The Purple Tree

purple tree

I drove into town to get the oil changed in our car today, and on the way home to the parsonage, I saw a family of six walking along the side of the road, every one of them decked out in red and white Santa hats.  Every last one of them, including the baby in the stroller.

Wow, so it’s really Christmas, huh?

As a New York boy, it never seems as if it’s really Christmas here in northern California.  The mild weather fools me every time.  With all the falling leaves, it feels more like October.

Sac fall color

I took this photo of downtown Sacramento’s fall color from halfway up the office tower in which I am currently employed.

All in all, this was quite a week.  We started out on Sunday with brunch at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants.  They have veggie fajitas right on the menu . . .

fajitas

. . .which I proceeded to make into tacos, thanks to the vegetarian black beans.

veggie tacos

This may not seem like such a big deal, but believe me, it is.  It’s delightful for once not to have to ask the server to have the cook make up something special, and no butter (no, not even margarine), and by the way, what type of oil do you cook with?  Congratulations, you have instantly become a problem customer.  Just don’t admit to being a vegan, whatever you do.  Better pretend to have severe food allergies.  Or tell them that you’re an Orthodox Jew and have to follow the kosher rules.  Hope they don’t ask you where your “Yamaha” is.  (Out in the parking lot, doofus.  It’s the one with the twin cams and the Star of David).

Monday was pay day, also a big deal when you only get paid once a month.  Pay bills, pay tithes, buy groceries, figure out the budget for the month.  If you really want that vegan coconut milk “ice cream” that costs four and a half dollars for a thimbleful, now’s the time to speak up.  Next week, there won’t be any money for it.  (Don’t cry, there’s always next month.)

Monday was also the first day back at work from our four-day break (Thanksgiving is the one and only time of year that we have one).  Down came my paper turkey from the dollar store and up went my purple Christmas tree, of similar pedigree (see photo above).  Matching purple bows were pinned up both inside and outside my tiny cubicle domain. Fa la la la la…

Although it rained for most of the trip down to and back from the Central Valley for my father’s 81st birthday last weekend, my coworkers report that there was barely a sprinkle here.  Tuesday, however, the heavens opened up over Sacramento.  The entire area instantly turned into a big soggy mess.  “The crops really need it,” I would hear a dozen times a day.  “Finally, a break in the drought.”

moon

As I left work on Tuesday evening, the nearly full moon attempted to show itself through the mass of clouds that had been watering the fields and roadways all day.

By Wednesday, immense puddles had formed all over the area.  We had a brunch at work for an employee returning from maternity leave.  I was able to help myself to orange juice and fresh fruit, and I brought in bagels for everyone to enjoy (along with some hummus as my personal substitute schmear for the cream cheese).

I wanted pasta and hot soup for dinner, so I asked my wife to bring Pastor Mom along when she picked me up from work.  We had a wonderful dinner (“Yes, the cook says we can make the sauce without cheese.  Yes, you can have olive oil instead of butter with the bread.”) and made our way northward toward home without incident, despite the continuing rain.

Thursday morning, many of my coworkers reported that they had a heck of a time getting home.  One person who works on my floor talked about having seen four cars literally floating down the freeway.  Welcome to California.  Dry or wet, it’s always a disaster.

At noontime on Thursday, it was still pouring down rain, but in the early afternoon the clouds parted a bit and the sun struggled to come out.  One by one, we all began to wander over to the picture window on our floor to gawk.  We were treated to this:

double rainbow

The photo does not begin to do this double rainbow justice.  It was a huge arc that gave the appearance of wrapping all of Sacramento in a giant embrace.  This was among the largest rainbows that I had ever seen, and I couldn’t help thinking that this was what Noah saw when God promised never again to destroy the world by flood.  Brighter times ahead.  Yes!

Thursday evening, we all took my sister-in-law out for her birthday.  We had a wonderful time (veggie tacos, hooray!), my niece and nephews showed up, and my two year old grandniece was in high spirits.  She wouldn’t stay in her high chair very much, so we passed her from hand to hand and only had to run after her once when she made her way down the steps and headed toward the restaurant exit.  When it was time to leave, our dear little one, entirely unprompted, offered each of her hands to my wife and myself.  Hold my hand and walk with me, auntie and uncle.  I will cherish this photo forever, my friends.

Hayden Donna Aron

Thursday night, I went to bed a happy boy.  And so, life being what it is, things proceeded directly from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Friday.  Finally, the end of the week had arrived, so let’s go out with a bang, now shall we?  I won’t get into the details of the Friday follies that transpired at work (I am shaking my head just thinking about some of it) other than to describe the celebration we had in honor of the birthday of one of my coworkers.

On Thursday, some people were out, and those who were at work couldn’t decide whether we should have a brunch for my coworker or take her out to lunch.  The last I had heard, it was decided that it was too last minute to do anything.  And then on Friday, as noon approached, I was informed that we would be bringing in Vietnamese pho for lunch to celebrate my coworker’s special day.  Did I want beef or chicken?

Nooooo, not again!  I happened to be working away in my cubicle at the time, crunching on fresh radishes (hot ones!) dipped in hummus.  “I don’t eat meat at all,” I explained.  “I’m a vegan.  See? This is what I eat.  Carrots, radishes, hummus.”

“Oh, I was a vegetarian for six months once,” came the reply.  “Maybe just the noodle soup without the meat?”

Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Also, we had a meeting at which my boss (who is among the best supervisors I have ever had and whom I appreciate dearly) announced that he has found another job and is leaving.

I think I’ll go with crying.

And, uh, merry Christmas.

A Slip of the Lip

Well, I finally did it.  At work, I confessed to being a vegan.  No time better than the day before Thanksgiving for that, right?

I hadn’t planned on it.  Like so many impromptu disasters, it “just happened.”  I guess I was in a holiday mood when I mosied up to the workstation of one of our secretaries and began a conversation about something totally unrelated to food and diet.  We actually discussed a few different things before she asked me whether I will be cooking the turkey this Thanksgiving.

In retrospect, I should have just laughed and said “Oh, no, I don’t cook.”  I could even have pulled out one of my fabled stories about being able to cook anything, badly, in the microwave.  But no, I had to open my big mouth and say “Oh, I don’t eat meat.”

“You’re a vegetarian?” she asked me, incredulous.  In this day and age, I should think that admitting to be a vegetarian would be somewhat less than shocking and perhaps even just plain boring.

“Even worse than that,” I added.  “I’m a vegan.”

“A vegan?” she responded, “What’s that?

I explained that I don’t eat meat, dairy or any animal products.

“You don’t?!  What do you eat?  Grass?”

Oh, great, here we go again.  I’ve ridden in this rodeo many times before, and it’s never pretty.  As I often do, I responded to this idiocy with some self-deprecating humor.  “Just take a look at me and you can tell that I find plenty to eat.”

I am kicking myself now for not being sufficiently quick-witted to have asked whether she’s ever seen a skinny cow.

After that came other Thanksgiving related questions, including whether I eat mashed potatoes or marshmallows.  I explained about the dairy in mashed potatoes (skipping the part about how great they are prepared with almond milk).

“What’s in marshmallows?” she asked.  “I just bought some little ones to put in my hot chocolate.”

I told her that marshmallows are mostly sugar, held together with gelatin.  That’s when I threw every bit of caution to the winds and explained that gelatin is most commonly made from horses’ hooves.

The poor woman frowned.  “I’m eating horses’ hooves?”  She seemed saddened.  “You mean Jello is made of horses’ hooves, too?”  I assured her that it is possible to purchase gelatin desserts and even marshmallows that are made from vegetable sources, effectively eliminating the giddyap factor.  “They’re usually kind of expensive and I’m not really interested, so I just don’t bother,” I added.

“What about cakes, cookies, candy and chips?”  I could see she was getting alarmed now.  I looked around to see whether anyone else was listening.  I didn’t see anyone in our immediate vicinity, but I’d bet a nickel that ears were perked in numerous nearby cubicles.  “Plain chips are often meat- and dairy-free,” I told the bewildered secretary.  “I don’t eat cakes and cookies.  Fortunately for me, there is some very good non-dairy dark chocolate out there.”

“You don’t eat cakes and cookies!” she cried.  The woman could barely believe what she was hearing, particularly since I am, well, obese.  “I guess you can’t have one of these then,” she remarked, bringing out a little Baggie containing two chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  “This is all I have today because I forgot my lunch at home.  Left my eggs right on the kitchen table.”

“Are those cookies made with butter?” I asked.

“No,” she told me, “but you can’t have flour, right?”

I assured her that I do eat flour.  “Is there an egg in that?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, it does have eggs,” she admitted.

I nearly blurted out something about refined sugars and the dangers of diabetes, but I managed to stop myself just in time.

The poor woman was shaking her head.  Fortunately, we were each put out of our respective miseries at this point by the receipt of a phone call over her wireless headset.  I took the opportunity to make my escape.

I now have four consecutive days off work for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Hopefully, that will be enough time for my department secretary (and all the unseen eavesdroppers) to forget that this little conversation ever happened.

Yeah, right.

Monday should be interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my faithful readers.  I am extremely thankful that you keep coming back to read the drivel that I regularly dispense in this space.  May you enjoy a lovely holiday filled with family, food, love and laughs.

Recommended:  Don’t Fear the Vegan at Your Thanksgiving Table

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Schizo

I never heard of schizophrenia until eighth grade health class.  Along with learning about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the obligatory, highly embarrassing sex ed curriculum (from which my parents refused to excuse me, despite my entreaties), we plodded through a unit on mental health.  When we covered neuroses, I knew right off that the teacher was talking about me.  But it was the psychoses that were really scary, and I wondered whether I could secretly have one of those.

When we arrived at a discussion of schizophrenia, I was shocked (pun intended) to learn about such strange phenomena as multiple personalities, paranoia, delusions of grandeur, catatonia and hearing voices.  Alone in bed at night, I prayed to the Lord that I would never be afflicted with any of these horrors.

Mental illness, schizophrenia included, was still on the pedagogic menu when we were once again subject to the tortures of health class as juniors in high school.  By that time, I understood that I was not psychotic and was able to relax a bit.  I went on to take two psychology classes before I graduated, one of which included a visit to the local mental hospital.  My father humored me by driving me to the Vassar College library on quite a few evenings, where I researched a term paper on schizophrenia until the librarians threw us out and locked the doors.

Even today there is stigma associated with mental illness, but it was much worse when I was a teenager back in the seventies.  This was the era of Psycho, The Exorcist and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  My fellow junior high and high school students were openly derisive about anyone who appeared to deviate from the norm in any way, and never more than when it came to mental illness or developmental disabilities.  If we didn’t like something that someone did, they were “retarded,” “psycho” or “schizo.”  We bandied these terms about indiscriminately in the same way that many continue to demean the sexual preferences of others by saying “that’s so gay” (sadly, still “dropped on a daily,” Macklemore and Lewis notwithstanding).

It’s good to be able to say that some things have changed in the past forty years, however.  While the causes of mental illness have by no means been locked down, advances in scientific research have made inroads in our understanding of the nature and treatment of schizophrenia.

Still, it came as a bit of a surprise to me today when I learned that bacteria, of all things, are now being implicated as one possible cause of schizophrenia.  New research estimates that about one-fifth of all cases of schizophrenia may be attributed to infection by Toxoplasma gondii.

Now, wait a minute.  I know about toxoplasmosis.  When my sisters (both of whom have always had cats as pets) were busy having babies, my mother warned them to have their husbands clean the cat box.  It was known that cat feces could contain Toxoplasma, and that if this microorganism was transmitted to the blood of the fetus, the baby could be born with horrific brain deformities.

Turns out cat boxes are just the beginning, however.  Humans can also contract toxoplasmosis long after they are born.  T. gondii can also be transmitted through eating undercooked meat or by drinking contaminated water.  It is estimated that as many as 60 million Americans may currently be infected with T. gondii, and that some of them will develop schizophrenia as a result of the protozoan’s effects on their brains.

Just think of it:  One in five schizophrenics could have avoided a lifetime of misery and incapacity by avoiding infection by Toxoplasma.

Still want that steak done rare?

Sounds to me like yet another argument in favor of the vegan life.

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Avocado’s Lament

avocoadoes for a buck

Pastor Mom’s friend from Mexico, who recently visited with us for several weeks, tells me that avocadoes go for about a quarter apiece just the other side of the border.  I am dark green with envy.

Lately, avocadoes have been selling for about a buck each here in California.  I think I need to grab me some pesos and take a little road trip to Mexicali.

I am beginning to understand why the wonderful taqueria just across the street from the parsonage does not serve guacamole.  To obtain any kind of reasonable ROI, they’d have to sell it at a price higher than most of the clientele (well, the sane ones, anyway) would be willing to pay.  And they certainly wouldn’t be setting any out on the salsa bar with the jalapeños or adding it to tacos and burritos as a condiment.

I am told that money doesn’t grow on trees, but I have it on good authority that avocadoes do.  So why they’ve turned out to be some kind of green gold remains a mystery to me.

If anyone complains about the price or quality of produce around these parts, the answer will undoubtedly be “it’s the drought.”  I am used to it being dry here in California, so it rarely occurs to me that Mother Nature hasn’t been particularly cooperative for the past few years.  You can tell I’m a city slicker, not a farm boy.  I’m told that the crops have to be watered and that bringing in water costs money, thus jacking up food prices and pissing everyone off.  Apparently, irrigation leads to irritation.

As we just had our state elections, I keep hearing that it’s all the politicians’ fault.  I suppose Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein should be performing a rain dance on the floor of the Senate.  The legislators up here in Sacramento might want to join in, too.  If nothing else, it’d be a good photo op.

This is the season of the year when observant Jews add the Hebrew phrase mashiv ha’ruakh u’morid ha’gashem to our daily prayers.  It’s a reference to God, “who makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”  For centuries, imploring the Lord for rain was a serious matter.  Without it, the people and animals would go thirsty and then nothing would grow, so we’d go hungry as well.  In Biblical times, drought meant death, and often prompted mass migrations to areas where potable water was available.  That’s how Jacob and his sons ended up in Egypt, a land irrigated by the Nile.

I wonder if there were avocadoes back then.  If there were, I imagine that they may have been split open against the rocks, after which the insides would be scooped into an earthen bowl and pounded with a mortar.  I don’t know whether we had tortillas, and matzos weren’t invented until the day we finally left Egypt following 400 years of slavery.  But we do know that dough was kneaded and left to rise on hot stones, so perhaps my forebears did know the joys of the guaco taco.

Somehow, the avocado never seemed to make it into classic Jewish cuisine.  I don’t recall having even heard of avocadoes until I went away to college and spied those funny-looking things at the local food co-op.  Was it a fruit or a vegetable?  Are you supposed to peel it?  How do you even spell it?  Pluralized with an –es like “potatoes?” Nah, that doesn’t look right.  I was told that avocadoes are used to make guacamole, an explanation that I found singularly unhelpful.  I had no idea what guacamole was.  I just nodded and smiled rather than further reveal the depths of my ignorance.

Some forty years later, I am still relatively ignorant when it comes to avocadoes.  When they are affordable, my wife buys avocadoes that are in a hard, unripe state and then softens them up by allowing them to sit in a paper bag for a few days.  Then they go in the fridge.

Sadly, the last batch of avocadoes we bought ended up going in the trash.  On the day I got out the lemon juice and garlic, I split open our lovelies only to find that they were completely rotten inside.

You can feel sorry for me now.  I’m singin’ the Uncle Guacamole blues over here.

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A Vegan Does Thanksgiving at Work

leaves

In most of the United States, the leaves are off the trees and winter has set in.  But here in northern California, November is the height of autumn.

Thanksgiving is generally the worst day of the year for vegans.  As if everyone eating turkey weren’t bad enough, most of the so-called trimmings aren’t fit to eat for those of our ilk.  In my case, I am extremely blessed to have a wife who humors my prandial proclivities.  She always prepares something for me in advance, which we carry to our family functions.

But tomorrow is our annual Thanksgiving pot luck up in the penthouse at work, which I anticipate with more than a bit of trepidation.  The turkey and gravy is being provided, with employees bringing the fixings.  I hope I don’t end up having to discuss veganism, but I don’t know that there will be much way around it.

I can just see it now:  “Have some turkey, there’s plenty!”

“Um, no, thanks.”

“Why not?  It’s Thanksgiving!”

“Um, I don’t eat meat.”

“Ohhhh, that explains it.  Well, have some mashed potatoes!”

“Thanks so much, but not right now.”

“Why not?  There’s no meat in that.”

“Milk and butter.”

“You can’t have dairy either?  Oh, you poor thing!”

“Yeah, I’m vegan.”

“Really?  Well, have some green beans.  Have some sweet potato casserole.”

“Bacon.  Dairy.  Sorry.”

“Aren’t you going to eat anything?  At least have some pumpkin pie!”

At which point I bolt for the elevators, heading back to my cubicle to get some work done.  Hopefully, by that point, many of my coworkers and bosses will have seen me, so that I’ll have made an official “appearance.”

I’ve been trying to think of alternatives.  I could bring my lunch with me along with my usual gallon of iced lemon tea in my big handle bag that I pull behind me.  I could bring a sandwich or a plastic container of tofu and vegetables up to the penthouse with me.  Perhaps if I dump the contents onto a paper plate, it will look as if I’ve helped myself from the buffet.

Alternatively, I could hide out in my cubie and hope that no one notices my absence.  The last time I tried this tactic (at another employer), it blew up in my face.  “Your absence was noticed,” my boss informed me frostily the next day.  I was officially “not a team player.”

I suppose I could always take a sick day.  Three-day weekend, anyone?

Update: I did not attend the event, instead opting to hide out in my cubicle with my lunch brought from home and get some work done.  Several of my coworkers did the same.  No one has complained.

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Apples of Autumn

apple

Autumn is the time of year when I start obsessing about apples.  I don’t know whether an apple a day really does keep the doctor away, but I do know that my daily apple is a dose of happiness.

Growing up in the New York City area, the only types of apples that I knew anything about were Macintosh and Red Delicious.  If any kid pulled an apple out of his Superman lunchbox (Not a stupid apple again!  Anyone got a Devil Dog or a Ring Ding?  Anyone wanna trade?), it was pretty much guaranteed to be one of those two.

The produce section at Waldbaum’s also carried these funky-looking green things that probably weren’t really apples at all.  Green apples from Mars, I called them.  Mom said their proper name was Granny Smith, but I thought she was joking.  They were horribly sour and I had a grandmother named Granny Smith and my mother hated her guts, so I figured Mom was just calling the mother-in-law a sourpuss.  Anyway, she’d buy a few of those weird green things once in a very great while when she was getting ready to bake an apple pie.

Many years later, when visiting Mom in upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley, I discovered the local favorite apple that went by the moniker of Rome Beauty.  But it wasn’t until I moved to California that I discovered an entirely different kind of apple.  I fell in love with the Fuji, the Pink Lady and the Gala.  These small, crisp, heavenly treats are something like biting into a juicy candy.  They are by far the sweetest apples I have ever tasted and it’s hard to believe that such a snack is actually fresh fruit that is good for you.

Although it’s been some time since I’ve owned a Superman lunchbox, my noon meal at work never seems complete if it does not have an apple to serve as a final flourish like a sweet punctuation mark.

And no, I won’t trade you!

Not even for a Ring Ding or a Devil Dog.

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A Vegan’s Guide to Gratitude

I am still a few weeks early for Thanksgiving, but definitely getting into the spirit,  My wife suggested that, for the month of November, I prepare an alphabetical list of things for which I am thankful, and post one letter each day.  I liked the idea, but found myself writing about too many other topics.  As the Thanksgiving holiday tends to be a difficult time for vegans, I decided instead to take this opportunity to compile a list of the some of the vegan foods that I most enjoy and for which I am extremely grateful.

avocado

Avocadoes.  With a name like Uncle Guacamole, this should come as no surprise.  Lately, they have been rather expensive here in California, so they have become more of a treat than a staple.  In addition to using them for guacamole, I like making avocado and tofu sandwiches, to which I add tomato slices, green olives and Dijon mustard.  Delicious!  Oh, and pass the chips, please.  Honorable mention to apples.  I eat one with my lunch at work nearly every day.  The sweet California Fujis and Galas are like candy.

Blueberries and Bananas.  I grew up picking very tart reddish-purple blueberries from the bush in my parents’ backyard.  We also bought them at the supermarket, where they were reasonably priced all summer, thanks to our location about five miles from New Jersey, the blueberry growing capital of the world.  These days, I see tiny packages of blueberries selling for three to six dollars, which is a bit too rich for my blood.  The frozen berries from the supermarket tend to be a bit mushy, so I hold out for the prices to come down on the fresh ones (except when I get a terrible craving).  My favorite way to eat blueberries is with a little almond milk poured over them.  In the absence of blueberries, we are fortunate that bananas are reasonably priced most of the time.  I enjoy sliced bananas in my oatmeal, but mostly I just tear one off the bunch and throw it into my lunch bag.  I am grateful for my afternoon snack!

Cucumbers and Chocolate.  I eat a lot of salads, and they just wouldn’t be the same without cucumbers.  Uncle G has a black thumb, but as a teenager the only things I could successfully grow were beans and cucumbers.  You have to be grateful for something so delicious that comes out of the ground with minimal effort.  As for chocolate, I don’t think any comment is needed.  I am fortunate to have discovered an extremely dark chocolate bar (85% cocoa) that is non-dairy.  Far too bitter or most people, but a hot cup of tea just isn’t the same without it.  Thank you, Trader Joe’s!  Honorable mention to chick peas (more below at hummus and vegetable broth).  Chick peas are a super source of soy-free protein and hence a staple for many vegans, myself included.  I’d have a much more difficult time getting enough protein without them.

Bubbies

Dill Pickles.  There aren’t too many things that my wife and I will both eat, but when it comes to being aficionados of the dill pickle, we are in firm agreement.  They are the perfect accompaniment to almost any meal.  I even dice them and throw them into cooked vegetables for flavoring.  My favorite pickles are Bubbies, which are technically garlic pickles, but do contain dill.  They are more expensive than most brands, so they’re a treat.  Oh, and I recently discovered peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches.  Before you say “eeeeewwww!” I dare you to try it.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

DiCicco's

Eggplant.  My favorite way to prepare eggplant is to just slice it, douse it with garlic and oregano, pour tomato sauce over it and bake it at 400°F for about 40 minutes.  We don’t even peel it.  Easy peasy.  Although my mother didn’t buy eggplant, I grew up being treated by my Italian food loving Dad to eggplant parmagiana hero sandwiches at the local pizzeria.  It isn’t necessary to douse eggplant in egg and bread crumbs to fry it, however.  My creative wife discovered that it is great diced up and thrown in a pan with olive oil and rice.  I can’t walk through the produce section of the supermarket without checking the price of eggplant.

French Fries.  Some fast food places now claim to use 100% vegetable oil for frying their potatoes, which is a boon for vegans.  The frozen ones from the supermarket are not bad, either.  My favorite, however, is the French fry, salsa and jalapeño burritos from the little taqueria across the street.  I call these “change cup burritos” because they charge me only two bucks each for these, which I typically pay in nickels, dimes and quarters.

Garlic.  After a year of being a vegan, I am finding that a lot of the food I eat (tofu and most vegetables, for example) are more than a bit bland.  Enter the glorious bulb known as Allium sativum.  As I do not use salt for health reasons, I season nearly everything with copious amounts of garlic powder.  I am as grateful for garlic as my readers undoubtedly are that they are not exposed to my dragon breath.

hummus

Hummus.  The white bean variety is not bad, but the type I truly enjoy is made from the garbanzo bean (chick pea).  I use it on sandwiches and to dip raw veggies, crackers and chips.  One of my current favorite dishes is hummus and green olives on toasted sourdough.  The price of store-bought hummus is highway robbery and the homemade kind pales by comparison.  I try to eat it slowly and savor every bite.

Italian Ice.  My favorite frozen dessert is coconut milk “ice cream,” but it is only in stock occasionally at the only area supermarket that carries it (and it’s over $4 for a small one).  Second choice is Italian ice, with my favorite flavor being lemon.  It’s not like the fresh stuff scooped up by our neighborhood bakery in the New York town in which I grew up, but I’ll take what I can get.  I find it interesting that I do not miss “real” ice cream nearly as much as I thought I would when I first ventured down the vegan road.

Jalapeños.  Like garlic, jalapeños are among my go-tos for flavoring my frequently bland food.  Before migrating to California, I wouldn’t touch the things.  I believed that I had a delicate stomach and that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate anything that spicy.  Now, I can’t imagine food without them.  I’ve already waxed poetic over the jalapeño burritos from across the street.  I may be sad when we eventually move from our current location.

Kiwi.  These funny green fruits from New Zealand do not make it onto our grocery list, although I indulge in them regularly thanks to the salad bar at one of my favorite local restaurants.  See Quinoa.  By the way, I first became familiar with the kiwi as a kid when my parents would buy a special dessert from the local bakery when we had guests visiting.  It was called a “tropical fruit pie,” and was actually a custard tart topped with kiwi, pineapple, blueberries and strawberries.  Sweet memories!

Lemon Juice.  I am grateful for lemon juice because I drink about a gallon of iced tea daily, which I find entirely tasteless without a liberal dose of lemon juice.  Also, I couldn’t make a decent batch of guacamole without it.

mixed vegetables

Mixed Vegetables.  Yes, the canned kind.  Okay, don’t laugh.  Sure, they contain a lot of sodium, but the amount can be greatly reduced by draining the liquid and rinsing the contents of the can.  I use these in soup, with rice, over potatoes, or just thrown into a Rubbermaid container and heated in the microwave for lunch.  My favorite part is the tiny lima beans!

Nuts.  Walnuts, pistachios, Brazils, cashews, almonds — I can’t get enough of them.  I keep a jar of mixed nuts stashed in my desk drawer at work.  A handful of nuts is one of my favorite snacks.

olives

Olives.  My favorites are the green manzanillas stuffed with pimentos.  Black olives just seem flavorless to me.  Soy “cream cheese” and olive sandwiches are among my favorite standbys.  Like dill pickles, olives make any meal better.  I am very thankful for olives!

Potatoes.  Thanks to the marvels of the microwave oven, baked potatoes have become one of my mainstays.  Call me weird, but I like them for breakfast!  As for mashed potatoes (prepared with almond milk and vegan margarine), my mother-in-law makes the best.  Honorable mention to pineapple, and I am referring to the chunks in the can.  This is an easy dessert that satisfies my sweet tooth.

Quinoa.  My favorite local salad bar feature quinoa-pineapple-kiwi salad.  What a wonderful combination!

radishes

Radishes.  My grandfather taught me to love radishes.  As a kid, whenever I had lunch at his apartment, a dish of sliced radishes undoubtedly found its way onto the table.  Here in California, the Mexican style is to marinate radishes in lemon juice and douse them with salt.  I, however, eat them raw and whole as a snack.  You never know whether any particular radish will turn out mild or hot.  The hot ones are the best!  Honorable mention to rice, particularly when fried with veggies in a little olive oil.

Salad.  Start with red leaf lettuce, slice up some tomatoes and cucumbers, thrown on some green olives, sunflower nuts and raisins, then douse with olive oil and vinegar.  Juicy and delicious!

tofu

Tofu/Textured Vegetable Protein.  Soy has obtained a bad rap lately, but it remains an important source of protein for many vegans, including this one.  My favorite tofu is the extra firm nigri style that can be sliced and used for sandwiches.  As for TVP, my vegan “hot dogs,” “beef,” “chicken” and Boca Burgers are definitely on my gratitude list!

Vegetable Broth.  I recently discovered that Swanson’s vegetable broth (although not its vegetable “stock”), sold in a box, is vegetarian.  Throw in some garbanzos, black beans, carrots or mixed vegetables, and you have a quick, hot meal in the microwave.

Watermelon.  Although the kind imported from Chile is available all year at inflated prices, we wait until the California grown kind becomes available in the spring.  This is one of the few foods that all of us here can agree on, and it’s always a happy day when we pass the bowls of watermelon chunks around.

All in all, I am very thankful for the bounty of God’s green earth and proud to be a vegan.  I am still learning about ways to maintain a balanced diet, but let me assure any of you who may have thought of going vegan that it is definitely possible and not as difficult as may seem at first.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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