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I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time.  It originally occurred me shortly after I became a vegan. One of the requirements of veganism is to become a serious label reader. Products you would never imagine contain dairy products or eggs, not to mention some of the other things that are used to add flavor/color (can you say beetle juice?).

So, I was reading the label on a box of cereal that I had been eating for a while (okay, I’ll admit it, it was TJs Maple & Brown Sugar Shredded Wheat), and discovered that not only was this cereal not vegan, it was not even vegetarian! Yes, that’s right. My favorite cereal contained gelatin (pause for gasp)! Gelatin is made from the collagen from cow’s or pig’s bones, hooves, and connective tissue. Ugh.

Now, to some, that may not be an issue. After all, you can find it in marshmallows and Jello, and many cosmetic and pharmaceutical items that we use every day also contain gelatin. It is used as a gelling agent. I, on the other hand was horrified. And it started me thinking.

As a vegetarian or vegan, at what point do you draw the line at what food you eat, what clothes you wear, what products you use?  Meat eaters, too, should ask themselves questions. Where did this food come from? How were the animals treated? As I started writing this post, my response got more and more complex. Drawing the line has so many implications beyond veganism. It can certainly relate to many or most aspects of our lives. You can see why it has taken me so long to write this.

Just a note before you go on. Everything that I say is this post is my feelings and opinions. What you choose to do is based on your feelings and opinions. I won’t judge you if you won’t judge me. I do hope that you will read this and ask questions, and spend some time thinking about your choices.

When I became a vegetarian a little over four years ago, it was really pretty simple. Alan decided to make the change with me, which was a huge help. We did what many new vegetarians do, using meat substitutes in old recipes to easily switch, then gradually adding more whole foods to our diet. At that time, I continued to eat dairy, though I was determined not to be one of those vegetarians that use cheese as their main protein source. I cut out eggs, although I still ate products that contained eggs. After a year, I developed a craving for eggs, which I gave into for a few months, then cut them out again. I stopped buying anything made with leather. I have posted here about my reasons for becoming a vegetarian.

Well, being vegetarian was better, for me, than eating animals, but I felt that it wasn’t enough. If my point was to avoid hurting or killing animals, how could I ignore the fact that the dairy business is one of the cruelest factory farming industries out there and directly contributes to the veal industry. Yes, that’s right, Biology 101: For the cow to give milk, she must have babies.  Once they are born, they are taken away (the milk is for us, after all). The females are raised to take their mother’s places. The males? Well, off to the veal crates, of course. And don’t get me started about the egg industry.

So, in February, 2010, I decided to eliminate all animal products from my diet. If the above paragraph isn’t enough for you, you can read about my becoming vegan here.

So, to clarify, in January, 2007 the line that I drew for myself prohibited eating dead animals or wearing their skin, but I still allowed myself to indulge in some of the products of those same animals. When I became vegan, I drew a new line. I truly believe that vegetarianism, like many things in life, is a process.  We live, we learn, we make the changes that are necessary for our new reality.

After becoming a food and clothing vegan, I had to ask myself more questions. Many household cleaners and cosmetics contain animal products and/or do testing on animals. Obviously, I could not continue to consciously use those items and still call myself vegan. So I started the process, which I am still continuing, of weeding those products out of my life. This is one resource, a list of cosmetic/personal care companies that do not test on animals (those that don’t contain any animal products are marked with an asterisk). On the flip side, this list will tell you the companies that do test on animals. As for cleaning products, there are a few companies out there that do not test on animals (another up-side is that these products are better for the environment too!).

Out with the old...

In with the new.

So yet another line is being drawn. Now, I understand that we all have lines that we won’t cross and gray areas, which I think of as undefined lines, where we may occasionally stray, because, well, we’re human. Yes, I’ve been changing to new, cruelty free products, but I still stubbornly cling to my old L’Oreal Haircolor (wow, that’s two admissions in one sentence!).  L’Oreal does test on animals (although they are supposedly going cruelty free in 2013), and I no longer use any of their other products, but, selfish me, I’m afraid to change.  So there is my gray area.

My gray area?

So, where do you draw the line? Like I said, I really don’t want to judge anybody. But I do want you to think. If you choose to eat meat, you should learn where your meat comes from and make a conscious decision to eat something that used to live and breathe. There seems to be a disconnect going on somewhere, like that juicy steak came from nowhere and just jumped on our plates. Most Americans agree that farm animals should be treated humanely, yet, time after time, hidden video after hidden video, after hidden video, after hidden video, it is proven that they are most definitely not. So what do we do? What should we do?

If you are eating less meat, that’s wonderful. If you are a vegetarian, that’s great. Eating less or no meat is taking a great stride forward, toward better health for you, and less death and cruelty for farm animals. Just keep reading, asking questions, educating yourself, so that you will know where to draw your line.

As I was preparing this curry, I realized that almost all of the ingredients were white: Tofu, cauliflower, potato, onion, garlic, coconut milk. Yes, I used green curry paste, but I still planned to call this dish “White Curry.” When I realized I wanted a little more heat, I added jalapeno, and it became a “White and Green Curry.” Because I used a prepared curry paste, this was a very fast dish to prepare. You can serve it over rice, and use your favorite curry condiments (Alan likes chutney and raisins, I just love avocado slices).

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

One small onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, diced

One jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (more to your taste)

One cup cauliflower florets, broken into bite size pieces

2 medium potatoes, chopped into bite size pieces

One can light coconut milk

One Tablespoon green curry paste (more to your taste)

One cup vegetable broth or white wine

One package firm or extra firm tofu, cubed

1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts (optional)

White pepper and salt to taste

Cilantro (for garnish)

Directions

In a large skillet or soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add the pepper, cauliflower, and potatoes and cook for two more minutes. Add the coconut milk, broth, and curry paste. Increase the temperature  and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the tofu and peanuts. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce thickens and the potatoes are cooked. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro.

A New Hero

Every now and then you meet someone who makes an impression on your life. Someone who, through their integrity, hard work, selfless achievements, and personal sacrifices, is, simply put, a hero. I was fortunate enough to meet such a person recently, although I didn’t fully realize the scope and quality of her heroism until the other night.

I met Molly Thorpe for the first time several weeks ago when Alan and I volunteered at the Run for Ike 5k. When I met Molly, I was mostly impressed that she had managed to put the event together in three weeks, involving the community, the police, and the city government as sponsors, supporters, and volunteers. It was impressive, but not heroic. I also knew that she coached young students to run in many events, including training for, participating in, and hopefully finishing the Los Angeles Marathon. Again, impressive, worthwhile, but not necessarily heroic.

All that was before I attended the annual award banquet for the Palm Springs Marathon Runners and finally recognized just what a hero Molly is.

First, a little history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. The program has just finished it’s fifth year. Molly was inspired to start the Marathon Runners after reading an article in Runner’s World Magazine about ‘Students Run LA,’ a similar program, which focused on taking ‘at risk’ students and training with them to run the Los Angeles Marathon. Molly embraced the idea, partly because she was a runner and a teacher and loved the idea of changing students lives through running.

Over the years, 75 students have participated in the Palm Springs Marathon Runners program. Of those, 30 completed enough smaller events to qualify to run the marathon, and 27 of those completed the 26.2 mile race. Along the way, the children learn about commitment, dedication, friendship, goal setting, hard work, and accomplishment, just to name a few of the benefits. To date, each participant is either still in school, or has graduated from high school. Some have gone on to college. And these were troubled kids, some of whom had been expelled from school, who, had they not found this program could have ended up being written off by the standard school system.

While I was preparing to write this post, I sent Molly an email asking about the history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. She quickly replied and asked me to spread the word about the program. To do so, I added a new page to this blog and copied Molly’s entire email, which gives a lot more information about the program. To read it, click here.

When we arrived at the banquet, we mingled for a while, then following the seating charts were seated at table #2, along with some friends of ours. Greg Klein, co-owner of KleinClark Sports, who produces many of the running events in the Coachella Valley, and helped the PS Marathon Runners’ program by offering discounted race entries. Cherie Gruenfeld, who has completed numerous ironman distance triathlons and has written a book on how to train for the event. Cherie introduced Molly and her kids to multisport, and they added a triathlon to their training program. Jim Franklin, who at 81  still competes in many running events and enjoys sharing his experiences (and the road) with the young people in the marathon program.

Our friends, Jim Franklin, Greg Klein, and Cherie Gruenfeld were seated at our table.

After we had all taken our seats, Molly introduced herself, talked a little about the program, then introduced the people sitting at table #1, who included her husband, Jay, some family and close friends. Then her teacher side came out, and she had her runners introduce the rest of the guests.

We were shown a video of the runners participating in this year’s events, then Molly, again channeling her inner teacher, called upon her students to stand before the crowd to tell about their experiences.

This was when I realized that I was in the presence of a hero. As child after child stood before us, they all, some haltingly, some confidently, spoke about their experience becoming marathon runners. They talked about the challenges they faced, the accomplishment they felt, the confidence they gained, all through participating in the Marathon Runners program.  Most of all, though, what came through during their speeches was the love and respect for the woman who, in reality, had saved them. It was Molly’s guidance, dedication, hard work, and love that enabled them to learn that they could succeed.

Ironman Cherie Gruenfeld gave all the kids a signed copy of her book, "Become an Ironman."

The rest of the evening went quickly. We were fed (I was able to make a nice vegan tostada salad!), many awards were handed out (Molly really knows how to put together an awards banquet!),  The last part of the evening was dedicated to the Run for Ike. Ike was the Palm Springs K-9 who was killed in the line of duty last month. The proceeds from the race will be used to purchase and train a new K-9 officer for the police force.  Amazingly, $15,130.25 was raised! Palm Springs police officers Lt. Fallon and K-9 Sgt. Cabrera were there to receive the check. Sgt. Cabrera brought tears to my eyes as he choked up himself describing the loss that the entire force felt with the death of Ike.

I love being called "Ikes Angels!"

What really touched me about the whole experience was this: This dedicated woman put together this program from scratch. She worked with the community to raise money to fund the Marathon Runners. She has dedicated her life to these children. She is, of course, out there running right along side them, both in training and in the marathon. She stands behind these kids, fights for them, and when all is said, she loves them. Molly Thorpe, not only are you a hero to your kids, you are my new hero too.

Around the blog-o-sphere lately, many of the writers whose blogs I subscribe to have been celebrating birthdays. Kate just turned 25, AJ just turned 30, Annie turned 36. Babies! In the spirit of competition, or one-ups-manship (how do you spell that?), let me just say this. My youngest son, my baby, turned 30 last week.

How can this be? How did this sweet boy…No really, how did this sweet boy…

That’s better. So how did this sweet little boy…

Become this man…?

And how did this young mom…

Become this, um, not so young mom…

I am having a bit of a hard time with this. All this time, I’ve been convincing myself that I’m just barely over 30 myself. I read these blogs written by these young women, and I relate to their lives, not as a mom, but as a fellow human, fellow woman, fellow vegan.  Then, this damn birthday comes along and smashes my illusions all to hell.

Actually, I’m just whining. I’m really happy with where I am in my life. I love my life, my husband, my sons, my dogs, and really wouldn’t want to go back. I look and feel good (please, Debbie, don’t add ‘for my age,’ even in your mind!). I run, I ride, I work, I…well, you get the idea. I have two wonderful sons, two darling grandsons, a teenage granddaughter.

So, why is this so hard?

I think it is because 30 is such a meaningful age. Turning 30 means that you are supposed to be an adult. You should have your life in order, your education complete, your career underway, your family planned. You are no longer a child. So, when you are the parent of someone turning 30, it’s like the double whammy to beat them all.

I am finished having my little pity party now. Happy Birthday, David.

It happens every year. The weather starts to warm up, and suddenly I’m all about salads. Even though our weather has been amazingly cool (so far) this May, my tummy starts craving some lighter, cooler, yet still filling and delicious, fare.  Another nice thing about salads is that they are pretty easy and fast to put together.  A little chopping, a little shredding, a little tossing, and you’re good to go.

The inspiration for this salad comes from Native Foods‘ ‘Yo Amigo Taco Salad.’  The first time I ordered it, Megan, my server (who also works with me as a personal trainer), suggested that I ordered it tossed. It became my favorite for a while, although it was never quite as delicious as the first time (true about a lot of things, huh?). Anyway, as I tend to do when I find a restaurant dish that I like, I tried to re-create it at home. With some success, I’d say.

(I apologize for the quality of the pictures in this post. After killing my camera during our trip to Knott’s Berry Farm last weekend, I have ordered a new one, but in the meantime I’m using my several years old Kodak EasyShare.)

Step 1: The Veggies

I chose the vegetables for this salad based on two requirements: One-they needed to create a nice variety of color and taste combination; and two-I needed to have them in the refrigerator.  One nice benefit from this method of veggie selection is that this salad is always just a little different each time you make it. So for today’s salad we have:

Cucumber, tomato, onion, orange and yellow pepper, cauliflower, and carrot. Chop them up into small pieces (I shredded the carrot). About 1.5-2 cups. Other excellent veggie choices would be corn, celery, zucchini, broccoli, or just about anything your taste buds desire (just remember the color rule, though).

Step 2:  The Greens

The ‘whatever you have on hand’ rule applies here, too. For this salad I had romaine and kale.  I steam the kale for a few minutes so that it will be tender, then rinse it in cold water and put it in the refrigerator until I’m ready to toss everything together. Chop the greens into bite sized pieces and toss together with the vegetables.

Step 3: The stuff that makes it a ‘Taco Salad.’

I cooked about 4 ounces of vegan ground ‘beef’ and 4 ounces of Soyrizo. Season to your taste with chili powder, onion powder, and salt. If you have a favorite taco filling recipe, you can use that. I’m trying to keep it simple, remember. After cooking, I let it cool a bit, then added it to the salad.

I also had some Daiya Cheddar, so I added about a half cup.

Step 4: The Dressing

Start with vegan ranch dressing (I make my own from this recipe from Meet the Shannons). Mix in Sriracha to taste (yes, it’s Asian, not Mexican, but oh, so yummy!). Toss it all together and divide into two bowls.

Step 5: The Toppings

Finish your salad by adding sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, and a small handful of crushed, vegan tortilla chips.

This is the perfect summer (or anytime) salad. It is light, yet filling; easy to prepare, yet offers a nice variety of flavors and textures. I know I’ll be making it again soon.

I can’t believe that I haven’t posted this already! Alan’s birthday was last week and I wanted to bake him a cake. This is not something I’ve ever done before. In the past, I would order a cake for him, usually carrot because that’s his favorite. Since becoming vegan, though, I really didn’t want to purchase anything made with animal products. And even if I did go ahead and buy it, well, I couldn’t eat any.  If there is cake in my house I want to be able to eat some. So I decided to bake one myself.

Now I’m sure for you bakers out there, this is not big deal. But if you read this blog, you know that I have made one other cake in my life, so this was a serious undertaking. At least this time I had a proper cake pan!

I found a recipe in the Native Foods Cookbook that looked pretty easy. In fact, the only hard part was figuring out how to grate carrots when the smallest blade on my food processor says ‘shredder.’ I did have some problems with the icing. It just wasn’t thick enough, even after chilling it (and I’ll admit it, adding powdered sugar in the hopes of thickening it up). It was sweet in any case.

This cake was fabulous! Even if I do say so myself. I am sure that my husband will concur. It was light, it tasted great, it was damn near perfect. I don’t even like carrot cake and I loved it. And even with the thin frosting, it was beautiful, too. Tanya’s recipe tells you to use little carrot-shaped slices of carrot with a little sprig of parsley for decoration, which made it look so cute!

Yep, it was a winner!

As I mentioned last month, Alan wanted to take his grandsons to Disneyland to celebrate his (Alan’s) birthday last weekend. As I also mentioned, after searching for deals on the internet and not finding any, we had a choice between going to Disneyland and paying $288 admission, or going to Knott’s Berry Farm, which had all kinds of discounts available, for $102. Not too tough a choice. Sorry Mickey.

Being vegan, I also had some other research to do. Amusement parks aren’t known for their healthy food, so I figured that my chances were slim to none that I’d find any options at Knott’s. They do not allow you to bring in your own food. I started by posting on their facebook page:

After deciphering Stephanie’s post, I thought that she had the best idea. I did check out TGIF and Johnny Rocket’s on-line menus, and although Johnny Rocket’s did have a veggie burger available, I didn’t hold out a lot of hope that it would be vegan. And TGIF is hopeless, unless you choose to eat lettuce.

Then last Friday, I received this message on Facebook:

You may note that this message was dated May 10. Well, Facebook notifications had been whacko all week, and I didn’t receive the message until Friday evening. I replied back, but had a feeling that Willie was probably off for the weekend. Oh well, I figured I could tell Guest Services, or if necessary, flash them the message on my phone’s facebook app. We were good to go, food-wise.

Our plan was to drive to Huntington Beach early on Saturday afternoon. The boys had a baseball game at 5:00 that we were looking forward to watching. If you’ve never seen six year old boys (and one girl!) play baseball, you should put it on your bucket list. Seriously, it is so much fun. They are so joyous about the play, they are just starting to learn their skills (and the rules), and, unlike the professional pitchers’ games of today, there is a whole lot of scoring. Some scenes from the game:

Last year was T-Ball, this year the coach pitches (this coach is Alan's son)

Batter Up!

Players rotate positions each inning. That's our grandson the catcher

Base hit!

Action shot...check out his mouth as the ball gets closer.

Another hit. Must be that batting glove.

Grandson on the mound!

See dad? There's some hustle here!

I just love this pose.

He lost the other front tooth a little later during the game.

Sometimes it's hard to pay attention when there is so much going on all around you.

Ready for action.

Sunday morning brought clouds, rain, and cold. Alan and I took a run along the coast and I never felt like I warmed up. I hoped that the rain would pass, but long experience told me that a rainy day is really the best day to go to an amusement park. It keeps the crowds away. But, just not pouring, please.

After checking Knott’s website the evening before, we had one worry. The height requirement for most of the ‘cool’ rides was 48″. We lined the boys up (every family has a place on the wall for measuring, right?). They are fraternal twins, remember. One boy made it easy, 49″. Uh oh, his brother just barely hit 46.5″.  We had to hope that they weren’t too picky about measurements.

As we parked our car on Sunday morning, the clouds cleared, the sun shined, it was a beautiful day. We had decided on a food plan. On the way in, we had stopped at Mother’s Market, which has a wonderful deli with a huge selection of vegan salads, entrees, pizza, and more, and picked up enough for lunch. We decided to leave it in the car instead of hauling it around the park all day. I figured we’d be ready for a break in the action at lunchtime, we could head back to the car, drop off any extra clothing, eat our food, then head back to the fun. Which is exactly what we did, and it was perfect.

We  walked into the park with our eyes skyward, checking out the rides. The first one we chose, La Revolucion, had one of those 48″ limits. We decided to try our luck, but unfortunately, when we reached the front, were were told that our smaller twin would not be able to go on the ride. We decided that Alan would ride with the taller twin:

I felt so bad that we couldn't go on the ride. I promised that we'd go back next year, when he would be tall enough.

Click on the pic and you'll see Alan's feet. Way up there and upside down!

After that, we tried one more ride with the 48″ limit, but when that was a no go, we restricted our rides to the ones which we could all ride (the map had the height limits). This is not to say we didn’t have a great time. The boys won a Big Bird stuffed toy at a baseball toss (see, it paid off already!). We rode the log ride (twice!), several of the faster rides in Camp Snoopy, the Calico Mine ride, where I took my final picture. After that, I dropped my camera (on a wooden floor!), and, well, it died.

One of the rides that we check out early because we would all be able to ride, was the Bigfoot Rapids. However, the sign said, “You will get wet. You may get drenched.” When we (the grown ups) saw that, we told them (the twins, who probably would have been happy to be wet the whole day), that, yes, we would ride that one, but it would be the last one of the day.

So, after a brief lunch break at the car, we headed back into Knott’s, where we caught the tail end of the Stunt Show. I was sorry that we’d missed most of it, because I remember it from years ago. Gunfighters, falling off buildings, shooting it out, all that western fun stuff.

The boys decided that they were ready for the Bigfoot Rapids. Even when we reminded them that it would be the last ride of the day, they said that they were ready. All I can say is, good thing it was the last ride. While the boys remained pretty dry, I got wet and Alan got soaked! I’ll also say that the Family Dryer, that costs $5, but seems like a good idea when you are soaking wet coming out of that ride, does not dry jeans. Nope, Alan pretty much had to be wet and cold all the way back to the house.

All in all, we had a really good time at Knott’s Berry Farm. It has great value, the rides are fun, I can’t wait until we go back with taller grandsons!