Cooking in Quarantine
Hey, all you cool cats and kittens, how's it going inside your own home? Cozy?
My hope for you is that you are safe, food secure, and with folks you love (or with no one if that's your jam).
I grew up poor, I'm the "welfare child" who lived off food stamps. People always think they are speaking poorly of women when they talk like that, which of course, they are. I know as a woman that I am always wrong and bad. But, also, as the child who benefitted from the welfare and food stamps my mom received, I grew up hearing messages about how bad I was too. Anyway, that stuff wasn't nearly enough, so most of the food I ate growing up came from grocery store dumpsters. As such, I grew up on lots of produce (because that's easy enough to wash off) and canned or dry goods.
All this is simply to say that my upbringing was all about making use of what you had.
Thanks to a food insecure childhood, my pantry and freezer are always full to maintain an underlying anxiety about not having food. This wasn't an issue for me until I had children of my own, but now it's nearly compulsive and has finally come in handy. My husband hoards (that's maybe a strong word) things that "might be useful" some day, and he is always so delighted when I need something that he has saved. I finally understand that elation as I look at a full pantry and realize I don't have to face the scary grocery stores now. Yes, this is privilege and maybe gross to many folks, but it's also important in my family where I have two children to care for and both my partner and I are on the "vulnerable" list because of pre-existing conditions.
Anyway, this is getting dark fast, but these are dark times and it's hard to write any other way. My fiction is a mess right now too.
Beans. If you have the means to get dry beans, that's a great staple for nutrition, satiation, and versatility. I made chickpeas the other day and made half into a "chicken salad" type mix, and the other half I marinated in teriyaki sauce for 24 hours (after they were cooked). Teriyaki chickpeas are an affordable and delicious stand in for your mock meats or tofu if you can't get those right now. I also made teriyaki lentils the other day that turned out great! Just cooked the lentils like normal and then added them to a pan with teriyaki and ginger and green onions. We had them over rice and it was perfect. I mention these teriyaki preparations because typical bean recipes will get monotonous after a while, so trying new flavors will help.
Rice. Gotta have something to put your beans on. Seriously, though, rice is a nice staple that you can take in any direction. If you are tired of rice and beans, think outside the box. Make sweet rice porridge with apples and raisins or lemony rice soup.
Regrow your green onions. You can regrow lots of vegetables from your kitchen scraps, and man is that my deal, but green onions are the easiest, and if you are eating lots of canned/frozen food, fresh green onions can really make a big impact. Fresh herbs also help, if you can get some plants that's ideal.
Frozen veg is totally okay. Sure, fresh produce is wonderful, but if you are trying to stretch out time between those grocery visits, frozen veg is a great way to give yourself more time. Especially if you are going to cook the items anyway, why not use frozen.
Yeah, make your own bread. I mean, it's really delicious and easy if you use a no knead method. I don't use a recipe (I'm sorry, I should just stop writing and not continue this charade that I'm somehow a food blogger), but my method is super easy. Just find a No Knead bread recipe. That's the way to go if you are a beginner... Or if you've made a lot of bread and just realize kneading is for the birds.
Just use whatever you have. When I was in high school, I moved in with my grandpa, who had a big prolific garden. I would get home from my ridiculously long bus ride and he'd have whatever was ripe harvested and waiting on the counter. Then we made whatever sauce/vehicle we felt like along with the veg. Don't get too caught up in recipes and specific veg needs. Also, since you are making so much bread, might as well just make veg and bean soups.
Personally, I'm gardening and foraging a lot too. I went on my first grocery run the other day and came home with a cherry tree. I don't know, it makes me feel better. Plants like herbs and kale regrow quickly and can grow in containers. Tomatoes too, but not as quickly. Radishes grow pretty quickly too... But then you have a lot of radishes... which is okay, I guess. Also, those beans you have are seeds, so if you want to grow some of your own beans, just soak them overnight, then drain and wait until they sprout a little tail and cover them with a little soil.
Do whatever you can to not stress too much about food, but I know it's a hard time. I hope you are well. I'm terrible at this, sorry.
Health and Veganism
This post is not a recipe or about gadgets. I've been having some health issues and felt like writing about it. Feel free to skip this one if it's not for you.
I've been vegan long enough, and in enough situations, to have heard it all. Back in college, when I was just a vegan-curious baby, calling myself a vegetarian while eating fish, I had a boyfriend who told me that vegans were sickly and had dark circles under their eyes. Love is blind, and I actually believed him instead of my own clear eyes... I knew a vegan in my biology class who was active and healthy without any dark marks under her eyes. I was still dating that boyfriend, and eating more meat and dairy than I ever had in my life, when I finally figured out that the reason I felt like I had food poisoning multiple times a week was because I was allergic to dairy.
My fatphobic doctor said it was normal that I sometimes went a week without pooping, and that the reason I was vomiting so violently every couple days was because I was obviously overeating. The doctor seriously looked my body up and down and said that. He did zero tests. A friend of mine had recently been diagnosed with a milk allergy because he was a slim man so his doctor had listened to his symptoms and done a test like a professional. He said, "Your symptoms sound like mine. You should try reading every label and eating nothing with milk for a week and see if that helps." And it did. And when I switched doctors, the blood test confirmed that I had a dairy allergy. The best irony is that I was vomiting so violently, that during this time I had red circles around my eyes where I had burst blood vessels. Those circles around my eyes were from consuming animal products. So there.
So I had heard the "veganism will make you sick" argument, but then I went vegan and I heard a new line, which was that NOW I was going to cure all diseases and become the perfect ideal of health. I didn't. Also, I had no diseases to cure. As a vegan blogger, I've actually said to friends, "I feel like just because going vegan didn't cure some terminal illness, no one wants to know how I make vegan cookies." It's true.
I went through a vegan pregnancy, and seemed to hear both extremes, "Oh that's so wonderful that you are eating so healthy!" and "You can't have a healthy vegan pregnancy!" The baby was over 9 lbs at birth, and it was a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, I did get a stomach bug in my 9th month of pregnancy, and even though a month before I had had my vitamin levels tested and everything was great, I went in at 4 months postpartum feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. I was depressed, weak, and felt awful. Apparently making 9 lbs of baby while throwing up constantly with a stomach flu for a week took a bit out of me. At that time, my thyroid levels were low. My doctor told me that I'd need to take thyroid medications for the rest of my life.
I was skeptical. Didn't it make more sense that my body was clearly in crisis, and when I got my vitamin levels up, my body would equalize. Oh no, I was assured that thyroids don't work like that. So I started reading on the internet like an idiot instead of listening to my doctor. Over and over I saw that soy was bad for the thyroid and vegan diets were dangerous for the thyroid and yada yada yada. I even went to a doctor recommended by a friend who did some alternative testing and said my vegan diet would kill me. If I were a smarter businesswoman, I'd say that I cured my thyroid disease with a vegan diet. The truth is that I raised my vitamin levels with a vegan diet (really just adding high doses of vitamin D and B12 for a bit until I leveled out and could go back to a regular multivitamin). My personal belief is that I cured my thyroid out of pure stubbornness. I didn't want to have to take medications for life. I stopped taking my thyroid medication after 4 months, when my vitamin levels all tested normal, and I've had textbook perfect thyroid levels every check for the last 8 years.
About 3 years ago, I went to a new doctor because we have moved and I needed my thyroid tested and an annual. I said I was fine, but this doctor actually listened and paid attention. Sure, I felt like I was feeling way more hung over than seemed normal when I'd have just a glass or two of wine. Yeah, I felt fatigue sometimes. He ordered an excessive amount of blood work, but the results showed that my liver enzymes were elevated and my inflammation markers were high. I stopped drinking alcohol and tried to just be aware of chemical exposure. I stopped eating the wild blackberries by my house where I saw them staying the plants with weed killer. Just little things like that. My doctor said that we are exposed to toxins all the time, and my liver was just reacting to something that I had consumed or touched or inhaled... There's just no way of knowing what caused it.
A year later, when I went for my next annual, things seemed fairly normal. Everything had mostly calmed down. I had some abnormal cells in my pap that year, and I was scared for the next 12 months waiting or a retest. The following year (about a year ago), my pap was normal and I was so relieved. During that visit, I told the doctor that I felt like my cramps had gotten much worse over that year (which had of course kicked my anxiety into high gear after that abnormal pap). I was sure that I had cancer. When my pap was normal, though, we talked about the symptoms, and he said that sounded like endometriosis. Reading about endometriosis made me really depressed and hopeless feeling, on top of the pain that was getting more and more intense. My doctor said there was the option for a surgical diagnosis, but I didn't want to consider surgery at that time.
In the months following that visit, the pain got worse and worse, making me unable to function some days. A friend of mine said I should see her gynecologist for a second opinion, and I went in on a day when I had felt like my left ovary was going to burst and had felt that way for a week. They did an ultrasound, and the ovary was totally fine. Picture perfect. That doctor also said it sounded like I had endometriosis, and he could do surgery to diagnose it and remove it. He said, "Best case scenario, we burn out the bad tissue, and then in a year or two we repeat the process, and we keep doing that until you hit menopause." I sat in my car after that appointment and sobbed and sobbed so hard that I couldn't drive.
After that doctor visit, something strange happened, the pelvic pain started to go away, or at least lessen. Instead, though, I started getting pain in my gums and bumpy eczema on my hands when I ovulated. I went to the dentist and the dermatologist, and both said it seemed to be hormone related.
Then the joint pain started. My hips, legs, knees, feet, and hands throb during ovulation, in the bones. I've read that this can happen with endometriosis, but felt different. This was so deep in my bones, but did flare with ovulation. I also started having oral allergy syndrome, where I'd get pain/itching feeling in my mouth when I ate certain fruits that I'm not allergic to. This all felt like autoimmune disease. I also kept hearing about Lyme, and I've had plenty of tick bites growing up in the Sierra Nevadas.
When I went for my annual, I shared all these concerns with my doctor, and he ran lots of tests. Most things were normal. My vitamin D was low (and I'm now supplementing heavily in hopes to bring that to normal), but also I tested positive for autoimmune antibodies. The way it was explained to me is that it's like when you get a vaccine or get the chicken pox and your body creates antibodies to fight that illness. My body, for some reason, made antibodies to fight itself. Once you have them, your body can always flare up with them. My numbers were the lowest possible result you can get and still be a positive, though, and that gives us some hope. The pattern of the antibodies is associated with systemic Lupus. This is not the same as having a Lupus diagnosis, though.
I also did a saliva test for my hormones, and I have a slight estrogen dominance. The theory is that either I have endometriosis AND an autoimmune issue, or, more likely since I never had these endometriosis symptoms before, my autoimmune issues are messing with my hormones. Again, I'm taking back to cautionary "soy estrogen" bull, but I have been at this long enough to know that is just pseudoscience. For now, I am working on building up my vitamin D levels, keeping my joints moving as much as I can, taking turmeric daily, and CBD oil to help with pain and inflammation. My hope is that once again, when I get my vitamins leveled out, the rest will fall in line.
Anyway, these are the health things I'm dealing with now, and wether it's endometriosis and/or Lupus, I may be looking at lifelong chronic pain, which is messing up my mental state quite a bit. All that said, I'm finding great support online, and I know veganism isn't going to cause or cure these issues. Vegans can be sick, experience chronic pain, and even have nutritional deficiencies (my B12 is great! It's just D I struggle with!). I am sharing because it seems you only hear about sick vegans in "I'm no longer vegan" confessionals or wildly misleading news stories. You also hear a lot about curing everything under the sun with a vegan diet, and I don't doubt that there are folks like me who have been told they will be sick forever and then just not been, but it's not always going to work.
My mom thinks I should just for 28 days and just see if that fixes everything, and I've thought about it, but for now I'm trying to do what's best for my physical and mental health, and that means solid food and balance. I ordered the book below and may follow her protocol at some point, but not right now. I hope if you find this because you are struggling with your health, you don't feel so alone. Being in pain and feeling shame or guilt about your ethics is not a good combo. It's okay to be sick an vegan.
My biggest pet peeve is when someone asks in a vegan group, "What are the best vegan recipes for picky kids?" It's a pet peeve because picky takes all different forms. The same goes for "What's the best vegan cookbook?" It really depends on the kinds of foods you like, how much time/skill you want to put into your cooking, and what you want to make.
However, you can't go wrong with an Isa book.
Okay, there are no absolutes and the same cookbook isn't going to be great for everyone, but I absolutely LOVE Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipes and all her books are gold. These are great for all skill levels as the flavors range from familiar to bold, and the language isn't as adult-themed as Thug Kitchen, but it's funny and snarky in a way that's inviting without alienating younger or more sensitive audiences. Isa is relatable and instructional without talking down to an experienced cook or talking over the head of a beginner.
Veganomicon is a great basic book. The cornbread recipe alone is perfection. I haven't explored a lot through the rest of the book though, because there aren't pictures for each recipe, which for me is a big negative. If you are team photos in your cookbook, this isn't it.
Favorite Recipe: Skillet Cornbread
Pros: LOTS of recipes and great for a new vegan.
Cons: Not a photo book.
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is how I learned to bake. Before going vegan, I wasn't really a baker, but this book, along with Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and Vegan Pie in the Sky (my least favorite of the three, but probably just because I'm not a huge pie person) all helped me learn to bake with simple instructions that really walk you through the process and lots of color photos. I've gotten lots of compliments from non-vegans using these recipes.
Favorite Recipes: ALL the cupcakes! The Velveteen cupcake is really outstanding, though, if I had to pick a favorite. From the cookie book, the Sell Your Soul Pumpkin cookies are probably my favorite, but there are so many other great ones. For pie, the Pumpkin Pie recipe is a hit every time and really is perfection.
Appetite for Reduction is a diet-ish book, but not really. The recipes are all flavorful and rich, just a bit lower in fat/sugar. The other great thing about this book is that it's all quick and easy meals. Fast fast fast. This is a mom's dream of a book.
Favorite Recipe: Chickpea Piccata is a delicious reimagining of familiar flavor with a new protein.
Vegan Brunch answers the age old question, what do vegans eat for breakfast other than smoothies? This is such a common question among new vegans, we need this information out in the world.
Favorite Recipe: I can't pick just one- ALL THE WAFFLE RECIPES. My husband is the waffle man, and he was having a hard time making them work vegan until we got this book. Every waffle recipe in here is a winner.
Isa Does It! is why I'm currently obsessed with rutabagas. The flavor combinations and fun she has with food are just so creative. I would never had mixed rosemary, rutabagas, sherry, and star anise in a soup- BUT IT WORKS. I'm currently cooking through this book with a friend who's not vegan and having a blast. A few recipes have fallen a bit flat, but it's nice to have simplicity sometimes too.
Favorite Recipe: Fluffy Pillow Pancakes (they really are mile high and live up to the name) or Creamy Rutabaga Soup (I'm obsessed).
Pros: Lots of different types of recipes
Cons: A few are a bit plain, but nothing tastes bad.
Vegan with a Vengeance has the best french toast recipe of all time and the raspberry and chocolate blondies are not only perfection as written, I've adapted that recipe with other flavors and it's always delicious. Somehow I got a digital copy of this book that was an app on my phone several phones ago and I've lost it in time, so I think a hard copy of this one is going under the Christmas tree for me!
Favorite Recipes: the French Toast wins as all time favorite.
Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook. Okay, I own this book, but I don't think I've tried any of the recipes yet. I'm sorry. I am certain there are absolute gems in this one too, though, knowing my track record with Isa's books, so if you have tried some of these recipes, please comment with your reviews!
I wrote a children's book, How Our Vegan Family Celebrates, to help vegans and vegan allies know how to include vegans in their celebrations and give affirmation to vegan kids who may feel alone. The book goes through holidays throughout the year and has a section at the back with parent tips!
Order your copy here today!
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I love cooking and playing in the kitchen with my toys, so let me share that joy with you and your family to bring the FUN back into the kitchen!