Tag Archives: photography

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.

Never got to shoot a great portrait of Mom with her cute pixie cut- it's pretty grown out here when we were in East Hampton last summer.

Never got to shoot a great portrait of Mom with her cute pixie cut- it’s pretty grown out here when we were in East Hampton last summer.

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.

 

Snowstorm Staple Miso Ramen

Are you ready for the storm? I braved the crowds at the Park Slope Food Co-op yesterday and made off with all of the kale about a dozen Amy’s Vegan Breakfast Burritos. But most importantly, as ever, I have a stash of Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods soups on hand.

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I buy bulk packages on Amazon– my favorites are the Miso Ramen, Soy Ginger Noodle and Pad Thai. They’re all delicious, healthful and satisfying. And of course vegan, and certainly not fried like those awful blocks I ate as a kid.

While they’re marvelously flavorful, I rarely eat them as-is. I need me some greens, and a lot of broth. So to extend the broth I add additional miso paste. Then I jazz things up with some tofu, seitan (Uptons, of course!) or TVP. Sometimes several of the aforementioned items.

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!

These soups are winter staples so I’ll try to post more of my quick and dirty “recipes” for each soup. (and perhaps, my favorite convenience meals in general.) Let’s begin with the Miso Ramen. The easiest, fastest comfort food around!

 

Ingredients:

1 Cup Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods Miso Ramen

White and Red Miso Paste (I prefer Miso Master)

1 tsp dried Wakame seaweed

Upton’s Seitan

TSP (Texturized Soy Protein)

1 tsp sesame seeds

Lacinato kale

Directions:

Steam kale, reserving the cooking water. Boil some additional water in a kettle, about 2 cups.

Get thee a large bowl. Add about 2 tsp white miso and 1 tsp red miso in the bowl (beware- if you don’t like salt or have high blood pressure, skip the extra miso and water!) Add 2 Tbsp hot water to the miso paste and whisk with a fork.

Add contents of soup cup (noodles and flavor packet,) 1 Tbsp TSP and dried seaweed to your bowl.

Pour your (just boiled) cooking water into the bowl. Stir and check the flavor. If too thin, add more miso. If too strong, add more water. Cover with a plate or lid. Let stand for 1 minute or till noodles are soft.

Chop the kale while noodles soften, then uncover and add your kale and sesame seeds. Slurp.

 

Stay warm and dry people!

 

 

Becoming Greener

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Greetings dear VVP Potluckers! Hope you’re not full-up on smoothies yet-  I beseech you to give just one more a go. Our featured ingredient (by way of orange) sings along with spinach, pineapple and coconut water in the recipe below my “green awakening” story. Enjoy, and happy potlucking!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I was scared of green smoothies until just this past summer. Kind of hard to believe, considering the fact that I love greens, I love my Vitamix, and I’m a vegan nearly-nutritionist. Thankfully, all this has changed, and I have The Seed and Victoria Moran to thank.

The Seed is a plant-based nutrition expo/ conference based in New York- this years’ was held in early August in Soho. Dozens of vegan luminaries gather to speak, give demos and generally inspire us all. There are also scores of vendors showcasing their foods and services. I was lucky enough to attend both days thanks to my friend Sarah, amazing creator of the unparalleled Rescue Chocolate.

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Over the course of the weekend I was awed by incredible speakers, among them were Victoria Moran, JL Fields, Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Dr. Robert Ostfeld of the Montefiore Cardiac Wellness Program. Each of these lecturers left me feeling inspired and re-invigorated in my own plant-based nutrition mission. Months later I still revisit their talks in my mind.

So what does this have to do with green juice? I began my Seed experience at Victoria Moran’s talk on the subject of aging gracefully inside and out. If there’s anyone who is an authority there, it is Ms. Moran, as she is gorgeous, eternally youthful and full of vitality. Each time I hear her speak I hang on her every word- she’s not only entertaining but oh so wise. And she’s one of those women who simply glows. Seriously, her skin is just luminescent.

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During her talk, she lauded the power of green juice. “When you’re feeling like that latte at 3pm- get yourself a green juice instead. And then if you still feel like the latte, have that, but I’m pretty sure you won’t.”  Yes, I love my soy latte. But if Victoria’s regimen has anything to do with that unbelievable glow, I’m willing to give it a shot.

So I started drinking green right after her talk. (I went for the smoothie and not the juice, but I still drank my veggies. More on the difference to come) It was a pineapple-orange-spinach coconut water blend and it was my epiphany. I chased that with several other juice & smoothie samples over the two days at the Seed, I particularly loved the Green Mustache orange mango smoothie.

One of the fragrant green smoothies I sampled at the Seed. Orange mango and greens, another combo I need to make at home!

One of the fragrant green smoothies I sampled at the Seed. Orange mango and greens, another combo I need to make at home!

Still I didn’t believe that this sweet green elixir could ever replace my latte or sundry caffeine/ chocolate fix. But wouldn’t you know, it eventually did just that. There I was yesterday, late afternoon, standing at the refrigerator, poised to eat a piece of chocolate when it hit me. I don’t really want chocolate, I want ANOTHER green smoothie! Yes, two green smoothies in one day- I’m still in shock.

(btw, this is not to say there’s anything wrong with chocolate, but when I want chocolate it’s generally because I have low blood sugar.  Chocolate isn’t going to fix that in the long run.)

 And then miraculously, I actually went for two days in a row without coffee. So yes, Victoria was completely spot on.

The inaugural green smoothie at the Seed

The inaugural green smoothie at the Seed

Why should we drink green smoothies & juices anyway? The same reason we need to eat our veggies. Most Americans eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables daily. No wonder we are so sick- vegetables are really not optional. The micronutrients and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are integral to so many of the basic metabolic processes our bodies perform everyday.

We may not initially see the damage we do our bodies by depriving ourselves of these vital nutrients. But it catches up with us eventually, and may manifest in any number of forms from obesity to osteoporosis to cancer.

In fact the risk of cancer decreases with an increased intake of fruits and vegetables, and the earlier in life one begins eating large amounts of these foods, the more protection one has. So really, we should try to get in as many servings of fruits and veggies as we possibly can. Even the five a day recommendation is really conservative.

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Here’s why smoothies are so amazing. If you really tried, you could probably get in 10 servings of fruits and veggies into one 12 oz glass. My smoothies have at least four or five. I try to get in at least three servings of green veggies along with a fruit or two. Your green smoothie will provide you with iron, calcium, protein, and so many other important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

And why am I touting smoothies and not necessarily juice? Juice is great too, I drink juices now and then when I’m out and about. But I chose to buy a Vitamix because making smoothies retains all of the fiber, and phytochemicals work synergistically with the fiber to which they are bound.  Drinking the vegetables and fruits in their whole forms can be even more powerful than drinking the nutrients stripped from the fiber, which occurs in juicing.

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And fiber is incredibly important of it’s own accord- it helps in cancer prevention, in maintaining good cholesterol levels, a healthy weight, and healthy blood sugar levels. And remember, we only get fiber through plant foods.

Another plus for the smoothie side- many nutrients are fat soluble, so they are more bioavailable in the presence of healthful fats. Adding a little coconut or almond milk to your smoothie will help your body soak up all those vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the fruits and vegetables. But please, don’t add cow’s milk (or any other animal’s) as dairy inhibits our uptake of phytonutrients.

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Nowadays my first stop in the morning is the Vitamix. Even before I have my tea! It took a wee bit of experimenting but I’ve arrived at my favorite combination of ingredients. I do vary it a bit, but my eye opening smoothie needs a base of pineapple, spinach and coconut in some form. I suggest:

2 or 3 two-inch slices of pineapple (roughly 1/8 of a medium pineapple)

3 cups baby spinach

1 small orange

1/2 cup coconut water

3 coconut water ice cubes (just pour coconut water into an ice cube tray, and voila!)

30 seconds in the Vitamix and there you have it- delectable green power.

For variation, sometimes I’ll add some mango or some frozen organic berries. But beware! Berries will turn your juice brown. While it still tastes divine, it makes me sad to lose that green hue.

So thank you Victoria- I’m finally on team green. Hope you, dear reader, will join us!

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Just hours from Paradise

Pedicure done. Bikinis and sunscreen packed. All set to depart cold, wet and dreary New York City for paradise incarnate- a tiny, breathtakingly beautiful island in Southern Florida called Big Pine Key. There, on a quiet Atlantic beach sits the Deer Run Bed and Breakfast, a small, peaceful, eco-friendly/ all around friendly getaway. The vegan breakfasts are to die for, each one a multi-course event leaving one sated until dinner. Guests eat their inspired repast on a sun – drenced patio overlooking a glistening ocean as tiny Key Deer roam the beach.

The Beach at Deer Run B&B. Where I go in my mind to escape on a daily basis!

The Beach at Deer Run B&B, my stomping grounds from Monday until Friday. And where I go in my mind to escape on a daily basis!

Who are the Key Deer you ask? Oh, no big deal, only miniature, docile deer no larger than small dogs. Truly the most adorable animal species on planet earth.

I will also mingle with tree frogs, iguanas, several resident kitties and a sweet, smart bird named Angel. One day I’ll drive up to Marathon Key to commune with sea turtles at The Turtle Hospital. I’ll spend hours paddling, checking out the sea dwellers in a glass- bottom kayak. In the evening I’ll watch the sun dip behind the ocean while I’m ensconced in the beach-side saltwater jacuzzi. Jealous yet?

The sweet, tiny Key Deer

The sweet, tiny Key Deer

This will be my third trip to paradise but my first one solo – I have no doubt that it will be the best one yet. I love completely independent travel, adventures open themselves up to me in a completely different way than when I travel with a companion.

I’ve also learned quite a bit as as a photographer since the last visit, so I’m excited to attempt some semblance of visual justice to the surroundings, inhabitants and food. So prepare for prodigious food porn, multitudes of adorable animals and sundry envy- inducing images in the days to come. When I’m done with you, I challenge you NOT to book a room at Deer Run STAT.

A tiny hatchling at the Turtle Hospital

A tiny hatchling at the Turtle Hospital

My bestie deer. This guy loved me!

My bestie deer. This guy loved me!

 

 

 

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.

Be a Witness: The Ghosts in Our Machine

I was fortunate to attend the premiere of the moving documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine  last friday in New York City. Beautifully conceived and executed by director Liz Marshall, Ghosts follows intrepid photographer Jo-Anne McArthur through her worldwide, industry-wide documentation of animal abuse.

Fox on an illegal fur farm- one of the animal ambassadors in the film. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Fox on an illegal fur farm- one of the animal ambassadors in the film. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Ghosts takes us on Jo-Anne’s physical and spiritual journey- to the dark locations rarely glimpsed by human beings, as well as the places she goes for sanctuary and catharsis. The film perfectly mirrors her reality such that we empathize with the animals and the photographer. Along the way, we see what she sees – both the misery and the inherent beauty in animals regardless of their circumstances. The experience is so visceral that I actually felt the quality and warmth of the light that illuminates her artistic path.

Many have asked me if the film is hard to take. Here’s what I tell them. The primary purpose of Ghosts is to educate, so there is no sugar coating. However Ghosts is crafted in a way that we do not linger past where most will find it impossible- it transitions regularly from painful places to redemptive ones. It is the moments of calm at animal sanctuaries and the instances of victory that give the viewer respite, as they do Jo, from the horrors playing out all over the globe. And while there are some difficult scenes (although not gratuitously so) I feel that it’s our duty to witness the emergency that is animal cruelty. If we close our eyes, we are separating ourselves from reality- it is that disconnect that fuels the fur, meat and dairy industries.

With the brave, talented and beautiful Jo at the afterparty. Photo: Derek Goodwin

Happy to be beside the brave, talented and beautiful Jo (she’s on the right) at the Ghosts afterparty. Photo: Derek Goodwin

Regardless of whether one’s life pivots about animal rights, we cannot truly experience the animals’ reality on a regular basis. Ghosts connects us to individual animals as well as the universal suffering of animals. Moments into the film I was reconnected with my own connection to animals and this movement. I was moved to spring from my seat and act- and might have, were it not for my being transfixed to the screen.Fur-Fox-White1(1)

It seemed  there was no possibility of my being further moved that night, but it happened anyway. The atmosphere of pride and elation was infectious upon entering the theater. It was incredibly fortifying to be at a successful premiere in a gorgeous landmark theater with a community of committed animal rights activists. Seeing Jo, Susie Coston of Farm Sanctuary, Liz Marshall, Joshua Katcher of the Discerning Brute, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart of Vaute Couture, and many others looking gorgeous and proud on the red carpet was truly empowering. These, (and many others featured in the film) are the kind of people who are deserving of celebrity status- these are the people who make changes in this world and set an incredible example.

Three Photographers: from L-R: moi, Derek Goodwin and  Jo-Anne McArthur at the Ghosts afterparty.

Three Photographers: from L-R: moi, Derek Goodwin and Jo-Anne McArthur at the Ghosts afterparty.

The atmosphere of excitement and accomplishment spilled over to the afterparty at Mooshoes, where sweet and savory Blue Ghost Dun-well donuts were served, along with some gorgeous hors d’orderves ( I didn’t photograph any of the food, or anything for that matter that night, but have a look at photographer Derek Goodwin’s images.) It was humbling to look around at the group there, each one individual committed to doing their part in this fight. As I gazed around the space I saw so many talented individuals who use their talents to promote animal rights. They do so through such diverse avenues as filmmaking & photography, food, law, clothing and beyond. I am so proud to know this community of activists, to be a small part of this machine that is gathering a lot of steam.

Love these Ghosts logos.

Love these Ghosts logos.

If you’re in New York, please see The Ghosts in Our Machine until November 21 at The Village East Cinemas, or if you’re in Los Angeles check it out from November 15. It’s also coming to the midwest- have a look at the info on showings throughout the country. And I’m obviously not a film critic, so take a look at this spot-on review in the Los Angeles Times, as well as more positive feedback in The New York Times and the Village Voice!

I also encourage you to pre-order Jo-Anne McArthur’s phenomenal new book, We Animals, that is ten years in the making. I had the opportunity to sit down at Mooshoes and read/ look through it for a few minutes. It defied all of my (already high) expectations. I actually had to put it down since it was far too compelling to experience at a party- I wanted to savor every word and image for the first time in a quieter moment. It’s that good. And since it will be a few weeks till the book arrives in our hands, see Jo’s work at her website, weanimals.org

Have you seen the film yet? What were your thoughts?

Health by Chocolate

Chocolate and I are old friends. But before I became vegan, chocolate was somewhat of a toxic friend. We loved hanging out, but I tended to call on her when I was bummed out, or bored, or angry, or, well, insert any adjective really.  And while I relied on her for help in countless situations, she would invariably make me feel bad about myself. Yet I went back to her at my most vulnerable times, again and again.

It wasn’t until I went vegan that Chocolate and I developed a much healthier friendship. At first I was skeptical about the new trajectory of our relationship, now that Chocolate was breaking up with dairy. I had known them as a couple for so long! But their breakup helped to magnify so many of her own magnificent qualities.

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And so I learned to appreciate chocolate in an entirely new context. No longer did I feel the need to categorize it as my vice, I started to look at the beneficial qualities and discovered ways to both enjoy and profit from the little bean. And because I was eating so many more nutrient- dense, satisfying foods, I didn’t automatically think about that something sweet after every meal. Or worse, in lieu of meals.

While I don’t get the daily chocolate pangs I once did, now and again a minor chocolate craving gnaws at me. Those are the times I incorporate chocolate into healthy concoctions or easy recipes. Cacao nibs or chocolate chips melted in my oatmeal. My new favorite nutella-esque nut butter, for which I shall soon post a review. Nibs and/or cacao powder in coconut yogurt. Hot cocoa. Raw desserts, like a chocolate pecan tart I brought to last Thanksgiving (a big hit.)smchoclayout_0572

Last week, while buried under many a nutrition textbook, the words “chocolate shake” began to echo in my brain. I suppose a hundred pages of the words protein, carbohydrate and fat just manifested themselves into a glass. And since I didn’t feel like a heavy dessert, I set upon creating a divinely chocolatey yet marvelously healthful shake.

The results? Super rich on the chocolate and just the right density- not too heavy, but not obviously light. And while it tastes unbelievably decadent, this shake is brimming with nutrients your body will love.

As you may know, cocoa itself is incredibly healthful. (it’s the stuff that’s sometimes mixed in with it, like dairy and refined sugar, that makes a lot of chocolate less so)  The cacao bean is packed with antioxidants- I mean, packed. Cacao boasts the highest concentration of flavonoids (a powerful class of phytochemicals) of any food! Loads of flavonoids means loads of antioxidant activity when you eat cacao. But not when that cacao is mixed with cow’s milk, as dairy inhibits antioxidant function.

Antioxidants are ridiculously important- they help reduce the risk of a panoply of common diseases, and simply help our cells carry on everyday functions. So get your daily dose of phytochemicals (from a variety of sources) and if you want them to actually do their job, don’t dump animal secretions on top of them.

Love  those nibs.

Love those nibs.

Another reason to avoid those milky chocolate bars- pretty much all of the major commercial brands source their cocoa from middlemen, who buy from slave plantations in Africa. Tens of thousands of child slaves work on cocoa farms in Guyana and the Ivory Coast to satiate our appetite. (not to mention the millions of cows also enslaved right here.) There is an alternative! Buy fair trade cocoa & chocolate bars- there is no dearth of delicious, vegan candy to go around. And don’t worry if you don’t like dark chocolate. There are loads that mix the cocoa with rice milk or nut milks.  A pretty comprehensive list of fair trade, vegan chocolates is here.

Back to the shake! This decadent drink doesn’t stop at the antioxidant love. You’ll also get a good dose of protein, fiber, B12, calcium, iron, and plenty of other important micronutrients.

Yes my friends, you can have your shake and drink it too. (or have your shake and keep your shape?)  So get out your blenders, and prepare for a divine chocolate experience.

Ingredients:

1 cup Nut or Soy milk (I used 3/4 unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup Unsweetened Vanilla Soy)
1 Medjool date (or 2, if not using stevia)
1/3 container vanilla coconut yogurt
1/4 cup vanilla coconut ice cream (or soy, or almond if you prefer.)
2 Tbsp (high quality organic) cacao powder
2 ice cubes
1/8 teaspoon stevia (about 2 of the teeny spoons in the stevia container) Note: If using sweetened milks, you may not need/want the stevia.

Optional: 1 Tbsp dried coconut
Cacao nibs for topping

Method:

Throw all your ingredients into your blender- one that can handle ice cubes, like the mighty Vitamix. Blend on high for 60 seconds, or until the ice cubes have stopped making noise. (but not more than 60 seconds!) Pour into a tall glass and top with Cacao nibs. Float skyward.

Note: the nutrient values will vary depending on the milk you use- for a similar profile, use an enriched unsweetened almond or soy milk. (or other nut milk)

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Grown Up Antioxidant Slushie

vvpLOGO*A big welcome to you, virtual vegan potluck attendee! Thanks for stopping by. This recipe, an ode to beets and sweets, fit in with the potluck’s featured ingredient. But please do have a look around my blog if you like what you see here!*

I had a ridiculous sweet tooth as a kid- so bad that I recall most of my juvenile activities in the context of the garbage I put into my mouth. I can still feel my feet on the warm concrete as I stood in line at the Scarsdale Pool snack bar. French fries and ketchup wafted around me in the queue as I tried to decide- Fun Dip or those greasy fries?  Fun Dip invariably won out- I mean, it’s an activity as well as “food!” I didn’t love Sugarbush ski school, but I did look forward to a break in the toasty lodge, a mammoth chocolate chip cookie and a cup of hot chocolate in my icy hands. And after weekly figure skating lessons, I recall teetering off the ice to inexplicably consume some sugary ice. I was a sucker for a Slush Puppie.

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For those unfamiliar- Slush Puppies are like Slurpees (and I had my fill of those too, once I got to high school)- the ingredient list likely reads: high fructose corn syrup, red dye # 3 and/or  Blue #2, water. Freeze that up, swirl it around in a machine, throw in a cute doggie mascot and the kids start tugging at mom for the cash.

Many slurps later I am decidedly more conscious as to what goes in my mouth. It’s been a long haul, but since I’ve been vegan, new and healthy foods  become part of my repertoire frequently- my last hurdle was to accept veggie juices & smoothies. I spent two years talking myself out of a Vitamix, but finally ran out of convincing excuses a few weeks ago. One charge later, I am the proud mama of that gorgeous invention.

Lovely organic beets from the Union Square farmer's market.

Lovely organic beets from the Union Square farmer’s market.

Back to those Slush Puppies. I’ve been fine-tuning my juiceblend procedure over the last couple of weeks since the Vitamix has resided on my counter. Let me tell you, there is a serious learning curve here people! On first attempt my beet-carrot- pineapple juice was reminiscent of borscht. Drinkable, and certainly tasty, but more food than drink. With the addition of ice, several successive attempts yielded what might be described as pink- tinged carrot dressing. (I consumed it, sans salad.)

But today, I am in juice heaven. Doubling up on ice and extra process time yielded the perfect texture and flavor. The happy surprise was that lovely icey nostalgia of what could be called a grown up Slush Puppie. (Slush Dog?) With a glass of this slushy juice in hand, I can hear the comical tunes of the skaterink organist in 1982. Gone is the syrupy sweetness of youth’s slush, but the dayglo color is still here! (Even more beautiful, I think.) I mean, just look at that gorgeous pink. That’s the phenomenal phytochemical power in the beets.

Did you know that beets rank highest of all veggies in antioxidant concentration? At least as far as we know- in the most recent study, beets won out over the previous ruling champion, spinach, in antioxidant content. Beets get their color from betacyanins, powerful phytonutrients that protect plants from UV exposure and disease. And guess what? Those same phytonutrients protect us from disease. Diseases like cancer.

 Just as yummy slightly melted. Love the layers of concentrated, pulpy and icey.

Just as yummy slightly melted. Love the layers of concentrated, pulpy and icey.

Beetroots are a stellar source of folic acid, fiber, manganese and potassium. But don’t forget about the greens attached to those roots! Both the greens and roots are great source of magnesium, phosphorus, some iron and vitamin B6. (However not all of the iron can be absorbed due to the high concentration of oxalates in beets, so you don’t want to count on this plant exclusively for iron.) The greens are even higher in nutritional value than beetroots – they’re richer in calcium, iron and vitamins A & C. So eat both the root and the greens- a quick steam or a toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic is all you need.

The sweetness and tang of the pineapple is a lovely compliment to the beet’s earthiness. And you can just feel your body taking in those anti-cancer nutrients, thanking you with every sip.
The first glass is full on slushy, but as it melts the texture and flavor becomes even more complex, yielding layers of frozen, semi-frozen and melted- it’s almost a slushy parfait. I just loved seeing the layers of vibrant pink.
It feels kind of decadent, but it’s just so good for you. And in a way taking care of yourself is decadent experience too. So indulge away!

Had to show you that beautiful texture close up.
Had to show you that beautiful texture close up.

A note on the (very simple) ingredient list. Go organic with your beets. This gorgeous magenta root will be pulverized raw, giving you a huge boost of nutrients, but if he’s commercial, you’ll also get a nice dose of neurotoxins. Organic beets are cheap anyway- here in price engorged New York City, I get a ridiculous bunch of 12 beets for a mere $3.50 at the farmer’s market, with so many greens they won’t fit in the crisper. That’s enough juice for more than a week plus 2 or more servings of greens! Don’t skimp on your body, people.
The pineapple is theoretically ok to buy conventional, as they have tough skins and are less desirable to insects, thus fewer pesticides are needed. But if you can find organic, that’s always ideal.

So here we go.
Yields 1 1/2 pints- enough for two, but certainly drinkable by one!

Ingredients:
1 large beetroot (preferably organic)
1/4 pineapple
1 1/2 to 2 cups ice

variation: use 1 cup ice and 1 cup frozen coconut water. It will be slightly sweeter, so if you enjoy the sweetness level as is, use less pineapple or more beets!

Remove the greens from your beetroot- if you like (and you should!) reserve the greens for dinner. No need to peel your beetroots. When cutting your pineapple, keep the core in there. (fiber!the crowning glory of blended juice) Cut the beet in a few chunks- same for the pineapple. Throw beets, then pineapple, then ice into a Vitamix.
Squish down ingredients with the tamper- the beets and ice will take a little pushing just to get them going. Process on high for about 60 seconds- not much longer or you’ll just have juice.

Pour into glasses and drink immediately! Yum. Pink mustache removal is optional.

ps. While I call this “grown up,” I’m certain kids will love this juice too! What kid doesn’t love a sweet, icy treat? A perfect way to trick them into super healthy veggies.

What’s your favorite juice? Would love to hear.

The buttons below will take you to the previous/next VVP blogs. If you wish to navigate to my other posts, please use the links below the buttons or the menu at the top of the page. Thanks for reading!

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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.