Tofu and a vegetarianism-related rant

So I just chowed down on the results of Mini-Resolution #13: Get Acquainted with Soy and I’m pleased to report it was deemed a success by both myself and the carnivore I live with.

In Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health program, Dr. Weil asks that we familiarize ourselves with some of the soy products out there. He thinks the world would be a much better place if we all cut way down on the amount of animal protein we consume — he eats no meat, only fish — and I think he may be right.

It’s something I’ve been mulling over for more than a year now. I think PETA started it. I watched a video on their website called Meet Your Meat. I should have looked away and continued my life in happy oblivion. I didn’t. This was a mistake. Alec Baldwin narrates it. That should have been my first clue.

I’m embedding the video in this post with a word of caution: it’s extremely graphic and difficult to watch.

The video explores factory farming, going through the whole slaughter process for poultry, cattle and pigs in these confinement facilities which, above all else, aim to produce the most meat, milk or eggs at the lowest possible cost.

It’s disturbing and shocking which is — I think we can all agree on this — what PETA does best. But the thing that struck me most was that I could barely stand to watch these animals be killed. It took all my will not to look away from the screen. Then I started to think what it must be like to work in one of these places and how I wouldn’t last five minutes.

Which led me to the following: if I can’t even bear to watch how this meat is produced, if I can’t even stomach the thought of seeing this process, let alone being a part of it, do I really have a right to eat the products of it?

That’s an ethical dilemma I haven’t yet reconciled.

Now I certainly acknowledge that this isn’t representative of all meat production. Both my parents grew up on farms and I know for a fact the cruelty that’s shown in this video wouldn’t have been tolerated on their family farms or likely on any small-scale farms today.

Of course that’s not the only issues with being a meat-eater, though. There’s also the environmental issue:

According to a 2006 United Nations initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contributes on a “massive scale” to deforestation[2], air and water pollution, land degradation, loss of topsoil, climate change[3], the overuse of resources including oil and water, and loss of biodiversity.

And, of course, our primary concern in this forum, there’s also the health benefits of forgoing meat to consider. Vegetarians tend to have:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease and Alzheimer’s
  • Lower body mass index (BMI), cholesterol and blood pressure than non-vegetarians

Which, I believe, is the kinda thing Dr. Weil digs. This brings me back to the original point of my post: becoming better acquainted with soy. I originally wanted to try something really out of the ordinary for me: something like tempeh or TVP.

Alas, I couldn’t find either at my local grocery store.

(This may or may not be related to the fact that I was looking for these soy products on the same shopping trip I spent 20-ish minutes foraging for Quinoa and Kasha. You can only circle the store so many times before you start to look suspicious.)

I did, however, find pressed tofu which Dr. Weil also mentioned in his Week 2 tirade about the world of soy.

Pressed tofu is the meat-lover’s tofu as it has a more sturdy texture than the regular variety. It’s essentially just regular tofu that has been pressed to get rid of excess liquid and firm it up.

It’s also sold in flavoured varieties. I bought the “savoury” kind. This didn’t seem to amount to much, other than it was brown on the outside. It still tasted like tofu. Which is to say it tasted like whatever it was cooked with.

And on this happy occasion, it was cooked with red and green peppers and onion for a very healthy and delicious Tofu Fajita. The recipe is (again) courtesy of Dr. Weil. Check it out here.

We omitted the hot pepper because we’re spice-intolerant; some day I hope to live dangerously and incorporate a Serrano pepper. For now, I’m content with the kick of a medium salsa tossed in as a topping.

The recipe was super easy and quick. It definitely trumps chicken fajitas in that it doesn’t require the foresight to take some chicken out of the freezer a day before you want to eat them.

Nutrition-wise, you’re looking at about 30o calories per fajita with 10.5 g of fat, a whopping 23 g of protein and 8 g of fibre. In summary: pretty awesome.

Overall verdict: friggin’ delicious. I’d make these over chicken fajitas any day and — more importantly — my carnivore fiancé would be happy to eat them.

Now that’s a win-win.

And that means it’s tally time!

Days to go: 338

Mini-resolutions to go: 248

Also, I know I’m supposed to start Week 3 of Dr. Weil’s program tomorrow. That won’t be happening. For the record I have completed all the mini-resolutions related to Week 2 (can I get a “Hell, yeah!”) but want to get them in writing before I embark on some new ones. And that’s not going to happen tonight. Because it’s 10:30. And that’s past my bedtime, children.

Until tomorrow.

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Get Cooking with Quinoa

Oh, Quinoa. *contented sigh* Where have you been all my life?

Quinoa

Quinoa, like the Buckwheat Groats, courtesy of Bob's Red Mill.

I’d like to take this moment to introduce you to my new favourite whole grain: Quinoa. I call her Keeny but that’s just because we’re besties. You can call her Miss Nwa.

I can thank a certain guru of grain for bringing her into my life. That’s you, Dr. Weil. Much obliged.

To recap, in Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health plan, Dr. Weil recommends we up our intake of whole grains. Among his suggestions of grains to try were Kasha (see Mini-Resolution #12) and Quinoa.

I took on Mini-Resolution #11: Cooking with Quinoa last night and it was life-changing.

Here’s the quick and dirty on Keeny:

  • It’s an amazing source of vegetable protein, weighing in at 8.2 g of protein per cup cooked.
  • It also contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans making it an unusually complete protein source (with most vegetarian proteins you need to eat a variety to make a complete protein)

I opted for a Dr. Weil’s personal favourite and cooked up some Quinoa Pudding. The basic recipe is here. A few modifications:

  • I added a cup of chopped almonds in with the raisins. Any chopped nut would work well and adds a really nice crunch to the pudding.
  • I don’t bother measuring the lemon juice; just use the juice of one lemon.
  • I’d probably add a little more cinnamon than just 1 tsp but then I’m a cinnamon fiend.
  • I serve it cold, not warm.
  • Dr. Weil also suggests topping it with berries, bananas or maple syrup. I haven’t yet, but I’m sure it would be tasty as well.
Quinoa Pudding

So good, I just ate a bowl of it while I wrote this blog.

I will definitely be making this one again. I love the idea of a dessert made with whole grains that only needs to rely on the sweetness of apple juice and raisins.

The calories are a little high at about 360 per serving (although they are generous servings). That’s the same calorie count as a Walnut Crunch doughnut. Yikes, huh? Well, not so much when you take into account a serving of this pudding will give you 6 g of fibre, 10 g of protein and just 1 g of saturated fat in comparison to that doughnut’s 1 g of fibre,  4 g of protein and a whopping 10 g of saturated fat. Not all calories are created equal, children.

Even dear old fiancé, lover of all deep-fried pastries, was impressed. Now that’s a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, right there.

Love you, Keeny!

And now…..tally time!

Days to go: 339

Mini-resolutions to go: 249

Cooking with Kasha

Groats.

Buckwheat groats.

Does that sound like something you want to eat? Or something you might want to feed to cattle?

After last night’s escapades, I’m thinking perhaps the latter.

I successfully completed Mini-Resolution #12: Get Cooking with Kasha (a.k.a. toasted Buckwheat Groats) and lived to tell the tale — although my stomach did seem a bit worse for wear afterward.

(To be fair, that may also have something to do with my bouncing around the living room for 40 minutes to a Turbo Jam video a short 15 minutes after eating said Kasha. Just maybe.)

For those of you not in the know — such as myself a mere 24 hours ago — Kasha is the Russian name for buckwheat groats that have been toasted to a rusty color in order to reduce the buckwheat’s natural bitterness and bring out its sweeter, nuttier flavour.  Buckwheat groats are high in fibre (5 grams per 1/4 cup) and a good source of protein (6 g per 1/4 cup).

If you’ll recall, I embarked on this Kasha catastrophe due to Dr. Weil’s suggestion that I work on incorporating more whole grains into my diet. Kasha was one he suggested. Because I didn’t know what it was — and I think, also because it sounded a bit like one of my favourite cereal brands of all time — I decided to give it a try.

Toasting Buckwheat Groats

And this is how Kasha is born. Throw some raw buckwheat groats in a dry skillet over high heat and voila!

I was ill-prepared for this task. I realized it as soon as I walked into the grocery store with no idea where they might stock their groats. Nor was I particularly fond of asking any store employees about their groats.

(Is it just me or does groat really sound like slang for goat scrotum?)

I suppose I could have asked about Kasha, but I feared they might point me toward the Kashi, after which I would undoubtedly end up at the checkout with a basketful of Go Lean Crunch.

So I toughed it out and went to the aisle where they keep the flax seed. Several times. In fact, I made about five trips before I finally noticed a package of Bob’s Red Mill Buckwheat Groats tucked in among Bob’s other grains, flours and cereals.

And honestly, that was the most difficult part of this whole adventure. Perhaps with the exception of eating it.

I cooked the Kasha according to directions from the guru of grain himself, Dr. Weil. His recipe included dried mushrooms, buckwheat groats, carrot, onion and soy sauce to taste. You can check it out here.

Dried Shitake Mushrooms

Ew. Just ew. It turns out I have issues with dried mushrooms.

It was pretty easy to prepare, although it was a bit out of my comfort zone. In addition to this being my first time cooking with Kasha, it was also my first foray into dealing with dried mushrooms.

And I just have to say ew.

The photo to the right shows the mushrooms before I soaked them. They only got more unappetizing from there, turning into soggy, semi-gelatinous specters of their former glory as real, fully-hydrated shiitake mushrooms. They also smelled as good as they sound.

I let them soak for about an hour but some of them were still tough in the middle.  Yuck.

However, that may be my fault. I simply followed Dr. Weil’s instructions and soaked them in water until they were soft. In my post-cooking reading, however, I’ve come across suggestions that they be soaked in boiling water. Maybe that would help?

(Un)Fortunately, I’ll have plenty opportunity to find out since I now have a five-ounce bag of them sitting in my cupboard. I’ll keep you posted.

Kasha with Vegetables

The finished product. To be eaten with lots of soy sauce.

Despite my griping, the finished product was okay. It kind of had the flavour of onion soup which was good.The veggies were crisp-tender creating a nice contrast with the mushy Kasha. It was a little bland but adding a bunch of soy sauce made it pop.

The mushrooms were the biggest turn off. Just a mushroom burp after my dinner last night almost brought it back up.

I still get a wave of nausea when I think about them, I think due to a combination of their texture and the smell they emitted while soaking in my kitchen for an hour.

It’s very possible this could be remedied by properly soaking them in boiled water.

I’d be willing to try the recipe again to see.

On the plus side, you can’t beat the nutritional content for this one: 147 calories, 6 gram of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

And that, my friends, brings us to tally time:

Days to go: 339

Mini-resolutions to go: 250

My first aha! moment (and a slew of new Mini-Resolutions)

I’m back. Bet you thought I blew this popsicle stand, huh? So did I — temporarily.

I didn’t post again on Saturday like I said I would. Then I didn’t post on Sunday. Or Monday. And by Tuesday, I was thinking “who the hell am I kidding? I’m never going to follow through on this!”

Then I gave myself a metaphorical smack upside the head because you know what I don’t need? Me putting unnecessary stress on myself about my New Year’s Manifesto to work toward better holistic health and well-being. You know why? Because that kind of stress is not at all conducive to achieving holistic health and well-being.

In fact, that kind of stress is actually much more appropriate for the all-or-nothing Alison of New Years past. You know, the one who resolved on Jan. 1 to lose 10 pounds, ate a chocolate bar on Jan. 2 and then decided she’d blown it and might as well give up?

I’m not having any of that Alison this year.

And that realization was my first aha! moment of this whole process. Amazing what a little procrastination can bring about. Here’s to many more aha! moments to come *raises water bottle in a toast*

Now I must admit, that while I was being negligent on my blogging I was being equally negligent on my 8 Weeks to Optimum Health plan. I’m supposed to be about half-way through Week 2. I’m not. I’m just kind of hanging out in limbo between Weeks 1 and 2.

But you know what’s great about this? I make the rules and I say a little limbo never hurt anyone. So tomorrow I end my hiatus and embark on Week 2.

Which means a whole slew of new Mini-Resolutions. Now I should mention for any of you Dr. Weil purists out there — and I assume there are a few — that I’m not doing absolutely everything the good doctor recommends.

In Week 1, for instance, he suggested I make a list of injuries, illnesses or other health issues that I have recovered from in the past year, along with a list of anything I did to speed the healing. I didn’t do this. The only thing I seem to have recovered from in the past two years is asthma *knocks on wood* And that just disappeared, seemingly of its own will. I can’t really claim that as my own.

In Week 2, Dr. Weil suggests something else I’m just not gonna do. He wants me to set up a water filtration system in my home. The ones he suggests ring in at about $2,000. Ba-ha? Unless, Dr. Weil personally donates and installs said water filtration system, it’s not gonna happen.

No worries though because Dr. Weil has a contingency plan whilst I scrounge together money for a water filtration system. In the mean time, he says, just drink bottled water. Ba-ha, again!

Hey, Dr. Weil: Ever hear of that NRDC study that tested 1,000 bottles and 103 brands of water and found one-third of them contained levels of contamination? Or the fact that bottled water is subject to less rigorous testing than city tap water? Not to mention the lovely thought of Mother Earth crying while all those plastic water bottles are being churned out.

So no. I will not partake in the water-related foolishness of Week 2. I will, however, jump on board with the rest of Dr. Weil’s recommendations so here’s the next batch of Mini-Resolutions.

Mini-Resolution #11: Get Cooking with Quinoa and Mini-Resolution #12: Get Cooking with Kasha

This week Dr. Weil says I should be focusing on increasing my consumption of whole grains. And that’s probably true. Aside from whole wheat pitas in my fridge and long grain brown rice in my cupboard that I never cook because it takes 45 minutes and I’m always too hungry to bother (can you say spoiled by Minute Rice?), I’m just not much of a grain-eater.

So I’m doing double time this week and resolving to try out two new whole grains suggested by Dr. Weil: Quinoa and Kasha. I don’t really know what they are, I don’t know where to buy them and I sure as hell don’t know how to cook them, but that’s the adventure, right?

Mini-Resolution #13: Get Acquainted with Soy

I’m no stranger to tofu. I’ve even cooked some edamame. But I know there’s a whole world of soy out there that I know nothing about. This week, as part of Dr. Weil’s quest to get the world to cut back on animal protein and opt for the vegetable variety, I am committed to investigating the soy section of my grocery store and trying one new soy-based product. Maybe tempeh, soy grits or TVP? Who knows? Again, I don’t even know what those are. But I will find out and consume at least one of them or their brethren.

Mini-Resolution #14: Do the green tea swap

I don’t think this has come up yet in this blog, but I’m a coffee lover/addict. I refuse to start my day without it. I also refuse to drink it out of anything but my giant Tim Hortons mug; however, this isn’t about my OCD right now.

This week, Dr. Weil is asking me to do the impossible and swap out at least one of my daily cups of joe for a cup of Japanese or Chinese green tea. I don’t know what the caffeine content is in this stuff, but I’m just not convinced it will give me the same pick-me-up as my Salt Spring Island coffee <— product endorsement. Free coffee, please?

Mini-Resolution #15: Be one with nature

I don’t know if it quite makes up for the brutal green tea swap, but I dig this Mini-Resolution.  Dr. Weil wants me to visit a park or some other favourite nature-filled place and just hang out there, doing nothing in particular but “feeling the energy of the place.” Connecting with natures is healing, Dr. Weil says. It’s an antidote to the modern human’s epic problem of being too much in one’s head. I dig very much.

Mini-Resolution #16: The Twitter/Facebook Fast

I’m putting my own spin on this. Dr. Weil asks that in Week 2, I engage in a one-day news fast. His reasoning is that paying attention to the news commonly results in anxiety, rage and other states that aren’t conducive to well-being. He ask that we “broaden our concept of nutrition” to take into account not only what we put in our bodies but also what we put in our minds.

Now, I’m not a voracious news consumer. I think I’m pretty well-informed but it’s not unusual for me to go a day without paying attention to the news. What would be unusual is for me to go a day without logging on to Facebook or, my more recent obsession, Twitter. And I’m pretty sure both of these mediums can induce the same anxiety, rage and other negative states Dr. Weil’s talking about.

So one day this week, in addition to ignoring the news, I will not Facebook and I will not Tweet.  Sigh. How ever will I  procrastinate then?

Mini-Resolution #17: Breath Observation V.2.0

As you’ll recall, I sucked at breath observation in Week 1. Week 2 gives me another chance and also tacks on a second breathing exercise. In addition to my five minutes of breath observation, I am to spend one minute focused on the breath cycle itself. But instead of our natural tendency to think of inhalation as the first stage of the breath cycle, Dr. Weil says we should reverse it and begin with exhalation. The reasoning? Potentially, we are better able to control our exhalation because our muscles allow us to push more air out. So if we start with exhalation and focus on pushing more air out, we automatically breathe deeper and take more air in during our inhalation. And deep breathing is good for the soul.

In addition to these, Dr. Weil asks that I round out my Week 2 activities by continuing my supplement regimen, eating fish at least once and broccoli at least twice and walking 15 minutes a day, five days a week (i.e. my walk to work in the morning).

Oh, and I haven’t forgot about hot yoga. I’m going to go. Promise. Eventually the shame of consistently having to write about how I still haven’t gone will force my butt into that hotter-than-hell torture chamber.

I’ll keep you posted.