My healthy goal for February is to serve a salad with every dinner.
It’s no secret that I am a lover of salads. I’ve posted many, many times about them. They are my favorite way to eat a lot of fresh, raw veggies.
Healthy Salad Dressings
I have been making my own salad dressings for years and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It is better for your health, better for your wallet, and allows you the freedom to customize a dressing that’s perfect for you. I usually mix the dressing right in my salad bowl, but sometimes I do make it ahead for when I’m taking a salad to dinner at a friend’s house.
To make, put equal parts olive oil and vinegar of choice in a jar with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of dijon [or any kind] mustard. Then shake to combine.
This dressing is customizable in a million different ways by using different vinegars, adding different spices/herbs, and adding lemon [or other citrus] juice.
Healthier Homemade Ranch
Like pretty much all kids, my kids like ranch. They like the vinaigrettes that I make too, but ranch is their favorite. I make my own healthier version by mixing the following seasonings into plain Greek yogurt: parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Use equal amounts parsley, garlic and onion. About half the amount of dill. Even less chives [this can be omitted altogether]. Then salt and pepper to taste.
Or you can just buy the ranch dip package at the store – but why when you have everything you need in your cupboard already???
Vegan Green Goddess Dressing
This is a recipe that I got from America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Plant Based Cookbook, but of course I’ve modified it.
I basically soak a cup of raw cashews in hot water for 30 minutes, then blend with 3/4 cup water, fresh lemon juice from one lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, pepper [and whatever other seasonings I feel like] until smooth. I add water if it’s too thick.
So far this month, we’ve had side salads, taco salad, and “salad pizza” [which is just salad on top of my homemade pizza dough – more like a flatbread]. I’ve even had a “smoothie salad” – don’t ask. And my kids keep asking me for their favorite: chickpea salad.
Looking forward to this month of raw veggie salads!
For the month of January, I’ve been avoiding added sugar, which is a LOT harder than it may sound. Though I thought I already knew most of the culprits hiding sugar, I have discovered a few more places that I was unaware of.
For instance, sriracha has sugar. That might be common knowledge for people who eat sriracha regularly. I just thought it was like any other hot sauce, until I tasted it. It was so sweet that I had to check the label.
Sure enough – sugar is the second ingredient.
Though, the real conundrum is how they manage to put “0g added sugar” on the nutrition label…????
I don’t know what that’s about, but I decided not to take any chances and switched back to my regular hot sauce [Tapatio, at the moment] which has no sugar.
I also happened to be in the market for a new multivitamin and I thought I would give gummies a try [they are so dang popular after all], but I decided against it when I realized that they have added sugar.
These are the gummy vitamins that my kids take every day. They prefer gummies for obvious reasons [and truthfully, the sugar content is nominal], but they also like Flintstone chewable vitamins, and these don’t contain any sugar.
Sugar in Bread
By far the sneakiest place to find added sugar is in bread. It is very challenging to find bread in the grocery store bread aisle that doesn’t contain any sugar. It’s not impossible, of course, so if you really want to buy your bread, I recommend looking in the bakery for freshly baked loafs that only have the four necessary ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, water.
Obviously, if you want a sweet bread [such as zucchini bread] or even an enriched bread [such as brioche], then you can expect to find sugar in the ingredient list – but for every day, run-of-the mill sandwich bread and buns, sugar is unnecessary.
So, I’ve been making my own for years.
It all began when I experimented with giving up processed foods for a month. I was pretty new to baking at the time, but I had to find a bread recipe that I could actually make that would work for sandwiches – that was also 100% whole wheat. It took me quite a while to find one that worked for me, but now I’ve been using the same recipe for the past five years to make everyday bread for my family.
The base recipe is from An Oregon Cottage [you can find the recipe here]. Over the years, I’ve altered the recipe to suit my needs — namely removing the honey and swapping two cups of whole wheat flour for bread flour, which makes a slightly fluffier bread.
So, here is the recipe that I use [and it’s in my preferred format which is with ingredients listed in bold in the instructions].
Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
This recipe makes two loaves and takes me 2 hoursto make [1hr and 20 minutes of that is rise time], but I’ve been making it every week for years, so maybe plan on 2.5 hours.
1. Put 2 1/2 cups warm water [about 110°, but don’t stress it – just not so hot it can burn you] in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast over the water. Add 2 cups bread flour. Mix until incorporated. Wait 10-20 minutes [the mixture should rise and get foamy on top].
2. Add 1/3 cup olive oil [or any neutral oil], 4 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir until it becomes too thick, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until smooth, adding additional flour as needed to keep it from being too sticky.
3. Divide dough in half. Take one half and flatten, then roll up and pinch together. Curl up ends and pinch together. Place seam side down in oiled bread pan. Repeat with other half of dough.
4. Cover with a towel and let rise for one hour [preferably in a warm place].
5. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
And voila! Enjoy that freshly baked bread smell! Mmm…
This year, I’m considering setting a health-related goal for each month. I haven’t totally committed myself to this yet because…well, it would be tough. But I’ve been trying to tackle my COVID-induced bad habits for the past year with very little success. So I think having one new habit to focus on each month will be helpful.
Starting in January [or right now], I’m doing a month of no added sugar. I’ve actually done this before, many years ago, after reading Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.
Last time, I was astounded by two things:
1. Sugar is in everything. I found it hiding everywhere – even the most savory of foods like breads, sauces, frozen dinners, peanut butter, chips, snacks, and nearly every other processed food.
“There are many shortcuts in life, but perhaps none that come free of consequences. Sugar is one of those things we have manipulated into giving us lots of shortcuts: to better taste, to more convenience, to ever-higher food industry profits. But at what costs? As the old saying goes, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
Eve O. Schaub, Year Of No Sugar
2. Going without added sugar for a period of time allowed me to really taste and enjoy the natural sugar found in produce like carrots and peppers.
So I’m doing it again. In particular, I’m hoping that this will help me break my late night candy-consumption habit.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I didn’t start the first of January because my family took a vacation to Florida where we stayed in a private rented home with my parents and sister’s family. We enjoyed the sunshine, went to the park, walked through the zoo, and took our kids on the obligatory visit to Disney World.
Brett and I also had a really fun evening to ourselves in Orlando where we went to the Museum of Illusions, rode the Ferris wheel at ICON park, had dinner at the Sugar Factory, and then rode the world’s [almost] tallest swings.
Anyway, my classes started for the spring semester the day after we got back home, so it’s right back to reality.
I hope you enjoy the long weekend and the MLK holiday [for those in the US]. I haven’t decided yet how we will celebrate it in my home, but it’s more than just a day off work/school. It’s a day to reflect on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the continuing struggle for justice and equality for people of color. I’ll probably get some good books from the library and spend time talking to my kids about our responsibilities to ensure the fair and equal treatment of all people.
Several years ago, we got these excellent books from the library to read about Dr. King and the civil rights movement. I highly recommend them for anyone with kids.
Today, I’m writing a personal letter to share about a big change I’ve made in my personal life in the last month.
I quit veganism.
Before all my vegan readers swear me off for good, let me explain…
When it comes to what I eat, I’ve been on quite a journey, which began over ten years ago when I decided to get healthy and led me all the way to the past year of being vegan. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, studied nutrition in formal classes and on my own. All of this has lead me to improve my eating habits by eliminating processed foods, making food from scratch, buying fresh, whole foods, choosing organic whenever possible, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, reducing meat and dairy, increasing plant-based foods, and so on.
Then last year I became convinced of the ethical and sustainable imperative to stop eating animal products, and so I did. I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which shared horrifying details about the conditions in which American food animals are raised and slaughtered. I watched David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, which described how our choices as humans are impacting the planet and in which he states that the simplest thing we can do to combat climate change is stop eating meat. Other sources of information are How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger, the short film Meet Your Meat, and the documentary The Game Changers. These [and other] sources of information led me to a year of veganism.
All of that is still true, but I’ve realized that meat and eggs in small quantities from ethical, sustainable, and local sources are an important part of a well-balanced diet and so I became determined to find a source of meat that wouldn’t violate any of my ethical and sustainable standards.
[There are several sources of information that led me to this change including: RealFood by Nina Planck and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – the latter of which has a very compelling argument for eating local, sustainable meat.]
After much searching, I found a farm about an hour away that raises 100% grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chickens, turkeys, and lambs. Early one morning, we drove up to the farm for a tour. We met the animals, stood in the chicken coop, held the freshly laid eggs, and I immediately knew that this was a farm I could support. So we started purchasing meat from them.
As you may guess, buying meat from a local farm is expensive, so we buy limited quantities, only have meat once or twice a week, and make sure to fill up on plant-based foods at meals.
Though I am not vegan anymore, the past year of veganism has been totally transformative for me and my family. Because of the past year, we no longer think of meals as requiring a meat, and we now know how to prepare various delicious plant-based meals. I have become a pretty decent vegan baker and most of my baking will remain vegan forever. Even my [previously] “meat and potatoes” partner has embraced almond milk, tofu, tempeh, and cashew cheese.
For some people, finding and affording ethical, sustainable, and local meat products will be impossible. If it were impossible for me, I would remain vegan. It is not worth the cost to my health or the health of the planet to eat meat from factory farms. So if the only meat available to you is full of antibiotics, raised in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, and fed a diet of grains and dead animals, veganism is still the best and healthiest option. BUT the more we use our dollars to vote for a healthier and more ethical food supply, the more ethical and sustainable meat will be come available to everyone.
We all have to make the best choice we can with what is available to us.
In the past three months, I read 16 books, making my total so far for this year 46! Not too shabby.
I’ve tried condensing down my blurbs about each book since, geez Louise, I get exhausted writing these things, I can’t imagine how bored ya’ll must be reading them! This post is still too long, but I did my best.
[As usual, my star reviews are just to indicate how much I personally enjoyed reading the book. They are not to be taken too seriously.]
How To Avoid a Climate Crisis by Bill Gates
I have mad respect for Bill Gates, not just for being a brilliant mind and exceptional business man, but for being a philanthropist who has focused a lot of his wealth and resources on saving lives around the world. I love the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and follow the work that they do around the world because they ensure that every dollar does the most good possible.
That aside, Bill Gates is also super intelligent and usually right [like when he predicted an air-borne virus would ravage they world], and when I heard he had a book about climate change, I knew I wanted to read it.
I will say this, though, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is not exactly a riveting read. It is often scientific and talks about technology that I have absolutely zero understand of – BUT, what I appreciate the most is his commitment to protecting the planet and protecting the underprivileged. He has a unique perspective in the environmentalist camp that calls for new technology to end climate change, rather than trying to hold back progress around the world. In fact, his whole perspective seems to be one of progress as a human population. And he puts his money where his mouth is, supporting many new companies that are testing out creative solutions for climate change.
Ultimately, this book gave me a lot of hope for the future. And we all need some hope right about now.
She Saidby Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey
As a feminist, this story and the Me Too movement are so important to me and I loved reading the back story of how these persistent journalists exposed Harvey Weinstein and, as the subtitle says, ignited a movement. This is the perfect example of how powerful good journalism is. It has the power to change society, as these two women’s reporting did. I’m so glad that they pursued the truth and exposed – not only one sexual predator – but a culture of abuse that had been hidden from view for as long as we can remember.
That being said, I liked this book mostly for its subject matter and relevance to current feminist issues, but I wouldn’t say it was the most riveting book I’ve read. I still would recommend it for anyone who wants to know more about why the Me Too movement is so important because this book clearly shows the lengths to which powerful men will go to keep their sexual predation and abuse hidden.
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
In this book, Isabel Wilkerson draws parallels between American racism and the caste system in India [and even the caste system established by Hitler in Nazi Germany]. Well, I am no historian or social expert, so I have no comment on whether racism in America is more like a caste system. But I will say that racism is a huge problem that continues to plague our society and denial of its existence is only making things worse.
My favorite part of the book is when she compares racism in America to owning an old home. We might not have built the house, but it’s ours now and whatever problems it has, we are now responsible to fix.
“The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.”
Isabel Wilkerson, Caste
Let’s stop denying the house is falling apart, stop blaming it on the previous owners, stop putting it off or wishing it away. Instead, let’s get to work.
Other parts of the book that really moved me are the true stories of racism throughout. Some are Wilkerson’s personal experiences, some are infamous stories from history like the murder of Emmett Till, some are stories of horrific lynchings, some are current stories of prejudice and injustice, but all are heart-wrenching and angering.
I don’t know how it is possible for anyone to believe that racism isn’t alive and well in this country, but if there is, they need to read this book.
Hillbilly Elegyby J. D. Vance
Before reading this book I didn’t know anything about what it’s like to grow up in a poor rural working-class white community like the one that J.D. Vance did – like nothing. Most of my understanding of poverty is in relationship to racism or single parenthood. So this book was an education about a group of people that I haven’t had a chance to cross paths with. I have always lived in the suburbs and been squarely middle class. It was eye-opening and sad and all the things that I’m sure it was meant to be. However, whether it be due to the distance between me and Appalachia or just my general ignorance, I found this book to be a little disappointing. I’ve had it on my list for so long because I love a story of rising out of humbling beginnings, but I think it was maybe too sad for me. It was extremely upsetting to read about a mother that threatens her child. And I know that many people today grow up in struggling communities, in broken families, in less-than-ideal situations, but…I guess it just breaks my heart.
The book is also more political than I expected, but since Vance appears to be a right-leaning moderate, I benefited from his “see-it-from-both-sides” perspective – which I personally am woefully lacking. He also acknowledges that much of what the right views as “laziness” is actually hopelessness.
“Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life.”
J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
This is really key to the struggle we all face to help new generations rise above their circumstances. And neither the left nor the right are doing it very well right now. We need to instill in young people – no matter their race, class, social status, grades, or abilities the belief that they can be successful and that their choices do make a difference. But, of course, we also have to make sure that it’s true. I think that is the big takeaway [for me anyway] from this book.
“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”
J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
We can’t just give people money, but neither can we just tell them to stop being lazy bums. We have to give them hope.
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
I’m just going to give a warning here at the beginning: most people I know would be offended by much of the content in this book. BUT this is Tiffany Haddish telling her truth and I love her for it.
I have been a Tiffany Haddish fan since I saw her in Girls Trip. She is hilarious and so natural that I instantly fell in love with her. Turns out, she just is naturally that funny. I listened to the audio version of this book which I highly recommend because it’s basically a one-woman stand-up show.
Ok, ok. I take that back. There is a lot of stuff in her story that is really rough. At times, it sounded like she was literally crying and it made my heart break for her. She has not had it easy. But, oh my goodness, she finds a way to make you laugh the whole way.
I have a newfound respect for this woman. And I am still a super fan!
Night by Elie Wiesel
I’ve had this book on my list for several years, and I finally read it. This book is right up there with The Diary of Anne Frank for being a true and truly horrifying account of what the Jews suffered during the Holocaust. In fact, I think Night is even more powerful because it is a first-hand account of a man who survived Auschwitz, the infamous nazi concentration camp.
It might sound morbid, but I like to read books like these every so often as a reminder of what humans are capable of when they start following one another instead of their god-given conscience. Remembering these events, as painful as it may be, is necessary to avoid repeating our mistakes.
As Elie Wiesel said,
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
It is also important to remember that, though the Holocaust is not currently happening, other injustices exist today. The slave trade, sex trade, racism, xenophobia, and extreme poverty are some of the injustices that we should be protesting today.
Two other great books about the Holocaust that I read a few years ago are The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Number the Stars. And a good movie is The Zookeeper’s Wife.
Meat: A Love Story by Susan Bourette
It was strange reading a book praising the unusual customs surrounding meat consumption – like eating whale blubber in Alaska, frying bull testicles in Texas, and eating all raw meat in Wisconsin – especially as a vegan.
I totally agree that eating meat is a cultural experience. But now that I think about it, the cultural traditions are really just about consumption in general, not specifically meat. Pretty much any geographical place in the world can be defined by certain types or methods or traditions surrounding the foods they eat, but they do not always include meat. However, even with the exploration of the various cultures surrounding meat in this book, none of them lead me to believe that eating meat is necessary. They also don’t prove that eating meat is healthy. They also don’t prove that vegetarian and vegan meals can’t also be a celebration of culture – albeit a different and more modern culture. But, hey. I’m all for progress.
I will say, I loved the writing in this book. There is just something about the works of journalists that I find so well written, no matter how mundane the topic. It takes me back to my college days of studying journalism and dreaming of some day joining the ranks of these inspiring writers. So it’s always a pleasure to pick up a book like this one…
But I’m still not into meat.
Persist by Elizabeth Warren
Just like Kamala Harris, I didn’t know anything about Elizabeth Warren when she appeared as a candidate in the 2020 presidential race. But, man oh man, I wish I had read this book before the primaries. I would have been on the Elizabeth Warren bandwagon for sure.
If all you know about Elizabeth Warren is what you’ve heard second-hand or through the media, I highly recommend you read this book and hear her story and what she’s passionate about.
Reading Elizabeth’s personal story of becoming a lawyer and then tenured professor all while struggling to find childcare for her kids gave me the motivation I needed to get back to school. I’d been wanting to go back to school for nursing so I can become a midwife for several years, but it always seemed so challenging while I was taking care of four little kids. But Elizabeth Warren showed me that I can do it. I don’t have to wait to get busy working toward my dreams.
She is an inspiration – and her plans for improving the lives of Americans are so awesome, I can only hope that she will make another run for the presidency someday. She will have my vote.
Food Mattersby Mark Bittman
This is one of eight books about nutrition that a friend lent me, and it is my favorite so far. [Funny enough, I didn’t even realize until after I finished this book that I have on my shelf Mark Bittman’s cookbook, How to Cook Everything – which I have never touched.]
The first half of this book serves as a great summary of the many fascinating things I’ve learned about food from Michael Pollan over the past few years. So if you don’t want to read all of Pollan’s books, pick this one up and you’ll get the overall idea. This book also provides lots of great whole food recipes. I personally have been cooking with whole, natural foods for the past five years, so I’m comfortable with preparing meals this way, but I will be gifting this book to friends and family who are always asking me about healthy eating. This book is short, to the point, accessible and practical.
Hood Feminismby Mikki Kendall
You know I love me a book about feminism! And although I don’t agree with everything in this book, I do know that if women are going to continue to make progress in this world, we cannot leave an entire demographic of women behind. The complaints in this book are valid. And the leaders of the feminist movement need to listen to the women who have, as she says in the subtitle, “been forgotten.”
However, I disagree with Kendall’s apparent accusation that feminists are willfully being elitist and entitled. The problem is that women on opposite ends of the spectrum have a difficult time understanding the position of the polar opposite. Both may still be women, but that doesn’t mean that their concerns and issues within the feminist dialogue are the same. Different women want to see different changes. But, in general, yes, mainstream feminism needs to be more inclusive of the huge range of women’s needs – not just those at the top.
But let me tell you, I read Gloria Steinem’s book and I don’t for a second believe that she left out women intentionally. [Kendall never speaks about Steinem specifically, I’m just using her as my own personal example here.] Those who have been “forgotten” need to also show a little grace to those whose perspectives may be different and not automatically vilify them as only self-serving.
Anyway, disagreements aside, she does discuss important feminist issues that affect colored minorities such as cultural appropriation, code-switching, colorism/texturism, femicide, and respectability. Each of these issues were educational for me and and tremendously insightful. If you are unfamiliar with any of the topics above, I highly encourage you to read this book.
A Path Appearsby Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Last year, I read Kristof and WuDunn’s book Half the Sky, which focuses on women’s suffering around the world and was really moving. Now, A Path Appears is here to help show the way forward. I’m extremely interested in the topic of humanitarian relief and how the wealthy countries [and individuals] in the world can [or rather, should], be helping to end poverty. I’ve read many books on the topic, and truthfully, this book repeated a lot of information that I learned in Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save, and Melinda Gate’s book, The Moment of Lift – but there is one important difference which is exactly what makes Kristof and WuDunn so successful in this area: they share stories.
This book is filled with stories of real people – wealthy and not – who are helping to change the world for the better. Kristof and WuDunn completely destroy the myth that you have to be a millionaire or a politician to change the world. In truth you just have to see the problem and want to change it.
“Let’s recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower but also of chance and early upbringing, and that compassion isn’t a sign of weakness but a mark of civilization.”
Nicholas D. Kristof, A Path Appears
Love, love, love this. I hope this book inspires many, many more people to join the fight to end poverty on this planet.
Locally Laidby Lucie B. Amundsen
Oh my gosh, I love this book! This author is hilarious. It is such an easy and entertaining read.
Locally Laid is about how Amundsen and her husband decide to start a pasture-raised commercial egg company, without any farming experience whatsoever. Of course, they are successful in the end [the company is also called Locally Laid], but not without a lot of struggles, unexpected expenses, hassling from inspectors, and chickens who don’t know how to be chickens.
I’ve been dreaming of my own backyard flock of chickens for years, and this book gave me hope. If the Amundsens can go from zero to 8,000 chickens, then I can surely manage five or six.
America for Americansby Erika Lee
I wish this book was a more engaging read, but unfortunately, it reminded me of my high school history textbook – which is to say, very informative, but not exactly a book I get excited about reading.
Still, I learned a lot of interesting things about how xenophobic America has been from its inception. Of course, a lot of this can be gleaned from history books if you read between the lines, but this book is straight to the point. Turns out that our southern neighbors were not the first to receive the good ol’ American shove back-to-where-you-came-from. They also aren’t the first to be called “criminals” in order to stir up fear of immigration. We’ve actually been doing that to people groups all over the world since we founded this country: Irish Catholics, Chinese immigrants, Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, and now Muslim Americans. America has always been xenophobic, racist, and fearful of other religions. We’ve been deporting people, closing our borders, and refusing refugees since America was founded, we have simply become better at politicizing our reasons, so as not to appear xenophobic.
Am I surprised? No, not at all.
America has always been for Americans. And apparently no one in America seems to see the irony and delusion behind that belief.
Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
I wanted to read this book before watching the Netflix show with the same title and based on this true story of a woman who leaves Hasidic Judaism.
As someone who also left the religion in which I was raised, I could relate to A LOT of this book. I didn’t know anything about Hasidic Jews or their beliefs, customs, and traditions before reading this book, but it is so similar to my own personal experience leaving mainstream Evangelicalism, and the book I read earlier this year, Educated, in which Tara Westover leaves Mormonism. Though the religions could not be more different, with varying levels of strictness, they are all equally difficult to leave behind…and also impossible to remain as a woman who wants to be seen as more than a womb and a “helpmeet.” I mean, the feminist thing isn’t the only reason I left, there was also a lot of logic and reasoning involved, but in addition to that, I simply could not accept that I must be subservient to men my entire life just because I happened to be born without a penis.
[Let’s be real. Penises haven’t done anything other than cause trouble for as long as they have existed.]
Ok, this took an unexpected turn…
Back to the topic, I thought the book was enlightening about this mysterious religious subculture that I was quite honestly completely unaware of. And I’m glad to know there is another brave rebel out there willing to leave her roots in search of freedom.
Real Food by Nina Planck
I have a real love-hate relationship with this book. On the one hand, I’m 100% for eating real foods. I’ve been harping on that for five years now, frequently doing long stints of not buying or eating a single processed thing. So I totally agree with the premise of this book. However, I don’t fully trust Plank’s health assertions, especially after reading How Not To Die by Dr. Greger, and I feel like she basically wanted to do battle with the vegetarians and vegans of the world [of which I am one]. She makes good arguments for eating fish and beef, but misses an important caveat regarding moderation.
In the end, though, I have been convinced to eat local, grass-fed beef, local pasture-raised. poultry, and wild-caught salmon – so I guess she got what she wanted.
Waking Upby Sam Harris
This was a little too New Age-y for me, but I do think that starting a practice of meditation would do me good. I may add that to my New Year’s resolution list…we’ll see.
I’d didn’t love this book overall, but oh man, when I got to the part about the split brain theory…
I mean, that was WILD. I recommend this book just for that part alone.
Well, that’s a wrap for 2021 Q3 books!
As always, if you have book recommendations, please share them!
I could not be happier for fall to arrive this year, but still I was a little surprised when all my neighbors started putting out pumpkins and scarecrows and Halloween decorations. I mean, it was still 90° around here! Certainly didn’t feel like fall. [This is my first time living this far south – and I’m just in southern Illinois.] Appropriately, today is a beautiful fall day – cool, crisp, windy, rainy. I LOVE it!
Besides today’s weather, the local produce is also screaming fall, so I decided to make my favorite fall meal [or side dish], comprised of my favorite fall vegetables roasted to perfection and tossed together.
Roasted Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash, and Brussels Sprouts
[I need to work on the name of this meal…it’s quite lengthy…]
I make this every year as a side dish for our Thanksgiving meal, but I make it as a stand-alone for my family many times during the fall. This is the perfect fall meal, because these are perfect fall foods that are in abundance during this time of year.
It also couldn’t be easier.
Peel and chop some butternut squash.
Peel and chop some sweet potatoes. [I like the color contrast provided by these purple sweet potatoes, but I usually just use regular.]
De-stem and half some Brussels sprouts.
Toss them all with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 425°.
We ate it with a side of vegan Tofurky sausage, but these vegetables are hearty and filling and can be a stand-alone meal too, which we have done many times. [If you’re not used to eating only vegetables for dinner, this is a great place to start.]
Side note: Roasted Brussels sprouts are a family favorite in our home. Despite their terrible reputation, Brussels sprouts are SO DELICIOUS. If you haven’t tried them, or more importantly haven’t tried them roasted, this is the time to do it. Like, right now. I have converted many Brussels sprout skeptics with my roasted side dish using the same method as above.
For my family of six [four of which are young kids], I roasted one small squash, two sweet potatoes, and 12oz Brussels sprouts. We had a little squash leftover, but otherwise, everything was gone.
[I’m kidding about vegan carb-cycling being a starvation diet…but only partially kidding. When your going low carb as a vegan, the pickin’s are slim.]
Since I’ve been talking a lot recently about what I eat, I thought I’d mention that I recently gave a new dieting fad, carb-cycling, a try. When I first started doing this, I scoured the internet for information on carb-cycling for vegans and found very little info and basically no personal experiences, so I’m here to share my story for any vegans wanting to give carb-cycling a try.
What is carb-cycling?
Truthfully, carb-cycling isn’t new. This method of rotating macronutrients to get super lean has been a part of body-building for a long time. It’s only just recently become mainstream, popularized by the ever-growing community of online fitness professionals.
Historically, carb-cycling has been very strict and, admittedly, very unhealthy as a long term diet. But it is so effective at getting body builders in prime shape for competition day, that many, many people put their bodies through this unnatural regimen in order to compete.
Now, however, carb-cycling has been modified to fit the every-day fitness buff who wants to get lean without giving up all the foods they love.
Here’s how it works:
You basically divide up your week into carb days and no-carb [or in my case, low-carb] days. The exact ratio depends on your goals, but if you’re looking to get cut or lose weight, you will have more no-carb days. My plan was to have two low-carb days followed by one carb day and then repeat. This is a pretty typical carb-cycle for every day fitness. On the no [or low] carb days, less than 20% of total caloric intake should be from carbs. And on the carb days, you can eat as many carbs as you want. In fact, you are encouraged to eat a lot of carbs so that your body doesn’t think you’re starving it.
Without getting to science-y on you, carb cycling works because if you don’t feed your body carbs, it will choose an alternative energy source to burn [ideally fat], which is good for losing weight…until your body realizes that you’re not going to give it any carbs and then it freaks out and starts burning as little fuel as possible to conserve energy stores. In other words, your metabolism will go to shit if you go without carbs for too long. So, by only giving your body carbs every few days, you keep it from going into survival mode on you and your body continues to burn fat [fingers crossed].
That’s the theory behind carb cycling, anyway. And I can tell you as a student of a previous body builder, carb cycling is definitely affective. However, the question always is…at what cost?
Carb-Cycling for Vegans
I’ll just tell you right off the bat, most people doing this are not vegans because nearly everything that vegans eat is high in carbs. Vegetables are mostly carbs, legumes have a ton of carbs, grains obviously are high in carbs. It’s actually really challenging to find low carb vegan foods. A typical low- or no-carb day would consist of lots of meat and cheese – the only two food groups that have no carbs. Of course there are also some fat foods like avocados, nuts, and oils, but you can really only eat so much of those things.
So basically, if you want to attempt this as a vegan, you are in for a challenge. Is it doable? Yes. Is it easy? No.
Foods I could eat on low-carb days:
Leafy greens and other low carb vegetables
Low carb fruit [of which there are not many]
What my food typically looked like:
Breakfast: tofu scramble with spinach
Lunch: salad with oil and vinegar and avocado
Snack: mixed nuts
Dinner: vegetable stir-fry
Breakfast: vegan keto bar [these things are NOT yummy]
Lunch: an avocado, tomatoes with oil and vinegar
Snack: two tablespoons natural peanut butter
Dinner: green goddess salad with tofu
What my low-carb macros typically looked like:
I managed to eat 1000-1200 calories per day [which is not enough for me with exercise] and I managed to maintain this carb-to-fat ratio. But it was HARD. It was hard to eat enough calories. It was hard to find foods that I could eat that didn’t have carbs so I ended up eating a lot of the same things. And I mean, A LOT.
But…I did it.
However, there was a downside.
My carb-cycling experience
Besides the question of whether carb-cycling is doable, I needed to ask is this healthy?
Based on my experience – No.
At least, not for me, not right now.
As a fitness professional and health nut, I’m always interested in trying new things, but this messed me up. I was originally planning to try it for a month, but I only lasted two weeks.
To start with, I had intense stomach cramping for the first few nights as my body rebelled against this no-carb idea. Then I bonked on a five mile run for the first time in my life. A FIVE MILE RUN! [For my non-runner friends, to “bonk,” or hit the wall, is when you run out of energy stores in your muscles and basically feel like you can’t go another step.] In all my years of running long distances, I’ve never hit a wall like that before. I could barely workout on my low-carb days, and forget about cardio. So I would workout like crazy on my carb days, but I like to exercise six days a week, so a sudden switch to only two days was just not working for me.
Besides physical pain and lethargy, I was only eating a handful of foods, when before I was eating the rainbow of plant-based options. And the work required to maintain this diet made it completely unappealing.
Of course, the carb days were fine. I could eat like I always did [except I would avoid all fats], but there were so few of them that I constantly felt weak and slow and lazy. I think advocates for this way of eating would tell you that it gets better as your body adjusts, but I really had no reason to continue to torture myself. I don’t need to lose weight. I’m not training for a bikini competition.
Basically, I don’t want it that bad.
We live in a carb-hating society right now. I’ve worked with many trainers and athletes [even ultra marathoners and Ironman competitors] who never eat any carbs. They live on lean meats and dairy with a side of leafy greens. And that works for them. [Though I could write a whole post about the negative impacts of low-carb diet on athletic performance.] As for me, I prefer to fuel my exercise with carbs – plant-based, whole food carbs.
So, anyway, my advice to vegans wanting to carb-cycle: proceed with caution.
Until the last few years, I’ve always hated cooking, partly because I was terrible at it and partly because it seemed like a huge waste of time. But over the past few years, as I’ve embraced low-waste living and Veganism, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to cook healthy food that tastes good. And nowadays, I don’t even follow recipes. I view them more as guidelines. I like to go off script and make something that fits my families tastes and also uses up all the leftovers and loose veggies in the fridge.
Basically, I’m a scrappy cook. I do best when you give me a bunch of random food items and tell me that it will all be thrown in the trash if I don’t make something edible out of it. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster than the threat of food waste.
But still, our meal routine has gotten pretty boring. We, like most families, have a handful of meals that we eat every week. Our rotation consisted of bean burrito bowls, vegan burgers, tempeh veggie stir-fry, pasta, vegetable bean or potato soup, and usually a homemade vegan pizza night.
I was feeling like we needed some more variety in our meal plan. I wanted to try out some new meals and see if we could add some to our rotation, which is why I texted a picture of this book to Brett and very subtly hinted that I would like it for my birthday. Actually, I said “Hey, I want this book.” [My man doesn’t do subtle.]
So I picked some new recipes to try, made a shopping list, and got busy.
[All the recipes below are from this cookbook unless otherwise noted.]
Here’s the result:
June 4: Coffee Cake
First up – vegan coffee cake. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a coffee cake, but I was excited to try this vegan version in place of our usual banana muffins. It was delicious. I made it the evening for breakfast the next morning. I sent several pieces to work with Brett and the kids and I ate the rest.
Would have been even better if I was drinking coffee…but there’s that whole “only drinking water for a year” thing. So I’m logging this one away to definitely try on January 1, 2022 with a cup of coffee.
June 5: Brussels Sprouts Hash
I love a good hash. I’ve made varieties of hashes before – usually using up whatever I have available – but this time I followed the book and used carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts [my favorite vegetable].
Everyone loved it. Two thumbs up. 👍👍
June 6: Vegan [Baked] French Toast
This is the first time I’ve made vegan French toast. I was surprised that the recipe had me bake the bread slices in order to get them crispy, but they turned out perfectly and are a lot easier than our usual Sunday morning breakfast of pancakes.
Also, I was able to use up half a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread that was nearing its expiration.
Using up old food while making new food! Win-win!
June 6: Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
We typically have a pasta dish once a week – usually a box of noodles and a jar of vegan tomato sauce [gotta check the label on pasta sauce jars – they sometimes hide dairy]. But I knew I could do better. And this sounded delicious.
Admittedly, it was not the kids’ favorite pasta sauce but they all cleaned their plates [or bowls in this case]. So it couldn’t have been that bad. I, on the other hand, LOVED it, especially since it is an easy sauce I can make from scratch with just red peppers, one tomato, some garlic and seasonings – oh, and cashews for vegan ricotta. I’ll definitely be making this again.
I ended up with a jar of extra sauce too, for next time!
June 7: Nora’s Birthday
This cutie turned two on June 7th so we had burgers [vegan for me] and hot dogs at my in-laws’ house to celebrate.
But I did make these vegan cupcakes – my first time making vegan cupcakes and they turned out pretty well! The recipe is from Nora Cooks [my go-to blog for vegan recipes] – Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes. For the vegan frosting, I just used plant butter and powdered sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt [no recipe, just winging it]. I filled the cupcakes with mini m&ms and rainbow colored jimmies for a fun surprise for the kids.
June 8: Tofu Rancheros
This is the only meal that I will definitely not be making again because it was waaaaay too much work and took waaaaay too long. I doubled the recipe, because it said four servings, but definitely didn’t need to. I thought it was tasty. My partner liked it. My son loved it [and ate all the leftovers] but my daughters, not so much.
June 9: Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup
This soup was pretty good. I loved the combination of chickpeas, lentils and orzo – along with the veggies. However, I would have chosen to just throw in any veggies I want and probably season a little differently. But it was good and my kids all finished their bowls [some even asked for more].
I ate the leftovers for lunch over the next few days [with hot sauce – perfecto!]
June 10: Vegan Chocolate Mousse
Thursday evenings are busy with two Taekwondo classes back-to-back, so I’ve made it an unofficial leftover night. BUT I was dying to use the aquafaba from the can of chickpeas from the night before, so after lunch I whipped up some vegan chocolate mousse to have after dinner.
[Aquafaba is the cooking liquid from beans. Apparently chickpeas are best. You can use the liquid from the can or cook your own chickpeas. I’ve done it both ways and works great.]
This recipe doesn’t come from the book. I actually didn’t use a recipe, but there are some online. All I do is whip aquafaba until it forms peaks, then slowly add sugar one tablespoon at a time until it taste good [I’ve never counted how many tablespoons it takes – maybe 10-12]. Then I mix some cocoa powder with melted coconut oil and beat that into the aquafaba until it’s incorporated. Then refrigerate it until it sets.
My kids love this stuff, and I do too.
Never ever pour aquafaba down the drain!
June 11: Thin Crust Pizza with Mushrooms and Ricotta
Meet my new favorite pizza. This was DELICIOUS! I like mushrooms on my pizza anyway, but these are cooked and seasoned with soy in advance and then topped with a vegan ricotta and lemon mixture that is SO GOOD.
Brett doesn’t like mushrooms, so I made him and the kids two different pizzas.
Being vegan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza!! We love pizza night and we all enjoy our vegan varieties!
Side note: I didn’t use the cook book recipe for pizza crust [which I do want to try] because it has to chill overnight and I didn’t plan ahead. So I used my favorite recipe instead, which can be found at Sugar Spun Run — “The Best Pizza Dough Recipe.” I double this recipe for my family of six, but we do usually have some pizza leftover.
Homemade pizza dough is the BEST!
June 12: Green Goodness Salad with Tofu
This cookbook has an excellent recipe for a cashew-based cream dressing, which I love. It was delicious. And the salad was hearty enough with the broccoli, tofu, and avocado to feel like a really well-rounded [and super healthy] dinner. [I subbed peas for edamame, because I couldn’t find it anywhere in my small town.]
Even the kids all loved it. I’ve decided to add a hearty salad for dinner into our weekly rotation.
As delightful as this food has been, I’m looking forward to returning to my quick and easy [and boring] routine of roasting whatever vegetables I have and serving them with rice [I kid…kind of]. But I have learned some new tricks and picked up some good meal ideas for the future.
Also – I didn’t get compensated in any way for trying these recipes or sharing them with you. [I don’t make a dime off this blog.] But I do recommend the cookbook for anyone whose meal plan has become a little…repetitive.
As a vegan, I don’t miss the meat nearly as much as I miss the sweet stuff: ice cream, brownies, cake, buttercream!
But, don’t worry. I wouldn’t let veganism stand in the way of my sweet tooth. So, today I’m sharing with you my three favorite homemade vegan sweets. These treats are so easy to whip up and only use a handful of natural ingredients.
Vegan dessert options are still pretty rare and/or pricey. So, if I want a vegan dessert, I have to make it myself, unless I want to pay $5 for a pint of dairy-free, calorie-bomb ice cream [which, I’ve definitely done] or some other specialty vegan product. But the truth is, making sweets myself is more rewarding and also free of all the additional junk in processed foods.
These three desserts require very few ingredients and varying degrees of effort. Let’s start with the easy one.
Easy: Vegan No-Bake Brownies
Brownies are pretty much the best things ever baked [in my opinion, anyway], which makes these vegan no-bake brownies the best things ever…not baked. They aren’t an exact replica of a traditional brownie, but they are really frickin’ good! They are nutty, gooey, chocolatey, and that ganache is the perfect sweet topping.
The ingredients for the brownie bit are: walnuts, almonds, dates, cacao powder [or cocoa], and salt. You basically throw everything into a blender under it gets all gooey and then press it into a dish and refrigerate. [I’m oversimplifying a teensy bit, but that’s the gist.] Doesn’t get much simpler [or natural] than that!
[Actually it does get simpler, if you read on to the next recipes, but never mind that for now.]
The ganache has almond milk, dark chocolate chips [I always buy the allergy friendly or certified vegan chocolate chips], salt, coconut oil, and powdered sugar.
The recipe is from the Minimalist Baker, and you can find it here. I don’t change anything, except I once swapped the walnuts for pecans and they were still delicious.
Side note: these are a pricey dessert to make due to the nuts and dates – but totally worth it! They are also high in calories [because nuts have a lot of good fat]. I’m a strong believer in the idea that if I put in the work to make something from scratch, then I deserve to enjoy the fruits of my labor guilt-free. [Though I still limit the quantity.] Whereas, buying an overpriced, mystery-ingredient-filled vegan dessert from the grocery store just isn’t as satisfying.
Easier: Vegan Coconut Macaroons
Not to be confused with macarons [which can also be made vegan, but would never, ever by any human being be described as easy], these vegan macaroons are little bits of coconut and chocolate heaven. Of course, I love coconut. If you don’t like coconut, just skip down to the next sweet treat [but know that you’re missing out on all the goodness that coconut products offer to us vegans].
Most vegan macaroon recipes call for aquafaba, which I always have, but never feel like using because it requires all that beating. It’s quite time consuming. I wanted something simpler than that…and I found it.
Over at mindfulavocado.com, Amanda provided a super simple macaroon recipe, which I now use to satisfy all my coconut cravings. You can find the full recipe here, but I did modify this one to make it even more simple. Basically, all I do is mix together sweetened coconut flakes [you could pulse in a blender to make them finer, if you prefer], almond flour, maple syrup, a pinch of salt and enough almond milk to make it come together into a thick “batter” of sorts. Then I spoon it onto my silicone baking mat in little ball shapes and bake them at 275° for about 30 minutes [sometimes longer, check frequently.] Then once they are cooled, I dip and drizzle with melted dark chocolate chips.
And they are so good. Slightly chewy, slightly crispy, with the touch of dark chocolate.
Easiest: Vegan Peanut Butter Cups
No matter what shape you prefer, these are sooooo good. And quite frankly, I don’t know why everyone else puts butter and vegetable shortening in them!!! Why complicate matters when you can make these with three ingredients and like two minutes [excluding freezer time]?!?
So, there is no recipe for these treats – which, by the way, are my absolute favorite. It’s too simple for a recipe.
All you need is peanut butter, powdered sugar, and chocolate chips.
Some side notes about these ingredients:
1. The peanut butter needs to be natural peanut butter. And, by that, I mean that the only ingredient in it is peanuts [and maybe salt] – that’s it! No one should be eating that weird oily smooth peanut butter that Jiff is selling anyway. What the heck is that stuff? It’s definitely not peanut butter. But, anyway, I digress. I make my own peanut butter using peanuts and a blender [Ninja], but you can find a jar of natural peanut butter at the grocery store you just have to read the label. Many jars say “natural” and they still have sugars, oils, and god knows what else in them.
[Ok, sorry about that. I’m passionate about peanut butter.]
2. Chocolate chips should be vegan if you are vegan, but if you are not vegan you can use any chocolate chips you want and you will still LOVE THESE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS! I mean, I have yet to meet a human who doesn’t like chocolate peanut butter cups. [Obviously, a peanut allergy will prevent some people from having these…and I am just so so sorry.]
Now, all you have to do is put some peanut butter in a bowl and mix enough powdered sugar to get a thick-ish consistency [there is no right or wrong here]. Then shape however you want and put in the freezer to harden. Then dip or roll or drizzle or coat in melted chocolate chips. Once set, enjoy!
If even that sounds like too much work, look, just put some peanut butter in a bowl, mix in some powdered sugar, and sprinkle in chocolate chips…then go sit on the couch and watch Netflix. Okay?
Sometimes that’s all I’ve the energy for myself.
No shame in my game.
Footnote about eating sweets:
Now, one last thing. I am an obsessively healthy eater, so you may be surprised to see me promoting sweets. But, the truth is, being healthy does not mean that you can never have dessert again [and being vegan definitely doesn’t mean you have to deny your sweet tooth]. We just have to level up our treats. We need to be eating occasional desserts in reasonable [aka small] quantities that contain natural, and healthful ingredients.
I don’t eat these things every day. Truthfully, I eat a sweet treat about once a week at the most. That’s enough for me to feel like I’m not depriving myself.
Food is fuel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it too.
And I hope you do enjoy these recipes! If you try one out, let me know! And you can also tag me in a photo on Instagram @no.makeup.mama – though, fair warning, I’m not on social much.
One of my New Years resolutions for this year was to [re]focus on my health – getting rid of my late night snacking hobby, cutting out added sugars and processed foods, embracing veganism, getting all my needed nutrients, drinking more water, and, in general, rebuilding healthy habits. I am health obsessed normally, but last year’s Covid quarantine got me sidetracked a bit, so I needed to get back at it ASAP. To that end, I’ve added quite a few books about health and nutrition and food in general to my list, the first of which was Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which led me down quite a rabbit hole of discovering where my food comes from [let me just say – yikes!].
Beyond that I also read a great book about racism [probably the best of the 10+ books I’ve read on the subject], a book about poverty in America [giving me all the feels with a hefty side order of guilt], a book about loneliness [which I read because I thought I was lonely, but it ended up teaching me to be a better person], an awesome memoir that changed my life forever [Glennon Doyle is my new hero], and one really good fiction book.
My reading tastes are clearly very eclectic.
Top reads so far this year:
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Maid by Stephanie Land
These books couldn’t possibly be more different, but they each taught me valuable [even life-changing] lessons about life and love and health and politics and humanity and faith and forgiveness – and they all give me hope for a better future.
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
I was already a vegan when I began reading [or listening to] Eating Animals, but if I hadn’t been, this book would have definitely sealed the deal. I wrote previously in Another Reason to Be Vegan how this book made veganism morally compelling, when before that, I was only in it for the environmental and health benefits. The book was really eye-opening, and for all you meat-lovers out there, pretty fair. While painting an accurately horrifying image of how meat is produced today, he also acknowledges [through a quote from a factory farm management employee] the difficulty [or impossibility] of feeding a billion people with just small, ethical, family farms. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to change our ways. The answer lies in eating less meat – or, even better, none at all.
My favorite quote from the book is not specifically about eating meat, but more broadly about our natural tendency to be willfully ignorant about issues that we know will demand a difficult change. We prefer to turn away rather than to do what is right. This has irked me about a million different causes, not just the animal welfare. This quote is so good, I stopped after reading it and repeated it it to my partner. Needless to say, he didn’t appreciate it as much as I did – but I hope you will.
“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
Our society needs to stop pretending to be asleep.
If you are ready to face the truth and make changes, read this book. And then watch some powerful documentaries: Eating Animals, Meet Your Meat and Dominance.
How to Be an Antiracistby Ibram X. Kendi
“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
This is the most comprehensive, thought-provoking, and convicting book on racist ideologies that I have ever read. There is so much information in this book that challenged my understanding of racism – even being decently well-read on the subject – I can’t even begin to explain it all. It challenged so many of my previously held antiracist ideas and showed me how even in many of my attempts to be antiracist, there was still a racist idea at the center.
This is simply a must-read for every American…possibly every human.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
I decided to read this because I wanted to see the Netflix movie [which I still haven’t gotten around to yet], and I really enjoyed it. I don’t read much fiction, but I love a good story and this served as a sort of break from my intense [and largely depressing] nonfiction books. One of the best parts of the book was how skillfully Jordan used foreshadowing to imply the ending, but leaving enough unspoken to still surprise me in the end. It’s a sad story, and of course, it doesn’t have a happy ending – but it ends with hope.
Unknown Valorby Martha McCallum
[Fun fact: I was actually in the middle of this book when Martha McCallum praised the capital rioters and was promptly demoted by Fox News.]
I don’t watch Fox News, and I had never heard of this woman before receiving this book from my in-laws. When I looked her up, I already knew I wouldn’t agree with her opinions on the war, but I gave it a chance anyway and read the whole thing. It was very informative, but in a dry history textbook sort of way. And, as expected, I disagreed with much of her perspective about war in general, like her belief in “total annihilation” as the only effective way to win a war, her insistence on painting everything about the Japanese as terrible and everything that America did as flawless, and also her repeated use of racial slurs to describe the Japanese. There was only one sentence in the entire book about the Japanese internment camps, which seemed to me like a terrible oversight in a book exclusively about our relationship with Japan. The one thing I agreed with was her admittance that America only joined the war because we were butt hurt after the attack on Pearl Harbor and wanted some revenge. [But all of this could be easily learned through a quick Wikipedia search.]
Anyway, I appreciated the book because it forced me to read a different perspective. And I did learn something new – that there apparently are still Americans who are big fans of war.
Untamedby Glennon Doyle
My feelings about this book are so strong that I’ve had trouble putting them into words. I think what moves me the most was that this book made me feel, for the first time in seven years, like I’m not totally alone in my worldview. Like, omg, this woman gets me. Of course, Glennon Doyle has no idea that I even exist, but knowing that she exists has given me a sense of hope that I haven’t had since I embarked on my own spiritual journey [my own “untaming,” if you will]. Leaving behind what I was trained to believe and how I was trained to live has been a sad and lonely experience. But Untamed gave me hope that there are others like me. It also reinforced what I have come to believe about the world because [yay!] someone else out there actually agrees with me!
Such an awesome book. I listened to the audiobook twice in a week and I will definitely be buying my own copy to proudly display on my bookshelf [which as a minimalist only contains my 5-10 absolute favorite books].
I don’t know what other reactions will be since mine was so personal, but I do know that this book is full of truth and everyone should read it.
In Defense of Foodby Michael Pollan
I watched Pollan’s documentary with the same title years ago and finally got around to reading the book. And it was a great book. [The documentary is also good, so if you have the time, go watch that too.]
The basic principles in the book are so simple and yet vital to healthy eating and, as a result, healthy living. I don’t really want to give away the three rules…so please read this book.
“All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn and soy.”
Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
This is the root of the issue – and this book contains the key to healthy eating in our modern times of industrial agriculture.
[And it’s so good, I would later pick up another of Pollan’s books, which I’ll share with you below…]
How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach by Melanie Mühl and Diana Von Kopp
This book was interesting. Maybe two stars is too low of a rating because I did think it was interesting, but it was more a compilation of all the psychology studies surrounding eating than actually helpful to me as an eater. How should a restaurant describe its menu items? There’s a study about that. What music should be playing during dinner? There’s a study about that. What affect does an overweight server have on restaurant patrons? Yes – there is even a study about that. Like I said, it was interesting [ok, I’ve said that three times now], but I didn’t find it all that practical, which is, I suppose, what I was hoping to find.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma [a precursor to In Defense of Food] Michael Pollan traces the path of three different types of meals: an industrial/processed meal, an organic small farm meal, and a foraged/hunted meal.
For me, this whole exercise just gave more background [or proof, if you will] of what I already knew [and what I believe most of us intuitively know] about food. Food that is processed is not good for us. Food sprayed with pesticides is not good for us. Food that is fed antibiotics and growth hormones and lives knee-deep in its own shit is not good for us. Food grown in nutrient depleted soil, sprayed with chemicals, taken to laboratories and broken into its component parts then put back together into an unrecognizable [by nature] food-like substance is definitely not good for us.
It shouldn’t require this much research or a book of this length to convince us not to eat processed junk like McDonald’s cheeseburgers. And yet, here we are – continuing to eat [and in increasing quantities] what we know is not good for us.
Anyway, the book is really interesting. I learned a lot about our complicated history with corn, which is perfect timing because I live in a town surrounded by farmland and, of course, it’s all used to grow corn and soybeans. I’m literally in the middle of America’s farm belt and I can’t find a single organic family farm from which to buy my produce. Frustrating to say the least. But at least now I know how this conundrum came to be.
The Secret Life of Groceriesby Benjamin Lorr
So, now that I’ve learned about the industrial meat business and industrial agriculture, I picked up this book [at the recommendation from a friend] to learn about the great American waste…er, I mean, food machine: the supermarket.
This book is a little bit all over the place. It covers everything from how Trader Joe’s came to be [at one point I thought that the book was only about Trader Joe’s because this seemed to go on for quite a long time], to the trucking industry [it’s as bad as we all assume, by the way], to getting product on supermarket shelves [all a giant money-making scam], to human trafficking in the fish industry [yep, think about that next time you order fish], to cutting off one eye from each female shrimp [this random little tidbit just stuck in my head for some reason].
Looking back on it now, it all seems rather random and boring, and yet, it never felt random while I was reading it and I was never bored. Only an excellent writer could make this topic so interesting that I looked forward to reading more…
And let me tell you, Benjamin Lorr is an exceptional writer.
Maidby Stephanie Land
This is the first time that I have read a first-hand account of an adult living in poverty in America. Honestly, beyond what she writes here, I don’t know a thing about homeless shelters or food stamps or section eight housing or school grants or anything about it. And I recognize that it’s because I am incredibly privileged.
But I do know that a lot of people like me [who lack any real experiential knowledge of our welfare system] have very strong opinions about it – and everyone who benefits from it. This book brings us face-to-face with our prejudices, with our false stereotypes, with our wrongful assumptions – with Stephanie Land, to be exact.
I didn’t know that it was so much work to get help, or that some programs have waitlists that last years, or that there is such a strong stigma around receiving help, or that people can be so openly rude about it, or that it’s all just so…difficult. I have always been a supporter of welfare and all government programs that help people who are underprivileged, and if anything, this book has reinforced the fact that we don’t help nearly enough.
None of us can help the situation we’re born into and even if our problems are due to our own mistakes [like, in Stephanie’s case, falling for a guy who ends up being abusive] – we all make mistakes. Should we really have to suffer forever without help? Should we have to feel judged by society? Should we have to feel guilty about any leisure time or hobbies? Should have to do it all alone?
Stephanie’s story has a happy ending, obviously, but most stories don’t end that way. We the privileged few have the responsibility to help those who need it.
Ok, getting off my soapbox now…
Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
This is the first book I’ve read by Brené Brown and I was drawn to it because I identify with the subtitle. I often feel like I am searching for true belonging, but always end up standing alone. I am always bucking the system, causing a stir, swimming against the current, and don’t have a tribe of my own. I don’t fit neatly into any group.
Though it’s comforting to know that Brené Brown also feels like she is standing alone, it didn’t really do anything for my “quest for true belonging,” but this book definitely holds a lot of wisdom that I will carry with me forever.
My favorite lesson learned:
“People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.”
Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness
It’s easy to make harsh judgments about groups of people without knowing the individuals, but this is damaging because it perpetuates lies and further divides us into categories of “us” vs. “them.” This is especially true when it comes to politics today. I don’t like it when I hear someone say that people on welfare are all lazy, so I shouldn’t say that republicans are all selfish. [Even though I really want to.] Neither of these are true or fair statements. Getting to know individuals allows us to see more clearly that people are not so bad after all.
Other important takeaways for me include:
– We have to stop de-humanizing people [no matter how much we dislike them], which is something I have to work on. [I have a tendency to call men who honk at or catcall me “pigs.”]
– The meaning of true belonging is different than fitting in. Belonging is being accepted for who you are and fitting in is changing who you are in order to be accepted. My whole life has been an education in “fitting in” and conforming to what was expected of a good Christian girl. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel true belonging anywhere. [And also why Untamed was such a helpful book for me]
– Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to assume that people are intentionally hurting us [or others], but it may be ignorance. I know some people who are very loving and wonderful individuals, but are also extremely sexist. Because I know that they are good human beings, I give them the benefit of the doubt. So the best response is educating rather than attacking. [On the flip side, I also have to accept criticism and be willing to learn. There is much that I am ignorant of as well.]
You know what I love most about reading? It allows me to hear different perspectives, meet different people, and understand different worldviews than I would ever come across in my daily life. It expands my understanding of the world. And even if I don’t agree with everything I read, every book adds to a more inclusive and well-rounded perspective of the world.
It’s an education in life.
And reading is also a quiet break from my kids. So that’s good too.