BodyGuruBlog

Health, Wellness, and My "Multi-Life"

PAN Vegan Pledge – Halfway There!

I can’t believe I already passed the halfway point of the PAN Vegan Pledge. For this post I thought I would share some of the questions and problems voiced by my fellow pledges, as well as some very helpful resources that I’ve recently discovered.

As early as the 2nd Meeting (the end of the first week), some pledges were feeling frustrated. As you might expect, hunger and boredom were the two biggest complaints. Access to specialty items was highly dependent upon where people lived. And people with very full or “awkward” schedules found it more challenging to prepare meals in advance. Some pledges confessed to eating the same thing all week long; others admitted to eating out more. Most of us probably should have simply remembered to carry simple snacks like nuts or dried fruit. Maybe our organizers are psychic, because at that meeting they gave us a portable Veg Dining Guide.

flyer for vegan cheesesteak

Although the guide is specific to the greater Philadelphia area, it shows how many non-vegan restaurants offer an array of vegan-friendly options. These restaurants also span cuisines from the more familiar Mediterranean (think pasta aglio e olio) to the slightly more exotic Middle Eastern (crisp falafel, creamy hummus, smokey baba ganoush) to the wonderful flavors of South, Southeast, and East Asia. And while you might not fancy dining out several nights a week, browsing the guide can provide you with inspiration to break out of your go-to recipes.

In addition to the dining guide, PAN also has an online Vegan Lifestyle and Recipe Guide. The online guide combines meal plans, nutritional information, as well as simple recipes all on one handy website. But with the growing interest in plant-based diets, more and more resources have become available online. The Vegan Society – based in the U.K. – was founded in 1944 and became a registered charity in 1979. Their website is quite vast, but it includes a very clear breakdown of vegan nutrition by two registered dietitians. Click on the plate for a link to their page, which includes a helpful chart.

veganplate2

The Vegetarian Resource Group (you’ve probably seen their Vegetarian Journal at the checkout counter of the grocery store) has compiled a wealth of nutritional information, like a guide to Protein in the Vegan Diet. Helpful tip: Miss Rachel told us last week that a serving of tempeh contains as much protein as a serving of porterhouse steak – minus all that saturated fat and cholesterol! Finally, Vegan Health offers an even more detailed breakdown – including specific information about key nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and Omega-3s as well as information for specific populations such as diabetics.

So how am I faring? Sure, I too was hungry the first week, but I believe that was more due to the twenty odd fitness classes I taught (more than my usual) than any dietary shift. That said, I have found myself craving sweets. Why? Gone is the occasional Petite Vanilla Scone from Starbucks when I grab that Doppio! Off limits is that surprise Tastykake pie that my boyfriend would sometimes hand me when I returned from teaching a double class! Between the slight shift in diet and weather that makes me want to live on fruit, I also somehow lost a pound or two over the past few weeks. Although I’m sure it’s only temporary, I used this as an excuse to sample an array of vegan snacks.

photo of vegan snacks

Both the Complete Cookie and the Nugo Bar boast a healthy dose of vegan protein (8 and 9 grams per serving, respectively) – and taste great. The only qualm some people might have with the Complete Cookie is that one cookie is equivalent to two servings. So if you are counting calories, keep in mind that one cookie contains over 300 calories (but also packs 16 grams of protein and no sugar alcohols). So far I’ve tried the Lemon Poppy, Snickerdoodle, and Pumpkin cookies – all really delicious and super satisfying!

300 lb vegan

Finally, I’ve also discovered pro football player David Carter. You might know him as the 300 Pound Vegan. His website contains his blog and his “Stronger” recipes. While I don’t aspire to his level of physical fitness, just knowing that he can get through his day on a plant-based diet makes me feel confident that I can do it too!

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PAN Vegan Pledge – Cooking and Community


Photo of Cooking Demo

One of my favorite aspects of the PAN Vegan Pledge is the weekly meetings. Every Saturday, we meet for about 2 hours. The Peace Advocacy Network (PAN) provides us with plenty of tasty vegan food as well as helpful information. During the meetings, pledges can ask questions, share shopping tips, and generally just get to know one another. In addition to casual socializing, we also enjoy a weekly speaker or two. In all honesty, I was a little afraid that the lectures would be filled with horrifying photos of slaughtered animals. It turned out that the fellow who sat next to me last week had exactly the same fear. We bonded over this and laughed as we realized how counter-productive it would have been to make potential vegan-converts lose their appetites over lunch.

At the first meeting, Christopher McJetters shared why he sees veganism as more than a simple food or even lifestyle choice; for him it’s an issue of social justice. At the second meeting Dara Lovitz explained many of the environmental effects of animal agriculture. I plan to devote a separate post to “what I’ve learned,” so please hold on to your questions for a few weeks.

But not all of our speakers are lecturers. This past week we were treated to a cooking demonstration by Rachel Klein (pictured above), owner of Miss Rachel’s Pantry in Philadelphia. I had heard wonderful reports of Miss Rachel’s weekly Farmhouse Table Dinners, so I had been anticipating this meeting all week. Needless to say, she did not disappoint!

photo of food prep

Rachel made two dishes: a simple carrot ginger soup and a baked tempeh sandwich. As you can see, carrots and ginger were two of the primary ingredients in the soup. To this she also added potatoes (she recommended yukon golds or red-skinned potatoes over russets for a creamier texture). To make the soup even richer, she added coconut milk. Much of this was prepped in advance, because we couldn’t really devote the entire two-hour meeting to food prep. Instead Rachel focused on showing us how to make baked tempeh. First off, she recommended slicing the tempeh into thin strips for maximum flavor and a pleasing texture.

photo, marinating tempeh

She then poured soy sauce and liquid smoke over the sliced tempeh, all the while chatting with us and answering questions. “Where can I buy tempeh?” “Can I substitute Braggs Liquid Aminos?” It turns out that Rachel buys her tempeh from Hardena Resto Waroeng Surabaya, a little Indonesian restaurant that also makes their own tempeh, and yes! you can make substitutions (although one pledge pointed out that Braggs actually has a higher sodium content than soy sauce or tamari). As we were shuttled out of the kitchen for Dara’s lecture, Rachel baked the strips on well oiled baking sheets and then constructed the sandwiches. Everything was so fresh and so delicious! Whole grain baguettes were spread with homemade sun-dried tomato cashew “cheese,” layered with the savory tempeh, and topped with thickly sliced, ripe tomatoes and fresh basil.

One thing Rachel noted was that while vegan cooking doesn’t need to be expensive, prepared vegan food can be pricey due to the amount of prep work involved. As an example, she pointed to the lunch she made for us. Carrots, potatoes, coconut milk, tempeh … none of these are high-priced luxury items. But making a cultured cashew cheese requires significant time, labor, and knowledge. Buying what’s organic and in season and producing quality food in small batches also adds to the cost. For me this was a real “lightbulb moment.” Factory farming is heavily subsidized; small family-owned farms that sell at farmers’ markets or direct to restaurants and caterers are not. Now that I know this, and especially because I’ve sampled Miss Rachel’s cooking, you can bet she’ll be seeing me at one of her dinners in the very near future!

photo of produce from farmers market

Duly inspired by the fresh flavors in Rachel’s cooking, I went straight from the meeting to the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market. Peaches, cherry tomatoes, and “fairy tale” eggplant are only some of the wonderful items that I purchased. As I biked home with both my belly and my backpack full, I started planning a Sunday dinner that would highlight fresh summer produce but also leave us with some leftovers for a busy Monday.

photo of tofu and asparagus

Sunday was a real scorcher, but luckily my boyfriend loves to grill. We marinated the eggplant in a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Squares of pressed firm tofu were slathered with a simple mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and basil. And the asparagus was drizzled with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt. As the my boyfriend set the coals to fire, I started on a pot of quinoa.

photo of dinner

Once everything was ready, I drizzled a bit of vegan pesto onto the tofu to accentuate its flavor.

photo of leftovers as a salad

On Monday I turned the leftovers into a gorgeous salad for a super easy but equally delicious dinner.

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PAN Vegan Pledge – Week 1

vegan word cloud

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I recently registered for the PAN 30 Day Vegan Pledge. Now some of you might be wondering, “But weren’t you already vegan?” In a word, “No.” I cut out meat and what I called “big dairy” two summers ago as an experiment prior to a Yoga Workshop Weekend. What I mean by “big dairy” is that I cut out foods like pizza, but I wasn’t so picky that I wouldn’t eat an almond croissant (my favorite pastry) or chocolate bar. I was still, however, eating fish and seafood. As a fitness instructor, I was a bit concerned about attempting a sudden, radical overhaul of my diet, but I also didn’t want to cause problems for my family on holidays (my Mom often orders a sushi platter as part of our holiday dinners).

Two things happened to make me think harder about eating fish and seafood. This past December, my boyfriend and I were walking through a market while traveling in Thailand. All of a sudden a fish leapt out of a bucket and hit me on the leg. I screamed, the ladies in the market laughed, and my boyfriend wished he had been filming. I just thought, “Yeah, I don’t think I need to eat that.”

photo of Thai market

But months prior to that episode I had caught an advanced screening of Cowspiracy, an extraordinarily well researched and well presented documentary on the un-sustainability of animal agriculture. As a result, I had already drastically cut back on my fish and seafood consumption even before being hit by that flying fish.

Cowspiracy Image

I went into the Pledge knowing that all I really needed to eliminate was pastries and … wine. I know what you’re thinking, because I had the same thought, “How can fermented grape juice not be vegan?” It turns out that most wines undergo a process called “fining” to remove sediments and other unwanted particles. And wine makers have long used animal proteins, in particular egg whites, gelatin, casein – which is derived from milk, and isinglass – obtained from the swim bladder of fish, as fining agents. Fortunately, there are vegan wines out there. In fact, I made sure to ask Tria, my favorite wine bar, which of their current selections were vegan. Lucky for me, this season’s favorite summer sipper, Txakolina Arabako, Xarmant, ‘14, is vegan. Fellow wine connoisseurs also put me on to Barnivore, a website and app that allows you to search their massive database to find out whether or not your favorite wine, beer, or liquor is vegan.

But back to the Pledge itself … as part of the pledge, we meet every Saturday for 5 weeks. The meetings include lunch and some kind of informational session, like a lecture and/or cooking demo. At the first meeting we received Goodie Bags full of coupons, a strategically chosen issue of Vegetarian Journal, cruelty-free products for our home and our bodies, and snacks. The Vegan Pledge is free, so everything in the bag was donated by this year’s sponsors.

contents of the pledge goodie bag

At the meeting we were also paired with our mentors, experienced vegans to whom we can turn when we have questions or for moral support if we can’t stop dreaming about summer barbecues. I had just come from teaching an intense hour of Spinning, so I had a hard time not eating everything in my bag. Luckily, Philly’s amazing Blackbird Pizza paid us a surprise visit. I wish I had had the foresight to take photos of all the food, but I was so busy piling my plate with crackers, spreads, salads, nachos, and cookies (the pizza arrived fashionably late) that my hands were full. But I promise to take some action shots of the cooking demos in the following weeks.

All in all it’s been remarkably easy to stick to the plan this week. At times I’ve been exceptionally hungry – which lead me to wonder just how many calories I’ve been consuming in pastries and wine – but then I realized that it’s also been an exceptionally intense week in terms of fitness instruction. By Friday I was dead tired and starving, so I put together a quick dinner of pasta tossed with sautéed mushrooms and vegan pesto with some broiled zucchini on the side – which I ate before I could photograph.

photo of vegan pesto

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Kicking Off 30 Days of Vegan with Sloppy “Jacks”

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Guess who’s back? After two trips to Thailand – December and May – to volunteer with Elephant Nature Park (I know, I should devote a post or two to that) I fell off the blogging wagon. But I recently signed up to join a 30 Day Vegan Pledge and decided that it would be an experience worth sharing.

Now you might be wondering, “What is the PAN Vegan Pledge, and how it is different from just, well, going vegan?” The PAN Vegan Pledge is organized by the Peace Advocacy Network, and it’s quite a comprehensive program. The program coordinators have paired each of us “pledges” with a vegan mentor and put together a series of 5 weekly group meetings that include lunch, lectures, and a few exciting cooking demos! I’ll be blogging about those meetings and my experiences with the pledge as the weeks pass, but I wanted to kick things off by sharing a recipe.

For at least a year or two, I’ve been hearing a lot about using jackfruit as a meat substitute, especially for some form of barbecue. Since it was fairly close to 4th of July, I thought I’d give it a shot. I decided to aim for something that resembled the vinegar-based sauces of Southern pulled pork but with some of the additional textures and flavors of an old favorite, sloppy joes.

Serves around 8:

  • 2 20 oz cans of jackfruit in brine or water
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar*
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

* For a sweeter flavor, use only 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and double the brown sugar

photo of canned jackfruit

Some recipes will specify jackfruit in water and not brine. I checked the sodium contents on a variety of brands and found that they varied wildly. I chose the brand with the lowest sodium content per serving, and it turned out to be packed in brine and not water. Just make sure that the jackfruit is “young” or “green” and not packed in syrup. Open the cans – then drain, rinse, and chop the jackfruit. It will look like this.

photo of jackfruit after it has been rinsed, drained, and chopped

Smash and mince the garlic, and chop or dice the pepper and onion according to your preference. In a large, heavy pot, heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Throw in the garlic, paprika, onion, and pepper. Sauté everything to mix and soften the vegetables.

photo os chopped green peppers and onions

After a few minutes, add your jackfruit and sun-dried tomatoes. Full disclosure: I originally wanted to make this more like a saucy sloppy joe, but I didn’t have any tomato paste lying around. Then I remembered that bag of sun-dried tomatoes! They are optional, but they do add a wonderful flavor, color, and texture to the recipe.

photo inside cooking pot

Add the cider vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, and molasses. Give everything a stir, lower the heat to medium, and cover. If the mixture is dry and everything is sticking to the pot, then add 2-4 tablespoons of water before covering. Let everything simmer until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have melded, about 20 min. I served this on sandwich flats topped with a bit of bbq sauce and a quick and easy slaw made of napa cabbage and a store-bought lemon tahini dressing.

photo of open-faced sandwich

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