Vegan Living 101: Building Your Kitchen

Lately, I’ve been considering what a vegan pantry should look like. There are things I have kept in stock at all times, even before I fully claimed veg*n status. All kitchens should share the same basic skeleton, vegan or not.

Being a student, working retail only part time, I don’t get to splurge on fancy meals every day. Creativity is essential, and dry goods are my friend.

Every vegan kitchen should have a well stocked pantry. The most important things are salt, pepper, olive and/or coconut oil, and a variety of herbs & spices. In my opinion, these are non-negotiable.

What spices & herbs (aside from salt & pepper) do I always have on hand?

  1. Sage
  2. Oregano
  3. Thyme
  4. Curry Powder
  5. Rosemary
  6. Cinnamon
  7. Cayenne
  8. Marjoram
  9. Bay Leaves
  10. Chili Powder
  11. Onion Powder
  12. Diced Dehydrated Garlic (or Shallots, or both!)
  13. Cumin
  14. Turmeric
  15. Red Pepper Flakes
  16. Chervil
  17. Vanilla, Almond, and Peppermint extracts
  18. Cacao Nibs or Powder

It’s nice to have this selection, especially when it comes time to making soup or cooking up a big batch of lentils or beans. The bay leaves help if someone is transitioning into a lentil/legume rich diet, as they apparently help break down the starch that causes stomach distress/gas. Plus, bay just makes any soup, stew, or pasta dish taste great! Just remember that bay leaves are designed to enhance flavor and to never be eaten.

Other essentials are dried beans & lentils. Beans & lentils are often considered the backbone of veg*n protein. A 1-lb bag of beans or lentils usually costs $1 or $2. A pound of legumes can feed a person for at least a week, if not longer. I say a week, because I love legumes.

Sure, they are carbohydrate rich, so one shouldn’t eat a huge mound of them. The carbohydrates in beans & lentils are comprised mainly of fibre, and let’s be real here, fibre is very essential to one’s overall health. I feel that fibre is just as important as protein & fat.

I consistently have a airtight container full of lentils. I love how versatile lentils are. You can make soup, stews, burgers, “meat”balls, chili, “meat” sauce for pasta, taco/burrito/fajita filling, or loafs out of them. In fact, sometime soon, I am going to actually try making burgers out of lentils.

If soaking & cooking beans isn’t your thing, I totally understand. You certainly can opt for the canned variety. However, canned beans always have a higher sodium content, even the low/reduced sodium kinds. Also, canned beans end up always being more expensive than the dried variety. I will always soak a large batch of beans the night before I have a day off, then cook them in the morning. Or, I’ll let them soak while I’m at work or school and cook them when I get home.

In my pantry, I also keep a variety of grains. Oatmeal is always there. I love oatmeal for breakfast. It also can be used for other dishes as a binder, and, of course, cookies. Quinoa is a grain that is great for veg*ns, as it has a decent amount of protein in it. And, apart from potatoes, I was raised with barley as a cheap, nutritious, and filling starch. I love barley. Sometimes, I’ll have a barley & oatmeal mixture for breakfast. And, I find myself wanting barely more than I want rice. Rice is a great staple to have, but I always opt for brown or wild rice. However, I find myself eating barley & quinoa more often.

I’m also a fan of nuts and nut butters. I know that some people are allergic to one or all nuts, so if this is you, ignore this little section. My favorites are almonds and cashews. There is always a bag of either or both hanging out. I also consistently have almond butter on the ready. I’ve found that a handful almonds is the closest thing veg*ns have to an egg… With the added benefit of fibre. Sure, there might be less iron, but that’s what spinach & kale are for.

When people ask me for advice on transitioning into a veg*n diet, the main question is “what do I do about protein?” Well, beans, lentils, nuts, and dense vegetables have sufficient protein for the average human being. But, if you are of the mindset that protein is king, I always suggest investing in a well-balanced vegan protein powder. I’m a huge fan of Vega powder and PlantFusion powder. PlantFusion is wonderful, because the have a variety of flavors, as well as unflavored. Many vegan athletes will often use the unflavored version to enhance mashed potatoes, oatmeal, or other savory dishes. I like the unflavored in a strawberry & almond-coconut milk smoothie. On a daily basis, I use PlantFusion chocolate powder, because I’m a chocoholic. I mix it with Almond Dream Unsweetened Chocolate (almond, duh) milk. So, the protein factor is easy for us veg*ns to deal with.

Last, a veg*n truly invested in their health should, of course, have a fridge constantly stocked with vegetables. But, remember, never buy more than you know you’ll eat. No one should be wasting any food!!

My dream fridge would be full of almond & coconut milk, colourful vegetables, and enough lentils/legumes to last the week. My dream freezer would be full of vegan sorbet & SoDelicious Simply Strawberry Coconut Milk ice cream. (No, SoDelicious is not sponsoring this post. I just love that specific ice cream so much.)

These are my staples, and I fell that every new & seasoned veg*n should invest in the same. Buying in bulk & having airtight containers are very helpful. Remember, our health is a constant journey. We need to treat ourselves & our planet well. And, we all choose our diets for different reasons. I have chosen this for myself, because it feels right to me. If you don’t agree with the veg*n lifestyle/diet, that is absolutely fine & [most of us] veg*ns respect that.

[This is just a little preemptive disclaimer: I am not a licensed doctor or nutritionist. Please just take what is written here at face value. This is what works for me and has worked for me for almost two decades. And, through discussions, this is what works for many veg*ns. If you are deciding to transition into a veg*n diet, please do further research, including talking to a licensed nutritionist and your primary care physician.]

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Vegan Living 101: Personal Transformation

After deciding to do pieces on vegan living, my mother and I embarked on a weight loss journey. It is The Fast Metabolism Diet by Haylie Pomory. So far, it has proved to be quite reasonable. I’m on day eight (of 28), and have lost about two or three pounds. Where I see it the most is around my chin and midsection. The most important factor is that I’m not required to forgo my quest for personal veganism. This diet is suitable for most people searching for optimal health. It’s broken into three phases per week and done for a total of four weeks. We are to eat five times a day: 3 meals & 2 snacks.

On Phase 1, we are supposed to load up on healthy, wholesome carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, brown rice and sprouted grains. Included in that is a lot of fruit. And, throughout the entire process, there is a focus on unlimited vegetables. Protein is included in two of the meals, and as a veg*n, I have to rely on lentils & legumes. These are the easiest two days for me, as I love me some grains and lentils.

Phase 2 is somewhat difficult for me, as it is protein heavy. The author (who has a BA in Animal Science & is a trained nutritionist) wants people to avoid soy for 28 days. She makes an exception for vegans on these two days, because she knows that a lot of natural vegan protein is somewhat fibre/carbohydrate dense. We are allowed edamame, tempeh, and tofu. I hate tofu, so that’s a no go. Frankly, tempeh isn’t my favorite. And edamame? That gets boring very quick. I have a couple vegan protein powders that are similar to the ones the author sells on her website. The ones I’ve found are half the price, so that helps. These two consecutive days are difficult because eating vegetables all day long can get a bit tedious. Also, drinking a protein shake that’s made with water instead of the unsweetened almond milk I usually use is not as delightful.

Phase 3 has a focus on healthy fats, such as olive & coconut oils, raw nuts & seeds, and nut butters. Again, this isn’t difficult for me. I love cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, coconut milk, hummus… The list is endless. There is less of a focus on protein & carbohydrates, however, we start the day with a grain, have a couple pieces of fruit throughout the day, and can have an optional grain in the evening. But, frankly, I am usually pretty satisfied by the end of the day. I’d happily have a huge salad with some lentils or kidney beans topped with olive oil & lemon juice.

But, I have three more weeks, and I am doing this for the good of my body. I hope that this can train me to eat in a much more mindful and wholesome way. The logic makes sense, and a lot of what I am reading is stuff I have heard before from nutritionists and fitness buffs. It’s the practice that is the hardest. And, our bodies usually need at least four weeks to truly start to adjust to changes we make.

I do hope that in 20 days, I’ll be able to have half a cup of the So Delicious Simply Strawberry Coconut Milk ice cream waiting patiently for me in the freezer & be happy with that half cup. I hope that my body adjusts to this change and I don’t have to be so regimented, while not worrying if I’ll put on all the weight I’ve dropped.

After I complete the 28 days, I might do one more. After that, I plan on eating mindfully for 4-6 weeks, then doing a week of this, just to keep my body in check. She likens this process to cross training. This allows us to get our bodies out of a rut and get our organs working a bit better than they were. [Just a side note, I feel that this diet really should be called an internal reset, or spring cleaning for one’s health.]

Ms. Pomeroy does suggest we continue with the diet until we reach our goal weight (clothing shift, for me). After we attain our goal(s), we then maintain our metabolism & results be treating every day as it is Phase 3, but passing all allowed foods in each meal and snack. So, I could easily start the day with oatmeal & cinnamon, then have an apple & a protein shake made with almond milk as a snack. For lunch, I could have a salad filled with all the veggies & legumes I love, and for another snack I could have cucumber & cashews or some fruit. I could end my day with a wholesome meal, and feel full & happy. On days that I exercise, I’ll allow myself a tasty treat, such as my favorite ice cream. And, if I go out to eat with friends, I’ll do a Phase 2 day the next day. No one is perfect and maintaining health takes work.

I have been a fairly poor eater the last few years, not eating regularly and consistently skipping breakfast. And, I had a major relationship with Coke Zero. I still get cravings for it, but I’m happy without it. My main thing is running. I hate running with food in my stomach. This might force me to run early in the day. I’ll have an apple & almond butter half an hour before I run, then eat some oatmeal after I’m finished. This is definitely something that I feel will get my metabolism on the right track.

Anyway, I do hope I find success. I am just glad that this has pushed me head on into changing my lifestyle to be vegan. My diet has been completely vegan for 8 days. I love the way I feel, and after I get through the next three weeks, I will start putting more focus on lifestyle changes.

Vegan Living 101: Beginning

For a good portion of my life, I’ve been a quasi- to full-blown vegetarian. Seafood was the first thing to go, and I can’t even remember the last time I ate anything from the sea. Chicken was the last to go. For 11 years, chicken was the only meat I consumed, and, while I only ate it once or twice a year, I felt guilty doing so. For the last seven years, I haven’t touched any kind of animal flesh. However, I do occasionally have a splash of milk in my coffee if I’m at brunch and don’t want to make a fuss. I’ll also have the occasional bit of cheese and I’m trying my hardest to breakup with milk chocolate.

Soon, I’ll be living by myself, like I did just over a decade ago. This will be perfect for me to fine tune my vegan cooking skills. The only person I’ll have to feed every day is myself, so I can have complete control over the food that is kept and the food that I eat.

For those of you who don’t understand what veganism is all about, the simplest way to describe it is: a choice to abstain from any animal product or byproduct in everyday life, including nutrition, clothes, household items, cosmetics, and personal hygiene products. (The link provided is the Vegan wikipedia entry, and I feel like it does a good job explaining concepts.)

This means that the diet a vegan eats is completely void of anything that falls under the animal classification, including their excretions. One thing that drives us crazy is when a veg*n (an umbrella term that is inclusive of all vegetarians & vegans) gets asked “but you still eat fish, right?” This is a question that we get asked constantly and often results in some fierce eye rolling or a gobsmacked laugh. Sometimes, we’ll be blunt and ask “were you asleep when your fifth grade teacher taught you about animal classification?” Other times, we’ll be kind and say, “thanks for asking, however fish are technically animals, so we abstain from eating fish,” while screaming on the inside.

Here is a list of things vegans get asked if they eat, but don’t:
1. Fish/Shellfish/etc.
2. Honey
3. Poultry (this one really baffles me)
4. Milk/Cheese/Eggs
5. Anything with gelatin in it (i.e. most gummy candy, anything that is a mass produced gel)

I live in a part of the States that considers itself progressive and liberal. It was a hotbed of counter-culture activity in the 60s & 70s. Even with the runoff from that, I find that people are really confused by the concept of veganism. When having a discussion about it, I have found it turns out that people are confused by even the concept of vegetarianism.

So, a series of blog posts is born! I’m going to share a few posts that cover a variety of topics regarding veganism. These posts will include (and aren’t limited to) pantry & fridge staples, vegan candy, vegan cookbooks, vegan cosmetics & beauty products, vegan fashion, misconceptions, personal meal plans for 1, 3, and 7 days, and my favorite recipes.

Please contact me with any questions or possible topics you would like me to cover. Also, please know that I am not a nutritionist, chef, or MD. The information I am giving is purely from my own research, discussion with other people who live a vegan lifestyle, conversations with nutritionists & doctors, and my opinion. I’ll will be citing the information that I give you & will clarify if something is an opinion. If you don’t like or agree with my opinion, I do ask that you remain respectful in your approach. Part of veganism is respect for fellow beings, human and non-human.

Happy trails!!

Current Faves

Nubian Heritage: Soaps & Deodorant
Maybe a year or two ago, I saw a newish brand of body care at the “holistic” pharmacy in town. I was looking for something to help exfoliate my feet. It was summer time and I’m wearing flip-flops. Nubian Heritage’s African Black Soap seemed as though it was the best choice. And, boy, was it ever!? Lately, I’ve gotten back into using bar soaps instead of shower gels. I’m about to break open the Coconut & Papaya bar (a golden standard in my life). Earlier this year, I noticed that the brand came out with deodorant. As I love the smell of their Coconut & Papaya products, I got a C&P stick. I absolutely love it! Sure, it is just a deodorant, so my underarms still get moist. But, I smell good throughout the day, and the smell isn’t overwhelming. The other day, I bought a fresh stick, but in their African Black Soap variety. I’m going to test it out this week and see how the smell works.

Rocksbox
After browsing Beauty By Britanie, I noticed a little ad banner on her page. I’ve been trying to spruce up my jewelry game (hence the chloe+isabel gig). I was tempted to click on the ad, because who doesn’t want to try out new jewelry for a month? How Rocksbox works is that you sign up, take a style quiz, and, if you have time, browse some jewelry & add pieces to a wishlist. The quiz & wishlist both help their stylists choose what to send in each box. Once you get a box, you can keep the jewelry as long or as little as you want, send them all back or keep them all (you’ll have to pay for them if you want to keep them). If you purchase all the pieces, Rocksbox will just send you a new box of jewelry to try. I’ll be honest, this might be a dangerous new fave. I signed up on Wednesday (June 17th), received my first box on Saturday (June 19th), fell in love with the earrings that came in the box, purchased them for $17 instead of $35, and sent back the other two pieces. I’m hoping that by next Saturday, I’ll be getting my second box. YIKES! If you want to try it out for a month (for free) use the link!

Farm Sanctuary
This will be a forever favorite. If you don’t know about Gene Baur & Farm Sanctuary, you should. Even if you are an omnivore, Farm Sanctuary is a great organization for anyone with a shred of compassion and concern for the planet. With three locations (two in California, one in New York), Farm Sanctuary takes in injured, stranded, sick, and/or abused animals (primarily for the “farm” variety). At each sanctuary, these animals are given the chance to heal and live a happy, full life. As a vegetarian with a soft spot for farm animals, I fell in love with the organization a few years ago. I got the chance to meet Gene Baur, the founder of the organization. His humbleness and kind spirit, and the fact he has personally responded to emails I have sent him, made me even more of a fan. It helps when founders/CEOs are down to earth and live the essence and core of their organizations. If you get a chance, please read Gene’s books (Farm Sanctuary and Living the Farm Sanctuary Life). And, if you ever find yourself in Orland (CA), Los Angeles (CA), or Watkins Glen (NY), I highly suggest you take a tour of one of the Sanctuaries.

Product Love: Body Care

To be honest, I don’t spend too much time or effort on body care products. I always love clean hands and hand wash seems to be the one body care product I’m always overly replenishing. Lotions and creams, well, I have quite a few because I love both the smell & the feel. Do they get used, though? Not really. I only ever have the patience to moisturize my hands, arms, and chest. I rarely find myself splurging on ‘luxury’ body care for that reason. I’ve noticed that almost all of my favorite body care products can be found at Whole Foods, Pharmaca, or any other ‘holistic’ pharmacy, supermarket, etc.

Warning: you might see a theme with many of the products that I love! (I’m a sucker for any thing citrus.)

My favorite hand wash is the Avalon Organics Lemon Hand Wash. The company states that the hand wash contains 70% organic ingredients. Sure, that is by US standards, but it is still better than nothing, right? The first ingredient is Aloe Leaf Juice, which we all know is hydrating and healing. There are no harsh surfactants and no other nasty ingredients. Using just a small amount, the wash leaves my hands clean and smelling fresh. The scent isn’t overwhelming and it is a scent that is generally not offensive to most. And, I always appreciate the $7.99 price tag. I especially love when Whole Foods or Pharmaca has a sale on the brand. Every once in awhile, both stores will sell the brand at 20% off.

Copyright Avalon Organics

To make life easy, my current favorite hand & body lotion is the counterpart to the hand wash: Avalon Organics Lemon Hand & Body Lotion. Again with the non-offensive scent, this is a winner in my life and is the lotion I keep out for visitors to use. At $12 a bottle, I really don’t mind sharing. The company has the same 70% organic ingredients claim on the bottle. The consistency of the lotion is wonderful: never too heavy, yet very nourishing. This lotion is usually in the bathroom to ensure that I’ll get some hydration on my body after I shower or bathe.

Copyright Avalon Organics

On my desk in my bedroom, I keep Aveda’s Hand Relief Moisturizing Creme ($24). I never splurge on hand creme. This was an add on gift my mother gave me for my birthday. This creme I use only once or twice a day, as it is definitely more luxurious than my $8 Avalon Organics lotion. I love that this creme hydrates deeply without leaving a greasy film. There is a very delicate citrus scent (again, with the citrus). This creme is especially useful during the winter when my body seems to dry up more than usual.

Copyright Aveda

When it comes to body wash, I am not the most picky person. As long as it doesn’t have a bunch of unnecessary crap in it and it smells good, I’m happy. Lately, I have been using Andalou Naturals for body wash. It is a (somewhat) local line for me, with their headquarters and distribution center no more than 60 & 80 miles away from home. As far as the scents go, I’m fond of Mandarin Vanilla and Citrus Verbena. Andalou has been revamped a little and have added a few scents. I can’t wait to try them!

Copyright Andalou Naturals

I’ve recently fallen in love with a product a few vloggers have been talking about (Fleur de Force, in particular). For a year or so now, I’ve been meaning to try Lush’s Ro’s Argan Body Conditioner. I put it off because it’s not cheap. At $33, I hesitated every time I considered buying it. But I am so glad I did!! I’m horrible at hydrating my body. It’s rare for me to put lotion or cream on regularly. This is essentially a lotion you put on in the shower and rinse off. The thought of doing that completely baffled me at first. It seemed completely illogical. After reading the ingredients, it started to make sense. As it is full of wonderful oils, it ends up creating this hydrating barrier on your body. This is the last product I use, right after putting conditioner in my hair. Don’t worry, I’m good about turning off the water while I let both do good work. After a couple minutes, I turn the water back on and rinse off from head to toe. And, this smells divine. It has a light rose scent mixed with something sweet, almost gourmand. Technically it is supposed to be a “rose jam” scent. This has helped my skin immensely; it is smoother and less irritable.

Copyright Lush Cosmetics

These are just a few of my current favorites. They are definite guilt free products as they are from environmentally conscious brands and the majority of the ingredients are naturally derived. Most of them are wallet friendly, and the expensive ones will be reserved for special treats.

What are your favorite body care items? Please share!

Sweatin’ My Way To Happiness

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll keep mentioning it: I ran my first half marathon 13 months ago. This past year has been somewhat overwhelming and I’m sad that I didn’t participate in another run. The plan was to do the same one again. Due to school, the loss of my beloved Pushkin, and that wave of depression that took over for a few months, I put aside my overall health.

The idea of running an entire 13.1 miles (i.e.. only slowing down to drink some water, no walking whatsoever, etc.) has been lingering in the back of my mind. I’ve decided that because I love the idea of getting out of the Bay Area, I will use the Portland R&R half marathon on mid-May as an amazing excuse to get out of town. This trip will be a completely positive one.

I have six months to train for this half marathon. Six solid months of getting to the gym, hitting hiking trails, eating well, and taking honest care of my body. Setting this goal for myself is exactly what I need. There is no “I must drop 50lbs and/or four dress sizes,” just a simple goal of exercising, eating well, and being mentally prepared to run for 13.1 miles.

A week ago, I started back at my gym, spending at least 45 minutes on the treadmill. As I haven’t really run much this past year, I’m starting slow and easy, walking between 3.6-3.8 miles per hour and varying the incline. The regular cardio will help my muscles and heart ease into the action of running. I am also very mindful to do strength training as well. Having strong muscles, a strong heart, and strong lungs will make training a breeze.

My plan for the next one and a half/two months is to stick to 45-65 minutes on the treadmill, varying the speed and incline, easing the running into it. By January, I hope to do two or three consistent 2-5 mile runs per week. Also, by then, I hope to have a good strength training program down, doing it once or twice a week.

Nutrition is a huge deal. Much like exercise, what I eat will instantaneously determine how I feel, as well as determining how an entire day, week, or month will turn out. I am back to being more mindful what I am putting into my body. The way I see it, I should put into my body what I expect it to put out. The more colorful, tasty, enticing, enriching the food, the more stable energy I will have. My body will be able to rebuild itself more appropriately with the proper fuel. And, there is no point in hopping on a treadmill for two or three hours a week if I’m not going to eat the right food. I have to remind myself that the worse I eat, the longer I have to exercise. And that time spent chugging away at tedious exercise could be spent at a dance class or on a bike ride or outside hiking with friends.

Come May, I hope to be a positively different person. I am not going to put any pressure on myself to “succeed” at this half marathon. If I run the entire way, AMAZING! If I get to a point where I have to walk a mile, that’s still great. As long as I cross that finish line, I’m happy. It is the journey I am taking right now that is the most important. It is all about the happiness and positive shift I am creating within myself.

Dear readers, what are some healthy things you like? It could be a healthy dish, a form of exercise, an event you like to attend. Please share!

Skin Issues: Sensitivity & Dermatitis

Oh my gosh, it’s been too long! Many apologies!

This post is unfortunately inspired by my reactive skin. About a week ago, I noticed my skin started to feel more delicate than usual. I assumed it was just the weather, as we got a few days of rain after they usual dry winter air. Many people feel a change in their skin when that happens. What was just dry, uncomfortable, itchy skin from head to toe went to inflammed, lobster red, burning skin on my face, neck and chest. My main eczema-type spot on my left wrist even got irritated for the first time in over a year. It turns out, the excessive heat that kept getting blasted in my workplace aggravated it. Even after my requests to keep the store at an even 68-degrees, it ended up feeling like a hotbox to many. You can only imagine how uncomfortable I felt. Sweat, clothes made out of synthetic fabric, constant movement, and naturally warm human beings corralled in one decently sized room that is over heated is never an ideal location for someone with reactive skin. The general concensus is that I’ve got a case of dermatitis. I almost went to urgent care tonight, but want to give it one more day. Plus, I’ve got a bunch of school work that needs to get done.

Last Friday, I splurged and bought a Clarisonic Mia2. We sell them where I work & I was able to get one with a few extra free goodies in the box (including a small face wash I can’t use, but I’m sure a friend will). I spent $105 on a $225 value!! Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought it if that wasn’t such a great deal. Because my skin got worse over the weekend, on Sunday I bought a golden standard for sensitive skin: Ren’s HydraCalm Cleansing Milk, which now called Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk. (Of course, I had the means and had to buy a top seller: Ren’s Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask.)

So, let me share what I’ve been doing the last couple days to calm my skin down. In the evening, I’ll take a makeup wipe and take off any traces of stuff. Then, I wet down the Clarisonic brush head & add the cleansing milk just before splashing some water on my face. Then I’ll Clarisonic my face. After finishing that & drying off, I’ll spray my face with Caudalie’s Grape Water. Once that has been pat down & my skin is dry, I’ll moisturize with either plain organic coconut oil or Ren’s Frankincense Night Cream.

So far, my skin feels calmer. Today, the temperature at work was less hot and I wore a cotton shirt to allow my skin to breathe a bit. I’m still itchy & red, but I am less swollen and hot. Now, I have a mug of white tea and a large glass of water. I’m keeping hydrated internally to help. The plan is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Does anyone else have any experience with dermatitis or any other skin irritations? I’d love to hear feedback.