Why I Gave Up Meat (Mostly)

*Disclaimer: This is not intended as anything but my own story.  I am not a dietary expert, nor am I trying to proselytize anyone into going meat-free. I am just a girl on a mission to eat well to be well.  Please be respectful of that in your comments.  Thanks!

When I was twelve I came across the website Action for Animals and it changed my life.  I'm honestly not even sure how this came to transpire because it was still the early days of the internet and I was definitely not an interweb-browsing pre-teen. I was a dorky little naturalist, usually outside collecting specimens, digging holes, and sketching field notes. Plus, my mom did a great job of creeping my ass out about rapey online predators.  But I digress. I was suddenly made aware of the atrocious conditions of the meat industry and instantaneously lost my appetite.  Thus began my life as a conscious eater.  

I gave up meat as a middle schooler who still relied on my Mom for meals and let me tell you, she was not impressed.  Mom raised me to eat healthy, but meat was always a staple to her meals, and it was one she was not willing to forfeit for one child at the expense of herself, another child, and a meat-hungry husband. So I wound up piecing together meals out of side dishes like a vegetable-scrounging hobo.  My dad's favorite thing to say if I turned up my nose as at meal that was meat-heavy was "go make yourself a peanut butter sandwich".  Thanks Dad.  A kid can't subsist entirely on PB sandwiches.  Needless to say it was tricky, and constantly defending and explaining my choice got pretty old pretty fast, testing my will to stick to my decision.

Since those early years my veg-journey has varied. There was my brief stint as a vegan in high school (I promptly gave it up because I loooooove honey). Then there was my study abroad in east Asia where pork, chicken, and eggs were regular menu staples and not eating them meant going very, very hungry (I lost 25 pounds over my four months spent in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. This left me underweight, undernourished, and caused me to catch a nasty virus that started as a stomach bug in northern China and stuck around as intestinal yuck and a bumpy rash that moved across my face for months after returning to the U.S. There's actually probably just an alien that has taken up residence in me. I'm naming him Tedward.). 

For the last few years I have relaxed my rules about restricting any animal products from entering my palate, and have rested upon being what many would refer to as a Flexitarian. 

"Flexitarian", according to Wikipedia: A semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet is one that is plant-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products. In 2003, the American Dialect Society voted flexitarian as the year's most useful word.

I eat yogurt.  I have an occasional egg or two.  I eat cake made with butter or eggs.  I put honey and milk in my tea.  If someone serves me breakfast with a slice or two of bacon I certainly won't say "no".  I've found that there are some circumstances when I'm fine with a little meat.  I don't try to evangelize others, although I still find that meat-eaters love to veg-bash my choices.  I have grown in my awareness of the meat and animal industry, and am more relaxed in my acceptance of livestock products when it comes from a local or small farmer, and as long as I know the living conditions were generous (because why on earth would you want to eat something that lived crammed in with other stressed animals eating crap and turning that crap into crap-quality meat?).  I've even come to accept my brother-in-law's yearly hunting trips, and others who hunt and respectfully use the entire animal, rather than merely hunting for trophy.  I've become less strict on my own body, and less strict overall.  I have evolved as a person, an animal-rights activist, a humanitarian, and have gained so much from this journey.  So here's why I choose to still eat relatively little in the way of animal products, and why I never cook meat:

  • Digestion. My belly feels better without having to focus so hard on digesting meat.  On the rare occasion I do allow myself a burger or something, I usually wake up later in the night feeling queasy AF.
  • The recipe options are endless. Seriously. And you never have to worry about getting salmonella from under-cooked chicken.  In fact, cooking is really frickin easy without the meat part! Lazy girl WIN!
  • The constant inflammation and chronic migraines I have dealt with since childhood are less severe when animal products are out of my diet.  I would urge anyone who deals with chronic conditions to consider giving up meat or animal products for a time to see if it helps.  It's certainly not for everybody, but it's remarkable how much of a difference it has made for me.
  • It's cheaper! I save buku bucks not purchasing meat, and still stock up heavily on vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, spices....
  • I feel better about myself knowing I'm not contributing to the horrific conditions animals are born into in factory farms.  I feel even better knowing that when I do eat meat, eggs, or dairy, that I'm supporting the small businesses and farmers who deserve the $$!

*Side note.  I urge you, not to give up your animal foods, but to please consider where they come from.  Animals raised in healthy, caring conditions taste better and are so much better for you than those raised in factory farms.  Ever cracked a farm-fresh egg? The yolk is practically orange and extremely difficult to break, unlike the runny, pale yellow garbage eggs you get from generic retailers.  If that's not proof enough of difference in quality, I don't know what is. 

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Alas, I know this is mostly just a rambling tale of my life as a kale-snarfing, cashew nut butter-spreading, flax-seed sprinkling gal. But, as I said above, if you are unsatisfied with the food you are consuming, or want to try to tackle your chronic health issues, I urge you to consider eating fewer or no animal products.  Trust me.  It's so easy.  And I never feel deprived. And I feel so much healthier and better for it.  As proof of the endless options of vegetarian and vegan recipes available these days, I've attached links below of some of my favorite recipes.  Give a few a try!  Implement Meatless Mondays! Expand your horizons!  You'll be surprised how delicious it can be! 

  Vegan ranch buffalo cauliflower sandwich

Vegan ranch buffalo cauliflower sandwich

  Cherry mint polenta bruschetta

Cherry mint polenta bruschetta

  Sweet Corn Frittata with Burst Cherry Tomato Compote

Sweet Corn Frittata with Burst Cherry Tomato Compote

  Honey-lime sweet potato, black bean, and corn tacos

Honey-lime sweet potato, black bean, and corn tacos

  ROASTED CAULIFLOWER & CHICKPEAS WITH DIJON VINAIGRETTE

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER & CHICKPEAS WITH DIJON VINAIGRETTE

  Roasted delicata squash salad

Roasted delicata squash salad

  Polenta with white cheddar, chard, and wild mushrooms

Polenta with white cheddar, chard, and wild mushrooms

Find these recipes and more over on my Pinterest!

In

Awesomely Non-Traditional Valentine Treats

Ya'll, I have a killer sweet tooth.  Like literally THE WORST.  I'm honestly a little surprised I don't have some insulin-related condition because of how much candy and treats I have eaten during my life.... So naturally I've gathered up some of my top picks for this year's sweetest holiday--Valentine's Day!  My nerdiness is out in full swing with these goodies, and there's something for every taste and craving.

I couldn't not include Star Wars ice cream.  While I'm not the biggest Star Wars nerd, I know a lot of you are.  And come on.  It's ICE CREAM.  I'd happily share these with the new love of my life, Kylo Ren, but no one else!

  • The Light Side: a bright marshmallow ice cream with homemade crispie clusters, as well as a smattering of handmade cocoa crispies (to represent the dark side still lurking within the light)
  • The Dark Side: by contrast, is an ultra-dark chocolate ice cream with espresso fudge brownies, cocoa crispies, and white chocolate pearls (to represent the light still hiding in the dark, waiting to burst through)

These gorgeous little jewel candies are modeled directly from real gem casts.  I'd keep these in a dish on my desk for the aesthetics as much as the guaranteed sugar rush!  Kosher, Vegan, No GMO. Contains no nuts.  So pretty much they're just sugar.  Sweet, wonderful sugar.

Skulls rule.  Edible silver-dusted chocolate skulls rule even more.  Sometimes V-Day is just too sickly sweet with smotheringly adorable clichés.  These chocolate skulls are nice for those of us who barf a little at the cutesy tootsey stuff.  

Oh LAAAHHHD.  Indulge in some real luxury! These marshmallows are cooked with champagne, then hand covered with 24 karat edible gold. A perfect treat for your high-maintenance bae. 

Dinosaurs.  Chocolate.  Caramel.  Butter Toffee.  I love 100% of this unique sweet!  

Total bonus points for what's written on the website:

"Unique mineralization of these fossils, makes them taste exactly like a blend of salted caramel, dark chocolate, with a crunch of butter toffee --who knew?! It's a curious world we live in."

Fika is a Swedish verb that translates loosely to “take a coffee break,” usually accompanied by a little something sweet. Now, I'm not sure if it's totally coincidental or because it's ingrained in my Swedishness, but I often make time for my own personal fika (although it's often tea instead of coffee), usually in the afternoon as a little pick-me-up.  While fika is an important daily ritual for Swedes who like to take a moment to indulge in a moment of relaxation and conversation, anyone can--and should-- enjoy this zen daily ritual.

About the chocolate "pills":

Roasted and caramelized hazelnuts and almonds provide the underlying crunch, rolled in 66% dark chocolate and a light coating of cocoa powder. The fun medicine bottle and playful prescription label bring new meaning to the proclamation, “Chocolate is my drug of choice!”

A little morbid, just how I like it.  :D  All I can think is, "I bet Dexter would like this".  And I bet I would too because it looks DELICIOUS. 

The sweet-tart combination reminds us of sipping strawberry lemonade under puffy white clouds on a summer day. (Yes, it really, actually, truly does.) We're obsessed with this popular Latin American pairing of tart passionfruit and rich sweet caramel, all wrapped up in one truly stunning package. 
And, with the aromatic lift of cardamom and bright passionfruit, this bar is refreshingly light. We can see why Chocolat Moderne calls this one The Lover: it's definitely amour.  

 

Enjoy some of these noms, and feel free to get me one of each while you're at it! The first step in recovery is admitting you have an addiction, right?!

(this is not a sponsored post.  I just really like all these goodies!)

In

The Best Chili Recipe You'll Ever Try

Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday, and I'm actually invested in a team this time.  My buddy Tony is playing this year and I could not be more excited for him!  To celebrate, I'm whipping up some (diet-friendly) Super Bowl Foods, including this vegetarian sweet potato chili recipe that I have literally made almost once a week since I first made it.  It's that good.  Perhaps you're one of those people that says "if there's no meat in it it ain't chili!".  Well, au contraire, mon frère.  I am a big fan of chilis and I am willing to say this is my favorite chili yet.  The sweet potato offers a good meaty substitute and lots of fiber, as well as a hint of sweetness.  I add cocoa powder and some brown sugar for good measure.  It's to-die-for.  Trust me. 

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The best part is I literally just throw the ingredients into the slow cooker, set it for however long it recommends, and bing bang boom, dinner is made!  If you are planning to eat mid-afternoon, I'd recommend tossing the ingredients in during the morning and setting it on high for 4-5 hours.  Setting it on low for 7-8 hours will ensure it's ready by a later dinner-time.  You can make this recipe vegan by omitting or substituting vegan sour cream and shreddy cheese.  I've found Tofutti vegan sour cream to be quite good, but have yet to find a good-tasting vegan cheese.  Sorry Veegs.   Your gluten-free pals will be pleased, too.  And, at a mere 240 calories per serving, you can even indulge in a beer or two if you're still sticking to your diet resolutions!  Winning!!!

Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Chili:

 

Prep Time: 20 minutes 

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 tbsp minced garlic

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp brown sugar (or more, to taste, if you like your chili really sweet)

kosher salt and black pepper

1 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1 15.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed well

1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed well

1 medium sweet potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces

sour cream, sliced avocado, and shredded cheddar for garnish.  (Cornbread side optional, but trust me, it's worth it!)

Directions:

  1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa, cinnamon, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Add the tomatoes (and their liquid), beans, sweet potato, and 1 cup water.
  2. Cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours.
  3. Serve chili into bowls. Top with the sour cream, avocado, cheese, and cornbread or tortilla chips.

If you feel like playing around with the recipe a bit, you could add some crunch with red or green peppers or some onion.  I die if I eat onion, so it is obviously never going to be present in a recipe I post.  I also think this tastes freaking amazing without anything else.  Totally up to you, though.  :D  

Happy Weekend!  

In

A Deliciously Meatless Thanksgiving

As the token vegetarian in my family, Thanksgiving dinner has long been a time of sneaky stink eyes, exasperated sighs, and the classic, “I think these mashed potatoes are meat-free…oh wait, I used chicken stock.”   On a day that emphasizes edible indulgence to the point of a food coma, those like me who choose to avoid meat are often the odd ones out (insert pouty face here).  Instead of complaining, we usually just grin, bear it, and fill up on a less than complete meal of green bean casserole, dinner roles, and pumpkin pie.

Now, I'm nowhere near as strict a vegetarian as I used to be, and my reasons remain varied for maintaining a (primarily) meat-free diet (perhaps I will cover that topic somewhere in the future), but part of me still dreads holidays where the meal is centered around a big ole heaping of animal.  I want to sit down and enjoy a special feast with family, but it still feels rude to turn down that holiday "staple".  

This year I am spending Thanksgiving at my parents' houses, which lucky for me means NO COOKING!  Unluckily for me it means I can't dictate the entire menus to my meat-free preferences.  I will likely still contribute a dish or two, and have rounded up recipes that look ever-so-tempting.  If I don't make them this year, I sure as heck am keeping them in my back pocket for future holidays.  The great news is that the dishes I've compiled into the Perfect Thanksgiving Meatless Menu out will appeal to herbivores AND carnivores alike.  None contain Tofurkey and all embody the flavors of fall in the best ways.  For those of you considering a turkey-less Thanksgiving, consider this: 

A meatless meal can be just as rich and delicious as any classic Thanksgiving dish.  Plus, think of all the time (and money!) you’ll save when prepping, brining, cooking, basting, and stuffing the turkey is out of the picture (plus here is this example of the terrible grossness of poultry raised for meat)!  

Flavors I really associate with Thanksgiving dinner and autumn in general are cozy, rich, toasty, savory....anything that tastes of sage, rosemary, warming spices, squash, cranberry, maple, apple, and flaky-buttery goodness.  Below are the delectable-looking dishes I have rounded up using these flavor standards to make the best veggie holiday spread around.  Click on pictures and links to get the recipes!

This salad would make a divine starter, but I'd add some roasted beets.  You could make your own but these are my absolute favorite.

Yummy nummy creamed spinach.  I'd eat this and green bean casserole at every holiday meal (hint hint Mom and Dad).

Booya, cornbread.  Give this vegan option a shot (and then let me know how it was!), or if you're lazy like me use the boxed kind or just roll out some crescent rolls!  

You're talking to a girl who hated cauliflower until verrry recently (like within the last year probably).  I was fine with broccoli and other veggies--even brussel sprouts--but something about cauliflower made me cringe.  But then I discovered cauliflower steaks and am totally converted.  This mustard-parmesan whole roasted cauliflower would make a great meaty main-course substitute, especially if you whip up a little tarragon mayo for the side and a drizzle of lemon.  Oh lahhhd my mouth waters!

Mashed taters ain't nothin' without gravy, but giblets are gross!  I'd whip up this vegetarian gravy, or this vegan gravy to top off my whipped spuds. 

Martha always does holidays right, and these twice-baked butternut squash seem like no exception to her mastery of meals.  They look fresh and filling and would make an excellent main course.

How savory does this forest floor mushroom oat risotto look?!  If you're not vegan a little sprinkling of sharp white cheddar might take this dish over the top. 

Since my mama's cranberry relish recipes are Top Secret, I had to share this scrumptious-looking alternative with you.  It's not Thanksgiving without some cranberry sauce, after all.  

This tasty-looking treat is whipped sweet potatoes with bananas and honey.  I like the alternative to a marshmallow topping since marshmallows are usually made with animal gelatin.  With the honey and banana it sounds good enough to be dessert!

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving must, but I'd totally add this apple cardamon crumble, poached pears, and apple cheddar crumble pie to the dessert table as well.

Don't forget the drinks!  This fig/vanilla/cardamon-infused vodka^^ would make a mighty tasty libation, as would this seasonal apple-y moscow mule:

You could even mix up your own fall beverage using your favorite fall fruit, liquor, and herbs!  

You're welcome for making your mouth water.  :)

I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving week!  I'd love to hear about your own tasty menus and traditions!