Saturday, June 26, 2010

Return to Reality

I'm back! And no, I didn't just randomly disappear. I've been on the vacation of a lifetime! On June 11, Paul and I, along with 140+ of our closest friends, left for Israel. We spent the next 9 days exploring, learning, discovering, and having a life-changing experience in the land where Jesus walked.

I'm not going to chronicle the whole experience on this blog, but I do want to share the highlights of the food. Oh, the food!
Now, I knew I loved Middle Eastern food (especially falafel!) and I knew this was going to be a treat in that regard, but man, oh man, did it exceed my expectations! All you vegetarians and vegans out there know how hard it can be to travel and eat well. Not on this trip! This was vegan paradise!

We stayed in four different hotels, a
nd in each one of them, the food was amazing! They provided extravagant buffets with vegetables and salads and breads and desserts. Oh my, you have never seen such breads and deserts! (I sound like the food addict, don't I?!?)

While we traveled pretty much the entire leng
th and breadth of the country, our primary stops were in Tel Aviv, Tiberias (on the Sea of Galilee), the Dead Sea, and then Jerusalem. The touring and sight-seeing were non-stop and we crammed a whole lot of places into those few short days. I could have easily stayed a week at each location.

A couple of food discoveries I made were za'atar, a hyssop (or thyme) spice combination that is awesome, and schug, a green chili sauce that is HOT! I brought some of the za'atar home with me and have already used up about half of it. It is delicious on salads, sandwiches, or used to make a salad dressing. And I made schug this week for the first time. A little of that stuff goes a looooong way! I'll be posting the recipe for both on my next post.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are food photos from Israel. (With a few non-food photos thrown in just for fun!)

Oh - and just in case anybody doesn't get it, falafel is my FAVORITE food! If you've never eaten this culinary delight, it is deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas stuffed in pitas with hummus, various salads, tahini sauce, and optional schug. Never had falafel? Find your nearest Middle Eastern restaurant and discover it TODAY!!
The market in Old Jerusalem. I so want to shop like this all the time!

More of the market. This was one of my very favorite parts of the trip. The senses were overwhelmed by the sights, the so
unds, and the smells!

Trying to beat the heat. It was up to 117 degrees in the desert.

A spice shop in Old Jerusalem. I wanted everything in there!! The smell was indescribable!

The pyramid is made from spices! Cool, huh?!?

A view of the Negev from Masada

At the Dead Sea - this is the man who used to weigh 432 pounds!

Floating in the Dead Sea

Paul eating falafel from a street vendor in Old Jerusalem.

Me waiting (impatiently) on falafel........

From the hotel in Jerusalem.

Yes, that's me and Paul on a camel in the desert........ And afterward we were served a wonderful meal by the Bedouins. Didn't post the food photos because they were rather dark, and because there was meat on the trays with which they served (no, we didn't eat it, but it was in the photos.)

At the Bedouin camp. Amazing how much cooler it was under the tents!

Just in case you wondered........ The kosher ones do not serve cheeseburgers. Jewish dietary laws forbid eating meat with the cheese from the same animal.

From the restaurant at the Dead Sea......

Falafel at Qumran. This was the very best falafel of the trip!

Yummy falafel!

A beautiful display of some of the locally grown veggies served at every meal, including breakfast.

From the restaurant in Jerusalem........

A little restaurant on the Jordan River. A fellow UPSer and his beautiful family.

And yes, more falafel!

Yummy curried carrot salad. There will be a post on this soon!

The chef at this little family-run restaurant near Mt. Carmel. See the spread below.

This goes in your pita with falafel.

From the hotel in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee.

A little cafe in Old Jerusalem. Guess what we ate......

And finally..... they do love Elvis in Israel. Who knew???

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Conclusion of Our Story, and Pasta with Sausage and Peppers

Paul at the finish line
of the Marine Corps

Paul and me in his size 60 jeans

Every time I try to tell our story, I am surprised at how long it is! There are so many twists and turns, so many side stories and funny turns of events. Paul's book will have to include all those details; I can't possible remember them all! I do promise, however, that this will be the final installment of "Our Story".

One day it dawned on me that if things continued along the path they seemed to be taking - Paul exercising and faithfully eating well and me doing neither, he was going eventually weight LESS THAN ME!! That was a moment of crystalizing clarity. I got on board with a vengeance. I started counting calories right along with Paul. I started going to the gym without having to be browbeaten. And the weight loss followed like a well-behaved child.

Adventures began to come our w
ay. Paul went on a mission trip to Africa, a life-long dream of his. We started camping and hiking, something we had never done together. Paul learned to snow ski and water ski and I began horseback riding for the first time since college. In time, I had the opportunity to own my own horses, a life-long dream of mine.

We began taking spin classes, which we now both teach. I dragged out my old Trek bicycle and had it refur
bished, Paul bought a new bike, and we began outdoor cycling. Paul ran his first half marathon, then his first full-length marathon. I ran my first series of foot races and then a half-marathon. I am currently training for my first triathlon in August and a 10-mile road race in October, both with my older daughter.

We were eating locally as much as possible, and buying as much organic as we could find, but up until 2006, we still were not vegan. Two things happened to change that. The first was my "accidental" reading of The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. I say accidental because when I came across this book I was actually trying to buy a different one which had nothing to do with veganism. I have no idea now what I was looking for, but I couldn't find it and this one kept crossing my path. So I finally bought it. And what I read rocked my world. I read that book in about two sittings. I couldn't put it down. And when I finally did put it down, the die was cast. We would be vegan. Period. Paul was 100% with me on the decision.

The second event occurred on a camping trip just after I read T
he China Study. We were still figuring out how to make the shift and we were still eating meat. It was September and we were camping at Kentucky Lake near the Land Between the Lakes area. It was pouring rain and we were stuck in the camper. We decided to get in the truck and drive out to a game preserve out in Land Between the Lakes. We figured that since it was raining 1) there wouldn't be many people there and 2) the animals would be active. We were dead on on both counts.

We were driving slowly through the preserve, enjoying the frequent glimpses of elk and deer and other critters. Then out of nowhere came a herd of bison. Hundreds and hundreds of bison. Mama bi
son and daddy bison and precious shaggy little baby bison. We had to stop for them to cross the road and they just kept coming. I rolled down the truck window and I could feel their hot breath, could have touched them, they were so close. And those majestic creatures just kept marching out of the woods. I was so moved I was sobbing as I shot video. We sat there for almost an hour.

When we got back to camp, Paul and I just looked at each other. Three guesses what had been on the menu for dinner. Yeah. Bison burgers. That was NOT gonna happen! From that moment, we have never eaten another bit
e of bison or any other meat or animal product.

In the end, we lost a collective 336 pounds. I lost 104 pounds, and Paul lost a whopping 232. Many people ask if we had bariatric surgery. We did not. Paul did have reconstructive surgery after he
had lost his weight. That was quite an experience as well - 11 hours and 12 pounds of skin removed from his chest, back, and abdomen! The scars have faded quite a bit, but I know Paul wears those scars as a badge of courage and commitment!

To be honest, I still struggle with the daily discipline that is required to maintain a healthy weight. Not the cooking part, becau
se I love to cook. It’s not the vegan part, because I will never eat another animal. It is the self-control and commitment to good health part, because, believe me, a vegan can still be fat and unhealthy!

The past year and a half presented us with some of the most difficult family struggles we have seen in our 15+ years of marriage. I tend to turn to food for comfort and my exercise routine got a little sketchy. As a result, I gained 17 pounds over the past winter.

The name of my blog describes me rather accurately - I am indeed a food addict. And just like any addiction, it must be managed or it will take over. At this writing, I have lost 5 of those extra pounds, my eating i
s under control, I am exercising like a crazy woman again, and I feel confident that my renewed commitment to a healthy and active lifestyle will prevail.

So here we are. Healthy, fit, vegan, and loving the adventure! On August 7th I will take part in a triathlon and on October 25th I will run 10 miles with my daughter in Washington D.C.. Ten years ago if anyone had told me what I would be doing when I was 50, I would have slapped them for being stupid. And turned around and eaten another donut.......

Paul and me before a training run for the Derby Mini-Marathon

So here is a quick recipe that I threw together mostly from leftovers. It turned out yummy enough to share!

Pasta with Sausage and Peppers
2 tbs olive oil
4 Field Roast vegan sausages, halved length-wise and sliced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1/2 tsp garlic granules
1/2 tsp onion granules
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 can Muir Glen fire roasted diced tomatoes

2 cups
cheezy sauce
1 box cooked bowtie pasta

Cook the pasta (mine was leftover) and set it aside. In a large dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the peppers, onions, and sausage, and cook until the vegetables are tender and the sausage is browned. Add the fresh and canned tomatoes, the garlic granules, black pepper, and onion granules. Stir in the cheezy sauce, then the add the pasta. Let the mixture simmer for 10-12 minutes, but not long enough for the pasta to get mushy.