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Sunday, March 13, 2016


Top o’ this Sunday Mornin’ to you! This is the week when we all find some Irish in us somewhere! Even Annie and Elf-red discovered their Irish Heritage!

AND!! Do we ever have a blog for you today! We have a very special guest blog today from Susan Marquez. From Madison MS, Susan is a freelance writer who has more articles published about living and growing up in the South than Carter has Liver Pills. So stay tuned for the terrific story of Susan and Larry Marquez’ journey to health.

BUT FIRST!! We need to report out on our FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe of the past week...Best Rigatoni and Vegetable Casserole
It’s a surprisingly easy dish to prepare even though there are several ingredients. We followed Susan’s suggestion and prepped the casserole filling the night before, so all we had to do when we got home from bakin’ E.P.I.C. cookies was cook the pasta, put the casserole together and bake it.
First, we sautéed all the veggies (and this is chock full of great veggies) and finished up the sauce.

The next night, it was a piece of vegan cake to just throw it all together. We have a close-up of the casserole and a full shot of it as it was oven ready.

The result (which we FORGOT to take pictures of because we were HUNGRY) is a delicious and filling casserole. We had plenty left for a couple of lunches. This is a recipe we would HIGHLY recommend. If y’all remember, we said Big Solid was/is not a big pasta man but he loved this casserole!
Since this week is all about being IRISH, our  FFVK recipe will be one we’ve never heard of or tried, so that will be fun! Dublin Coddle with Vegan Irish Sausages. Now, Susan does say in this recipe that you can use any vegan sausage (which we have a ‘frig full) BUT we wanted the whole FFVK experience to report out, so we will be following the Sausage (fauxsage) recipe Susan recommends.

NOW!! Welcome Susan Marquez to The Elf in the Kitchen and enjoy this great story of loving and learning.
 “Call us the “accidental vegetarians.” This is NOT a path we decided on our own to follow. But now that we have, we never want to eat any other way.

My name is Susan Marquez, and my husband, Larry, and I have been eating a plant-based, low-fat diet since August 2015.

 It started when Larry’s long-time heart murmur became a serious health threat. He has a leaky mitral valve, which is not that uncommon, and his cardiologist monitored it regularly, always advising Larry to lose some weight. For a week or two following his visit to the cardiologist, Larry would do pretty well, then he’d slip into his old habits. (They really do die hard.)

In July 2016, Larry went to a regularly scheduled visit to the cardiologist and got news he had not expected. His heart was enlarged due to working so hard on account of that leaky valve. Larry’s extra weight was only making the situation worse. It was time to schedule surgery. Nothing like a wake-up call to, well, wake a person up! 

About that same time, I saw a little article in Mississippi magazine about a program at St. Dominic Hospital that caught my eye. It was about the Dr. Dean Ornish Heart Disease Reversal Program, a nine-week intensive program that takes patients on a path to wellness through nutrition, exercise, stress management and group support. I cut it out and Larry took it with him on his next visit to the doctor.

His cardiologist, Dr. Michael McMullan, was not aware of the program but told Larry he’d check into it. The next day, Larry got a call from Dr. McMullan, who told Larry he needed to sign up right away!
I went to the orientation with him, and it was there that we learned it was a plant-based diet. We also learned that patients whose spouses participate with them have a much higher success rate. That meant I was all-in. But hmmm……No meat for nine weeks? We decided we could do anything for nine weeks! And so we did.

I started by GIVING AWAY all the meat and seafood in my freezer. Turns out I had a bit of a hoarding problem in that area, as it easily filled three ice chests. No temptation there, we began reading Dr. Dean Ornish’s books in earnest.

I made menu plans and grocery lists and dove in with both feet. We also learned how to eat out and still stay within the Ornish guidelines.

By week four, we were both feeling better (and dropping weight). Larry announced that he wanted to adopt this as his permanent lifestyle, beyond the nine week class. I certainly felt better, and saw the difference already in my skin tone and energy level. I agreed, and we made that commitment together. We began seeking out vegetarian and vegan cookbooks and blogs like The Elf in the Kitchen and Susan Voisin’s Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.

NOTE: I am a freelance writer and a few years ago I was assigned to write an article about Susan Voisin for PORTICO magazine. At the time, I thought there was NO WAY I could eat the way she does, and now I look to her blog for inspiration several times a week!

The results for Larry and I have been staggering! Larry has lost 60 pounds and his total cholesterol went from 285 to 125 in just 8 ½ weeks, with NO statins! I’ve lost over 20 pounds, and both of us have good blood pressure for the first time in years.

There have been some bumps along the way. We hosted our big family Thanksgiving and attempted to alter a few recipes. That was a big FOOD FAIL. We know from now on, we’ll have THEIR food and OUR food, and that’s OK. We have an annual New Year’s Day dinner party featuring Paul Prudomme’s Pennsylvania Dutch Cabbage Roll recipe. It’s very labor-intensive and calls for ground beef and ground pork. We made a double batch using meat, as usual, then we made one batch using Boca Crumbles as a meat substitute for the vegetarian version. Turns out, all our guests wanted to try ours and they couldn’t tell the difference!

While we are learning to eat as close to the source as possible, we do depend on products like Boca Crumbles and Garden Burgers for times when we need a good meal, quick. One of our go-to meals has always been spaghetti. We now use whole wheat pasta, and we use rotini or penne, as you actually eat less pasta than if you use spaghetti noodles. I used spaghetti sauce in a jar, careful to choose organic when possible, and always under 3 grams of fat per serving. I’m also mindful of the sodium content. We are cheese lovers, and this low-fat diet won’t allow for that, so we have discovered Go Veggie! brand cheese, and we really like it. The Go Veggie! Parmesan is really tasty.
Here’s how we do it:

Boca Crumbles are found in the freezer case in the healthy food section of most grocery stores.
When it’s on sale, I buy bunches of it and store it in my (now empty) freezer

Boca Crumbles look like and brown up like ground beef. I sauté diced onions and zucchini squash first, to add more veggies to the dish then add the Boca Crumbles. Note, because we are low-fat, I sauté with a bit of vegetable broth. I do it all in my iron skillet.

Next I add pasta sauce and heat it all thoroughly.

Note the low fat content and relatively low sodium content. Plus, it’s organic!

We have served this to our (grown) children and their friends, and they had NO IDEA it wasn’t ground beef and real Parmesan cheese! Served with a side salad, this is an easy week night meal.

Larry still has to have surgery, and it will happen this spring. But a recent heart catheterization showed he has NO blockage (A great thing! No stints, no bypass!) and he is a candidate to have a minimally invasive procedure done with a robot at Baptist Medical Center in Jackson to repair the leaky valve. His recovery time should be much quicker because of his healthy lifestyle.

We may have stumbled into this lifestyle by accident, but we are grateful we did and look forward to a long and healthy life together!
WOW!! Susan, thanks for sharing and letting people know that becoming plant-based can be done and the awesome results that can occur!! Since working at The Crossroads Café, so many people have said, “I just can’t give up…cheese, eggs, meat, milk (take your pick).” EVEN thought they KNOW they may be over-weight, have cardiac disease, diabetes! We so often look for a pill to ‘fix’ us that we miss the opportunity to do it on our own through good nutrition.
The Elf is always looking for great stories like this, so please let us know if you have one to share. Contact us at to submit a ‘guest’ appearance.
So until we meet again, keep those Elfish Eyes Smilin, DO EPIC, eat plant-based and love life.
Yours ever so truly—The Elf in the Kitchen


  1. Wow, that is a great story! I may try the same and see if it affects my cholesterol, which currently needs affecting...

    Susan M. is the sister of my friend Say-rah. Small world. I enjoy your blog from afar, Elf, though I grew up in Jackson.

    1. Thanks so much for your response. Glad you enjoy the Elf. We sure have fun with her. And we hope it inspires you along the way to DO EPIC for yourself and for others.