Monday, December 31, 2012


That’s how I’d describe the past week plus. It went by in a flash, as I knew it would. The season kicked into high gear with a piano recital and a Brownie visit to the Old Orchard Health Center to sing carols for the residents, followed by school celebrations and Snowflakes for Sandy Hook at the local community center.

Christmas Recital

A quick bite at Panera before caroling

Easton's most beautiful snowflakes

From there, it was all about the eve and the day and catching up with family and friends throughout the week. We even squeezed in a trip to New York City to enjoy lunch at Candle 79, score a used but in near-perfect condition Pottery Barn media stand and walk thru Rockefeller Center.

Showing off a few of their gifts

Sienna and her cousin Gabrielle 

Dylan, Ryan & Sienna in Manhattan

 The kids at Rockefeller Center

Standing in front of Manhattan's 
most beautiful Christmas treasure

CrAzY Cousins!

Over the course of the holiday break, Sienna, Matt and I each battled separately fevers and colds, but nothing that Advil, a bit of extra rest and kale greens couldn’t fix.

We haven’t worked out since the Saturday before Christmas. Strangely, I don’t feel guilty about it at all. I’ve loved the extra time in bed with Matt, getting up most days after 9 a.m. and just lah-li-dah’ling around the house every morning with him and our kids. Having said that, both Matt and I have acknowledged that everything returns to its normal routine this Wednesday, which gives us one more lazy day together.

In terms of eating, we did OK. We indulged in our fair share of "vegan" sweet treats (by the way, cookie-palooza was a huge success -- see photos below -- thanks to a friend who advised that I reduce the oven temperature 15-20 degrees when baking) but all and all we stuck firmly to our whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. I’m convinced that’s why neither of us fell down hard with our colds. Take a look at a small sampling of yummy dishes we whipped up!

Peanut Butter Blossoms

 Rocky Road Crinkles

Oatmeal Raisin, aka Matt's favorite

Vegan Potato Skins
with Avocado as the Star!

Vegan Deviled "Eggs" ...
amazing what potatoes, a little hummus
and the right spices can bring to life.

 Quinoa Dip -- I would put this up
against the traditional (and fattening)
seven-layer dip any day of the week.

Kale and Tempeh Wraps with Miso Dressing
We've made these wraps twice this week!

Today is New Year’s Eve, an event I’ve always described as bittersweet. I recall vividly the first time “the eve” made me emotional. It was Dec. 31,1979, and we were ushering in not just a new year but a new decade. At the stroke of midnight, my brother, sister and I ran outside for the traditional striking of the pots and pans. After a few minutes of crazy, we came back in the house and I immediately became sad and teary-eyed not knowing what the New Year would bring. I remember feeling particularly concerned about the health and longevity of my father and grandmother. So no one would see me, I went straight into my bedroom and started balling my eyes out -- a not-so-normal reaction, as I look back now, for a 10-year old.

Both dad and nana would go on to live two more decades+, but that emotional feeling remains today, overwhelming me at the exact moment the clock strikes midnight. My worries continue to extend to those I love and hold dear -- Matt, our children, my mom, my brother and sister, my nieces and nephews, friends and all our family members. I suspect that tonight's celebration will not be any different.

I never complain about the year we’re leaving behind, wondering if or wishing it could have been better. Fortunately for Matt and me, the year has been full of ups and few, if any, downs, and our family is leaving 2012 with our health intact. I say this will immense appreciation and gratitude. For those of you who know us well, the year started off rocky for our 4-year old nephew Michael. He spent all of January and half of February in intensive care, literally fighting for his every breath. He rallied, as he always does, and is thriving today. He’s a constant reminder to us both to really enjoy life’s simple pleasures and to never take good health for granted.

Little Mikey

For the New Year, Matt and I will do what comes more and more naturally with each passing year -- love the moment. Whether that moment is spent with friends and family, on a long run or a weekend hike, watching a movie or reading a book, playing a game or skiing with our children, or just sitting beside one another in silence, it’s one we’ll never get back and it’s a moment we’re experiencing together.

I wish you all a wealth of moments you love and embrace with every ounce of your being. I wish you a year filled with good health and the genuine pleasure of friends and family.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Snowflakes for Sandy Hook

Across the country, communities, schools and youth organizations have been coming together to share in a special purpose: to honor the Sandy Hook students who will return to school on Jan. 12. Members of the Connecticut Parent Teacher Student Association put out the nation-wide call, requesting homemade snowflakes so when the children come back from holiday break, they’ll be treated to a winter wonderland!

The boys and girls in our community were all too eager to participate. To that end, we spent 2-hours today at our Forks Community Center making snowflakes.

About 30 people joined in the fun, and not all kids. Several adults came, scissors in hand, to put their creative spin on four-point and six-point snowflakes made from origami paper. Special thanks to Missy Lemons for the instruction. She is the snowflake QUEEN!

It was such a fantastic way to spend the Saturday before Christmas. Together we turned out close to 500 unique and colorful paper snowflakes. Take a look below at some of the photos we snapped.

Oh, I did kick off my weekend with a 50-minute run. I’m not even going to talk about how many miles into which that translated. The heart rate training has me running at a much slower pace. It’s challenging for a couple reasons: 1) Going from a hard run to what feels like a fast walk or slow jog is tough and I suspect will take time getting used to. 2) Ego! Ego! Ego! I feel as if I’m back where I started in 2010, minus the younger age!

I do believe that if something makes you struggle or sacrifice, it’s more often than not the right path to follow. Matt has done the research on the benefits of heart rate training and I’m sticking with him.

Before I close, tomorrow our kitchen will transform into a baker’s paradise. We’re rolling dough tonight in preparation for the four types of vegan cookies we plan to make (notice the word “healthful” doesn't precede “vegan” this time : ). I’m a fantastic cook but I definitely lack talent and skill in the baking department. My goal is to not burn any -- I’ll consider it a success if I can make that happen. A good friend of mine suggested I lower the oven temperature 15 degrees. I intend to follow his advice.

Expect a post and pictures tomorrow. Wish me LUCK!

Girls just want to have fun ...
and make snowflakes!

Sienna shows off her work of art!

Cousins by birth, friends by choice.

Our youngest "snowflake" maker.
He, his brothers and his sister also drove the farthest ...
from South River, NJ!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Clean Food

I took Sienna to Barnes & Noble over the weekend. I had been looking for Christmas gifts, though for no one in particular. I was thinking that while walking around with a pumpkin spice soy latte something might jump out at me that would be the perfect gift for that special someone. Guess what? That "special someone" ended up being me!

Whenever we hit a bookstore, I always check the cooking section for new vegan cookbooks. Saturday was a good day because prominently displayed on the “Featured Cookbooks” table was Clean Food by Terry Walters. I picked it up and began thumbing through it. Walters is well-known in the clean eating lifestyle movement, having published the highly acclaimed book Clean Start. She’s dedicated to helping people make "sustainable health" easy and delicious, without the preaching and judgment that often comes with it.

Her collection of recipes is broken down by season, which I found appealing. I immediately flipped to “winter” and loved her selections, from soups and stews like Spicy Coconut Pumpkin, Lentil and Three Bean Chili, to grains and pasta such as Whole Wheat Pancakes and Baked Stuffed Shells. There are also wonderfully healthful recipes using tofu, tempeh, seitan, vegetables and legumes. Did I mention the desserts? How about Tiramisu, Chocolate Pecan Pie and Chestnut Cream Pie (to name a few) … all whole-food, plant-based! I’m always more and more amazed by how easy it is to eat like this.

I knew immediately what would grace my table first … Tuscan Bean Soup. I loved her choice of spices and the addition of kale and kombu. Kombu is a sea vegetable that you can purchase at a health food store or online (as I did). “Adding a small piece to grains, soups, legumes, etc. is an easy way to infuse foods with highly alkalinizing minerals iodine and iron. It’s also known for its ability to tenderize legumes and reduce their gaseous properties,” writes Walters.

This soup came together in a snap and bursts with flavor -- a scrumptious fall and winter dish and right in line with our Whole-Food Wednesdays Challenge. If you’re looking for the perfect dinner tonight, you can't go wrong with this. For a heartier meal, serve it over quinoa, brown rice or 100 percent whole wheat pasta.

As a reminder, the goal of Whole-Food Wednesdays is to reduce our meat intake but also increase our consumption of plant-empowered foods.

Each of you who shares a whole-food, plant-based recipe, success story, or fitness and nutrition win or technique will be automatically entered into a drawing for a chance to win your own copy of one of my most treasured cookbooks! You can comment directly on this site or e-mail me at

The raffle goes off in just one week -- 5 p.m. ET next Wednesday, Dec. 26. Good luck!

Tuscan Bean Soup
1 thumb size piece of kombu
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp dried rosemary
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas
1 ½ cups cooked small white beans
1 ½ cups cooked aduki beans (or pinto beans)
4 cups of diced tomatoes, fresh or canned (with juice)
1 bunch kale, chopped into bite size pieces
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup of red wine
Salt and pepper to taste, optional

Place kombu in a bowl with enough water to cover and soak for 10 minutes. Drain, mince and set aside.

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, sauté garlic and onion in the olive oil over medium heat until soft.

Add basil, oregano, and rosemary. Stir well.

Add all the cooked beans, tomatoes, kale, kombu, and water (or stock).

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.

Add vinegar and wine, and salt & pepper (if using).

Cover and cook for 45 minutes.

Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guest Blog: Have a Heart ... Rate Monitor

I love firsts ... from the most emotional moments in life like my first kiss, my first dance with my husband and the first step I watched my sons and daughter take; to lighter firsts like my first job, my first 3-mile run, my first blog post and today ... my first guest blog post!

It should come as no surprise that today's guest blogger is my husband Matt. We've been in this together since our running began in Jan. 2011. I've made no secret of the fact that our new shared, healthy lifestyle has re-energized our marriage in more ways than either he or I could have imagined. While I take the lead on our whole-food, plant-based diet, Matt takes the lead on all aspects of our physical training. It's the perfect partnership.

Matt has been fully engaged in better understanding "heart rate training" and how we can leverage it to further our accomplishments in running. We encourage those of you who have trained using a heart rate monitor to share your experiences below. And, of course, if you have questions, ask away in the "comments" section below or drop us an e-mail at

And with that, here's Matt ... 

Matt on his 42nd birthday -- leaner
than at any other time in his adult life.
He makes aging look easy, doesn't he?

Kellie and I started running consistently in January 2011. We ran our first half marathon four months later. To prepare for it, we read several online training plans, following a fairly generic “beginners” version, which had us running a set amount of miles each week. We started modestly, running 10 miles per week and progressed to 25-30 miles per week. We did this 3-4 times a week.

We completed a long run every weekend, our first of which began with 5 miles. We increased our long runs by two miles each week up through race week. We didn’t pay attention to pace. For us, it was about endurance and building up the miles. For example, sometimes we’d run a 3-miler at a 10:00 pace, other days we’d run the same mileage at an 8:00 pace. Our long runs ranged between a 9:30 - 10:30 pace. There was no rhyme or reason. We simply ran as fast as we could muster each time out.

We’ve done OK with this approach. We missed breaking 2:00 hours by two minutes for our second half marathon in Sept. 2011. We completed our fifth half in Sept. 2012.

Recently, I read Finding Ultra by ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll. He’s a guy who had an "Aha” moment (as Kellie calls it) on the eve of his 40th birthday when he recognized he had trouble walking up the stairs. In a moment, he decided to turn his life around.

Roll had been a recovering addict who had begun looking to food for comfort and self-medication. Following this transformational moment, Roll’s wife -- a vegetarian -- urged him to start a plant-based diet. He did this and also resumed swimming -- a sport he excelled at in college. He eventually incorporated running and biking into his daily exercise routine, logging many training miles and building endurance.

When he decided to tackle an Iron Man race, he sought guidance from a trainer, who told Roll that his training was haphazard and ineffective. He encouraged Roll to incorporate a heart rate monitor into his runs and to begin training at his “aerobic” heart rate for long runs. At this point, many of you may be as confused as I was. But don’t worry -- I dug much deeper and will explain this more clearly.

Training at lower heart rates (60-70% of maximum) for more strenuous activities, such as long runs, keeps our bodies in the “aerobic zone” where our bodies burn mostly fat.

Training higher than this rate means our bodies are in the “anaerobic zone.” This zone is preferred for exercises like running sprints or shorter miles because at this level our bodies burn short-term energy reserves, with only about 15 percent of energy coming from fat. Consequently, we should only do anaerobic exercise for short intervals. (Though, our bodies will recover in a few minutes, so we can repeat the exercise several times during a single workout.)

By training in the “aerobic zone,” we actually train our bodies to burn fat. Why is this good?

For starters, it’s a great way to lose excess weight. Also, being able to run using fat as our main energy source means we can train for longer periods of time (i.e., more than one hour) without requiring “re-fueling.” Essentially, training at this lower heart rate allows us to build a stronger base, which means we’ll eventually be able to run farther and faster at the same heart rate. Conversely, endurance training in the “anaerobic zone” weakens our bodies, leaving us prone to injuries and making recovery more difficult.

When Roll started training for long runs at his “aerobic zone," he was shocked by how slow he had to run in order to stay within his targeted heart rate zone. Heck, he had been running 2-3 hour training runs by this point. He thought to himself, “How can I ever run faster by running slower?” But, that’s exactly what happens. By training in this way, Roll built a strong base and went from running a 10:00 pace at that heart rate to running a 7:00 pace at the same heart rate within several months.

The short is, Kellie and I will purchase heart rate monitors and begin training in this “aerobic” heart rate zone. Our general game plan is to do this from now until the end of February, at which point we’ll be about 8-weeks from our New Jersey Half Marathon. We’ll continue to run our long runs at this heart rate zone and also begin incorporating tempo runs (race pace runs between 3 and 5 miles) and intervals (faster paced half miles with slower jogs in between the faster segments).

I’ll track and share our progress with all of you every other week or so (I’m an engineer and, therefore, pretty vigilant about this stuff). I’m confident this new, more structured training approach will elevate our running to a whole new level.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Day One Starts Today

I’ll be the first to admit, the closer we get to the holidays, the more challenging it becomes to “work in” work outs. We had a jammed-packed schedule yesterday and I ended up skipping it entirely -- my first day off in 34 days. I was shooting for 45, but in the end fell short. The good news is I woke up to a brand new day and kicked Monday morning off with a 4-mile run. OK, it’s not 7 or 9 but it’s something.

So … I’m back in the saddle, as they say.

There’s a message in here for all of us, I think.

If you’ve decided to embark on a challenge, a streak or whatever, and a day doesn’t work out exactly as planned, it’s OK. The setback doesn’t take away from what you’ve achieved leading up to it or what you still will achieve going forward.

Failures, missteps, etc. make us stronger. They make us appreciate where we’re heading because oftentimes it’s not easy. Every goal takes commitment, strength and time. So celebrate your wins, learn from your misses and keep moving forward.

By the way, I absolutely took advantage of my "exercise-free" Sunday. We spent the morning/early-afternoon at Sienna’s piano recital, followed by a visit to see Santa, dinner out and then snapping the perfect pose for our Christmas card, which we ordered … finally. Nothing like waiting to the "almost" last-minute.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Walenciak holiday greeting for 2012.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

A "Meatless Monday" Surprise

The results are in! unveiled its top 12 most popular recipes for the year. According to the online publication, vegan food "went above and beyond our wildest expectations in 2012."

I couldn't agree more. In fact, we've made and enjoyed several of the recipes on the list.

Our favorite is Quinoa Nachos, though we put our own creative spin on it, eliminating the cheese sauce and turning it into a dip layered with salsa, guacamole, diced Roma tomatoes and black olives. We're asked to bring this appetizer to almost every party hosted by our "omnivore" friends and family. It's THAT scrumptious ... perfect for football Sundays.

I highly recommend giving VegNews magazine a "like" on Facebook. The page is very active, pushing out delicious, healthful and easy-to-prepare meals everyday. You'll build up your collection of "plant-empowered" recipes in no time.

Without further ado, here are the top dishes of 2012. Make one tonight in support of Meatless Mondays!

Peace, love & kale ...
  1. Macaroni & "Cheese": It’s still No. 1 in our hearts too.
  2. Sumptuous Shepherd’s Stew: A bowl of this indulgent soup will warm all your winter blues away.
  3. Guilt-Free Garlic Mashed Potatoes: So does this mean we can eat them all the time? Yes!
  4. Quinoa Nachos: Finger-food of the sports-watcher, couch potato and everyone else.
  5. Marinated Kale Salad: To use Rob Lowe's Parks & Recreation character Chris Traeger’s words (and enthusiasm), this is -- quite literally -- the greatest kale salad on the planet.
  6. Nacho "Cheese": If you add this to the quinoa nachos, does it take the No. 1 spot?
  7. Gluten-Free Middle Eastern Chickpea & Rice Salad: Gluten-free, easy and flavorful.
  8. Avocado Pesto Pasta: That Chef Chloe Coscarelli sure knows what she’s doing.
  9. Soy-Free Ground "Beef": Making you wish that Taco Tuesday was everyday.
  10. "Ranch" Veggie Burgers: Veggie Burgers + "Ranch" Dressing = Full Stomachs.
  11. Potato Pancakes: Are latkes the world’s most perfect food? We think so!
  12. Meat-Less Balls: Vegan meatball sub, anyone?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Letter to President Clinton Sparks My First Interview!

Recently I noticed a Letter to President Clinton trending on many vegan and vegetarian Facebook pages, which immediately piqued my interest.

When I opened it, my eyes caught a glimpse of a large, unhealthy looking man named Eric. Off to the right of the page; however, was a photo of a very different looking man, also named Eric. This Eric was fit and lean and strikingly good-looking. Could it be the same man? Of course you know the answer. It certainly was.

Eric had penned an open letter to former President Bill Clinton, accrediting him with helping to change his life. Eric saw the now-famous interview with CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer, in which Clinton spoke candidly of his transition to a vegan diet. “You looked great, better and more presidential than I’d ever seen you look before. The jowls and large bags under your eyes were gone, and your face was oval rather than round. In the interview, you talked about getting back to your high school weight and reversing your heart disease by following a whole-food, plant-based diet based on The China Study and other research by Doctors T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish,” wrote Eric in his letter.

At the time of that interview, Eric was 51-years young and taking more than $1000 in medications per month. He had Type II Diabetes and a staggering cholesterol count of 300. At 280 pounds, his blood pressure was 160/100. Eric describes sleeping 10 or more hours a day, feeling lethargic and exhausted all the time and suffering from constant joint pain. “I was not able to tie my shoes, let alone walk up a flight of stairs without feeling out of breath,” he said.

Eric adopted a whole-food, plant-based diet in September 2010. In just eight months, he lost 100 pounds, saw his cholesterol drop from 300 to 130 and his blood pressure decrease from 160/100 to 100/60. Additionally, his glucose and all other medical stats were in the normal or optimal range. Best of all, he no longer showed any signs of Type II Diabetes!

I was so moved by Eric’s story and his journey to take back control of his health that I reached out to him for an interview to learn more about his transition to a healthful vegan diet. Below is Eric … in his own words.

Editor’s note: For the purpose of this interview, “vegan” refers to a whole-food, plant-based diet.

There are people all over the world who have lost weight or who maintain an ideal weight eating smaller amounts of the typical Western diet (meat, fish, dairy and processed food). Why make such a drastic change in your dietary lifestyle?
It’s true that some people, especially younger people, can live on the Standard American Diet (SAD) without becoming overweight or obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control; however, more than two-thirds of Americans over the age of 20 are presently obese or overweight so the SAD is not working for many of us. And as we age, it seems harder for many to maintain an optimum or “high school” weight. On the SAD, we seem to get fatter as we age, while we fight the losing weight gain battle.

The SAD definitely never worked for me. I was heavy in my 20s, and was obese for more than 20 years before I became a vegan. During that time, I’m pretty sure I tried every diet and weight loss program marketed to the American public, including Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Paleo, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, in addition to different medically-supervised programs based on stimulants and other controlled substances. On each of these programs, I found I could lose some weight, but neither my weight loss nor the programs were sustainable. And, just like trying to control my portions on the SAD, I experienced overpowering hunger and cravings on each of these programs. I could always drop 40 lbs. in two months on Atkins for example, but then I’d have a moment of weakness, eat French fries or a pizza, and then give up and regain more than I’d lost in a matter of weeks. After following this pattern for more than 20 years, I decided to schedule bariatric surgery at the suggestion of my doctor. Then I heard President Clinton interviewed, where he talked about his plant-based diet and I decided to try that as the final step before weight loss surgery.

I’ve now strictly followed a plant-based diet (no animal proteins of any kind, including any meat, fish, chicken, dairy or eggs) for the past two years. I also try to avoid all processed foods, especially sugar, to the greatest extent possible.

Let’s get the most frequently asked question of vegans out of the way. You write in your letter that in 2012 you’ll finish 24 races, seven of which will have been full marathons. Where do you get your protein and iron to be able to do that?
The iron question is easy -- legumes and dark leafy green vegetables are the best and most absorbable sources of iron for humans. But the most frequently asked question of anyone on a plant based-diet is, as you said, “Where do you get your protein?” Every vegan I know has this answer down to an elevator speech and here’s mine.

All plants contain protein. By eating a wide spectrum of plants, I get all the protein and other nutrients I need.  I do not take any protein or other nutritional supplements, with one exception -- a B12 supplement is recommended for everyone following a plant-based diet.

Americans on the SAD consume six-to-10 times more protein than they need. That excess protein overworks the liver and kidneys, causing both these organs to become enlarged and injured. Excess protein consumption causes the kidneys to pull large quantities of calcium from the body, causing bones to weaken and kidney stones to form. (Dr. John McDougall).

I’m actually asked this question several times per day, and rather than go through my elevator speech, sometimes I find the best response is just to ask, “Do you think I need more protein?” Then I show a muscle, such as my calves, pictured below.

The first time I ran outside more than two miles was in Dec. 2011. In Oct. 2012, I qualified for the Boston Marathon, which I’m registered to run in April 2013. I could not have done this without my plant-based diet.

So even though I only eat whole plants and use no protein or other supplements, I still have more muscle than I’d prefer to have as a long distance runner since excess muscle adds weight and excess weight reduces my speed. I try to feature low protein plants in my diet. As a percentage of calories, my diet is about 80 percent carbohydrates, 10 percent plant-based protein and 10 percent plant-based fats.

Let’s talk about your transition. Did you move to a vegan diet in phases or all at once?
Success in transitioning from an omnivore to a plant-based diet requires a plan, education and support. Most people I talk to that failed on a plant-based diet tried to eat just salads and apples and such, then quit when they didn't feel well. In my case, I found a vegan nutritionist who was covered by my medical insurance. I hired her and met with her every week, following exactly what she advised. By the end of eight months I had lost 105 pounds and became a pretty good vegan cook. But to answer your question, I stopped eating all animal proteins within a month after first meeting with my nutritionist.

What were your biggest challenges?
I adjusted to my new diet quickly. I was surprised to learn that my biggest challenge was clothing. I started with a 50-inch waist and 3XL shirts. I found that I needed to buy new pants for every two to three inch reduction in my waist size. It was less expensive to buy cheap temporary clothing than to pay for expensive alterations and have my suits re-cut  so my strategy was to buy the cheapest clothing I could get by with until I hit my final weight goal. I actually spent more on clothing to transition from 280 pounds to 175 pounds (about $3000) than I spent for the weekly insurance deductible for my nutritionist (about $1000) to lose all my weight.

Do you miss meat and dairy?
Not at all. The hardest part of the SAD for most people is eliminating dairy because cow’s milk contains opioids and is addictive. Therefore, people who say they can’t live without milk and cheese are suffering from a food addiction. My experience has been that anyone who has successfully quit smoking, alcohol or substance abuse will have an easier time eliminating dairy because they are stronger and more experienced in recovering from a prior addiction.

After you stop eating meat and your taste buds reorient to a plant-based diet the thought of eating dead animals becomes gross to most vegans. I do not proselytize about my lifestyle to others, but when I see people eating meat, I honestly feel sorry for them because I know from my own experience that they would be happier and healthier eating plants rather than dead animals.

Does it cost more to eat this way?
People new to a plant-based diet often buy processed and packaged vegan foods, which generally cost more than packaged and processed omnivore foods. But when you invest the time to learn how to incorporate a plant-based diet into your life and how to really become a good cook using just organic, whole-food and spices, you can spend less feeding your family extremely healthy food than you spend buying frozen, boxed and packaged junk at traditional grocery chains. By staying away from all packaged foods (though I still buy unprocessed items such as frozen blueberries because I use them almost daily and they have such a short season) and only buying organic whole-food and dry bulk grains, legumes and nuts, I spend less on groceries at farmer’s markets, Whole Foods and other organic sources than I spent buying meat and processed junk at traditional grocery stores. For a good resource on how to live inexpensively on a vegan diet, I recommend Eat Vegan on $4.00 per day.

People always ask me what I eat, sans meat, dairy and processed food. Tell me about your menu and what you do to make vegetables fun, flavorful and sexy.
I take whole plants and make them into foods that look and taste similar to what most omnivores are used to eating, only better, healthier and more flavorful. My favorite dishes are what I call “vegan comfort foods,” such as lasagna, Mexican, Chinese and similar ethnic cuisines. So when people ask me what I eat, I turn the question around and ask them what they like to eat. When they answer my question, I explain how to make those same dishes without animal products. This isn’t as mystifying as people assume, you just leave out the meat, cheese and butter and substitute healthy plant-based ingredients instead. One reason I started my new website/blog was to provide my favorite recipes, some of which are original, but many of which are “veganized” versions of traditional favorite recipes.

You write that you are “fully awake for the first time in your life.” How quickly after adopting this lifestyle did you begin to experience these transformative feelings?
After about 2-3 months of strictly avoiding all animal products, processed sugar and all processed and packaged foods, including all vitamins and supplements, I began feeling physically and mentally amazing, with energy and mental clarity that I’d never experienced before. It was later I came to understand that I was now feeling “normal” for the first time in my life.

Many people who have adopted a whole-food, plant-based diet report experiencing a backlash from some of their friends and family. Unlike fad diets, veganism can sometimes be viewed as an assault on the Western diet. Are your friends and family supportive of your dietary choices? If not, how do you handle/respond?
A real friend will not berate or criticize a friend for wanting to make positive changes in his/her life. If anyone outside your family is outspoken against your decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle, isn’t the best solution to remove that person from your life? Regarding family members, I’m fortunate that I live alone and with my son. So I control what food comes into my home, and don’t need to worry about anyone else bringing junk into it. Many people in my life at first expressed concern about what I was doing and based on ignorance and misinformation informed me that meat and dairy were a required part of a healthy balanced diet. But I proved them all wrong -- most of those who shared their incorrect opinions with me are still obese eating what I used to eat, while I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life and living a life I never dreamed possible. By the way, once I learned how to cook, my son also learned to like what I make better than what he used to eat, and sometimes even complains when I suggest going out to a restaurant.

A bigger adjustment for me has been dating, and I haven’t quite figured this out yet. I’ve been single for about 15 years. During all of that time except the past two years, I was obese and felt like I was invisible to women so I didn’t attempt to date. After I lost my weight and became athletic, for the first time in my life, I feel attractive and women sometimes seem to notice me. A big disappointment has been, however, that after someone initially acts interested in me, they often change their mind when they find out I’m vegan. I was recently on a date when a woman told me I was a “radical” because I wouldn't eat meat. So I’m choosing to just be patient and live with this and someday hope I’ll find a compatible vegan girlfriend.

What do you do at parties and restaurants that aren't vegan-friendly? Is it a struggle for you to maintain your lifestyle outside the home?
I have a wide circle of friends now, and anyone who would invite me to their home for a party would have at least some plant-based foods I could eat. At almost any restaurant, it’s easy. I ask the server questions about menu items I am interested in. Rather than get into complicated explanations about what “vegan” means (because many really don’t know), I tell my server to leave off the meat and dairy and add more of something else to replace those calories. For example, at a Mexican restaurant, I tell the server no meat, no cheese and no sour cream but extra beans and rice. I’ve never had a problem eating a strict vegan meal at any omnivore restaurant. I simply engage my server in conversation and ask a lot of questions.

The only really difficult situation would be in a steak restaurant with no vegetarian options. In this case, I would end up eating potatoes and steamed or grilled vegetables.

When people hear that I follow a healthful vegan lifestyle, many will respond with, “Well good for you. I could never do that.” Why do you think there is such a rebellion against our way of life, yet so many people were willing and are still willing to adopt fad diets like Atkins, The Zone, etc. without any long-term scientific and clinical research demonstrating effectiveness?
I think most people are just afraid of what they don’t understand and haven’t tried. But as my mother used to say, how do you know you won’t like it if you haven’t tried it? For someone who is young, slim and apparently healthy, there is little you can say to influence that person to switch to a healthier lifestyle unless they are also concerned about animal cruelty, the environment, world hunger, national healthcare costs and similar issues. If the person isn’t interested in the medically accepted health benefits of a vegan diet, are they interested in the equally important moral and humanitarian issues affecting animals, other people and our planet?

I personally know many people who are resistant to accepting the decades of research and scientific study presented in books such as The China Study and movies like Forks Over Knives. What is your advice to them and to those who may be considering a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle?
This resistance has best been described as The Tomato Effect. Don’t worry though, in 100 years, common sense will prevail and everyone will be vegan.

Thank you, Eric! Learn more about the power of a whole-food, plant-based diet. LIKE us on Facebook.

Eric’s journey continues today. You can follow his blog Vegan Dinner Parties and Facebook page to stay in touch.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ballet, Old Friends and Whole-Food

For our second week of Whole-Food Wednesdays, I’ll be grabbing my meals on the road.

Sienna and I are heading into Manhattan for a matinee performance of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. This annual event has marked the holiday season for us every year since she was just 3-years old. From the moment the lights dim, it’s as if we’re magically transported to a wondrous world of sweet treats and sugar plum fairies. Nothing says Christmas quite like this breathtaking ballet performance. This year is even more special because we're bringing the best babysitter ever, our neighbor Abby. This is Abby's first time seeing The Nutcracker so I very much look forward to seeing her reaction.

To top it off, we’ll meet my girlfriend Louisa and her daughter Delia. Louisa and I have been friends for 20+ years and our lives have paralleled in many ways -- from finding our “husbands” after years of being single and the birth of our children, to the passing of our fathers just three weeks apart. We’ve been through everything together and she knows me like no other. From the moment we met, she has inspired me to be a better person and she continues to do so to this day. I honestly believe I would not have the life I enjoy today had it not been for her influence.

The Nutcracker 2011

The Nutcracker 2010

In keeping with our Whole-Food Wednesdays Challenge, I'm sharing a recipe I found on the fly last week. It’s a delicious Taco Soup that tastes magnifico. The recipe follows below.

As a reminder, the goal of Whole-Food Wednesdays is to reduce our meat intake but increase our consumption of plant-empowered foods. Easy, peasy, right?

Each of you who shares a whole-food, plant-based recipe, success story, fitness and nutrition win or technique, or your own personal Eat This, Not That plant-friendly example will be automatically entered into a drawing for a chance to win your own copy of one of my most treasured plant-empowered cookbooks! Share two little gems and you'll be entered twice. Send me three and you'll be entered thrice! You can comment directly on this site or e-mail me at

The raffle goes off at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 26. Good luck!

Peace, love & kale!

Taco Soup, by Nava Atlas
1/2 cup raw bulgur or quinoa
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
3 cans of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-ounce can salt-free crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped mild green chilies, fresh or canned
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, optional
1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cups of vegetable broth

Shredded cheddar-style nondairy cheese (I recommend Daiya)
Romaine or green leaf lettuce, shredded
Roma tomatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
Stone-ground tortilla chips

Bring 1 cup of water or vegetable broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the grain and simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until the water (or broth) is absorbed.

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and bell pepper and continue to sauté, stirring frequently, until all are golden.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the garnishes, plus the cooked grain and 3 cups vegetable broth. Bring to a rapid simmer, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Fill each bowl about 2/3 full with soup. Top with a bit of shredded cheese, lettuce and diced tomatoes. Add tortilla chips to the bowl or serve on the side.