Archive | June, 2010

“You had steak and shrimp when I wasn’t even here?!”

30 Jun

Sorry, Madison! They did. On Sunday night, I grilled a couple of steaks from our farmer and some skewers of shrimp (more on that later). Madison was at a sleepover with my nieces, and my nephew was here for a sleepover with Brady and Logan. She was not happy when she got home and found out what the boys had for dinner.

I had decided I was going to make my third recipe for the Eating Well magazine monthly challenge — Grilled Shrimp Skewers over White Bean Salad from the July/August 2010 issue. I didn’t have quite enough shrimp in the freezer to feed all these boys (and hubby), so I thawed a package of steak to go with it. I, of course, had grilled portobello mushrooms instead of meat, which I have become somewhat addicted to. I concocted a yummy marinade that leaves them tasting very meaty when grilled (recipe below). 

The recipe from Eating Well was fantastic. The boys loved the shrimp and everyone liked the white bean salad. I think my 8-year-old nephew even went back for seconds or thirds! As for me…I am in love with it. Honestly, I could eat it every day. The only real change I made to the recipe was using 1-1/2 teaspoons dried sage instead of 2 tablespoons fresh sage. I don’t have sage growing in my herb garden, but the end result was perfect. This salad has a very Mediterranean feel, and could be used as a basis for many other salads. Personally, I’ll add more grape tomatoes next time, but I could see it with some olives, or maybe some grilled artichoke chunks or sliced red peppers. The dressing is lemony, but not overpowering. I would maybe even add a splash of red wine vinegar to it next time for an added zing.

I’m excited to say that we’re 3 for 3 on the Eating Well challenge recipes so far!

Meaty Marinade
makes about 1/2 cup

1/4 cup olive oil
2-1/2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce (vegan, if you can find it)
1 tablespoon grainy mustard (mine is called “grainy mustard with garlic”)
1/2 teaspoon McCormick grill seasoning
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour over item to be marinated and refrigerate. The longer it marinates, the more meaty the flavor. Grill and enjoy!


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Almost tears. Twice in the same day?!

29 Jun

Yesterday, I found myself holding back tears. Twice. And not for the same reason.

After having my nephew here for a sleepover with the boys, my sister and I met in Troy, Michigan, for lunch at Panera and a matinee movie with all six of our kids. We took them to see Toy Story 3. Though their ages range from 5 to 12, I think they all enjoyed it from beginning to end. I know I did. I’ve seen the two previous Toy Story movies more than once. Like those, I laughed out loud through most of this one. But, I can admit — I got choked up at the end. I won’t give away what happens, but I was a little surprised at how “invested” I had become in a group of toys trying to continue making kids happy. Pixar really does a fantastic job of showing the “feelings” of the toys — between the wonderful cast doing the voices, and the creation and animation of the characters’ faces. It was a great movie with a tear-jerker ending. I highly recommend it.

I also held back tears earlier in the day, while driving. (Crying while traveling up I-75 with a carload of kids would not have been a wise thing to do.)

Before I get into why I got choked up, let me take you on a quick tour through the last six months.
I have high blood pressure. My prescription meds caused an allergic reaction so I quit taking them so I could work on controlling my BP through diet and exercise. In January, I went vegan. I completely stopped eating and drinking anything that came from an animal. Studies show that living a vegan lifestyle can be a huge step in controlling BP.

I’ve always been a meat eater. Choosing to eliminate animals from my diet meant educating myself by reading. A lot. I read everything I could get my hands on to help me understand veganism and what to eat and how to cook it. And I still read all the time on the subject.

In the process of making this transition, I’ve learned truckloads of info about the meat industry in this country. More than I ever wanted to know. It’s a scary, frightening industry filled with cruelty, mistreatment, filth, drugs, germs and untimely death. It’s disgusting.

Like most Americans, I was blind to how meat gets to my grocery store. I just bought what was on sale or looked good without giving much thought to how it got there. Now I know. I’ve read. I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve watched the documentaries.

Don’t get me wrong — I do not think humans should stop eating animals. Humans have hunted and fished and farmed forever. It’s part of the food chain. But we must stop supporting factory farming. Animals raised for food should be allowed to live the way nature intended. Not jammed into barns, forced to eat chemical-laden corn instead of grass, jacked up with antibiotics to deal with the illnesses caused by living in their own droppings, and never seeing the sun until they travel to the slaughterhouse.

Which brings me to why I got choked up while driving yesterday. I passed a semi. Not just any semi. An enormous truck, jam-packed from top to bottom and front to back with tiny cages stuffed with chickens on their way to slaughter. The ones on the outside edges being whipped by the rain and wind. The ones on the inside still unable to see the light of day. And all of them frantically trying to figure out what’s going on. If you’ve seen the movie Food Inc., you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It makes me sick to my stomach. It breaks my heart.

And leaves me with one request: PLEASE know where your meat is coming from. Buy directly from local farms. Not only are you supporting your local economy, you’re also showing factory farms (grocery store meat) that you do not support their cruel practices. It’s a simple choice.

You can find local farms in your area by visiting You can learn more about where your food comes from by watching the movie Food Inc. And you can learn more than you want to know about factory farming by reading Eating Animals, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and many more books in your local library, or by searching the web.

Thanks for listening.

Happy Chickens at Omega Farms

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Peas and basil and corn, oh my!

26 Jun

I love summer's bounty of fresh vegetables. My garden is growing like crazy and we've already enjoyed various fresh lettuces for the last several weeks. My tomato and green bean plants are covered in blooms, and the squashes are trailing vines and blossoms right over the edges of the garden boxes.

Today, I harvested my first batch of peas! I remember shelling peas as a kid, and eating many of them straight out of the pods. If you ever have the chance to do that, I highly recommend it. The taste and texture are completely different than the frozen peas you get in winter (and don't even mention canned peas to me. Blech.)

Another thing I love? Fresh basil. It's my all-time favorite herb. I have a big pot of it growing on my patio, along with a variety of other herbs. It's fantastic chopped and sprinkled on fresh sliced tomatoes, delicious over pasta with roasted vegetables, tasty in vegetable soup. And, it contains magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin A — all of which are beneficial to healthy blood pressure.

Oh, and I love corn on the cob. Is there a more perfect summer food? (Ok, maybe watermelon…or tomatoes…) But, really. Is there anyone that can resist those beautiful, golden ears of corn drizzled in butter (vegan, of course) and sprinkled with cracked black pepper? I don't think so. I wish I had room in my garden for rows and rows of sweet corn. I'll just have to get them at the farmer's market. Here's something interesting I'll bet you didn't know about sweet corn: it offers many health benefits! Apparently, cooking it releases antioxidants that can substantially reduce the chance of heart disease and cancer. Sweet!
My second Eating Well challenge recipe from the July/August 2010 issue combines both of these wonderful flavors into savory little pancakes…and they are divine. My kids devoured the Corn & Basil Cakes (page 37) in no time and were begging for more! 
When I first looked at the recipe, I thought, "half a cup of chopped basil?!" But I went with it, preparing the recipe exactly as listed in the magazine, and I'm so glad I did. I was afraid the basil would overpower the whole pancake, but it was just right. They are super easy to make, have a minimal number of ingredients, and would be absolutely fabulous alongside anything you decide to barbecue…chicken, ribs, tofu, portobello mushrooms, whatever. 
Challenge recipe #2 — another success! Now on to #3…

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Oh, man. This stuff’s so good I could drink it!

24 Jun

Those are the exact words out of my 5-year-old’s mouth as he tasted the dipping sauce for Eating Well magazine’s Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken Nuggets with Blackberry Mustard. More on the recipe below…

If you haven’t picked up the latest issue of this wonderful magazine, make sure you do — because I’M IN IT!

My story and blog are discussed in the Letter from the Editor on page 8! I’m so excited that people are finding my information, recipes and comments inspiring. I should note, though, that limited space in the magazine meant limited information on my history. And I want to clarify one thing: Yes, I’ve had high blood pressure for 12 years, but I’ve only been fighting it with diet for 6 months. Prior to that, I was on various prescription drugs that caused a severe allergic reaction. That’s what led me to this journey to achieve normal blood pressure more naturally.

High blood pressure is a serious condition. It can lead to kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and many other things. Living with it uncontrolled would be a pretty stupid thing to do. Though my BP was under control with the drugs, the reactions I had to taking them for 12 years (one of which landed me in the ER!) made me seek out alternative ways of getting it back to normal. I made a pledge this past January to try to get it controlled without the use of drugs — through diet, exercise and supplements. I’m giving myself one year.

So, back to the magazine. At the end of the editor’s letter, she offered up a challenge to try 10 recipes from the current issue (July/August 2010) and to post comments on their blog. I’m taking this challenge and sharing the results and our comments here on my blog.

The first recipe I selected is one I knew my kids would want to try: Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken Nuggets with Blackberry Mustard. It’s not vegan, but it’s a super-healthy way to feed your chicken nugget-lovers a better nugget. (Did you know that a McDonald’s chicken nugget has about 60 ingredients and most of them are chemicals or derivatives of corn?!) Eating Well’s nuggets were such a cinch to put together, I had dinner on the table in about 30 minutes. I had some locally-raised chicken in my freezer so I sliced the breasts into strips. You simply toss the chicken strips in cornmeal and saute them in an oiled pan. The dipping sauce was also a breeze. I used raspberries because I had some in my fridge. It was so yummy, my kids were even dunking their redskin potato wedges and peas in it! I ate vegan chik’n strips with the dipping sauce.

I’m happy to report that challenge recipe #1 was a total success. I’ll be adding it to my regular dinner rotation. Be sure to check back often as I make my way through this challenge. You might just discover the ultimate summer recipe!

Mediterranean camping?

21 Jun

If you spend any time whatsoever reading food magazines or watching cooking shows, you've probably heard of the Mediterranean diet. The word diet, here, refers to a way of eating for the people who live around the Mediterranean Sea. They thrive on the freshest fruits and vegetables native to their region, whole grains such as rice and pasta, homemade breads, fresh-caught fish, and plenty of olives and olive oil. And they avoid processed, packaged foods.  Many of them eat meat only once a week, living almost entirely a vegetarian lifestyle. As a result, they have virtually no heart disease. I'm intrigued by this.

In addition, the Italian in me loves the foods native to this region. My grandpa (my mom's dad) was from Bari, Italy, which is on the Adriatic Sea side of Italy. He enjoyed cooking and his meals were very representative of the foods in the Mediterranean diet — delicious pasta with homemade tomato sauce (made with tomatoes from his own garden), steamed green beans, homemade breads and rolls, and salads that included homegrown tomatoes and basil tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. He canned all kinds of vegetables from his large garden and even made homemade wine. (He also made outrageously good homemade meatballs!) 
My mom continues to cook in a similar manner — the freshest ingredients she can get, homegrown herbs and vegetables, breads made from scratch and very few packaged ingredients. I guess that explains why I have such an obsession with good food. My own garden is filling in quickly with vegetables and herbs and I can't wait to cook with homegrown produce!
On the last full day of camping, we went Mediterranean with our dinner. We started off with homemade hummus and whole wheat pita bread, plus a tray of all kinds of olives, drizzled in olive oil and topped with fresh basil. My mom made a yogurt and herb based marinade for chicken and combined it with fresh onions, grape tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers to make kabobs, which we grilled (meat-free for me). I made Bobby Flay's recipe for Greek Potatoes with Lemon Vinaigrette (per the reviews, I cut back a little on the olive oil). My sister made a yummy Wheat Berry & Edamame Salad she had found in a magazine ad. It was a fabulous dinner eaten like they do in the Mediterranean region — slow and relaxed, in the company of family. It was a wonderful night.

Although I don't have any recipes to post from dinner, I must post this appetizer spread my mom made one of the days we were there. I think it's right in line with the Mediterranean flavors. The original recipe was for roasted artichoke pesto, but she chopped all the ingredients rather than pureeing them in the food processor. The result was chunky, but a little creamy, and absolutely addictive on crackers. I plan to make a big batch to eat for lunch over several days!

makes about 2 cups
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 packages frozen artichokes
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Mix all ingredients but the basil leaves and spread out on a baking sheet. Cover with foil and roast on the grill until the artichokes are tender and lightly browned, about 35 minutes. Cool completely. Dice the mixture or pulse in a food processor to desired consistency. Serve on while grain crackers or bread slices. Enjoy!

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Happy Father’s Day!

20 Jun

I love camping. I think we've been going camping my entire life. Growing up, my sister and I looked forward to our family camping trips more than just about anything. We camped throughout most of Michigan, from the Irish Hills to Sleeping Bear Dunes to Copper Harbor to the shores of all of the Great Lakes, and many other beautiful places this country has to offer. Now that I have kids of my own, I'm so glad to be camping with them, and thrilled that most of these trips include my mom and dad. 

Day 4 of our Pokagon camping trip was another great day. Lots of hiking, biking and a toasty afternoon at the beach (or, should I say smokin' hot afternoon at the beach?!) But, the kids had a blast searching for interesting shells and rocks and splashing in the cool water.

This night was our Mexican Fiesta. It's one of our favorite camping meals because we have a huge buffet filled with all kinds of things to put on a tortilla. We started off with a tasty Creamy Salsa Dip with homemade tortilla chips for an appetizer. This recipe has been in our family for probably twenty years, but I hadn't made it for a long time. It uses mayo and cream cheese, but I chose to veganize it and it ended up tasting just as good as, if not better than, the original. (recipe and photo at end of post)
The guys then grilled steak and shrimp, and my mom and I grilled sliced onions and peppers, for fajitas. For toppings, I made fresh guacamole and we had black beans, lettuce from my garden, chopped tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, black olives and probably a few other things I'm forgetting right now. 
After dinner, we celebrated both my dad's birthday and Father's Day with him. He opened presents after my dessert of carrot cake cupcakes (from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World). Delish.

Our midnight snack – Chicken Bacon Poppers – continued the theme of our Mexican Fiesta. My mom introduced us to these tasty campfire treats last summer. You season strips of chicken breast with cumin, garlic powder and chili powder. Then stuff them into fresh jalapenos that have been cut in half and seeded. Wrap a strip of bacon around the whole thing and secure with a toothpick. Grill them over the campfire until the chicken is done and the bacon is crispy, then serve with a dipping sauce of sour cream, lime juice, cumin, salt and garlic. I didn't eat any this trip since I'm no longer eating meat, but trust me — they are fantastic. I did attempt to make a vegan version using Trader Joe's vegan chicken strips that I had left from earlier in the week, but they didn't really work out. I'm going to have to experiment with them a little more to see if I can make a meat-free version without sacrificing flavor.

Although I don't get to see my dad today, I'm so glad we got to celebrate Father's Day with both of his kids and all of his grandkids together at the campground. I love you, Dad! Happy Father's Day!
Here's the recipe and picture of the Creamy Salsa Dip:

makes about 2 cups
1 8-ounce package Tofutti vegan cream cheese
1/4 cup Vegenaise
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup chopped black olives
1 4-ounce can diced green chilies, drained
1 cup chopped, seeded fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup sliced green onions
salt substitute
Combine cream cheese, Vegenaise, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder in a food processor. Process until smooth. Add black olives and green chilies and pulse until just blended. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl and stir in tomatoes and green onions. Season with salt, if necessary. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight and enjoy!

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A little birthday celebration while camping.

19 Jun

My family has a lot of summer birthdays, and since we were all together camping, we celebrated three of them in one weekend!

First up was Brady's. After a delicious dinner of chicken and vegetable packets cooked over hot coals (mine had the Trader Joe's vegan chicken strips in it), I served up some sweet and sticky vegan cupcakes from Isa's Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World cookbook. These are your basic chocolate cupcake with cherry filling inside and topped with buttercream frosting and chocolate sprinkles. They require a fork, but are oh-so-tasty!

After dessert and presents, the kids took off on their bikes and we cleaned up and got a campfire going. When they had exhausted themselves bike riding, we all sat around the fire enjoying each other's company. Then my dad decided to surprise his grandkids with homemade kettle corn. He had found a recipe online for making it in a pan over the camp stove. He made several rounds, getting it just right, and they gobbled it up like crazy!

Now, you would think their bellies would be stuffed, but a couple hours later, we started making late-night campfire snacks and they gobbled those up, too! My brother-in-law made a new recipe for shrimp, fresh basil and a slice of red pepper wrapped in a strip of prosciutto. They were cooked in the pie irons over the campfire and they came out beautifully. He served it with a homemade garlic-mustard aioli. Being vegan, I didn't have one but everyone else loved them. Along with the shrimp were other various dips and breads, crackers, etc. I made a Tuscan White Bean Spread with pita wedges that was fabulous. It's very easy to make and the longer it sits in the fridge, the better the flavor gets.

makes about 2 cups
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2-3 large basil leaves
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
dash crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
In a food processor, combine all ingredients but the olive oil, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until it's absorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Enjoy!

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