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Five Holiday Self-Care Tips for People with Special Dietary Needs

As someone who is gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian, have you ever been invited to a festive occasion where the table was laden with food—yet you went home hungry because there was nothing you could eat?

I have!

With this in mind, I am now giving you permission to speak up about your special dietary needs—something that can be especially challenging to do during the holidays.

This is the opposite of the “good manners” I learned from my mother, who bade me always to eat whatever was put before me. Despite my traditional upbringing, I’ve come to understand that those of us who have made dietary choices for reasons of health or ethics should not have to wait for our host to intuit or inquire about our needs. We received an invitation to dinner because our good company was being sought and, since we are clearly loved, we should feel free to speak up!

Here are some practical tips to help you avoid suffering and sustain vibrant health during the holidays, while you enjoy yourself … deliciously:

1. Start by making a commitment to yourself. Be fastidious about avoiding foods that make you sick. If you’re gluten intolerant, dairy intolerant, allergic to nuts, or fill-in-the-blank intolerant, quietly eating what’s before you is not worth the price you’ll pay. Case in point: I was 100 percent gluten-free for three years when, dining out with some friends, I decided to eat eggplant parmesan served over spaghetti. The eggplant had been dredged in wheat flour, and I also ate a few bites of the pasta. Guess what? I had indigestion and a recurrence of joint pain for the next six weeks. That’s six weeks! My advice: if you want to splurge, make sure it’s something that won’t do you in—like, maybe, a gluten-free dessert!

2. Bring up your special dietary needs to your host. Few people outside the special needs group are aware of the short- and long-term consequences of eating foods that trigger an inflammatory response. You don’t need to feel embarrassed or hide your requirements that protect your health. It’s really OK when you respond to an invitation to let your host know you will get sick if you eat certain foods. I’ve had to do this time and again, going to out-of-town weddings, bar mitzvahs, and every kind of potluck, or I would have needed to leave the event to get food. My hosts have always responded graciously.

3. Be a generous potluck participant. When you RSVP and ask for special consideration, also offer to take a couple of delectable dishes for everyone to enjoy. That way, you’ll ensure you don’t go away hungry. You’ll also showcase some of your favorite foods, which could expand others’ food horizons. They may even become more supportive of your needs at the next event. This has been my happy experience.

4. Host the holiday dinner yourself—if not this year, then next. In this way you can state your intention about the food parameters and model polite inclusion: “We’d love to have you join us for a joyful holiday potluck, and we’d be so grateful if you would avoid cooking with the following foods. Please let us know if you have additional dietary needs.” Cook an entrée and a couple of sides that showcase some of your favorite holiday dishes. Let the meal send the message that food can easily be delicious and healthy!

5. If you can bear it, be flexible! Some years my husband and I host a Thanksgiving meal with a long-standing dinner group. While my husband and I don’t eat turkey, I’m not offended that my friends bring a cooked bird to the house. I make some tofu for Tom and me and my now-famous holiday sides. I was an omnivore for much of my life, and I’m not trying to impose my current food choices on anyone. Over time, however, it’s clear that I’ve influenced my close friends, who now think about us when cooking! They’re also eating more vegetarian and vegan meals themselves. It goes to show that being tolerant and accepting is much more influential than condemning others’ choices.

Wishing you vibrant health and delicious memories this holiday season!

 

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Thanksgiving Sides Your Guests Will Never Forget!

For vegetarians and vegans, Thanksgiving is all about the traditional mouth-watering side dishes, and of course, I’m all about making them as healthy as they are delicious!

Today I’ll point to all of my favorite holiday sides and introduce you to a new recipe: Reimagined Green Bean Casserole.

When I was young, in the ’50s and ’60s, cooking for convenience was all the rage, and there was no cornucopia of fresh vegetables readily available in grocery stores. I can’t fault my mother for her frozen spinach with canned mushroom soup—though just the thought of it now makes me cringe! Even then, I had no taste for such food. I learned to love vegetables only when I began cooking with my college roommate, Ellen Brock, who grew up picking fresh veggies out of her mother’s garden.

But there was nothing wrong with the idea behind my in-laws’ green bean casserole with canned mushroom soup and canned onion rings. The potential is there for a great dish. I invite you to expand your culinary imagination with this recipe.

This Reimagined Green Bean Casserole is a vegan and gluten-free dish made with fresh ingredients: green beans, caramelized onions, fresh almond milk (if available), fresh ginger, and shiitake mushrooms

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All Things Pumpkin 2019

This October Pumpkin Spice Cookie recipe reflects my most recent experimentation with gluten-free baking. I’m happy to say the experiment turned out well—though I regret it was in response to my newest food sensitivity!

 

Sadly, I seem to have developed an intolerance to nuts, including almond flour. Eating nuts or baked goods with almond flour make me itch. From an Ayurvedic perspective, it makes sense: nuts increase pitta, and high pitta can cause itching. Since nuts are also a common allergen and cause of food intolerance, I decided to explore baking with another high-protein flour for my growing readership.

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Blending Cultures for the Jewish New Year!

Today I offer you a must-try recipe for Sweet Mung Pancakes with Stewed Apples. This dish blends ideas from the two cultures I know best: Eastern European Jewish traditions and the Vedic culture of India. How I came to embrace Vedic culture as a Jewish girl from the American south may well be the topic of a book one day, but for now, let’s focus on making something both delicious and healthy for the Jewish New Year!

As Jewish people throughout the world began celebrating Rosh Hashanah and the year 5780 at sundown on September 29th, we invoked the blessing of sweetness for the coming year by eating slices of raw apple dipped in honey. Many families will continue serving apples throughout this holy season, which culminates ten days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  In India—and wherever people with Indian roots have formed communities—the mung bean is recognized as one of the most important foods to grace their tables.

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The Last of the Summer Corn

If you enjoy sweet corn, I promise you’re going to love this new recipe for Vegan (or Vegetarian) Corn Chowder! Yes, I’m not quite done with corn yet, since local markets here in the Carolinas, and many parts of the country, are still featuring organic sweet corn on the cob.

 

This chowder is a perfect dish for these last hot days of summer because, like many summer soups, it’s lovely when served at room temperature, slightly chilled, or, if this is your preference, warmed just enough to take the chill off. However it’s served, this soup starts by being cooked, which honors the Ayurvedic preference of cooked foods over raw.

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Ahh…Sweet Corn!

“As American as apple pie” is the turn of phrase for most anything associated with U.S. culture, but really—if you’re counting by the pound—corn is king! For that reason, and because it’s summer when sweet corn is fresh in local farmers’ markets or ready to pick in your garden, I will offer an easy and delicious vegan corn dish.

 

I’m not talking about just any corn. I’m talking about sweet corn, the delicious corn you can eat on the cob and that, when it’s just been picked or is still reasonably fresh, almost melts in your mouth with natural sweetness.

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Quick Vegan Meals

Now that it’s officially summer, I’ve created a new trio of recipes for you, dear readers: each one easy to make and cooling—or at least balanced—from an Ayurvedic perspective. Because one thing’s for sure: summer invites us all (even working people) to have a little extra time to relax so we can enjoy the balmy breezes or stay cool despite 90-plus degrees as the sun goes down!

 

Vegan Cilantro Coconut Sauce: For starters, let’s begin with cilantro because it is the most cooling of the fresh herbs and serves as an excellent tonic for summer when blended into a sauce. I’ve combined it with coconut cream (or coconut milk, whatever you have available), which is equally cooling and perfect for hot weather.

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Stay Cool as a Cucumber!

With the summer solstice around the corner, it’s the perfect time to plan for how to stay hydrated and cooled down during the hot months ahead. An easy way to start is with cooling Cucumber Water.

 

According to Ayurveda, cucumbers are one of the most cooling foods. Of course, you might be one of the many people (especially those with vata problems) who have difficulty digesting cucumbers. In that case, the best approach is to sip cucumber water rather than eat the full vegetable—a way to get cucumber’s benefits without the burps! You may want to scrape out the seeds, which some say is the problem. You might also peel the cucumber—sometimes grocers wax their skins, which makes them even harder to digest.

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Best Veggie Burgers!

If you like a good veggie burger, I’m betting you’ll love this fresh Vegan Black Bean & Sweet Potato Patties recipe for Memorial Day festivities! It’s easy, it’s delicious (of course!) and it’s perfect for casual entertaining during these summer months.

I haven’t had a real hamburger in about thirty years, and I’ve never truly missed them. However, I do occasionally crave that classic American experience of biting into a bun with a mound of protein, mustard and ketchup! A freshly made veggie burger will more than suffice.

Today’s recipe was inspired by delicious burgers Tom and I ate at The Present Moment Café in St. Augustine, Florida during an anniversary weekend. The chef may not be familiar with Ayurvedic cuisine, but it was nonetheless brilliant to pair hard-to-digest black beans with soft and grounding sweet potatoes. I’ve added garlic powder, gluten-free asafetida, and cumin to aid digestion.

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Spring Side Dishes

As fresh organic asparagus come streaming into our Carolina markets during March and April, they often awaken my creativity, sparking a quest to develop a new recipe for these divine green spears. Today, let me introduce Asparagus with Leeks and Shiitake Mushrooms.

This is a simple dish of steamed asparagus with sautéed leeks and shiitakes. I added the shiitakes because they’re delicious—and also because they’re known to improve immunity.This year our pollen levels have hit record levels, and many people have succumbed to head colds because their immune systems were weakened by allergy season. So, in years to come, I’ll remind readers to pull out this recipe at the beginning of spring!

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