Monday, January 9, 2012

Vegan Pantry

I live in Las Vegas, so I do my food shopping primarily at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Sunflower Market. For nuts, you absolutely can't beat the prices at Trader Joe's. I've looked, to no avail. Luckily for me, there are Trader Joe's stores in my area, but if you do not live in an area with convenient access to the "unique grocery store," another fantastic source of dry goods -- nuts and otherwise -- is (formerly NutsOnline). They're based in Edison, NJ, which is a extra convenient for my East Coast friends, but they ship nationally. Their selection is comprehensive, the products are high quality and shipping is prompt and reasonable. I buy several of my staple items from them, despite the proximity of health food stores in this city, simply due to selection, availability and convenience. A couple of times a year they offer free shipping, so I take full advantage and stock up for a few months.

I recently entered an online sweepstakes held by Whole Foods to win pantry staples for a year (enter by January 31, 2012 if you're interested). In order to enter, I had to e-mail them a list of the items I consider to be "pantry must-haves." My list turned out to be pretty long, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Below are the foods I consider to be pantry essentials for a healthy vegan kitchen (all items are organic whenever possible). Not all of these items are "health foods," but I believe in indulging from time to time, with a measure of moderation, of course... and it's important to have the necessary ingredients on hand if you want to throw together a batch of vegan cookies, for example.

Sprouted whole grain flour
Unbleached all-purpose flour
Almond flour
Buckwheat flour
Buckwheat groats
Rolled oats
Oat bran
Sucanat (unrefined whole cane sugar)
Raw honey (I realize that this is controversial for vegans)
Agave nectar
Maple syrup
Grain-sweetened dark chocolate chips
Dark chocolate bars (70% cacao or higher)
Celtic sea salt
Aluminum-free baking powder
Baking soda
Unsweetened shredded coconut
Raw cacao powder
Raw maca powder
Coconut milk (canned)
Coconut oil
Grapeseed oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
Nama shoyu (unpasteurized soy sauce)
Unsweetened applesauce
Unsweetened plain almond milk
Coconut water
Nutritional yeast
Raw tahini
Sesame seeds
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Chia seeds
Hemp seeds
Flax seeds (whole)
Quinoa (red and yellow)
Red lentils
Green lentils
Split black lentils (which are white, also known as "urad dal")
Whole mung beans
Split mung beans
Chickpeas (canned and dried)
Basmati rice (white and/or brown)
Lundberg "Jubilee" brown rice mix
Raw almonds
Raw cashews
Raw pecans
Raw walnuts
Raw pistachios
Low-sodium vegetable broth
Lemon juice
Lime juice
Golden raisins (without sulfur if you can find them)
Turkish figs
Sweetened dried cranberries
Dulse flakes
Kombu (kelp)
Buckwheat soba noodles
Miso paste (red and yellow)

When I keep my pantry stocked with these foods, I find that I can make pretty much any recipe I come across in my favorite vegan cookbooks or food blogs. I try to steer clear of processed foods, but I'm not an extremist when it comes to upholding these ideals. There's an exception to every rule, in my opinion. Keeps life interesting.

My plan with this blog is to explain each of these choices in individual entries, peppered with occasional feature-length articles that address some of the underlying concepts I adhere to in my pursuit of a healthy vegan lifestyle.

Is there anything in your vegan pantry that I've forgotten? If so, please comment below. Thanks!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An Introduction

My name is Stefanie. In my free time I read vegan cookbooks, food blogs and articles explaining theories on how to achieve optimal health. A few days ago it occurred to me that I should keep a blog to share my findings with anyone else who might be interested.

"To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear." - Buddha

It's difficult to put a finger on exactly why I'm so interested in not just maintaining but optimizing my health. I can tell you that it's been a gradual process that has evolved over the past 17 years. I grew up on the Standard American Diet, but never liked eating meat. My parents demanded that I eat it while they were feeding me, but as soon as I left for college I became a vegetarian and never looked back. It was never a sacrifice; the muscle, skin and fat of dead animals has always been unappetizing to me. That said, I didn't start out as a health-food vegetarian. I remember one day in college, I was eating a PopTart as I waited for my German class to start and, in an effort to be polite, I asked a classmate if she wanted some. She said, "No, I'm a whole foods girl. I don't know what would happen if I ate that." Put off a bit by her uppity response, I replied, "Probably nothing," and she had to admit that that was probably true. However, over the years that have elapsed since then, I have adopted a similar stance. Although I will occasionally eat processed food or pastries that contain eggs or pizza with cheese, I've found that I feel best when I'm eating meals that I've prepared myself from whole food, vegan ingredients.

I might attribute my awareness of the impact of food on my well-being to my yoga practice, which I've been relatively consistent with for the last decade (this February will mark my ten-year yoga anniversary). Many yoga practitioners will tell you that it is common for one's practice to bring about a deeper awareness of the physical body and its state of health (among other, less tangible things). That may have been true for me, but since it was such a gradual, natural evolution, I didn't notice it when it began, so I can't say for sure that this is why. I am also willing to admit that there may be less lofty causes behind my passion, such as the desire to control one aspect of my life in a world where it's difficult to feel in control of something, or the idiosyncratic personality trait that drives me to pursue constant (illusory) self-improvement, or the simple vanity of having a slim, healthy, energetic body. But the purpose of this blog is not to psychoanalyze myself.

Through my own experience and based on the most plausible theories I've read thus far, I've become convinced that eating a mostly-vegan, whole food diet is essential for achieving good health and vitality and avoiding disease of any magnitude, from colds to cancer. As an aside, I will also add that some measure of easygoingness about this is also necessary. Stress for any reason is a detriment. In this blog I plan to share my efforts and findings with you, should you choose to continue reading.