Saturday, August 29, 2009


If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve no doubt noticed my infidelities to this diet. I’m not going to lie and pretend this has been “a piece of cake” (wish I could have one), but I do want you to know that the more compliant I am, the better I feel. I have no desire to return to my omnivore ways. Still, at times, it’s been difficult. Recently I received an email from my uncle in which he wrote about the benefits of this diet and making the transition to it. I found it valuable, and with his permission decided to post it. I hope you will find it helpful too.

Several recent articles, in journals ranging from The Lancet to Parade Magazine, have discussed endothelial inflammation as the root cause of heart disease. Since Dr. Esselstyn noted that in his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, it might be timely to review the basics of the Esselstyn program. Here is what he says: “Plant-based nutrition is the only diet that can effectively prevent, stop and reverse heart disease; it also offers protection against stroke, diabetes, senile mental impairment, and cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, rectum, uterus and ovaries.”

Some people have objected to the whole diet, as unproven or not scientific, or simply not acceptable. We are, of course, all engaged in a gigantic experiment in terms of health and longevity, and we literally will not live to see the results! But let me say this in favor of the program: most of us were “habituated” to a diet that included far more fat and far more sugar than was good for us. The transition to a healthier diet may well be difficult, but it may also be surprisingly smooth. Once you cure your taste buds of their love for fat and sugar, vegetables, both those well known and those with whom you might make new acquaintance, become remarkably tasty.

One of my medical research friends from the University likes to say: “remember, data is just the plural of anecdote.” (He commented that several research projects he worked on, derived from off-the-cuff comments from his patients.) We may have only anecdotal evidence, the comments by the individuals we know who adopt a healthier diet, but as the evidence accumulates, as lipid numbers improve, as people feel and act healthier, the anecdotes become data.

For those in transition, a few tips from a recent Consumer Reports on Health about what to order at your favorite restaurants may be helpful. At Olive Garden, try Linguine Alla Marinara, for 1 gram of fat; at P.F. Chang’s try Buddha’s Feast Lunch Bowl, 1 gram of fat; at Macaroni Grill, try Seafood Linguine, 2 grams of fat; at Boston Market, try White Rotisserie Chicken, No Skin, for 0 grams of fat. At Chili’s, try Guiltless Grill Honey-Mustard Glazed Salmon, 1 gram of fat, and if you eat at Bob Evans, try Potato-Crusted Flounder, 4 grams of fat.

Of course, Dr. Esselstyn insists that the more compliant you are, the more vegan you are, the better your results will be. For those who have any doubts about their good health, or for those who want to see if they can adapt to a diet that has a number of anecdotal recommendations, you might look up the website, People fear they will not be able to give up their long-standing commitments to bagels with cream cheese, or pepperoni pizza, or whatever. But if you re-educate your taste buds, old favorites may give way to a whole new way of eating, which just might be a whole lot healthier…

My sincere thanks to my Uncle Gene

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

White Bean Pasta

I have to thank my dear friend Maryann for her help with this recipe. This dish is easy, fast, delicious and there's enough for the next day. Now try it Maryann!

White Bean Pasta

Serves 4

1 onion chopped (1C.)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 C. organic vegetable broth, divided
1 jar of pasta sauce
1 carrot, shredded
2 - 15.5 oz. cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
¼ t. salt
¼ t. crushed red pepper
1/8 t. pepper
Whole wheat spaghetti
8 basil leaves
4 sun-dried tomatoes, diced

Using a large non-stick skillet, cook the onion and garlic in ½ cup of vegetable broth until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the sauce and rinse out the remaining sauce in the jar with the other ½ cup of vegetable broth. Add the shredded carrot, beans, salt, crushed red pepper and pepper. Cook on low for 20-30 minutes. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and pour the pasta into the sauce. Gently mix and serve garnished with basil and sun-dried tomatoes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ahhh... Chicago

I went to the windy city one last time before my beautiful daughter had to return home to go to school. This time I went with my other beautiful daughter and my beautiful and amazing mother. It was our annual girl’s weekend of shop-til-you-drop and eat-drink-and-be-merry. We had so much fun! However, this time it was really hard for me to stay on my diet. We ate out for every meal, and I found myself trying to choose the lesser of the evils. I was able to steer clear of meat, but I ate veggie cream cheese on my whole wheat bagel, a potato pancake with applesauce (that was to die for) and late at night I found myself dipping into an awesome spinach cheese dip with pitas that were baked with olive oil.

So mistakes were made (worth every calorie), but there’s some good news. The Cheesecake Factory has a great fresh artichoke dish that’s fire-roasted. It’s served with a spicy vinaigrette and garlic dip (both delicious), but the artichokes are so good alone you won’t be tempted to use the dips. Then, at the Yard House in Glenview, I was introduced to chilled and salted edamame. Oh my! I’ve eaten edamame on salads, but I’ve never had them served like this. What a discovery. It was delicious! Both dishes were under $6.00 and great finds! So at restaurants where you least expect it, you CAN eat,drink and be a happy vegan.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Orzo Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

This dish smells so good while its cooking you’ll want to pull it out early and eat it. I serve this with a steamed vegetable, like broccolini, and undressed greens. The greens taste great mixed with the sauce and stuffed mushroom. It cooks for a long time, so this dish isn’t fast, but it is easy!

Orzo Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Serves 4
30 minutes of prep
55 minutes in the oven

1 small onion chopped (1 C.)
2 garlic cloves finely minced
5 sun dried tomatoes chopped
2 T. coarsely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
¼ C. basil, chiffonade before measuring
2T. bread crumbs
1/8 t. dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 C. organic vegetable broth
½ C. uncooked whole wheat orzo
4 large Portobello mushrooms, remove the gills
Pasta sauce – about 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil a pot of water for the orzo and cook orzo according to directions. Simmer the onion and garlic, over low heat, in ½ C. of vegetable broth until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stop the cooking and mix in the sun dried tomatoes, parsley, basil, bread crumbs, oregano and red pepper. Add the cooked orzo to the onion mixture and spoon equal portions of the mixture on top of each mushroom. Place the mushrooms into a casserole. Pour the remaining vegetable broth into the bottom of the casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes. Warm the pasta sauce and ladle up to 1/2 C. onto each plate. Place a mushroom on top of the sauce and serve.

Notes: Sometimes you have to reconstitute sun-dried tomatoes by soaking them in warm water for 30 minutes. If you have to do this, pat them dry before cutting them up. Also, I use Pacific organic vegetable broth. It comes in packages of four one cup servings. This makes it very convenient and not nearly as wasteful.

Butta has a Mudda

This posting is for readers who wonder why I don’t eat butter because “butta has a mudda.” About two months ago at the recommendation of my uncle, I read the book, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. In this book Dr. Esselstyn, a surgeon and researcher who worked at the Cleveland Clinic for thirty-five years, focuses on a study of patients with advanced coronary artery disease. Under his care, these patients changed their diets to all plant-based foods while staying on low dose cholesterol-lowering medications. The goal was to reduce cholesterol levels to below 150mg/dL and see how it impacted their health. The result was the arrest of coronary artery disease. How did they do it? They didn’t eat anything with a mother (mudda) or a face, no dairy and no oil. They ate legumes, whole grain products, fruits and vegetables.

Now, I don’t have advanced coronary artery disease, but two years ago my total cholesterol was high and I worked on diet and exercise with the goal of lowering it. Imagine my shock when a year later my numbers were up! My total cholesterol was 264! So I worked even harder following the current conventional wisdom on lowering cholesterol levels. About six weeks before I was due to have my blood work done, I read the doctor’s book and started following a fat free vegan diet. I had nothing to lose but some of my total cholesterol, right? Soon after I began eating this way, I was feeling better; I lost weight and dramatically lowered my numbers. Here’s MY proof. I went from a total cholesterol of 264 to 191, lowering it by 73 points, and a LDL of 187 to 126, lowering it by 61 points.

My goal is to lower my total cholesterol to below 150mg/dL and my LDL to below 80mg/dL (you'll have to read the book to understand why those numbers are so significant). Since then, I’ve read other books in support of this way of eating. Lately I have been following Dr. Esselstyn's son’s diet which is very similar (more about that later), but gives me a few more options and makes it easier for my family to enjoy eating this way.

If you are struggling with diet and exercise to lower your total cholesterol and LDL numbers I strongly urge you to read this book. I am grateful to my Uncle Gene for finding this book, practicing the diet himself with impressive results and for his gentle encouragement of my own efforts. I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better. I’ve strayed, but I have no desire to return to my old omnivore ways. I love this way of eating and I think you will too. Get the book and read it for yourself. Your views on the connection between food and health will be changed forever.

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mexican Night - A Meatless Meal My Family Likes!

Everyone loves this salsa. When I make it, it doesn’t last long. This is an adaptation on a recipe given to me by my sister-in-law. I tweaked it to suit our tastes. I hope it suits yours. Enjoy this easy and delicious salsa!

Tomato Salsa

15 minutes

1 - 28oz. can Dei Fratelli Seasoned Diced Tomatoes
1 T. cilantro, chopped finely
½ small red onion, chopped finely (approximately ¾ C.)
½ - 1 whole jalapeno pepper, seeded, deveined and chopped finely
1 t. of fresh lime juice
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Drain the can of diced tomatoes. Add all of the ingredients together in a bowl and mix well. Refrigerate for at least ½ hour. I serve this salsa with Tostitos Baked Tortilla Chips to keep it quick and simple.

My sister, who lives in Arizona, makes the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted. However, she uses sour cream and a Mexican wonder its so good. This is my recipe. I can’t eat much of it, I’m trying to lower my cholesterol, but my family really enjoys it!


3 avocados
1T. lime juice
½ C. red onion, diced
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
1 minced garlic clove
2T. cilantro, chopped
½ t. cumin
½ t. salt
Pepper to taste

Mix ingredients together and serve. I keep this fresh by placing plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole, pushing down so it's air tight, and placing it the in refrigerator.

I have a confession. I love the bean burritos from Taco Bell, but I know I shouldn't eat them. So this recipe is about being able to eat a bean burrito that tastes like Taco Bell’s without the guilt.

Bean Burritos

Makes 6-10 depending on the size of the tortillas
15 minutes

2 - 16oz. cans of refried beans, fat free
½ C. diced red onion
Tortillas – corn or whole wheat

In a non-stick skillet warm the beans and onions over low heat. Warm the tortillas, between paper towels, in the microwave for 30 - 50 seconds. Fill one side of the tortilla with the bean mixture and add one tablespoon of salsa the length of the tortilla. Wrap it up. If you need it warmer, place it in the microwave for 15 – 30 seconds.

The Learning Curve

I suspect the learning curve on this diet will be great. For example, the vegan cheese that we ordered on our nachos the other night…what was that?

Now that I’m home from Chicago I decided to look at the ingredients used to make vegan cheeses. They are loaded with oil and definitely not on my diet! Not that it matters much, because I will never ask for it again. Still, it's good to know.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dinner in Chicago

While visiting the windy city, The Chicago Diner became our destination for dinner. I found this vegetarian/vegan restaurant on-line and it received excellent ratings, so we went. Using our Garmin (Toby), it took us forever to find the restaurant (I love those things, but sometimes they take you to your destination the weirdest ways). Once we found the restaurant we needed to find parking. Parking can be a challenge in Chicago, in fact, later I got a $60.00 parking ticket! It took us a while, but we finally parked and walked to the restaurant. That's when we saw that the diner had a parking lot for patrons. Oh well, live and learn.

We were seated quickly after walking the length of the restaurant, through the kitchen (???) and onto the patio. The patio was quaint and it was a perfect evening for eating outdoors, so we ordered sangria and settled in. We asked the waiter for a recommendation from the appetizer menu. He offered up the nachos and we ordered. He asked if we wanted real cheese or vegan cheese, and here’s where we got into trouble. My daughter, being supportive in my quest for improved health, insisted on vegan cheese. OMG! That fake cheese is among the foulest things I’ve ever put in my mouth! It tasted like liquid cardboard! My daughter thought it tasted like licking the bottom of a shoe (not that she’s ever done that). However, the nachos minus the cheese were wonderful and we ate it all!

Dinner was great. We loved it. The food sitting on table tops all around us looked delicious, and the waiter gave us the option to order our meal as vegetarian or vegan. So if you’re ever in the Chicago area, I recommend eating at The Chicago Diner. It's casual, low key and there's absolutely no need to get dressed up. It's just fun and I will return!

Lunch in Chicago

Being on this diet makes traveling difficult. I get tired of eating salads without dressing everywhere I go. So while I was visiting my daughter in the Chicago area, I was excited. Chicago is a town full of foodies, certainly not everyone is a meat eater. My daughter asked if I would like to have lunch at Whole Foods. Yes, Whole Foods! Surely I won’t be reduced to a plate of undressed greens there, but even at Whole Foods it was hard to find dishes made without oils. I ended up eating a salad without dressing.

Yet, here’s the good news. We found a fabulous dessert. Whole Foods makes a vegan chocolate mousse that’s wonderful! It was only $2.49. We shared it and had enough left over to satisfy our random cravings for chocolate later that day. It’s rich and delicious! Yum!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I’m a Vegan Living in an Omnivore’s World

I’m new to this way of eating, and no one around me eats this way. I really do love my vegan life, though at times I’m reluctant. I love food, all food, and it’s difficult for me to resist the temptation of deep fried onion rings, a filet of beef tenderloin with blue cheese and cracked black pepper or a Saunders hot fudge cream puff. This new take on food is a challenge and it all started about six weeks ago when my daughters came back from visiting family in Tucson, Arizona. During their visit my uncle talked about a diet he was on to keep his cholesterol under control. When the girls returned, they told me about this “weird” diet where you can’t eat butter because “butta has a mudda.” I was curious, and soon after I was emailing my uncle.

A year before all of this, my total cholesterol and LDL were sky high. I had been working on lowering my numbers, so after several emails with my uncle I decided to buy the book (more about that later) and read it with an open mind. The diet is fat free and vegan. I tried it, and six weeks later my test results showed a dramatic improvement. I was thrilled and made the commitment to this new way of eating.

So I’m blogging about this food journey. This will be my journal; a journal of my travels through the culinary world of becoming a fat free (or nearly fat free) vegan while cooking for a family of meat lovers. I’m a working mother and although my girls are in their early twenties (the pretty one is living at home and the other pretty one is living in Chicago), I’m always cooking for more than 2 or 3. I love to cook, but like so many others, I'm short on time and long on things to do. Dinner at my house is often thrown together after coming through the door, and now on top of everything else, I have to blend my new vegan menu with my old omnivore ways. My goal? Well, it's to find food solutions that will satisfy the taste buds of everyone in my family, and to do it with recipes that are quick and easy. Wish me luck.