Monday, February 17, 2014

Life is too unpredictable to be paralyzed by inertia.  Time to get moving again...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Renewal and (Re)growth

I helped my mom start our garden today, and the joy of nurturing these plants filled me with some necessary hope...

For as long as I can remember I've had a recurring nightmare in which my legs simply stop cooperating.  The setting varies but the experience always involves the terrifying sensation of willing my body to run, or even walk, with little or no success: I feel as if I am pushing through hardening cement, with nearly imperceptible forward progress.  I'm sure a therapist could mine this for various juicy psychological insights, but that isn't why I mention it.

Unfortunately, physical reality has begun to resemble this nightmare over the past five-plus years due to what I recently learned is a type of inflammatory arthritis (one of the spondyloarthropathies related to the HLAB27 genetic marker, which include psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis). I'd continued to run long-distance (including a 50-miler and a marathon last October) as the effects of the arthritis grew increasingly difficult to ignore.  As someone who had probably averaged 60- to 70-mile weeks for more than ten years (and who often danced for two to three hours a day as a child) I'm very familiar with (and even appreciative of, in that warped way common to most endurance athletes) constant, underlying soreness and fatigue.  I chalked up any change in that "normal" discomfort to changes in training, shoes, sleep patterns, diet, stress, etc.  

Eventually, though, the stiffness (especially in the morning, when I lurch around like a drunk zombie) and fatigue (I pretty much always feel as if I could close my eyes and fall into a deep sleep) persisted even as I cut back on mileage and gave up long runs (my pace would slow to a laughable shuffle after, and sometimes well before, the hour mark).  In addition to roving pain in my heels, ankles, hips, and lower back my wrists and elbows started hurting occasionally and without noticeable reason.  This all came to a crescendo when I traveled back to Asheville, North Carolina, with intentions of training as a yoga instructor and immersing myself in the vibrant trail/ultra-running culture that had once been such an integral part of my life.

The insidious stiffness and fatigue wiped out all desire to carry out my plans.  Taunted by the beauty and vibrancy of the mountains and people around me I knew that something was terribly wrong.  My practical side took over and I returned to my parents' home in Connecticut to address the problem.  In addition to the healing power of my family's love I also recognized that it was time to seek some medical guidance, and returning to my job here gave me access to generous health insurance and top-notch physicians.  

By now the bittersweet relief that often comes with a diagnosis has given way to a determination to find a way to manage this condition so that it no longer buries my dreams.  Traditional treatments are out of the question for now--  even just Aleve and the mildest prescription NSAID wreaked havoc on my already tempestuous gut, so the more heavy-duty "biologics" seem out of the question.  Not to mention the major concerns I have, as an ethical vegan, about consuming substances that were tested on animals (if not also derived from them).

I just ordered a natural alternative to ibuprofen (sadly none of the local health food stores had it in stock, so the jury's still out) and am trying to be more conscious about getting more sleep.  The rheumatologist that I see didn't advise me not to run; she just said that the pain (especially in my feet and ankles) would probably get to be too much after so many miles.  Still, to her credit she admitted that she's never had another long-distance runner as a patient and was open to helping me retain that label (runner, not patient!).

So now my goal is to adapt to and accept some level of pain/discomfort as the new baseline (and accept that I may never again be told, or feel, that I run as gracefully as a deer...).  Who knows? In the long run (pun very much intended) this could actually make me a stronger runner as a deeper capacity for, and ease with, pain allows me to push beyond limits I had previously thought were impassable.  


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Seasonal Change

I've found myself reluctant to spend much time in front of the screen on the weekends now that I'm tied to it at work, but I wanted to post some photos from today's Easter meals:

Brunch was well worth keeping the morning munchies at bay for longer than usual.  We enjoyed chocolate babka from Chloe's Vegan Desserts (I  can't recommend this book, or her first book-- Chloe's Kitchen-- enough; these are essentials for any kitchen, vegan or otherwise!), Tofurky kielbasa and Moroccan Couscous from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet.

After a quiet afternoon spent walking in the woods on a local trail and then subsequently napping, I prepared dinner with plenty of help from my parents.  Mom cooked her trademark kale and Dad mashed the veggies (potatoes, roasted garlic, parsnips and cauliflower-- another Chloe's Kitchen recipe) while I made Seitan Piccata (another Kind Diet recipe) using homemade seitan and Sauvignon Blanc from the Vegan Vine.

All in all a lovely day spent with family, even if I no longer subscribe to the religious beliefs behind the holiday.  I continue to be grateful for my family's openness to adapting traditions to a more compassionate approach to food and am so thankful that my path has led me back to them, no matter how unexpected was the journey here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Phenomenal Farro

Since winter seems to be lingering beyond its official time I decided to cook up another hearty dish for this week's Sunday dinner.  This veganized version of a recipe my boss had given me a couple of weeks ago fit the bill perfectly and introduced our family to a new grain, farro.

Farro Risotto with Cauliflower and Spinach
Serves 3 - 4

3 T Earth Balance margarine
4 scallions, white and tender green parts, sliced
1 cup plus 2 T farro
1 quart vegetable broth (I made this with Seitenbacher powder)
salt and pepper

2 T olive oil
3 cups/medium-sized head of cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
1 Field Roast Italian-style vegan sausage (optional, but adds a nice flavor boost)
salt and pepper

1 T sherry wine vinegar

sun-dried tomato strips (optional)

  1. In a large saucepan, melt the Earth Balance.  Add the scallions and saute for a couple of minutes.
  2. Add the farro and some salt and pepper.  Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the broth in 1/2-cup increments, simmering and stirring frequently until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Continue until most or all of the broth has been used and the farro is tender, about 20 - 30 minutes (*I used Trader Joe's "10-Minute Farro," which is pre-cooked, so this step may take longer with regular farro).  
  4. Fold in the spinach in batches until wilted.
  5. While the farro is cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the cauliflower, some salt and pepper and cook until tender and brown in some spots.
  6. Add the sausage, if using, and continue to cook until lightly browned.  
  7. Fold the cauliflower mixture into the farro-spinach mixture.  Add some sun-dried tomato strips if desired.  
  8. Add the sherry wine vinegar and stir well.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Homage to Rosetta's

It took me two years to get back to Asheville after moving back to Connecticut, so chances are it will be a while before I make that 750-mile drive again.  However, I don't want to have to wait that long to enjoy the rich, spicy, wholesome flavors of my favorite dish at my favorite restaurant there-- the Mountain at Rosetta's Kitchen.  I knew I could replicate the sauteed kale (although never to match the original) and brown rice, but I was at a loss as to the Korean BBQ tempeh.  Thankfully with a little help from Google I stumbled on this:

Show me your veggies !!!: Korean BBQ braised Tempeh.

With a little tweaking (mainly just adding a heaping tablespoon of tahini instead of using the sesame seeds) I was able to sit down to this feast tonight:

Korean BBQ Tempeh with sauteed kale, mixed grains and kimchi

Not quite the same as Rosetta's, but surprisingly close, and just as filling (and addictive...I'm already looking forward to the leftovers!)!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Breakfast of Champions (in the fight against winter!)

When I woke up this morning to sounds of a howling wind and the sight of the needle on the outside thermometer way too far below 20 degrees F I resolved to conjure up some soup for lunch.  By the time I stumbled back into the warm house after a brief, and very chilly, run I was looking so forward to a carrot ginger creation that I decided to get started right away (ah, the benefits of one more week of vacation!).  Soup for breakfast-- a no-fail defense against stubborn winter!

Soup for Breakfast! (plus avocado toast)
Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup


2 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
sea salt
1 lb. carrots, sliced (thickness can vary; thinner slices will just require less cooking time)
5 cups water*
2 tsp Seitenbacher vegetarian vegetable broth powder*
1 bay leaf
1 15-oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 T nutritional yeast (optional)
1 T ginger juice (grate a piece of ginger and squeeze to get juice)
juice of 1 small lemon
2 tsp. white miso, dissolved in a little bit of water
sea salt to taste
Baby greens (kale, chard) for garnish

*Or substitute 5 c premade vegetable broth (or a combination of water and broth)


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and celery with a pinch of sea salt and saute until the onion is soft, about 2 to 4 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots and stir well.  Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the water and broth powder (or broth) and the bay leaf.  Raise heat to high and bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are very tender (about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of your carrot slices).
  5. Add the beans and nutritional yeast, stir well, and allow to simmer for a few more minutes.
  6. Remove the bay leaf.
  7. Puree the soup in the pot using an immersion blender (or, alternatively, carefully transfer to a blender-- you will probably have to do this in batches-- to puree and then return to the pot).
  8. Add the ginger juice, lemon juice and miso and stir well. **Make sure not to boil at this point since doing so may inactivate the miso's healthful enzymes.
  9. Taste for seasoning-- add more salt (or you could add more miso) as needed.
  10. For added color, serve garnished with some baby kale and/or chard (fresh herbs would also be a nice touch).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Let us eat cake!

Today was the perfect day--overcast, chilly and forbiddingly windy-- to bake a cake from scratch.  This was my first attempt at a layer cake, and I have to say, the result was pretty fantastic:

I braved the howling gusts outside to deliver big slabs of the chocolate-strawberry goodness to two neighbors who helped our family during the blizzard-- one couple by easing my parents' shoveling burden and a man who pushed my car free of snow when I got stuck in a cursorily plowed street on the very last stretch of my journey home from vacation.

This gesture was apropos of the latest podcast from Our Hen House, in which Chloe Coscarelli talked about using baking (and more specifically sharing the fruits of baking) as a form of activism by introducing more people to the joys of eating vegan cuisine.  The podcast also included a discussion about how our non-vegan friends and family often treat our veganism like a hobby or a club to which we belong and which concerns them only as a topic of conversation or consideration when choosing restaurants or preparing meals for us.  The assumptions underlying this tendency are, for most of us, far from correct.  We don't want anyone to think of us as "other"-- we would much rather live in a world where the label "vegan" was unnecessary, where everyone would agree not to use animals for food, entertainment, clothing or to fulfill any other material needs and desires.

On that note, I'll step off of my soapbox and slice a piece of that cake to enjoy with tea...