Thursday, January 01, 2009

This Crazy Vegan Life

HAPPY NEW YEAR crazy vegans! And to all nonvegan readers as well. I hope you enjoyed saying goodbye to 2008 and are looking forward to a healthy and happy 2009. I am looking forward to continuing to provide you with healthy vegan recipes this year, and I hope that you, like me, have resolved to commit or recommit to be the healthiest and best vegan crusader you can be.

I was contacted awhile back by a publishing rep and asked to review Christina Pirello’s new book, This Crazy Vegan Life. So this first post of the new year will contain my thoughts about her book, as well as several recipe reviews. (My compensation for this review was a copy of the book.)

I very much enjoyed reading This Crazy Vegan Life and I highly recommend it to practicing vegans, new vegans, and nonvegans. If you are not familiar with Christina, perhaps you are familiar with her PBS show and website, Christina Cooks. Christina was diagnosed with leukemia and given 3 months to live – 25 years ago. She attributes her health and healing to a vegan macrobiotic diet and lifestyle.

The first half of the book deals with the principles of veganism, including health and nutrition, animal compassion, and environmental issues. We vegans know that meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods are cruel to our bodies, animals, and the environment. But I learned a lot from the in depth descriptions of how and why this is so. For example, even though I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about vegan nutrition, I was fascinated to read about the process of digestion and the toll nonvegan foods take on our bodies. Christina’s goal is to arm you with all the information and personal testimony she has to get you to commit, with no more excuses, to living a healthy vegan lifestyle so you can feel great about your body and your lifestyle choices. As she stated in the introduction (and I feel her pain!), “As a teacher/advocate of healthy vegan cooking I agonize over the fact that many people listen to what I say and agree that it makes sense. But there is a huge disconnect between hearing, understanding – and doing.”

The book also gives plenty of emphasis to the “criminal” ways of our food industry. Advertisers, lobbyists, and researchers dupe the public into eating their junk foods in huge portions. Corporate manufacturers contaminate and genetically modify our foods while marketers tell us it’s helpful for our health and the world’s food supply.

In the second part of the book, Christina shares her philosophy about food and eating and provides a list of kitchen staples and over 100 vegan recipes. She tells you not only what to eat, but why, when, and how to eat. Two points she reiterates are (1) you truly are what you eat; and (2) it’s the calories that count; you must expend more calories than you consume in order to lose weight – period. She asks you to commit to her eating plan for 21 days to break your dependence on unhealthy foods and reintroduce your numbed tastebuds to the wonderful, delicate flavors of natural foods. She also says 21 days on her plan can turn around a lifetime of unhealthy habits. She includes a nice chapter of 12 exercises with photos to get you moving. One of my favorite passages from the book is “Take a good, hard look at what you ask of your body each and every day and then think about what you do for it in return.”

I will admit that I have tried some recipes from the Christina Cooks website and was disappointed with the lack of flavor, so I was skeptical about the recipes in this book. I made a main dish, side dish, and soup, and to my surprise I was absolutely thrilled with the outcome.

First up – Cauliflower in Spiced Tomato Sauce




I loved that I got to prepare a whole cauliflower again, and the tomato sauce was fabulous! To serve it, I cut it like pie.

Next, Roasted Winter Squash with Basil. I used an acorn squash and left the skin on. I normally don’t like my squash sweet, but this had just a teaspoon of sweetener and I loved it. It was really delicious.


The soup I made is what Christina calls a home remedy broth designed to dissolve hardened fat deposits that lie deep in your organs and jumpstart weight loss. I didn’t expect it to be noteworthy, so I didn’t take a picture. But this 5-ingredient remedy took mere minutes to prepare and honestly is one of the tastiest things I’ve ever had.

The last thing I made was a treat. Christina says her sweetener of choice is erythritol, and even though it sounds like a chemical, it is completely natural made from plant sugars. I was completely unfamiliar with this substance, and I’m not really sure how I feel about it. I bought a bag of Z Sweet. 300 grams, which I believe is 1-1/2 cups, for $8.00. There are 60 calories in the whole bag. Current research deems it completely safe as it is absorbed into the bloodstream and quickly excreted. It does not cause cavities. It does not raise blood sugar and is therefore safe for diabetics. It looks like this:




Apparently erythritol will make your baked goods grainy, so to overcome this, Christina’s recipes have you boil it with other ingredients to dissolve it before mixing it with your dry ingredients. Two problems I had with that – first, it’s an extra step and an extra pot to dirty, and second, you have to wait for the boiled mixture to cool before mixing it with your dry ingredients or else it melts your chocolate chips, as I discovered when adding them to the Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes recipe. (The recipe didn't call for the chips; I just wanted chocolate.)



I baked them in a disposable tin, so you are only seeing their tops. They really baked up beautifully and they were not overly sweet, just like I like them. The texture was fine and the flavor was nice. I have enough Z Sweet to try out a few more recipes. In the meantime, I would love to hear from any of you who have used this sweetener.

To sum up, I highly recommend This Crazy Vegan Life for great insight into the vegan lifestyle provided by an experienced, passionate, and healthy vegan author. I also recommend it for great recipes. I have many bookmarked that I can’t wait to try.

If you want to see Amazon’s review, read it here.
Now, since it is New Year’s Day and I adhere to the tradition of eating blackeyed peas for good luck, I made Chipotle Blackeyed Peas from Get It Ripe! to have for dinner tonight.




I’ve got a nice bunch of kale to serve with them, and I’m going to eat as many as I can for extra good luck in 2009! I'm such a crazy vegan....

42 comments:

ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

I love black-eyed-peas, so the fact that eating them brings good luck for the year is an added bonus :o)

Happy New Year, Diann!

VeggieGirl said...

HAPPY NEW YEAR, DIANN!!! Man oh man, you never disappoint with your phenomenal eats :-)

Andrea said...

Great review—very informative. Christina is indeed a character and I'm familiar with her show and Web site. The two recipes you chose look really good. Did you know that her husband, Bob, was diagnosed with severe osteoporosis which he reversed through diet and exercise. I haven't followed up on this lately, but I remember coming across it a number of years ago.

Happy New Year. I'm looking forward to your 2009 posts!

Lovliebutterfly said...

Very informative post. Thanks! Happy New Year to you!

Meg Wolff said...

Hi Diann,

When I first read the title of your post I thought, oh, same as Christina's book title. Then I read your review!! A terrific review that I bet she will love. Your photos are great as well.

Christina is a good friend of mine and I love all her books (if you don't have Glow ... it is a beauty book!). Reading your review reminded me how much I enjoyed reading her cookbooks, because off all the other interesting and useful information she includes. I have to order it now.

Happy New Year!

Meg Wolff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meg Wolff said...

p.s. Diann, I'm interested in the tradition of eating black-eyed peas for New Years for good luck. Is that a TX tradition? It sounds like a good one I may adopt!! Does eating them on January 2nd still count? Ha!

Gina said...

I use Z-sweet! It is expensive though, so I don't use it a lot. I prefer to just use natural beet sugar in most of my baked goods. I usually use Z-sweet to sweeten my tea. But I've also used it in stuff like salad dressings, to add just a touch of sweet.

I saw this book at Borders the other day...I think next time I'll have to take a closer look at it!

Gina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
miss v said...

thanks for the book suggestion... i'll give it a read!

happy 2009!

Bex said...

Happy New Year!
Thanks for the book review. I'm on the fence about this book but I'm going to have a closer look next time. I like cookbooks that give me something to read as well as to cook.

Ricki said...

Thanks for the review--sounds like an interesting book. I heard about Z sweet a while ago and did a bit of reading on it, then decided it wasn't for me (of course now I don't remember why--but anything produced in a lab is usually off my list). The food does look good, though! And I love the tradition of black eyed peas on New Year's. All the best in the new year! :)

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Interesting review. I feel like I'm always hearing about a new sweetener. The cauliflower looks good! I had my black eyed peas today too!

Vegetation said...

Happy New Years Diann, the food all looks fabulous! I love the look of the cauliflower dish.

jae said...

I had no idea that black-eyed peas brought luck in the new year, or I would have mentioned it in the recipe. Where does that tradition come from?
You know I have a blog too, yes? It's at domesticaffair.ca

Melody Polakow said...

That cauliflower/tomato dish looks to die for. Sounds like a good book. I'm a little wary of her cooking because she uses sooo much oil! (but obviously I can just cut back on it..)

Vegan_Noodle said...

Happy new year's to you!

We are crazy vegans, aren't we? What a great book review. The Z Sweet sounds interesting... but I agree that extra step would get old and I wouldn likely just start subbing regular vegan sugar.

I didn't eat my black eyed peas yesterday! I'm such a bad southerner. But I have some in my fridge to make tomorrow....

Jes said...

Another whole cauliflower! It looks delicious! Happy New Year--I hope the beans were good!

Bianca said...

I love that Christina Cooks show, so I'm glad to hear she has a book. Didn't know she had leukemia though. That's a great testament to the awesomeness of veganism!

shellyfish said...

I really love Christina and I am sure I'll love this new book. I have "Cooking The Whole Foods Way" and I use it often.
Thanks for the review & Happy New Year!

River said...

Great review! You are now officially the Whole Cauliflower Queen!! Happy New Year Diann! :)

Hannah said...

How funny, I just caught her show on tv the other night! I wasn't sure what to think about this new book, but it does sound interesting... Maybe I'll check if my local library has it.

Liz² said...

from one crazy vegan to another, I wish you the best this year! maybe 2009 will be the year I bake a whole cauliflower too, because ooh you make it look good!

Sal said...

happy new year!!

That cauliflower looks awesome.

Joanna said...

i've heard about this sweetener before. as far as i've researched, it's safe. i just steer clear of artificial sweeteners. eeeekk.

that cauliflower dish must've tasted awesome. i've never seen cauliflower look so good.

Jenn said...

I love Christina Cooks! The whole cauliflower pie looks interesting. I've never seen it served that way.

Happy New Year!

Tami (Vegan Appetite) said...

I came so close to picking that book up today. I had it in my hand but didn't have enough time to look through it at the store. If I'd read your review, I would have gotten it! Thanks for the info!

Ruby Red Vegan said...

I've used Zsweet before, but not in baking. I made hot chocolate with it by adding it to cocoa powder and soymilk. I like using stevia for this purpose a lot better! The boiling thing does seem like a pain, though. The mini pumpkin cupcakes look great -- it is nice to have a way to make sweets healthier without using an icky artificial sweetener!

And oh my gosh, I love how you cut into the head of cauliflower like a pie! That's too cute.

Vivacious Vegan said...

I too haven't had much success with CHristina's online recipes but these photos look wonderful. I'm really curious about her super remedy broth because I have yet to find a broth recipe that is easy to make and tastes great.

Happy 2009 Diann! May this year bring you joy, love, and peace.

Kris said...

I just saw one of her books on an end-cap the other day and made note of it. Everything looks great!

I'm also a skeptic of unfamiliar sweeteners, but that one seemed to bake up really well!

Erica said...

Happy New Year! I thought about your BEP's and wondered what you would be making :)

Virginia said...

i am interested in that sweetener, i would love to use something other than sugar. i use agave if it is called for in a recipe but i don't venture and try to substitute it on my own...and i would never use splenda because i don't trust it.

food looks yummy!!

urban vegan said...

Christina is a Philly girl. I love her spirit. Happy New Year!

bazu said...

that cauliflower looks and sounds stunning.

Stacey said...

I'll be sure to put that book on my "to read" list! I'll have to check out Z Sweet since I recently started baking a lot more and it wouldn't hurt me to cut back on calories. :)

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