The Farm

home-garden-suburban-gardeningWell, hey! How the H-E-double hockey sticks are ya? It feel like 2/3rds of year since we sat down together and chewed the seitan. I hope 2014 treated you well. It was certainly an exciting year for my family. We bought a house!

Shannon and I have been renting since the early 1990s. Over the decades we watched the housing market grow steadily, balloon slightly, boom uncontrollably, crash horrendously, recover meekly, slip slightly, and then fester pungently. Not knowing much about the economy, we assumed that smell was the signal to buy.

The home we bought has a lot of suburban farming potential. The problem we faced with renting is that you never know how long you will be in a location. Gypsies don’t plant avocado trees. Nomads are not known for cultivating citrus. In a lot of ways, roots require roots.

Even our little seasonal gardens over the years were shadows of their true potential. Enriching the soil was an uncertain investment, much less running irrigation lines or building a sturdy fence. Plus, any really good garden needs toad homes, and I couldn’t bring myself to make any, knowing I might one day need to evict the little warty guys.

Now we find ourselves settled in Central Florida, primed and ready to try living off our land to some extent. Trees will be planted, gardens will be staked out, rainwater will be redirected… it is a very exciting time. So far we’ve decided on one each of these trees: mango, avocado, orange, lemon, lime. We also have planned for two banana trees and a decorative patch for pineapples. On top of that, I’ve been adding fresh ginger and turmeric root to my smoothies lately and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the gnarled brown knots that grow underground are attached to some very tropical and decorative leaves above.

Do you have any suggestions for crops we should grow or resources we should absorb before Spring arrives… which is like next week here in sunny Florida (please don’t hate us). I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

I’d also love to share my second favorite part of our home. Check out where I get to put the Christmas train! This is just the proof of concept construction. Now that we know it fits and works, we can begin construction on the tiny buildings, trees, snow banks, tunnels, and new lighting system that’s obviously needed.

Happy Winter Solstice!


T-100 Days

vegan-veg-writingThere are only 100 days before I become a 43 year old man.

If we have not met before, I should probably clarify; I am not currently a woman who is becoming a man, I am a 42 year old who is becoming a 43 year old. After not adding anything to this blog for eight months I have to be careful not to assume you good readers out there know a thing about me… but enough about me, let’s get back to me.

Much like the New Year, I use birthdays as a chance to take stock in myself and make resolutions to fix the areas that need restocking. Shortly before my last blog post, around 265 days ago, I’d set a docket of lofty goals for my 42 year old self. Then, much like this blog, I completely ignored them. Unfortunately, it is easy to make a list but even easier to ignore it.

Well, no more! I’ve decided to wake myself from the comfortable, warm couch of complacency and jump to my unsuspecting feet. With 100 days to go before I complete this lap around the sun, I feel reinvigorated and confident that I can make a dent in my self-improvement honey-do list.

Now that I am retaking the wheel, there is a healthy eating component, a daily exercise component, and a writing component that make up my next 100 days. It may seem a little ambitious but with less than 30% of age 42 left I need to invest more aggressively in myself.

“But Jason,” you may say, “what about the holidays?”

To be honest, I’m surprised you feel comfortable beginning your sentence with a conjunction. Sure, it’s not technically breaking any rules, but I feel there is a time and a place for such recklessness.

And to answer your imaginary question with a rhetorical one, when during a calendar year are we truly free from the temptation of celebration? We waddle from President’s Day, to MLK weekend and Valentines Day, to St. Patrick’s Day, and March Madness. Spring Break leads into Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Then we have August which is National Picnic Month. From here it is a slippery slope from fall festivals, to football season, and into Halloween, the gateway to the aforementioned holiday season.

It would be easy to write off the next two or three weeks as a deliciously lost cause. The only flaw in that logic is that I am ready to start now. I have snored rather obnoxiously on the comfortable couch for long enough.

 


“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.

step1

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.

step2

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.

step4

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.

step6

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!

go_forward

go_bck

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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.


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