Jason and the Veganauts

and the Quest for the Vegan Golden Fleece

“D’oh!”

homer-simpson-dohWell, would you look at that. I drop off of the face of the Earth for three and a half months and you assume that I must have fallen off the wagon and given up on the blog, given up veganism, and given up on myself. They say when you assume you make an ass out of u and me and I can tell you, dear assumer, that I am completely capable of making an ass out of myself without your help.

Like, for instance, that time when for the last three and a half months, I not only gave up on the blog, but also on veganism, and in all reality, myself. Or the months before that three and a half months when I was on and off the wagon as often as Calvin & Hobbes. See? Ass. All by myself, thank you very much.

In the months leading up to the last post on this blog (when I puffed up my chest and grandly proclaimed 2014 to be the Year of the Veganaut) I experimented with being a quitter and found it was easier than should be. I was armed with a portfolio of excuses that helped. My favorite was usually said in a petulant voice: “I’m too busy to try and prolong my life.” Runners up included; “Rome is burning… how can a cheese pizza hurt,” and “Might as well cave, I wanted some better ‘before’ pictures anyway.”

The real problem with being a charming guy that has a lot of charisma enhanced by sparkling blue eyes is that I can talk myself into anything. I am easily overwhelmed by my own unearthly powers of persuasion.  Luckily, Homer Simpson came to the rescue.

Back before Thanksgiving I was falling off and on the wagon. In fact, I spent a lot of time running along side the wagon because I really didn’t want it to get away from me. Around that time we were preparing for a Thanksgiving cruise on Carnival Cruise Line and looking at the different price packages for add-ons. One that caught my eye was unlimited soda refills for the whole cruise and it cost like $25 bucks a person. I couldn’t believe it! I assumed I’d have a free steady flow of the diet Pepsi that I substituted for water while cruising the islands.

At about the same time, an Onion article came out titled Man Who Drinks 5 Diet Cokes Per Day Hoping Doctors Working On Cure For Whatever He’s Getting which stopped me mid diet Pepsi chug. It isn’t like I was unaware of how horrible artificial sweeteners are. Heck, I’d even given up drinking diet Pepsi a few times before. However, I respond well to sarcasm, hyperbole, and irony which is why this article triggered a moment of clarity that allowed me to see reason.

The sarcastic, yet accurate Onion article, coupled with the outrage of paying for soda on a floating buffet, was enough to shove me back on the right track. Even now, when there isn’t a lot to cheer about in the health department, I can happily report that I have not had a sip of diet soda or artificial sweetener since mid-November. This is huge for me. A ‘near’ sip I did have came from a coffee and the taste of it was so metallic and foreign I spat it out. I have no idea how I choked down, much less guzzled, the vile sludge.

As for Homer, he and I have had a long history together. I started watching him in 1990 when I moved into the dorms and discovered the wonders of cable TV. I have watched him evolve as a character with various writing teams over more than a score of years. He and I have always struggled with our weight and I’ve enjoyed watching his ups and downs over the seasons.

We even hang out together in a mobile app game on my phone, the Simpsons: Tapped Out. It was in this portable and virtual world that Homer spoke to me in the sarcastic and ironic language that I understand so well. In last week’s missions in the game, Homer ate himself to death over and over and over. The prize was to collect Homer graves to put around  the virtual Springfield. The game missions were marketing the episode that aired last night… but what it really did is act as a reminder that I am also perfectly capable of eating myself to death. With a little bit more introspection, I also remembered that I am also perfectly capable of stopping that from happening as well.

I am back on the wagon now: walking and lifting, plant-based dieting, and trying to be the best human I can be. I’m sorry if you feel let down. I know how you feel. It took a lot of convincing, but I finally forgave myself and decided to move on from there. How can I stay mad at such a personable guy?

2014: Year of the Veganaut

2014-veganautCelebrate the new year and give a warm welcome to 2014!

Today is a day of rebirth. This annual reincarnation of ourselves, is very similar to watching new cars come out each year. Was the gas mileage too low last year? No problem, the new model is a little better! Did last year’s model burst into flame when you went in reverse?  Not this year’s model!  At least not as often…

Throw away all your mistakes, failed attempts, Edsels, and Titanics. Embrace this chance to rebuild yourself in some way that is important to you. If that self improvement happens to include saving the whole freakin’ planet like a super hero, then my friend, you’ve come to the right blog!

Some people give up animal products like meat and cheese for the obvious health benefits which makes them stronger and live longer, much like your average super hero. Other people give up all animal products in their diets and lives because they have compassion for the lives of those who are oppressed and exploited, similar to super heroes in general. Then there is the group of environmentally conscious herbivores that forgo almost all animal products because of the monumental benefit to the planet, which I feel obligated to add, is precisely the kind of behavior exhibited by super-heroes.

If you are starting the new year off by changing to this super hero lifestyle I am proud to call you my Veganaut brother or sister. Veganauts are not perfect vegans.  We are exploring the delicious, planet-saving herbivore lifestyle. Expect to make mistakes and prepare to push on afterwards. Get ready for very convincing people to tell you that the USDA has proven you are making a huge mistake. Practice saying thank you while backing away slowly and averting your gaze. There is a lot of information and disinformation out there, but I know of a community that is willing to help you sort it all out.

If you ever find yourself with unanswered questions or overwhelming concern there is a group of huge-hearted individuals you can connect with. We don’t judge, point fingers, or claim to know what is ultimately right or wrong. What we do have is a crowd of helpful people that want to make your transition to a vegan lifestyle as pleasant and supported as it can be.

Facebook is the easiest way to connect with the Veganaut community.  There is a FB Page you can “Like” so you will see the recipes, articles, and hilarious pictures we share.  However the actual community and group discussion is located in a private FB Group. You need to ask to join the group and a moderator will let you in. The group is private so your friends and relatives will not see what you say in the group. Only the Veganauts in the group will be able to see and respond to your posts.

You can also reach out to the Twitter feed, the Pinterest Board, or even our email. We want to be available because we know from experience that having help and support can make all the difference when exploring a vegan lifestyle for the first time.  Finally, I hope you will join me here on the ole’ blog where I run my mouth about Veganaut news and share my plant-based poems. Just kidding… no poems… yet.

Happy 2014 Veganauts! Wishing you all a healthy, compassionate, and happy new year. Cheers to you, your resolutions and your resolve!

Veganauts private Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theVeganauts/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/From-Atkins-to-Vegan-in-a-Heartbeat/194096680668810?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Atkins2Vegan

eMail: veganauts@gmail.com

VVP: Pumpkin Ginger Pastry with Beet Surprise

vvp-beetWelcome Virtual Vegan Potluck 4.0 guests!

Wipe off your feet (please), throw your coats on the couch, and come warm up by the fire. Can you believe it is time for the Virtual Vegan Potluck 4.0 already? Me either. However, it must be time because here I am uploading pictures of a delicious dessert and wiping sugary pastry flakes out of my beard while simultaneously trying to summon the courage to share a dish I’d rather horde for myself.

In the previous three VVPs I shared recipes for Guac, Black Bean Salsa, and Breakfast for Dinner Burritos. With two appetizers and a main course in the books, Shannon and I decided to try our hand with a recipe here in the dessert section. In addition to showing off Shannon’s amazing culinary innovation I am looking forward to showing off how many times I spell dessert correctly.

This event has an added twist that I’m sure you’ve heard of by now: BEETS! It isn’t mandatory that our dishes contain beets but if we want to compete in the little side competition we must. This presented a special problem for me. On the one hand, I love a good competition. If there is a way to be involved in a game I want to play. On the other hand, beets are from Hell and unleashing their vile nature creates an edible abomination. Do you see the conundrum I faced?  To beet or not to beet… this was the question.

In the end, I let my inner Olympian win and went with a dish that included beets. Shannon tolerates beets in smoothies but otherwise shares my feelings about the root of evil. We had a lot of discussions about different ways to cook, serve, and eat beets but they always ended in tearful, consoling embraces. Eventually I came up with an idea that really seems to work. We can have our pastry and eat it too.

pastry1We present to you, dear potluck guests, Pumpkin Ginger Pastry with Beet Surprise! It is a fusion of good and evil that results in a flaky pastry worth the risk of beets. This easy recipe will make you seem like a kitchen magician who can march to the beet of your own drum. You can beet a path to your… wait… don’t leave yet, you haven’t even tried the pastry yet… I promise I’ll stop the nauseating beet puns. Just come back and have a seat. I’ll tell you about this dessert while I prepare your plate. What? OK, fine. Your “To Go Box.”

You will need 2-3 of the freshest whole beets you can find, a box of frozen fillo dough (be sure it is egg free), a 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree, 8 ounces of silken tofu, Earth Balance fake butter, fresh ginger root, brown sugar, and pumpkin spice. Some of the ingredients we used are canned or processed but you are more than welcome to substitute them with the natural, unprocessed versions. The fillo can be made by hand, the pumpkin can be freshly pureed, and the tofu can be humanely butchered right before preparation. However, you must not used canned or even wilted beets. They must be fresh.

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In a blender or food processor you will mix the filling. Dump in the can of pumpkin, the half box of tofu, 1/2 tablespoon of pumpkin spice, and one tablespoon of freshly grated ginger root.

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You will also be adding a 1/2 cup of brown sugar to the mixture. Shannon pro tip: blend brown sugar into a powdered brown sugar and save a few tablespoons to sprinkle on top later on in the preparation process.

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Once you’ve blended all of the ingredients together scrape the paste into a bowl and spend a few minutes making jokes about what the pile in the bowl resembles.

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Next you’ll take the fillo dough and use your favorite fold to create the pastry. Shannon is seen here executing the Fritelli fold, pioneered by the great pastry chef Bertini Fritelli. This may seem a little advanced but I’d hate for you to be discouraged. You can always use a more basic fold. This delicious dessert doesn’t require heroics to be successful.

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Once you’ve decided on your pastry fold of choice and placed the squishy blobs on a cookie sheet, brush on a layer of melted Earth Balance butter substitute and then sprinkle powdered brown sugar on top. Finally shave a little ginger and shake a little bit of salt on top of them and shove it in the oven. The oven temperature should be set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the amount of filling and they type of pastry fold you select the time will vary. I suggest cooking for 20 minutes and then checking them. If they seem undercooked, pop them in for another 5 minutes.

Now we have reached the point when the beets play their part. Be sure the beets are washed and thoroughly dried. Inspect them for damage and trim away any sections that are less than perfect. Next you will perform a complex maneuver and an ancient incantation using the beets. The maneuver and incantation will take all of the good energy and benefits of the beet and transfer them into the Pumpkin Ginger Pastry without ruining the dessert with the horrible beet taste. This is such a complicated  process that I doubt I could describe it with mere words. Instead, I’ve created this very short tutorial video demonstrating the process. Please take 10 seconds and watch:

You may want to practice that a few times before trying it over your freshly baked pastries. You will find it gets easier with practice.  Now you can have the deliciousness of a fall flavored pastry infused with the goodness of beets but without any of the dirt tasting side effects.

Below you will find the buttons to take you forwards or backwards in the giant Virtual Vegan Potluck chain. There is even a button that will take you all the way to the jumping off point for the whole party. Just click one of the images below and continue your exploration of this gastronomical Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

Thanks for visiting!

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PS- My apologies to the beet lovers. I am so, so, sorry you like beets.

PSS- In case you aren’t familiar with my snarky sarcasm, I’m totally not serious about competing in the beet category. My hat is off to all the culinary magicians who can make beets delicious and all of the amazing VVP 4.0 participants. I eat beets. Sometimes.

Meatless Monday

MMGarfieldWhy all the Monday bashing? I LOVE Mondays!

Garfield loves lasagna but he absolutely hates Mondays. Radio DJs adore silly sound effects and celebrity gossip but they, for the most part, hate Mondays.  They spend all week bashing Mondays and counting down the minutes to the weekend, effectively teaching millions of listeners to join them in wishing away 5/7ths of their lives. This should be a crime! How can you hate a day… especially an awesome day like Monday?

There are many reasons to revel in the glory of Monday but one of my favorites is Meatless Monday.  This movement encourages regular, meat eating omnivores to skip all meat products on this one day of the week, and it’s working.  They are jumping on the MM bandwagon in droves. These omnivores might enjoy a whole turkey on Tuesday or fried chicken on Friday or even delicious wildebeest on Wednesday… but when Monday rolls around they spend the day digging into meat free meals.

Some vegetarians and vegans that have lived years without eating meat might scoff at the effort involved in going meatless once every seven days.  To them it probably seems as easy as breathing to skip meat for a day. Whoop-dee-do, they may say in a bored, monotone voice.

However, many (if not most) vegetarians and vegans see the implications of a movement like this and embrace it wholeheartedly.  They understand that every 7 Meatless Monday participants equal an entire vegetarian! Think of it…if all seven billion people on Earth practiced the MM way of life we would have the equivalent of ONE BILLION VEGETARIANS!

I’m sure we could argue that math with some confusing statistics about food consumption around the globe but it will be hard to convince me of anything while my fingers are in my ears and I am making a sound like Weeeeooooooeeeeeeeooooooeeeeeooooooeeeeeoooo. This is how I win most of my arguments around the house so I know it works.

Another huge benefit of the MM Movement is that it gives people a chance to explore a lifestyle they may not think they are ready to live. Meatless Monday participants have a painless way to learn what vegans and vegetarians already know: meatless meals are delicious! In fact, they are so delicious that people learn that in addition to ditching meat on Mondays, that they are also very capable of reducing their meat, dairy and egg consumption during the other 6 days of the week. This is how vegetarians are born- this is where vegans come from.

Meatless Monday is a gateway lifestyle. It shows people how easy it can be. It hooks them with the delicious foods and keeps them with many long term benefits. There can be a lot of fear to overcome when deciding to make a total life change.  MM allows people to discover how easy and rewarding this lifestyle can be.

Once these meat-free explorers have made a habit of finding delicious alternatives to eat on Mondays they are likely to dial up their compassionate, healthy, and environmentally conscious days of the week. Vegan Vednesday, Animal-Free Friday, and Thoughtful Thursday are all extensions that can be used to expand the scope of their cruelty free explorations. Each of them is another baby step leading people to the brink of veganism and making them comfortable enough to jump the rest of the way in.

Many veganauts are like astronauts- they are exploring strange new worlds and boldly going where only some people have gone before (while carefully avoiding copyright infringement). Meatless Monday is a great way to start the journey: try it yourself, share it with others, encourage those who are interested, and wait patiently for those who are not yet ready. People have to decide for themselves when it is time to make a change- just be ready to help when they ask.

If you disagree let me offer my rebuttal: Weeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooo.

One Does Not Simply “Go Vegan”

goveganFalse. That is exactly what one does.

There isn’t a form you fill out. There isn’t a secret organization that you register with. You don’t need to worry about enduring a hazing ritual or even paying dues. You simply “Go Vegan.”

Anyone who tells you that trying out a new vegan lifestyle is hard, not worth your time, a fad, or just for dirty, hippie freaks is wrong. They are probably speaking from a place of anger, guilt, fear, or misunderstanding. You should obviously ignore what these people are saying. You may even need to remind them of the Veganaut Golden Rule: Blowing out someone else’s candle will not make yours burn any brighter. In fact, it just makes the world a darker place.

When health, environmental, or compassionate reasons lead you to the edge of the vegan pool, there is nothing stopping you from jumping in. You can choose to jump feet first, dive in head first, execute a flawless swan dive, or even make a big splash with the classic cannonball. Whatever mode of entry you use is going to result in you getting all wet and realizing that the water is way more cool and refreshing than the hot, muggy air surrounding the pool.

To “Go Vegan” you will start by taking all the meat, all the different dairy products, and all the eggs out of your house. Some people may choose to finish it all themselves before jumping in. The downside of finishing it yourself is that you will be adding a few days to the transition process that could give you or others time to change your mind. If you’ve been vegetarian or an animal heavy omnivore then you’ve already had years and years of eating the kinds of foods you are trying to get rid of. Ripping the band-aid off is a much more successful way to begin this new lifestyle.

Now you have bags of food you want to get rid of… and choices. Some may be opposed to having others to eat what they have decided to remove from their own diets. I, however, think it is a great idea. The animal sacrifices have already been made- the milk has already been taken, the animals have already been butchered, the eggs have already been factory farmed.  Donating them to people in need is a good way to honor those sacrifices and prevent the waste from being dumped in the landfill. There are other schools of thought of course but most would agree that you should just be done with it once and for all.

Next, you should find a supportive community that can answer questions and offer suggestions. It may feel like a drastic life change for a while- weeks even- but as the days and weeks turn into months, you will start to wonder what the big deal was when you first made the change. There are many places to find this kind of help. I can suggest a very supportive online community in a secret Facebook Group. The patient and caring members are excited to lend a hand, an ear, and even a recipe when you need it. Wondering if honey is vegan or where to get the most iron? They love to answer those questions. You will need to request admission but everyone is allowed in- only haters get kicked out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theVeganauts/

After that it is time to start weeding out cleaning products and toiletries and maybe even some clothing. There are tons of vegan alternatives that manage to make a great product without using bits of various animals to do so. Finish up what you already have and then make the switch to the compassionate versions as they run out. I am still in the middle of that process with clothes. I have a wallet and a pair of dress shoes that I have had since before I was a vegan. I won’t buy the leather versions again, but I plan on using these until they fall apart and can’t be repaired again.

In all these examples, the first step is to “Go Vegan.” Just by saying the magic words, it has begun. The next steps are to make the changes discussed above. Is it impossible to live this healthy, environmentally conscious, and compassionate lifestyle? Yes, but only if you never try.

The Mysterious Boiled Peanut

boiled_peanutsGrowing up in Sunny Florida was great. It came with blistering summer days punctuated with hellish thunderstorms that started promptly at 2pm each afternoon and lasted between twenty minutes and a week.

Some of my fondest childhood memories from growing up in the Sunshine State involved the many boiled peanut stands that could be found on the side of country roads. These peanut vendors were business savvy and knew that the three key elements of a successful business were location, location, and location. You could find them set up on roadsides that lead to beaches, springs, rivers and of course, Gator football games.

There is a slim chance that you, gentle reader, are not familiar with boiled peanuts. You may have heard of them but there is still a chance you’ve never eaten one yourself. You poor, poor thing… bless your heart. I am here to help educate you on the glory of this manna from the south.

First, lets cover pronunciation. The vast majority of Southerners call this delicacy, a /bole-d/ peanut. They say it the way a standard English speaker might refer to peanuts that have been placed in a bowl; they have been /bowl-ed/. The southern pronunciation also sounds like darkened text or describing someones unreserved nature: bold.

My mother was a genuine, Yankee carpetbagger. As a young adult she left Wisconsin, traveled to Florida, met my father, and started a family. She didn’t bring much with her when she emigrated from way above the Mason-Dixon line. She had some clothing, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and a hilarious Wisconsinite accent. Although from her perspective she spoke perfect English and had moved to a place where the entire population had conspired to destroy her native tongue.

While my friends wanted to go play in the creek near our home she would only allow me to visit the crick. While my friends might have been enjoying an icy bottle of Coke she would insist that what they were drinking was called pop. And no, I was not allowed to have one. And so on, and so on…

If my Mom were with us today she would be proud that her son still pronounces pecans correctly (/pa-cons/ not /pee-cans/ of course).  She would also be glad to know that I only use the words ya’ll or ain’t when I am being ironic or buying supplies at a hardware store.  And I can only assume she is somewhere smiling every time she hears me correctly use the diphthong in the word boiled (as in /boy-ald/).

The truth of the matter is, you can say boiled peanut however you want as long as you eat them. I love peanuts in all their delicious forms, thank you very much George Washington Carver, but I think boiled is how they were meant to be eaten. When purchased from a roadside stand they are ladled out of a large steamy cauldron that was usually a beer keg in a former life. This cauldron is filled with brine and peanuts simmering away above an LP flame. The salty, wet, hot peanuts are poured into a cup or a plastic bag and usually come with a second bag for the leftover shells. This second bag is for people that don’t know that country roads are a perfect place to drive with the windows down for easy, biodegradable shell tossing.

For much of my life I was under the impression that making boiled peanuts was akin to smelting iron ore and performing a kidney transplant operation. “Thank Carver for these boiled peanut artisans,” I used to think as I merged with traffic, steering with my knees and tossing shells out the open window. I wasn’t sure how their black magic worked but I was glad to pay for the product of their secret recipes which surely had been handed down orally over countless generations.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that any yahoo with peanuts, salt, water, and heat could make this gift from the goober gods. As it happens, to make boiled peanuts you take peanuts and you BOIL them! I know this sounds complicated so I am going to share this highly technical recipe and even include some pictures that help keep you on track during the convoluted process.

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Get a bag of RAW peanuts. If you have access to raw, green peanuts from a farmer these are great, but generally speaking you will be buying regular raw peanuts which were harvested and allowed to safely dry. You will also need salt, water, and something to boil it all in. The crock pot is the best for this job because you will want these to cook overnight.

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Pour the peanuts in the crock pot. You can cook 1 to 3 pounds in a standard crock pot. Just don’t fill the crock pot to the top with peanuts. Half to 3/4 full is best because you’ll be adding water soon and peanuts float.

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Next you make the brine and decide if you want to be creative. The standard mixture is 2 tablespoons per quart. You can mix a 1/2 cup of salt with a gallon of water if you want but when I use the crock pot, I simply make a quart at a time. This is also when I decide if I want to ‘fancy-up’ my peanuts. Garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, habaneros, and wasabi are all options to add if you want to show off your gourmet skills. However, for your first time I suggest sticking to brine. Pour in a quart at a time until the water and peanuts are an inch or two from the top. Some peanuts will be floating above the water level, but that will change as they become saturated.

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Now you cook them. This takes a while and requires lots of taste testing when you are new. You can put the heat on high for several hours or you could put it on low for much longer. I often start mine in the evening on high, drop them to low while I’m snoring, and take some to work the next day leaving the rest to simmer on low heat. They are hard to overcook and they are hard IF you undercook them. This is why taste testing is so important when you are new to the game.

*Edit- sometimes low heat isn’t enough to finish cooking overnight- you can keep it on high heat or cook for longer- whichever is safer in your situation. SAFETY FIRST!

As the water boils away you will need to add more water to the crock pot. I suggest adding fresh water because all the salt you added originally is still in the brine.

A perfect peanut should be hot. You should pick it up and use your front teeth to crack the shell bilaterally down the seam while simultaneously sucking the delicious brine into your mouth. Then you’ll use your fingers to pull the two halves apart. Finally, use your teeth, lips and tongue in an obscene fashion to retrieve all the salty, soft peanut flesh from the shell.

I’ll leave you with the most important part of the process. When you serve these and people begin to fawn over your boiled peanuts and sing songs of your glory- DO NOT TELL THEM IT IS EASY! It is your job to act really tired but proud, and explain that making this delicacy is too complicated to explain but that you’d be glad to sell them another bag for $5.

A Journey of 1000 Miles Begins with a 5K

journey-of-1000-milesOn my first day of this veganaut adventure I published a post titled: A Journey of 1000 Miles Begins with a Single Banana.  After years of Atkins style dieting, a fructose filled banana seemed like the most amazing magical breakfast food; that’s how I started my journey to find my inner herbivore.

The original decision was based almost exclusively on weight loss and better health. I knew it would be tough giving up meat, dairy, eggs and everything else animal related that I loved so much. However, with my health and personal longevity in the balance I knew it was worth it. Vegans might eat only rabbit food, I decided, but it was the path to the healthy life that I wanted.

The reality I discovered was much more intense.  As it turns out vegans are freakin’ amazing cooks. It is almost like they have something to prove to the omnivore community and they are doing everything in their power to throw hella-deliciousness in their doubtful faces. I have learned to love cuisine that is Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, as well as food from completely different sections of the menu when lunching at Mexican and sushi joints. I’m afraid that now there are even more ways to let a love of food and a lack of portion control pack on the pounds (or Kilos for you global veganauts reading along).

Recently, I have not been living a plant based lifestyle- I’ve spent the summer as a sturdy veganaut with a few blemishes on my vegan report card; but that doesn’t mean I’ve been making healthy choices. Along with these bad choices, I’ve been leading an air-conditioned, sedentary lifestyle with occasional bouts of activity. There is a simple ‘energy in/ energy out’ equation which has been way out of whack in the last few months and my tight wardrobe proves it.

It should be said, however, that most of my old health problems are still gone. Gout, colitis, diverticulitis, acid reflux, and the rest are still at bay thanks to herbivore living. Blood pressure is more tied to weight, and while my numbers are still in the normal range I don’t want to jeopardize my progress in that area or loose any more ground on the weight loss battle…. so, exercise to the rescue!

As someone who is committed to being the best veganaut I can be- and as someone who loves the entire world of delicious foods that has opened up to me- I think it would be much easier to increase my exercise level than it would be to drastically decrease my intake of delicious sweet potato sushi and Mellow Mushroom calzones.

That’s why Shannon and I launched this personal challenge. We are literally starting on a journey of 1000 miles and if that isn’t exciting enough, we are challenging ourselves further. We plan to finish in under a year. *dramatic sound clip* Even at 5K a day the 1000 mile journey will take about a year. This may be laughable mileage for many of you marathon runners out there but it is a monumental change in routine for us… and a steady energy burn for many, many months to come.

Our first step in this challenge was a walking paced 5K earlier today. It’s not that we haven’t been walking all summer… okay, I’m afraid that’s exactly what it is. However, 5K-a-day isn’t a new concept in our household. Shannon and I had a month and a half at that pace late last year and it was very effective at burning up the food intake and the stored energy (stored energy sounds so much better than fat).

There will certainly be days where we don’t log any distance, and other days where we may triple the average. In either case we’ll be keeping close track of our thousand mile journey and keeping you up-to-date on how far along we are. We’ll be using the MapMyFitness app to track the progress and I’ll be sharing highlights of the journey with you good people here. If you’re interested in following a slow, lumbering journey, this is one to keep your eye on.

We don’t embark on this journey lightly. It is something we plan to start and finish within the year. If all goes well, as soon as we reach the 1000 mile mark, we’ll continue on with the goal of tackling that 10,000 mile benchmark… but for now, we’ll settle for a virtual stroll from Orlando to New York.

Until next time, keep your laces tight and your plates covered with vegetables.

There Goes Summer

summer-vacationCheers my veganaut brothers and sisters! I had a hella great summer break but like most vacations, I am glad to be getting back to my friendly friends and my cushy routine.

It was an action packed summer with transcontinental travel, oceans of varying size and ferocity, rubbing elbows with superstars, and many vegan related trials and tribulations. These stories and more will be waiting for you in upcoming posts along with an array of amazing alliterations and a sprinkling of onomatopoeias to add a little zip-POW to the retelling. You know how I roll.

When I began my summer holiday right after the last Virtual Vegan Potluck it was with the same enthusiasm that students everywhere feel when the last bell of the school year rings. After 18 months of steady blogging and social media maintenance I was a little burnt out- NOT a good feeling for someone who prefers raw.

An interesting thing happens to people who “go vegan” and stick with it. As foreign as this herbivore lifestyle can seem at first, after enough time it seems so normal you hardly notice it anymore. This is devastating for a blogger who uses the new and exciting aspects of veganism to fill column inches- novelty is a writer’s bread and Earth Balance.

Vacation to the rescue! The whole time I was on hiatus I kept running into things from across the vegan spectrum that I wanted to tell you guys about.  Now, like on the first day of school, I want to run my mouth at a mile a minute telling you everything I saw and did in rapid fire succession- AND show you my new shoes and haircut at the same time- but I wont. I will be patient and dole my gems out two or three times a week.

This is just a quick post to let you good people know that I am alive and well and excited to tell you about my summer and many of the exciting changes in my life. Keep an eye out now that vacay is over- posts should probably pop out pretty persistently- and alliteration will abound.

Greetings Virtual Vegan Potluck 3.0 Guests!

vvp-loveAllow me to offer a heartfelt welcome to those of you passing through the ‘ole blog today- hopefully you are staggering under the weight of all the virtual food you’ve devoured before arriving here. Some of you are already grizzled veganaut veterans, but because of the popularity of the Virtual Vegan Potluck, many of you are new to the veganaut crew. Welcome aboard!

About a year and a half ago I started this blog to help chronicle my overnight transformation from Atkins dieter to plant based dieter and eventually to compassionate vegan. It has been a wild and wonderful ride that changed me more than I ever expected. Generally this blog steers clear from posting recipes. Instead, I leave that up to the overly skilled culinary bloggers I am sharing this digital food festival with. However, having a chance to be a part of something as fun and innovative as the Virtual Vegan Potluck seems to bring out my inner Alton Brown.

In the previous two VVPs I offered up Super Awesome Guac and Emergency Black Bean Salsa, both in the Appetizers section. For this round I find myself in the big leagues with Main Dishes. To be honest, I am a little nervous especially considering the other big name vegan bloggers participating. Luckily, I have a secret weapon: Shannon.

Shannon and I celebrated our 20th Anniversary this year (thank you, thank you, hold the applause) and for more than two decades I have witnessed her using an improvisational cooking style to create and recreate culinary masterpieces. When we were on the Standard American Diet in the 90s she created amazing food using ingredients and processed components from across the edible spectrum. As we invested several years into the Atkins diet during the 2000s she became adept at inventing low carb, high deliciousness foods that, like the Atkins diet itself, seemed too good to be true. Now in this new decade, living this new life, she has become a machete wielding explorer searching for new kinds of food to eat and build recipes around.

I’d hate for you to get the wrong idea about us. We do not subscribe to the preassigned gender rolls of the 1900s in our house. It is just a coincidence that Shannon loves to cook and I really, really love taking out the garbage and changing the oil in the mini-van. I also enjoy taking pictures which is what I did when we created our dish for the VVP: ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ Burritos!

cover-poster-vvpThese Breakfast Burritos are filled with tofu and mushroom scramble, faux sausage, and home-fries before being covered in gravy. Did I mention Shannon was raised on Southern cooking? She would try to put gravy in our green smoothies each morning if I didn’t beg her to save it for the salads and stir fry.

This dish is modeled after the Breakfast Burrito available on the brunch menu at Ethos Vegan Kitchen in Orlando. Since they only offer the brunch menu on the weekend, Shanon toiled away in her laboratory recreating the burrito so we wouldn’t have to wait for an entire work week to pass before having another. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend Ethos for all of your compassionate dining needs.

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This pile of ingredients makes around 8 giant burritos depending on how full you make them or how many cubes of potato you eat during the preparation stages. You are encouraged to alter this recipe in any way that would make you happy. Here is what we used to make ourselves happy: 8 big flour tortillas, 12 oz. firm tofu, 8 oz. of faux sausage (we used Gimme Lean), 16 oz. sliced mushrooms, one onion, 6 medium red potatoes, 1.5 Tbsp corn starch, 1/2 tsp black salt, 1 Tbsp oregano, 1/2 Tbsp sage, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp garlic powder, lack pepper, 2 vegan bullion cubes, 2 Tbsp Braggs Liquid Aminos, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 Tbsp of Earth Balance butter substitute.

step1

First dice the red potatoes, sprinkle them with garlic salt (optional) and bake them until done. No oil needed, but if you have guests over you may want to cover your nasty looking baking sheet with tinfoil like we did. Next dice the onion and mince 2 cloves of the garlic and toss them both in a pan with the Tbsp of Earth Balance. Move the bits around the medium-hot pan and get them ready for the next step.

step2

Once the onions start to turn clear, dump all of the sliced mushrooms into the pan EXCEPT for 1/2 cup that you set aside for later. Saute the mushrooms until it looks like more than half of them disappeared and then dump them on a platter for later.  Next take the same pan- DON’T WASH IT- and brown your faux sausage. Once that is done browning dump it next to the mushrooms and onions on the platter.

step3

Now it is time to get the gravy started. In a blender, pour 4 cups of water, 1/2 cup of raw mushroom slices, 1/4 cup of diced onion, both bullion cubes, the corn starch, sage, garlic powder, onion powder, Braggs Aminos and black pepper to taste. Hit blend for 2 minutes and take a break, you’ve been working hard.

You can dump all the ingredients in a pot directly if you don’t want to deal with a blender. Shannon uses the blender because it ensures there wont be any lumps and because she loves her new Vitamix enough to include it on the Christmas card list for this year and take it for walks.

After blending for two minutes, dump the liquid into a small pot on high heat. Add a cup of the mushrooms and onions from your platter, stir occasionally. Let it boil for a minute then turn to simmer. Take off the heat after about 10 minutes and let the thickening fun begin!

step4

Now it is time to make the tofu scramble. Using a slightly pressed firm block of tofu, crumble it into pieces in the same unwashed pan you’ve been using. Use a wooden spoon to break the tofu down to the consistency of scrambled eggs. Next, add the black salt.  Tofu scramble tastes exactly like eggs if you use black salt. If you don’t have black salt, no worries, just add salt and pepper and you will still have plenty of flavor from the sausage, mushroom, and onions.

Now you get to grab the platter with the mushrooms, onions, and browned faux sausage and scrape it into your trusty pan with the waiting tofu scramble. Mix it together and stir in one cup of your gravy mixture. Once you are done with this step you’re done with all the complicated cooking and you become a simple burrito making factory.

step5

This is entirely up to personal preference, but we warm up the tortillas and fill them with 1/4 cup of cubed red potatoes and a rounded 1/2 cup of tofu scramble mixture. After wrapping them tightly and placing them on a platter it is time to garnish them with left over ‘taters and gravy.

IMG_4661These little beauties are perfect on their own but sometimes I like to pull out the sriracha and go to town. No matter how YOU eat them or how YOU change the recipe, or if YOU even attempt the recipe, it has been an honor to have YOU over to break burritos with us.

I hope you’ll find some way to stay connected with us here Jason and the Veganauts. There are a lot of options to the right of the page like receiving new posts by email and following with RSS. You could also click on links in this very sentence that connect you to the Facebook Group, Facebook Page and Twitter account. It is like vegan magic (meaning no doves or rabbits are used during the tricks).

Enjoy the rest of the Virtual Vegan Potluck. Thanks for coming!

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From A(vocado Pie) to V(irtual Vegan Potluck)

41A little over a month ago I became a 41 year old.  It wasn’t a big deal, just a little deeper into the decade of my life I’ll later refer to as “the forties.”  What I lack in originality, I make up for with misdirection. For example… LOOK!! ELVIS!!!  And he’s singing about the upcoming Virtual Vegan Potluck!!!!

That’s right folks, we are less than a week away from the 3rd Virtual Vegan Potluck. On Saturday May 11, 2013, at 12:01 AM Eastern Standard Time, this global vegan food festival will spring to life with animal-free dishes as diverse as the bloggers who are sharing them.

This blog, Jason and the Veganauts, will be sharing the recipe for a very special entree, as well as taking every opportunity to mention itself by name. Some call it a delicious daisy chain of over 100 vegan recipes, while others might say it is a good chance for this blog, Jason and the Veganauts, to meet new vegan friends. Either way, Jason and the Veganauts.

If you want, you can count down the start of the VVParty like I am this Friday night. I am going to watch the clock like it is New Years Eve, waiting for 12:01 to finally arrive, kicking off the celebration of food with more than one hundred vegan blogs that will be linked arm in arm in a show of delicious solidarity. Some of you might think that watching the clock tick is a pathetic way to spend a Friday night when there is so much art, dance, culture, and music to be experienced with friends and loved on/**OH LOOK! IT’S ELVIS AGAIN!!**

So as I was saying, I’ve been 41 years old for a month and a half or so. While I don’t remember the day being anything overly memorable the avocado pie my friend, Agent Dr. S, created before my very eyes was something I will not soon forget.  As many of you know, Jason and the Veganauts does not generally deal with recipes, but in honor of the upcoming VVP this Saturday I will bend the guidelines and share his magic.

Cooking-with-QiThe recipe can be traced back to Steve Wood who was a culinary contributor to the book Food Healing: Cooking with Qi. Before seeing this cookbook I thought Qi was just a word used when playing Words With Friends and there is no better way to play the Q tile.  In reality, it seems the word means a variety of hippy-dippy things like ‘life energy’ and healing which is groovy with me man. If nothing else, I think learning this will make me feel less guilty next time I play Qi on a triple word score.

The avocado pie that you see here today has been altered from the cookbook recipe making the outcome far less symmetrical and not nearly as photogenic. If you are looking for a pretty pie, this ain’t it. This pie relies on substance to make itself remembered, not glitz and glam.

The numbers used in this recipe are highly flexible. If you want a sweeter pie filling, add more maple syrup. Hate coconut? Leave it out! Can’t imagine how to pay for almost 2 cups of macadamia nuts? Use pecan and walnut OR take out a second mortgage. Recipes are not perfect chemical formulas. They are whimsical and flexible and begging to be personalized. The numbers are also a little fuzzy because Agent Dr. S insisted I drink whiskey while watching him create. I believe this is in an effort to make me forget his secrets. It worked.

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For the crust you will need: 1-1/2 cups Macadamia nuts, 2 cup of dates, and 1/4 cup of coconut flour. For the filling you will need: 3-5 ripe avocados, 3/4 cup of very fancy maple syrup, 3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, 1/2 cup coconut oil, and 1/2 cup of shredded coconut.

pie-crust

When making the crust, dump all of the crust ingredients into a food processor and push the buttons that make it process. It should go without saying that you can add more nuts if you want a nuttier crust. When everything is crunched together really well, take it out and smash it flat into a pie plate. You can take a lot of time with this and even make artwork out of the edges but it is going to be devoured in an uncivilized fashion once you taste it so don’t waste your time. Macadamia nut oil will appear on the crust as it sits and a paper towel can be used to absorb it. Pro tip: toss it in the oven on very low heat for an hour or two for a drier crust.

filling

When making the pie filling, dump all of the filling ingredients into the food processor after you’ve wiped it clean.  Then do that button thing again and process it all up until it looks like pie filling. The shaved coconut is optional. It is included more for texture than flavor. Try experimenting with and without the coconut, which in this case means make more pies. That is my favorite kind of science.

pie

Pour the pie filling into the pie crust. It is a sad fact of life that you then need to wait for two hours. I certainly didn’t- I ate some right away, and it was weak-in-the-knees good.  It was even better two hours later… and the next day? Oh my. Do yourself a favor and make two pies. You will eat one of them right away but with any luck and self restraint on your part, you will have one surviving pie to eat in it’s prime.

I hope you have fun experimenting with various pie permutations and combinations. I can say from experience, whiskey made the whole dessert preparation experience more fun. Plus, I was lucky enough to have Agent Dr. S involved in the process which put it over the top.

Mark your calendars! The Virtual Vegan Potluck 3.0 will be in full swing when you wake up this Saturday. Fill your house with bulk ingredients because once you start perusing the VVP dish list, you are not going to want to waste any time shopping before trying to recreate the smorgasbord. Jason and the Veganauts will see you there!

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