Winter Squash Soup with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Basil | Where Did the Recipe Labels Go?

Congratulations to the winner of my Vega prize pack giveaway: Andrew Rogers!

When I launched my blog way back in August 2011, I had only just begun my journey of recovery from an anorexia-like eating disorder. (I say “anorexia-like” because, similar to most all individuals suffering from disordered eating, my experiences proved much too complex to neatly pathologize). While both my weight and comfort with eating/food in general increased – the former steadily, the latter sporadically – I still harbored a fear of putting foods I deemed “unhealthy” into my body. Essentially, as my anorexia-like disorder subsided, my orthorexia-like disorder endured, masking itself as a well-intentioned desire to make food choices that would nourish my body, but basing itself in the pseudoscience and trends that circulate among food blogs and Pinterest recipe boards.

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Recovering from this aspect of my eating disorder required re-imagining food outside of the false dichotomy I had created that categorized food into “good” and “bad,” as well as understanding that truly healthy eating involves both physical and mental wellbeing (read more on this subject in a previous post that also contains an awesome recipe for Ranch Potato Salad!). Removing these categories helped me to avoid seeing foods both as the effect I presumed they would have on my body (i.e., kale would turn me into a superhero while sugar would slowly dissolve my insides) and as a measure of my self-worth. It also helped me to re-root my veganism in a consideration of and respect for the bodies and minds of non-human individuals, rather than in an oft-touted belief that one can only achieve good health on a vegan diet – an assertion that erases the many cultures that have enjoyed long histories of vitality while including animal flesh and secretions in their eating habits.

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Since de-categorizing my food choices served as an integral tool of my recovery, it seems only fitting that I also de-categorize the recipes on my blog. Previously labeled as “Low Fat,” “Low Sodium,” “Oil Free,” “Gluten Free,” “Nut Free,” and more, my recipes now only fall under one category: food. Of course, while I recognize and respect the reasoning of other bloggers to apply such labels to their recipes (allowing folks with food allergies to more easily find appropriate recipes, for example), doing so on my own blog now feels antithetical to my past and continued efforts to fully reconcile my relationship with food and eating.

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To usher in this era without recipe labels, I’d like to share with you a creamy, full-bodied soup ideal for bridging the summer and fall as we undergo this period of seasonal transition. In late September-early October here in the Northeast, we’re seeing winter squashes popping up alongside summer’s fading basil bounty, and it only feels natural to me to follow the earth’s logic and combine them in a warming concoction to enjoy on the chilly days starting to weave through the waning heat. Sundried tomatoes provide richness and umami, while a touch of vinegar brightens the soup at the very end.

Is this recipe low in or free of anything? Only fear.

Winter Squash Soup with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Basil

Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:

2 tsp coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium winter squash such as butternut, buttercup, or acorn, cubed
4 cups vegetable broth or water
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (the kind not packed in oil)
1/2 of a large bunch of basil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

In a large soup pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion for 5-7 minute, or until it turns translucent. Add the salt and garlic and saute for another minute. Add the squash cubes and saute for another minute. Add the sundried tomatoes and broth/water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then partially cover, lower the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Stir in the basil.

Puree the soup either with an immersion blender, or (carefully!) in batches in a standing blender. Add water to thin, if desired. Stir in the apple cider vinegar. Bring back up to heat on the stove, and serve when the soup has reached your desired temperature.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

Slow Food for Fast Lives Bars Review & GIVEAWAY!

Sorry, this giveaway has closed!

I know, I know – the amount of Farmers Market Vegan giveaways this summer has gotten a wee bit out of hand. Somehow, though, I feel that you, dear readers, don’t really mind all of these chances to win free, high-quality vegan products…so what the hey? Howsabout a fifth summer giveaway here on FMV?

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Today I’d like to introduce you to a truly unique line of products from the on-the-go, health-conscious folks over at Slow Food for Fast Lives. Finding themselves with hectic schedules that made sitting down regularly for a nourishing meal quite difficult, the company’s founders – Danny, Mel, and Patricia – combined their appreciation of good food with their desire to provide healthy options for individuals with bustling agendas. With Danny’s innovative idea of launching the market’s first savory snack bar and Mel’s entrepreneurial skills behind her, Patricia employed her imaginative cooking skills in combining farmers’ market produce with nuts, spices, and unrefined sweeteners to create a line of vegetable-based bars in a variety of globally inspired flavors. Not only did these bars far surpass a taste test, they also each contained 1-1.5 servings of veggies and ample amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

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Since Patricia emerged from her kitchen with that first batch of sumptuous home-cooked bars, Slow Food for Fast Lives has shared its breakthrough products with retailers in California and the Southwest, as well as online, in the hopes of helping busy folks across the U.S. to “eat present, not tense.” While the company’s line currently features four bars – California, Indian, Moroccan, and Thai – the founders constantly have their culinary thinking caps on, perfecting such future flavors as Italian, Japanese, and Mexican. They also eagerly welcome suggestions from consumers on what slow food flavors they’d like to enjoy in their fast lives at info@eattruefoods.com.

While all of Slow Food for Fast Live’s bars are gluten-free and kosher, the California bar does contain honey; the rest of the three are completely vegan! (Check out why I don’t advocate the consumption of honey here.) As such, in this post I’ll only be reviewing the Indian, Moroccan, and Thai flavors.

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I first journeyed into the world of Slow Food for Fast Lives with the Moroccan bar: a vibrantly hued blend of crunchy pistachios, chewy currants, sweet carrots, protein-rich lentils, attractive black sesame seeds, and smooth tahini spiced up with lemon, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and cumin. Featuring hearty chunks of each ingredient instead of constituting a homogeneously blended bar, the Moroccan bar offered a multiplicity of interesting textures mingling with bold flavors. Of the three bars I sampled, I might just prefer the Moroccan bar the most.

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The Thai bar made the next appearance in my Slow Food for Fast Lives tasting tour. Boasting a double whammy of peanuts and peanut butter, crispy brown rice, succulent red bell peppers, and zippy green onions in a bright and spicy mix of lime juice, dried basil, garlic and onion powders, and chiles, the Thai bar definitely got the spice sensors on my tongue all a-tingling. Though I didn’t expect such a pleasant piquant-ness in my snack bar, I found gastronomic memory harkening back to my favorite Thai restaurant in my hometown of Madison, WI after biting into this bar.

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My snack bar trip around the globe ended with the Indian bar – a close second favorite behind the Moroccan bar. Reminding me of a samosa dipped in mango sauce or a coconut curry (but in snack bar form), the Indian bar made supremely savory use of rich cashews and coconut, cauliflower, lentils, hearty potatoes, sweet peas, and buttery mangoes accentuated with tomato powder, turmeric, onion, chili pepper, ginger, and cumin. Redolent with the flavors of curry without being overwhelming, this smooth, chewy bar proves warming and satisfying.

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Have I engaged in enough culinary wordplay to persuade you all to incorporate some slow food into your fast lives? Well, lucky for one of you, the folks at Slow Food for Fast Lives have generously offered to gift a pack of their nourishing, tasty, and inventive bars to a Farmers Market Vegan reader. Simply click on one of the links at the top and bottom of this post, follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter giveaway, and get those fingers crossed. Also be sure to connect with Slow Food for Fast Lives on Facebook and Twitter!

This giveaway will end at 11:59 pm on Sunday, August 17, and I will announce the winner on the following day.

Sorry, this giveaway has closed!

I was not paid to run this giveaway, though I was provided with free product samples. All opinions are completely my own.

In solidarity, Ali.

Ellovi Body Butter Review & Giveaway

This giveaway has closed!

 Farmers Market Vegan’s big ol’ Tofurky giveaway may have ended only last week, but I’m elated to host for you, dear readers, a second giveaway during the month of March. This one comes courtesy of dynamic vegan duo Kelly Winterhalter and Ryan Pamplin, co-founders of the all-natural, animal-friendly, and sustainably sourced cosmetic company known as Ellovi. A couple of weeks ago, Kelly kindly contacted me requesting that I review one of Ellovi’s two products—their six-ingredient body butter—and I have nothing but laudatory words to say about it.

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 A cloud-white blend of oils from macadamia nuts, coconuts, marula, hemp seed, and shea, Ellovi Body Butter contains such pure ingredients that you could slather it on a piece of toast and chomp away. While the butter contains no added fragrance, its delicately nutty aroma will leave you fervently sniffing the jar, your hands, and anything else the butter touches. Not only does the butter serve as a highly effective moisturizer due to its omission of water and therefore its inability to evaporate like other lotions, it also works well as a facial moisturizer, makeup remover, and sunscreen—and it’s perfect for sensitive skin.

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The first time I dipped my finger into the jar, the rich yet airy texture of the butter duly surprised me, as I had expected a thinner, more fluid substance. Not so—the Ellovi Body Butter proves so thick that you could easily stand a spoon straight up in its jar. Though it did seem like I had to use more of the butter than of a conventional moisturizer to spread on my entire body after a morning shower, I didn’t have to reapply the butter at all throughout the rest of the day. Even after washing my hands, they still felt moisturized by the butter—and this in the dead of winter, mind you!

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Though the price of the butter does prove a bit steep at $26 per jar, the impeccable quality of its ingredients and its impressive moisturizing abilities merit the expense (at least once in a while).

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Luckily, one of you, dear readers, will have the ability to revel in the vegan moisturizing goodness of Ellovi Body Butter for free! By entering the giveaway at the links at the top and bottom of this post, one of you will win your very own jar of Ellovi Body Butter plus a tube of Ellovi Lip Butter. Your hands, arms, legs, belly, lips, and everywhere else on your body will thank you for entering.

The giveaway will end at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2, and I will announce the winner on Thursday, April 3. Apologies to my international readers, but you must reside within the U.S. in order to enter this giveaway.

Good luck to all!

This giveaway has closed!

I was not paid to run this giveaway, though I was provided with free product samples. All opinions are completely my own.

Until next time, Ali.

Digestive Woes of Eating Disorders and Why I’m Not Gluten-Free Anymore

Hello again, dear readers! After a much-needed month-ish-long break from the blogosphere, I’m thrilled to return to the good ol’ blog, especially because, boy oh boy, do I have some exciting posts, reviews, and giveaways lined up for all of you. For the next two weeks, my posts will come to you from Florence, Italy—a city near and dear to my heart, where I’ve visited my aunt every other year since the age of three. This year, I’m fortunate enough to spend my college’s spring break there with one of my very good friends and my parents. Rest assured, I’ll be providing you, dear readers, with plenty of reports of Florentine vegan eats and adventures, intertwined with two super fabulous giveaways. Moral of the story: keep a close eye on Farmers Market Vegan for the month of March! (And beyond, of course).

The post to break my blogging hiatus, however, does not concern Italy or free vegan products. Rather, it continues the conversations proliferated by National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week 2014. Though the event concluded a couple Saturdays ago, I feel it hugely important to make an ongoing discussion of this highly stigmatized topic.

As so often happens, the inimitable Gena of Choosing Raw planted the idea seedlings for this post. Two weeks ago Gena featured three highly thoughtful posts in light of NEDA Week 2014—a mention in the first of which particularly caught my attention. In her post “Five Reasons to Embrace Recovery,” Gena lists the fact that recovery can save your life (a notion I touch upon in my narrative on Our Hen House regarding my recovery through veganism). In addition to the immediate physical symptoms of eating disorders, Gena notes the significant long-term health tolls EDs can take on one’s body. For me, the most notable of these are digestive disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

If you’ve followed Farmers Market Vegan for a substantial amount of time, you’ll know that I’ve battled digestive stress for about three years now, very much in conjunction with my ED recovery. I chalked up frequent abdominal cramping, gas, and less-than-happy trips to the restroom to my assumed consumption of insufficiently washed produce, spoiled leftovers, and certain hard-to-digest foods. To mitigate these supposed culprits of digestive woe, I incorporated any and all foods touted as digestives into my diet—fermented foods; spices like ginger, fennel, peppermint, and their teas; etc. I joined in the recent widespread condemnation of gluten. I supplemented with digestive enzymes and probiotics. I developed a short series of yoga postures known to facilitate digestion. Nothing significantly improved my symptoms.

This past December, I finally decided that something beyond food choice and sanitization proved responsible for my ongoing digestive troubles. Indeed, a visit to my internal medicine doctor provided me with a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)—a functional disorder of the large intestine that affects bowel contraction, resulting in cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and other fun symptoms. Every case of IBS is highly individualized, meaning that there exists no one medication or treatment for the disorder. Luckily, IBS does not affect long-term health or cause other health complications, but can significantly impact daily quality of life (and oh boy, does it). While it’s difficult to know that I’ll have to deal with IBS symptoms for the rest of my life, I’m super happy to give a name to my digestive woes, rather than to worry at every meal about how my stomach will feel afterwards, or to hypothesize about other more severe health complications that might cause my symptoms.

Interestingly, a number of women I know who have a history of disordered eating also now suffer from IBS which, according to recent research, proves a common correlation. Out of 73 ED patients involved in a 2010 study, 97% suffered from at least one functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) (a category that includes IBS). Another study prior to this one found that, out of 89 respondents, 87.6% had an onset of their ED prior to IBS symptoms, 6.7% had an onset of IBS prior to their ED, and 5.6% had an onset of their EDs and IBS the same time. Additionally, the latter study noted that those who suffer from EDs and IBS tend to share certain personality traits—perfectionism, negative self-evaluation, self-blame, chronic stress— and early developmental factors—childhood trauma, physical and sexual abuse. They also overwhelmingly tend to be women.

I find it the fact that there exists such a correlation between EDs and IBS fascinating—and completely logical. On a rather obvious level, disordered eating behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and restriction all but guarantee digestive complications. Less conspicuous, though, are the psychological similarities between both disorders: EDs and IBS prompt a “hyper-vigilance to internal sensations” and eating behaviors, as noted in research by Perkins et al. As I mentioned above, I first attributed my digestive complications to certain foods I consumed, demonizing gluten, peanut butter, and other foods known to cause digestive troubles. Such a habit reminds me of Steven Bratman’s definition of orthorexia as “a tendency to assume that every single physical symptom is a direct result of something we’ve eaten,” and thus signals to me a severe hindrance in my recovery largely inspired by digestive ailments. Developing a similar mindset towards food as that which plagued me during the most intense periods of my ED, I became essentially scared of certain foods due to my perception of their responsibility for my digestive troubles. To me, it comes as no surprise that many other women have experienced this phenomenon, especially considering the common advice given by internal medicine practitioners to keep a food journal to help identify “trigger foods,” or those that tend to cause an individual digestive upset.

Thankfully, with a clear plan of how to deal with my IBS came the much more relaxed mindset toward food that I had worked to cultivate throughout my recovery. Since I consume such a wholesome diet, it seems nonsensical to me (and medical practitioners to whom I’ve spoken) that treating my IBS would necessitate a dietary shift, or a naming of “trigger foods.” Instead, I’ve started taking a prescription-strength probiotic as well as a teaspoon of psyllium husk (a portion of an Indian plant that is essentially all soluble fiber) stirred into my morning smoothie everyday. These remedies have worked marvelously since I began employing them, and have considerably aided me in shunning the “food is enemy, food makes your gut unhappy” voice inside my head.

With this foregoing, I’ve re-embraced the foods that I perceived to upset my digestion. Most notably, I’ve begun eating gluten again, and with vigor. Both my body and soul have responded with amazing positivity towards bread, sandwiches, and other glutinous foods—my goodness, does it feel good to bite into the chewy-crunchy-creamy layers of a chickpea salad sandwich again! Though dubious at first that a reintroduction of gluten would not cause me digestive upset, it makes sense to me now, especially considering the fact that “dietary variety also helps to help bolster digestive strength,” a fact that Gena has witnessed first-hand from working with a GI doctor. So, dear readers, you can expect to see some glutinous recipes appearing on the blog from now on (though I’ll be sure to include gluten-free substitutions for those of you who suffer from actual gluten/wheat intolerances).

I think that the connection between eating disorders and digestive complications both emphasizes the long-term health detriments of EDs, and suggests a more understanding approach to treating digestive disorders. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, and/or if you’ve had similar experiences.

And with that, I’ve got a plane to catch! My next post will reach you from Florence, Italy.

Until next time, Ali.

A Response to “Veganism is Celibacy” from an Eating Disordered Perspective

All photos taken at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

A couple of weeks ago, I began my morning—as I do every Saturday—by listening to the then latest episode of Our Hen House (at which I now serve as a Contributing Writer, whoo hoo!). Jasmin and Mariann, during their preliminary “Ramblings” section, discussed two articles that referred to veganism as akin to celibacy, the latter of which deemed it “a form of dietary totalitarianism,” a regime that “sucks out the joy” from eating.

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Synonymous with celibacy is abstention—the act of voluntarily holding oneself back. Integral to totalitarianism is control—the exercise of restraint. The absence of joy connotes the absence of pleasure—a feeling of satisfaction.

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I’m deeply familiar with this state of abstention, control, and lack of gratification surrounding food. My catchall term for this state? Eating disorder. In high school, I eagerly held myself back from consuming calorie-dense foods, in disgusted awe of those who dared to eat peanut butter sandwiches and baked goods. I controlled every calorie that entered my mouth, tracking each morsel of food on a macronutrient chart and making sure to restrain myself from consuming over 1200 daily calories. I gained no pleasure from eating, simultaneously overwhelmed during meals with the fear that I would consume “too many” calories, and with the stifled yearning to finally feel dietarily satisfied.

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In contrast to the two aforementioned articles’ authors, as well as to this disordered mindset, veganism both reintroduced meaning into my life and aided me in viewing food as friend rather than adversary. Soon after discovering veganism, my obsession with not consuming more than 25 grams of fat per day paled in comparison to the urgent yet overlooked issue of animal exploitation. I strove to gain weight in order to combat the mainstream notion of vegans as frail, gaunt, and unhealthy. I found a sense of empowerment in voting with my meal choices against the oppressive system of animal agriculture, eager and proud to consume all of the edibles in the plant kingdom (even those I had before demonized, such as…gasp, full-fat coconut milk?!?!?). Most of all, I pushed away the shadow of gloom lingering over my restrictive, fanatic lifestyle, welcoming in the sense of purpose, the passion, the joy with which veganism imbues my life.

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Emerging from my introverted hibernation (eating disordered depression proves quite adverse to quality social relationships), I found communion with the world around me, first and foremost through the non-human animals for whom I soon began to advocate. As an individual with access to adequate plant-based food sources and the funds to purchase them, I found the act of not eating the flesh and secretions as a logical extension of my newfound harmony with the broader world. In the words of Buddhist philosopher Joanna Macy in her book Active Hope, “When we perceive our identity as an ecological self that includes not just us but also all life on Earth, then acting for the sake of our world doesn’t seem like sacrifice. It seems a natural thing to do” (76). 

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Replacing the chickens on my plate with maple-glazed tempeh and the dairy-based cheese in my salad with aged cashew cheddar does not add any militancy nor detract any pleasure from my life. On the contrary, doing so has opened up a world of flavors, textures, and ingredient preparations of which I never before dreamed.

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I completely understand that, for many individuals suffering from eating disorders, veg(eteri)anism can serve to perpetuate dietary regimentation. However, I’d like to introduce an alternate perspective to this unfortunate phenomenon, as well as to the authors of the articles in question (most likely neither of whom, as well-off white males, have had to face the same lifelong media bombardment dictating how female bodies “should” look). For me—as well as others featured in Choosing Raw’s “Green Recovery Series”veganism proved integral in transforming my life from the empty one described in both articles into a vibrant, fulfilling one.

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Veganism is not celibacy. Veganism is not totalitarianism. Veganism is a respect for all life put into practice in a world that frowns upon such respect, but that with our activism, won’t be frowning for much longer.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan Delish Giveaway & Recipe for No-Bake Apple Pie

Vegan Delish sized for blog use

Get excited, folks, for I’m about to announce Farmers Market Vegan’s first ever giveaway! That’s right, dear readers, three of you lucky ducks have the chance to win a quite fabulous prize: a free download code for the iPhone/iPod recipe app Vegan Delish. Scroll to the bottom of this post to enter.

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Launched by the talented blogger, recipe developer, and graduate in public health nutrition Carrie Forest of Carrie on Vegan, Vegan Delish offers over 140 nourishing, mouthwatering recipes—all of which are vegan, gluten-free, made with minimal oil, salt, and added sugars, and accompanied by high-definition photos. New and veteran vegans, vegetarians, and those seeking to explore a plant-based diet will enjoy Vegan Delish not only for healthy and easy recipes, but also for a digital shopping list; social media sharing, recipe scaling, and kitchen timer functions; and recipe ratings and reviews—all without any ads. From Vegan Delish’s multiplicity of well-tested recipes and features, it comes as no surprise that the App Store lists it as one of the top 25 Paid Food & Drink Apps.

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To further enthuse you about this fabulous app and giveaway, check out a sampling of recipes featured on Vegan Delish:

–Mock Tuna Salad
–Buckwheat Pancakes with Maple Cashew Cream
–Cauliflower Pizza Crust
–Vegetable Quinoa Salad
–Avocado Chocolate Pudding
–Brown Rice & Lentil Salad
–Veggie Sushi Rolls
–Red Lentil Dal
–Almond Date Balls

As if Carrie had not already adequately showcased her generosity by offering up three free download codes for Vegan Delish, she also offered for me to share a recipe from the app—one for No-Bake Apple Pie—right here, right now.

No-Bake Apple Pie

Published with permission from Vegan Delish.

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (divided)
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup orange juice
6 Fuji apples
1 1/2 cups medjool dates, pitted
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons cinnamon (divided)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats

Instructions:

1. Core the apples and cut them into bite-sized pieces.

2. Combine the apples, orange juice, raisins, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of the vanilla extract into a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until apples are softened. Stir in nutritional yeast and set aside to cool.

3. Place almonds, walnuts, and oats in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the remaining cinnamon and vanilla extract. Turn the food processor on and add the dates through the feeding tube one at a time. Process until mixture is well combined.

4. Pour the contents of the food processor into the pie dish and use your hands to spread evenly into the dish. Place the crust in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

5. When you are ready to assemble the pie, pour the apple mixture into the pie crust and serve cold or at room temperature.

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Let’s face it: how could you not enter this giveaway? Simply click on the link below and you could be one of three winners, whom I will announce on Monday, November 11.

***NOTE: This giveaway is only open to U.S. residents. The codes will only work on iPhones and iPads.***

This giveaway has closed. Congrats to Eric, Anna, and Erika!

Piece Published on Our Hen House: How I Recovered from an Eating Disorder through Veganism

I’m thrilled, honored, amazed, verklempt, and every other related adjective to inform you all, dear readers, that the hub of vegan indie media Our Hen House just published a piece of mine on their online magazine. The piece tells the story of how I recovered from an eating disorder through veganism—the compassionate lifestyle offered me an altruistic means of redirecting my inwardly focused energies, and allowed me to realize the dominant societal forces that both influenced my eating disorder and exploited non-human animals.

The piece functions as the first instance during which I’ve spoken completely candidly about my past of disordered eating (at least in the online realm). While I’m certainly not suggesting that all those suffering from eating disorders should adopt a vegan diet while in the throes of a super scary time, I felt it necessary to offer my view that discovering a passion outside of oneself can aid immensely in recovering from an eating disorder. If you’d like to read more stories from brave individuals who found healing through veganism, check out Gena’s fabulous Green Recovery Series over at Choosing Raw.

Check out my piece on Our Hen House here!

Much love, Ali.

DC Restaurant & Yoga Exploration: Yoga District & District Tea Lodge

For those of us lucky enough to have the funds, geographical access, and physical ability necessary to engage in a frequent studio yoga practice, moving to a different location can prove difficult, since doing so means bidding good-bye to a well-loved studio community and seeking out a new one in which to hopefully foster the same sort of connections and support group. Granted, cultivating a fulfilling yoga practice certainly does not require a studio membership or even a mat, necessarily—indeed, during the school year I happily practice yoga alone in my room, either guiding myself through the asanas or following along with a free podcast provided by Jivamukti teacher Jessica Sage Stickler, since I can’t easily access a studio near campus without a car.

That’s yours truly in the bright blue tank top with the short brown hair at my hometown studio.

While I find that a solo practice does minimize distractions and eliminate any tendency of judgment or one-upmanship toward other yogis, it lacks a sense of community, of “We’re-in-this-together-even though-this-advanced-arm-balance”-ness, of powerful energy only generated by a room full of individuals united in a physical manifestation of peace. Not only can yoga studios provide a supportive group of oft like-minded people, they also play an integral role in developing the base of a safe and joyful yoga practice for newcomers, as well as in offering the advanced yogic knowledge (physical, mental, and spiritual) necessary for longtime yogis to continue to find excitement in their practice.

Returning to the notion of finding a new yoga studio after moving to a different area, I’ve shifted between three studios in the past year thanks to moves from my hometown of Madison, WI to Vassar College in New York, and from Vassar to my summer home of Washington D.C. Madison offers the heated, fast-paced intensity of Inner Fire, at which my love of yoga first blossomed; New York offers the deep spirituality, advanced physicality, and vegan philosophy of Jivamukti (though I don’t visit the studio as often as I’d like since it requires a two-hour train ride from Vassar to get there); and DC offers the unpretentiousness, activist-oriented programming of Yoga District.

Boasting six brightly sunlit, immensely welcoming studio spaces around DC, Yoga District features a variety of classes from beginner to advanced, vinyasa to kundalini, and yogalates to AcroYoga. The studio strives to render the innumerable benefits of yoga financially accessible to as many individuals as possible with its yoga work/study program, sliding scale fees, and donation-based classes, providing a refreshing reminder of yoga’s humble roots—an aspect of the practice so often forgotten in an age of $20 drop-in classes and expensive yoga gear advertised as necessary for a “proper” practice ($40 for a mat towel? No thanks).

Yoga District’s vision of spreading the yogic message of peace, health, and overall wellbeing to those who may not otherwise find the practice manifests itself no better than in the studio’s Yoga Activist program. A nonprofit that partners yoga teachers with social service organizations, Yoga Activist runs on the notion that “every being deserves the  holistic benefits of yoga as a practical tool of empowerment, self-soothing, self-healing, and coping.” Yoga Activist currently partners with organizations that support cancer survivors and patients, domestic violence survivors, eating disorder patients and survivors, homeless communities, communities affected by HIV/AIDS, prisons, seniors, trauma survivors, veterans, and youth—and they’re ever willing to partner with more.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

I would consider the Yoga Activist program social justice outreach at its finest, since it provides an effective method by which largely disenfranchised groups can cultivate a sense of autonomy in a society that’s toxic cultural norms previously overpowered them—this program functions as the antithesis of a Band-Aid solution. Indeed, a 1980 social study by Michael Dillbeck found that “during periods when large-scale Transcendental Meditation groups numbering more than 1% of the population were holding regular meditation sessions, researchers did find a statistically significant reduction in the rate of fatalities resulting from automobile accidents, suicides, and homicides in the United States.” The phenomenon discovered from this study, known as the Maharishi Effect, helps to prove the societal value of spreading yoga and meditation practices well beyond the affluent group to which the modern, Westernized realm of yoga primarily caters. Thankfully, programs like Yoga Activist accomplish just that.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

Not only does Yoga District engage in hugely beneficial community outreach, it also succeeds where so many yoga studios fall short of fully embracing the integral yogic tenet of ahimsa (nonviolence)—it advocates veganism. Unlike Jivamukti in NYC, Yoga District does not directly incorporate discussion of a vegan lifestyle into the inspirational prose offered by its teachers, but the studio outspokenly supports a vegan lifestyle in other manners. For example, at the beginning of the summer, Yoga District students had to pay a $100 membership fee in order to participate in the studio’s unlimited monthly yoga program (to my understanding, Yoga District does not require membership anymore). However, in the spirit of offering maximally accessible yoga, the studio waived the membership fee for students, non-profit workers, and vegans. The fact that Yoga District legitimizes a vegan lifestyle in such a manner further highlights the studio’s commitment to truly fostering a just, equitable society for all.

Additionally, the I Street location of Yoga District features an all-vegan, high-raw café known as District Tea Lodge on the studio’s lower level. The wood-paneled, warmly lit dining space features a long communal table; a bar with kombucha on tap, behind which the cafe’s friendly chefs prepare fresh, seasonal, organic, and hugely nourishing fare; and a case displaying a daily selection of raw desserts. While the café certainly lives up to its namesake, boasting a wide selection of handcrafted tea blends, District Tea Lodge also knows a thing or two about handcrafting wholesome vegan noms. A creamy, optionally green smoothie; a fruity chia pudding; a “big daily bowl” with whole grains, plant-based protein, greens, veggies, and dressing; and raw cookies and puddings always grace the District Tea Lodge menu, though the specifics of these dishes varies according to produce seasonality and availability.

Tea Lodge communal table.

Tea Lodge communal table.

My experience at District Tea Lodge happened to fall on the same weekend during which my parents visited me in DC, so I had the pleasure of enjoying the humble café with my dear mother. The “big daily bowl” that day featured quinoa, steamed tempeh, lightly cooked kale, sliced cucumber, and julienned beets and kohlrabi in a choice of dressing (my mother and I both chose the creamy tahini dressing, but they also offer Asian amino and apple cider vinegar & oil). While I’ve long adored the blissful simplicity of the vegan bowl, this one erred on the side of ersatz rather than pleasantly uncomplicated. The bowl certainly showcased the fresh crispness and bold flavor of each individual veggie, but with its unseasoned tempeh, a fairly scant drizzling of tahini dressing, and an oddly disproportionate amount of quinoa to veggies (one can only eat so much plain quinoa without becoming bored, after all), I found myself quite underwhelmed with the dish.

Big Daily Bowl

Big Daily Bowl

Other offerings that day included a raw almond hummus with sliced cucumbers, a raw tomato-basil bisque, and a kohlrabi slaw in a creamy sunflower seed-basil dressing—my mother and I opted to split the latter. The kohlrabi slaw proved much more dynamic and enjoyable than the bowl, highlighting the earthy brightness of the kohlrabi and beet batons, yet harboring enough dressing to provide interest and textural contrast.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Though perhaps the newly opened District Tea Lodge’s savory offerings require a bit of improvement, its selection of nourishing, wholesome raw sweets has already reached top quality. Equally as simple as the cafe’s savory fare yet much more satisfying and gastronomically captivating, District Tea Lodge’s daily dessert variety includes artfully prepared raw cookies, brownies, tarts, mousses, and chia puddings in dynamic yet familiar flavors. On the night of our visit, the café featured a mango pudding tart, a chocolate avocado mousse, a pecan brownie, and almond cookies with either cashew-chocolate or raspberry frosting. My mother and I partook in the first two options, reveling in the creamy, healthful decadence of our strawberry-topped dessert selections. While I harbor absolutely no qualms with the impeccable pudding-y portions of our desserts, the very small criticism that I must make regards the somewhat dry, crumbly texture of the mango tart’s crust—an issue easily remedied by a more thorough blending of nuts and dates in the food processor.

Raw dessert case.

Raw dessert case.

Mango tart.

Mango tart.

district tea lodge (1)

Chocolate mousse.

Relatively in keeping with Yoga District’s mission of affordability, District Tea Lodge’s fare proves quite inexpensive ($8 for a generously sized daily bowl, $3-5 for a side such as the almond hummus, and $4 for a dessert), especially when compared to most all other high-raw restaurants I’ve visited, as well as to other DC-area restaurants of the cafe’s caliber—the daily bowl closely parallels the cost of a Chipotle entrée, for goodness’ sake! District Tea Lodge’s teas, however, cost a much prettier penny: $5 for a single mug of tea. I do understand the expense, though, seeing as the café ethically sources the teas, herbs, and spices featured in its blends.

Needless to say, I’ve developed a close kinship with the Yoga District community, both with its yoga classes and teachers as well as its support of a vegan lifestyle. I’ll fondly remember my immensely positive experiences with the studio after returning to Vassar this upcoming weekend, and intend to return for a drop-in class if I ever find myself in the DC area again.

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant Exploration: Woodland’s Vegan Bistro (formerly Everlasting Life Cafe)

Ask anyone familiar with the veg-friendly eatery scene in DC for restaurant recommendations and they’ll invariably mention two restaurants: Sticky Fingers Bakery (which I reviewed about a month ago) and Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. These two establishments have long reigned over DC’s veg restaurant kingdom, and any DC-area vegan, vegetarian, veg-curious folk, or person who enjoys eating fabulous food should prioritize patronizing both of them—perhaps three times each, if they and I share any commonalities.

As I’ve already introduced you, dear readers, to the delights of Sticky Fingers Bakery, I’ve reserved this post to discuss the delightfully unexpected fusion of comfort and health food known as Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. Formerly named Everlasting Life Café, Woodland’s specializes in 100% plant-based versions of traditional soul food dishes including barbeque seitan ribs, fried “fish” sandwiches, mashed maple sweet potatoes, smoky collard greens, and “the best mac & cheese I’ve ever eaten,” according to Katie, my fellow intern at Compassion Over Killing. While I’d definitely consider some of Woodland’s more novelty items (veggie country fried steak made of fried yuba skins, anyone?) as occasional treats rather than everyday fare, the restaurant also features a wide array of veggie-heavy prepared salads, green juices, wheatgrass shots, and fruit smoothies that more closely parallel my daily eating habits. Needless to say, Woodland’s eclectic blend of vegan noms will astound even the most skeptical of parents who insist upon their adult child’s veganism as a “phase,” as well as health-conscious folk who scoff at the term “too much kale.”

Woodland’s warm and inviting dining room.

Though I’ve become a die-hard fan of Woodland’s thanks in part to its deeply satisfying fare, the primary reason I ardently support the eatery comes with its success in rendering nourishing, compassionate food accessible to a community most often barred from making such choices. Located in an area of DC populated largely by people of color and low-socioeconomic status, Woodland’s offers a welcome alternative to the fast food joints and liquor stores littering this almost-food desert, providing healthful vegan options at affordable prices. Seeing that about 2.3 million Americans live more than one mile away from a grocery store and do not own a car, that wealthy districts boast three times as many supermarkets as do poor ones, that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as do primarily black ones, and that the grocery stores in black communities usually lack an adequate selection of fresh produce, taking action against such atrocities to food access has become absolutely imperative, and Woodland’s has nobly done so. (Stop by the Food Empowerment Project’s website for more information on food justice issues.)

In food deserts, liquor stores often function as the only establishments at which residents can purchase food.

First introduced to Woodland’s by their booth at DC’s annual Capital Pride festival, I immediately fell head-over-heels in love with the restaurant’s sweet kale salad and sticky BBQ soy chick’n drumsticks. This preliminary sampling of Woodland’s cuisine ensured that I would venture to their brick-and-mortar establishment with my parents (now vegans of eight months) during the weekend they visited me in DC. Fast-forward a couple weeks, and my parents and I passed through the warmly hued, welcoming atmosphere of Woodland’s spacious dining room on our way to the eatery’s cafeteria-style food service area. Boasting a hot foods bar, a cold case of prepared salads, a sandwich-ordering station, a dessert display, a juice and smoothie bar, and a soft-serve ice cream machine, Woodland’s ready-to-order selection certainly does not skimp on variety or volume.

A glimpse of the hot foods bar.

A glimpse of the hot foods bar.

Beautifully colorful cold case of prepared salads.

Beautifully colorful cold case of prepared salads.

My father, the true southern boy he is,  positively swooned over the restaurant’s cornbread muffins and tender collard greens, while I struggled to refrain myself from breaking the glass of the cold case and stuffing my face into the dish of sweet kale salad. (You guys. I’m not kidding around. This kale salad=pure magic.) Meanwhile my mother, understandably overwhelmed by Woodland’s tantalizing array, heeded my recommendation of their famous baked mac & cheese.

My plate from bottom clockwise: sweet kale salad, chewy seaweed salad, curried tofu salad with bell peppers, brown rice.

My plate from bottom clockwise: sweet kale salad, chewy seaweed salad, curried tofu salad with bell peppers, brown rice.

My mother's plate from bottom clockwise: baked mac & cheese, smoky braised collard greens, spicy "live stir fry" with brassicas and carrots.

My mother’s plate from bottom clockwise: baked mac & cheese, smoky braised collard greens, spicy “live stir fry” with brassicas and carrots.

While undoubtedly scrumptious, the food at Woodland’s comes in hefty portions—one plate can easily provide two meals for a single person, thereby rendering Woodland’s fare even more cost-effective than do their already quite fair prices. So impressed with his meal of comforting favorites that harkened back to his childhood in Arkansas, my father eagerly purchased a pack of three homemade peanut butter cookies to maintain his energy during our full day of trekking around DC—please enjoy the comical picture of him and his beloved cookies below.

everlasting life cafe (8)

I would encourage anyone in the DC area to sample the impressive fare at Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, and to support their endeavors to improve food access in their community. Woodland’s latest project, the Woodland’s Vegan Bistro To-Go food truck, launches TODAY! (Saturday, August 3) at the 2013 Mustock Festival in Lignum, VA, and plans from then on to serve the streets of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.

Woodland’s Vegan Bistro To-Go food truck.

Until next time, Ali.

Natural Skincare: Homemade Exfoliating Cleanser

Last October during Vegan Mofo, I introduced you all, dear readers, to the wonders of a homemade facial toner and acne scar remover that consists merely of apple cider vinegar and white tea. Since entering college almost one year ago, I’ve actively strove to reduce the amount of hygiene and skincare products I purchase for a variety of reasons: 1.) To ease the financial strain commonly experienced by college students. 2.) To avoid slathering harmful chemicals all over my face and extremities. 3.) To minimize the risk of accidentally purchasing products that contain animal-tested ingredients. 4.) To feel damn cool and DIY for developing an almost completely homemade skin and hair care regimen.

My homemade facial toner & its ridiculously simple ingredients.

Shampoo, conditioner, exfoliating cleanser, and facial toner comprise the cosmetic products that I’ve homemade for almost 12 months now. You can read more about the details of the “No-Poo” hair care method, which employs only baking soda and apple cider vinegar in fostering healthy, lustrous hair, at the Nature Moms blog, and can find the “recipe” for homemade facial toner on one of my previous posts. While I now save about $27 on a semi-monthly basis by ceasing to purchase these products, I’m also reducing my carbon footprint by avoiding the chemicals and packaging involved in the production of cosmetics. Not one to embark upon any endeavor halfheartedly, I’m still seeking to further contribute to the health of both my personal finances and the planet by incorporating more homemade hygiene solutions into my daily routine. For example, once I run out of my current stick of deodorant and tube of toothpaste, I fully intend to start homemaking these items as well, following these two sets of instructions. After eschewing these two store-bought hygiene products, I’ll regain another $10 every month or so, and will only need purchase facial cleanser, a couple items of makeup, and hair sculpting paste to fulfill my hair and skincare requirements (if you know of natural methods to replace any of these particular products, please do let me know!).

DIY toothpaste from Wild Roots.

DIY deodorant from In Sonnet’s Kitchen.

Today, I’d like to share with you perhaps the simplest and most economic exfoliating cleanser I’ve ever encountered. Costing less than $0.05 per use and consisting of only one sole ingredient, this exfoliating cleanser effectively dissolves under-skin sebum, clears away debris, and alkalizes the skin. The magic ingredient? Baking soda.

baking soda baking soda 2

The Method:

1.) Splash your face with warm water to preliminarily cleanse the skin.
2.) In the palm of your hand, dissolve 1 tbsp baking soda in a couple drops of water (feel free to add a drop or two of your favorite essential oil for fragrance).
3.) Rub the baking soda paste all over your face in small, circular motions for about 2-3 minutes before rinsing the mixture off completely with warm water.
4.) Gently dry your face and follow the exfoliating cleanser immediately with facial toner to close your pores and prevent gunk (a technical esthetic term) from entering them.

Method submitted to Waste Not Want Not Wednesdays, Allergy-Free Wednesdays, Healthy Vegan Fridays, and Wellness Weekend.

Comment-Provoking Questions: Do you make any of your own cosmetics or skin, hair, and hygiene products? If so, of what ingredients do they consist?

Until next time, Ali.