Grow Your Own

8 06 2012

One of the great things about this time of the year is the access we have to fresh produce. And while there is plenty to be found at the grocery store, local farm stand and farmer’s market, I need to go no further than outside my door to begin enjoying nature’s bounty. We have several small garden’s going this year and delicious organically grown veggies are quickly on the way.

I recently tried one of our homegrown strawberries. It was tiny but packed such an amazingly intense and sweet flavor, I could not believe it. The giant strawberries purchased at the store have nothing on these little wonders. Since I can remember, I have always loved strawberries. They are my favorite fruit. My grandmother told me a year ago or so that when she and her mother immigrated to the United States from Italy in the 1930’s, they initially went to work picking strawberries. So you see I’ve been genetically programmed to love them. it’s in my blood. I really hope though that we get a decent yield because the few that we have gotten so far have been an absolute (and fantastic tasting) tease!

Speaking of grandparents, mine have their garden in full swing again this year. This means that when I go over to visit them, I always leave with fresh, home grown produce. My grandfather, though in his 80’s, spends a huge amount of time in his garden. It is his pride, joy and therapy. I’ve been enjoying some of their sweet leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and several other varieties. I also am adding fresh dandelion to my salads. While I admit that i’ve never been much of a fan of it, since going plant-based I now try to eat a wide variety of different things in order to keep meals interesting.

The only downside to all of this fresh produce is the washing. I think I had to quadruple wash this latest batch. The piles of dirt at the bottom of the sink were the proof that all of the effort to clean had been necessary.

There is a certain satisfaction that comes from growing your own food both in the taste and the quality. I know that in our garden, the use of compost, compost tea, occasional garden maintenance and regular conversations with the plants goes a very long way towards bigger yields. And the act of gardening itself can be a really nice stress reliever. Admittedly,I have not been the guy who has toiled out in our garden this year. But when I have gotten my hands dirty, I have continued to find a peace that comes with it. As if the generations of landscapers and gardeners of my family have smiled down on me. My great grandfather used to say “a cool breeze is God’s air conditioner”. I think of that often when a slight wind picks up in the midst of harvesting our bounty on a hot summer’s day. I’ll probably never be the gardener that my grandfather is or that his father was before him. But I’m happy to grow what I can. I’m fortunate at the age of 37 to have three living grandparents. Growing your own food and enjoying vegetables and fruits was one of the great things I have learned from them.

Gettin RAW pt.2

13 05 2012

So the raw foods fair was fantastic! It’s good to get out from behind this computer and occasionally immerse myself in places where I can really learn about health and nutrition firsthand. And this was the place to be yesterday. I tried raw smoothies, “ice cream”, soups, salads, dips and lots of chips. I even enjoyed raw wine (16% alcohol content – wow)!!

In the end I walked away with a high quality juicer. Woke up this morning and made a juice straight from my brain and it was fantastic – pineapple, banana, orange, apple, carrots, spinach and kale. My 7 year old said she liked it so much that she would drink them all of the time and that’s after she found out about the “disgusting” ingredients. She said that she’s going to be the healthiest kid in school – that feels like money well spent to me. My toddler also loved it and  wanted more when she finished. Sorry kid, the rest is MINE!!! Can’t wait to make a homemade V8 later!!


A Week of Eating Plant Based

27 03 2012

Enough people have asked me what a typical week of eating plant based foods looks like so I’m going to give you a rough example of mine. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m a creature of habit so this may not offer enough variety for some. But truly, your week’s menu is only limited by your imagination. With the internet, it’s never been easier to go plant based. There are tons of sites for recipes out there. Eat the plant based foods that you like and start building from there. Eating this way, takes time. On a sunday night, it can take up to 90 minutes to prepare veggies to have for lunch that week. It can be a pain but it is worth it. Don’t forget your B12 supplements!

Breakfasts – Cheerios! There are healthier cereals out there I am sure but I’ve always liked these since I was a little guy. I can eat them dry on the go or with coconut milk (I have the unsweetened stuff, try it for a week, you will get used to it). Organic Steel Cut Oats is another option. Raw vegetables or grilled / sauteed zucchini (one of natures most perfect anti-inflammatory foods is the perfect way to start the day). Breakfast is a good time to have fruit. Many mornings I will have a veggie wrap….with mustard!

Lunches – Wraps – I love them (although I admit it’s getting a little old lately). A raw veggie salad with a mustard and balsamic dressing (I go through an amazing amount of lettuce each week). Cabbage, broccoli rabe, lentil or split pea soup. Vegan pad thai or another one of Dr. McDougall’s packaged vegan meals (found in many health food aisles in the grocery store, I try to limit the processed stuff but this doesn’t seem too bad and low sodium options are sometimes available). Sometimes hummus or baba ganoush. Stack of tomato slices with layered basil (I most often go oil-less). Broccoli slaw.

Snacks – raw veggies (peppers, string beans, carrots, cucumbers and/or celery (a negative calorie food). Fruit – an apple a day…., seeds and nuts. Dry roasted edamame (I live on this stuff – high in protein and fiber but not fat). Dry roasted chick peas and similar snack foods can be found at your local Wegmans, Whole Foods or health food shops. Vegan pumpkin muffins, homemade vegan fruit bars.

Dinners – Vegan stuffed peppers with ground soy “meat”, brown rice, quinoa, beans, corn and tomato sauce (make 4 at a time and get several meals out of it). vegan tacos or taco salads. Soups and salads. Black beans (or other) with hot sauce and liquid smoke (a great simple, quick and tasty way to get your protein and fiber). Pasta is an awesome treat when eating this way (just check the labels). Grilled veggie sandwich on crusty italian bread (I’m limiting my bread but this is too good to pass up once a week). Veggie burgers or similar products like chik’n nuggets, hot wings, etc.(read the labels) about once a week for a little variety. Veggie stir fry. Sautéed veggies in veggie broth.

Give it a try for three weeks and see how you feel. I’m willing to bet that if you go completely plant based for three weeks , by the time you are done you will have lost weight, and feel a whole lot better with increased energy and well-being. And if you find that it is not for you, at least your body will be thankful. You can do totally do this, if you put your mind to it.

besides, you don’t want to eat this anymore, do you?:

A Delicious New Take on Soup and Salad

19 02 2012

I’ve been eating an awful lot of veggie wraps lately and they have been delicious.  I’ve enjoyed all sorts of variations of peppers, bok choy, broccoli rabe, mushrooms, lettuce and sprouts.   Here’s a pic  of the veggies that were going into one of my recent wraps.  Doesn’t that look fabulous?!

The wraps themselves have been high in fiber while low in fat and calories.  But my weight has leveled a bit and I need to switch it up and get some more variety this week.  I’ve recently got a hold of some wonderful plant-based cookbooks that are giving me some excellent ideas.

In the northeast US right now, it’s fairly cold.  And nothing beats the chill like a nice warm homemade bowl of soup.  I’m looking for something different though and I think I’m going to give this a try and see how it goes:  Broccoli Rabe  Soup!  I don’t know what it is about Broccoli Rabe but I am just absolutely crazy for the stuff.  Through the course of last week, I ate three heads of it.  I know, I just said I need to switch it up, but I’m not letting go of my Broccoli Rabe!   I’m going to add carrots and onion chopped very finely, lots and lots of garlic, mashed white beans as a thickener and then add some seasoning to my veggie stock. I’m going to let that simmer for a few hours and then add trimmed and chopped broccoli rabe!  I imagine you could substitute  escarole, spinach or kale if you prefer one of those.

I’m also going to make a Roman-Style Marinated Broccoli Salad.  It’s really quick and easy.  You take a package of broccolislaw (big time saver), add 3 chopped plum tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and season to taste.  Combine, sprinkle with a bit of parsley  and then refrigerate for several hours.  This will be a really nice side salad to that soup.

I can’t wait to make these.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Pics to come!

Spotlight: UltraMantis Black, Vegan Pro Wrestler

8 02 2012

Those who know me, know that I have had a sometimes unhealthy obsession with the world of professional wrestling since I was about 6 years old. Thirty years later, I’m still a diehard fan. I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of my professional wrestling heroes over the years. Recently, I’ve been enjoying an indy promotion, Chikara, when they come to town. Chikara is a family friendly promotion that is quite entertaining, has some amazing talent and puts on some fantastic matches. If you love wrestling as an art, you will really enjoy what type of show Chikara puts on.

The beauty of having this blog is that sometimes my passions collide and I have the opprtunity to talk to some really interesting people. Recently I had the chance to interview one of Chikara’s most popular stars, UltraMantis Black, about being a vegan. UltraMantis Black has wrestled all over the world for many different promotions. He calls Chikara his home though as he has been a presence there since the beginning. I was so thrilled to ask him a few questions including some issues I’ve been “wrestling” with since adopting a plant based diet!

JS: Can you explain what the circumstances were that led to you switching to a plant based diet and embracing a vegan lifestyle?

UMB: I eliminated animal products from my diet over 20 years ago. I skipped over vegetarianism and went directly to veganism after existing completely on an omnivorous diet all of my life up until that point. I had become exposed to issues involving the welfare of animals – factory farming, vivisection, animal testing – through books and music at the time. Something just clicked inside my head that led me to no longer wanting to participate in the suffering of animals in any way. Veganism seemed like the natural first step.

JS: What were the difficulties that you encountered when you first adopted this lifestyle change? Is there anything that you know now that you wish you would have known then?

UMB: At that time, there were little to no pre-packaged vegetarian meal alternatives readily available in grocery stores. Today, you can go into nearly any grocery store and find soy milk, tofu, and meat substitutes. I was still very young and simply did not educate myself enough about how to eat healthy. So I survived on things like packaged ramen noodles, pasta, and french fries. I was probably at my most unhealthiest in those first few years simply because I didn’t take the time to really think about how I was eating. So I wish I knew then the importance of educating one’s self about nutrition. I also wish I would have been more enthusiastic about “exploring” food options. I wasn’t a huge fan of fruits and vegetables before I changed my diet and it took me a long time to actually try new things in new ways to realize just how amazing plant based foods really are.

JS: How would you say your overall health has improved in the years since you have made the switch?

UMB: As with any diet, your health will never improve unless you approach it in a sound way with as much factual nutritional information as possible. That was my major downfall when I initially went vegan. Once I actually started doing the research myself and figuring out the optimal ways to eat, my overall health improved immensely. I reached a healthy weight, added actual muscle mass to my body, and increased my energy levels ten-fold. I rarely get sick with a cold or flu anymore and when I do notice cold symptoms, they last for a minimal period of time. Other minor health issues I experienced either disappeared entirely or no longer affected me as much physically. Do I think a plant based diet is some sort of miracle cure-all? No, but I firmly believe that it has greatly helped contribute to my overall well-being.

JS: I imagine that when you are on the road for a stretch, adhering to plant based diet can be difficult at times. How do you overcome this?

UMB: I’ve learned how to pack my own meals and food items when on the road. The chances of finding a Whole Foods grocery or a vegetarian restaurant on the road are slim to none and the amount of healthy veggie options at the endless procession of gas station stores, diners, and chain restaurants is pretty disheartening to say the least. I pack a lot of fruit, nut butters, rice and veggies, etc. Usually this means eating in the car or alone in the hotel room while everyone else is at Denny’s, but I can live with that.

JS: I’m always looking for snack ideas. What are some of your favorite “go to” snacks?

UMB: I snack on baby carrots, bananas, apples, and spinach salad all day long. At one time that may have sounded boring even to me – but I really feel that its easy to learn to love simple snacks like that. When I’m feeling adventurous and have some time to prepare them, I also love snacking on roasted/seasoned garbanzo beans and oven roasted kale chips. And homemade natural protein bars!

JS: Some people who enjoy the standard American diet believe that a plant based diet does not provide enough protein or calcium. Can you speak a little to this?

UMB: If you approach ANY diet the wrong way, there is a good chance you will end up not getting the optimal amount of nutrients to sustain a healthy lifestyle. But I, along with countless others, are living proof that you can lead a healthy and active lifestyle with a plant based diet. I don’t lack for anything – protein, calcium, whatever. Its too easy to fall into the trap of swallowing the same outdated nutritional dogma that we have all heard for years. Take a look at some of the “studies” and guidelines that we too often accept as fact and see exactly who funded or is behind them. Its in the financial best interest of countless industries and corporations that Americans continue to eat animal products, continue to eat unhealthy, continue to get sick and continue to be medicated.

JS: Do you find that being a professional athlete who is vegan changes people’s (mis)conceptions about the vegan lifestyle?

UMB: I hope so! Even if I only expose a few people to it or just cause one individual to re-think their own diet, I am pleased.

JS: What advice do you have for those who may be starting off on the path to a plant based diet?

UMB: Get educated. Do your research and realize that you will have to completely re-think the way you look at food. Today, the internet makes it easier than ever to learn about proper nutrition. To learn about food and where your food comes from. Understand that, with any lifestyle change – and that’s what veganism can be – comes a certain amount of struggle. Prepare for that, nothing that matters will ever be easy. And finally, be ready to enjoy and appreciate food more than you probably ever have before. Check out!


I’d like to thank UltraMantis Black for his time and for generously imparting his knowledge.
The Devious UltraMantis Black…
Ministry of Propaganda…

See UltraMantis Black and his partner, Hallowicked take on the tag team champions, Gargano and Taylor in a 2 out of three falls championship match in Reading, PA on February 25th. Event and ticket information can be found at
*Kids get in free with a paid adult (this show only)! How cool is that?

This is Chikara:

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