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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book or books that contribute to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we review two books that help you journey through a transition to a healthy vegan diet.

Click here for review of Unprocessed

Vegan Bite-by-Bite

By Marilyn Peterson

Three Ton Tomato Press, 2011
Paper $24.95

Telling people their health and happiness will greatly improve when they give up their favorite meat and dairy foods and, instead, adopt a plant-based diet may seem unimaginable to them. This change in lifestyle can be a positive, can-do, gentle process, according to author Marilyn Peterson, who uses her book Vegan Bite-by-Bite to guide readers through the transition.

Marilyn gets it. Because she truly understands the overwhelming concept of making such a life-altering dietary change, she focuses on turning that transition into an uplifting experience that affects both physical health and mental outlook. She explains the many reasons people adopt a vegan diet and covers the multitude of health benefits that result, especially a lightness of body.

Using quotations, a fable, a discussion of karma, and a letter quoted from The Providence Journal, this author devotes a whole chapter to karma. Asked by the author to explain his understanding of karma and eating animals, Dr. Tony Page replies, "Karma is the spiritual law of justice that makes us experience the good and the bad effects of what we do to others … " The gradual dietary change to plant-based foods may also bring awareness of the ethical aspects of our food choices.

Bite-by-Bite Because the vegan diet is so cleansing to the body, Marilyn sees no need for special cleansing efforts and emphasizes the importance of drinking plenty of water. What to Stash and What to Trash and Food is a Meal in Itself are complete guides for what items to eliminate and what ingredients to "repantry" or stock in your pantry. Included is an extensive, detailed shopping guide that explains substitutes for foods eliminated and covers kitchen appliances helpful in vegan food preparation. Six weeks of suggested menus help to ease the transition and allow for substitutions and plenty of creative input.

Because raw foods are the centerpiece of the book, the recipe section begins with a banquet of delectable salads featuring simple, yet wholesome mostly raw combinations of leafy greens with a colorful array of chopped, shredded, and sliced veggie add-ins.

Delicious soups like Cream of Spinach and Spicy Beet Borscht with Cashew Sour Cream feature wholesome raw ingredients, while flavor-packed hot soups like Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup are well represented. Sandwiches and Wraps will be heartily embraced by those with little time to fuss in the kitchen but who want to eat healthfully.

Readers will treasure the hearty Entrees section with its vast array of irresistible recipes like Neatballs that can double as falafel tucked into pita or served as "meatballs" with pasta and Marilyn's homemade Mushroom Marinara Sauce. The temptations are many and include Seitan Stew, Shish Kebab, and Tempeh Stroganoff, a creamy vegan version of the long-standing classic dish the author suggests serving over quinoa, brown rice, or noodles.

Eating well is easy with so many recipes to choose for side dishes, smoothies, sauces, salad dressings, party dips, patés, and spreads. The finishing touch to the recipe section presents a host of delectable dessert recipes. Chocolate fanciers can bathe their taste buds luxuriously with treats like Chocolate Mint Mousse, Chocolate Orange Cranberry Cheesecake, or hubby's favorite Chocolate Pudding enriched with cacao nibs, cashews, and coconut oil and laced with 2 pinches of cinnamon. Those who stray from the chocolate scene might prefer a generous slice of Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake.

Marilyn Peterson Each of the recipes opens with a head note that offers serving, storing, and prep suggestions and is accompanied with end notes that provide informative tidbits about ingredients, kitchen hints, or additional serving tips. Many of the recipes are accompanied with sidebars packed with enlightening nutritional quotations.

One might think the dessert section is the end of the book, but a surprise is in store. Marilyn's desire is to pass on what she's learned on her vegan journey to help people make the transition with ease. Sharing transcripts of interviews with health professionals, authors, and teachers, Marilyn makes a convincing case for this change. Readers glimpse the vegan path traveled by medical professionals like Doctors Caldwell Esselstyn, Ellie Bloomfield, Joel Fuhrman, John McDougall, Michael Greger, and Pam Popper, ND. Non-medical interviews include well-known authors like Howard Lyman and Will Tuttle.

An extensive author biography follows along with suggested reading, a broad-scope reference section, and an invaluable index. The book is graphically attractive with black and white illustrations, cartoons, charts, and photos. Framing each of the recipes is an appealing shaded illustration of beautifully drawn tomatoes and carrots.

Vegan Bite-by-Bite is a gem of a book that's not only heaping with solid nutritional information, irresistible recipes, clearly written instructions, and fascinating interviews, the volume also seeks to nurture the inner soul by gently introducing the concept of karma. This compendium has wide appeal for newbies as well as long-time vegans who will enjoy reading and discovering how others made the transition.

How to Achieve Vibrant Health
and Your Ideal Weight

By Chef AJ with Glen Merzer

Hail to the Kale Publishing, 2011
Paper $19.95

Abbie Jaye, known more familiarly as Chef AJ to friends, family, students, and colleagues, was not always the dynamic health advocate she is today. Her road to health was long and agonizing, but enlightenment through learning brought her from physical and mental misery to the beaming, exuberant, and exceptional person she is today.

Often great lessons are learned through extreme pain, strife, and challenge. For many years Chef AJ could have been considered the poster child for the worst of today's processed food manufacturers. If it was junk food and sweet, she ate it and paid the price. After studying, reading, and personally experiencing the benefits of raw, unprocessed foods, she became not only a devotee but also a champion of this style of eating.

Unparocessed Now she focuses her life on teaching others, through cooking classes and demonstrations, how much healthier they can become and how much better they will feel by turning away from foods made in factories. She endorses a vegan diet of whole, natural, raw and cooked foods that have all their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals intact.

UNPROCESSED is Chef AJ's emphatic mantra. Having learned from her mentors, physicians like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Colin Campbell, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, she spreads the message to avoid salt, sugar, and oils. Working as a pastry chef, she now uses only dates to sweeten her desserts, while oils are absent from her pantry.

Passionate about the fresh foods she advocates, Chef AJ dismisses the many excuses people make for not improving their diets. In frank, no nonsense, get-tough conversational language, she let's no one off the hook, accepts no excuse. Instead, she urges people to make a start toward healthier eating habits, even a small start rather than no start. She quotes Yoda, an admired Star Wars character, "Do or do not do. There is no try."

Readers will learn that processed foods and animal products have many things in common. Of major importance is a lack of fiber necessary for good digestion, elimination, and stable blood sugar. Both lack water and nutrients like phytochemicals and antioxidants, and both are highly caloric.

To start the journey to health, Chef AJ suggests giving unprocessed foods a thirty-day trial. She knows that once people begin to realize high energy and excellent health, they will no longer crave processed foods. Chapter Five takes readers along on a how-to journey to the market with shopping tips through the produce department, frozen food aisle, and the bulk bin section.

"When you are eating exclusively fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, starchy vegetables and no more than one or two ounces of nuts or seeds every day, there is no need for counting calories or weighing or measuring your food," emphasizes the author. Because people naturally gravitate to desserts and Chef AJ is a pastry chef, she begins the recipe section with decadent treats like the all-raw Banana Strawberry Mousse Tart made with a crust of cashews, coconut, and dates. The surprise filling ingredients include avocados, cacao powder, dates, vanilla, bananas, and strawberries.

Other delectable desserts include Caramel Apples perfect for Halloween treats, Cherry Cobbler, and Chocolate Fundue, a tantalizing sauce perfect for dipping whole, unprocessed chunks or slices of fresh fruits.

Using no salt, sugar, or oils, this talented chef teases rich flavor into irresistible appetizers like Holy Moly Bean Dip, CarriBEAN Mango Salsa, and Kale or Spinach Dip that also doubles as the filling in a dynamite entrée she calls Chef AJ's Disappearing Lasagna.

Chef AJ Because smoothies are an excellent way to boost nutrients in the diet, the Beverage section features eleven of them, including a recipe for Almond Milk used in many of the smoothies. Who could resist an Apple Pie Smoothie that "Tastes like Apple Pie in a glass"? Introducing raw kale into a smoothie are The Incredible Hulk and It's Easy Being Green Smoothie, both laced with fresh fruits that add delicious palatability.

Temptations in the Enticing Entrees section include Not So Sloppy Joes, Portabella Mushroom Stroganoff, and Hearty Lentil Loaf, a soy and bread-crumb-free dish consisting of lentils, carrots, onions, garlic, walnuts, oats, parsley, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Rounding out the recipes are tasty Salads and Dressings, Savory Soups, and Sensational Sides. Closing the recipe section are Truffles, a host of easy to prepare sweet morsels, many which were contributed by winners of Chef AJ's Ball-Off Contests.

The extensive Resources section is an excellent guide directing newcomers to Recommended Reading, DVD's, Healing Centers, Raw Restaurants, Vegan Restaurants, Vegan Friendly Restaurants, and Websites.

Unprocessed is much more than a unique cookbook. Readers will not find brightly colored photos, hand-drawn illustrations, or fancy graphic layout. They won't even find an index to the recipes. But the pages of this volume WILL awaken readers to the harmful effects of the typical, nutrient-poor American diet based on processed foods and animal products. Chef AJ delivers a powerful message in down-to-earth rustic-speak as she inspires a new path toward feasting on UNPROCESSED foods to achieve truly vibrant health. She knows. She's done it.

Click here for past book reviews

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