The plant based nurse

My family's excellent adventure to better health!


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Meet Mike: An unintentional self study in health and wellness!

Meet our friend, Mike Vasey! We met Mike and his wife over 30 years ago when my husband was a student at Penn State University. We reconnected recently online and much to our surprise, we had both stumbled upon the news that plant-based eating can not only prevent, but also reverse many chronic illnesses. As a university professor and critical thinker, Mike was attracted to the science behind the positive effects of a plant-based diet.
Hear Mike’s story in his own words:
One problem with the many positive testimonials regarding the health impact of a plant-based diet is that one cannot be completely confident the dietary change was the cause of the improved health. Don’t get me wrong, I find it pretty compelling when longstanding conditions change when diet changes. But one still lacks a hypothetical counter factual – a way of estimating how the person would have done without the dietary change. That’s where controlled experiments come in. One way to add a hypothetical counterfactual is to reverse the change to see if weight, cholesterol, etc. go back to where they were before one started. Then one can re-institute the dietary change and see if things improve again. That is known as an ABAB single-subject research design (A = baseline, B = intervention).
Unintentionally, over the past five years I have done such a reversal study on myself regarding the impact of a plant-based diet with no added oil. Five years ago I chanced upon a local broadcast of a talk by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. on reversing and preventing heart disease with diet. I have a strong family history of heart disease – my father had at least five heart attacks – so the topic piqued my interest. I found Dr. Esselstyn’s data compelling so I decided to give it a try. At the time my total cholesterol was 200 (it had reached a high of 237 some years earlier, which prompted some improvement in my eating habits [translation: I ate less sausage and similar things]). My weight was about 208. I am about 6′ 2″ so my BMI was 26.7.
With very rare exceptions I was successful in following the Esselstyn diet. It took about six weeks before I found it to no longer be a challenge. By then, I had identified things I liked to eat and had modified recipes to be oil free. It helped that I tend to eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day so once I had those two meals figured out (oatmeal with bananas and dried cranberries for breakfast, a big salad for lunch) only supper was an issue. I tended to cook a few one dish meals (e.g., lots of soups) on the weekend and eat them during the week. Between meals I snacked on fruit and veggies.
Based on Esselstyn’s book , I expected things to change fairly quickly and mostly they did. I was on two blood pressure medicines at the time, mostly to control cluster headaches but also due to mild hypertension. Within two weeks of eliminating oil from my diet my blood pressure dropped to the point that I was light headed when I stood up. With my doctor’s consent I dropped the med that was unrelated to cluster headaches and things went back to normal. Simultaneously I started losing weight. After one month my weight was 196 (BMI = 25.2) but my total cholesterol hadn’t changed much, dropping only to 180. After six months I had lost 27 pounds to 181 (BMI = 23.2) so I expected my cholesterol would follow suit. However, when I completed a biometric screening for work at the six month mark, my cholesterol was still 180. That was a bit discouraging since my goal was to get it below 150, the threshold below which nobody in the Framingham Heart Study had a heart attack. But I kept at it and after a year and a half my total cholesterol was 154, which was very near my goal. And my weight was down to 172 (BMI = 22.1). Eventually my weight bottomed out at 170 (BMI = 21.😎) and my total cholesterol stayed below 130.
Then about 18-months ago, I went through a prolonged stressful period and I got lazy regarding my diet. I essentially went back to baseline in terms of my diet. I tended to eat whatever was easiest and that was often something processed and high in fat. Predictably, my weight went up until it was 196 (BMI = 25.2) at my annual biometric screening on 9/12/16 and my total cholesterol was back up to 198. Added to that, my A1C was 6.1, which is borderline diabetic and diabetes is something else that runs in my family. Needless to say, those numbers got my attention. So I immediately went back to the all plant-based, no added oil diet. After nearly five weeks I had my blood work redone by my doctor. My total cholesterol had dropped by 27 points to 171, my weight was 188 (BMI = 24.1), and my A1C was down to 5.5, which is still high but in the normal range.
Between then and now (12/26/16) I spent a week in Belgium and while eating plant-based was mostly possible (hey, beer is plant-based!), forget the no added oil part. We also had Thanksgiving and Christmas and I must admit to straying a bit with all the holiday goodies around the house (my family does not follow my diet and that can be challenging at times). Nevertheless, my weight is now down to 182 (BMI = 23.4) and I expect it to keep dropping. I’m sure my cholesterol and blood sugar will follow suit. I’m glad to be back on a healthy path.
 mike-vasey
Mike with the tallest man skeleton at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia
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Cheap-Ass Fake-Ass Veggie Biryani from my plant-based husband

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Yes, he can cook! My husband made me a delicious veggie biryani tonight. He calls it Cheapass Fakeass Veggie Biryani. Cheapass because it is a very inexpensive and fakeass because it might not pass the test of authenticity in an Indian kitchen. However, I loved it and wanted to share it with you because it’s a no fuss dish that is delicious and can be made in minutes. Here’s his recipe!

Cheap-Ass Fake-Ass Biryani   -by G. Scott Hayes

Well, we’ll see how this goes. I didn’t keep track of my amounts. I should’ve known Jean would want to blog this.
Start with an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and 1 1/2 cups of raw Basmati rice.
Dice the onion, mince the garlic and sauté, adding several shakes of your favorite curry powder–we like Penzey’s.

Add a couple extra shakes of fenugreek if you have it. That’s the one spice that I think makes curry taste like curry. Add the raw rice and sauté with the onion, garlic, and spices,

adding water and cooking according to the package directions.
While the rice is cooking steam some vegetables, frozen or fresh, in vegetable broth. I used
frozen Potatoes O’Brien (with onions and peppers!) 1 carrot (peeled and sliced), about 1 cup frozen broccoli, 1 c. frozen cauliflower, 1/2 c. frozen peas, and 1/4 c. of frozen corn.
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Throw in a few raisins and cashews while you’re at it. I wish I had thought of that when I
was making it. Sprinkle in some more curry powder with the vegetables.
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When the rice and vegetables are done, combine them in a big fancy bowl so Jean can take
pictures.
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You can adjust the spices at the table if you want extra kick. We added some Sriracha sauce and I sprinkled some extra curry powder on my dish.
Thanks to my plant-based husband for a great dinner and for sharing his recipe!
Remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!


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Engine 2 Immersions: Enrich, enjoy, and get your discount here!

Whether you’ve been eating a plant-based diet for years or you’re just plant curious, an Engine 2 Immersion could be just the place for you! I just returned from a magical weekend at The Esselstyn family farm in the Hudson Valley in NY at a 2Forks Event produced by Engine 2 and Forks over Knives. We heard incredible speakers with invaluable information about the why and how plant-based eating prevents and reverses disease. We heard inspiring stories of recovery and self discovery from illness and addiction and met athletes who have achieved incredible goals, all with the power of plants.

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If hearing from and rubbing elbows with the plant-based experts and celebrities isn’t enough to entice you, think for a moment about the delicious plant-based food you will enjoy without having to ask what’s in it or if they can make you a special dish without oil.

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For most of us, just knowing all the right information isn’t enough. A 2Forks Immersion will also give you the practical tools you need to continue your plant-based adventure after you leave. With cooking demonstrations and talks that will give you insight into why it’s so hard to do the right thing for your health since the wrong thing feels so right, you will head for home empowered to make good choices and take your health into your own hands, or should I say your own fork!

Perhaps best of all, you will spend time making new friends and maybe even catching up with other plant-based friends you have met on social media. I find it fascinating to meet the real people behind the online personas and meet people from all around the country and the world. The experts will graciously sign your books, answer your questions, and sometimes even sit with you to listen to the other speakers.

You will leave tired but inspired, educated, and nourished.

You still have two weekend opportunities for fun with Engine 2 and Forks over Knives  this year and one coming up next spring!

Dallas

September 30th – October 2nd 2016

Cleveland

October 28th – October 30th 2016

Pasadena

March 24th –March 26th 2017.

$50 Off Full Weekend Pass using code: BEETS50

2Forks Immersion – Seven Day Retreat 

Mago Retreat Center in Sedona, Arizona

October 3rd-9th 2016

Not only will 2Forks provide incredible plant-based meals to fuel you, but you’ll also experience a full menu of activities: hands-on cooking demos, yoga, hiking on one of the country’s “Top 10 Most Scenic Trails,” a stargazing party, bonfires, live music, plus a few other surprises.

$150 Off Immersion using code: BEETS150 

Visit 2ForksEvents.com .com to Register Today!

And remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!

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Ain’t no party like a Scranton party!

‘Cause a Scranton party don’t stop! If you’re a fan of the show The Office, then you may remember this Michael Scott and Dwight Shrute version of a 90s rap song by Coolio.

I am excited and proud to say that there ain’t no plant-based party like a Scranton party and this April there are plenty of plant-based events for all!

Our plant-based extravaganza started with an article in The The Scranton Times  April 3rd about my efforts to spread the word about the health benefits of plant-based eating and our local group, The Scranton Beets.  It was humbling to be able to tell my story and I hope that it raises awareness in an area which has so many good folks with chronic illness that are preventable with lifestyle changes.

Jean Scranton Times

Today when I got to work, someone in my department told me that a plant-based recipe won the recipe contest in the newspaper, Local Flavor: Recipes we love, and to check it out when I got home. I was thrilled to see that Nadia Naismith Dailey  not only shared a delicious recipe for chickpea salad, but  that she also talked about how her father adopted a plant-based diet for his heart disease which inspired her creativity in the kitchen.

Naismiths

On the heels of all this wonderful press for plant-based eating, tomorrow evening, April 7th at The University of Scranton, there will be a screening of the life-changing documentary, Forks over Knives, sponsored by The Greenhouse Project at Nay Aug. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the movie starts at 7 p.m. There will be plant-based refreshments, too!

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The next event will be a come and go as you please event with displays about plant-based eating, including busting myths about plant-based diets,  tips for families, tasty food samples and resources about how to get started. There will be experienced plant-based people available to answer questions from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at The Abington Community Library, Saturday April 9th. Screenshot (11).png

On Sunday, April 10th and the 2nd Sunday of every month,  P-BEG (Plant-Based Eating Group) holds a potluck meal at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Tunkhannock, PA. This is a great no-judgement zone to try out plant-based eating, enjoy a delicious meal, and meet people who have improved their health through their food choices.

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Next is a double header! Two plant-based giants back to back in the Electric City! First is a visit by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, on Wednesday April 19th sponsored by the Exercise Science Club at the University of Scranton. There will be a screening of the documentary, Plant Pure Nation, followed by a Q & A session with Dr. Campbell.

PPN screening April 19th

The next day, just a few blocks away at The Commonwealth Medical College, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr will be giving two lectures about reversal of heart disease with plant-based nutrition. The 12:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. lectures are free and you can RSVP online. Not only will you be informed, educated and entertained by Dr. Esselstyn, but you will also meet his wife Ann, who will give a lively presentation about the How, Why, and Wow of Plant-based eating! The evening will end with a beautiful plant-based meal at The Colonnade. We had a preview of the food in March and the meal was not only delicious but the presentation was stellar!

Dr. Esselstyn lecture 12 pm

The last event for April is Empowered Eating, a group led by Kathy Reap at the Greenhouse Project at Nay Aug. The group meets on the fourth Tues of every month for support and education from 7-8:00 p.m. and is open to those who want to learn about plant-based eating, those who are seeking like-minded people to share ideas and recipes,  and anyone who would like to taste some delectable dishes.

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So, if you live in or near The Electric City and you are plant curious, plant strong, or just want to learn how to add more healthy dishes to your repertoire, come visit us in April!

Remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!

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Puttanesca in a Pinch!

pastaOne of my husband’s favorite dishes is Pasta Puttanesca. He loves everything about it–the pasta, the salty flavor from the olives and capers, and the sauce. To him, it’s the total package. He even tells the servers at our favorite local Italian restaurant, La Trattoria, that he dreams about this dish.

I decided since this dish seemed fairly straightforward, I would try to recreate it at home one evening when I was at a loss for what to fix for dinner. I had everything except capers, and I knew it wouldn’t be the same without the homemade pasta at La Trattoria, but even if I messed it up, how bad could it really be? So here is my “recipe” for Puttanesca in a pinch. I used miso to replace the anchovies used in some recipes and also the extra saltiness of the capers. If you need to restrict sodium due to heart disease or hypertension, just leave it out. If you prefer a smoother sauce, use crushed tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes. In the summer, this would rock with fresh tomatoes!

Puttanesca in a Pinch

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced or chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of oregano
  • 1 – 28 oz can of whole plum or San Marzano tomatoes (low sodium)
  • 1/2 of a 10 oz bottle of pitted Kalamata olives, slice olives in 1/2
  • 1/2-1 tsp of miso
  • 1 lb of whole grain pasta of your choosing
  • A few shakes of crushed red pepper
  1. Start a nice big pot of water boiling for your pasta and add it when it comes to a rolling boil. When the pasta is done to Al dente, drain it and set it aside.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, place a small amount of water or veggie broth in a big skillet, heat it up and add the onions and garlic and sauté a few min until soft. You can also start them with no liquid and just add a small amount if they stick.
  3. Add the oregano, crushed red pepper, and olives and heat quickly.
  4. Here’s the fun part. Warning, this is messy. I love the feel of the tomatoes in my hands so I just pluck them out of the can and use a paring knife and roughly chop them as I add them to the pan. Then add the extra juice from the can.
  5. Heat the sauce through or cook it down a little if you prefer, then add the pasta, coat the pasta with the sauce, sprinkle with nutritional yeast if you like,  and serve!

Tips:

If you add capers, just add them near the end and leave out the miso. You can add some of the brine from the bottle also if sodium is not an issue for you.

Serve with a big salad or you can even add some greens in your sauce if you love greens as much as I do. They will make your arteries sing!

Don’t fuss over this dish!  It will be delicious in its simplicity and is difficult to ruin.

It is even better the next day leftover!

Remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Field trip, friends, and great food!

Yesterday was a sunny day full of new experiences , good food,  great discussions and chance meetings with old friends. A few weeks ago my husband and I decided we were going to take a day to visit many of the ethnic markets in Scranton since we love Indian,
Asian, and Mexican dishes and the wonderful spices and herbs that give them their fabulous flavor.

Before we headed out on our field trip, we made a stop at the South Side Farmers Market. The indoor market is open during the winter and has a variety of vendors with cheese, eggs, hard cider, greenhouse fresh veggies, pickled beets and zucchini, fresh juice, and more.

 

Our first market visit was to La Mexicanita on Cedar Ave in walking distance from the farmers market. We found baskets of dried Chiles, many dried spices, fresh herbs and veggies. They also had some baked goods  and a variety of dried and canned beans and rice. The woman who helped us was friendly and this was a great start to our adventure.

Next we visited Garcia’s Market on Pittston Ave in South Scranton and found many of the same products and I was intrigued by the Chicharrones de Harina that we saw in both of the Hispanic markets. They are  wagon wheel shaped puffed wheat that is fried and then covered with lime juice and salsa and is a popular Mexican street food. I thought maybe they were tomato pasta because of the color, but the package listed red and yellow food coloring. I wonder if there is a healthy version of this snack. I love lime and salsa but try to avoid fried foods. Fried pork rinds also was available in large quantities.

Our next stop was the Hill Section of Scranton and we visited P&P Oriental Groceries and Gifts. It was a tiny store but we found many varieties of rice, including red rice, dried mushrooms, Asian noodles, and a few fresh foods and chili sauces.

One of our favorite stops was at Shiv Shakti market on Ash Street. They had huge bags of basmati rice which is my husband’s favorite and some unfamiliar fresh and frozen veggies we will have to try soon. We picked up some crunchy, spicy, roasted chickpeas for my husband.

We found pickled turmeric and since turmeric is so great for you, we decided to try it, When we opened it at home we found it spicy, slightly sweet, sour and very tasty!

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We also found blocks of sugar cane at both the Mexican and Indian markets. In the Indian market, it was called kolhapri gur.

Sugar cane

Here’s a video of how the sugar cane is cooked in a small factory in India and placed into molds.

While checking out at Shiv Shakti, my husband was talking to the owner about how we have been learning to make some Indian dishes and love the cuisine and he told us about a café they just opened 2 weeks ago called Shiv Shakti Chat House. Since it was lunchtime and we were only a couple of blocks away, we had to check it out!

Chat House sign

The owner of the chat house, Rita, couldn’t have been more helpful AND all of the menu items are vegetarian and only one had dairy! It was great to have more than one choice and we ordered two dishes which were unfamiliar, Sev Usad and Pav Bhaji with biryani. We also ordered Samosa chat, a house specialty. I misunderstood and thought the Samosa was baked and not fried but was mistaken. It was presented in a bowl with a wonderful spicy mix on top with chickpea and onions, tomatoes and spices. The food was fantastic and the spices were just right. Despite the sign out front that said “We serve delicious vegetarian fast food,” everything was homemade except the bread they served on the  side. If you live locally, you will just have to visit for yourself to see how delicious the food is! There was nothing fancy or pretentious about the place, just good hot, spicy, flavorful food and you can watch Indian TV on a big screen from the loft where the guests sit.

Our last stop on our tour was at Shivam Grocery Store on Capouse Ave. Again, we found large bags of all kinds of rice and some great sounding whole wheat multigrain flour.

 

So, we found that while not all of the items in the ethnic markets were healthy, it was a lot of fun to browse and pick up some new finds. Many of the items were also cheaper than in the grocery store.

I had a great afternoon planning a  plant-based educational event with my friend Kathy, then received a surprise call from another friend about an upcoming visit from Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr to Scranton in April for a free lecture and plant-based dinner. I also had another pleasant surprise while grocery shopping as I ran into another plant-based friend from our group, the Scranton Beets!

It was getting late so I made an easy dish I call Puttanesca in a Pinch for our dinner.

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The day ended by catching up with my daughter and her  fiancée about their wedding plans and remembering being young and in love. Hope you’re able to take some time to enjoy some new experiences and  great food with friends and family, and…

Remember to have fun with your food and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 


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Grapefruits and butterflies

A couple of weeks ago I found the most amazing white balsamic grapefruit vinegar at our local store, Thirteen Olives, and I have been anxious to make a fabulous salad with it. I had some beautiful grapefruit in the fridge and finally today I reserved my afternoon to play in the kitchen.

Grapefruit balsamic

 

I learned how to peel a grapefruit with a knife and how to segment it to get rid of the bitter pith and my husband even sharpened the chef’s knife for me.

I took my time and reveled in the texture of the fruit, how the sun shone through the kitchen window and through the thinly sliced pale pink flesh of the grapefruit. It looked so delicate and beautiful like the wing of a newly hatched butterfly.

grapefruit butterfly

It was a gift to have this time to study this sour, yet sweet and juicy fruit which I have far too long neglected.

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I hope to be more intentional not only with my appreciation of the beauty of nature and the nutrition and pleasure it provides for us but also my appreciation of the people in my life who help and care for me along my path.

I was recently overcome with gratitude for all of the friends, old and new, who offered words of encouragement, suggestions for job leads and just pure kindness when we received word that our home health agency was closing. In the course of 2 weeks, I lost my job and gained a new one in which I will retain my benefits, seniority, and will have a position with no after hours call and no taking work home. I hope that the reduction in hours will free me for spending more time living my passion for nutrition and health and loving my family and friends as they deserve.

Grainy Grapefruit salad

If you enjoy fruit and farro, you can find my recipe for Grainy Grapefruit Salad on the Plant Based Nutrition Support Group’s website at http://www.pbnsg.org/ soon.