a mostly vegan week

Taking a break from the pandemic diaries to jot down a few thoughts after a little over a week into our gradual transition to becoming a "mostly vegan" family. I haven't eaten beef in a really long time; I honestly can't remember the last time I had a "real" burger and I've never really enjoyed any other red meat. Avoiding beef pretty simply resulted from not feeling well after I ate it. So I stopped. And if you don't eat beef for awhile, suddenly eating it again is akin to inducing a mild stomach bug. No thank you.

Pork, let's face it, is delicious, but I have a bit of a thing for pigs. I've resisted letting my love of animals be the only thing that steered me away from eating meat, but once you dig into the industry of producing animal protein on a massive scale, you can't unsee the things you'll inevitably come across. But I still found it hard to resist the occasional bacon or carnitas. Honestly, it was Kitten Lady's fostering of orphaned piglet Joshua that sealed the deal for me. I haven't had any pork product since.

And until recently, I felt mostly okay with eating poultry and fish. But if you're at all concerned about animal welfare and the spread of contagious disease, poultry farms are among the worst offenders. Quote from the article I'll get to a bit later: “We cannot protect against pandemics while continuing to eat meat regularly. Much attention has been paid to wet markets, but factory farms, specifically poultry farms, are a more important breeding ground for pandemics.”

As far as animal protein and products go, that leaves me with the most expensive eggs and hoping the organic, cage-free, pasture-raised labels are accurate until I can get my own backyard chickens (because I love eggs). We don't eat much fish and I'm still on the fence in terms of how I feel about this particular animal protein when graded against human health, fish welfare, environmental sustainability, and threat of zoonotic disease transmission.

If you need convincing, this is an excellent, well-researched New York Times op-ed from a few days ago. Jonathan Safran Foer touches on ALL the issues, and there are many. In my opinion, you can't say you care about the environment/climate change/global warming, and consume any part of a cow. “If cows were a country, they would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.” And yes, this extends to dairy, which produces a double-whammy if you think about how the calves are immediately separated from their mothers after birth and sent off to the veal industry. The stress this causes can be measured in cortisol levels. And this is probably my biggest challenge because I love butter, mostly for baking, and cheese. But we could all stand to eat a little less fat, especially animal fat. Indeed, there are lots of health reasons to go "mostly vegan."

Meat lovers will say the pandemic is being used to push an agenda, but I really appreciate the open door metaphor Foer uses throughout his op-ed: “Our hand has been reaching for the doorknob for the last few years. Covid-19 has kicked open the door.” Like so many issues facing American society in particular, the door is wide open now; we just need to walk through it (paraphrasing something he says later in the article). Here are some alternatives that are helping my family and me cross that threshold:

Butter. As I mentioned above, dairy is tough because I love to bake (with butter) and we eat a lot of cheese. Miyoko's butter is really good. I haven't baked chocolate chip cookies with it yet, which will be the true test, but assuming that works well enough, we are good to go as far as this animal fat is concerned (we already use a vegan spread on toast and such).

Soy creamer. I've avoided soy in the past because of what seem now to be largely unfounded concerns about hormone levels. I've tried all the coffee creamer substitutes and this is by far my favorite.

Milk. We have smoothies 2-3 times a week and we're still experimenting with which "milk" goes well in which smoothie. Coconut milk-based beverage was acceptable earlier in the week, but we tried oat milk today and it received higher marks all around. As far as cereal goes, which we typically only eat about one morning per week, we collectively seem to not have a huge preference. Whatever works for smoothies will work for cereal.

Sauces and stuff. That said, coconut milk (or cream, since that's all Trader Joe's has had in stock the last couple of weeks) is your friend for making creamy stuff like curries and sauces.

Whipped cream is a staple?? I'll confess we put a little whipped cream on top of our smoothies, and this coconut based alternative works just fine (although there is a subtle coconut flavor, but we don't seem to mind).

Mmm, chocolate. A lot of (dark) chocolate is "accidentally" vegan like this "pound plus" bar from Trader Joe's, a staple in our house (we only have one square at a time, I swear). Their chocolate chips are also accidentally vegan.

Protein. Beans, peanut butter (we eat a lot of PB), eggs, as mentioned in the above caveat, etc. Tofu is, of course, a great source of protein, and makes a mean Mexican chocolate pie, too!

Dinner. Of the dinners we've made, some have obviously not been as successful as others. I suggest you start with something like this pistachio green mole*, paired with roasted summer veggies, corn tortillas, and white rice, plus chips and guacamole, maybe some beans, a classic gin & tonic for you, and aguas frescas for the kids. Totally vegan. Totally delicious.

*A quick recipe hack: if you can't find or don't want to search for all the peppers and tomatillos and such, buy a container of fresh green salsa from Trader Joe's, simmer with a cup of pistachios for about 5 minutes, then blend with 1/2 cup kale or spinach and a cup of cilantro. It's that easy!


pandemic diaries: weeks 8 & 9

Just one more reason to love Werner Herzog, am I right? And hunker down is exactly what we continue to do! As the title of this post suggests, we're about to get into DOUBLE DIGITS! It's been 9 weeks and 2 days since the kids last attended their schools, in person. I guess the vibe of the last couple of weeks can be summarized in one word: anxiety. As we approach summer, I think all parents are feeling pretty anxious about when and how school will resume in the fall and what summer will look like for their children between now and then. While I'm anxious about suddenly having no daily structure in less than two weeks, I'm very ready for distance learning to pause, and I say pause because I'll be shocked if we don't continue this in the fall, at least for a few days a week. Here's how I've been keeping myself too busy to give in to existential dread:

More runs, more walks, more sunrises, more sunsets. And a few new feline friends.

Oakland Slow Streets finally came to our neighborhood, though not yet to our street. I'm a huge fan but it's obviously not perfect. Plenty of drivers ignoring the rules, garbage and delivery trucks moving signage without putting it back (not that I expect them to have the time to do so), and barriers placed pretty inconsistently, not necessarily at every intersection along a designated street, as I think they should be. But it's a welcome reaction to this unique situation (Oakland doing pretty well to become the "silver lining city") and I hope at least some of it will be permanent.

We also snuck in a special pre-Mother's Day excursion to Oakland's Morcom Rose Garden, in full bloom.

The kids aren't really into them, but I've been going on some virtual field trips included in my son's school's special education learning plans every day the last couple of weeks. This series has probably been my favorite so far. Not that we do it super often, but man, I miss traveling.

I continue to practice piano via Yousician most days. I'm on level 4 overall, level 6 for classical specifically. I can play Frère Jacques and Take Me Out To The Ball Game, among other things.

This is a great read about the concept of freedom in America.

Following up on the folding workshop a few weeks ago, I purchased Kelli Anderson's delightful This Book is a Camera. Once I get it, I hope to complete the pinhole photography "assignments" and suggested reading and such. The first workshop was so much fun.

We continue the weekend family movie nights. Last night we watched the very fitting Groundhog Day.

I haven't tried this yet, but I'd like to, cartooning with the Bay Area's own Mark Fiore.

Baking news (get it, like "breaking news" but for baking??): it appears there's no end in sight to pandemic baking as Specialty's announced that after 33 years in business it will permanently close all locations as a result of the impacts of this pandemic. I really hope they figure out a way to spin off some sort of cookie business, baking mixes, cookbook, SOMETHING. So sad.

In related but positive news, Arizmendi, where we've been going for scones since 1999 or so, reopened three days a week. And I made a half cake. A ha'cake!

In closing, to wrap up this post as I began (the anxiety? remember??), we've started to hear back from summer camps. I had about 5 or 6 of the 10 weeks planned (and paid for) before the shelter-in-place order. Most camps still seem to be holding out hope that they can, somehow, have in-person camp while pivoting to virtual plans, just in case. That said, I have nothing planned for the first two weeks of summer break. I could really use a respite from the day job after nearly three months of working from home while juggling distance learning, but where would we go? Is it worth it to take time off work for a staycation when we can't even do much locally? I'm hoping I feel somewhat refreshed after a long, Memorial Day weekend!


pandemic diaries: weeks 6 & 7

Harold and the Purple Crayon

On the other side of this thing? As much as I wish that were true, no sir. And we keep chugging along, grateful for jobs we continue to perform from home, our health, and just 4 weeks left of distance learning...for now, at least. Here's what else we've been up to, this 6th and 7th week of shelter-in-place.

Printed this and put it on my fridge. Particularly poignant right now. My only edit to the idea of "idle parenting" would be chores: have your kids help you clean the house.

Made it to level 5 in Yousician (piano). If you have an instrument to practice right now I highly recommend it, especially if you need to force yourself to stop thinking about the world for ten minutes.

Finally explored Zoom backgrounds.

Did some - okay, a lot - more pandemic baking.

Participated in Kelli Anderson's folding workshop. I believe she plans to add a couple more workshop options later this month. Buy the kits here.

Feeling super grateful for our backyard studio/office right now, with both of us working from home, etc.

Cleaned out my closet and hung a few prints that I had matted & framed in the pre-pandemic era (but hadn't gotten around to actually hanging).

Restocked the hot glue stick and sock inventories.

Used some of that hot glue to make this gem shadowbox, while listening to this (the City Arts & Lectures convo between Miranda July and Jenny Odell).

In other studio time I started another "pandemic pillow." Both are somewhat tied to the 100 days in the dollhouse project.

Marked the first anniversary of my podcast with...well, nothing, other than a couple of social media posts.

Snuck in a rather pleasant outdoor excursion this weekend (complete with face coverings and social distancing measures, of course), in addition to early morning runs and our daily neighborhood walks.

Turns out I'm crepuscular. And who wouldn't be with these Oakland sunrises and sunsets? Bring it, week 8!