s custody. And why did all this happen? If you watched the news story, it was because the mother was vegan, not that she perhaps had a mental illness or maybe her doctor didn’t do an adequate job explaining how the hospital would help the baby. Was she suffering from postpartum depression? Who really knows what other factors might have contributed to her behavior. And sadly, we won’t ever know because according to the media, it all happened because she was vegan.

Why must the media continue to portray veganism in such a horrible light? Having a mental illness is not related to a vegan diet any more than it’s related to an omnivorous diet or the Atkins diet. You never hear stories about omnivores who do something awful and blame their diet as the reason. In fact, any mention that meat, dairy or eggs might not be all that good for you, or in fact be really bad for you, gets shuffled swiftly under the rug. The evidence is out there; just watch a few clips from Dr. Michael Greger at NutritionFacts.org and you’ll get an earful. But this information rarely goes mainstream.

So my vegan friends, I pose this question. How do we put veganism in a good light? How do we gain more acceptance with the mainstream media? How do we get them to stop linking our lifestyle to issues far beyond diet? What can we all do to move our lifestyle out of the “dark underbelly” of biased reporting?

For me, I’ll keep writing, creating recipes and sharing the positive things I know about my lifestyle with as many people as will listen. And I’ll live by example. When people tell me I look great for my age, I’ll smile and let them know it’s at least due in part to my vegan diet. I’ll take care of myself. I’ll take care of my environment and make my foot print small as I can. I’ll care for the animals. I’ll be their voice too. I’ll support vegan causes I believe in with my time and my money.

And I’ll forgive myself for not being perfect. None of us are.

While I might feel discouraged when hearing stories like Jordan’s, I won’t stay discouraged and I won’t give up on this lifestyle. It’s too important. I hope you won’t either.

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A Typical Gluten-Free, Vegan Day

20140218_122526Do you ever get frustrated looking at all the beautifully photographed recipes and wonder where those food bloggers find the time?  Guess what? I do too!  I love to cook. I love to write about what I’m making and share great, compassionate and healthy ideas with the world. But in order to do that, I need time to put it all together and all too often, I don’t have it.

So while I’m itching to post something wonderful, I thought it might be more fun and real (and easy) to share what my typical day of food prep looks like.

Breakfast: Hard as I try, I am NOT and never have been a morning person. If I exercise in the morning, I get so tired I just want to crawl back in bed. I’m not a big breakfast eater either. I know, I know….it’s supposedly the most important meal of the day. But I could easily skip it and be just fine until lunch as long as I get my coffee, black and strong. That said, I do try to eat something, I guess because I’m supposed to.

Today, my most important meal of the day was a smoothie.  While tasty, it was kind of greenish brown and I forgot to take a picture but you already know what smoothies look like, right?

Two Lemony Smoothies:

12 oz. coconut water (I LOVE this stuff to make smoothies – so healthy and hydrating!)
1 organic lemon, peel and all (remove the peel if it’s not organic)
1 organic orange, peel and all (again remove the peel if it’s not organic)
1 banana (yes, peel this one and compost the peel.)
2 cups raw organic spinach
3 – 4 Medjool dates (3 if big, soft and sweet, 4 if smaller or drier)
½ cup frozen organic cherries (other berries or fresh with pits removed will work too)
1/8 cup chia seeds (great source of protein, omega 3 and antioxidants – eat them!)

Add the following to your power blender and whirl away! Pour into a to-go cup and drink as you’re running out the door. I make enough to share with hubby. And soak the blender if you don’t have time to wash it before leaving.  Fruit is pretty sticky if allowed to dry for several hours.

Lunch: Nearly every day, I bring my lunch and it’s usually leftovers. Today is no exception. I have a baked sweet potato topped with some amazing cheese sauce and steamed veggies I made last night, some fresh spinach, a bit of salsa and a bit of Daiya cheddar. I also had ½ cup of mixed nuts for a snack. If I get cranky hungry, nuts seem to do the trick.

Dinner:  Because I’m not a morning person, I don’t get to the office super early, which means I don’t get home until late. If I try to sneak in some exercise, dinner doesn’t get started until 8:00 pm unless hubby gets things started.  Tonight, he made himself some pasta with sauce from a jar. I opted for some black bean soup.  Fast and healthy and not too heavy so close to bedtime.

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So this is how miss fancy pants gluten-free, vegan, food blogger spends many of her nights. I wish I was vegan Martha Stewart, but hey, it works. What’s your favorite speed meal?

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Alfredo Can Be Vegan, Gluten-Free, Fat-Free and Delicious!

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Yes you can enjoy an amazing Alfredo sauce minus the dairy, flour and fat.  No really. You can! Just follow the simple recipe below and find yourself in dairy-free, fat-free, gluten-free, Alfredo bliss.  And tell me what you think after you try it by posting in the comments below!

Freedom Alfredo Sauce  (free of dairy, fat and gluten)

2 cups unsweetened plant milk (I like rice milk – just make sure it’s unsweetened)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
4 TBS white miso (brown miso doesn’t work for this, it must be white)
4 TBS organic corn starch (I tried other starches – corn works best and you may need to adjust the volume up or down with potato, rice or tapioca so use caution if you substitute)
1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp black pepper

Add all ingredients into a high speed blender and whirl away until well-mixed.  Pour into a large sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring often with a wisk to prevent sticking or clumping.  Once the mixture starts to boil, turn down to low heat and stir until it thickens, usually 2-3 minutes depending on your stove.

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Turn down to simmer until you’re ready to serve.

Pour over your favorite gluten-free pasta and enjoy! Top with some vegan Parmesan (Brazil Nut recipe  or my original recipe) and freshly chopped basil for a little extra treat.

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Carrot Dogs & Portoburgers


20140609_192750These are fun and truly fabulous!  Hubby was fascinated by these little “dogs” and a bit skeptical to try them, but one bite and he was hooked.  I am still searching for gluten-free, vegan hot dog and burger buns, so for now, I just eat mine straight up.  Hubby put his in bread with the traditional mustard and relish.  And if you’re heating up carrot dogs, you may as well heat up some portoburgers to go with them!

Carrot Dogs
10 – 12 large carrots
1/4 cup Dr. Bragg’s Amino Acids
1/2 cup water
1 TBS rice vinegar
1 TBS sesame oil
1/2 TBS apple cider vinegar
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1 clove garlic, minced

Peel and slightly cook in water, about a dozen large carrots until tender enough to poke with a fork but not too soft. Do not overcook. Mix all liquids and spices above into a marinade and pour into a 9 x 13 pan. Add cooked carrots. Cover and refrigerate, rotating carrots a couple times each day to cover with marinade and ensure they are soaking up the juices. Marinade at least two full days. More soaking makes them taste even better. My carrots were still fresh after 5 days of marinading.

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You have two options for cooking. You can place carrots into a frying pan with a bit of the marinade and cook until warm throughout and a little browned in spots. (See photo at bottom of page.)

You can also cook on a grill and rotate until warm throughout and some grill marks appear. (Photo on top of page.)

I think the pan cooked carrot dogs tasted better, but both were really good.

Portoburgers

If you’re making carrot dogs, you may as well make a few portobello “burgers” too. Simply wash them, remove the stems and baste with a bit of marinade, both on the grill and in the pan.  Cook them until slightly tender and warm throughout.  Super easy!

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