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Our Hen House Interview & Steamed Veggie Bowl

Posted Jan 04 2013 11:48am

Good morning and I hope the first week of 2013 treated you well! Today’s blog post is a little different in that I’m presenting a written interview I did with the creators of the vegan online magazine, Our Hen House  (OHH), Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan . You may recall that these two ladies visited me a couple of weeks ago and interviewed Alan and me for their podcast . In this exchange, I got to turn the tables and ask them a few questions, particularly about their experience with following a healthy, vegan lifestyle. I especially enjoyed their comments about how to eat healthfully on the road and what a typical day’s worth of food looks like for them. At the end of the interview, you’ll get the chance to win one of the awesome OHH tote bags that I use all the time, plus see a meal that was inspired by them.

***

Our Hen House logo

Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan are two of my favorite people; they are the creators of the weekly podcast and online magazine, Our Hen House , and they’re both incredibly smart, motivated and talented. I look forward to their spirited repartee each week as well as the informative input from the vegan and animal rights influencers they interview.

Carrie: Hello Jasmin and Mariann and thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview!  Both of you are such role models for me and the work you do with Our Hen House has been strongly influential in my growth as a vegan and animal rights activist. Let’s start off this interview by having you tell the Carrie on Vegan readers a little about the history of Our Hen House and what inspired you to start it?

Jasmin and Mariann: Thank you so much, Carrie. We are so lucky to have gotten to know you, and are extremely lucky that you write for Our Hen House! The insight you offer is refreshing and honest, and you’re such a rich addition to the animal rights movement. In addition to that, we’re so happy to call you our friend.

But enough sap! Thanks for asking us about Our Hen House! We’re thrilled that it resonates with you. Actually, that’s a good way of answering your question regarding what inspired us to start Our Hen House. The short answer is that we were deeply passionate about providing a positive and accessible forum where we could shed light on ideas and opportunities for anyone to change the world for animals. So we’re elated it jives with you, and it’s our hope is that something about Our Hen House resonates with everybody who cares about animals.

We need to create a mass movement to end the exploitation of animals, and in order do that, we each have got to get involved in our own way, with our own flavor. That can mean anything from getting involved with advocating by way of media, law, grassroots, the arts, humane education, you name it. And similarly, you yourself might feel most inspired or empowered by audio podcasts, videos, in-depth articles, short blog entries, or in-person workshop. We’ve got all of that. The success of Our Hen House lies in you creating your own formula that will allow you to get excited about creating change for animals.

As for the history of OHH, we started almost three years ago exactly, after years of working in the field of animal rights. We feel a question that we should each constantly ask ourselves is, “What can I do in my life to create the most impact for animals?” It’s a question we should each repeatedly reassess. For us, we wanted to go in the direction of creating indie media, and so OHH was born – first as a blog and a podcast, and now we have also expanded into an online magazine. It’s incredibly exciting, and the success is a direct reflection of peoples’ thirst to get directly involved.

Carrie: In case readers aren’t aware of the recent release of your online magazine, can you tell us what that is all about?

Jasmin and Mariann: Yes! As we just touched on, we recently expanded Our Hen House to an online magazine, allowing us the amazing opportunity to bring in even more writers, reviewers, columnists, thinkers, doers, activists, vegan foodies, and all around wonderful people. Since it started, Our Hen House has been a multimedia hub of ideas and opportunities to change the world for animals. We started as just a blog and podcast, soon becoming a nonprofit. The blog and podcast are still going strong, but the new components allow us to reach more people, shed light on new ideas to help animals, and offer various perspectives, so that everyone can identify with one aspect of Our Hen House or another.

We also have incorporated a new “This Animal On This Day” section, where readers can upload a photo of an individual animal (be it their companion animal, a wild animal, an animal in captivity, etc.), along with a sentence about the animal, to be featured on our homepage. And there’s a new breaking news ticker, where we update our readers on current events from the world of animal rights. We also are posting way more videos, vlog-style. Though some of these are available to everyone, other of our videos have been for our “flock” only, which is a core group of committed supporters and animal advocates who are given access to exclusive content, contests, incentives, and other giveaways. Our flock helps Our Hen House stay afloat, since we are indeed reader and listener supported, and we encourage people who dig the content and tools we produce to keep indie media alive and support our efforts to change the world for animals. For those who might just be discovering Our Hen House, we hope you’ll browse around the 1500+ pieces we have available to everyone!

Our M.O. is to be indefatigably positive. There’s so much to be sad and angry about, but there’s also so many positive, accessible, fulfilling ways we can each get involved with changing the world for animals in a way that works for each of us in our own particular life.

Carrie: One of the reasons we have become good friends in person as well as online is that we have a shared respect for Dr. Fuhrman and the Eat to Live (ETL) program. Can either one or both of you talk about your history with food and health? I realize that’s a huge question, but I am specifically interested in knowing how you came to adopt a “nutritarian” diet which really focuses on eating whole, plant-based foods?

Jasmin: Happily! As you know, given our regular texts to one another about things like kale, and black bean brownies (does one need anything else in life?), we are indeed just as passionate as you are about being “Fuhrman-ites.” In so many ways, the ETL diet changed – perhaps saved – my life. To date, I have lost about 100 pounds following a nutritarian diet, a feat which landed me on The Dr. Oz Show a few months ago, with “the Fuhrmanator” himself.

My history with food is a sordid one, which is true for so many of us. I was always chubby. This is something that in and of itself might not be problematic, but by the time I was 30 and weighed 221 pounds, my doctor told me that my triglycerides were extremely high, and I found myself on my way to heart disease. I was already a long-time vegan by then. I have always been vegan for animal rights reasons, and I remain vegan for them. In truth, if veganism were the most unhealthy thing on the planet, I’d still be vegan. But luckily, a healthy vegan diet can in fact be the best thing for our own health, creating what Mariann likes to call the natural and beautiful synergy to be found in the fact that what’s best for us is best for the planet is best for the people of the world is, indeed, best for animals.

That visit to my doctor was a wake-up call to me. I knew I needed to do something radical in order to get my health back on track. I was also feeling fatigued all the time, not to mention depressed, anxious (in truth, I still deal with anxiety sometimes), and my eating was driven by irresistible cravings and addictions. I also drank caffeine over a dozen times a day (no exaggeration!), and doused my food in a ton of oil before even thinking about consuming it. Though I think it’s possible for some people who are hefty to be healthy too, I was not so lucky, and my life began to feel out of control. That summer, I was visiting my friends and comrades over at VegNews Magazine – where I’ve been a contributing writer for many years. They loaned me a review copy of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, a documentary focusing on one man’s journey to saving his life through the power of green juice fasts. Mariann and I planned our first 10-day juice fast, set to begin on September 1, 2010. I lost 11 pounds during those 10 days, and instantly began to feel lighter and more energized. We planned another juice fast for the following month, but decided that in between we’d consume only whole foods, which led us (back) to Dr. Fuhrman and ETL. We’d each dappled in his style of eating in our pasts, but we had drifted away.

My own history of food consumption, from back when I was a kid, involved a whole slew of disordered eating, and it wasn’t until I re-discovered ETL as a 30-year-old, combined with monthly juice fasts (10 days every two months, 3 days on the alternate months), that my disordered eating was cured – actually and literally cured. Nowadays, I follow ETL about 90% of the time, and the other 10% I am mindful and conscious about the foods I consume, and I no longer feel the need to over-indulge. I never feel deprived, and – largely because of your blog, Carrie – I feel like I’ve become a pretty fantastic cook. I also took up running about a year and a half ago, and a few months ago, I ran my first half-marathon.

This is, of course, the very short version of my story. As you also know, I’m hoping to share my (not-so-short) story as a book. When it comes to eating, and the way society treats people differently depending upon what they weigh (I’m a perfect example of this), I will talk your ear off. In short, there is absolutely nothing greater than putting healthy, wholesome, plant-based foods into our bodies in order to fuel them, since they are make up the most compassionate cuisine imaginable – and are wildly tasty, too!

Mariann: Like so many people, I have always struggled with food. Going vegan was a wonderful new world for me, but, like Jasmin, it did not end my struggles with food. It just lifted one hideous food-related weight from my shoulders – the knowledge that I was harming animals. But I still ate lots of things that made me feel less than optimal, I still struggled with my weight – which never seemed to be where I wanted it to be — and I still had lots of addictive relationships with particular foods.

One of my issues was that I have always had (and still do have) an enormous appetite – portion control has never been a satisfying solution for me for my issues with food. I also tend to gain weight pretty easily. Once I stumbled upon Dr. Fuhrman, I found out that none of my “food issues” had to continue, and I could eat as much as I wanted as long as I ate optimally healthy things. The first results were that I was able to keep my weight at a place that felt right for me, and I was able, to a large extent, to control the cravings I would get from eating foods like sugar and white flour. Those things were an amazing breakthrough for me, and made my life so much easier. I had a sense of control – not absolute control, but more than I’d ever had before. Now that I’ve been following Dr. Fuhrman (again, more or less) for a number of years, an even greater benefit has come to pass. I feel so much healthier, and I honestly feel I get sick so much less. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt that dreaded nascent soreness at the back of my throat and thought, with absolute certainty, “Oh, no, the next two weeks are going to be ruined by a cold,” only to wake up the next morning feeling better, instead of worse. Once you truly pack your body with the nutrients found in vegetables and fruits for a long period of time, you can really start to experience amazing improvements in your immune system. Even our recent tattoos healed so fast it seemed impossible to those in the know! I’m not saying that a super-healthy diet is a miracle cure for everything – there’s no such thing. But I do feel it’s a way of taking your best shot at being as healthy and strong as you can be.

Carrie: I know that both of you travel a lot and, most recently, made not one but two cross-country road trips. How the heck did you manage to not only eat vegan on your journey, but how did you stay healthy?

Jasmin and Mariann: We’ve developed lots of tricks for staying healthy on the road. One is our handy-dandy Tri-Best travel blender, which we use almost every morning to make a smoothie (usually using the free fruit from the motel breakfast buffet!). One of our favorite go-to meals is tofu and broccoli at a local Chinese restaurant, one of which can be found in virtually every town in America, no matter how tiny. We just get it steamed, without sauce, and, yes, we are the people who carry nutritional yeast with us to jazz it up (along with the occasional addition of a touch of hot Chinese mustard). Other easy-peasy food items to prepare in a motel room microwave, which you can get at virtually any supermarket, include sweet potatoes (we like them with salsa), frozen edamame, popcorn, or even warmed up frozen fruit. One of our favorite chain restaurants (which so far we have found only in Texas) is Souper Salad. For less than $8, we got a staggeringly large and delicious salad full of fresh greens and vegetables. There is a lot of junk food offered there as well, but if you choose wisely, you can eat an incredibly healthy and delicious meal.

In fact, staying healthy on the road has turned out not to be a problem at all. As we like to say, every supermarket in the country has a huge vegan section – it’s called produce. The only real problem in staying healthy is the temptation of so much delicious, decadent vegan food to be increasingly found across the country. And, of course, we indulge from time to time, and sometimes even then we can make an otherwise indulgent meal a bit less so, by ordering the healthier option, or asking for things to be steamed instead of sautéed, or leaving the dressing off salads (again, break out the nooch!).

Carrie: What is a more typical day’s worth of food for you when you are cooking at home? Do you have any favorite Dr. Fuhrman recipes?

Jasmin and Mariann: We start off nearly every morning with an extremely hearty, healthy, green smoothie. The ingredients can include any combination of greens (kale is obviously our go-to), frozen veggies, frozen fruit (particularly berries), and possibly a high-quality protein powder (we fancy Vega, Sunspire, and Plant Fusion), a fat such as nut butter or perhaps some kind of seed, an add-on like ginger, unsweetened cocoa powder, or goji berries, and possibly a splash of some kind of non-dairy milk. Our ritual morning hot drink is cocoa powder mixed with hot water (we don’t use any sweetener or any kind of non-dairy milk).

When it comes to recipes, we’re not keen on following them most of the time – at least not to a T. We enjoy blogs such as yours because you provide inspiration and ideas for things like smoothies and salads, but we feel that good recipes such as yours are those which allow room for interpretation.

For lunch, we might make a huge portion of steamed greens, top it off with beans or steamed tofu, and drizzle on some tahini and nutritional yeast. Or sometimes we’ll have a massive salad full of a little bit of everything – seeds, nuts, apples, mushrooms, onions, raisins, you name it. We frequently culminate our lunch with fruit, fresh or frozen. We love taking frozen cherries, blending them up in the Vitamix, and creating a delicious and healthful “ice cream.” Dinner is likely a variation of what we suggested for lunch, though we might include a root vegetable (like sweet potatoes) or a grain (quinoa being our favorite – which, true, is actually a seed and not a grain). Throughout the day, if we get hungry, we’ll have some fruit or perhaps munch on sugar snap peas, which are extremely satisfying to eat thanks to their unsurpassable crunch-factor. We also love edamame. Make food fun to eat and we’re immediate fans. And we’ve never met a kale salad we didn’t like.

As for Fuhrman’s recipes, we are devotees of the black bean brownie recipe he featured in his book, Super Immunity – or slight variations of it. We also enjoy his Anti-Cancer soup, when we have the wherewithal to do all those dishes. But honestly, more frequently than not, we’re drawn to your recipes, Carrie, since we appreciate the commentary you add, and we think you’re a pretty phenomenal cook. You say it how it is, and it leaves us inspired and hungry.

Carrie: Thank you so much for the incredible work that you do and for taking the time to do this interview. Big hugs to both of you!!!

Jasmin and Mariann: It was honestly our pleasure. Thank you, Carrie! Your blog has been a rock for us, providing us with endless ideas and inspiration. Keep it up! Tummies all over the world need you!

***

What a cool interview, right? I have read through it several times already and picked up new pieces of information from these two. In addition, Jasmin and Mariann have offered to do a giveaway for one of their tote bags to one of you lucky readers. Alan and I own one and we use it whenever we travel because it’s so roomy and cute (Alan probably doesn’t care about the cute part but that doesn’t stop him from piling his stuff in it):

Rocking the OHH tote bag.

To enter to win, simply leave a comment on this post with the name or species of an animal that you love, whether it be your family dog or cat or your fascination with dolphins and elephants (two of my faves). I’ll randomly select a winner next Wednesday, January 9th. U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!!!

As I mentioned, I loved the input from Jasmin and Mariann about tips to eat healthfully when traveling because that is my biggest challenge. In particular, ordering steamed vegetables and tofu from a Chinese restaurant is brilliant. I can’t believe that I’ve never tried making this combination at home before so last night I gave it a go.

My pressure cooker came with a steamer basket so that’s what I used to get started. I just put about an inch of water in the bottom of the pot with the basket on top:

Pot with steamer basket.

I gathered these ingredients which included extra-firm tofu (blotted dry with a paper towel), mushrooms, green onions, chopped bok choy and broccoli:

Ingredients for Steamed Veggie & Tofu Bowl.

I put the broccoli on the bottom of the steamer basket because I figured that would take the longest to cook and then I piled on the mushrooms and tofu:

Broccoli, mushrooms and tofu.

The chopped bok choy went on the very top:

Vegetables ready to be steamed.

At this point, I put the pot on the stove, put on the lid (not the pressure cooker lid, just a regular one), and turned the heat up to high. Once I could hear the water boiling, I turned the heat down to low and let the vegetables steam for about five minutes. It looked like this when it was done:

Steamed veggies and tofu.

I made a super simple sauce of almond butter stirred with some low-sodium tamari and brown rice vinegar (a more formal sauce can be found here ). I served it with a little of the sauce, the chopped green onion and some sesame seeds to make it look pretty:

Steamed Veggie & Tofu Bowl

Delicious!!! The vegetables were cooked perfectly but still crunchy and the sauce tied it all together. If I were on the road, I would probably just use some low-sodium soy sauce and chopped nuts from my purse if I didn’t have access to almond butter.

Some other inspiration for healthy meals this week came from our recipe link-up party, Healthy Vegan Fridays . Last week’s most popular submissions were these:

1. Raw Pecan Pie Bars from Sweet & Healthy Living :

Raw Pecan Pie Bars from Sweet & Healthy Living

2. Garlicky and Lemony Black-Eyed Pea and Kale Salad from the taste space :

Garlicky and Lemony Black-Eyed Pea and Kale Salad from the taste space

3. Crispy Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms from VeggieGirl :

http://www.veggiegirl.com/2012/12/27/crispy-gnocchi-with-brussels-sprouts-mushrooms/

Add your whole food recipe below and I’ll see you back here on Monday. Have a great weekend!



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