Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Family Foodies CBC Final Answer

Here is the final installment of the CBC, cross blog conversation, with Family Foodies.

FF: I would love some suggestions for “fake meat” products as an foray into vegetarian eating. What are some of your recommendations?

TheVQ: Having just been on Culinate, at the Table Talk Meatless chat with @Kimodonnel from The Washington Post's A Mighty Appetite, here are some suggestions that we discussed: Boca Burgers (my meat-eating husband likes these), Field Roast sausages and roast, Tofurky brats and Italian sausages, as well as Gimme Lean and Lightlife products.

Many people like using the Morningstar Farms products but they seem overly processed to me. I try to stay away from eating soy protein isolate, and prefer items based on beans and grains. But many people new to the veg world go for the meatier tasting items which often contain more processed soy. There are also all the soy hot dog products that kids often like. And once you get them in the bun with stuff on them, it's hard to tell they are not meat (but what do I know about that?).

My husband used to like Yves Veggie Pepperoni so much that he called it turkey pepperoni. As an aside, I will tell you that on his own my husband decided that pepperoni is gross and no longer eats it. I consider that progress.

FF: I see you have a cookbook devoted to pressure cooking, and your blog bio says you are a pressure cooking advocate. Can you talk about your passion about pressure cooking and what you recommend for someone who has never used a pressure cooker?

The VQ: First, let me clarify that my cookbook The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment is about vegetables throughout the year, and has a chapter on pressure cooking. I have a DVD on pressure cooking, Pressure Cooking: A Fresh Look, Delicious Dishes in Minutes that comes with a recipe booklet. What follows is my pressure cooking story.

I fell in love with pressure cooking when my son was about 2 or 3. I didn’t have a lot of time yet I wanted to feed him nutritious foods. He was a vegetarian, mostly vegan, from birth. He loved lentils, especially as soup. The first item that I perfected in the pressure cooker was Shane’s Fabulous Lentil Soup which has both red and green lentils. It takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, including prepping the ingredients. Using my pressure cooker made me feel like a great mother. So I learned to cook other things in it. Shane also loved beans, especially black and garbanzo beans. They take 6 and 12 minutes, respectively, after they’ve been presoaked. I would always make extra and freeze them.

If you are new to pressure cooking, or just want to see it, take a look at my pressure cooking website to see my video clip from my DVD. You’ll see how easy it is to use. Did I also mention that using a pressure cooker helps preserve some nutrients, and that the food looks and tastes great? You can also read my pressure cooking blog or see me on You Tube at TheVQ.

I think that using a pressure cooker is perfect for a family to make cooking fast, easy and delicious. Food tastes and looks better than in a crock pot, and you can wait until late in the afternoon and decide what to have for dinner on a whim, and actually get it on the table on time. I highly recommend it.
I hope that I’ve answered your questions. If anyone has questions, please feel free to comment here and I will get back to you.

Thanks for this great conversation.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Family Foodies CBC (Cross Blog Conversation) Answer Number 2

Debbie, although you only posed one real question about how I manage to incorporate and maintain yummy meals during winter when “fresh” items are scarce or really expensive, I also see that you asked about vegetarian proteins.

I will start with the protein and give you a list of possible vegetarian protein sources which include tofu (here's my Tofu Italiano), tempeh (not well loved by many non-vegetarians but can work crumbled in foods), seitan, which is wheat gluten and all about the texture, not the taste because it has very little, if any, and beans. Then there are, of course, all the other legumes which include peas, split peas and lentils. There is obviously a large number of food items to choose from. You can also include nuts and seeds as a complement but not as the main protein source as they have a lot of fat.

If you like grains, you can cook some possibly new-to-you grains such as quinoa and then combine them with seasonings (or herbs) and beans in the food processor and turn them into burgers. I brush mine with oil and bake them until done.

Now, on to your question about the winter and vegetables. You are correct that there are fewer vegetables in winter, which is why it’s great that you asked this question now. Summer’s abundance is a great time to stock up for winter. For most vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or peas, blanching the vegetables (giving them a quick dunk in boiling water) and then patting them dry, and packing them in usable amounts in freezer bags works great. You can also freeze the on cookie sheets so that the vegetables are individual and freeze them in the bags. You can then pull out what you need.

Even though I live in Northern California, which is close to a winter vegetable paradise, I rely on a lot of root crops and cabbage then. It’s what you are supposed to eat, according to nature. The cooking is about learning how to be creative with rutabaga, sweet potatoes, celery root, turnips, potatoes, and how to combine them with seasonings in unique ways that make them taste great.

My friend Katie, who lives on the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, has a greenhouse and manages to keep kale going in there all winter. I suspect that you may have local or semi-local farmers who have managed to do the same. Kale, collards and Swiss chard often can make it in the mild parts of winter, if there are any.

BTW, you can tell that I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with frozen vegetables. I buy as much in season as I can but there are times when that becomes far too challenging and that’s when I turn to my freezer or use my canned tomatoes.

Here’s how I describe the seasons: Winter is roots, spring is shoots and summer and early fall are fruits. Greens exist all year in various forms. Eating food that’s local and in-season helps us attune to the local climate and generally what our bodies need.

What kind of questions do you have about products? I didn't mention any "fake meat" products and sometimes these make for a helpful transition from meat eating.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cross Blog Conversation (CBC) with Family Foodies

I've never done this kind of thing before but when asked if I would have a CBC, cross blog conversation with Debbie at Family Foodies, I said, "Yes." Those of you who know me, know that my motto is, "I'll try anything once (but not animal products in my mouth, thank you)."

Debbie asks me how I suggest that a typical steak-loving, non-vegetarian transition to a more healthful way of eating?

Debbie, I consider this one of my specialties because I recommend that you include more vegetables every day. Then along with that, more other healthful plant foods that might be out of the realm of "normal" such as substituting quinoa or brown rice for white rice or potatoes.

Let me share the story about my husband who wasn't a huge meat-and-potatoes guy but he's also no vegetarian. I started giving him better salads, switching from iceberg lettuce to romaine. Then I included a mix of darker lettuces. I didn't do this all at once but over a month or so. He now loves the salad mix (minus the weeds, as he still doesn't like the bitter stuff such as arugula or dandelionand eats at least 3 to 4 cups of it each night. On his own, he asked me to pack him a container of fruit at lunch and a container of vegetables. So, he makes sure that he gets the recommended 9 servings each day, at least during the week. Once you're eating all that produce, and make sure that it's as fresh and local as you can get it, so it tastes best, you are likely to eat less of the other things. Or at least that's the hope.

You can also go the Meatless Mondays route, making sure that at least one day a week you skip the meat. Once you get a few good recipes under your belt, it may be easier to incorporate more vegetarian meals.

Confirmed meat-eaters often like dishes such as chili, which you can make in many meatless variations with a variety of different beans.

When I attend potlucks or other functions, I bring a dish that I want to eat which is often colorful and filled with vegetables. It might be something like a quinoa salad, sweet and sour summer squash or hummus and vegetables, soup or stew, depending upon the event and the meal. Fresh and vibrant vegetables are almost always a hit.

Unless there is meat in every dish, I find things to eat. But nothing bugs a vegetarian more than people hiding meat in dishes that could easily be meat-free such as a vegetable-based soup made with chicken or beef broth.

Some of my family's staples at holiday meals such as Curried Squash Soup, Roasted Root Vegetables and Fruited Wild Rice started out as what I made for me but now everyone eats them.

I think that you mentioned the key word: transition. Most people need to make changes over time to be most successful, especially with a big dietary change such as eliminating meat and other animal products. Get a few good cookbooks (guess this is when I plug The Veggie Queen cookbook) or look online at my website or other blog posts. I also have have colleagues and fellow bloggers who do great work. See my list on the sidebar here.

And, Debbie, keep making those salads but see how you might make them interesting without the cheese by adding little tidbits such as dried fruit, nuts, olives, capers or avocado. It's all a process and I encourage you to give it a try especially because it's good for the whole family. Children mimic what you do and if you want your kids to have a great start on health, it's through what they eat.

Now, my questions for you: what do you think really stops you from eating or trying more vegetarian foods? Is it the perceived time that it takes, or buying the stuff? Or maybe you think that your husband won't like it. I'd love to hear.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life is for the Living and You'll Be A Long Time Dead

I know that this blog is about food but it's also about life and living it well. And despite the fact that I am a Registered Dietitian, writer and a host of other things (some of which I will not discuss), I may have missed my calling in the philosophy department. In all my years of school I did not take one philosophy class but somehow I manage to espouse my ideas almost daily.

The title of this post however is dedicated to my father who just passed away last week. Those were his words, and with that in mind, I'd like to share a little bit about my Dad, Bernie.

Bernie loved to eat, and when you look at photos of him over the years, you can tell when he really liked to eat food that was not very good for him, as he looked heavy. When he was in his 50s, he likely had a silent heart attack, confirmed later by doctors. He wanted to know what to do so my sister sent him Dr. Dean Ornish's first book on reversing heart disease.

My father was a voracious reader and a bit of a fanatic, so he followed Ornish's advice for quite some time. After doing so when he went back to the doctor, he'd managed to regrow capillaries to his heart. My Dad was also into exercise and used the Nordic Track like a madman for many years.

He'd often ask me for advice regarding what to eat and saw how I followed a vegetarian diet and leaned in that direction.

Luckily as he got older, he slowed down just a bit on the exercise and got a dog, a Boston terrier named Sweetie, that he walked daily until just a few months ago. He also mowed the lawn often, which was a lot of work on more than an acre of property.

After the Ornish plan, my Dad ate pretty well, including lots of fresh food, made by my mother who likes to cook and has a garden. A few years ago, I sent my father a copy of The China Study by Colin Campbell. He then adopted a vegan diet, and said that he felt better than ever. And that might have been true for awhile.

Last year he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. If his doctors had been paying attention, they would have likely caught the cancer earlier as my Dad's PSA level was elevated. He also had GI problems, caused by a hospital stay, and likely needed Vitamin B12 shots but didn't receive those either.

The moral of this story is as Sandy Lewis, MD, the cardiologist from Portland, who shared the Super Shuttle to the Denver airport as I left to go to the funeral, said, "No one gets out alive."

So, I encourage you to treat each day as if it could be your last. Find something to be grateful for, appreciate the people around you, and enjoy fresh food, clean air (if you've got it), nature, your pets, your work, and life in general. There are no bad days, just some are better than others. They all give perspective and a frame of reference.

When I'd ask my Dad how things were going, he'd usually say, "It's better than the alternative." When he stopped saying anything like that, I knew what was in store. The end isn't usually easy, so in the words of Jennifer Stone of KPFA radio, "Go easy. And if you can't go easy, go as easy as you can."

Bernie reminded his 3 daughters that life is not a popularity contest but that kindness, generosity and sharing wisdom all count. And I hope that what I've shared with you today has an impact in some way.

Smile, enjoy, live well -- it's the best revenge.