Tag Archives: common sense

Fifty Shades of Vegan

Disclaimer: Okay, so I’m actually only going to be talking about 3 or so shades of vegan today, but I wanted a captivating, snazzy title and “two-to-three shades of vegan” unfortunately doesn’t anywhere near as thrilling.

Those of you that have been loyal readers since this blog’s very beginning – way back in late 2014, will know that I’ve had quite a rollercoaster ride with my health (for lack of a better word) “journey”. I’m a firm believer that diet and lifestyle play a huge role in health outcomes and so this is always the area I come back to when thing’s aren’t right. I’m not against medications in all instances, but was on so many for so long, that if I can avoid them, I will – simply so that my liver and kidneys have less to deal with. I’ll also avoid surgery wherever possible, especially after the gallstone dilemma of 2016! Which brings me to today’s topic of discussion – where am I up to now?

This blog became a bit of a GAPS blog for a while, which wasn’t actually my intention. I love gut health and have lots of respect for the GAPS way of eating, but never wanted to back myself into a corner with it – especially when I believe there are instances where it’s not actually viable or necessary. I love writing about all areas of health, not just diet and gut healing. If you haven’t stopped by for a while, you might need some updating about how my diet and lifestyle have changed …

Little Miss drink-all-the-bone-broth, eat-all-the-connective-tissue, make-all-the-GAPS-muffins has become a vegan

Before you click off this tab, rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself “oh-dear, this young flibidgibit (no idea how you spell that word by the way) just hops from one band-wagon to another – I ain’t got time for her no more!” – please read on.

I’ve already talked about my more-or-less plant-based diet in other posts, but never actually dedicated an entire article to said topic, so here we go. I have only recently started accepting the fact that if I refuse to eat animal products for the time being, that this means by default (whether I like the label or not) I am “technically” a vegan. Before this week, I’d sort of pussy-foot around this topic like; “well, I’m not eating animal products right now because of my gallbladder”, feeling almost sheepish about my dietary choices because of the stigma attached to plant-based dietary labels. I think on some level too, I kept telling myself “this is only temporary, this is only temporary”, so I couldn’t be bothered putting a metaphorical vegan ‘cap’ on one day, only to trade it in for an omnivorous one in a year or so.

Only this week has my thinking started to shift. I’ve had to ask myself the following; if my gallstones never completely disappear, am I happy to avoid animal products for the rest of my life to prevent any more gallstone attacks? The answer, I’ve decided, is yes! I’ve figured out a way to eat only plants and still get everything I need – which honestly I didn’t think I could do. I was convinced that sooner or later I’d run into deficiencies. I even forced myself to eat fish a few months ago, because I was worried I’d get deficient in omega-3 fatty acids – the fish just went straight through me (but thankfully didn’t cause any pain).

Answering “yes” to this question has taken away my urgency, my ‘oh, I wonder if I should try re-introducing eggs this week – maybe I’ll be okay with them’ or ‘boy, that roast chook is looking juicy and damn fine’ moments. I’ve decided that until I have an ultrasound showing no signs of stones, I will stay a vegan, because no GAPS muffin in it’s eggy glory, or fatty oxtail (ahh those were the days) is worth the pain and trauma of a gallstone attack. The only reason I’d go back on this statement is if I really was starting to show signs of a deficiency – then I’d have to decide whether I wanted to use high-quality supplements of carefully trial small portions of fish or egg and pray that they wouldn’t hurt me.

Why am I writing this? Because I’ve now experienced all three shades of veganism …

I experienced the first shade of veganism at age 16. Animals Australia had just stepped up their ad campaigns and I found myself in tears every time I was reminded that factory farms, caged eggs and cheap dairy were a “thing”. I was in no fit state to eliminate animal products from my diet – my gut-health was a wreck. I could barely absorb nutrition from chicken soup or baked fish, let alone massive bowls of veggies and plates of quinoa sushi (as much as I loved the latter options). However, I didn’t want to play any role in animal cruelty. I was at a cross roads. Mum made the decision for me; I could cut down my meat consumption and cook myself vegetarian options several night a week, but I had to eat fish or meat at least a few meals each week too if I wanted to remain living at home. She saw how emaciated my little body was (thanks-no-thanks Liver disease!) and her Mother’s Intuition knew that I needed.

I wasn’t thrilled by this compromise, in fact, I’m pretty sure as an emotional, strong-willed 16-year-old I was pretty pissed for a the next 24 hours. Thankfully I got over myself, realised that mum was right (dammit) and found refuge in being truly grateful for the fish and occasional serves of chicken or red meat that I was eating.  I still bulked out meals with veggies and had a few meat-free days each week. It was actually a very reasonable compromise and served me well enough.

This is the first shade; longing to be vegan for ethical reasons, but not being in a state of health to make this happen without your body suffering. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when you desperately want to stop participating in all forms of animal farming (ethical or otherwise). However, little good can come from your body slowly falling apart, that’s not the way food is supposed to work. I don’t believe that many of us were designed to eat copious amounts of animal foods, but many of us thrive on at least a little bit each day or several time a week. It might not suit us psychologically, but for now, that’s the state of things.


The second shade has been me for the past 8 months or so. I definitely don’t resent my diet – I love big bowls of broccoli, turmeric-spiked cauliflower rice, lots of pumpkin, bunches of narnies, berries, nuts, seeds and buckwheat (plus loads of other plant-based bits and bobs). However, I’ve kept feeling like; an egg every so often would be nice, or maybe just a little fish in a big kelp noodle and roast veggie salad would be something I could trial. I’m not getting deficient in anything, I’m not really even craving animal foods in the slightest. It’s purely psychological – never before in my life have I gone so long without so much as a bowl of chicken soup or simple piece of baked salmon. It’s the complete flip of my situation as a 16 year-old.


Back then, my body needed broths and fish but my brain wanted to be meat-free. More recently, my body’s been all about the plants, but my mind has been flirting with the idea of more. I’d made my peace with the fact that I needed animal foods; not in excess, but without enjoying plenty of broth-based veggie soups and making batch after batch of these glorious savoury cakes, I don’t think I’d be in a fit state to be content in the third shade of veganism

The shade where I’m totally cruising. Not longing for eggs or ocean trout and happy just getting by with mega-helping of veggies, yummy buckwheat-based porridges, tasty smoothies, fresh fruit and lots of nuts and seeds. Feeling happy that no animal is being killed for my nourishment – but also not finding myself in a state of denial where I feel I need to buy a piece of fish for good nutritional measure. This is the only way I reckon veganism works really well; when both your mind and body are happy. This way no one suffers, not you and nor an animal. It’s all very well to live a cruelty-free life but if it’s cruel to you, then you’re simply trading your own life for someone else’s – that’s doesn’t seem fair either.

I honestly don’t know if deep down I’m comfortable with deciding if an animal gets to live or die, regardless of whether said animal lived a happy, outdoor lifestyle eating off the land. That’s just me and my very sensitive nature. However, I’m also not content with getting sick because my diet is lacking in something I indisputably require. Humans have been eating animal products since the beginning of time, some more than others depending on location and the season. My mum always says that humans are at the top of the food chain. She grew up in the country where eating the neighbours’ pork – pigs you’d seen alive and well just the day before, was totally normal. I understand this perspective, just as much as I understand the other side – not being able to accept the food cycle because you love animals too much.

Will I be vegan forever? Who knows, it depends on my body and where it takes me. This petite little vehicle has certainly lead me down some interesting paths in my (almost) 21 years – who knows what the next  90 or so will hold? One thing’s for sure, I will never be preachy or judge someone for eating meat, fish, eggs or dairy (however I would prefer it if they at least cared about the quality and source of said products – some are more sustainable and ethical than others). We have to look after ourselves and make decisions based on our current frame of mind and state of health.

Diversity makes the world go round. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to experience a very compassionate way of eating, that for now, is benefiting my health (and love for animals) greatly. It may just be for a short-term reason, several veggie-full seasons, or an unexpected lifetime. Only time (and my gallbladder ultrasounds) will tell.

Intuitive Cooking

My Beautiful Local Gym, Brighton Fitness is closing it’s doors after 20 years. I attend a class or two there most days of the week, so I am really upset and grieving the loss of my second home. Thankfully, they have a sister gym; Paragon Fitness, 15 or so minutes away, that I can still drive to – I’ll just miss the community and convenience of this haven that was only across the road. I’ve only been a member for just over a year, but am shook to the core by the sudden selling of the building. I can’t even imagine how devastated the friendly and hardworking employees must be feeling. I wanted to do whatever I could to help – which didn’t seem like much …

So I wrote them a heartfelt card and made a batch of AMAZEBALLS …


Which brings me to intuitive cooking. I didn’t measure the ingredients for these simple little balls of crunchy chocolatey goodness and they still turned out pretty damn snazzy (if I do say so myself …  and I do). More often than not, I’ll prepare food with this free-spirited, trusting-that-everything-will-work-out attitude. Usually the results are “all G” at worst and holy shizballs (!) at best. Some recipes are a bit more fiddly than others, but most of a the time, a few tweaks here and there make the recipe even tastier. The more you use your intuition, rather than measuring everything to the letter, the more confidence you’ll develop in the art of substitution. This helps cooking become a playful and relaxing ritual, rather than just another chore or obligation.

Last night mum was using the leftover lamb bone from Sunday’s roast to whip up a batch of this soup. She asked if I reckoned she could add some extra veggies to the mix … I gave her a funny look. My mum is the queen of throwing every veggie from the crisper into her meals, whether the recipe says so or not. I think she was trying to be respectful because I made up the recipe, but she totally didn’t need to worry. I want you guys to know that all of my recipes are made to be played with – except maybe this one, because you can’t play around with yoghurt/sour cream-making (it can go bad too easily).


If the recipe says almonds, you can use cashews. If you need to be nut-free, use sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead. If I use coconut milk, you can use macadamia milk. If I suggest ground pecans, you can swap them for almond meal. If I say lamb, you can use beef, turkey can become chicken, salmon-ocean trout, spud spuds-regular spuds. Kale in place of spinach, carrots standing in for pumpkin, and dates taking the reins from raisins. Himalayan salt can be substituted for sea salt and vice versa. Don’t like animal fat? Use coconut oil for cooking or baking (we do this most of the time anyway). Goodness me, there’s so many more examples but I think my point has been made.

The recipe below is a great way to start having a play, like it sweeter and stickier – chuck in extra dates, want it richer? Go for more raw cacao powder. Like it chunky? Don’t pulse the nuts for as long. Want it smooth and creamy like a traditional fudge? Blend for longer or sub nuts for nut-butter. You can add in a drop or two of food-grade, high quality essential oil – think sweet orange or peppermint for a groovy zing or spike the mix with some of your fave spices; I love cardamon and vanilla bean. The beauty of raw desserts is you can taste as you go until the mix if your tongue’s idea of foodgasm-worthy perfection.


Parting advice: start playing ever so slightly with your fave recipes, or browse my vast collection of easily adaptable recipes and vowel to change at least one or two minor details. Get comfortable with this and learn to trust yourself. I’m noticing more and more food bloggers and cookbook authors providing more and more substitutions and I suspect this is because of questions like; can I use dried apricots instead of figs? Man I use almond butter instead of peanut butter? They want to cover themselves to save on question answering later – I know the feeling.

Think about what an ingredient is doing in the recipe. If it’s adding creaminess – you can sub for anything else that will give the same comforting richness. If it’s there for added flavour – think herbs, you can probably swap said ingredient (if it doesn’t float your boat) for your fave bunch of another wild green variety. Yes, it will taste difference, but it’s always about making the flavour work for you. If it’s an allergy thing, you can always (for example) use cashew milk in place of cows milk, or cows milk in place of cashew milk for nut free (so think smoothies, porridges, creamy sauces and soups).

It’s okay, trust yourself, and make your food work for you. If you run into a few bumps and misadventures along the way – you’ll learn and have a funky story to tell after you get over the  regret of adding too much cardamom to a particular batch of porridge, as an  example (really, I’m okay … with a little help from my therapist, I’m gradually getting over that spicy dilemma – jokes).

Raw Cacao Crunch Amazeballs

2 cups pitted dates, sulphur and vegetable oil-free (or any other dried fruit that rocks your groovy socks)

1 1/2 -2 cups activated nuts (I used a mix of pecans and almonds)*

1/4 -1/2 cup raw cacao powder (more for a darker choccie flavour)

Optional add ins: 1-2 drops food grade orange or peppermint essential oils, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, vanilla, ginger and/or cinnamon, as much or as little booster powder such as spirulina, maca or hemp protein etc.

Filtered water 1-3 Tablespoons to bring mixture together so it’s flexible enough to work into balls (but not so wet that it’s chocolate slime – this is where you’ll just have to have a play – adding more nuts to dry the mixture out or a tad more water for a wetter chocolate “dough”)

Method

Place dates, cacao and nuts in a food processor or high-speed blender, along with 1-2 Tablespoons of the water. Pulse on medium-high, stopping the machine every few pulses to scare sides down and give blades a chance to reach different areas that have not yet been broken down. If you’re using a Vitamix (or another machine with a tamper) use this tamper to push the mixture into the blades (make sure the lid is on so the tamper can’t actually touch the blades (otherwise you’ll be looking at a broken tamper -trust me, I have ditzy experience in that department).

If the mix is still a tad dry, add that extra Tablespoon of water and plus/blend-and-tamper until mix comes together to form a nice dough. I like to leave the nuts a bit chunky, so I tip my mix into a mixing bowl and “knead” it with my hands to bring any last stray “crumbs” together.

Then I prepare a storage container by lining it with paper towel, and start rolling the mix into balls (they can be any size you like – I never measure!). Keep rolling until all the mix is used up.

These babies will last in the fridge for 2-3 months (but I doubt they’ll last that long – especially if you’re a generous old soul and share them with your mates … but I’ll leave that one up to you … no judgement if you hide this stash in the back of the fridge instead).

Notes

The recipe won’t flop if you don’t use activated nuts – it will just be easier to digest if the nuts have been activated – soaked in water for 12 hours, then drained and rinsed (this reduces any naturally-occurring substances in the nuts that protect the nut itself from digestion … also known as “anti-nutrients”) and dehydrated at a low temperature until crisp. The latter is more for preservation purposes, you can soak your nuts, drain and rinse, then add straight to this recipe and just leave out the added water … just be sure to use these balls within a week or two, as the added moisture will make it susceptible to mould growth.