Thursday, August 21, 2014

In Loving Memory of Evelyn O'Brien

My grandmother died earlier this week from a brief but awful struggle with breast cancer. She saw a doctor for the first time in 56 years last Thursday and deteriorated quickly. She was comforted in her final days by all of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren as well as by the amazing staff at Grace Hospice.

My mother and I were with her when she passed. It was peaceful. It was quick. And it was a relief to us to not have to watch her suffer anymore. But it still hurts like hell.

I've decided to speak at her funeral, and below is the eulogy I plan on sharing. I did my best to capture the spirit of my grandma. There's so much more to share, but I think this is a great summary of the amazing woman she was.

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My grandma was such a special person, and describing her nature and her spirit is going to be difficult. I thought the best way to memorialize my grandmother would be by describing a visit to her house.

Upon arriving at grandma’s house, probably around noontime, you’d need to knock loudly on her side door to get her attention. Not because she couldn’t hear you – but because she couldn’t really see anyone pull in the driveway because of her beloved pine trees. She always loved Christmas trees and had planted a few in her yard at some point. Her tiny little trees grew into a pine forest over the years.

After grandma peered at you through her kitchen window, unlocked a series of doors, and decided to let you in, you were immediately offered a glass of 7 Up or a piece of ham. And grandma didn’t discriminate – I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life, but every time I was at her house she’d offer me a piece of ham. Despite the fact that I groaned each and every time and told her that I didn’t eat meat.

Once grandma had successfully convinced you to have something to eat or drink, you’d join her in the living room. You’d be seated on her gold Davenport – another word for a couch – and she’d be sitting in her gold chair closest to the window. Most likely, she’d be in the middle of a grueling game of solitaire or halfway through one of her beloved Pink Lady gin drinks. She’d be bundled up in one of her snowy white sweaters and wearing her favorite velour pants, and probably a pair of nice flats without socks. Nearby would be a big orange tabby cat named Happiness. Every cat grandma ever owned was named Happiness. And all but one of them was orange.

Of course, the tv would be on, and if you were lucky, you’d get to watch one of her favorite shows with her – like Oprah, Wheel of Fortune, or the news. Grandma never liked hearing or talking about bad things, so if anything remotely scandalous came on the tv, she could change the channel or turn the tv off in lightning speed. Even when Grandpa protested.

Once the tv got turned off, you’d probably head outside to check out the garden. Grandma loved her garden and especially loved making cucumber salads with the tomatoes and cucumbers she grew. After looking at the garden, she might offer you a seat in the backyard under more of her beloved pine trees. But first, you’d have to go into the garage and pull out a white chair near her white car. Grandma loved her white cars – especially if they had a gold interior. She liked the color white so much she even bought a couple non-white cars and had them painted.

After enjoying some sunshine with grandma, and maybe a little bit of the Indians game on a very old radio Grandpa kept in the garage, you’d head back inside for some dessert. There was no saying “no” to dessert. Grandma always had sugary treats sitting on her kitchen counter. Normally you’d find a white cake with white icing that she’d baked, but sometimes there would be cupcakes from Giant Eagle with mounds of frosting.  Grandma sure loved sugar. She’d sneak a pinch of sugar from her sugar bowl nearly every time she made a trip into the kitchen.

After you finished up your dessert, if it was on or anywhere near a holiday, grandma would have a present for you, or at the very least a card. As one of the girls in the family, grandma loved buying me the pinkest presents she could find. I’m not even quite sure where she found all of the pink sweaters and sweat suits that she gave me over the years, but she probably got them at her favorite store – JC Penny.  If grandma didn’t have some new duds to give you, she might give you an envelope with a card. In that card, you’d find a fresh, crisp $100 bill. When I was little, I was honestly convinced that grandma grew these hundred dollar bills in her front closet or had a printing press stashed away somewhere, because she never seemed to run out of them.

After thanking grandma for her presents and and saying goodbye, she’d always give you a big hug and send you on your way. After you left, she’d get back to playing solitaire or her other favorite hobby – cleaning windows.

I hope this little depiction gives you an idea of my grandmother’s generosity, giving nature, and giant heart. She was a very special woman who touched so many lives throughout her lifetime. She’s only been gone a few days, but I can speak for the entire family when I say how much we love and miss her and know our lives just won’t be the same without her.


Love you, grandma. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What's Up Wednesday - Dealing With Chronic Pain

This past week has been a mixed bag as far as my fibromyalgia is concerned. Last week was pretty much terrible up until Friday, but last Wednesday I went to see my doctor, got some of my homeopathic meds adjusted, and all is well right now. But that could change in an instant, so I'm not taking a healthy moment for granted.

Over the holiday weekend, I got caught up on my marathon training. Between Friday and Sunday I ran 20 miles. I have friends who run 20 miles in a day, but I'm only competing with myself here, and I was happy to accomplish that. Neil was nice enough to run with me most of the time, and having company when you're slogging along in the heat is nice. We made a stop on our 4th of July run at the South Euclid War Memorial and took a selfie. No disrespect to the veterans. I actually like to run to this monument every 4th as a way to show my respect for the troops. It was a little bit of a downer to see that there's a new section for fallen soldiers from the most recent conflicts in the Middle East. Which is yet another reminder to not take any healthy time for granted.

South Euclid War Memorial
Selfie by the flag

This week has been going pretty well, too. I'm at the 4 month mark for alopecia treatments and my hair is continuing to regrow pretty nicely. Having needles jabbed into my scalp isn't something I particularly enjoy, so I hope to have enough regrowth to end those treatments soon.

I read a really amazing top 10 list about dealing with chronic pain, and it really resonated with me - 10 Things I've Learned About Living With Chronic Pain. I'm fortunate to have more good days than bad ones these days, but I can relate to everything the writer says. If you know someone who's suffering from chronic pain, it's worth a read.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

Recipe: Creamy Vegan Pasta Sauce with Roasted Tomatoes

A little while back, I saw a Buzzfeed list for 19 Creamy and Delicious Vegan Pasta Recipes and immediately wanted to make all of them. So far, I've only tried out one of the recipes, but it was pretty good, so I thought I'd share it. I decided to try my hand at making Creamy Vegan Garlic Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes. It promised to be quick, easy, and delicious. I agree with the first two statements (and my fiance agrees with the third) but I think this is a solid recipe that could easily be tweaked to be great.



Creamy vegan pasta sauce with garlic and oven roasted tomatoes

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 box pasta
  • olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 4+ cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2+ teaspoons flour
  • 1 1/4+ cups almond milk


Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss halved tomatoes in a little bit of olive oil and salt and then put face up on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes.
  2. Prepare pasta according to directions on the package and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, combine oil, garlic, and shallot, and cook over medium heat until translucent.
  4. Add in flour and almond milk and whisk until the sauce is creamy. Add extra milk as needed to thin out the sauce.
  5. If you want an uber creamy sauce, put everything into a blender and grind away until you get your desired consistency. I did this and I think it really helped to even out the flavor. 
  6. Season as needed with salt and pepper. 
  7. Add pasta and tomatoes to sauce .Stir frequently to coat all of the noodles. 
  8. Serve and enjoy!
The result? The creamiest, non-cashew based vegan cream sauce I've ever eaten. I didn't particularly care for the flavor of the roasted tomatoes, but my fiance loved it. I definitely plan on making this sauce again and experimenting with it. The basic recipe for the cream sauce could really be used on or with anything. I'm a garlic lover, so I'd definitely add more garlic, though. But if you're not the biggest fan or you're a vampire, I'd keep the recipe as is. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's Up Wednesday - Fibromyalgia Flare Ups

This post has little to do with veganism, food, or drinking, so come back tomorrow if you aren't into hearing about my personal life.

I published a post a couple weeks ago about how Homeopathic Medicine is My Homeboy, and how I've been seeking natural methods to treat my fibromyalgia. I've seen some significant improvements since I was first diagnosed, but this past week has been rough. Any number of things can aggravate fibromyalgia, and when you start experiencing more pain, etc., it's called a flare up. For me, the better part of the past week has been one big flare up. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's the fluctuating barometric pressure, or maybe it's just my body being a dick, but no matter what's been causing it, it's made me pretty miserable.

I think the worst thing about having fibromyalgia - besides the pain and fatigue - is that it's so unpredictable. Last weekend I ran 7 miles, NBD. A couple days later? I was too weak to get dressed. It's hard to make plans to do anything because I feel fine one day and miserable the next. As a formerly active person, it's tough to slow down a little and not do all the things I want to do. My head wants me to do the things I enjoy (except for when it's doing its own fibromyalgia tricks and is making me think like an Alzheimer's patient), but my body sometimes just says "nope." I'm feeling like an especially crummy friend and fiance right now because I really can't commit to do anything for fear of feeling like poop. I've been trying to struggle through my flare up and pretend like everything is a-ok, but sometimes I just can't. Sometimes I'm so tired I need to sleep an extra couple hours after work. Sometimes I can't shower and get dressed because every drop of water on my skin in the shower burns like acid. Sometimes I can't stand the heat because it makes my insides feel like I'm boiling from the inside out. Sometimes I lay awake all night with pain radiating down my arms and legs. I could go on forever and not really describe the pain you experience with fibromyalgia in enough detail to make someone who doesn't have it understand how it feels. Just know that it's a pain I wouldn't wish on anyone.

But despite how terrible this past week has been, I'm still optimistic. I still believe going the natural route is the right way to go. I mean, my only other options are to do nothing and be miserable pretty much all of the time, or go the traditional medicine route and spend my life taking pain pills, antidepressants, sleeping pills, and more wile vegetating on my couch.  And that's no way to live. I believe in my doctor and I believe that I can beat this thing or at least force fibromyalgia into a corner instead of letting it rule my life.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Recipe: Creamy Vegan Pesto

It's not easy being green. Or having too many greens in your fridge. So I decided to use up some of the greens I got in a recent Fresh Fork Market CSA bag by making pesto. I loosely followed this recipe for simple vegan pesto, but I improvised. A lot. Mainly because the basil plant in my garden is growing at a snail's pace, but still...

The result? A frighteningly green but amazingly delicious pasta dish.

Creamy vegan pesto over farfalle pasta
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 2 cups greens - kale, swiss chard, etc.
  • 3/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts, or sunflower seeds
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons vegan cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • almond milk - add as needed to create a creamy texture/consistency

Method:
  1. Put all ingredients in food processor of blender and mix until creamy and smooth. Add almond milk as needed to create thinner consistency.
  2. Serve over pasta, on bread, or any other way you like to eat pesto. 
This was possibly the easiest recipe ever. We had to do some finagling to get the taste right. Depending on the greens you use, your sauce could taste too green. If you add too much garlic, the sauce can be overpowering. Add nutritional yeast at your own discretion, too. A little goes a long way, but if you like the flavor of it, by all means, add more. I've read that this recipe is good if you add vegan parmesan cheese into it, but I didn't have enough on hand to try it. But I did sprinkle some on top of my pasta and it definitely enhanced the flavor of the pesto. Overall, this was a quick and easy way to make up some fresh sauce and use up a lot of our greens. I'll definitely be making this again!





Monday, June 30, 2014

Recipe: Vegan Sausage and Swiss Chard Pasta

If you're boyfriend's got beef, tell him I'm a vegan?

I subscribe to Fresh Fork Market's CSA and love the challenge of coming up with new and different ways to use the pounds and pounds of vegetables I get every week. A couple weeks ago, I decided to veganize a recipe for orecchiette and sausage with Swiss chard made famous by Cleveland food icon, Michael Symon. Now, to be honest - I'm not the biggest fan of Michael Symon.Yes, he's put Cleveland on the culinary map, but...it's no secret that he doesn't care for vegans and vegetarians. Which is fine. He doesn't need my money to stay in business. But I thought it would be a fun challenge to make one of the meat king's recipes vegan. And I must say, it worked out really well for me.
Vegan sausage and Swiss chard pasta

Ingredients:  (~4 servings)

  • 1/2 box orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 package Upton's Italian style seitan sausage (or any other type of vegan sausage)
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, rough chopped (I also added in spinach and kale - any greens will work)
  • at least 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons earth balance
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup Vegan parmesan cheese (optional)



Method:

  1. Bring pasta to a boil. Cook until al dente. Remove from water using a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve pasta water to use a little later.
  2. Brown the vegan sausage in a pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. I generally brown my sausage with a little bit of oil or vegetable stock, but depending on the brand of fake meat you use, you might not need to add anything at this point.
  3. Add the Swiss chard and reserved pasta water and cook until it starts to wilt. 
  4. Add the can of beans (rinsed!) and pasta and heat until the sauce thickens/burns off a little.Stir frequently to make sure the noodles mix in well with the sauce.
  5. Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice, lemon zest, vegan butter, and chopped parsley. If you have vegan parmesan cheese, you can add in 1/2 cup of it, or sprinkle it on top of the pasta before serving. (it definitely adds to the flavor)
  6. Serve and enjoy!
I really enjoyed this recipe, although I did cook the greens down a little too much. Oops. But the flavors were still good. I also added more beans than the original recipe called for, but I like beans. If you're not as big of a fan of beans, use a half can instead. I'll definitely use more vegan cheese next time, too. It really complements the subtle lemony taste of the noodles and the spiciness of the sausage. 

I love how Meet the Shannons have veganized Betty Crocker's cookbook. Maybe I should try to veganize a Michael Symon cookbook...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Recipe: Vegan Brussels Sprout Fried Rice

As a kid, I loved fried rice. LOVED it. Which is kind of surprising considering I hated eggs. But I also hated vegetables, and fried rice is heavy on greasy-ness and light on vegetables. On a trip to Louisville last fall, I discovered a restaurant that makes amazing vegan fried rice, (what up, Heart & Soy) and I've been on a fried rice kick ever since. It's pretty much impossible to find vegan fried rice anywhere near my house, and when I saw Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipe for BBrussels sprout fried rice, I knew I had to try it. I've made the recipe a few times since she first blogged about it, and I've made a couple changes to add some additional flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons refined coconut oil, divided
  • at least 12 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced (I cut each circle into fourths)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup finely chopped scallions
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 4 cups/1 bag frozen jasmine rice 
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon agave
  • Sriracha to taste


Method:
  1. Preheat a large heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Saute the Brussels sprouts and carrots in 1 -2 tablespoons coconut oil for 10- 15 minutes, until Brussel sprouts are lightly charred. 
  2. Add the pine nuts and cook for 5 minutes, tossing often, until toasted. 
  3. Preheat another pan to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon coconut oil.
  4. Saute the basil, cilantro, scallions, garlic and ginger for a few minutes. The herbs will wilt and everything will smell aromatic and wonderful. 
  5. Add the herb mixture to the Brussels sprout mixture.
  6. Add the rice, red pepper flakes and 1 tablespoon coconut oil and cook for about 5 minutes, tossing often.
  7. Drizzle in the soy sauce, lime juice and agave. Cook for 3 more minutes or so, until rice is lightly browned. Taste for salt. Serve with plenty of Sriracha!


I think adding spice to this recipe is key. We generally add more basil, cilantro, lime juice, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes to this recipe than what it calls for just so there's an added kick. No one wants to eat sad, bland, fried rice.