Pho Show

In college, my best friend and I used to go to this Vietnamese joint in town all of the time. There was a summer when I think we were there at least once per week. What brought us there? The pho. Suspended in a light, rich broth in a nest of rice noodles were tofu, greens, and vegetables awaiting sriracha, soy sauce, lime juice, chili oil, and handfuls of fresh mung bean sprouts and basil leaves torn right into the bowl. This is how I first tried coconut water, and I first found that delicious rooster sauce that’s always in my refrigerator.

Pho is something I find myself craving a lot these days in the darker winter months that have been rainy and gray these past few weeks. It rained a lot that summer too, so the weather seems to bring back that nostalgia and desire for a giant bowl of unami ridden goodness. I’m always in search of a tasty pho place in town, but I haven’t ventured out to one yet. I will, in due course. But in the meantime, following with my goal to make a new recipe each week, I made my own pho.

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While my soup had a miso base and I suppose couldn’t technically be classified as the classic clear-broth based soup I think of when I think of pho, it was delicious and totally hit the spot nonetheless.

4 cups veggie broth (I used homemade)

2 tablespoons red miso

1 package rice noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed

1 cup fresh kale

1 carrot, grated

1/2 cup sliced shiitakes

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions

1/2 block tofu

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sriracha

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1″ knob fresh ginger, skinned and minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

more sriracha, soy sauce, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, and fresh basil (optional) for garnish

Combine tamari, sriracha, vinegar, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Slice tofu into 1/8″ thick slices, then cut diagonally to form triangles. Place in a flat baking dish and pour marinade over the slices, allowing flavors to mingle for at least 1 hour. In a frying pan over medium heat the tablespoon of olive oil. Add shiitakes and sauté until lightly browned, lower heat and add the tofu and marinade and allow everything to reduce. In a soup pot, bring veggie broth, ginger, and garlic to a simmer, then add miso paste, kale, onions, cooked noodles and carrots. Serve immediately, and top with glazed tofu and shiitakes. Add more sriracha and soy sauce to your bowl if desired and/or top with mung bean sprouts, fresh basil, and a squeeze of lime.

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This bowl was GIANT, and made 2 hefty servings of pho that filled and satisfied on both occasions of rainy Florida evenings. I went sans basil and the other garnishes as the miso really thickened this soup up and made it a much heartier pho with complex flavors. That being said, part of the pho allure is the ability to change your bowl (or spoonful!) as you eat and I just love the colors that come from adding chili sauce and fresh basil to a bowl. Leave out the miso if this is your preferred pho style, and garnish away!

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Reflecting on Respite

IMG_5377Oof. It is so, so incredibly hard for me to let myself take a break. That is a huge aspect of my restorative winter recess that I failed to mention: how difficult it’s been for me to let myself relax in the past. For some reason, this time around taking about a month away from academia and 2 full weeks away from my job has been surprisingly easy. Graduate school is just so concentrated, like a spoonful of miso straight out of the tub, that you’ve got to at least take a sip of water afterward. That being said, I do love miso and I’m often caught eating tiny scoops from the container, but miso is best served cut with other ingredients. Graduate school is best served thinned out a bit too. I had a huge chunk of miso in my life “soup” at the beginning of December, so it’s taken a good bit of veggie broth to compensate.

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Vegan similes aside, having a month off of academia has been lovely. I’ve been able to recharge my batteries and really and truly relax after the first semester of my graduate career. I feel so lucky to have been able to do that. I did travel a bit right in the middle around the holidays, but this past week has consisted primarily of me holed up in my apartment, making a few excursions here and there to venture out. As much as I love this empty time — a giant temporal space filled with endless possibilities — I’ve rediscovered that my type-A personality loves to be busy. It makes me feel alive.

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My New Year’s day meal. This was SO GOOD!

So, at the beginning of this winter recess, I had to force myself to relax. Going straight from polishing up 20 page papers to forced nothingness was a huge jolt, one I’d forgotten about during my year off, and a change of pace that is even more pronounced with the higher level of course work in which I am involved. But gosh, I found myself (as I always have) loving that newly remembered jolt. I pretty much did the same things I always do, even when I’m in class plus working plus research assisting: I cooked, I read Game of Thrones, I watched Criminal Minds, I worked out for 30-45 minutes a day, played with the cat, sang to Stevie Nicks in the car. These little practices are the water that cuts my academic miso during the semester, but without a hefty daily dose of academia these things gleamed even brighter. I took a lot more time to prepare my food. Instead of reading for 30 minutes, I got to read for 3 hours. My workouts felt cleansing, a way of moving my body to prepare for mindful relaxation instead of a way to literally work out the stresses of the day.

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Having naught to do in a day other than your favorite things — taking away what my dad always called the “have-to’s” and fore fronting the “want-to’s” made me realize how important my want-to’s are to me. They’re not obligations, I don’t get paid for them, I’m not required to do the reading for them, but in some ways they are still things I have to do. I have to do them because I want to do them, because I love them, and because they bring me endless respite and so much peace in the wildness of this world.

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I hope that you too have the chance to forefront your want-to’s today. On this Wednesday, I head back to class for the start of another semester. I’m excited and I feel refreshed and ready to take on a new set of challenges and expectations. I love the learning that comes with this newness. But I won’t forget my want-to’s — because in so many ways it’s the want-to’s that make everything else possible.

The (Vegan) Body: Recovered, strong, well-read

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Hello! Happy New Year! I’ve been doing a lot of internet reading over the past couple of weeks, but I’ve only gleaned a few links that I really love to share with you all. Many of my readings have just been for kicks these days, without agenda. What a luxury that is! But of course I couldn’t help but collect a few articles to share with you all here.

We’re entering a time of the year that’s always a mixed bag for me. What I refer to as “The Month of New Year’s Resolutions.” That time of year when folks all over the globe are purging from the fabled holiday gluttony, or are trying to lose weight and get (back) into shape. Oof, that word: shape. What a loaded term. Its one I use often in my own academic writing because art is filled with shapes, but to me it only perpetuates and connotes the idea that humans should be of a certain shape, and that some shapes aren’t acceptable. Cult of thinness, you coming prowling around once again.

As we enter The Month of New Year’s Resolutions, I challenge you to stay strong. Stick to your goals, but do so in a way that makes you happy and makes you feel good about what you’re doing. Don’t conform to anybody else’s standards, and don’t let someone else’s progress at the gym suddenly become a measure for how you should be doing or what you should look like. Set goals for yourself, and don’t try and resolve the way you are. Strive to achieve, not fix. Empower, not diminish, strengthen instead of reduce. Try and think about the long term, not just quick fixes to shed a few pounds or suddenly organize your overflowing desk, bookshelf, or life. Think about enacting sustainable, lasting change that will only foster your own health, happiness, strength, and growth. Think of this as just the beginning, not a boot camp. Best, of luck and keep me posted!

Without further ado, here are a few fantastic articles I’ve been dying to share with you all. Spanning body awareness to Susan Sontag, I’m pretty proud of the little reading list I’ve compiled for you, interspersed with some photos of my quiet little staycation. Enjoy!

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Gena Hamshaw’s blog, Choosing Raw, always serves as such a source of inspiration for me. Her open mindedness and honesty about her recovery from an eating disorder is poignant, raw, and truly inspiring. I think that a lot of ED honesty, or even visibility/awareness tends to get swept under the rug because it’s a vulnerable, uncomfortable topic to talk or write about publicly. Her recent post titled “The Two Phases of my Recovery” epitomizes what I feel is a beautifully positive and supportive approach to disordered eating on the blogosphere and is a salient story for anyone who has struggled with any type of food related anxiety, controlled, or obsessive eating habits. Also, she uses a Rothko as the header image which makes this little art historian smile goofily from ear to ear.

How many times have we seen some studly dude (I’m thinking of you, John Wayne!) slurping down whiskey in the movies?! Not, it’s not just for cis gendered straight men, folks. Booze is for everyone. Love this NPR article about the “Whiskey Renaissance” and some of the ladies leading the way. Speaking of fancy schmany spirits, one of my favorites, bourbon, is on the rise as well. And they need more barrels.

In that same vein, along the lines of tasty artisanal things, I’ve heard a lot of press (yay! Visibility!) on the first vegan butcher shop in the U.S. Pretty badass, if you ask me.

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End of the year lists always baffle me to some extent. Some I find harrowing, others just plain annoying, but a few — just a few — in my mind are golden. Loving this list of the “Top 10 Queer and Feminist Books from 2014.” Thrilled to see my beloved Caitlin Doughty on the list with her Smoke Gets in Your EyesShe’s such a badass.

Speaking of badassery, Susan Sontag. My intellectual idol and hands down who I want to be when I grow up. I’ve loved seeing more and more media coverage of this lady lately (thank you HBO for doing a documentary on her, that does help). Marking a decade since her death was done beautifully in this short, pithy little write up on the Hairpin.

Enjoy the reading! And if you made some goals to begin tackling this January, best of luck with them!

On Losing and (Re)gaining my Health

I’m not sure if I’ve even written this much text in a single blog post before. I usually try and keep my posts short enough to be easily consumable and absorbed, but I hope this is a happy medium between absorbable and content heavy. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but it’s taken me over a year to figure out how to do it. And because it’s been in my mind for nearly all of 2014, I feel that it’s the perfect way to sum up the past year. The past several years really. I’m so inspired by other bloggers’ stories of gaining and finding their own health. Now, when I truly feel that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, I feel that I too can add to that blogging tradition of sharing how I got to this point where I feel that I’ve finally found true health.  

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This post has been in the works for a long time now, nearly 2 years! I’d like to start out by saying that I’m not writing this to ascribe or disperse any type of blame or responsibility to anyone else. I fully recognize that as an individual I am the sole agent in my own personal health and wellness. That being said, there were factors both within and beyond my control that shaped and impacted my health at various times over the course of the past several years, and I acknowledge those in this post. This is also a very personal and heartfelt blog entry for me to not only write, but also to share publicly. Please keep that in mind while you’re reading this — that this is my story, and while I feel that we all have some version of this saga some where in our lives, (even if we’re still in the process of writing it) this entry is about the steps I personally took to get where I am now, and in no way is meant to serve as a standard for measuring or pathway to taking back your own wellness. This is my story of losing and regaining my own health, of what it feels like to let that aspect of your life slip away, and how truly empowering it is to reclaim it.

So, let me start at the beginning. I feel that my journey toward health began in the middle of college, and my relationship toward my veganism, health, and this blog (as you will soon see) are almost inextricably linked. Entering a university was the first time in my life where I really began to see the intersections between physical health and stress collide, right there, right in front of my eyes, on my own body. I became vegan within weeks of getting to college (I’d been a vegetarian for years and had always wanted to go vegan) and like a lot of new vegans I didn’t exactly do myself any favors in the menu department. For a while, a couple of months, I stuck primarily to what I knew I could eat. (I really think I lived off of hummus, Ezekiel bread, and nutritional yeast and Earth Balance for a while.) Then I started reading blogs. Lots of blogs. Lots of vegan blogs. And I began to see the wide world of vegan foods. This thrilled me, and I immediately began to regret the meal plan I’d purchased through the campus dining services (Thinking back on that, I still have the same reaction: YUCK!). I began taking a to-go box down to the dining hall near my dorm and filling it with raw veggies from the salad bar, then coming back to the hall kitchen and cooking them up for myself. The next year, I went without a dining plan and instead walked to Carrboro to the co-op fairly often, and went to Trader Joe’s with my mom on a weekly basis.

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So excuse the next 2 photos. Somehow I dug up pictures I took of the food I made back then, before I started blogging, and the quality is TERRIBLE!

Still, to this day, some of the most emotionally charged and nostalgic feelings I have toward food and food preparation stem from that dingy college dorm hall kitchen. Preparing delicious vegan food became my solace — often it was my only time alone. I’d keep the overhead florescent light off, and the softer light above the stove on, playing music from my laptop to the smells of sautéeing onions and garlic. Living in tight quarters with another person and hardly ever having any privacy was nearly always terrifying and stressful for me. But that kitchen — that kitchen became my shelter from the storm. It was around this time that I began my first blog. Yes, Veganland is not my first. Sexy Sustainability was my first. (Cringe!) I kept that blog up for nearly a year, and even started to be recognized around campus for my writing and photos on it. But something about that blog was just off. It wasn’t me. It didn’t feel authentic. Looking back on my mental images of SS, which has (thankfully) ceased to exist, I realize the scope of what I was trying to accomplish in that blog was simply too broad; I was all over the place and struggling to solidify the ramblings in my head with what could feasibly be written in a blog post and absorbed by a reader.

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This just cracks me up. This is a photo that I took in my dorm room of the first batch of hummus I ever made. EVER. I was so proud of it, too.

So I deleted that blog. In the process of coming into my own academically (Oh art history, my love, this is when you found me!) I decided to take a more pedagogical approach to blogging. I did my research. I found a few more vegan blogs that seemed to fit me even better than the ones I’d been reading. I slowly began to move away from the starter blogs and found ones that aesthetically and stylistically better suited who I was as a young scholar and as a vegan. After taking several gender studies classes, my approach toward veganism and the intersectionality present in feminist thought and theory became so closely intertwined that today they could never be separated.

I took a year off of blogging.

I got into a relationship, and with the support of my then partner, I wrote Veganland’s first post. (Again, cringe!) And this is the part where I’m going to fast forward a bit. The longer I was in that relationship, the worse my physical health got. For a variety of reasons, I stopped working out. I didn’t got to the gym for an entire summer and getting back into it was extremely hard. That summer turned into nearly a year. My way of eating radically changed a lot too, because living with someone means you’re not just cooking for yourself any more. I tried a lot of replacement foods that I’d never eaten before in nearly 2 years as a vegan on my own: Daiya, vegan chik’n, pepperoni, soy beef. In a lot of ways, I sacrificed how I personally liked to eat in attempt to try new things and also in some ways to please someone else who was transitioning to veganism. Let me just go ahead and say: there is nothing wrong with these foods. They’re perfectly good foods, and very tasty. But for me, these are “sometimes foods” that I very rarely eat now.  This coupled with my lack of exercise did of course lead to what was for me physically detrimental weight gain, but also a slew of health problems: the joint stiffness and pain I’ve experienced since childhood began to flare up and plague me daily, my digestion issues spiked, I felt uncomfortable in my own body — from the way I moved to how I felt when I was sitting down. All this was paired with the stress of a slowly and very painfully degrading relationship.

To cut a long story short: total health meltdown.

I wasn’t eating enough vegetables, and was consuming more and more processed and refined foods that didn’t make me feel good about my body or what I was eating. While I had cut out gluten and was making more of an effort for a while to regain health, somehow those efforts just fell short. I couldn’t stick with it. It was just too hard to make two meals, or go without the bread in that vegan french dip sandwich on the menu for dinner. When that relationship finally ended, part of my way of coping was taking steps to regain my health. My loss of health was so closely tied to the events in that relationship that I found it empowering to regain what I’d lost really and truly as an act of self care. I stayed with my parents for a while, until I got back on my feet. The first day I was there, I walked into my dad’s home gym and picked up the same weights he’d bought me for Christmas during high school. I felt the weight of them in my hand, the coldness of the metal, smelled the smells of metallic weights and sweat, and dust. The physical place aside, I was home again.

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At this point in my story, I’ll take a moment to acknowledge how truly and utterly painful and earth shattering it was for me to lose my exercise routine. As much as cooking in that dorm hall kitchen had been a source of respite, my gym time was even more so. Losing weight lifting especially was like losing a loved one, a dear friend so close that they were family. The only way to cope with this loss was to reclaim it. I reclaimed it immediately, as soon as I was out of what had become a bad relationship. Those weights got me through that time in my life just as they’d gotten me through the difficult years of high school and the trying first years of college. In some ways, they were my oldest friends. They made me feel good, and I lift(ed) not to look a certain way but because of this act of muscles contracting repetitively, over and over again, was a form of spiritual sanctity for me, an active meditation, and one that I’d sorely neglected and left behind.

I noticed changes in my body within the week. Within the month I started to feel like myself again. I started eating more whole foods again, though the vast amounts of tortillas and fried chips I was eating at work kept me from reaching my full potential for the next year. Again nothing wrong with these foods, but when they’re staples of your diet they’re not exactly ones that facilitate sustainable health. And when I say this I mean that many of my health problems were reduced but the stress of work coupled with not so healthy eating and drinking kept me from finding health. For the first time in my life, I walked up to my tattooer’s chair alone and got tattooed, just me and my good friend (who was scraping needles over me) and tattoos that no one else but the two of us saw or knew about until I took the wrappings off and chose to let someone else see them. I began to become the version of myself I’d always hoped I would be, and I began to more fully tattoo that self.

Soon in another relationship, and yet again having another person around greatly impacted my eating decisions. This time, the 2nd party wasn’t vegan and had no interest in becoming vegan or in the food politics that were so important to me, then and now. While that meant a lot of modifiable and collaborative meals, it also meant a lot of dining out — something new for me, as I’d always cooked much of my food at home as a vegan. Over the winter, I cut out gluten (again) and (again) I felt great — a lot of my health issues were reduced because I was eating more whole foods and less processed. This time was truly my transition period both mentally and emotionally. I was constantly walking a thin line between eating in a way that made me feel best and in a way that just wasn’t meeting my needs internally or externally. Emotionally, I was redefining my relationship with food and coming to terms with the bodily changes that had occurred over the past two years because I’d sacrificed my health. But still: I just didn’t feel good about my food choices and I wasn’t exercising as much as I wanted to. During late 2013-early 2014,I always felt that I was so close to (re)gaining my health, but some sort of glass ceiling was holding me back from just reaching out and taking it into my hand. That relationship ended, and I had another really rough time of it. I went out a lot with friends and co-workers, and didn’t sleep as much as I should have. I drank too much. I didn’t eat well.

Then, my friends, then graduate school happened. The huge, huge, HUGE turning point.

I made one of the biggest choices in my life so far, and I began to make smaller choices to make it happen. The academic and personal goal I’d strived for for nearly 5 years began to take shape, real tangible, touchable shape in the form of an acceptance letter, then in a funding offer, and in turn my own acceptance to both of these at one school and my rejection of several others. In making these decisions, I felt the empowerment I’d needed to fully find my health. That glass ceiling shattered. I started running again, coming home early from bars and going on fast paced night runs around town, working out the amount I wanted to, and taking even more steps to cut down on gluten and replace it with whole foods in my diet. (Which I’ll say briefly I eliminate gluten, though not 100%, for a more healthful approach to eating, which really works well for my body and lifestyle. More on this to come!)

I moved 500 miles away from the state I’d always known to a strange land of palm trees, Spanish moss, and alligators — just me and that cute, fuzzy cat of mine. I brought my little dumbbells and my yoga mat with me on that initial 10 hour drive down the East Coast, and on my first day in my new apartment I unrolled that mat in my beautiful little sunroom and lifted weights while watching Total Recall downloaded on my Kindle. Once again, I had a kitchen all to myself, and a schedule more cohesive to cooking delicious, healthful foods and having more regular meal times. I kept the overhead light off, and the softer light above the stove on. I listened to music streaming from my laptop while I chopped, and sliced and diced. I bought the few kitchen items I needed to accommodate the types of foods I wanted to make. I looked outside my window at the Florida sunshine while pumping iron and feeling amazing. And it was that feeling — that sense of deep knowing and understanding that I felt rushing through me; a connection between mind and body and exercise and food that finally solidified and made me feel truly healthful for the first time in my life.

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And somehow, I took a picture of that moment. I am so, so glad that I did.

In those first few days alone in my first solo living situation I finally regained what I’d lost over 2 years ago, or perhaps something I never felt I’d had: my health.

And so, dear readers, here I sit. In that same sunroom. These days, I see the foods I buy as beautiful, and I dream up ways to prepare them that are both nourishing and delicious. My kitchen witchery is still my shelter from the storm that is life and now it’s connected to pure bliss and enjoyment of what I both cook and eat, and I love seeing how what I consume is expended into energy to help me with that exercise practice that is still so, so personal and important to me. I feel uplifted by these things and I just feel… great. I’m not tired or run down any more. I feel a sense of peace inside of me that keeps me steady and grounded. This past year, 2014, was one that I marked as the year of balance and new beginnings. What a beginning this has been, the pathway to finding true health and from that, happiness.

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I hope to expand on this happiness over the next year: 2015, the year of trajectory. I’d like to take this momentum, the things I’ve witnessed, the things I’ve (re)gained and learned and use it for full steam ahead! And I just can’t wait to see what that holds for me and that fuzzy feline of mine.

Happy (healthful) 2015 all!