Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Review and Author Interview: A Plant-Based Life by Micaela Cook Karlsen

I just finished reading A Plant-Based Life - Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body by Micaela Cook Karlsen. It was right up my vegan-y alley. It's broken down into topics and chapters that are packed with information, but easy to digest. (See what I did there?)

The book is everything you need for starting - or continuing - a plant-based lifestyle: strategies for changing up the way you eat, shopping and menu suggestions, recipes, and more. It's great one-stop shopping. I'm a fan.

I was fortunate to get to ask the author a few questions...

Micaela Cook Karlsen

Can you share about your journey to plant-based eating? What were your initial goals?

I’ve been eating some type of plant-based diet for almost 20 years now – initially starting with a vegetarian diet in high school, and that was largely because of peer influence. A couple of my friends were vegetarian, and I wanted to give it a try! It helped that I didn’t really like meat and didn’t miss it. At the same time, I felt an innate pull towards eating more healthfully, but since I had struggled with feeling overweight for some time, I think the goal more in the forefront of my mind was to lose a little weight and maintain what I felt was a comfortable body weight for me. The diet I was eating at the time wasn’t rich in fiber, and I was still eating plenty of processed food – so it did work, but I was hungry all the time and it felt pretty hard. Over the years, my goals have shifted to be more focused on health for me and for the planet at the same time, and it’s probably easier to emphasize those because I don’t have feelings of deprivation or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.

What have you found the most surprising about switching up your lifestyle?

I think the biggest surprise came when I realized Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and the other scientists and physicians I learned from, were actually suggesting eating a diet free of added oil. This was a shocking piece of information! I didn’t understand how this could be at first – could you really eat food with no oil in it? Not even olive oil? Now that I know more, it’s obvious how much of a problem oil can be for not only heart disease patients, but anyone struggling with their weight. It’s the most calorie dense food there is (filling a one-liter stomach with oil would be roughly 6700 kcal, compared to 500 kcal from a variety of whole plant foods). Yikes! So while I don’t sweat the details if I’m out (as long as it doesn’t happen too much), I don’t cook with oil at home. At the beginning of that transition, it was also surprising how delicious food can be without it!

What's your quick answer to the question all of us with plant-based diets hear the most - 'Where do you get your protein?'

It’s virtually impossible not to get enough protein eating a whole food, plant-based diet. There is protein in all food – just like there are also fat and carbohydrates. If you just eat whole plant foods and no animal foods at all, you’ll end up getting between 10-15% protein without even trying – slightly more than what we even need.

I've found it sometimes challenging to maintain a plant-based diet while traveling and/or eating in restaurants. How do you navigate those situations?

Me too definitely! This is one of the biggest challenges. With travel, I try my hardest to bring as much food with me as possible. I almost think of creating a bubble of a plant-based environment around myself, and then bringing that with me everywhere I go! So I’ll bring leftovers, fruit, granola bars, and anything else that will fit in my bags. I also definitely scout ahead and make a plan for what I’ll eat when I’m in certain situations. This is particularly true for restaurants. I’ve often called ahead and explained my preferences and then been really happy with the menu. When that’s not possible, looking at the side dishes and making a meal out of that seems to work well, or simply ordering and asking for the sauce on the side to keep your meal lighter is usually possible. There are more options than some people think – steakhouses for instance are pretty easy because you can order a couple of baked potatoes and base your meal around that plus some veggies.

What do you say to people that are worried that plant-based eating is expensive or time consuming?

Simple, whole, plant foods are pretty inexpensive – what does cost are a lot of fake meats and cheeses, and relying on a lot of prepared or processed foods. If you stick to basics and especially if you employ a few strategies to shop efficiently (buying in bulk, price comparing different stores, getting a farmshare and freezing food for winter), it’s not hard to actually save money. I think most people get into a habit with their cooking, so it’s not so much that plant- based eating is more time consuming, but learning any new type of cooking requires an upfront investment of time. Once you get into a rhythm with it though, it’s just as easy as any other cuisine. I’m a pretty busy person – I admire people who have the time to spend a couple hours on dinner each day, but if that were necessary I might not have been able to write this book about sticking with the diet!

The subject of food is so emotionally charged. When I made the move towards plant- based eating, it seemed that everyone had an opinion about it, and not always a positive one. What do you say to the people that challenge your choices?

I totally agree – the negative feedback can really derail people, and it can be challenging to know how to navigate those conversations. I try to start from the perspective that I don’t need to convince anyone of anything, but when people are interested I’m open to sharing my food and my thoughts. This does mean that there are quite a few people with whom I simply don’t discuss food! At the same time, there are so many, many people who are interested, excited, hungry, and it’s wonderful to connect with them – some family, friends, and the growing community of people via social media. I think the difficulty with previous friends and family having trouble with your new food choices underscores the importance of also cultivating some new friends who eat the same way – you’ve got to connect with people who share your diet! That also takes the pressure off of your previous relationships, and you can let those people be the way they are.

When it comes to purchasing kitchen equipment to support plant-based cooking, is there one appliance (high-speed blender, dehydrator, food processor, juicer, etc) that you've found to be the most useful?

Hmm, I actually do own the things you mention, and of those, I would say if you’re up for investing in one piece of nice equipment, the high-powered blender is the biggest bang for your buck. I have a Vita-Mix, and we use it every day. Often, for a green or fruit smoothie for breakfast, but also frequently to make different sauces. The ability to get a really creamy sauce or salad dressing makes life so nice! Taking it back to basics though, I think really the number one thing is a high-quality, sharp knife that you regularly get sharpened. Not only is it safer because you need less pressure to cut, a sharp knife makes it really easy and pleasant to cut vegetables... a staple of most plant-based meals!

I can't wait to try the recipes in your book. Is there one go-to recipe that you return to again and again?

Thank you! I think if you’re going for raw, I would say Apple-Lemon Breakfast. Make sure you get juicy lemons to get the full apple-lemon experience... I cannot get enough of this!! It’s so refreshing. If you’re going for cooked, definitely the Interstellar Lasagna. A lot of people have tried that one and raved about it. I make it regularly and it’s sooo satisfying. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Missing/Not Missing

This is different than clown meat, I'm hoping.

Since moving over to plant-based eating, I have been asked if I miss meat. The answer is no, I do not. Sometimes I miss cheese, although some of the raw nut cheeses I've had are pretty okay as a substitute. I miss the idea of bread, but I know that the reality of bread and bread-y food stuffs make me feel less than awesome. My desire to feel awesome usually outweighs my desire for pancakes.

What I ate today:

  • coffee
  • 1 banana
  • apple slices with almond butter
  • 3 carrots w/ tahini (This tahini isn't raw.)
  • jicama
  • salad w/ mixed lettuce, tomatoes, pine nuts, avocado, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, nutritional yeast
  • 1 zucchini
  • c o f f e e 
  • Bragg's Organic Apple Cider Vinegar Drink (Acquired taste.)
  • 6 Kalamata olives

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Little Interview That Could

Photo: James Elliot Bailey for Prevention Magazine

Last year, I did the interview published in Prevention Magazine about how I eat, and the positive effects I experienced with that change. The article then appeared in another Prevention quarterly called Eat Clean. Now, the interview has been included in a new book called Eat for Extraordinary Health and Healing. 

The book is a sort of medical dictionary about how the foods you choose to eat can alter your health and I'm all about it. My interview is included on page 460 of this giant book. I'm not getting paid to sell it - it's just pretty cool and I thought you all might be interested. 


What I ate today:

• coffee
• smoothie: banana, almond milk, frozen pineapple, spinach
• salad: mixed lettuce, avocado, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, radishes, white balsamic, olive oil,      nutritional yeast
• raspberries
• strawberries
• 1 apple
• zucchini
• so much more coffee
• red curry: cauliflower, red chard, pea, sweet potato

Monday, June 20, 2016

Re-Raw and Some Health Stuff

Slowly, over the course of a number of months, I fell further and further away from the raw part of my raw, plant based situation. If you need to name it, I'd say I was doing more of an ovo/lacto deal, but really I'd best describe it as Birthday Cake Happens, People.

How did I look? Not so vibrant. How did I feel? Not so terrific. For now, I've come to the realization that raw works better for my body.

And then there's the health stuff.

I was feeling tired most days, getting to the point where I was so fatigued, I had to lay down in the afternoons. Not to sleep always, but just because I couldn't sit up anymore. I chalked it up to peri-menopause/parenting/being 51 years-old/maybe I'm just lazy. Then about three months ago, I started experiencing extreme, migrating (polyarticular) joint pain. One day it was excruciating to put weight on my right hip, hours later my hip was fine and my left knee was on fire, then my right ankle, then back to my hip.

I went to my regular, internal medicine doctor who through a series of blood tests, ruled out lupus, RA, HIV, gonococcal infection, rheumatic fever, sarcoidosis, Lyme, and bacterial endocarditis. He said it was a head scratcher and hoped that it was a weird virus that would run its course. He then referred me to a rheumatologist.

The rheumatologist did more of the same type of tests and found the same type of results. She hoped it was a weird virus that would run its course and asked me to come back in a month. In the meantime, I started working with an acupuncturist and a chiropractor to help relieve the symptoms. It sort of, kind of helped.

I then got a referral to an MD who uses a blend of western medicine and eastern/holistic medicine and who's known for being a good diagnostician. He gave me a complete physical, with an extensive intake interview. He ordered 23 different blood tests. When I returned three weeks later to go over my test results, he greeted me with, "Well, you are VERY interesting." I did not want to be interesting but there it was.

For over an hour, he took me through the thirty pages of results. Diagnosis? I have a lot going on, the most notable problems being Epstein-Barr virus, Parvo virus, and a strain of Lyme not covered in the previous testing. The Lyme causes the joint pain, and fatigue. The Epstein-Barr and Parvo virus both have extreme fatigue as major symptoms. This explained my pain and also my need for coffee at regular intervals to keep me going.

He prescribed a number of medications; some traditional prescriptions and many non-traditional herbs, tinctures, and an IV vitamin mix. He explained that my recovery would be up and down and that I would sometimes feel worse before I felt better. He predicts that I will be back to best in six months to a year. After three week on all these new protocols, my joint pain is all but gone. I feel a whisper of it now and then, but it's nothing like it was. I have energy highs and lows but the highs are a little higher than they used to be. Sometimes I feel like hell, as predicted.

For my part, I am able to exercise again now that the joint pain is relieved. I am back to raw since I felt so great on it before. I'm resting when I can and not feeling guilty or lazy about it.

I am hopeful.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Le Cordon Blog

Please enjoy my dynamic selfie skills.

Today I was a guest speaker at the cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. I got to talk about writing and blogging and raw vegan food and me and me raw vegan food blog writing and  - you get the idea.

My friend Janice is a teacher there and she invited me to talk with two different classes. The classes were full of cool students who asked good questions and wore nifty white chef-y jackets. I did not have a nifty white chef-y jacket but I'll try to get over it.

I admire people who want to cook for a living. Preparing food for others is such a nurturing and creative pursuit. High five Le Cordon Bleu-ers!

What I ate today:

• coffee
• banana
• handful of raw cashews
• apple, raisin oatmeal w/almonds
• almond milk latte
• green salad w/ mixed lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, olive oil, and nutritional yeast
• of course, more coffee
• 5 green olives
• 1 Fuji apple w/ almond butter

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Eagle Has Landed

We received a Vitamix for Hanukkah last month from Mr. Rosenberg's folks. It is amazing and powerful and ginormous. Our kitchen is so small, (say it with me - how small is it?) it looks as if we drove a sports car onto the counter. My friend Karen gave me a nut milk bag (I know. That's what it's called.) and a lovely glass carafe for storing nut milk.

I soaked a cup of almonds overnight and gave the Vitamix a test-drive with the almonds and two cups of water. I mushed the almond pulp/water/stuff through the bag and what came out was a lovely almond milk. I added a little vanilla at the end. This liquid bore almost no taste resemblance to the store-bought almond milk that only has 9% almonds in it. (Mostly water and chemically-stuff in that.) It was a success all around. More will be happening.

What I ate today:

• 2 bananas
• coffee
• almond milk
• 1 apple
• salad w/ kale, avocado, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, olive oil, nutritional yeast
• green juice w/ kale, spinach, cucumber, apple, lemon, ginger
• salad w/ baby lettuce, herbs, white balsamic vinegar
• carrots and celery

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's No Turkey

On Thanksgiving, this will be happening. I know "Gardein Holiday Roast Day" doesn't have quite the snap that "Turkey Day" has to it, but it will do. I'm trying a different brand this year. (Last year was the Field Roast Celebration Roast.) My expectations will be low and my sides will be many. We're expecting 8 - 12 people this year.

I'm trying out this Bobby Flay recipe my friend Jen sent me because what's Thanksvegan without a little kale? There will be vegan mashed potatoes, and a sweet potato or squash situation that I have yet to decide on. Maybe some green beans. Not a lot of raw, but a lot of vegan-y things. I'm thinking of picking up a vegan pumpkin pie or two from Whole Foods. (The one I got last year at a local vegan restaurant super-sucked.)

*This is not a Gardein Holiday Roast sponsored post. I don't even know if I'll like this little veg-brick yet. I'll let you know.