Our Vegan Life

Food, Family, and Fun

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Eating Vegan: San Francisco Style

Two months ago I (Chad) had the great privilege of traveling to San Francisco for a continuing education event for my profession.  I was learning to become a facilitator for those who wish to use labyrinths for spiritual direction.  The event was outstanding and I learned a ton.  But, like any trip that a vegan takes, food always plays a very interesting role in the journey.  I absolutely could not wait to experience the vegan haven that would be San Francisco.  I have always heard about the West Coast having such outstanding vegan restaurants and access to such fresh and organic foods.  Before this trip, I had never traveled out West and this was my chance to check it all out.

My disclaimer about this trip is that I kind of thought that because of San Francisco’s reputation, I expected that I would likely walk into any restaurant in the city and there would be vegetarian and vegan options….that quinoa bowls and the like would be a part of the regular vernacular of the restaurant culture.  Compared to where I grew up in the Midwest, the capacity of restaurants to work with vegan food is much higher, but I was actually quite surprised not to find more vegan friendly restaurants or even vegan restaurants than I did.  Putting my disclaimer and assumptions of what I expected aside, I did discover some great places to eat and they were very tasty.  Here was my journey.

 

When I arrived in San Francisco Airport I was so thrilled about the airport because I knew I would have a few hours to wait for my ride into the city and I had found out that they had a great vegan friendly restaurant there in the airport.  I read reviews of the restaurant and was really looking forward to trying a few things.  But, when I arrived, the particular terminal that had that restaurant was not my terminal and so unless I wanted to buy a plane ticket to get in that terminal I wasn’t going to eat there.  I surely wasn’t going to pay $200+ to eat at a vegan restaurant in an airport…..so…….I was resigned to the Willow Creek Grill, where I had a veggie burger and fries.  It was sub par.

Once my ride arrived at the airport, we traveled into the city and got me settled in the hotel.  After dropping my bags off, we decided we would try this all vegan peruvian restaurant down the street from my hotel.  Interestingly enough, it was closed for the night.  So, we went around the corner to the Tuk Tuk Thai Cafe.  I had my usual Pad Thai and veggie rolls.  It was pretty good, but still not quite as good as Siam Square’s pad thai in Indianapolis.  But, it was a nice place and I had the best of company.

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The next day after a long day of being in sessions, I was expecting that my group would want to all bond together and go out to eat after the session.  However, we had several people from other countries who had their husbands with them and so they weren’t interested in going out to eat.  So, my thought was that I would go back to the peruvian place and catch dinner while they were open.   When I got there, they were not open again!  I still can’t believe it.  How are they remaining open?  Anyhow, so I was not far from Pier 39, which is the famous pier overlooking Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, so I decided to go walking down on the pier.  It was so beautiful.  But, down there were mostly hot dog vendors and, of course, fish places.  Doing research for the trip, though, I knew that there was a Loving Hut Cafe in Chinatown on my way back to the hotel.  So, I walked back through Chinatown and found my restaurant.  My family and I have gone to the Loving Hut in Cincinnati (We have also done a review of this one on this blog) and we love it.  So, I was excited about trying this particular Loving Hut because this one was mostly “chinese” dishes and geared towards the culture of the neighborhood.  The atmosphere in the place was outstanding and the service excellent.  I had a teryiaki tofu dish with vegetables and rice.  I also had a kale smoothie and for dessert an absolutely stunning chocolate cheese cake.  I will say that my main entree was just ok.  It wasn’t terrible, but given the high quality of taste at the Loving Hut near us, I kind of expected it to be better.  But, regardless, I am glad I went and it was so good.  Shannon was jealous.

 

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The following day would be my final in San Francisco so I really wanted to catch a place that the city was well known for in the vegan world.  My good friends, Soni and Dea, were gracious enough to come and pick me up and we would travel over to Gracias Madre in the Mission District.  In terms of food, this was the highlight of my trip.  Such an excellent atmosphere and food.  The only way to describe my meal was that it was incredibly rich and flavorful.  I got some sort of enchilada dish and it was outstanding.  One thing I didn’t care for was that the restaurant had you sit with other people at their tables and while I think on some level this is cool, when you are trying to catch up with old friends you kind of want to have the blessing of that experience without others at your table that you don’t know.  Luckily, the only table they had available for the three of us could really only fit three, so we were able to catch up without the distraction.  Where we actually sat was directly across from the famous picture of the Gracias Madre (pic below).  It was so much fun and a great dining experience.  I think if we lived anywhere near that place I would spend way too much of my money there.  Good thing it was only just a visit!

 

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All in all, I was impressed with the food I had on my trip and glad I was able to do it.  I learned not to assume that just because it is California that this means it is always vegan friendly.  However, the places I did go that were had a fantastic array of foods to eat and they were very delicious.  I would do it again in a heartbeat and look forward to taking my family there with me next time.  If you are ever in the bay area and are looking for excellent vegan food, check out Gracias Madre for sure.  Next time I am in the area I plan to check other parts of the bay out so that I can eat at Cafe Gratitude and a few others that I didn’t get to this time.  Until next time San Francisco, thanks for the good memories and the good eats.

 

 

But, we’ve never had this before: Our new adventure with meal plans and new recipes

We in the Abbott household have recently been tinkering with our meals during the week.  Over the last several years we have more or less just said “Hey, let’s have pizza this week or spaghetti and tacos” and some weeks we would go to the store with a good list of what we want to eat and other weeks we would go to the store with only a minimal plan and just decide what to get as we would go aisle to aisle.  What we found is that we would spend more money when doing this because we would buy food we did not have plans for.  So, we have decided to meal plan from week to week and plan ahead so that when we go to the store we get only what we need for our meal plan.  It has worked very well.  But, we find ourselves in a rut because we have just been eating the same things week after week after week.  We also have significantly reduced our eating out per month, so if we are going to eat at home a lot more and we are tired of the same ole recipes, how can we expand our vegan horizons?

Shannon came across a meal plan from Happy Herbivore that can be purchased for either weekly or monthly.  We decided that we would take a week and follow their plan (We intend to do a full review of the plan on the blog once we have completed our second full week).  For only $5 we received 7 days worth of vegan recipes and we were even provided with the grocery list so we could get only exactly what we needed for the next 7 days.  Not only did this make things incredibly easy for us, but we saved money this way too.  We decided to purchase 2 weeks worth of meals from Happy Herbivore, but we also decided to follow the 7 Day McDougall plan in the book The Starch Solution by John and Mary McDougall.  Chad had been reading this excellent book and at the end there is a 7 day meal plan.  We are still in the midst of this tinkering process in terms of our meal plans and trying to be more versatile in our approach to making vegan meals for our family, but we love the new recipes.

What we have discovered in the course of this time of experimentation is two things: 1) Our kids love to say “But, we don’t like it!” and our response is “But, you haven’t even tried it yet.” Their response is, “But, we’ve never had this before.”  Yes, kids, and adults for that matter, we are all often a little hesitant with anything new, especially when it comes to our diet.  Chad in particular had never really given pancakes or french toast a try as a cook and so he was able to cook these this week.  We even caught him saying, “But, I’ve never cooked these before.”  2)  Overall, the foods we have tried have been very rich and delicious.  So, while trying new things we have never had before is a bit risky, especially with children, it has been paying off and all of us have thoroughly been enjoying the meals.

Keep an eye open for our reviews of the Happy Herbivore and McDougall meal plans in the next several weeks…We’ll even be sharing some of our favorite recipes from the meal plans. In the meantime, go and try a new recipe and enjoy the process! We’ve shared one below to get you started!

enchiladas

Bean and Corn Enchiladas (from The Starch Solution)

  • 5  c Enchilada Sauce
  • 4 c cooked pinto beans (smashed or whole – we left ours whole)
  • 1 c chopped scallions
  • 1 1/2 c fresh or frozen and thawed corn kernels
  • 1 can (2.25 oz) sliced ripe olives, drained (optional – we omitted these, because our children don’t like olives)
  • 1-2 Tbsp chopped green chiles
  • 10 whole wheat tortillas or about 16 corn tortillas
  • Salsa and Tofu Sour Cream (or Tofutti Sour Cream), for serving

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread 1 1/2 c of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ or 3-qt baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix together the beans, scallions, corn, olives, and green chiles. Lay a tortilla on a flat surface and spread a thick line of the bean mixture down the center. Roll up the tortilla and place it seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, snuggling them close together in the pan. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce evenly over the rolled tortillas.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil, crimping the edges over the rim of the dish. Bake for 45 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving hot.

Serve with salsa and tofu sour cream.

Enjoy!

A “Whole” New Adventure

It has been a while since posting on this blog, but some exciting things have been at work with me (Chad) that includes my plant based diet.  As many of you know, I am a runner and this spring I had grand plans to run my first full marathon next month in September and then another one in November.  I even paid for the bib for my race in September.  I was training back in June and running a long run of 13 miles when I was injured with a pull in my back.  It sidelined me for 2 months and now I am back up and running short mileage again.  It is good to be back out there and while I am disappointed to not be able to run my marathons this racing season, I began a new adventure that I believe to be very exciting.

While injured I began talking to a friend of mine who is also a runner and she, too, was overcoming an injury.  We emailed and would call occasionally just to support and check in with progress.  In the course of our conversations we discovered a mutual desire to start a website/blog and quasi-business that would include writing posts, coaching, inspiring, and doing a podcast around issues of health, nutrition, running, and overall wellness.  We could agree on the scope of the project, but had a hard time eventually coming up with a name, but we decided upon “One Whole Step.”  The concept really is that we seek to live a “Whole” life, one that is healthy and true to ourselves.  But, we recognize that this idea of becoming “whole” is a process, one that involves putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.  On August 1st we launched our official work at One Whole Step by blogging 5 times a week with topics ranging from plant based nutrition, juicing, running, spirituality, and more.  We also have designed something we are calling “Whole Videos,” which are 3-5 minute testimonials of how everyday people are taking steps towards health and wholeness.  We have also put up our first One Whole Step podcast episode and aim to do one episode every month.  All in all, this particular website has really gathered some attention and traction, which we find to be very exciting.

One of the reasons I wanted to share this exciting news on this blog is to assure our readers that we will continue to write exciting and interesting posts for this blog about our vegan life and I would imagine that there may even be some good overlap of the two.  Obviously there is a natural connection between our family’s vegan journey and the many topics on nutrition that will come up on the One Whole Step site.  You may see some of our recipes on both sites and some of our posts on a plant based diet may cross over to here as well.  It is exciting to be on this “Whole” new adventure of working to provide a safe space for people to encounter health and wholeness in their lives and we wanted to make you aware.  Stay posted for more of our vegan journey here at Our Vegan Life, but also connect with me and my friend, Danielle, over at One Whole Step.  Our website is www.onewholestep.com.  You can like us on Facebook and also follow us on Twitter @OneWholeStep.  You can also go to ITunes to become a subscriber to our podcast under the title of One Whole Step.  Thank you for your support and be whole, dear friends.

Asian Inspired Raw Noodles with Peanut Sauce…and Delicious Raw Nori and Spring Rolls

Continuing in our experimentation with raw cuisine….

I had lots of leftover zucchini and yellow squash noodles from my first experimentation with raw noodle dishes, so I decided to try them with a peanut based sauce, like Pad Thai (since we can now have peanuts in the house)….which of course inspired me to make additional fun Asian inspired foods, like spring rolls and nori rolls. 

I’ve never made spring rolls or nori rolls before, but I do love to eat them, and making them raw seemed easy enough. The other day I saw a bag of shredded carrots, red cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, so I bought it thinking that surely I could do something wonderful with it. And this was my opportunity. It would make a perfect filling for these delicious nori rolls and spring rolls! So I tossed the contents of the bag along with some diced cucumber into the food processor and gave it a few quick pulses just to dice it up a little more, and then let the veggie mixture marinade in a little bit of tamari. Meanwhile, I whipped up a little peanut butter, tamari, ginger, and garlic in the food processor, spread it out on the nori sheets, added the veggie mixture, rolled them up, and cut them into bite-size pieces. Perfection.

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To make the spring rolls, I ran the rice sheets under warm water until soft enough to roll. Then I added only the vegetable mixture, and rolled them, tucking the ends in before finishing the roll. So easy!

 

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And here is the final dish with everything on it….Image

 

For the main dish, I used leftover zucchini and yellow squash noodles, and then julienned some carrots and red peppers, diced some green onions, chopped some cilantro, and then pulsed the carrots, peppers, onions, and cilantro in the food processor just a couple of times to make them a little smaller. Then I tossed them into the bowl with the noodles. As for the sauce, honestly, I wasn’t crazy about the peanut sauce that I made, but here’s another one that I’ve made before (from the cookbook The Gluten-Free Vegan) that I really love.

Peanut Sauce (for noodles):

  • 1 1/4 cups light coconut milk
  • 1/3-1/2 cup organic peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp raw agave
  • 2 Tbsp tamari
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red curry paste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until well blended.

I did, however, like the simple peanut sauce I used in the nori rolls, so here it is….

Peanut Sauce used in nori rolls:

  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard (or dijon could work here too if you want to add a little more zing)
  • 1 Tbsp tamari
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red curry paste (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended.

Enjoy!

 

Beans and Rice and a Flavorful Tomato-Cucumber Salad

Since May 1st, I have been on a juice “feast.” I am drinking my fruits and veggies for every meal as well as for snacks. All in all, I consume about a half gallon of juice each day…..which is why I’m calling it juice “feasting” rather than juice “fasting.” I drank only juice (mostly green) for 9 days before I decided to alter my plan a bit to incorporate occasional “treats” of raw veggies, with the understanding that I can only eat what I can juice. My goal is to continue to juice a few more days (so 20-24 days total…depending on what I decide this weekend, which will be determined much by where my weight is by the 20th, because as of right now I still have about 5 pesky pounds I’d like to lose), while allowing myself an occasional raw veggie treat no more than once each day in case my family is eating something exceptionally tasty and it’s just too much for me to sit and watch them eat without crunching on something myself. 

Tonight was one of those nights….

When Chad and I were first married, one of our favorite meals was beans and rice. Simple and yet delicious. The first time I made it was on our honeymoon, and we will both admit that it was definitely lacking in the spice department….It was flat out bland. Over the years I learned to spice it up, and it became a favorite. 

And then we had children, and life became a little more busy, and so I found ways to take shortcuts in the recipe…..Just throw in some salsa….toss in a bag of frozen onions and peppers…..Yeah, these all work, but it just isn’t the same as doing the work of chopping the green onions and bell peppers and choosing the spices. So tonight I decided to go back to the basics….

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I started by sautéing 4 diced green onions, 1 diced green bell peppers, a small can of diced tomatoes with mild green chiles, and 2 diced garlic cloves (in some of the new cookware my family gave me for Mother’s Day).

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Next, I rinsed 2 cans of dark red kidney beans and 2 cans of black beans in a colander (you can also use cooked dry beans, and I usually would, but sometimes I just need a little shortcut), and then added them to the pan, along with chili powder and cumin (to taste). Finally, just for fun, I added nutritional yeast and chia seeds….because it’s always fun to add extra nutritional boosts to our food. 

Serve on top of rice and garnish with fresh cilantro. 

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This was definitely one of those meals that I needed a “treat” to crunch on while I watched my family eat, so I made my new favorite treat…..

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For this beautiful salad, I cut grape tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and cilantro, and then tossed with lime juice and a dash of salt. I wish you could smell and taste this blog, because it is truly a party to the senses!

We’re nuts about compassion!

When our son was 13 months old, he had an allergic reaction to touching peanut butter. Two days later (at his well-child check-up), our family doctor prescribed an Epipen Jr, which we have since carried with us everywhere we go with him. And, much to our daughter’s dismay, peanut butter has been absent from our home and lives. 

But yesterday, all that has changed! A month ago, we finally had him tested for allergies. When his skin scratch tests came back negative, we (including the allergist) were all puzzled, so the allergist ordered a blood test. When the blood test came back negative, the allergist recommended he come back to her office at a later date for a food challenge with peanut butter. Yesterday was that day. He started with 1/32 tsp of peanut butter and every 15 minutes the nurse came in with twice as much peanut butter, until he got up to 4 tsp. When he first tasted it, he said, “mmmmm” and confirmed that he liked it, but by the 4 tsp dose, he was less than thrilled and even somewhat resisting it (climbing underneath the chairs and laying down on his stomach so I couldn’t reach his face with the spoon). They wanted to give him 8 tsp (an adult dose), but decided that by that point he had eaten enough to confirm that he had outgrown his allergy. 

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Needless to say, we are thrilled! It is a scary thing to have a child with a life-threatening allergy….to live with the fear that at any moment (while out in public) your child may come into contact with his allergen or to know that if a food item isn’t labeled properly it could send your child to the hospital. 

When we picked our daughter up from school, I told her the good news, and she said, “YEA! Can I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?!” Of course, I made her one when we got home, and the smile on her face said it all. 

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For the past year and a half, our daughter has exemplified such compassion for her little brother…sacrificing her love of peanut butter for his well-being. It is this compassion for the needs and well-being of others, both human and animals, that we try to teach our children. Our wants are not more important than others needswhether we are talking about not eating nuts around nut-allergic people out of compassion for their lives, or whether we are talking about not eating animals or consuming animal byproducts out of compassion for the lives of those animals. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children the difference between wants and needs. As vegan parents, compassion plays an essential role in that lesson. 

– S

Introduction

Not a day goes by when we don’t make decisions that impact our lives and the world.  We buy cars, listen to music, work several jobs, marry life partners, plant gardens, attend plays and musicals, eat food, and run marathons.  Many of the decisions we make are small ones that we think have no deeper connection, such as whether or not to drink coffee black or with cream and sugar.  Other decisions are much more significant or require a more in depth look at all of the realities of making one decision over another.  Deciding to attend one university over another is not a decision one makes in an evening, but through conversations, research, visits, websites, and if so inclined, prayer.  When one decides to run a marathon, it is important to know all that it requires to make it all 26.2 miles…the right shoes, the right diet, the proper running form, and the most effective training plan to build the amount of mileage necessary for your body to run that far.  If we were to say, “Hey let’s just run 26.2 miles” and then go do it, we would fail miserably.  All of this to say, most of us do not make life decisions, whether marathons or universities or vocations or what kind of diet to follow, in a vacuum and neither do most of us take it lightly.  Some decisions we make are in the moment and most of them are small and rather meaningless decisions in the scope of things.  Others take weeks, months, or years to form a decision.  It was the latter of these two that formed our way of thinking in becoming vegan and forming our vegan life.

We are Shannon and Chad. We’ve been vegan since July of 2006. We have 2 vegan children and a vegan dog (yes, a healthy vegan dog). Chad is a full-time pastor, a lover of jazz music, a runner, and frisbee golfer. Shannon is a full-time stay-at-home-mom and a (very) part-time yoga teacher and massage therapist, a rock collector/lover, one who enjoys the idea and results of gardening but not the weeding part, and someone who is discovering the joys of cooking colorful and flavorful foods. Like most people, we weren’t always vegan. It was a gradual decision we made over a period of years.

Neither of us were raised vegan. We were both raised in meat eating, dairy loving families. Chad’s paternal grandparents are Midwestern farmers, who grow soybeans and raise cows and pigs for food. Shannon’s family is from the South, which in and of itself means that meat (or meat fat) is an important part of the meal. She also remembers growing up that she and her sister could finish off a gallon of milk in 1-2 days. It was not something that was thought about. It was just the way people ate.

It wasn’t until our last year of college (1999-2000) that we began reducing our meat consumption. Both of us being religion majors, we started by giving up pork, as a spiritual discipline in concert with our Jewish sisters and brothers. Over the next couple of years, we discovered that we didn’t eat much meat at all, especially red meat. During this time period, we both also discovered that we were lactose intolerant. Since we didn’t eat much meat anyway, in 2002, we became pescatarian (no meat except for fish). We were pescatarian for 3 years, and then reverted back to the omnivore diet when Shannon was approximately 4-5 months pregnant (because she had an aversion to many vegetarian protein sources during the pregnancy). When our daughter was about 6 months old, we began talking about becoming vegetarian, primarily for health reasons, since Shannon’s family has a history of cancer and Chad’s family has a history of heart disease, and both families have a history of diabetes. But we also considered being vegetarian out of a philosophy of non-violence. (If we are what we eat, what does it mean for us to consume slaughtered animals?)

As a result, Shannon began doing research on the vegetarian diet, because if we were going to do this, we wanted to make sure that we were getting all the nutrients we needed, especially for our growing child. When our daughter was 9 months old, we were specifically in the process of deciding whether to introduce her to yogurt made from animal milk or soy milk when Shannon came across some disturbing information about the process of dairy and egg production that made us pause and think. We won’t go into the details, but essentially we decided that if non-violence was a part of our reason for being vegetarian then we could not in good conscience participate in the dairy or egg industry either. And so it is that we became vegan.

Our daughter is now 6 years old and we have a 21 month old son. We maintained our vegan diet throughout our second pregnancy. Our children have never known anything other than living a vegan life, and are very healthy, intelligent, creative, and loving children. When our daughter is asked why she doesn’t eat meat, she replies, “Animals are friends, not food.” It is this compassion for all of life that we hope to pass on to our children through raising them vegan.

Why this blog and what’s it about?

Many friends who are interested in vegan food (but are not vegan themselves) have asked us to share recipes of meals that our family enjoys. Initially we had only planned for this to be a place to share recipes and photos of food, but then we remembered that we have had many a conversation about writing a book concerning raising a vegan family. As a result, we have decided to divide the blog into three sections: Food, Family, and Fun.

Food: This section will be comprised of recipes and photographs of some of our favorite foods and food adventures.  (Special Note: All recipes will (of course) be vegan, and because we have family and friends with gluten intolerances, some will also be gluten-free. Also, because our son has a peanut allergy, all recipes will be Peanut-Free.)

Family: This section will include information and stories about our family life as vegans, raising vegan children, natural parenting, and other family adventures.

Fun: This is the “fun” part….Here we will include fun activities, crafts, and many other joys of our vegan life.

So, whether you are a long time vegan, just starting out as a new vegetarian or vegan, seeking to know more about raising families vegan, or just simply someone who loves to cook and would like to expand your scope of recipes and love of food, then this blog should be something you can return to regularly for information, stories, recipes, and advice to accompany your journey.  We continue to be amazed by the journey to this point and learn more with every year that passes about what it means to be vegan, to live with a philosophy of non-violence, to raise kids, and to enjoy the fun of experimentation along the way.  We are not the first to have made this journey and neither will we be the last, but it is our hope that this blog will at least speak on some level to the joy we experience as a family in being vegan.  It is a joy and it is a journey and we hope your journey, vegan or not, is as fulfilling as ours is.

Blessings of peace and loving-kindness to you and all beings.

–Shannon and Chad

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