We are officially in the thick of fall season, folks! And I LOVE IT!
You know how some people feel about pumpkin — pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, pumpkin everything? That’s how I feel about apples — apple fritters, apple pie, apple compote, apple bread, apple cider donuts [oh my god], apple sauce, apple cider…I could go on and on….
Caramel apples, appletinis, apple crisp, apple cobbler, apple cider sangria…
Anyway, I recently bought 20 pounds of apples from my MIL who went to a local orchard to pick [she and her friend together picked over 55 pounds of apples!] so I’ve been making apple goodness for the past week.
So when my apple bread was in the oven, I surveyed the damage —which was extensive because I am very messy in the kitchen—and saw the apple scraps.
I remembered a post years ago by my absolute FAVORITE zero waste blogger at Zero-Waste Chef about using apple scraps to make vinegar. You can find her whole how-to guide here. Basically you add the scraps with some sugar and cover with water and let it sit for several weeks.
So, I decided to give it a go.
Hopefully I have made the Zero-Waste Chef proud.
[Her name is Anne-Marie Bonneau, by the way and she has a great cookbook out which I of course own, and which also contains the apple scrap vinegar recipe and a gazillion others.]
Back to the vinegar. I’ll have to let you know how it turns out. Right now it is sitting on my counter with a few other fermenting goodies like hot sauce from our home-grown hot peppers and cabbage that is hopefully on its journey to becoming sauerkraut!
What do you use the apple scrap vinegar for, you might ask? I use it in [of all places] the dishwasher because it helps the glass dishes to come out sparkly. ✨ It is also good for cleaning and gut health. So don’t waste those scraps!
It’s been a while…but I’m back for the moment to tell you about a salad dressing I made that has practically no calories at all. [To be technical, all four ingredients in this dressing have 0 calories on the label, but there very well may be a trace calorie or two 🤷♀️.]
Look, finding salad dressings that are even low calorie is a challenge, so this, my friends is a near miracle. The only catch is, in order to like this dressing, you’ll need to love hot sauce…
I’m going to tell you all about it, but first, a rant about salads…
I have been extolling the virtues of salads since I began this blog five years ago. [In fact, I just searched through google photos for a picture of salad and I think I actually have more photos of salads than I have of my own face.] Personally, I eat a fresh vegetable salad almost every day. The only problem with a salad [besides potentially out of season and pesticide ridden produce] is the calorie bomb usually found in the dressing.
For the past ten years, I have eaten my salad with oil and vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon. And that is all well and good, but if I want to load my salad with chick peas and avocado AND a tablespoon of EVOO [120 kcals, btw], well, that adds up. So, sometimes I want something a little lighter and I’ll tell you all about it, but first, a caveat about extra virgin olive oil.
I am in NO WAY saying that EVOO is unhealthy or that you shouldn’t eat it. Quite the contrary. Extra virgin olive oil is wonderful for you — especially when it’s high quality and cold pressed and drizzled onto a fresh veggie salad [or drizzled raw on anything really]. So adding it to salad is a healthful and filling choice [due largely to the healthy fats in EVOO]. In fact, you can add that drizzle of olive oil right along with this salad dressing if you wish.
I personally, consume A LOT of olive oil and use it in many, many dishes. So sometimes I skip it in my salad. No biggie.
Now, on to the salad dressing…but first, the story of my inspiration.
Story of Inspiration
I was riding my stationary bike in the basement the other day and following along on an absolutely BRUTAL HIIT ride with my favorite Peloton coach, Robin Arzón, when she said “I use hot sauce for salad dressing.” She was meaning this metaphorically, I think, since hot sauce is her favorite analogy for ridiculously high resistance on the exercise bike, but I thought to myself…I would like to have hot sauce as a salad dressing. That sounds delicious.
I finished the ride first, but then I immediately googled “hot sauce salad dressing recipe.” Nada. I mean, I found some spicy Mayo recipes [that ain’t going to work] and I found some spicy honey mustard recipes [nope], but nothing like what I was looking for. I wanted something that tasted like Franks RedHot, but was not just plain ol’ RedHot, which would maybe be a little too spicy even for me. [And ya’ll, I LOVE spice.]
So, then I went into my kitchen and did a little mixing magic and voila! A hot sauce salad dressing.
None of these measurements are exact because mixing magic does not involve measuring things. Just throw some of these ingredients into a jar and shake. If you no likey, add some more of this or that and try again.
Ingredients: mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, lime juice.
Generally speaking, the ratio I use is about 2 parts mustard to 1 part vinegar [I’ve tried rice vinegar, white wine vinegar and red wine vinegar so far]. Then I add enough hot sauce to make it SPICY [and to prevent it from tasting like just mustard] and a few splashes of lime juice. Too spicy, add more lime juice. Too thin, add more mustard. Too thick, add more vinegar. Adjust per your personal tastes.
I for one LOVE hot sauce. I have been putting it on [or in] every savory thing I eat— except salads and I don’t really know why. I love this dressing so much and the fact that it happens to have no calories is just a bonus.
Alright, so if you like heat, try it out and lemme know what you think.
If you search online for zero waste deodorants, you’ll find PLENTY of options. But it’s a total crap shoot – a bit like finding the perfect menstrual cup [which I’ll discuss some other time]. No matter how many reviews you read, the only good way to know what works for you is to try some out.
So, when I began my initial search for a less wasteful deodorizer [over two years ago now], I just went with a brand that I trusted: Lush Cosmetics. Since then, I’ve tried four additional deodorants and [go figure] my favorite is the first one I picked two years ago.
Lemme tell you about it…
Lush Cosmetics Deodorant Bars
I LOVE Lush Cosmetics and have been using their bar shampoos and conditioners as well as the occasional body bar, scrubby, bath bomb and some of the other amazing zero waste products. Lush has brick-and-mortar stores, one of which was at the mall where Brett worked for a few years. This was particularly convenient because we didn’t have to have products shipped and Brett could wander into the shop and pick out new and exciting products [hence, the many bath bombs I’ve enjoyed]. Lush products are vegan, cruelty free and all natural. In addition, Lush is a also a very ethical brand, truly walking the talk.
So, it was just natural that I would try out their zero waste deodorants. In April of 2020, I purchased two of their bar deodorants: T’eo and Aromaco. I started using the T’eo bar first.
And I LOVED it.
Also, it lasted me all the way to July of 2021. In that time, I moved away from my beloved store and bought a second T’eo bar when we were visiting Nashville last summer. I’m still using the second bar.
Here is what it looks like now…
This bar smells FANTASTIC. It’s made of compressed powder which I gently rub on to apply, and has waxy base to hold it together. I do not recommend applying immediately after shaving, however, because OUCH!
It’s just a bar, with no container at all. Since I bought this in the shop, all I have to store it in is the brown bag I was given at checkout, which has worked fine for the past year [but is definitely falling apart at this point, as you can see in the photo above].
In the end, I tried the other bar but it was very hard to apply and did not smell as good, so I didn’t use it.
But, over the years, I have tried some other options…
Homemade Deodorant Spread
Another blogger had shared a recipe for homemade deodorant, which I decided to try. The recipe called for coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda and essential oils.
While I loved the idea of a homemade deodorant that I could keep in a mason jar, I didn’t love the smell or the cold [this recipe recommended storing it in the fridge] and I didn’t feel that it was actually doing any deodorizing.
Hammond Herbs Pit Stop Deodorant Tube
Recently, I decided to try the natural deodorant called Pit Stop, which I ordered from another of my favorite zero waste shops: Well Earth Goods. [This is the same online zero waste store where I purchase my dish soap block, dish brushes, toothpaste tablets and laundry detergent strips which I’ve posted about previously here].
This deodorant comes in a recyclable/compostable cardboard container. You push up from the bottom and spread on your underarms. It smells and spreads better than the Aromaco bar from Lush. The tea tree and lavender is strong, though, so you have to like the scent. I like it, but it smells very “clean” and not particularly feminine or masculine [or whatever those stereotypical scents are], like Brett and I could share it. [Ok, that’s just disgusting. We don’t share deodorant, I promise.]
Pit Stop is made in America, uses natural ingredients and, overall, I like it just fine.
But T’eo by Lush is still my fave.
Ethique Deodorant Tube
Another brand that I use for shampoo and conditioner bars is Ethique, so I decided to try their deodorant tube.
This deodorant smells AMAZING [very floral] and is applied just like the Pit Stop deodorant. Also, this tube is bigger than Pit Stop. Ethique is very convenient because they distribute through Amazon [as well as their own online store]. This cardboard tube is also recyclable/compostable, but now that I’ve tried it, I really want to try their deodorant bar, which is more like the Lush Aromaco bar.
However, I won’t be needing more deodorant for…at least another year or two.
And, even when the time does come for more deodorant…I’m still going to order the T’eo bar from Lush.
What can I say? It’s my favorite!
If you try one of these or have other zero waste deodorant recommendations, let me know in the comments!
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!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I LOVE setting resolutions for the new year. I know, I know. Everyone else is telling you that resolutions never work and you should set small goals throughout the year and yadda yadda.
Well, I don’t really know what to tell you other than that they work for me! I’m a super goal-oriented person, so when I “resolve” to do something, I typically get it done.
In 2018, I resolved to learn to bake. Brett and I had weekly “bake-offs” and now I bake all of our bread from scratch and I have developed a reputation among friends and family as a baker. [I’m hoping for title of “bread lady” some day.]
In 2019, I resolved to learn to knit. That year, I hand-knitted a few blankets for Brett’s grandmothers. Then the next year, I knitted a coffee cozy. This year I knitted four scarves, one coffee cozy, and a cat toy for Christmas presents. Next up, I’m planning to knit hats, socks, mittens, dishcloths, and scrubbies.
In 2020, I resolved to learn Spanish. I have now been studying Spanish on Duolingo every day for two years. No sé todo, pero yo sé más que hací hace dos años. [If you want to join me on Duolingo, my profile name is KarisCarlson. Vamos a ser amigas!]
Also, in 2020, I resolved to volunteer to donate my kidney. Took an extra year, but I got it done.
Last year, my resolutions were simpler. I just wanted to focus on my family and my health. I spent a lot of quality time with each of my kids one-on-one. I walked my dogs a lot. I read a ton of books about health, food, and nutrition. And we spent the entire year as vegans, which really taught me to prioritize plant-based foods for my family, rather than just on my own plate.
My goal to only drink water for a year lasted until mid October when I got super sick and started drinking vitamin C packets in orange juice because I felt like my life depended on it….and, well, I never really got back on the water-only wagon.
The water-only goal was also about raising awareness about the water crisis, and so we funded a well in Uganda to provide clean water to a community that didn’t have access before. That’s pretty cool.
All in all, 2021 was a pretty good year – despite the craziness going on in the world.
So now for my 2022 goals…
Goal #1: In the past, I’ve set a series of goals related to different parts of my life – physical goals, family goals, travel goals, reading goals, etc. But my favorite goals always end up being my new skills. So this year [though I had really debated choosing rock climbing or wood turning], I’ve decided my new skill to learn will be photography. I have a nice camera and I need to learn how to use it! It would be soooo helpful to take my own family photos like my friend, a self-taught photographer, does.
Goal #2: Instead of having aggressive physical goals like running a marathon, this year, my goal is to fully recover from my kidney donation and get back to running. Not running fast. Not running far. Just back to running. Hopefully I can accomplish this sooner rather than later, but they say it can take 6 months to a year to be fully back to normal after losing an organ, so this goal is really more about not going too fast. I’m going to have to exercise extreme strength of will to slow down, take time, and give my body some grace.
Goal #3: Somewhere along the way I had made a previous resolution to get back into school for nursing. And I have finally started. My goal for this year is to [🤞] finish up my prerequisites and get accepted into an accelerated Masters of Nursing program. I’m still quite terrified about this course my life is taking – scared of the financial cost of returning to school, scared of the time it will take away from my kids, scared I’ll fail… But you know what they say:
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
2021 might not have been the year we all hoped for, but that doesn’t mean that 2022 can’t be. I hope you have a safe, healthy, and intentional year!
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.
So, I have a confession to make: I’ve gained weight since going vegan last October. Not like crazy amounts of weight, just five or so fluctuating pounds, but that’s enough for me to realize that despite my rigorous 6-days-per-week workout schedule, I’m going in the wrong direction. This is NOT to say that weight is the only indicator of health, by the way, but I know that my eating habits are not as healthy as they once were…or as they should be.
This realization [or revelation] made me re-examine my diet [aka what and how I eat] to find weaknesses. And I found one alright.
[I found other problems too, which I may share about at another time.]
The biggest problem was veganism.
My Vegan Story
Just so you know, I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or scientist – though I wish I were one [or all] of these things. I’m just a health fanatic who has been studying [and trying out and fine-tuning] my own healthy eating habits for the past ten years. I’ve also been a personal trainer for the past six years, which has taught me a lot about what motivates and influences people’s eating decisions.
I became a full-fledged vegan last year after flirting with veganism for about three years. The final decision was in response to climate change and the obvious havoc that meat consumption is wreaking on the planet. My side reasons were to no longer be complicit in the unethical treatment of animals, feeling much better when eating vegan, and the health benefits of avoiding meat.
Since making the switch, I’ve been writing a lot about being vegan, posting vegan recipes, discussing being vegan with kids, and sharing what my meals look like. However, now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Is being vegan healthy?
The Problem with Veganism
It’s a common misconception that vegan is synonymous with healthy. While it’s true that eating meat – especially too much and factory farmed meat – has negative health consequences, does that necessarily mean that cutting out all animal products is more healthful?
The short answer: no, unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The major problem with veganism is that lots of unhealthy foods are vegan. Veganism [or plant-based, if you prefer] as a diet isn’t necessarily healthy because plenty of unhealthy foods are vegan. Check out this list:
Potato chips [cheese free]
Dairy-free ice creams
Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, Frosted Flakes [and many, many other junk cereals]
Laffy Taffy candy [and many other types of candy]
Olive Garden breadsticks
Highly processed vegan alternatives to meat products
And the list goes on and on.
I remember the first time Brett and I went out together after I became vegan and the only thing I could eat on the entire menu was French fries. So, guess what I had for dinner? French fries. Would anyone call that a healthy meal?
[In retrospect, I probably could have ordered a plate of lettuce without any dressing and a side of steamed broccoli, but seriously, would you choose that over French fries???]
So, what I’ve noticed is that, if something is vegan, I’ll eat it because…well, it’s vegan and there aren’t as many options available for me. However, this has lead to me eating a lot of things that I ordinarily wouldn’t.
I hadn’t eaten French fries foryears before I became a vegan because under no circumstances [other than starvation and literally nothing else available] are French fries a healthful choice. I also had long ago given up burgers and chips and sugary candy, because they are also really worthless foods. And I’ve already expounded on how much I loathe cereal for being a total waste of a food in a previous post.
And yet, here I am eating vegan burgers with a side of fries like it’s totally okay.
I reached this point honestly, though. I was so focused on eating only what is vegan, that I totally forgot about eating what is vegan and healthy.
So, I’ve realized that in order to be a vegan [for all the very important moral, ethical, and health reasons] andto be healthy and live a long, productive, active, disease-free life, I have to tweak my version of veganism a little bit. I have to make it work for me in the healthiest way possible.
My Version of Veganism
So now that I’ve realized that veganism doesn’t mean it’s ok to eat anything that doesn’t list animal products on the label, I’m recommitting myself to a vegan diet that means: zero animal products [that’s pretty obvious] and also zero processed foods [of which there are tons in the vegan section of the grocery store] and zero added sugar [which is definitely a vice for vegans – even if it is organic and not processed using bone char].
I’m making an exception for some processed vegan meats because they really make veganism more accessible for my family [aka my partner, Brett], but I will mostly avoid them – even tofu, tempeh, vegan sausage [which I actually like way more than I ever liked real sausage], and vegan meat alternatives.
So what will I eat?
Well, It’s time to go back to…[drum roll, please]… my vegetable-only diet! I’ve done some form of this diet for roughly a month each year since 2018…and it’s time to bring it back, but this time with a vegan twist.
I will eat vegetables [lots and lots and lots of them], fruit, legumes, nuts, and the occasional whole grain [like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and 100% whole grain bread].
To live a truly healthy lifestyle, vegans have to not only pass up the animal products, but also the processed vegan alternatives, sugary snacks, and junk foods that are common in the vegan food aisle. These items, which are fine as exceptions, shouldn’t be diet staples.
I’ll post later with more details about my [nearly] vegetable-only diet, but in the meantime, I just wanted to encourage any other vegans out there who, like me, want to be the healthiest they can be, to put down the vegan breakfast bars, bag of pretzels, and dairy-free Haagen Das, and instead, pick up carrot sticks with hummus, a whole apple, or banana “ice cream.”