Thursday, June 26, 2014

Now You C it/Now you don’t

It’s the diagnosis no one wants to hear…carcinoma/cancer.  Mine came on October 8, 2013 following the discovery of a lump in my left breast during an annual wellness exam.  I had felt it prior to the doc’s notice of it but dismissed it; I’d lost a fair amount of weight and thought it was dense tissue that was just now palpable. What a stupidhead!  The doc did not take it so lightly and had me in a diagnostic workup the next day, followed by a guided needle biopsy. I watched the biopsy to keep from being nervous (thank God for deadenin’ stuff); it was fascinating and only painful when they clipped a bit of tissue from the lump. Of course, when you’re waiting for results of a BIOPSY, time stands absolutely still. With previous surgery for a lump many years ago, I was convinced it was a benign ‘being’ and we’d deal with it post haste. NOT. Things moved pretty swiftly from there…and within a few days I was in the hands (literally) of a gifted, skilled and pretty damned funny oncology surgeon, Dr. Phillip Ley (forever now known to me as 'Doc Solid'). He validated that my tumor was very small, caught VERY EARLY and the most curable of breast cancers. I was mostly oblivious to any really fright following that UNTIL he said something to the effect of “I think I can save your breast”. THAT got my attention…the thought of losing my breast had NEVER entered my mind. The choices were a lumpectomy followed by radiation and a 5 year program of a preventative medication (such as Tamoxifen or Aromasin) OR removing the breast with reconstructive surgery. I opted for the lumpectomy as the tumor was small and my risk factors for recurrence were extremely low. So, about a month later, I had the surgery on an out-patient basis; went well and I was up and at ‘em pretty quickly. Radiation began after I was healed up and lasted 6 weeks (5 days a week). The folks at The Cancer Center of St. Dominic were just awesome, caring and compassionate.

I had a chance to discuss my eating lifestyle with the Registered Dietitian at St. Dominic and since then we have become pretty good buddies. She’s sent me some good resources for protein and we have swapped some recipes as well. If nothing else, everyone’s awareness of how healthy a vegan can be has been raised. Like the Radiology doc said, “(You) sailed through this treatment like I thought you would.” I had none of the fatigue or ‘sinking spells’ that were possible (especially toward the end of the 6 weeks), went straight from treatment to the gym and was determined not to miss a beat.

I did have a bit of a burn where the rays were aimed and on my last day, the doc prescribed Silvadene ointment/salve for me. Most of you have heard this story but in case you haven’t….here goes.

Big Solid and I were going out for dinner with friends one evening so I thought I would apply my Silvadene, sit in my robe for a while and let it sink in before getting dressed.  So, I slapped it on, donned my robe and sat down to read for a bit. The area started kinda burning and I thought “hmmm…must be working well”.  About 15 minutes later, I figured all of the salve had sunk in and I could get dressed.  Well, I took off my robe and saw that the cream was still very present and had not been absorbed AT ALL.  Then I looked down on the counter of the vanity and noticed that I had applied TOM’S TOOTHPASTE instead of the Silvadene.  Once again, the thought of ‘what a stupidhead’ ran through. I washed off the toothpaste (along with about 3 layers of skin) and re-applied the CORRECT STUFF!

Through all of this, Big Solid (Larry) was like my bestest care-giver EVER. He didn't hover but he was always there. It's sometimes hard to remember that the spouses and loved ones of folks with cancer have pretty intense feelings and struggles of their own. One of the things we did that I think helped us out a LOT was to talk about what we were feeling. It was nice to be able to ask "what are you feeling about all this?" and have an honest and sometimes emotional talk.  Big Solid isn't called Big Solid for nuthin'

I am convinced that the plant-based eating regimen had a significant impact on the rapid healing and the sustained energy levels.  Realizing that not everyone is geared up to be vegan or vegetarian, I can only suggest looking at the data and research on the benefits of plant-based eating and then try a day or so a week. It’s a personal decision but one that can have significant health rewards for you.

I can tell you that I am one of the truly lucky ones and will NEVER put off another mammogram. Please don't yourownself...get 'er done.
I recently made a trip to Memphis, TN to visit an old friend, Wilma Davis. Whenever I am in the area, we LOVE to eat at Imagine Vegan Café and this time was no exception. Located at 2299 Young Avenue in ‘mid-town’ Memphis, Imagine Vegan Café takes comfort food to the vegan level.  With a menu that boasts old southern favorites such as Beef Tips over Rice, Shrimp Po-Boys, Eggplant Parmesan, Chicken and Waffles and of course, BBQ Memphis style…it’s hard to ‘imagine’ that everything on their ambitious menu is vegan. YET IT IS!! It’s often a great way to introduce people to the fact that vegan food does not mean the end of flavor or ‘food as you know it’.  This often does not set well with some vegans (many tend to disparage even the attempt at food that is non-vegan such as faux meats or dairy). It’s a personal choice. For me, it’s a fun and funky place to eat and their DESSERTS are to die for! You’d NEVER believe they were vegan either...just look at some of the pictures on their website (link is posted below). In the dessert cooler the night we were there were:  Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding, Almond Joy Cake, Chocolate Whoopie Pies, and an assortment of cupcakes that could be presented on Cupcake Wars. 

Since we had a late lunch, I selected the ‘chicken’ and ‘bacon’ sandwich with a side order of garlicky kale. Wilma had the Shrimp Po’Boy which she said was delicious.  We could have done with slightly less ‘dressing’ on the sandwiches but the bottom line is that they were quite tasty and very filling.

The Imagine Vegan Café is located in an old house and has 3 small dining rooms. This often lends itself to ‘getting to know your dining mates’ and this trip was no exception. We chatted with a woman and her daughter from Arkansas (their first trip to Imagine Café) and a mom and her son who was visiting from the San Francisco area (which is fraught with vegan opportunities)—it was their first visit as well. Before we left, we were all good buddies!

So, if you are ever in Memphis and want to try a good vegan comfort food and dessert place, by all means go to the Imagine Vegan Café. You can scope out the menu at this link and see for yourself all the goodness of southern comfort food that is all totally vegan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Memphis Bound

Hey Y'all!! This week's post will be delayed a bit so I can speak to our vegan 'eats' in Memphis. Am driving up to Memphis today to visit a dear dear friend and we plan on LOTS of fun stuff...not the least of which are visits to a couple of Memphis vegan eateries.  So, STAY CALM and ANTICIPATE THE BLOG!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Week in the Life

So many folks have asked about what we eat and how to ‘fix’ (that’s a southern word for prepare) it that I’ve decided to chronicle our cookin’ and eatin’ activity for a few days just to give you an idea. So.. here we go. We’ll start with the Thursday after our Wednesday post. Just pretend you’re reading my most intimate diary….

Thursday June 5
Big Solid had his usual scrambled egg whites, two vegan biscuits and two slices of vegan sausage, plus coffee with Wildwood Creamer (the closest thing to Half and Half I can find). I had my usual avocado and tomato sandwich plus my Peet’s French Roast Coffee brewed at double strength with the Wildwood Creamer.

          Big Solid and I met a couple of old friends/colleagues for lunch at a local restaurant called Char. I tucked a half cup of cooked Boca Crumbles (seasoned with vegan Worcestershire and Liquid Smoke) in my pocketbook JUST IN CASE. Sure enough, while there was a vegetable plate offered, all of the vegetables were prepared with meat fat or butter. The server said she could steam me some broccoli; that was not exactly what I had in mind. So, the old standby salad without cheese was pretty much my only option. Red Wine vinaigrette on the side and a glass of unsweet tea.  Big Solid had a fried chicken tenders salad with flour tostada shells (and I ate one of those). We had such good times talking with our buddies that I didn’t mope about having <sigh> yet another salad. Thank goodness for the crumbles that added some protein and substance.

Side note:  after we left the restaurant, we swung by Whole Foods to pick up some of their jalapeno/cilantro hummus. I tell you, that stuff is like CRACK!! You cannot get enough of it—so we bought two boxes. I suspect that when I get my Vitamix (if I’m not too old to remember how to turn it on), I’ll learn how to make it and save some $$ (or not).

          Thursday night at the ‘Swanagans’ is always HAMBURGER night and Happy Hour begins after the dogs have been walked and fed. My happy hour consists of bourbon, diet coke (I know, it’s the only time I drink a soda) and lime.
Big Solid usually has a martini. We love the Simple Truth meatless patties. So, that’s easy and I don’t have to fret about fixin’ something wonderful. We have oven-roasted fries as well. We had a blackberry cobbler using the berries that I got from my Amorphous Gardens CSA. Used my LAST ‘Better Butter’ stick to make the dough and slapped that sucker in the oven.Blackberry cobbler is supremely southern and we damn near ate the whole skillet. So, calories were out the roof. Oh well.

Late Night Snack
          Since we over-indulged in the cobbler, we did not continue the eating frenzy by having a late night snack. I did hear Big Solid in the kitchen later in the night with the tell-tale sounds of the peanut butter top being unscrewed and the cracker paper rattling.

BS went to the gym for a 50 minute stint on the treadmill. I was a slug and stayed in, did 5 loads of laundry, changed sheets, mopped the kitchen floor twice, weeded the garden (it’s a really little bitty garden), moved the hammock so the mowing person could get through, went to pick up yet another medication for the animals….let’s see…nope that about does it.

Friday June 6
Breakfast was a repeat of Thursday…we are consistent if nothing else and it’s easy. Big Solid is not a pancake eater, so those are out (even though I LOVE them). So, we just KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) it. I did change up my avocado sandwich and had it on pumpernickel bread instead of whole wheat…wow!

For lunch, Big Solid had the Kiki’s Kick-Ass soup, oven roasted potatoes and a slice of pumpernickel. I had a marinated tempeh sandwich on whole wheat.  All left-overs. Waste not..want not.

Well, Friday night is Date Night for us and we usually go to one of our favorite haunts…Kathryn’s Steak House. Yes, you’re readin’ that right. We’ve been going there for Date Night for years and when I became plant based, they were kind enough to let me bring my own food (seitan steaks, Boca Crumbles, tempeh, seitan short-ribs, a salad dressing I make—you get the picture). This is Big Solid’s night to break out and have either chicken or tuna. Tonight he had chicken and fries. I had a big salad with mushrooms and tomatoes with a topping of spicy crumbles. And, of course, we had a toddy.

Gym time for Big Solid and me. Treadmill time. Big Solid does intervals on the treadmill for 50 minutes and I do a 50 minute routine of increased speed and incline. At the 45 minute mark, I hit a 15 min mile at an incline of 13. Cool down the last 5 minutes...

Saturday June 7
Breakfast was the same as usual. No surprises here.

I had made some mock chicken salad using chickpeas (cooked from dried and not canned), chopped celery and reduced fat vegan mayo.  Very very tasty. So between the soup and the sandwiches, we had a right yummy and light lunch KNOWING that we would have a heavier supper.

The first Saturday of each month is designated as “Supper Club” month and we meet our BFFs, Jesse and M.E. Dees.  We always go through the same process the week prior to our supper…’where are we going this month?’ We’d decided on Provisions 1908 but when I went to make reservations, they were booked until 8:30. NOT.
So, we agreed on another favorite of mine (it’s all about me) -- Anjou. Chef Darrell always manages to create something special for me when I call ahead, even though they do have a vegan option on their menu. This time was no exception—I had an absolutely stunning vegetable lasagna (with no noodles, YAY!).  Big Solid had the salmon which he loves. Jesse and M.E. had non-plant based meals. We had a great time together, as we always do. They have been our closest friends for many, many years.

Saturday morning is Yoga Flow for me. It’s a very rigorous and demanding 75 minute class.
Usually about half-way through, when sweat is pouring off my face and my muscles are quivering, I am thinking “WTF am I doing here?” At the end of the class, I am both empowered and strong. I love it.

Sunday June 8
Slight but significant interlude in our eating regimen!
For a while now, Big Solid has been unhappy with his weight. I think he looks great, but I completely understand the self-image issue. He’s lost some but he would like to lose a bit more. He’s been toying with the idea of the 5:2 plan—fasting two days a week (not consecutively). The Dees have been doing that for a pretty good while now and it seems to work well for them to maintain their weight after losing. So, we did some research and found the Day On/Day Off regimen to be one we wanted to try. Basically, you fast three days a week (not a total fast but limited to one meal at around 500 calories, preferably mid-day to early evening). So that’s what we said we’d try—starting Sunday.

Morning was not a big deal…we did have coffee. We also had liquids (green tea, water) during the day. Went to the gym for a slow 45 minute treadmill. But, I can assure you that by the time late afternoon rolled around, we both could, as Big Solid puts it, ‘eat the ass-end out of a ragdoll’. We had black lentils, boca burgers (no bread), and brown rice. It was ABSOLUTELY delicious! We were so full that the thought of an evening snack was just that—a thought. So, our first fast day went just fine; we survived.

Monday June 9
Back to normal eating with Big Solid’s biscuits, egg white and fauxsages. I had cereal for a change…Fiber 1, Bran Flakes, almond milk and Louisiana strawberries.

Big Solid polished off the soup and had a Boca burger; I ate most of the leftover vegan lasagna that I’d had at Anjou and was surprisingly full.

I fixed sautéed cabbage, two seitan Andouille fauxsages and two seitan Brats, sautéed zucchini and yellow squash with baby leeks from our CSA this past week, oven roasted new potatoes (also from the CSA) and toasted pumpernickel. We had a drop-in guest who is vegan, so we enjoyed her company and happy to have food to share.

Both of us went to the gym and hit the treadmill for about an hour. I did intervals of 5 minutes at a 3.5 MPH pace with little incline followed by 5 minutes of 4 MPH pace at an include of 8 or 9. Last 5 minutes are always a cool down time.

Tuesday June 10
This will be a fasting day…so nothing to report.

I am not sure how long this fasting regimen will last but we are going to give our systems some time to acclimate.

It’s a yoga day for me. The class is a flow class and we are working toward a Yoga Mala, which is the completion of 108 Sun Salutations done in sets of 27. Right now, we are at 27 only and then finish the class with inversions and relaxation. Big Solid hit the gym and the treadmill.

This little glimpse into our eating lives is certainly NOT glamorous or epicurean perfection; but it IS how we put things together to eat without excess preparation (well, sometimes) or labor intensive recipes.  I do enjoy those times but on a daily basis, it's really quite easy to adjust to a plant-based regimen and NOT spend a fortune or all of your time in the kitchen.

This week’s nod goes to Vegan Richa ( They have some absolutely incredible recipes that I am very eager to try.  It’s a relatively new find for me but the pictures, narrative and design of the website as well as their FaceBook page certainly lends itself to further notice.  Just the recipe for the salted caramel pie was enough to lure me in.  Just GOTTA try that one.

See you next week! Have a spectacular time 'til then.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is it Time to Cook AGAIN?

Hi y'all...time to catch up from a busy holiday weekend last week and an even busier week so far. I thought I was retired but I swear, the day goes by so fast it's kinda scary. Welcome to my world today....and how I try to stay on the path of plant-based eating and being healthy.

I have found that making substantial quantities of things we enjoy is an easy and efficient way to make sure we have a supply on hand for quick meals or those last minute “what am I going to fix now?”

This week has been of those where I spent the entire mornings in the kitchen making ‘stuffs’. Sunday was biscuit makin’ day and Monday was sausage makin’ day.

Waiting for the 'good stuffs'
Fresh nutmeg is hard to beat
 Here are the dry ingredients for the sausages. Grateful acknowledgement to The Gentle Chef's cookbook for this recipe. We made several different sausages from a basic recipe, changing the seasonings to make the sausage we want (Italian, Andouille, Breakfast and Bratwurst).

This is what the dough looks like when it's 'resting' for a bit. This is a gluten based (Vital Wheat Gluten) dough, so not for anyone who is gluten sensitive, for sure. At the end of today's post, you'll find a link to a site with LOTS of great gluten free recipes.  Once the dough has rested, it's shaped into multiple sausages (like these on the right and are a representation of the Brats, Italian or Andouille) or a large sausage loaf (this would be the breakfast sausage for sausage patties that you can just slice right off and pop in the skillet. The smaller sausages are steamed whereas the large sausage loaf is baked. 


Bag O'Biscuits
We are committed breakfast eaters and believe strongly in the benefits of getting your day started off with some good food. We also prefer a hot breakfast to, say a smoothie, but that’s just not us. Since Big Solid is not a total vegan, he usually wants an egg white omelet (veggie cheese) or just scrambled egg whites with some veggie cheese mixed in. He also gets two vegan biscuits; I make up a whole ‘passel’ of those suckers and freeze them.  So, all I have to do in the morning in pull a couple from the freezer. By the time the oven is hot
Big Solid's Breakfast
enough, they have thawed and ready to bake.  He also gets two slices of vegan breakfast sausage (compliments of The Gentle Chef cookbook) and one serving of egg whites.

Avocado and tomato 'sammich'
 I have an entirely different breakfast—a breakfast sandwich of two slices of whole wheat bread, a quarter of a ripe (but not TOO ripe) avocado and a couple of slices of fresh tomato. Truth be told, there are many occasions when I go all out and eat a WHOLE HALF of the avocado. I love them. This routine gets boring sometimes and we may enjoy a tofu scramble but our basic breakfast stands.  We are entirely predictable! We do like cereal and fruit but have a tendency to eat that as a snack with almond milk.


Lunch time is sandwich or Boca Burger time.  We keep a chickpea ‘chik’n’ salad handy as well. But our MOST FAVORITE lunch is almost always a soup of some kind. This week, I made up a recipe for a very spicy cabbage soup that is high on flavor (and heat) and low on calories and fat.  It made 12 cups so we have been able to enjoy either a half cup with a sandwich or a whole cup with some beluga lentils thrown in. I call it “Kiki’s KickAss Kabbage Soup”. Before I publish the recipe for y’all to try, I want to make sure I can replicate it without too much deviance from the original. I’m bad about just throwing things in (spice-wise) and not writing down amounts.  Other soup favorites of ours are from Vegetarian Times--Fennel and Tomato soup with Seitan Italian sausage and Spicy Three Bean Chili. We DO like out spiciness. We'll have a soup day post one of these days with recipes and pitchers too!


Roasted Jerk Garbanzos
As much as I love to cook and play in the kitchen, I really don’t like to HAVE to cook. So, as the afternoon wears on (and I haven’t yet come up with anything remotely interesting to prepare),  pressure to CREATE something wonderful mounts. Big Solid has told me time and time again, “it doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal”. Herein lies a bit of a problem…I LOVE brown rice and beans/lentils. Big Solid does not like rice. I LOVE a good casserole or lasagna. Big Solid does not like lasagna or one-dish meals. I would LOVE to fix a risotto…Big Solid does not like risotto. THAT being said, the man is a SAINT for eating just about whatever I put on the table and has embraced the plant-based lifestyle for ‘hisownself’. His “AHA moment” came with reading The China Study and then was solidified by hearing Dr. Neal Barnard’s lecture her last year (Jackson MS) as well. He did TRY the vegan regimen for a pretty good while but decided it was just not the way he wanted to live and eat. When we eat at home, we eat vegan (except for his egg white breakfast). But when we go out, he partakes of chicken or seafood.
Roasted Broccoli and B. Sprouts

So our suppers usually consist of portabella fajitas, the ‘fauxsages’ I talked about earlier in today’s blog and some roasted veggies, jerk tofu or LAST NIGHT’S effort which was so good I could hardly stand it.  We had a curried Seitan with chickpeas and roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts. The Curried Seitan was ‘store-bought’ from Whole Foods (Sweet Earth Curried Recipe Seitan). Now, I want to try to make it instead of having to buy it.
Curried Seitan--SO GOOD!

And now, lookee here!! I got my FIRST ever box/bags of bounty from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in which I bought a share for the summer. It’s from Amorphous Gardens owned and run by Jonathan and Sevanna Picarsic. It’s located outside of Canton MS and from the looks of these treasures, it’s going to be a fun summer. This is a partial picture as I couldn’t fit everything in…but you can see zucchini, elephant garlic, squashes (different kinds), baby leeks, baby carrots, new potatoes, baby onions and FRESH BLACKBERRIES!!
Amorphous Gardens' booth/table can be found at the Jackson Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and the Madison Farmers’ on Tuesday afternoons.  If you are not local, this whole CSA thing is quite fun so look one up in your area (if you haven’t already). Can’t wait now for next week’s offerings.


The Swearengen Salute this week is an amazing site/person that has been such an influence on what I cook and recipes to try. The site is The “V” Word and it is powered by Rhea Parsons. Rhea, whom I’ve never met personally, is like a tried and true friend. She is tireless in her promotion of the vegan lifestyle, committed to animal welfare and cooks like a son-of-a-gun. She has recipes galore and works hard to develop some delicious gluten-free meals as well. Rhea is very accessible and never fails to respond to a question or a comment. The “V” Word has a FaceBook page as well, so add that to your list of ‘likes’.