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A warm and simple, welcome.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Yikes! It's November!

Well, it's November. For most people, it is the prelude to America's biggest food day, Thanksgiving. For me, it is BIRTHDAY MONTH! And what totally freaks me out is that I will be an age that seems surreal. I remember when my Mom was 62, and to me, she seemed old. To me, I feel 33.

I'm busy perfecting a plant-strong Thanksgiving maincourse that resembles the commerical Jardein Roast...but without the oil and salt. And, I think I am well on my way. I've got the consistency thing down, just need to adjust the spices. It is stuffed with fresh cranberries and walnuts--I think it will be a winner. With an abundance of fall vegetables and curvy-looking squash, I am never bored with preparing a plant-based dinner.

Here's a quick and easy recipe for "Baked Butternut Squash Fries." I cook them in a pizza pan where the air circulates and makes the squash super cripsy.

But, before I post the recipe...here's my thought for the day. It has been streaming through my mind...sort of a weave of age and what we learn. If someone had planted a copy of the ENGINE 2 DIET in my life when I was, say, 30, I believe that the fabric and outcome of my life, as I know it, would have been very different than it is today. No regrets, of course, but this plant stuff just helps to measure and balance my life with ease. I wish there was a re-do button, because my life would have been outlined with plant-strong beliefs to make my life more productive, less anger driven, etc.

Can't turn back. Only move forward. But, I have new tools and it makes my journey more rewarding. You hear me say all the time, "Power to the Plants." And more power to turning 62 in a few short weeks.

Here's that recipe I promised you...these are all tested and created by me in my very small kitchen!

This is a pleasant new texture.

Squash Oven Fries

One Large Butternut Squash

One aerated pizza pan

Peel and clean the squash. Cut into matchsticks or cubes.

Turn oven to 400 degrees F.

Spread on pizza sheet. Every 15 minutes or so, move squash with a spatula so that they do not stick.

Cook for about 45 minutes.

These are nice and crunchy and very flavorful. Adds new texture to a favorite vegetable. Really, they taste as though you've fried them! Enjoy.

Never look back. Embrace today. Eat a squash fry!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Feelings and Food

I had a "rough" day yesterday. Too complicated to explain, but I am one of those people who filters things pretty well, and when a "rock" gets stuck in my filter, well, sometimes I think I do not handle it with much finesse. Since being plant-strong, I have to say though that I now experience a clarity that I had never known until hitting the plants. But yesterday, I was weepy and sad. That's all I can say. I was in an eddy where I felt as though I had just finished watching a sad movie.

Truth be told, had this been more than two years ago, I'd have maybe felt the same way, but handled it in a much differently. I'd have headed to a food store, bought a bunch of non-related foods, and would have started eating in my car. Most of the foods would have been calorically dense, high fat, high sugar foods. And when I got home, I'd have thrown any evidence away, come through the door, made a snack, and then, because I was exhausted from emotion and sugar, I'd have taken a nap.

But yesterday was way different. I was hungry, angry, lonely, tired (the HALT trigger), but when I came home, I just took a nap. When I woke up, I had a snack, then started to make dinner--veggies and whole wheat pasta and a big old salad. I still felt sad, but my bounceback was this...I didn't have to beat myself up because I ate a bunch of crap. My thoughts were clear, because there was only healthy, good, clean food in my system. I called a friend to "shake this off," and went on with my day. After our chat, I felt so much better. A good friend is a good thing to have.

Food isn't the answer to solving problems. Only took me 62 years to figure this out. A friend often says, "You're mad? You're sad? You'll get glad."

So, let the sadness subside. I started to do an Oprah thing, and count my blessings, and really, after I made a list of all the good things in my life, I started to feel so much better. In the end, my upset feelings were "papas chicas," (small potatoes).

I once read the Louise Hay book, Life is Uncertain, Eat Dessert First. I like desserts...and this is what we had with our dinner last night. Simple to make and totally delicious.

By the way, I no longer eat in my car.

Chia Seed Pudding

2 cups of vanilla, unsweetened almond milk

2/3 cup of chia seeds

1/4 date cup syrup

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Mix well together. Place in refrigerator over night. It comes out like tapioca. Very tasty.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hitting the Trails for 13.1

I've done this before. I've laced up my Asics Gel-Kayanos and followed a training schedule to get myself to the starting corral of a marathon. Only this time it is 13.1 miles instead of the 26.2 for the full tamale. I haven't done an endurance event for five years...and my last event wasn't pretty. I was very overweight, walked with a limp, and lived on over-the-counter pain medications.

Then, you know, I got that brand new shiny titanium hip, and the rest is history. Now I am cross training, eating so well and beautifully, that this seems like a walk in the park. I am not sure that I move as I used to, but, I can glide with the rest, do speed intervals, and push myself. And the truth is, I am plant powered. I am whole-grain powered. I hydrate with water. I nibble on a piece of fruit instead of an energy bar. I am not persuaded by sugary power drinks. The only technical thing I really need for training is a great pair of sneakers, and my Asics do fit the bill.

I always think about my life and what its quality would be like if I had never become plant strong. This coming Friday, I will be celebrating two years of being plant-strong. This is an amazing testimonial for me...you know, you've heard me say that the longest I could ever "stay on a diet" was maybe, like, a week. And, everyday is a new adventure...planning healthy meals...cross training...lifting weights....finding peace from the sun's early rise on any given day.

In the meantime, my gym bag is packed, my new Thor-los are rolled inside my shoes, and when the sun comes up tomorrow, I will be on a trail, thinking about my journey of life and getting to my bib corral on race day in January at the Disney Half Marathon.

I am feeling really great. Power to the plants.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I Gotta Get Cable...

There's a very simple reason why I do not have cable. It has nothing to do with economics, morals, or anything like that. But, the truth is, I would watch TV 24/7 (if I had my druthers). During our recent vacation, I got to catch up with the Kardashian family. Not sure why I am so into the dynamics of that family, but they amuse me beyond belief. And after that, I could watch the news for days and feel as though I didn't learn quite enough about some piece of historical minutia. And between Kim K's wedding, an earthquake, and a hurricane, I was busy!

Anyway, the recent airing of the CNN special, The Last Heart Attack with Sanjay Gupta, MD was my main obsession all week. At our vacation home, that huge, gigantic TV in the living room was going to be Visual Nirvana for me. But, between Libya and Irene, I didn't stand a chance. The special was scraped numerous times.

So, back home in PA, without cable, but with the hysteria of local newscasters, reporting about Hurricane Irene, I found out that the CNN special was going to air. on Sunday night I had several thoughts in my head...go to a hotel, go to a bar, call a friend...but, I thought, THE GYM. Without access to cable, I was almost in a panic. Although I had been to the gym earlier in the day, I figured that an extra 4.5 miles on the treadmill would allow me to watch the show, uninterrupted.

As the credits rolled in the beginning of the show, I was on the edge of my treadmill. That Bill Clinton, he still packs a powerful message. If he is plant-strong, there is promise for the rest of the world. Imagine that each of the 450,000 Americans undergoing heart surgery has sky rocketing costs to the tune of $112,000 per operation. And while I really love/admire Bill Clinton, I was really tuning into the show to see the rock star of the plant-strong universe, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, MD. You know, the guy from the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. Also known as Dr. Sprouts, this man has single handedly changed the direction of prevention of heart disease, as we know it.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Esselstyn three times, and truth be told, if you said to me, "You have a choice between making dinner for Bill Clinton or Caldwell Esselstyn, who would you chose?" Hands down, Esselstyn would win! Such a smart man, such a visionary. Quite comical. And with an amazing family.

When I am eating, people often look at my plate of greens and things and say, "Don't you think the food you are eating is a bit radical?" And that is when I hear the rich voice of Dr. Esselstyn say, "You think this diet is radical, what about open-heart surgery and having your sternum cracked wide open?"

Sanjay Gupta, MD, you deserve an EMMY for having the chutzpah to air such an important show. It covered many important facts. However, here are a few things that I would have added to your story board:

-Ending the story in a food court at a mall was a cheap and pedestrian shot. Why didn't you head to a Whole Foods Market's produce department?

-Eating out is a breeze. Who doesn't have VEGAN STEVEN on their iPhone? I go to NYC all the time and always find a great place for plant strong dishes.

-Finding other medical providers who truly supported a plant-strong way of living would have been nice. The MD's represented seemed skeptical to me. A pitch from Neal Barnard, MD would have been awesome.

Esselstyn makes it all very simple in a rather mellifluous manner, "Bok Choy, Swiss Chard, Kale, Collards, Collard Greens, Beet Greens, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Napa Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cilantro, Parsley, Spinach, and Arugula."

Hats off to Dr. Gupta, and may the greens be with you.

Power to the plants.

Here's my dinner from last night, I am calling it "CNN GREENS"

This is a quick and easy dinner, make lots so you have some on hand for several meals.


Head of Kale, stripped and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup of vegetable juice for sauteing
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 cups of cooked, brown rice

Add juice to a skillet, saute garlic in bubbling juice, add kale. Cover for about three minutes. Once the kale is slightly wilted, add nutritional yeast, stir. Throw in tomatoes and steam for two minutes.

DONE. And done.

Serve on a bed of brown rice OR, place greens on an Ezekiel Wrap and you are good to go.

I'd make dinner for the Esselstyns anytime! And for you too, Dr. Gupta!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What I Learned from Fran Costigan

My real profession is "People Watcher." What I know, I have learned from watching others. Really.

For example, I like to watch how my husband, Patrick, eats his dinner. He is tall and thin. And the reason he is thin is due to the fact that he is a very, very slow eater. He chews his food well, stops eating when he is full, and occasionally, leaves food on his plate. I, on the other hand, eat at meteoric speed, and have never, never, left food on my plate. Never, ever.

I am intrigued by slow eaters. Like, how did they get that way? Last week, I joined some friends for dinner at Seasons 52. We are all vegans, so it was fun getting together, sifting through the menu, and finding something that we could all eat. One of my friends at the table was noted vegan cookbook author, Fran Costigan, that's her in the picture. If she and my husband ever went out for dinner, they would still be eating dinner at closing time. But Fran's "sensibility" goes beyond how she eats. Watch her do her "thang" in the kitchen. It is a reflection on how she approaches life...all with balance and keen observation.

I would describe Fran as a whisp. She is quick moving, a thoughtful talker, and an ace in the kitchen. She was busy showing her fans how to make vegan truffles. There she was in the middle of a Whole Foods Market where an audience of forty watched her every move as she discussed the virtues of fair trade chocolate, the importance of organics, and the fun of vegan dessert making. This is a woman who doesn't miss a beat. She takes it all in, and gets the job done. She is also a "food-balancer," someone who is cognizant of what she puts into her body, and if she thinks she has eaten too much, her next meal will be greens and more greens. How smart is she?

When Fran was ready to make the truffles, in my mind, they were going to be the size of golf balls. Really, when did you ever seen a truffle the size of, well, a pellet? Fran meticulously made each truffle with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. And each one was about 10-12 millimeters in size. She dusted each truffle with ginger powder and they were so pretty.

As she was busy rolling away, a light went off. Nothing in a healthy person's life is supersized. Everything is normal. Within reach. Balanced. No extremes. Slow. Unrushed.

I am going to take a few lessons from Fran. She is a witty lady, and has a sense of humor that makes you laugh into the depth of your soul. But my take-away is this. Don't overdue it. Add balance. Love what you do and do what you love. Add greens, and don't overeat. She hasn't told me this, but, remember, I am a people watcher. And watching Fran was my master class.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Here's Jonny...

Call it fate. Call it Kismet. Sometimes there are people who you are supposed to meet. And, they plop in your lives at the most unsuspecting times. And I was meant to meet Jon Ostroff, Esq.

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on Rip Esselstyn's wall from a woman named Amy Saler Ostroff. She asked Rip to support her husband in his quest to become plant-strong. Rip, in turn, asked his E2 followers to lend some support to Jonny O.

Jonny O. started a blog called, "Jonny O Goes Vegan." It was a pictorial countdown of his days as a carnivore. I started reading the blog and was amused by Jon's wit, but inside, a part of me was aching for Jonny. Because Jonny was caught in a tangled web of bad eating. Having escaped that same winding and destructive path, I was really pulling for Jonny O., who at the time, was "my friend whom I hadn't yet met."

In the corner of my mind, I remembered seeing Jonny and Amy at the May 19 premiere of Forks Over Knives. I also remember him getting his picture taken with Rip. And I remember thinking to myself, "Oh, I would love for this guy come to the plant strong side of life."

I posted to Jon's wall, you know, just a friendly "holla." Well, a few weeks ago on a Friday, I got a call from Jonny O. who was traveling the globe and visiting every restaurant on the eastern seaboard. He was having a swan song with meat and captured every moment through pictures. The funny thing was that, just as he had called me, a Whole Foods Market truck passed him on I-95. It was as though central casting sent the truck as a "sign." During our chat, I was touched by his humor and wit. But even with all of his "hardy-har-hars," I knew that he wanted to escape from bad eating and join us the Engine 2 way of life. In my heart, I felt as though bad eating had consumed his life, and he was done with feeling horrible. I knew that, because Jonny O. and I walk the same walk.

I met Jonny O. on August 1. I drove to his house in a thunder storm. My car was loaded with plant strong groceries. I got to his home and was greeted by Amy his wife, who is a life long vegetarian. They ooze love for one another. Amy and I unpacked the car and my plan was to make a few "E2 Basics" for them. I always LOVE showing people just how delicious plants can taste. And, Rip's lasagna is always a treat, and that was on the menu for my hands-on cooking demo. Dinner was "Raise the Roof" lasagna, a hearty salad with Casa de Luz dressing. Dessert was Spinach Sorbetto. Jonny's eyes were crossed in confusion when I mixed grapes with spinach, but he loved what he ate. I scribed the dinner in its finale as a "romantic, plant strong dinner for two."

Meeting Jonny O.? There are no words to describe Jonny O. He is larger than life. Perceptive. Very witty and funny. But, also very serious. Serious about his goals. He has set the plant strong world on fire. He is truthful. I wait for his daily blog posts. He has a posse of 12 who has joined his crusade, I am one. I live E2 everyday of my life, but being with the "Vegan Wagon" has me committed to more gym, getting more sleep, and taking my lunch to work everyday (this is part of a money-saving crusade I am presently on to reserve funds for a Vespa, a sea foam green on at that [another story, another time.]).

Jonny O. is the real deal. He can talk about farts and make you laugh, but on a deeper side, I can feel him moving to the plant strong side of life beyond his 28 day prescription. And that puts a smile on my face. When I visited that afternoon, Jonny O. was Skyping with Rip. It was fun being a fly on the wall. The whole time, I was pulling for Jonny O., because saying good bye to bad food, well, it is like the Gladys Knight song, "Neither one of us wants to be the first to say good bye."

So, if you want to read a little of Jonny O., and believe me, he will make you laugh, get to his blog. He will also make you think deeply into the bowels of your heart. This is a nice man. A funny man who is reaching out for change, and at the same time, to lend support to others.

I love Jonny O.

In the voice of Ed McMahon, I say to you, "Hereeeeeeeeeeeeee's Jonnnnnnnnny."


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer Salads

I can remember going to a salad bar and thinking, "Salads, healthy. I am safe." That idea was long before I even gave thought to becoming "plant strong." Truth was, I would pick greens and veggies (many prepared in oil), then douse them in a heavy animal based salad dressing. In fact, I had a system.

First, I would go to the salad bar and eat greens, and only greens. Covered in dressing. Then, my next trip would be for "protein," and this mainly so I could get my "money's worth" at the salad bar. In my head, I thought I was eating healthy, because after all, I was at a salad bar. I also paid attention to the little jars filled with sunflower seeds, croutons, raisins, etc. Thankfully, the spoons were small and so it cut down on portion size. But, I wondered why I couldn't lose weight? The salad bar was more like a trough.

Today, my trips to salad bars are fast and quick. At Whole Foods Market, you can eat a bounty of really delicious products, thanks to the ease of "Health Starts Here." Last night, I knew that I didn't want to cook dinner, so I hit the salad bar at WFM and loaded up with kale, heirloom beans, corn salsa. That was my dinner and it was SO good. Filling and delicious. Two years ago I wouldn't have even eaten that, especially because there is a silent rule that Friday is pizza night.

Being Plant Strong gets easier and easier every day. It really is like being on a journey, or maybe studying a foreign language (the more you practice, the more proficient you become). The further you are from your journey's beginning, the harder you realize it would be to "go back." It all has to do with being patient with yourself. Never, never, ever think that you are on a "diet." That will screw up your mind, because when you are on a diet, there is magical "done bell" you think you need to touch with the diet is "over." When you are plant strong, the journey is never over. Never.

One funny thing. Someone suggested to me that I should be plant strong six days a week, and on the seventh day, "go all out and eat whatever you want." I do eat whatever I want, and all of it is plant strong and delicious. No need to go back and visit the "other side."

Back to the salads. The dressings are the killer. Loaded with oil and salt. Even sugar. Sometimes I miss oil and salt, especially on a salad. I recently stumbled upon a really good salad dressing recipe in the Forks Over Knives companion book. I am going to post the basic, and then tell you what my Italian palate did to it.

Be a detective at salad bars. Ask to see an ingredient list. Or better yet, make your own dressing and take it with you when you eat out.

Here's my new favorite dressing, but be warned, that you should use it sparingly, This is really delicious and super creamy.

Favorite Easy Salad Dressing (by Brian Wendel)

Raw Nuts of your choice (cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
Orange Juice (freshly squeezed is best)

1. Calibrate amounts based on how much dressing you will be serving and the desired creaminess.

2. Blend orange juice, a small amount of raw nuts, and a few slices of tomato together. Serve over your favorite salad.

Char's Additions

I prefer a dressing with a little more kick, so I added ONE garlic cloves and a quarter of an onion. I used 1/4 cup cashews, 1/4 cup oj, and 1/2 tomato. If you want a thinner dressing, add more juice.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Passing On Your Left...

It was 95 degrees out today. I am not a fan of heat, humidity, sweating, and pounding sun. Yet, I found myself motivated to hit the Betzwood Trail for a good, flat, fast workout.

The Betzwood Trail is located in Valley Forge, and what I love most about it is the beautiful canopy that protects the sizzling sun from making it even hotter. Today, I was jamming with Earth, Wind, and Fire and Stevie Wonder and we were having fun. The path was loaded with all sorts of people from the serious cyclist (the ones who yell, PASSING ON YOUR LEFT) to leisurely strollers who can't tell the difference between your right and their left. In my head, I am streaming like a gazelle, but the reality is that I am only walking a 14 minute mile. But, I am still moving along at a clip.

Things race through my mind when I walk. Like, today I was wondering how I escaped being the morbidly obese woman who shops at Lane Bryant wearing pastel pink with matching sandals. Or, how I darted the bullet from heart disease and diabetes. As the gentle breeze on the trail made the leaves twist, I thought about the morbidly obese woman who I had seen earlier in the day on the electric scooter at Target. Her basket with filled with crap. And, I thought to myself, "Face it Charlene, you were an Oreo away from that scooter had you not turned to plants and turned away from the evil trifecta."

As I sped along the trail doing speed intervals, I thought about another lady at Target. I couldn't help but to become part of her conversation. She was holding up boxes of candy for her maybe two year old. She was asking him what he wanted, the M&M's or the Good&Plenty? He wanted a toy. She then held up Mike and Ike's and Peanut M&M's. He still wanted the toy. And slowly, I turned to say, "Maybe you need to take his lead. He's letting you know that the toy is a far better choice than the candy." I was ready to run for the hills, but she turned and said, "You know, I think you are right." Now if I only had the same courage to talk to the other lady in the scooter with all of her candy and cookies.

I realize that we do what we know. The candy and cookies lady probably only knows cookies and candy best. Target isn't known for its veggie selections, but they are taking a step in the right direction in providing fresh vegetables. In my head, I was wishing for a remote control device so I could steer scooter lady to the veggie aisle.

As my workout was coming to an end, I was feeling victorious. Feeling victorious not because I had walked 4.6 miles in just under an hour (alright, I really was), but I was feeling victorious that I wasn't in a scooter, wearing a pink top, stuffing candy and cookies into my cart. But rather, I ate some fresh fruit, drank some water, stretched my hamstrings out, and hopped into my car for my next destintation...where I bought some leafy greens and some fresh fruit. My reusable bag was filled with a bounty of summer freshness, and I was still feeling victorious.

These plants...they give me great joy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Turn the "Beet" Around...

It's hard to know where you stand and what you do. Best foot forward isn't always the case. But, putting one foot in front of the other is the best way I know to continue to move forward.

I am on this journey of wellness and sometimes, it feels rather lonely. It's easy to become isolated from your "before" world because if food was the mainstay in friendships, that crowd feels awkward hanging out with you. My plant-strong world is dynamic, and just that, strong, but it is a world where I sometimes feel far away from others.

So, today, I got a request to "hey, send me a before picture of you." I fished around, and let's face it, you are not exactly camera friendly when you weigh nearly 300 pounds. I was always that person who was hiding behind a plant, or the tallest person in the room. But, a few years ago, a local running store did a story about me. I have a ten year history as a marathon walker, and my picture sits in their store. Not just a picture, but rather a portrait. In this black and white photo, I am wearing a 3X fleece top. And, I remember thinking that the fleece top was probably a miscut, and that it was really like an XL, or better yet, a large. I mean, I couldn't possibly be that big. But, pictures don't lie.

I sent the picture to my friend who needed it for a lecture. Then, I sent him a picture from today (snapped in the bathroom)...and was in shock when the pictures were back-to-back. I had NO idea how far I had come. I have no idea how I got to today, but it is a good place to be. Truth be told, I actually had tears in my eyes. Who knew that plants could change my life so much. Who knew that I could even stay on this journey? I have a black belt in dieting...and was stellar at a diet. I could lose a truck load of weight in record time, then, double gain what I had lost, and then some. That was my life pattern.

My plant strong adventure is a daily must. People always say, "Don't you want a piece of cheese?" On a diet, you'd say, "Yea, hand me a piece." On this plant strong journey, the thought wouldn't even cross my mind. In fact, I find cheese revolting.

I am very proud of this journey. It is like a marathon. I pace myself, I take in the scenery. I've learned to not take the inventory of others. Look, if Jane Doe wants to blow out her arteries with a cheesesteak, it's on her. I have nothing to do with her choices, or anyone else's. I only have to look at my own food selections, my exercise, my relationships, etc.

My heart is filled with gratitude for where I am today. And for where I will be tomorrow. Yesterday isn't that important to me.

I owe deep gratitude to many. And that list is way too long. But, if you taught me how to read a food label, understand the pillars of being plant strong, encouraged me to use a pressure cooker, or know the importance of fair trade...then, you know who you are.

No recipes today. No thought for the day. Just love and gratitude. That's all. Just pure love and gratitude.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Walking in Manayunk

The Manayunk Arts Festival has to be one of the finest walking craft shows around. If you love to people watch, being at the festival is like having front row seats at a Broadway show. Today, I paid attention to two things...the food available to eat...and people my age. If food is thy medicine, some of the people I saw were under medicated with food, because what I saw was pretty amazing. People wheezing from their perception of a long walk.

I live in a bubble. I work at Whole Foods Market where I always see people buying the best of foods. And I go to the gym where everyone has the same goal. If I am out on a trail, I am woven between cyclists and racewalkers. So, what I am trying to say is that my life vista is pretty healthy. Take me out of my environment, and the real world looks really different.

I counted eleven people walking with lifestyle canes...not the post-op kind in aluminum. The canes I saw had personality...they matched one lady's outfit, some were engraved with initials. They were fancy and a few were even hand carved. I think that their lives were touched by a neuro-muscular disease. And what struck me most, is that most people were about my age.

The food out on the festival trail did not match a healthy profile of any kind. Blocks away, you could smell the aroma (if that is what you want to call it) of grease being fried. You could smell beer. No smoothie trucks. No vegan stands, just lots of fattening street food. And lots of morbidly obese people eating foods and sitting on benches because I heard someone say, "I need to rest every block." I wanted to say, "Lady, put down the funnel cake and no one gets hurt."

Here it is...my preachy moment. It took be almost sixty years to figure this out. Food is your medicine. And, I suggest a plant-strong, oil free, sugar free, salt free way of life will make you feel like one million euros. So easy to do. Easiest thing I have ever done. It might just fall into the miraculous category.

Street festivals need to add a vegan component. They need to get food vendors who haven't come back from the state fair in Texas. I have a friend with MS, a friend my age. We've been friends for many years. Her MS is monitored with diet--gluten free and vegan. She has surprised everyone with the stability of her disease. Hippocrates was right.

Before I left for the festival, I treated myself to this great smoothie, which is a mainstay of what I have everyday. Hope you enjoy. No one ever gets hurt eating good and nutritious foods.

Spinach Smoothie

1 cup of green grapes

2 cups of fresh leaf spinach

1/4 organic lime, leave peel on
2 cups of ice
2 dates

Throw into the Vitamix, use the tamper to get all of the ice chopped. This will be the consistency of a water ice. Drink with a straw.

Power to the plants!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Susan G. Komen Should Know Better

A Mother's Day ritual for me has been to do the "Race for the Cure" with friends and members of my family. My mother, Marie, died from lung and brain cancer, and I used to think that this race would make a difference in the lives of those living with cancer, at any stage. I used to think that my donation to the race was used to pay for research, patient services, and the like (and maybe it was). But, today my reflective thoughts took me some place else. And here's where it went.

You have 45,000 huddled together to make a difference. They have each paid $40 to partake in the race. You give everyone a t-shirt, have loads of balloons everywhere, and feed people at the end of the race. This could be the greatest teachable moment ever, the greatest for teaching people about the Hippocrates thing about "let thy food be thy medicine." Instead, food served at the race included parfait yogurt, iced green tea, pretzels, donuts, water and bananas. Ford Motor Company was there giving away their "Warriors" scarf, and although I really wanted one, the line was way too long for me.

I do a lot of 5K races, and even with my history as a marathoner, the Expos have always tabled foods on the healthier side of the food spectrum. Today, I saw breast cancer survivors walking with oxygen tanks in hand. I saw women in wheelchairs, brightly dressed in pink. And, all I could think about was the fact that today's product placement positioned itself to say, "Hey person with cancer, go and buy my coldcuts, my donuts, etc. the next time you are shopping."

Anyway, the Komen Foundation raised a good deal of money today. But it also made me think of people like my friends Molly and Carly Houlahan from "Hives for Lives" who sell honey to benefit cancer research. They're teenagers who have raised more than $400,000 selling honey that they learned to harvest from their grandfather. Susan Komen, you have lost a supporter. I am going to look for a smaller, local not-for-profit whose values reflect my own, and I will help them. No worries about compromising my own health beliefs to be in your race.

At the end of the race, someone commented on my "Plant Strong" t-shirt (a souvenir from an Engine 2 Immersion). This young woman said to me, "Is Plant Strong the name of your gym?" You can't explain the meaning of plant strong in a casual passing. But, I did want to say to her, "Ah, no, it isn't my gym, it is actually my church."

My closing thought takes me back to believing that food is thy medicine. And today, missed the mark. I will dream about a Race for the Cure with herb teas, hot grains, fresh fruit, and all the things that can make you better. Maybe one of these days, everyone will get a free ticket to see "Forks Over Knives." Who knows?

Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

My mother, Marie Montaruli Nolan, was born on E. 23rd Street in NYC. She passed away twenty years ago, and I still miss her. Although I have two nice children, Mother's Day is always bittersweet for me. Because, I still miss Mommy. Yes, even when I was a forty year old woman, I still called her "Mommy."

Although my maternal grandparents were professional chefs, I am not sure that my Mom was a good cook. She was an excellent baker and made the best cookies this side of the universe. I am not a baker, don't have the knack or the patience. My sisters, Mary Lou and Mary Ann, are amazing bakers. Not me. I think because baking is too scientific. Cooking on the other hand, is more "little of this, little of that," and this appeals to me.

So, in honor of Mother's Day, here's a recipe that I have put together for "Sweet Potato Burgers" with a twist. Something sweet to create on this Mother's Day...sweet, just like my Mommy, Marie Nolan.

Happy Mother's Day!

Sweet Potato Burgers

You'll need:

One large sweet potato, baked with skin on
One can of 365 organic black beans, rinsed

1 T of Liquid Smoke (plain variety)
1 1/2 cup of old fashioned oats
1 t of garlic powder
1 t of ginger powder

1 onion, finely chopped--saute in the Liquid Smoke. Make sure that all of the liquid is gone. Let cool and add to mixture.

Take the sweet potato, cut it in half, or more and put it in, with skin on, in your food processor. Pulse until it is chunky.

Mix together well with all other ingredients, adding the oatmeal last.

Divide mixture into four equal servings. Make into a burger.

Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Put in 375 oven for about 25 minutes.

You can either put this on a whole wheat roll, or serve solo on a bed of wilted spinach.

Enjoy and Happy Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Forks Over Knives...you must see this movie!

I was in New York this week for the NYC premiere of Forks Over Knives. My close friends know that I am a movie lover and that one of the things I would love to do is attend the Oscars. If that doesn't happen, going to the Tuesday premiere of the film at the Sunshine Theatre has certainly left me feeling as though I had attended the Oscars...

I was fortunate to meet Brian C. Wendel, the producer of the film. I would describe him as gentle, yet most powerful. A visionary. Very sincere. He was the kind of person who doesn't miss a beat. He takes it all in. And his film, will allow you to do the same, because there is so much to see and learn in this film. Yes, it is true, at this writing, I have seen this film eight times.

Anyway, here's something I wrote for the Forks Over Knives website. It really speaks from my heart. On a side note, I was watching TV this morning and taking in a news piece about Phoebe Snow, the singer, whose life was taken last week as a result of a stroke and cerebral hemorrhage. As I was taking in the points of her story, it struck me that we were the same age. I am convinced that the plants I eat keep me very healthy. Really, there is no better medicine than plants.

Read on. Go see the movie. It will change your life.

The Movie That Changed My Life
Charlene Nolan, Devon, PA

I love movies. I love their soundtracks. I love where movies take me during their running time. When Forks Over Knives began, I was hooked from the first frame of footage. As the film progressed, I became more and more drawn in to its message. I loved “meeting” each person profiled, and I gained from the steps that they took to embrace a plant-based lifestyle. When I saw the improvements of people like San’Dera Nation, a young woman profiled in the film, I looked to her as a role model. I actually cried hearing her profound message at the end of the movie.

The movie spoke to me that night. And the next night, when I could have gone square dancing, I went to see the movie again. In many ways, it was a different movie, because I saw things that I hadn’t focused in on the first night. As the movie continued, its message spoke profoundly to my heart. I wondered how I could help bring the message of the film to others. That’s when a light bulb went off. I thought, “Why not bring the film to my community, and let my shoppers (from Whole Foods Market) and their friends see the film?”

I called the producer, booked a theatre, and called my counterparts at area stores—and we were off with a plan! From a private meet and greet with Rip Esselstyn (author of “The Engine 2 Diet”), a plant-strong dinner, kale shakes and more than 450 attendees, I knew at that moment that Forks Over Knives packed a powerful punch . And from that one screening in Bryn Mawr, PA, a partnership was born. More than 17 other Whole Foods stores have since sponsored screenings of the film around the country.

The film’s message speaks to me every day as I interface with friends, shoppers, my family and even strangers. I credit the film for helping me lose more than 80 pounds, as well as improving my biometric readings. Yes, I did the work, but the film laid out a path for me to follow.

You owe it to yourself, your family and friends to go and see the film. Take someone who really needs to hear its message. Reach out to those who are driven by a medication-dependent life and let them see, first hand, that food can be thy medicine.

When diet is wrong medicine is of no use.
When diet is correct medicine is of no need.
Ancient Ayurvedic Proverb

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter, Vegan Style

It's Easter. Vivid memories of my childhood Easter were filled with lots of meat and candy. I had an art to eating my large chocolate bunny. It was a three dimensional piece of art, but I would eat its back first, then, proceed to the ears, and down. This year, though, there was none of that stuff around--2nd year in a row. I did find a box of Brad's Raw Kale Chips. Something for me to share with the Bunnie, I guess.

My family, you know them, the Carnivorous Connelly's, had some meat stuff planned. I had plans to make a big "meatless loaf" as the main part of my dinner. It was good. Once the conversation began, really, it didn't make any difference what we were eating because it was just fun to be together. Broccoli, salad, grilled Fingerlings...they had meat, I didn't.

So, here's a recipe for my "meatloaf," give it a try. Be be mindful that you can take the mixture and make it into small meatballs, bake them, then, place them in sauce.

Oh, before the recipe, let me say this...way long ago in this blog, I spoke about Ken Meyer, the regional president of the Mid-Atlantic Whole Foods Market. I saw him yesterday for a brief few minutes...always thanking him for the role that meeting with him in September 2009 had on my life as I know it today. My how life has changed. I will always be grateful to him, my employer, and to all the people who have touched my life through the Engine 2 Diet.

It's Easter, and my only beans were fava beans, which I think the Bunnie originally had in mind when he went with this Easter thing.

Happy Plant Strong Easter to all. Keep it real. Power to the Plants. Always.

Easter Meatloaf

-Mire poix, about 3 cups, finely chopped

Saute this in a very small amount of water. Allow to cool once translucent.

-Add 2 teaspoons of garlic powder, and equal amounts of rosemary, basil, and oregano (1 tsp each).

-2 t of reduced sodium soy

-pepper to taste

-one bag of Boca Burger Crumbles (add to mire poix and spice mix)

-add 2 cans of refried beans (I use WFM brand). Mix well.

-Add 1 1/2 cups of old fashioned oatmeal

-Add 2 T of Dijon Mustard and 2T of Reduced Sugar Ketchup.

Mix everything well together (dig in with your hands).

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Add in the mixture (should be a nice creamy dough consistency). Pat and fix. Smother with ketchup.

Bake in a 375 oven (covered) for 45-55 minutes. Remove the cover and allow to stay in oven for about five-ten more minutes.

Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before you slice. Serve with salad, grilled potatoes. And a nice side of fava beans, to keep the Bunnie happy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Meeting More and More Vegans...

It seems, anymore, that more and more people are defining themselves as being vegan. I didn't know what a vegan was until 1999. I worked with a woman, a lovely art teacher, who was tall and thin. She was the first vegan I'd ever met. I remember thinking that her eating practices were odd, to say the least. I mean, I used to think, "Who doesn't eat cheese on their pizza?"

So, last night I went to a Flyers game. Everyone seemed to have been eating pizza. While the game was fun and fast paced (how do they skate on that ice so fast...and with such precision?), I found myself checking out what everyone was eating. Whether it was a gooey dessert, a fat stuffed sandwich, or big vats of popcorn, I found myself on the verge of yacking. And, what was odd is that there would have been a time where I would have consumed all of the junk food available at a game. And now, it all made me sick. I packed apples, seltzer water, and hummus. All healthy snacks. What you remove from your body, soon becomes what you do not want. It is a gradual process. But the attraction to horrible and unhealthy foods will abandon you. I encourage myself to remain patient, and with that patience comes the reality that good food is thy medicine.

There needs to be a "Grains and Veggie" stand at the Wells Fargo Center. Some arenas claim to serve vegan fare, but most of it is junk vegan. And I like the pure and green stuff.

Let's Go Flyers!!!!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Plant Strong Foods at the Homeless Shelter

If you've ever visited a homeless shelter, it would be fair to say that you have seen many casseroles and gooey desserts ready to serve. Twice a month, my co-workers and I head to two different shelters where we feed the homeless. And cheesy casseroles are far from our minds when we prepare our meals for the homeless.

When we decided to cook healthy meals for the homeless, I felt very strongly that it was important to give them the best and healthiest food possible. Since the plant-strong mantra is such a vital part of what drives my own life, we planned to serve "Plant-Strong Dinners" to the residents of two shelters.

Our menu is very simple. We make recipes from the Engine 2 Diet, or ones that are inspired from this wonderful book by former Austin (TX) firefighter, Rip Esselstyn. If the ingredients for the dinner are from the ground, you have the basics for a great dinner. No oil. No salt. No dairy. Nothing from an animal. There are endless possibilities for creating the most delicious meals.

We cull all of the vegetables. And we get really creative with our dishes. Everyone really loves what we make. Only two people have asked, "Where's the meat?"

Here's what we served last night--it was so good, that I also make it for my family.

What you'll need:

4 cups of assorted vegetables (leek, zucchini, peppers, carrots are great)
Seasonings to your taste (garlic powder, parsley, fresh basil, bay leaves)
2 boxes of Pomi(r) tomatoes

One pound of whole wheat pasta
Nutritional Yeast

Here's what to do:

-Clean all veggies (I leave the skins on)
-Dice/cut into bite-sized pieces
-Arrange on a baking sheet (use parchment paper)
-Place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes

When the veggies are "al dente" remove them, and place them in a pan with the Pomi(r) tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Add the nutritional yeast for extra flavor.

Cook pasta to package instructions. Add pasta to the vegetable sauce mixture. Toss. Add nutritional yeast for added flavor Garnish with freshly minced parsley.

Serve with a tossed salad and a slice or two of your favorite whole wheat baguette.

The picture above was taken of me and my co-workers when we were serving exactly this dish to the homeless at a shelter in Norristown, PA.

Enjoy the meal. Stay plant-strong!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reflections on an Immersion

I've been home for a week since attending the Engine 2 Immersion at the Crossings (now called Travessa) in the Austin Hill Country. It was my third time there--I am like a participant-observer. Somewhere around day three, I get to be part of a panel where experiences regarding weight loss in the plant-strong arena are shared. This journey is the best thing I have ever been able to do.

I have to pinch myself a lot during this retreat. Some heavy hitters are there. And, they say things to me like, "Hey, Char, how goes it?" It is a week of incredible learning about the benefits of following a plant strong way of living. It's not a diet, it is a belief.

One of my favorite parts of the week is the cooking lessons that are taught by Jane Esselstyn, RN. She is the sister of Engine 2 Diet author, Rip Esselstyn. As you know, Rip is the energy behind the entire E2 Immersions, and to know him is not only an honor, but a real life enrichment. Rip is the best. He is smart and crisp, and I always learn so much from him.

Back to sister Jane...she is one of the funniest people I have ever met...she is a bad ass in the best of ways. Jane has an interesting way of cooking plant strong and she brings her humor to the table. I appreciate her commitment to the wellness movement and the many wonderful things she does.

But the girl can cook. Here's her recipe for the "Napoleon." These are a great side dish, or add a salad, and you are golden. Thank you Jane for being the Plant-Strong Goddess that you are. Everyone else, enjoy this recipe. Post some pictures if you make this great dish!

You'll Need:

1 Large Red Garnet Sweet Potato cut raw into 1/2 inch slices
1 tube of plain (original) Polenta

Walnut Dressing (1/2 cup walnuts, 1 clove garlic, 1/2 cup water, Tamari to taste) Put everything in the blender--should be nice and thick

1 Heirloom tomato, sliced into 1/2" slices

Minced cilantro

Balsamic reduction

What to Do:

Place sliced potatoes and polenta on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven. You'll know when they are done, by touch. Let cool.

To make:

Sweet Potato Round, walnut dressing, polenta round, walnut dressing, tomato, cilantro.

Now drizzle with Balsamic reduction.

These are so good.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Say it Ain't So, Joe

I haven't been here for a few weeks. That's because I have been busy talking to myself. My lips do not move, but in my head, a reel plays vivid conversations that I could be having with any one person. Why, just this week, I was speaking to Michelle Obama. I was telling her about my disappointment regarding her food selections for the Super Bowl party she recently hosted at the White House.

Really, was it necessary for her to have pizza and wings at the party? She has great chefs at the White House...no one could make collard wraps? Raise the Roof Lasagna (Engine 2 lovers...let's face it, it is a great dish and I am sure some senator would have loved it!)? Really, Michelle?

You also know that I love to watch people. If I was stranded on an island, I would be okay, as long as I could watch people. People make me laugh and sometimes, out loud. Today, and for some odd reason, I was paying detailed attention to peoples' coffee habits. And, I was talking to myself, and wondered why it would be necessary to have a 30 ounce up of Joe, filled with cream and sugar. Iced, too. And through a straw. I then began to think about how much I really miss coffee. It has been three years since I have had "a double tall skinny latte with extra foam."

I surrendered coffee the day after a major operation. Either the coffee at the hospital was so bad, OR the meds I was on altered my taste buds. Whatever the reason, I made a cognitive decision to give up coffee. And I haven't looked back.

But, I do miss buying coffee (the scooping part), grinding it, and making it. I miss that morning ritual. I miss that social thing (Wanna grab a cup of coffee?). I miss the "cool" factor that comes with drinking the best coffee. And I miss using the nice mugs that say things like BEST MOM, GREAT TEACHER, WHO ME?

But, I still get to use the mugs, but now, I drink something much healthier. I drink "grain beverages." Doesn't sound too romantic, does it? But, I brew the stuff through my coffee maker and I pretend that it is coffee. It smells like the real deal, even has fiber in it. Figs? Chicory? Licorice Roots? I love it. Piping hot. And covered with "foam" from almond milk. I can still make the drink very social, and embrace the mug with my two clasped hands, just like I did when I would drink coffee.

And in my head, I am sitting with Michele Obama, sipping and talking about community gardens, childhood obesity, Oprah and the Engine 2 Diet.

Here are some brands to check out for cereal grain beverages:

Teccino: pleasantly good, and best brewed. Several flavors

Caffix: This has been around for quite sometime. I love that it comes in class jars. Originally from Germany, it is now made by Kellogg's! You make it like instant coffee.

Roma: This is my favorite. Simply because it is called "Roma." Again, like instant coffee.

Stay away from the coffee-that caffeine is a killer. And, keep it real everyday!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I haven't been here for many a moon. Did you think I was caught in a cookie coma somewhere? December was a busy month. When you work retail, you are easily consumed with erratic schedules and long days that are coupled with the duties of December.

And let me tell you, I was busy! I was in NY to see the Martha Stewart Show. Had a great dinner at the vegan shrine, Angelica's Kitchen. Went to DC and met up with Natala Constantine from Vegan Hope. Lunched at the lovely P-Street Whole Foods Market. And, I got through the entire month 100% plant strong. It is really easy to be plant strong.

The lovely Christmas dinner at my home was more like a visit to a restaurant. There were two camps of food..."mine and theirs." The carnivores chomped away on their meats and creamed vegetables. The right side of the table(my side), was a beautiful array of vegetables where I made stuffed acorn squash, a colorful salad, and steamed vegetables. After a full dinner and great company, I was the only one not ambushed by the apres dinner sluggishness. I was powered by plant strength.

This new year is also powered by a store-based 28 Day Engine 2 Challenge. I had to challenge myself, too. My difficult foods are breads, rice, pasta, etc. All dark brown. Nothing white. But, I decided that my challenge would include the removal of those grains from my diet. I also figured it would make me more empathetic to those who are entering the challenge and surrendering foods that are difficult for them.

Anyway folks, here's a simple and quick dinner that will carry you for a few days of lunches and dinners.

From the bottom of my healthy heart, Happy 2011. Blessings to all!

Vegetable Melange

5-6 Cremini Mushrooms, sliced
5-6 cloves of garlic, whole
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
2 cups of shredded kale
1 teaspoon of Merken (Peruvian spice)
1 can of low sodium diced organic tomatoes
1 can of no salt added garbanzo beans

While I am prepping the veggies, I like to bake the garlic in the oven at 400 degrees. I know they are done when they are golden brown. In the meantime...

Slice the mushrooms and zucchini. Shred the kale

Rinse the beans. You will fart less.

Get the canned tomatoes ready.

Assemble all the ingredients. I put them in a Dutch oven, and place in 375 degree oven for about an hour.

So good. I serve it on a bed of wilted spinach. Before serving, squeeze juice from one lemon over the top of the dish.

Easy. Delicious. I have also made this in the Crockpot on high for four hours.

Happy New Year with love!