Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Goodbye to My Mom

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A portrait I shot of Mom in August 2013, five months after my Dad died. She wanted a nice photo to get her started in the world of internet dating. She never ended up going on a date- I’m not surprised, who could seem even remotely interesting after being married to my Dad?

My mom died on Friday night, March 15, 2016 after a two year battle with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. At some point I’d like to do a post about my parents’ battles with cancer and how it’s influenced the work I do in chronic disease prevention. But that’s not today.

I didn’t deliver a eulogy at my Dad’s funeral 3 years ago and I’ve regretted it since. So in a way, this eulogy was for both Mom and Dad.

Over the last few weeks I’ve posted dozens of photos of mom in the sixties- friends all over the world seem to have enjoyed them, as well as the stories that accompany these images. I thought some of you might be interested in hearing a little more about my mom, so I decided to post the eulogy here.

Mom's college graduation portrait

Mom’s college graduation portrait

A Daughter’s Eulogy | Esther Krohn 1946-2016

 

Mom with baby me

With baby me

Anyone who knew Esther Krohn knew that she put everyone else first. Her family and her friends were infinitely important to her, and she invested all of her energy into ensuring that the people she loved were happy and well cared for.

This was evident in Mom and Dad’s relationship from the very beginning. Soon after they started dating, Mom bought tickets for a music festival due to take place upstate in the summer. At the last minute, Dad had to take call. Did Mom call a girlfriend and make alternate travel plans? Absolutely not. She stayed in the city on a sweltering August weekend as she didn’t want Dad to feel extra disappointed about missing out. That little music festival turned out to be the most important musical event of the 20th century, if not ever. If missing Woodstock to take care of your boyfriend isn’t the purest incarnation of altruism, I don’t know what is.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day

Mom and Dad on their wedding day

And of course that’s how it went down- because Mom always put herself second. Or third. Or fourth. There was nothing more important to Mom than being sure that her family was happy and that their needs were constantly anticipated and consistently met.

Her desire to care for us took on innumerable forms, some obvious, some more subtle. For instance, during East Hampton summers she monitored the motion of the leaves around our house or the fluttering of the flags on the ocean beaches, hoping that these observations would relate to the conditions at Napeague, ensuring Dad a good windsurfing day. Likewise during those summers she observed and reported the intensity of the sunlight, hoping that I might have a productive and enjoyable day photographing.

Mom never let anything get in the way of caring for the family- what she called “her job.” I don’t remember her being sick a single day in our childhood- and I doubt it was because she didn’t get a cold- it’s because she never let it stand in the way of doing that job. Regardless of whether she had slept 3 hours, which was often the case, or whether she recently had a major surgery- she was always there to make us breakfast, get Dad off to work and us off to school, drive us to after school activities, make us dinner, help us with our homework and get us to bed.

Mom at Summer Stock in the summer of love, 1967

Summer Stock in the summer of love, 1967

At the 1964 World's fair

At the 1964 World’s fair

Mom was expert at caring for those she loved. But she was expert at so much more, in both the physical and intellectual realms. She had an impressive and diverse athletic ability- trying everything from skiing to windsurfing to sailing to running to tennis- she really did it all. And she was an aesthetic virtuoso –this was evident in her legendary green thumb, in her encyclopedic knowledge of art and antiques, home decorating, and her uncanny ability to walk into a space, see the vast potential- and then achieve it.

She took pride in sharing her love of art and culture with us as children- any weekend we weren’t skiing or sailing, she piled us into the car early and ushered us to a museum or performance in the city- I am forever grateful for that immersion so early on.

Somewhere around 1966-67

Somewhere around 1966-67

Everyone here knows of Mom’s phenomenal sense of style- a sense that transcended medium. It was apparent in her knack for decorating, flower arranging and gardening, and in her impeccable personal appearance. The aesthetic details we saw on the surface of Esther Krohn were a confident expression of her vast knowledge of art and design.

My personal favorite era of Mom’s were the 60s and 70s- in fact it’s likely that the photos of her in this era as well as a hermetically sealed time capsule of floor length psychedelic dresses, hidden away in the basement of our childhood home, informed my own love of vintage style. Mom forged on with countless reinventions, all successful in their own way. Even her collection of 1980s hairdos, some rather mullet-y in nature, were pulled off with grace and flair.

My parents in Paris sometime in the early 70s.

My parents in Paris sometime in the early 70s.

A collection of Mom's Scarsdale Pool passes. My favorite mullet is the Jimmy Page-esque one upper left.

A collection of Mom’s Scarsdale Pool passes. My favorite mullet is the Jimmy Page-esque one upper left.

She even had a style overhaul a year into her cancer battle, eventually ditching the wig for a chic pixie-like cut in her natural, strikingly beautiful grey, which no one had ever seen prior. She stopped wearing makeup, with the exception of a bright red lipstick that highlighted her infectious smile. When her clothes no longer fit, she assembled an entirely different wardrobe, resulting in a new look- one more unique and striking than anything I saw her wear since the 70s. It was authentically her, and it was beautiful.

Mom, right with her dear college friend, Sherry, this past summer in East Hampton.

Mom, right with her dear college friend, Sherry, this past summer in East Hampton.

And speaking of beauty, it’s tough not to mention her legendary, outward physical beauty. From the time I was in nursery school, every teacher and parent commented on her loveliness and elegance. And it wasn’t just because she was a babe. Her beautiful smile, engaging nature, compassionate demeanor and sense of humor all played a part in her attractiveness. All of these attributes made her the life of the party, the belle of the ball, and a devoted friend to innumerable people over the course of her life. She was magnetic, and everyone gravitated toward her.

With her granddaughter, my niece Genevieve

With her granddaughter, my niece Genevieve

Many of you reaped the rewards of Mom’s aptitude for entertaining. As Max mentioned she was a gifted cook and an exemplary hostess. Whether a small dinner or a big charity fundraiser, entertaining gave mom the chance to show off some of her numerous talents while taking care of other people.

In working so hard for the sake of making others happy, and in putting everyone else first, I don’t think mom saw herself as coming last. Mom took great pleasure and pride in being there for her friends and providing the vital framework for her family’s happiness and success. That being said, when others need you most, it can be hard to carve out the time and space to take care of yourself, particularly if you’re the kind of person who mom was.

Mom and me on our boat the Nephron, around 1977

On our boat the Nephron, around 1977. My Baby Peggy phase.

Perhaps the most potent example of mom’s altruism, and sadly a tragic aspect of her propensity for caring is that she sublimated her own intense physical suffering when Dad was dying. Who knew that she too had cancer, but put Dad’s pain ahead of her own, so that he would feel loved and comfortable without feeling ashamed or guilty. We all knew that she was suffering emotionally, and that her stomach issues, at the time thought to be anxiety induced, were irritating to contend with. But in retrospect, it is haunting to think of her stoically enduring the effects of cancer alongside her husband.

That was mom. Everyone else first.

I can’t imagine how rough it must have been for fiercely independent mom to eventually let others help for a change once she received her diagnosis.

When she had no choice but to relent and let others help, she never complained of her own pain or sadness. All she communicated to us and to her valiant caregivers was her guilt about disrupting our lives. To the end, her main concern was that her family should not feel inconvenienced.

Just as we all did, I wanted so much to do something meaningful for mom in her time of suffering, and I feel so grateful that in the end she finally allowed me to do just that. On the last night she was verbal, the night we initially thought she would go, Max and I stayed rather late. While he took a nap I sat at Mom’s bedside holding her hand, as we had done for weeks. She thought the end was near as we did- although tenacious as she was, it turned out that she would go on fighting for another week.

Around 1 am, I told Mom that I was about to head home, and I’d be back to see her in the morning. Ordinarily she would say something like “you do what you need to do,” and send me on my way. That was sort of her code for “I kind of want you to stay, but it’s more important to me that you tend to your own needs.”

But that night, she looked uneasy, and didn’t respond. “Mom,” I asked, “do you want me to stay? I can stay.” Mom had a hard time talking in her last few weeks, and with the oxygen machine blaring in the background it was tough to hear her faint whisper. So I put my ear a millimeter from her mouth and heard one very distinct word: “Stay.” Of everything Mom did for me over the course of her life, and there was a lot – that one word was one of the greatest gifts- the permission to return a lifetime of caring by just being there in her time of need.

Skiing somewhere in Europe

Skiing somewhere in Europe. Wear your sunscreen, folks.

I began with a musical tale so perhaps it’s fitting to end with one. My most Proustean memory, at about 2 years old, is being with our parents at a condo called Middle Earth, in Sugarbush, VT. It’s 1976 and the the two 8 tracks perpetually on were two of our parents’ favorites- the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road. To this day, any time I hear those albums I am transported to Middle Earth, and am instantly embraced by a sense of warmth, home, and the unconditional love of my parents. But even as a child, those albums were tinged with sadness, as it occurred to me that they would be uncomfortable to hear when my parents were gone. I never imagined that time would come so soon.

The last line of Abbey Road’s The End is  “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Our parents put a tremendous amount of love out into the world, and in return, were blessed by the love of each other, of their family, and a vast network of friends. Their example of love and compassion continue to inspire me every day of my life. I only wish they could have stayed around a little longer to inspire us all.

On one of Mom and Dad's boats- either The Intuition or The Nephron

On one of Mom and Dad’s boats- either The Intuition or The Nephron

Mom and dad at my brother's wedding in 2006.

Att my brother’s wedding in 2006.

Mom just after giving birth to me. Kind of unreal. With her sister, left and her mother, right. I need every piece of clothing in this photo, btw.

Just after giving birth to me. Kind of unrealistic postpartum beauty! With her sister, left and her mother, right. I need every stitch of clothing in this photo, btw.

 

Secret Weapon Purple Miso Soup

Winter is certainly upon us! Here in Brooklyn we’ve had a string of days in the teens, and that means soup- a lot of it. Cold certainly sends me toward soup, but so does the annual effect of said cold. That is, a cold! Whether it’s a tinge of sore throat or full on flu, nothing makes me feel better than this recipe. Miso soup is this vegan’s version of that other soup people eat when they’re sick.

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Why is this soup purple? Because it’s made from purple cabbage cooking water. You can definitely use different vegetables, but cabbage flavors the cooking water beautifully, making a richer broth. And while you’re eating cabbage, you might as well eat the purple variety as it’s high in anthocyanins, potent cancer-preventative phytonutrients. Anyway, how often do you get to eat purple soup?

Current vegetable obsession- purple and rainbow carrots! Pick up the organic rainbow carrots and Trader Joe's or your local farmer's market!

Current vegetable obsession- purple and rainbow carrots! Pick up the organic rainbow carrots and Trader Joe’s or your local farmer’s market!

Miso is one of my all time favorite ingredients. It’s savory, umami, and salty. Plus it’s a whole soy food, so you get those incredibly healthful isoflavones. One of my pet peeves though are recipes that recommend cooking miso. Big no-no. Miso may confer some probiotic effects, so never cook the paste. The best way to dilute miso is to add just a couple of tablespoons of hot water to the paste, then whisk with a fork. At that point, you can add it to your soup (or stews, grains, or nearly anything else) Never boil it!

The kale from the Park Slope Food co-op shines above all other kale!

The kale from the Park Slope Food co-op shines above all other kale!

I find that miso soup tastes best with both white (sweeter) and darker red/brown miso as ingredients. You can get away with just one, but the complexity of the two is divine. The nutritional yeast adds just the extra bit of umami to make this soup so comforting. Let’s get to work.

Recipe:

Serves 1-2

Ingredients:

6 cups water, boiled

1 Tbsp White Miso

2 Tbsp Red or Brown Rice Miso

2 Tbsp TVP  (or 1/4 cup cooked lentils)

1-2 Tbsp Dried wakame

2 tsp Nutritional Yeast, B12 Fortified 

2 tsp sesame seeds

Purple cabbage, Lacinato Kale, and /or greens of your choice

2 carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch chunks

Boil a kettle with about 6 cups of water.

First, steam your veggies. Pour about 4 cups of the water you previously boiled into a large pot. Place carrots and cabbage into a veggie steamer above the water.  After about 4 minutes, add the kale. Steam for an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove veggies from pot, reserve the cooking liquid. 

Meanwhile: soak seaweed in water for a couple of minutes. When softened, drain, rinse and chop into shreds if not already shredded.

In a large bowl, add the miso. Add a small amount of your cooking water to thin your miso paste- about 2 Tbsps water .(it need not be precise.) Whisk miso and cooking water until you no longer have large chunks of miso. Add TVP, sesame seeds, nutritional yeast and seaweed.

Add remaining cooking water to the bowl. Stir to incorporate miso. Taste and add more water from the kettle if needed. (it will likely need it) Add vegetables. Enjoy!

Lentil Soup: A Momentary Thaw

This winter, people. Lord help us. As if the mountains of snow here in NYC were not enough, I’m hobbling around in a camwalker boot due to a fractured talus bone. While I’ve been a trooper despite the injury, I draw the line when it’s snowing and/or the roads and sidewalks are a sheet of ice. This means I’ve been in a lot, which translates to a lot of cooking.

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Soup is high on the agenda in this kind of weather. While I had made half dozen other dishes, another round of snow had me craving lentil soup. I generally go straight for The Post Punk Kitchen’s Rustic Winter Stew, but said dish takes just a bit more planning and time. Because the white menace had me trapped in the house devoid of several key ingredients, I set upon making more of an impromptu, easy soup.  All you really need are dry lentils, an onion or garlic, (both are good, but one will suffice) and spices you already have around. I was so pleased with the results that it’s now going to be on the menu at all times.

Why two kinds of lentils you ask? These little red guys will fall apart and give you a nice thick broth, while the green ones will keep their shape.

Why two kinds of lentils you ask? These little red guys will fall apart and give you a nice thick broth, while the green ones will keep their shape.

This soup has more comfort than a fuzzy blanket. Served with greens and baked potatoes or squash, you have the perfect meal packed with protein, iron, calcium, a host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It’s also really fast and easy to make, so even if it’s 6pm, you can be eating in about an hour, chop to simmer, with a minimum of effort.

A good deal of the broth gets absorbed by the lentils, so when I feel like a brothier soup I make the dish as is, then dilute it on a per-serving basis with some water and add a dollop of red miso for punch. Definitely thaws you out and has a ridiculously high cozy factor. Run, don’t walk to the kitchen now! (but take it from me, be careful not to trip.)

Yield: about 6 cups
Ingredients:

1 teaspoon Olive oil
1 small onion, diced medium
2 cloves garlic, minced note: Feel free to use either onion or garlic, both are ideal but one will suffice.Use an extra garlic clove if using only garlic.

1/2 teaspoon cumin
Several generous grinds fresh black pepper
2 grinds pink salt or sea salt

2 bay leaves
1 cup green lentils
1/4 cup small red lentils
2- 3 carrots, chopped
About 1/2 package Crimini mushrooms (or the whole thing if you dig them as I do.)
4 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbsp Nutritional yeast

Method:
Preheat a medium- large pot over medium heat. Saute the onion in olive oil, along with a dash of salt, for about 1 minute. Add the garlic, cumin, pepper and salt and saute a minute more.
Add the green lentils, bay leaves and vegetable broth. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally for about 20 minutes, until lentils are slightly softened.

Lower heat to simmer. Cook for about 10 more minutes, until lentils are nearly soft. Add red lentils, carrots and mushrooms. Check carrots and lentils for done-ness after 5 minutes. The red lentils should fall apart, but not the green ones. Add nutritional yeast, stir and let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the flavors to meld and water to absorb more into the lentils. As always, serve with extra nooch and sriraja.

High Protein Plant Powered Breakfast

I’m back, with an epic post that has something for everyone. If you’re tired of answering “where do you get your protein?” you can officially defer to this post. If you’ve ever wondered where a vegan gets her protein, you’re in the right place. And if you simply want an easy recipe to start (or end!) your day with all the macro and micronutrients you need, this is also a good place to start.

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This week I decided to switch my old cereal breakfast for a bigger bulk, higher protein (more specifically, higher lysine-keep reading!) higher fiber, higher phytochemical breakfast that would sustain me through the day.

For the longest time I had the same breakfast, it went something like this- in a big bowl: an apple or some kind of fruit chopped, Ezekiel cereal & low fat granola mix, flax seeds, about 1/4 cup hazelnuts, some raisins and goji berries in almond milk. Pretty healthful, but not really satisfying for very long. Often I’d be hungry directly after eating that cereal, but when I ordered a hearty tofu scramble at weekend brunch, I’d barely be hungry for dinner.

The original breakfast, still a good one but lacking in  staying power.

The original breakfast, still a good one but lacking in staying power.

Part of the inspiration for the new breakfast was last Sunday’s brunch. I finally made it over to Champs, a killer vegan diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My fabulous brunch cohort Michelle had the obvious advantage as she’s eating for two! I was sort of jealous of her state on this particular trip, as it’s impossible to make a decision off their profuse menu.

 Inside Champs

Inside Champs. Excuse low-qual iPhone photos in this section!

Champs is a stellar establishment- you can get anything from a very imaginative tofu scramble to pancakes to biscuits and gravy to a pancake SANDWICH! They also have veggie burgers and inventive salads – definitely the most amazing kale salad dressing I’ve ever had. And that means a lot coming from someone who doesn’t love a kale salad. The atmosphere is also pretty groovy, and there’s a pretty neat scene too. For all this there’s obviously a wait on the weekend, but nothing is more worthwhile. Don’t forget the fact that they have unbelievable desserts. Which you’ll love if you have a modicum of room after brunch. (Probably not gonna happen.)

The lovely Michelle ready for a brunch throwdown!

The lovely Michelle and I prepare for a brunch throwdown!

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After much deliberation, I decided on the tofu scramble with potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and veg sausage. (you can choose your own scrambling ingredients- more tough decisions!) Now there are tofu scrambles and there are tofu scrambles. It doesn’t take much to put some tofu into a pan, but the spices and techniques involved play a major role in its success. In fact, the day before I ate at Blossom, who for $15 gives you about 2 tablespoons of mediocre, uninspired tofu scramble. I literally left hungry, and it wasn’t anywhere near as delectible as Champs. (for brunch at Blossom, order the breakfast burrito. You can’t lose there.)

 A perfect tofu scramble and accompaniments

A perfect tofu scramble and accompaniments

Champs selfie as Michelle orders a takeout cupcake for her man.

Champs selfie as Michelle orders a takeout cupcake for her man.

Getting back to this breakfast transition. My default upon awakening, as is the default for many, is to go straight for the sweeter, higher carbohydrate foods. But that’s just because my body is craving glucose, the building block of all body operations. Eating something with more bulk and protein is a good technique for longer sustained energy. Particularly if you’re heading out for some exercise- I need that energy for my long swims these days.

This tofu scramble recipe, served with smoky black beans and greens, (if you like, in a whole-grain tortilla like Ezekiel) gives you a heap of protein, and it’s very high in the amino acid Lysine. Lysine is an essential amino acid, one we must get from foods. It’s one of the more important building blocks our body uses to synthesize protein, and it’s also incredibly important for maintaining bone health. While it’s easy to get enough Lysine on a vegan diet, it does take a modicum of planning. However, when we get enough lysine, chances are we’re going to be set for protein for the day. So you cut two carrots with one knife.

Foods that are high in lysine include tofu, tempeh, soy meats, lentils, and seitan, next in line are other legumes. Decent sources include quinoa, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds. If you’re interested in learning your exact Lysine needs, consult the handy dandy table over at Jack Norris’ phenomenal site.

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Energy for a busy day!

I decided to geek out and do a nutritional analysis of my original breakfast compared to my proposed long-term energy breakfast. And then for good measure, I threw in the average Standard American Diet (S.A.D) breakfast with a caloric equivalent to the tofu scramble breakfast. The SAD breakfast: 2 hard boiled eggs, 3 strips of bacon, 2 slices of white toast and 1 Tbsp of butter.

While my cereal had ample protein, calcium, fiber and a plenty of other micronutrients, calorie for calorie, it doesn’t supply much by way of antioxidants, lysine and a number of vitamins. On the other hand, weighing in at 150 calories less than my cereal, the scramble breakfast provides a whopping 86% of my protein requirements for the day, (take that protein skeptics!) a good deal of which is lysine. Close to all of the protein I need, half of the iron and more than half the calcium, plus vitamin and phytochemical levels that are off the charts. All at around 25% of the recommended calories for the day. That’s nutrient density people!

So let’s take a look at the SAD breakfast. Sure, there’s lots of protein, (but ahem, far less than the plant-powered breakfast!) but it’s animal protein which has been linked to a bevy of diseases, including cancer. Add that to the fact that the SAD breakfast is devoid of phytonutrients that protect us from cancer – (they are only found in plant foods) so we have cancer risk with no cancer protection. You also get some trans-fat, and even the most conservative government- sponsored USDA people can’t advise a tolerable upper limit for that substance. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Along with that animal protein comes 68% of the day’s saturated fat (compared to 5% on the plant-based breakfast, but it’s apples and oranges since plant-based fat does not pose the same risk of animal fat) and 481 mg of cholesterol. Plant based foods have no cholesterol. I could compare so many other aspects of these two meals, but it would be more of a paper than a post. You can view the breakdown yourself below. Scroll below the comparison to get to the recipes.2-Day_Comparison_Reportsm 2-Day_Comparison_Report-2

So let’s cook! As always, I recommend using all organic ingredients. Particularly the onions, peppers and tomatoes- some of the highest in pesticides. And always organic soy so it’s non-gmo.

Tofu Scramble adapted from The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Makes 4-6 portions

Ingredients:

1 pkg Nasoya light firm tofu (or organic tofu of your choice)

1 Field Roast apple sage sausage, chopped into 1/4 inch rounds

1 tsp olive oil

1 pkg crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast (or more for a cheesier taste)

1/2  tsp paprika

1/2 tsp Tumeric, for the yellow color. (I didn’t use it here, but for the photos sake I should have!)

salt & pepper

optional(well, mandatory really 🙂 Sriacha or other hot sauce for serving, extra Nutritional Yeast.

Method:

Before cooking, drain the tofu: Place tofu on a plate between two folded paper towels, then cover with a second plate. You can also place any sort of weight on top of the plate. Allow tofu to drain while you prepare the vegetables.

Heat oil in a sauté pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté for two minutes. Add mushrooms and pepper and sauté until the peppers and mushrooms are tender.

Meanwhile, using your hands, crumble the tofu in a bowl to create the consistency of course breadcrumbs.

Add to pan and stir to combine. And sausage, spices and nutritional yeast and sauté for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook (uncovered) until tofu and sausage are heated through.

For crispier sausage, sauté (can be dry sauté) in a frying pan and incorporate at just before serving.

next…

Easy Smoky Beans *plus* how-to soak and cook dry beans.

Canned beans can also be used here, just buy them organic and in BPA-free cans.

Ingredients:

1 cup dry black beans

2 chopped tomatoes (or about 10 oz canned)

1/4 tsp liquid smoke

dash of sea salt

optional: 1-2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast sriacha or other Hot sauce

Note: These beans also taste great with some onion or garlic, but because they’re also in the scramble I don’t include aromatics here. If you serve them with something else, try either or both during the second half hour of cooking.

Method:

Prep the beans: Soak overnight. Discard water. Very important, unless you want to offend yourself and those around you with horrible gas!

Place soaked beans and fresh water in a pot. For every cup of soaked beans add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Cover the beans and simmer on low for about an hour, or until beans are soft.

Add chopped tomato, liquid smoke and a pinch of salt. Cook until tomatoes are soft. If desired, add 1-2 Tbsps nutritional yeast for added depth. And hot sauce, always hot sauce!


Serve it all up with a heap of steamed kale or collard greens, and if you like, roll it into an Ezekiel tortilla. It’s really a perfect breakfast. Enjoy! Full breakfast nutrition info below. And if you’re here in New York City, visit Champs, you won’t be sorry.

The nutrition info below is for 1/5 of the scramble recipe, 1/3 cup black beans, 1 mini Ezekiel tortllla, and 2 cups Kale.

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Your Soon-to-be Famous Mushroom Gravy

Growing up, my Mom made a divine mushroom gravy but once a year. That day was usually Rosh Hashanah, when our house ran wild with rambunctious children who, quite literally, climbed the walls. (My cousin had an unusual talent for doorway climbing.) For a few brief moments we kids were seated for dinner at a card table added to the end of the heftier legitimate table. I was seated only between frequent trips to the buffet for more of that unforgettable mushroom gravy.

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By the time I had graduated from the kids’ table I was vegetarian, and suddenly that gravy was even more integral to my holiday repast. I ladled gobs of the stuff over chewy barley noodles and sundry side dishes while the rest of the family spooned it upon the “roast.”

I had no veg roast at those family dinners as I came late to many vegan staples like Tofurky. Somehow I lived 30 years without even laying eyes on one! When that day finally arrived, I immediately took notice of the mushroom gravy recipe on the side of the box (originally from The Tofu Cookery by Louise Hagler.) It had been years since Mom had made her famous gravy, so my nostalgic palate was ready._MG_1019

Over the last ten years I’ve worked hard to find the perfect amalgamation of Mom’s gravy and that of the Tofu Cookery. Many a gathering from New York to Cleveland has sampled these attempts, and fortunately every rendition has been a resounding hit. One midwest Thanksgiving I received the props every vegan covets- the gravy was ranked as best dish (at a very impressive table) by an omnivore. I think my aspiring chef ex-mother in law was vaguely annoyed.

My mom’s gravy was a brothy one. That was her intention, but I do recall my plate taking on the appearance of soup. On the other hand, I’ve never liked thick, creamy gravies, so the one you find here is a  compromise- thick enough to stick to your Tofurky/Field Roast etc but not so thick that a fork will stand up in it. In my opinion, that’s what your mashed potatoes are for. Which, by the way, are the perfect vehicle for this gravy. But if you like super thick gravies, no problem,  just use more flour in the roux.

Before roux & nooch

Before roux & nutritional yeast

After adding roux. Just the right thickness.

After adding roux and nooch. Just the right thickness.

This past weekend I brought a batch of our recipe along with cranberry sauce to my friends’ annual pre-Thanksgiving feast. All of which, is vegan, of course. The hosts are fabulous cooks- the hostess is famous for killer mashed potatoes, the host for an unbelievable all-from-scratch un-turkey. The event truly yields a cornucopia of delicacies. In addition our hosts’ talents, the rest of the group really brings it when it comes to potlucks. (Scroll below the recipe for some more snapshots from the evening)

Because the un-turkey was running a bit late, we began our feast with the dishes guests brought- pumpkin breads, mashed potatoes, several versions of mac & cheese, brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, garlicky kale, baked tofu, cranberries, salads, etc…

Just a small section of the buffet.

Just a small section of one of the buffet tables.

Nick's famous un-Turkey from scratch: Homemade seitan & yuba skin, delicious stuffing.

The famous un-turkey from scratch: Homemade seitan & yuba skin, delicious stuffing. See the steam rising? It was delectable.

So when the gorgeous un-turkey emerged from the kitchen, every drop of gravy had already been consumed. It was no tragedy, however, the un-turkey was so succulent it needed no adornments. But bottom line, the gravy was once again a smash. As will you be when you make it. So get cooking!

When possible, I cook gluten-free for crowds because I know a lot of gluten-intolerant or sensitive folks, thus I’ve used brown rice flour for the roux. And I find it doesn’t lump.

I generally use all fresh herbs in this recipe, but if you can’t find fresh rosmary, thyme and sage, (sorry, no parsley here!) you can definitely get away with 1 fresh, the other 2 dried. It’s more complex with all 3 fresh, but it will still be phenomenal with just fresh rosemary.

You’ll need two pans here. I tend to make the roux in a small pan and do the rest in a huge one.

Giant pan works best for this.

Giant pan works best for this.

A note on cleaning all those mushrooms: some people are under the false impression that you can’t clean mushrooms with water. They’re wrong! You won’t want to wet them in advance, but right before using them, it’s no problem. Here’s a good method. Get a large bowl, dump the shrooms in, then pour water over them. Submerge them a few times, rinse, repeat. You get the vast majority of dirt off in one fell swoop, then touch up with a towel as you’re cutting. Easy.

My method of mushroom cleaning. To the chagrin of my ex-mother in law.

My method of mushroom cleaning. To the chagrin of my ex-mother in law.

Mushroom Gravy
Adapted from Tofu Cookery, Louise Hagler
Enough to feed a large group (10-25, depending on how much they like gravy!)

Ingredients:
2 pkgs. mushrooms, sliced (together, 16-20 oz) : I suggest 1 white button, 1 crimini
1/2 Cup sliced onions
3 Tbsp Olive oil, divided
1/4 Cup brown rice flour
4 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
About 5 fresh sage leaves, chopped (more if you really dig sage)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1/4 tsp black pepper

Method:

Lightly sauté the onions in 1 Tbsp olive oil for about a minute in a large pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and incorporate. Add the stock, along with the soy sauce, herbs and black pepper. Lower the flame while you make your roux.

In a small pan, make the roux. Combine and bubble the flour and 2 Tbsp olive oil over low heat for one minute. Scrape the roux into the larger pan, I generally use some stock to thin it toward the end, then pour the thinned roux in. Whisk into the stock, then add your nutritional yeast. Cook (on low-medium flame) until thickened and mushrooms are tender.

For all of you in the US, I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving! And now some snaps from yet another fantastic Harvest Feast.

Seriously, we vegans have nothing to eat.

Seriously, we vegans have nothing to eat. This was just one of the tables full of food!

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the un-turkey

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the un-turkey

It's an exciting moment, obviously!

It’s an exciting moment, obviously!

Check out that steam!

Check out that steam!

Eleanor's colorful plate of goodies

Eleanor’s colorful plate of goodies

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Demetrius at the other buffet- his amazing kale and Mac n cheeze, and a fabulous sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. Yum!

Demetrius at the other buffet- his amazing kale and Mac n cheeze, and a fabulous sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. Yum!

David guards a plate for late arrival Cathy.

David guards a plate for late arrival Cathy.

Lovely Robyn.

Robyn, one of the beautiful Moms at the soiree.

Annie and her beautiful daughters Seneca and Rae

Annie and her beautiful daughters Seneca and Rae

Sorry Rae,, I was never very good with that thing.

Sorry Rae, I was never very good with that thing.

Grace's amazing and gorgeous apple pie!

Grace’s amazing and gorgeous apple pie!

Always fashionable Rachel!

Rachel, another vegan babe.

If you can believe it, this is only a sampling of the desserts. Two more pies and cashew cream soon took up residence on the table.

If you can believe it, this is only a sampling of the desserts. Two more pies and cashew cream soon took up residence on the table.

Our lovely hostess, Susanne, and LiLi. Everyone has someone/thing to hold here. Always something to do chez Susanne/Nick!

Many a set of full arms!

Susan spearheads the activities committee

Susan spearheads the activities committee

In her green dress I thought Jen resembled the girl in the painting. Only Jen's prettier and not at all spooky.

In her green dress I thought Jen resembled the girl in the groovy painting. Only Jen’s prettier and not at all spooky.

Yet another chicken post (a tiny heartwarming followup)

I will never tire of watching this sweet video. Knowing these birds will have a happy life fills me with hope. And I get chills too- etched on my mind are the sights, sounds and smells of frightened chickens, crying from cramped cages. These 150 rescued birds were the lucky ones- no longer a commodity, they are individuals who can now live without fear.
Yet another reason to pay a visit to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary before they close to visitors for winter!

All Gone

All Gone. Those were Grandma Ruth’s words as I spooned chocolate pudding into my mouth. Her melodic voice and proud smile made every spoonful feel like an enormous accomplishment. While I was a picky kid, it wasn’t tough to finish off the contents of that footed dessert glass, particularly one topped with Cool Whip. Grandma made some amazing concoctions from boxed Jello. It all started with plain chocolate pudding, but she eventually graduated to create elaborate pies in neon colors- my favorite at around ten years old was the pistachio- pineapple dessert she made for our Florida visits. Because of it’s green hue,  it was affectionately known as “Grandma’s Slime Pie.”

My grandparents, departing for their honeymoon, in 1935.

My grandparents, departing for their honeymoon, in 1935.

The house where my Dad grew up, in Sheepshead bay. My grandpa on the left, Mom in the pink shirt with me, Grandma on the right. When asked about the apartment house behind, put up ten years after they moved in, my Grandma used to say, "What apartment house?"

The house where my Dad grew up, in Sheepshead bay. My grandpa on the left, Mom in the pink shirt with me, Grandma on the right. When asked about the apartment house behind, erected ten years after they moved in, my Grandma, ever the character, would say, “What apartment house?” Click and you can zoom this photo in big to see faces.

When I was thirteen, my Dad told us that Grandpa Sam had died in the night. He delivered the news through the first tears I had seen him cry. On a grey morning this past March, my mother called to tell me that my Dad was gone. This morning, it was my brother’s turn to let me know that Grandma Ruth died last night. Suddenly, all gone.

All beaming proudly, after my Dad's medical school graduation.

All beaming proudly, after my Dad’s medical school graduation.

For the last fifteen years, Grandma had been in a state of here sometimes, gone other times, but she was still here, a loving and permanent presence, her thoughts firmly attached to the events and everyday moments of her family, whether those thoughts were in the present or in 1935.

Grandma died just five days shy of her 99th birthday. Earlier this month, my brother and I talked about sending her story to The Today Show’s centenarians announcements, the goofy segment on which Willard Scott touts the talents and accomplishments of those who’ve lived to 100- now fortunate to be seen plastered on a jar of Smuckers jam. Max was given erroneous information that 99 year olds were eligible, but I’m glad I didn’t know the rules, otherwise I might have missed out on one last visit and an excuse to photograph her for a last time. So last week I visited Sarah Neuman, her nursing home in Westchester, with a mission.

Where I learned to play piano, Salem Drive in Scarsdale. Although I was more interested in a cookie here. My brother is beside me, my cousin, who Grandma also loved dearly, in front.

Where I learned to play piano, Salem Drive in Scarsdale. Although I was more interested in a cookie here. My brother is beside me, my cousin, who Grandma also loved dearly, in front.

The elevator doors open on the second floor and I see the familiar backs of thirty-odd white heads, staring up at a small television from their respective wheelchairs. Five years ago, it was easy to pick out Grandma’s trademark bouffant hairdo, but recently, it has lost it’s volume and deliberate shape. After failing to find her in the crowd, I discover her in a narrow hallway, asleep in her wheelchair, lunch staining her face. A nurse obliges my request to clean her up, and we roll off toward her room, she in her chair, I in the scooter I use to travel longer distances.

During these visits, our conversations are pretty one sided, and often I am unsure if she knows me as her granddaughter. Nevertheless, I operate under the assumption that she knows, or at least that she senses I am a person who cares. I tell her all the news about the family, about what’s going on in my life. I show her the family photos facing her bed, shrine-like, adjacent to a stuffed badger and sundry objects, no doubt left over from a previous resident. She looks at me, as if there is something she wants to say, but the words never come. She might fall asleep, or look away, as if I’m not there anymore. These times invariably recall my father’s last days, six months ago, in his respective nursing home, when the brain tumors impeded his thoughts, perceptions, possibly sight and hearing. And I wonder if she knows my Dad, her only child and near-daily visitor, is gone.

In her room at the nursing home, last week.

In her room at the nursing home, last week.

I had awoken her from a post-lunch slumber when I arrived, so it is no surprise when her eyes close softly as I point my lens toward her. But several minutes later, while shooting interiors, I look over to see her quietly smiling at me. It was as if she were somewhere else when I arrived, and was back now. Dad took these journeys as well- he would travel elsewhere for days, then return to us.

Grandma gives me a kiss when she awakens- on these visits, that one kiss is a gift, and the silence and surroundings shrivel in their importance. In her more conscious days, my Dad called her signature the “machine gun” kiss- not one, but a series of rapidly successive, waxy orange- colored kisses in the same spot. Difficult to remove, but easy to love. These days, all she can manage is one soft peck. The lipstick, once a rule (I was often chastised for appearing in public sans lipstick, even if public meant an emergency room) has been long gone from her mouth. Gone as well is the fancy shoe collection, accumulated from every flea market in South Florida. And her trademark gold baubles that once adorned so many limbs and appendages, clinking musically as she moved.  And of course, her impeccably manicured, two inch long nails are no more, the nails I heard clicking on the piano keys as she imparted the wisdom of her Julliard training.

That smile. The hair, poofed on the right, covers a large benign tumor on her head.

That smile. The hair, poofed on the right, covers a large benign tumor on her head.

The quiet smile I now see through the lens is one of remembrance, one of a different time and place. It is the state I had hoped to capture and preserve. It feels like pure Grandma, one without judgement, without  expectations, without constraint. It was the smile behind her voice as she read me The Little Puppy at three years old. It was grandma, who loved me, just as I was.

I click the shutter. She returns to sleep.

For the Animals

*Thanks so much to everyone who read and liked my first post, Days of Chickens!*

Rina Deytch, the unstoppable force behind the chickens. Behind her, hundreds of chickens in cramped cages await their fate. Community members pick them out and bring them home in garbage bags to perform the Kapporot ritual.

Rina Deytch, the unstoppable force behind the chickens. Behind her, hundreds of chickens in cramped cages await their fate.

As an activist, I can tell you that there is nothing more satisfying than planting a seed and watching it grow in someone’s consciousness. But just as in literal gardening, planting seeds is only possible under certain conditions. Changing the elements can mean killing the sprout at it’s most precarious point. A lot of sun helps plants grow – in the activist’s case, a sunny demeanor goes a long way too. Some additional conditions for planting seeds in activism are empathy, compassion, and intuition.

If I made any progress at the recent Kapporos demonstration it was through Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s podcast, How to Talk to Hunters (or Anyone With Whom You Disagree). I knew I was in for a challenge, and needed to head off any negative energy with inspiring ideas. I had listened to this podcast earlier in the year, and remembered the profound impact of her message. Colleen suggests that we have “compassion for people with whom we disagree or who participate in behavior we find abhorrent… It’s easy to be compassionate towards like-minded people; the challenge is choosing to have compassion towards those with whom we disagree.”

With these words on my mind, the demo became less about expressing my position against Kapporos, it was about expressing my position for the animals in the most positive way.

That's me, planting seeds!

That’s me, planting seeds!

For the most part it was a very successful event. But even a few ineffective people can derail any modicum of progress. There were some negative signs bearing strong, accusatory messages. A few people (on both sides) shouted when intelligent conversation might have helped. One activist who had very good intentions was often oblique or rambling and repeatedly lost her audience. These were all missed opportunities, and I found myself wishing that everyone at the demo had listened to Colleen’s podcast.

Activists and the moving lit van. I didn't love the homemade red sign, a less accusatory message might have worked better.

Activists and the moving lit van. I didn’t love the homemade red sign, a less accusatory message might have been more effective.

Over 90 degrees and surrounded by the fetid stench of feathers, excrement and decay. It was a tough night.

Over 90 degrees and surrounded by the fetid stench of feathers, excrement and decay. It was a tough night.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t express my joy for the successes of this year’s demos- the issue attracted considerable media attention, many chickens were rescued, and a few operations in Los Angeles were shut down. But I believe that with consciousness and awareness we can move toward a more productive advocacy, allowing us to win over communities.  Just a little more empathy and planning could help us end this thing once and for all.

A lot of kids were interested- the challenge was effective education.

A lot of kids were interested- the challenge was effective education.

Both the mishaps and my own small victories gave me more insight into what works and what doesn’t when facing people with whom we disagree.  A few practical ideas:

Familiarize yourself with the materials and the issues. We’re out there to educate, so be sure you are educated! This may sound obvious, but look closely at the information you’ll hand out and the signs you hold. You are the ambassador for this message.

No matter how your beliefs diverge, try not to think of anyone as an opponent. They are people just like us, who fear change as much as we all do, who want the best for themselves and their families. Try to see commonalities and focus on that.

Engage in conversation, not argument. Keep it positive!

Don’t use a canned response. Change your words depending out your audience. Kids respond to different ideas than adults do, for instance.

Be friendly. Smile, always smile.
Once again, you are the ambassador for the animals, and for the movement.

Have empathy even when it seems impossible. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were on the other side of the issue, and what methods would impact you. Embody that empathy in your words and your body language.

When you find common ground, use it! I spoke to a woman who wanted to know more about where to swim in Brooklyn. No, it had nothing to do with the chickens, but a conversation about friendly topics opened her up to hearing what I had to say.

Find any way to bring an issue closer to someone, and use that too.
Often, in speaking to kids, I talked about how chickens like to play just like they do- they like to run in the grass and hang out with their friends. Letting them know that animals are similar to them is integral to their viewing them as individuals, not objects.

A smile goes a long way in advocacy!

A smile goes a long way in advocacy!

Is it easy to have empathy for those on the other side? Of course not. But the easy things aren’t necessarily right, it’s generally the opposite. It’s easier to eat microwave pizza for dinner every night, but it’s not healthful in the long run. It takes more forethought and consciousness to cut veggies and and cook healthful meals. But it’s not tough by any means and these simple actions make us stronger. It’s just a question of changing habits. Reacting emotionally rather than intellectually is a habit as well. It can be changed, and it often leads to growth. Your own growth, and the growth of many seeds.

What have you found effective in your advocacy efforts? I’d love to hear.

Why did the chickens cross the road? To escape torture and death, thankfully!

Why did the chickens cross the road? To escape torture and death, thankfully!

A volunteer loads rescued chickens into a van- There are at least 10, possibly 12 chickens crammed in that crate.

A volunteer loads rescued chickens into a van- There are at least 10, possibly 12 chickens crammed in that crate.

Close up of a rescued chicken, safe in the car. But thousands more are trapped in those tiny crates, removed only to meet torture and death.

Click to see this rescued hen more clearly. (or any of the photos)

Carting away a live chicken in a garbage bag. I can't imagine how frightened this poor animal was.

Carting away a live chicken in a garbage bag. I can’t imagine how frightened this poor animal was.

In the background, a man takes home a chicken in a dark garbage bag.
In the background, a man takes home a chicken in a dark garbage bag.

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Cop greets the moving lit van.

Cop greets the moving lit van.

 Masks helped only slightly- the air was thick with feathers and various wastes. Breathing wasn't really possible, for people or chickens.

Masks helped only slightly- the air was thick with feathers and various wastes. Breathing was tough for people and chickens.

Breathing was pretty much impossible. Many smiles regardless!

Breathing was pretty much impossible. Many smiles regardless!