Back from Florida

Florida was fun. I hit the beaches, east and west, Atlantic and Gulf, collecting shells and photos of jellyfish, watching the ships and happy beachlovers, walking for miles in bare feet, shorts and a tank top. 83 degrees. I combined research for a Florida beach book with healing sun time, making lemonade from the disaster in my house.

Last night I finally got almost everything put away, vacuumed and dusted, and look forward to designing Lake Effects III poster this week, along with, perhaps, a poster depicting “Day at the Lake”, or perhaps a 4-season poster, all to be published by April, 2008.

About my diet: In December, I was convinced by The China Study to attempt a vegan diet, a step beyond my already mainly vegetarian lifestyle, eliminating dairy products, all of them, from my life. I found the vegetarian part possible on the road during my two-week trip to Florida (I drove from Michigan and back), but no-dairy was not an option. Road food was abominable. I packed a cooler for the trip south, but return sustenance depended on Qwik Marts.

But I tried. I found it easy to quit drinking the gallon a week of skim milk I’ve done all my life: After two no-milk months, I find I no longer have achy joints, no more pain in my hands (that I’ve endured for ten years), no more acid reflux. I would never have believed I could quit taking ibuprofen and tums, but it’s happened. It’s made a believer out of me. (I get my calcium and vitamin D from supplements, sun, and other foods.)

Doctors seem so bored by the simplicity of nutritional fixes. It’s just not fun science, I guess. But seems to me that during the last seven years my rheumatologist might have suggested going off dairy. Apparently, doctors don’t suggest diet fixes because they assume patients won’t do it. I’ve managed to do it mostly, allowing myself an egg or two a week, pizza on a weekend, and I eat anything anyone is gracious enough to prepare for me.

Besides the health benefits of my no-milk diet (I find soy milk just fine on cereal), I’ve found another surprise: Food tastes so good. I feel as if my taste buds woke up. Everything tastes better than I can ever remember. Is it the type of foods? Have my taste buds been dulled by milk casein? What’s happening here?

(The painting, called “Love Is Blind” measures 30×40 inches, acrylic on illustration board, depicts a couple on the Fort Lauderdale beach plus my imagination. $700, framed.) CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT.

Day 3 on my 2008 Vegan adventure

Two days ago I got such a craving for a tuna fish sandwich that I just up and made one: 1 can of light tuna in water, plus some Smart Balance mayonnaise, celery and green olives, all on my favorite bread, Brownberry (now Arnolds) Natural Wheat bread. It hit the spot. I’m not aiming for 100% vegan….more like 10% of my protein can be animal protein. Especially fish.

I liked Pacific Natural Foods Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Bisque (vegetarian) so much that I tried their Organic Creamy Butternut Squash soup (vegan). I didn’t like it. Funny mouth feel and flavor.

I also tried the miso soup recipe on the back of the Hancho Miso container and I really didn’t like it. I was tasting it for hours. Oddly strong and still oddly tasteless to me.

Then I made Creole Black Bean Soup, an irresistible triumph from an interesting new cookbook called The Ethnic Vegetarian. It was sent to me by the author, Angela Shelf Medearis, who has a cooking show on PBS called Kitchen Diva, which is how I discovered her. I’ve made three dynamite recipes from the K. Diva: The Creole Black Bean Soup (page 70…makes a half gallon of soup, which is not too much, even for just me)…a grapefruit-avocado salad (page 67) also delicious, and a corn/black bean salad (which hooked me on her TV show), which was so good I ate it all in 24 hours.

Soy Foods: The Eeewwww! Factor

It can be hard to get past the eewwwww! factor when trying a new way of eating, but I’ve had plenty of practice. I have choked down horse meat in Switzerland, goat meat and cassava in Nigeria, seaweed and raw fish from Japan, and buffalo hump in Pakistan, and you know what? Once I got past the eeewww! factor, those were all pretty tasty. Lucky thing too: In every case, an easily-offended host was watching.

So here I am, looking (in private) at cartons of soy foods (eeeewwwww!): soy milk for my cereal, soy creamer for my coffee, soy cream cheese for my toast, soy tofu instead of meat. And you know what? Once I get past the eeewwwww! factor, my throat has begun to untighten, and my  eyes have even, occasionally, turned into happily triumphant half-moons. “Who’d a thunk it?” my dad would have said.

Here’s my soy report so far:

YUM (I will happily eat this again):
Vanilla Light Silk Soymilk on my favorite flax flakes cereal.
Plain Silk Creamer in my coffee (It doesn’t taste funny! I couldn’t believe it!)

YUK (Take it away! Please!)
Vanilla Light Silk Soymilk in coffee (undrinkable)

Yesterday I met my brother and his wife for a post-Christmas Sunday brunch in a restaurant with a great salad bar. I couldn’t resist half and half or an egg, but at home my ricenbeans and veggies prevailed. Tonight I have to bring food to a big New Year’s Eve party. I’m using up the last of my cream cheese to make my always snarfed up green chili/kalamata olive/tortilla pinwheels. I could use Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and no one would know the difference, but why waste the good stuff on people who’d gag if they knew?

Vegan Vixen!

Last month I called a dear friend I’ve known for 60 years (who has survived breast cancer for 20) to wish her happy birthday, and she told me she’d become a vegan—no meat, no dairy. Good grief, I thought. She’s gone off the deep end.

“No dairy?” I inquired. “What about J.?”  (her breast cancer surgeon husband)

“He’s doing it too. You should try it!”

“What?” I cried. “Give up my two-gallon-a-week skim milk habit? Brie at parties? My Sunday morning egg?”

“It’s not so hard, really,” she said.

But I wasn’t convinced. It had to be hard. And I’d have to have a rocket lit under me to even consider it.

I could deal with the meat part. About nine months ago, several books inspired me to go (mostly) vegetarian, most notably The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I traded in meat for beans, exploring ways to cook beans to avoid my usually uncomfortable and embarrassing explosive reaction to them. After multiple disasters, I succeeded: Basically I double-soak all dried beans or lentils, once overnight and once on the stove. Get the details on my post called Beans: My Shape of Beef to Come. I have fallen in love with beans and rice, for which there are thousands of tasty yummy satisfying to even the critic in me recipes. And I’d eat anything I wanted when a guest at parties or restaurants, which wasn’t usually more than once a week.

But now, the fire under me has been stoked:  The China Study by T. Collin Campbell (see also my review) has fueled me with enough motivation to try eating vegan (no animal protein), but with three caveats: 1) I restrict my diet to vegan (plant-based) only at home;  2) I keep my morning coffee cream, and 3) I get to reconsider in 3 months.

I’m going to blog my successes, failures, discoveries and frustrations right here on my breast cancer blog. Want to try this with me? If you’ve read The China Study and are convinced that a plant-based diet is a good idea for breast cancer survivors, please email me and let me know your issues and discoveries. Also let me know if I can share your comments or if you’d prefer they remain between us.

And a special thank you to Marisa Acocella Marchetto, author/artist of Cancer Vixen (another must read for all us breast cancer people—not just survivors, but the friends, family and health professionals who deal with us) for inspiring my “Vegan Vixen” title. I really love her work. My blog fans can read my review of Cancer Vixen here, and don’t miss Marisa’s fabulously illustrated new breast cancer blog.

Click on the image to enlarge it.