Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Goodies for my RV Kitchen

I’m planning to escape Chicago this winter in my little home on wheels.  So, to prepare, I’ve been evaluating my kitchen appliances and trying to figure out which ones I might be able to leave behind, and which new ones I must buy and keep!


The first new gadget is a bit counter intuitive.  It’s a 4-quart Nesco Multi-Cooker and is a bit bigger than my previous 4-quart Crock Pot slow cooker.  So, why would I want a bigger item in my RV kitchen?  Because it can not only replace my slow cooker, but also replace my rice cooker, can steam veggies, and with it’s pressure-cooker features, can also cook a number of foods faster than conventional pots (dry beans without needing to soak them overnight first, for example).


It also has a Timer delay, so I can set it to turn on automatically when I’m out during the day, or sleeping at night.  So far, I’ve just cooked rice in it, but the rice has been fantastic and much better than my previous rice cooker.


The next new gadget was something I resisted buying for a long, long time – an Omega 8004 juicer.   I had an expensive Blendtec blender (seen behind the juicer above) and kept asking Tessa and Evelyn why I should now have to pay a few hundred more for a “one-trick-pony” dedicated appliance.  Well, after our visit in Colorado, I finally understood the value!

When I previously tried juicing in my Blendtec, the fiber remained in the juice.  While that might be perfectly fine for a fruit juice (think orange juice, lemonade, etc), it makes more nutritional green or veggie juices more difficult to drink—your body feels “full” and starts refusing to drink the amount that’s really necessary due to the fiber still being in the drink.  Compare how much easier it is to drink a large glass of water vs. a large smoothie, and you’ll get the concept here.

So the second “a ha” I finally learned—juicing is the really the easiest and fastest way to get all the dense nutrients that a vegan needs to consume daily.  Now, that doesn’t mean you must only consume juice -- although some, like Tessa, and Joe Cross (from “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”) have done a juice fast to kick-start weight loss and boost their nutrient levels.

Over the past year, I had started getting lazy about ensuring that 1/2 my daily calories were greens and veggies.  I started sliding towards more carbs, sweets, and fruits, and as a result, gained about 10 lbs back and began feeling rather lethargic.  But now that I have the juicer, I can reduce down that mountain of daily greens and veggies I’m “supposed” to consume into a very manageable single glass of juice that now replaces one of my daily meals.  My energy levels are back and my diet feels in better balance once again. 

When I want to get more aggressive again with weight loss, I can replace more meals with juice and/or add more physical exercise to my day.

So, why did I choose the Omega vs. the Breville that was featured in “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”?  Well, YouTube videos from this guy (as over-enthusiastic and long-winded as he might be!) were very helpful in educating me about the different kinds of juicers.  In the end, I liked the fact that the Omega’s low RPMs would be quieter, do a better job at juicing leafy greens, be a bit easier to clean, break down into a smaller package for storage, cost a bit less, and it would come with a 15-year warranty.  But the kicker?  It also comes with other inserts that allow you to convert it to a food extruder for making pasta noodles, sorbet, and even salsa!

But, back to it’s main role—juicing.  Here’s what it looks like when disassembled:


When preparing to juice, it’s incredible just how much produce it takes to make an 8 oz. glass of juice!  Here’s a bucket full of produce that is to become my morning breakfast and mid-morning snack:


It’s a 1/2 of a papaya, 1 cucumber, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 large handful of spinach, 1 sliver of ginger, an apple, and a pear.  This juicer has a smaller feed tube than the high-speed models, so it does require a bit more cutting to prepare the food for juicing.  I cut the apple and pears into slices and discard the center seed core, but I don’t bother peeling them (as the juicer will handle that).  For the papaya, I spoon out and discard the seeds, and then just spoon out pieces of the fruit to push into the hopper (rather than trying to include the heavier rind as well).  The juicer would certainly be strong enough to still process it, but it seems easier for that particular fruit to just dispose of the rind prior to than after juicing.


Once the food is prepped, juicing is pretty simple.  Just throw the pieces into the hopper.  The juice will come out below the auger assembly, while the pulp will push out into the front bucket. 


The plunger helps push leafy greens more easily.  It has a nice gasket that helps prevent even small skinny pieces like wheatgrass from being left behind in the feed tube.


I cover the pulp collection bucket with a freezer bag to prevent the plastic from becoming discolored.  Certainly not necessary, though.  I like that you can used any old container for the juice or the pulp and don’t need to only use the supplied containers.


Finally, the end result—a delicious and nutritious green juice!  I found this recipe and a ton of others on JuiceRecipes.com.  There are dozens of free websites out there to give you new juice ideas.

Now, what about the aftermath?  Well, it’s not really that bad to clean up.  The pulp is virtually dry and easy to dump into a trash can.  The auger and components rinse off easily in hot water.


Omega supplies a nylon brush (looks like a big toothbrush) for cleaning the metal strainer.  A few quick brushes around that under hot running water, and it’s clean as a whistle!

From an RVer perspective, the Omega’s slow motor consumes less than 200 watts, making it boondocker-friendly.  However, juicing does tend to need a fair amount of running water for washing the food, and cleaning the juicer components afterwards, so that’s something to keep in mind.

So, now that I have the juicer and am drinking more juices than smoothies these days, will my Blendtec just be staying home unused this winter?  Not a chance!  It still does a great job for hummus, salsas, food processing/grinding a variety of foods, and now something new as well—homemade almond milk!

Trying to find vegan nut milks in smaller stores out in the boonies can often be a challenge when RVing.  So, rather than do without, it’s super easy (and even more delicious) to make your own!  All you need is a high-speed blender and an inexpensive, reusable nylon nut milk strainer bag like this one:


I bought mine on Amazon for less than $10.

Making almond milk is easy, but does take a little pre-planning—you need to soak 1 cup of almonds in water for about 12 hours (overnight) to soften them.


Then, drain the soaking water and rinse the almonds in fresh cool water to remove any remaining impurities, and wash your hands well (you’ll be using them!).   Put the almonds into your blender and add about 3 cups of cold water, a dash of salt, 1 tsp of vanilla, and (optionally) up to 2 Tbsp of agave nectar or other sweetener.  Have fun and add some cocoa powder too if you’d like to make chocolate milk!

Turn the blender on, and watch as it instantly turns almonds into milk!

Now you’ll want to pour the milk out of the blender through the strainer bag into another container.  You’ll initially have a cup of liquid still in the bag with the pulp, so you’ll then want to begin squeezing the bag from top to bottom to gently squeeze the liquid out of the bag and into the container.


Once fully squeezed, the pulp in the bag will be nearly dry.  Simply turn the bag inside out to dump the pulp into the trash and rinse it off under hot water to clean it.  When all particles are removed, cover the top of a wine glass with it to allow it to air out and dry.

Store the milk in an air-tight bottle (glass works great) and shake it a bit before serving.  The milk will only stay good for a couple of days, but will have a more flavorful taste than store-bought. 



Saturday, August 24, 2013

On George W’s Stent-A poem by George Parker

Two guest posts two days in a row!   George Parker is the husband of yesterday’s guest post co-author Barbara Parker.  Don’t you just love this poem? 

George W (dubya)
Is in trouble.
His high cholesterol
May be his downfall.

He got a stent.
Not a major event,
But the long term trend
Is not his friend.

Elective stenting
Leaves me venting.
It’s a crime
That will do no time.

It’s also malpractice
(With medical taxis)
To fix one spot
When the whole system’s shot.

There is no cure,
So he must endure
Future procedures
That may leave him weaker.

There'll be more sutures
In his future
And his survival
May require a revival.

No, not religious,
But more delicious;
A plant based diet
That gives him respite.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Eating Vegan While Living in Yellowstone–A Guest Post by Barbara Parker and Danette Morse

Today we have a guest post from two ladies who, along with their spouses, are campground hosts in northwest Wyoming where as Barbara says “the rural grocery store is an hour away; in other words, REMOTE!” 

Thank you Barbara and Danette for taking the time to share with all of us your insight on how to remain mostly vegan with no grocery store nearby.


Vegan means different things to different people: juicing, organic, ‘pure,’ raw, rotation diet, ‘plant strong,’ etc. We are not experts and this is not a comprehensive discussion on all aspects of vegan eating in remote locations. This IS the experience of two vegan couples living in 24’ class C motor homes serving as camp hosts one summer in Yellowstone. One of us looks for organic products whenever possible and is particularly sensitive to the impact on animals of human choices (ethical vegan). Both of us are ‘plant strong’ (little oil, sugar, honey) but not plant perfect. Especially in a remote location, choices can be limited and one might make compromises that one wouldn’t make at home. One consolation is something Joel Fuhrman, MD writes: 10% of one’s diet can contain low nutrient foods & still provide a health promoting, disease preventing diet. (http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/foodpyramid.aspx)

Flexibility is important when you are away from your own environment. Remember you’re eating to be healthy, not to be stressed trying to do it right. What you want to aim for is an approximation of your values, rather than perfection. In Yellowstone, the nearest grocery store is an hour away in a small town.  Some adjustments are necessary in this situation included taking a l-o-n-g time getting to know the store at first because of the need to constantly think ’substitution’ when a desired item is not available. We found that the ethnic section of the store had some items we wanted that were not in the ‘regular’ section. We each frequently asked our fellow host to pick up items for us on her shopping trips. Being ‘plant strong’ rather than plant perfect is a variation of flexibility. If this works for you, your ‘approved list’ of choices can be expanded. (Think the 10% rule here.) Organic products may not be available or perhaps a different brand from what you prefer is the only product on the shelf. When eating out you may choose to eat coleslaw because it has cabbage and other veggies although it contains mayonnaise, or if you are tired of eating oatmeal – available for breakfast almost everywhere – you may decide on whole wheat pancakes occasionally even though they contain eggs.

Eating ‘out‘ (vegan) is possible in the Yellowstone region. This year National Parks are making a point to offer more local, healthy food items on their menus; that is the case in Yellowstone. Limited though they are, on the menu of the General Stores is a black bean burger, in the Lodges are a salad bar and a different black bean burger. The Cafeterias offer vegetable soup, a ginger noodle bowl, and a hummus wrap. At one of the cafeterias where a vegetable plate was not on the menu, simply asking for a plate of three vegetables resulted in a satisfying meal. These choices may not be up to your standards, but they do offer a night of no-cooking! The closest place outside the park also offers some options. There is a Taco Bus where one can get veggie tacos, burritos and quesadillas. (BTW, ethnic restaurants often have more vegan menu choices than standard American restaurants.)  At a pancake place, I ordered a veggie scramble without the eggs. The puzzled expression on the server’s face prompted me to explain that I prefer not to eat animal products and with that explanation, my order was submitted. (I usually make a point to explain why I am ordering this way so the server understands my rationale AND so the restaurant might begin think about accommodating future plant strong customers.) In cities a bit farther afield - two hours away - we discovered several places that offered plant strong possibilities. Using Yelp and HappyCow.net we found health/natural food stores that had small cafés we enjoyed. On our last ‘weekend’ off we went to Jackson, WY and enjoyed the highly recommended Lotus Café. Even in Wyoming, “Beef Country,” one CAN find plant strong options.

What about eating ‘in’? Both of us couples eat in most of the time.  Knowing we would be living in a ‘remote’ location for several months, we brought with us items we didn’t think we could get locally. Our combined list includes: steel cut oats, Coaches Oats, quinoa, orzo, barley, whole wheat pastas, EnerG egg replacer, nutritional yeast, flaxseed meal, almond meal, raw nuts, arrowroot powder, tempeh, dried fruit, IZZE drinks and favorite spices.* [*Wal-Mart has, in their small-items-for-travel section, very small plastic containers that are perfect for RV spice use.]  What we found commonly here were canned and frozen beans, fruits and vegetables; seasonal produce (maybe not organic), whole wheat flour and - surprising to us – hummus, a non-cheese spread, gluten free products and tofu (not organic). Farmer’s markets are found almost everywhere in summers, but we haven’t been able to take advantage of the ones nearest Yellowstone because of our schedules. Between us – keeping in mind our space, menu and food item limitations – we brought these conveniences: slow cooker, waffle maker, griddle, toaster, immersion blender, coffee grinder, nut grinder, Yonana ice cream maker, VitaMix, rice cooker and reverse osmosis water filter. And we have used them all! As a rule of thumb for our camp host summer we planned around recipes and ingredients that would be commonly found and easy to prepare. Both of us have been delighted to find that experimentation within these limits is fun. Here’s how it works for us. Dinnertime is near. One of us consults her menu plan, checks the perishable produce and prioritizes the meal for that night from the menu plan accordingly – always making a little extra for leftovers. The other one of us goes to the refrigerator to see what needs to be used up, checks the cupboard, pantry or freezer to see what is there to supplement the produce, gets out what will work for that meal, combines those items and voila! Dinner is soon ready!

Both couples agree that we are extraordinarily lucky to have each other in this situation. It was a particular serendipity in the random chance of camp hosts to discover that we both had plant strong values and we have enjoyed sharing that with each other. She makes cookies and brings us some and I invite them for dinner when what I am making will serve a crowd. She shows me a great vegan cook(ie) book and I introduce her to Rip Esselstyn’s latest. Whatever direction our lives take after this summer, we will remember what we have shared during these months as much for our vegan values as for the inherent excitement and wonder of working in Yellowstone.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Evelyn Is Juicing

My downfall started this past winter in Mexico.  I ate bread every morning for breakfast…..with jam and margarine naturally.  Then came a snack most  nights of Craisins, nuts, and chocolate chips and then I had to make Austrian dumplings filled with apricots, and so on.  Thus all of last years work was undone.  Two weeks ago, after I saw the pictures Lynne and Tessa took of me I went into a pretty bad funk.  And the only way out of it was to make a big change.  To get a fast jump start and boost my morale I decided to juice for a while.  At this point I don’t know for how long.  I try to think of just today and my weigh in reward tomorrow morning.

This is day five of juicing and like Tessa, I had some off and on headaches for a few days,  was not liking the juice and wanted to eat. But today I feel good!  My weight loss is 6.3 pounds thus far which I know will slow down somewhat but what the heck…….I have lots of time and hopefully getting into shape once and for all will give me added quality time on earth.

For me, the juice has to meet three criteria to make the experience pleasant:  1) Be tasty 2) Be healthy 3) Be pretty.  And it is hard to meet all three at once.  Sometimes my juice tastes good but is so very ugly due to combining green and red produce.  .

Occasionally I look at juice recipes to give me ideas but I never use them – instead I just go with what I have on hand, trying to strike a balance of more vegetables than fruit.  I doubt that I’m hitting the recommended 80% vegetables and 20% fruit but this is better than doing nothing, right?


This mornings pitcher of juice made about 30 ounces and included 3 small pears, 1 green apple, 1 small stick pineapple, 1/2” of fresh ginger, 1 medium cucumber, 1 head of romaine lettuce heart, and 3 stalks of celery.


Delicious and pretty too!  Even Steve, who doesn’t know how anyone could juice for more than one meal, thought this tasted fantastic.  Next time though I will reduce the quantity of fruit and perhaps add more cucumber/lettuce because the juice is just a tad sweet.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Vagabonds Together at Last!

While Evelyn had met both Tessa and me in-person on multiple occasions, I had only known Tessa via online exchanges.  I had originally planned to spend a few weeks in Colorado this summer, and Evelyn noted that Tessa would be coming to Colorado as well, but not until a bit later.  So, again, it looked as though we would not yet meet up.

But, my plans subsequently changed, and when I saw that it could be arranged to coincide with Tessa’s visit to Manitou Springs, I began a secret plan with Evelyn to surprise Tessa.  

Tessa and her daughter, Lia, arrived to what they thought would be a simple lunch with Evelyn and her husband, Steve.  Meanwhile, my brother and his girlfriend were driving me down from Vail.  We were running a bit late, so Evelyn had to get rather “creative” the last few minutes when her lunch entrée had come out of the oven, yet, she mysteriously refrained from serving lunch to a table of hungry vegans!

Soon, the doorbell rang, and Evelyn asked Tessa to come to the door with her.  SURPRISE!!!!  (and, yes, the plan succeeded and Tessa was, indeed, surprised!).

Evelyn, Tessa, and Lynne finally united at last!

Evelyn prepared a wonderful vegan lunch for everyone, and graciously hosted me overnight before I would travel back to Chicago the next evening.

Although our time together was short, we had great fun together.  Later in the afternoon, Evelyn took me for a great walking tour of Manitou Springs.  What an adorable little Victorian town surrounded by mountains!

That evening, we joined Tessa and Lia for a fantastic Middle Eastern meal.  Can you believe Manitou Springs has not one, but TWO Middle Eastern restaurants in town?!!  Evelyn and I both had this terrific “Vegetarian Combo Plate” featuring Tabouleh salad (lower left), Hummas (lower right), 2 Falafel balls (center), 2 stuffed grape leaves (top), and fresh, warm pita triangles.  I’m hooked!


Meanwhile, Tessa & Lia were devouring a Falafel sandwich (Tessa had been dreaming about one of these since she had tried one during her previous summer visit).


The next morning, Evelyn and Tessa decided to try out Evelyn’s old juicer, a Salton Vitamin Bar, making a refreshing orange, carrot, apple & ginger juice.  The Salton is about 1/2 the size of today’s jumbo-sized juicers, and should be compact enough to take in the RV this winter to Mexico.


After gabbing awhile, it was time for lunch on the patio at the delicious Adam’s Mountain Café’  (are you getting the impression yet that we vegan vagabonds just live to EAT?!!)


Tessa and I each had this spicy Thai salad:

while Evelyn enjoyed this savory blend of grilled veggies, almonds, and rice --


After walking our lunch off around town and chatting non-stop, by mid-afternoon, it was time for me to head home by taking a shuttle bus from Colorado Springs to catch the evening Amtrak train from Denver back to Chicago.  I was originally going to do an airport shuttle to Denver and fly home, but thought it would be more fun and unusual to take the train instead.  So, we hugged and said our farewells, and Evelyn dropped me off at the bus station.

Fast forward an hour later—the bus was running WAY late.  So late, that it was now looking like I’d miss my train in Denver (and that could become a real panic as there are no accommodations within walking distance of the train station, and I also needed to be back to Chicago for an important appointment and could not be delayed a full day).  What’s a frantic vegan to do?  Call her fellow meatless musketeers to beg for a rescue, that’s what!

Tessa fired up her little red Prius (affectionately named “Toots”), picked up Evelyn, and soon was “taking off like a rocket” to transport me up to Denver on a first-ever Vegan Vagabonds road trip!

Do these gals seem a bit obsessed with their techno-gadgets?!!!


Unfortunately, we not only hit rush hour traffic, but construction delays and a few accidents as well.  What once had seemed like a slam-dunk to get me to my train on time, was now turning into a nail-biter.  As it began looking like we weren’t going to make it, I checked the Amtrak website one last time to check on the train’s status.  Miraculously, the train was now showing 3 hours late!  YIPPEE!  Not only would I make my train after all, but we’d now have enough time to grab dinner at Tessa’s favorite vegan restaurant in Denver!  Hooray Toots!


Tessa had be raving about WaterCourse Foods, and the raves were well-deserved.  It was the best vegan/vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever eaten at!


I had a Po’ Boy sandwich made with batter-dipped artichoke hearts that looked/tasted like fried shrimp bites, topped with fresh cole slaw in a lemon caper aioli sauce on a kaiser roll.  Tessa and I had the same side dishes--  a spicy tomato curry bisque soup, and vegan mashed potatoes and gravy.  Not the healthiest low-cal meal, but a delicious special treat, for sure!


Evelyn was the “good girl” of the bunch and had an interesting and tasty, low-cal, green tomato caprese salad, while Tessa grinned with glee over her seitan roast “beef” Grinder sandwich with melted vegan swiss cheese and au jus for dipping.  Who says plant-based diets have to be depriving?!!


Thank you to my fellow vagabonds for hosting me, sharing some great restaurant finds, and rescuing me from a near-disaster with my travel!  Can’t wait until we meet up again!