The Cook, the Grass-Fed Beef, Her Husband and His Edible Clover

All right, here’s the deal. I have been obsessing quite a bit about how to reinvent this blog to be more consistent with my lifestyle, and after a lot of thought, I’ve finally decided. But it’s been very difficult and I feel that there are still some things I need to explain. I realize I may have been over-thinking this, but hear me out.

See, I still have a lot of vegan and vegetarian recipes that I feel are worth sharing, and we still continue to make lots of vegan things, it’s just that now we’re also eating non-vegan things. As I’ve said before, the principles of our diet haven’t really changed all that much – we’re still about local, unprocessed, seasonal, sustainably farmed ingredients, and we’re still about eating healthily, and we’re still about using a variety of ingredients to create complex flavors in our dishes. The ideas and techniques we acquired from being vegetarian for 15 years (20+ in J’s case) are still guiding everything we cook. I guess a big part of my identity crisis over eating meat has been that I was reticent to surrender the label of vegetarian, because I feel like the word alone has come to be associated with the culinary principles I’ve described, hence if I said I was vegetarian, people would automatically assume these things about me. But then I had to ask myself, why do I care? Why do I feel the need for people to know my food life? Why do I have to label my diet? Is it approbation I’m after? Is it the need to feel unique or, conversely, the need to fit in? None of these things felt like the answer. Hey, I’m not a food snob, I don’t judge people for what they eat – food is a deeply emotional thing, it’s part and parcel of people’s culture, heritage, traditions and identity. Judging people for what they eat is like judging people for what they believe. Not cool. Tolerance – that’s what’s for dinner. So what’s my major malfunction, Private Pyle?

Yeah, I don’t know.

So I had a long talk with myself, and I reasoned to myself that if what I really can’t bear to part with is the label, that’s lame, and what I should do is come up with a new, original label as a symbolic rejection of labels. And I asked myself, “What’s a good way to describe my diet?” And my Self responded “Well, once I was vegan, but now I’m just ME-gan, my name starts with ‘Z,’ so I guess I’m now ZEEgan.”* And I said to my Self, “Perfect! But really … must you be such a nerd?” No answer.

So that’s my story. The short version (too late) is that I’m not changing the name of the site, I’m just adding a category for my dishes that contain meat. Henceforth you shall find any non-vegetarian dishes under the category of ZEEGAN. Aside from that, things really haven’t changed that much. I still love vegetables and Williams-Sonoma. I still love to cook and to write about cooking. And I still want to share with you, my very favorite blog readers, because sharing makes me happy and gives me something to do.

Let me know your thoughts – give me a comment or send me a personal email if you prefer. And thanks for staying with me.

PS. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system I promise I will return to our regular programming.

PPS. For those of you who were reading this in expectation of a clover or beef recipe, apologies, I was just trying to be clever.

*Yes, as a matter of fact, I do usually does respond in rhyming meter when conversing with myself.

The Artist Formerly Known as Vegan Sonoma

Friends, family, beloved blog audience … You may have noticed it’s been quite a while since my last post. You may have wondered – was I just busy? Had I fallen off the blog wagon? Was I going through a period of writer’s block? Was I going through a period of chef’s block? As the silence continued, you may have felt a bit abandoned. You may have wondered how I could be so cold. I am so sorry to have put you through that. Sadly, however, I am afraid that some of you, when you learn the real reason for my distance, may feel even more betrayed. But I have to come clean. I can’t live a lie. It’s time you know the real reason I haven’t posted any new recipes, vegan, vegetarian, or otherwise.

Deep breath …

After I’m not even sure how many years of being vegetarian (and more recently, mostly vegan), J and I have made a huge and shocking lifestyle change. We have decided to include meat and animal products in our diet. There was one very big, very important, very good reason that we made this choice, which I will explain forthwith.

Whew! Feels good to get that out.

There are so many things we both have to say about the whole thing, due to the risk of losing you through the course of what is shaping up to be a rather long post, I’ll state my agenda, and if there’s a topic of particular interest to you, please feel free to jump ahead:

The reason?

Short story: cardiovascular health.

Long story: Two years ago we learned that J – fit, vegetarian, active, moderate J – had insanely high blood pressure. At rest, it would regularly exceed 170/100, spiking as high as 180/110 with fair frequency. As a med-tech copywriter who spends a great quantity of time reading, researching and writing about the connections between various health disorders and cardiovascular disease, you don’t have to say “hypertension” twice to have me flipping out and sermonizing about the importance of keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level. In case you haven’t heard my spiel, I’m here to tell you not to mess around with high blood pressure – it’s a significant first step toward a host of serious issues that should not be taken lightly. I have a particular beef about the fact that its ubiquity has led our society to develop a collective apathy and blasĂ© attitude towards it. “You have high blood pressure? So do I, it’s no big deal.” Not cool, dude. You only get one heart and it has a lot of beats to perform over the course of your many long, happy years. You want that lifelong ultra-marathon of heartbeats to be an easy one, not an uphill battle. So if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, do something. Lose 5 lbs. Walk for 20 minutes every day. Eat more fiber and spinach and bananas and reduce your sodium intake. If you snore, get tested for sleep apnea – it’s a common cause. And if none of that works, take the bloody medication.

Or, if you’re vegan, try eating meat and cutting out carbs.Yep. I’ll explain.*

See, we know about every little thing under the sun you can do to lower your blood pressure without medication, in fact I could recite to you the average drops in mm HG associated with each diet or lifestyle change (e.g., daily exercise = 10+ point drop). We tried every last thing under the sun, and we were very dedicated, and nothing made a difference at all. But the thing is, J really didn’t want to take medication for the rest of his life. So we went about our lives, at slight loggerheads on occasion over our differing opinions on whether he should take medication or not, and over the past two years his blood pressure has stayed firmly planted in the red part of the chart, to both our great chagrin. Since I’m already rambling quite a bit, I won’t go off about how much anxiety, fear and frustration the situation has caused us both. Oh, and did I mention that J’s father died of a heart attack at age 60? Let’s just say the whole situation has been a source of major disquietude.

And then one day this summer, we met a guy who shared a phenomenal tale of losing more than 100 lbs in a very short period of time by adopting a high protein, low carb diet. Before even losing all the weight however, the diet immediately lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol and improved all the vitals that correspond to heart health. We were stunned and impressed. Not so much that we thought we should try it ourselves. Just impressed.

But then we kept thinking about it. And we started thinking about what our diet consisted of. And we started evaluating more critically the ratio of protein to carbs we were getting. And it became increasingly apparent that our diet was imbalanced. And we learned a lot of other things that I won’t bore you with, but all added together amounted to a compelling argument for considering eating meat. So, we took a deep breath and decided to give it a chance.

Results? Next blood pressure reading – 125/85

Within just 3 days, J’s next blood pressure reading was 125/85. Not only RADICALLY lower, but within a completely normal, healthy range. Since then, we’ve measured it regularly and it’s fluctuated and gone up sometimes, but the systolic has averaged towards 140 and the diastolic has stayed under 100. For those not familiar with blood pressure woes, these are significant improvements. Like, kind of unbelievable.

I’m not even going to speculate about why it worked – actually, I am, I think that protein deficiency may have lowered his red blood cell count which can cause high blood pressure – but whatever the case, it did. So. That was that. And now we’re omnivores.

Omnivores? Weird

Needless to say, it is very strange to be living with this new diet. After being vegetarian for most of my adult life, it’s a total identity crisis. Buying meat at the grocery store is such a foreign experience, it’s so surreal. And as I go about my culinary tasks, picking recipes, making grocery lists, choosing to make something that calls for butter and chicken, I feel like I’m doing something totally decadent and illicit, like playing hookie or drinking mimosas at brunch – like I just decided to relax, blow off the rules and let everything go. But I guess that’s kind of exactly what is happening.

Except we’re not blowing off the rules. We just have new rules. So I guess it’s kind of like moving from one culture to another, and now what once was taboo is standard, and what once was standard (in our case, grains) is now taboo. Very bizarre experience. Not without its good points, but there have been some ….

Unexpected consequences

Hey, remember me, the author and chef behind Vegan Sonoma? I think I was a fairly decent chef, if I may say so myself, and my beloved partner J was certainly very talented in the kitchen. How’d we get there? Oh, years of practice. Guess how many years of practice we have cooking meat between the two of us? Zero. So my sabbatical from the blog has been about more than just trying to figure out how to rename and re-purpose it, it’s been about the fact that I haven’t felt like I had any cooking expertise to share with anyone in the realm of the recipes I’ve been making lately. If you want to know how to get more flavor out of your mushrooms, I’m your lady. If you need advice on how to do the most basic thing with the most pedestrian cut of meat, I am going to slip quietly out the back door and go cry beside the barbecue. I have no idea what I’m doing. So what does that mean for my blog? Great question, one that I will answer momentarily, right after I complain about the biggest problem I’ve had …

Cooking meat makes my kitchen stink!

Mind you, I was never one of the vegetarians who gag at the smell of animal flesh. I grew up in Kansas, a land of smokehouses and outdoor grills a’plenty. These things don’t bother me. The once-pleasant aroma of chicken I baked three days ago loitering in my kitchen, however … it gives me a mini-barf every time I smell it. We’ve tried everything – opening windows and doors, burning candles, taking out the trash immediately, scrubbing the kitchen and the sink and everything else immediately – all for naught. What do I need to do, hose the place down with chlorox? JEEZ. I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts on how to combat that problem.

Meanwhile, what’s next for VS?

From the people we’ve come out to already about the meat-eating, one of the first questions has been, “Uh-oh, what about your vegan recipe blog?” And my response has been basically, “Umm, yeeeeeeaaaaaah … first I have to get over my own shock about eating meat, then I need to come out as a meat eater to my readers, then I will probably eventually start posting recipes again when I have something worthy of sharing, but first I need a new name, because I can’t live a double life.” So, here we are. Except I still don’t have a new name. Working on that. Ideas welcome.

As for you, my beloved readers … I know that you are a diverse mix of vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and omnivores. Some of you will be happy about our lifestyle change (several of our friends have hugged us when they heard the news), some of you will not have an opinion one way or another, and some of you may be disappointed. For the latter category, all I can say is that we made the choice based on what we believe is best for J’s health, because that is more important to us than being vegan or vegetarian. We still believe in being conscientious about one’s diet choices, not just for our own health but that of the environment and economy. We will still strive to use the most natural, humanely farmed, local, and seasonally appropriate ingredients as we can, and we will continue to share our experience as we go about our lives in pursuit of delicious food.

*Please remember that J’s results are not typical. This post is not intended as medical advice or dietary guidance. You should always consult your doctor before making significant diet changes.