Sunday, January 09, 2011

Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Dates and toothbrushes and no shampoo and books...

Hmm, perhaps it would sound better if Julie Andrews were singing it? For the past two years, I've posted an annual list of loves (see here and here), and I've been brimming with them for 2011 too! Here are my favorite things this year:

Note: Although I wish I could pull an Oprah and tell you to look under your seats for free products, I haven't received any compensation--financial or in the form of free products/samples--from any of the companies listed here.

Dates. Amir Hajj. Khadrawi. Peanut Butter. I have yet to find a variety of date I don't absolutely adore. I soak large Medjools for use in Date Syrup (recipe below), and always keep some on hand for quick energy. Inexpensive pitted Deglet Noors are great blended into smoothies. And caramel-rich Halawis are our family's favorite movie theater snack. I can't wait to place a huge order from The Date People--their dates are raw and veganically grown--or The Bautista Family, a family-owned and operated organic date farm.

Date syrup is my liquid sweetener of choice. It's the least processed, and can be used instead of agave nectar or simple syrup in recipes. The syrup can also be poured over pancakes or breakfast porridge, and its caramel flavor is an ideal pairing for ice cream.

Date Syrup
2 cups
Medjool dates are best here, for their high water content and ease in blending, but I often use smaller, drier Halawi dates with excellent results. For a dessert syrup, add a pinch of cardamom or cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon orange zest, or a dash of rosewater. I keep the plain version on hand for adding to raw desserts, smoothies, and anywhere agave nectar is called for.

1 cup packed dates, pitted and halved
fresh water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, or seeds scraped from 1/2" of vanilla bean (optional)

In a 2-cup measure, cover dates with water and allow to soak for at least 1 hour (firmer dates might require more soaking time). Do not drain. Fill with additional water up to the 2-cup mark, adding vanilla, if desired. Transfer to a blender, and process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Pour into a glass jar and cover tightly. It will appear frothy at first, but settles on sitting.

The date syrup will keep, refrigerated, for up to a month.

My Radius Toothbrush. I'm a bit of an oral hygiene aficionado, and what better way to slough off all those holiday sweets than with the perfect toothbrush? I've tried lots of them, and finally settled on the Source Replaceable Head. With handles made from recycled flax, US treasury bills, or wood (mine is the latter), most of the toothbrush lasts for ages. The replacement brushes are shaped just right, and actually make brushing a pleasure. They also work fantastically with my favorite "toothpastes": a bit of baking soda or a drop of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Castile Soap.

Coconut Water. I'll never forget the first time I had a young coconut. I was traveling in India, and stopped at a roadside stand piled high with the green beauties. A vendor hacked off the top, inserted a straw, and the cooling liquid was bliss in the heavy heat. Many go to India in search of a guru, and it would've been difficult to find something I was more devoted to!

Coconut water is excellent for getting you through an ultramarathon, a day of skiing, or, in my case, fourteen hours of unmedicated posterior labor. I drank 12 ounces of this every hour during my son's birth, and I believe nothing else provides quicker, more effective hydration.

Opening your own young coconut is freshest, but good canned varieties abound. My favorite is Amy and Brian, but try a few to see what you prefer. Look for brands that contain no added sweeteners or chemicals.

Skipping the shampoo. I haven't used shampoo in years, and my hair has never looked better. Eliminating (or reducing) shampoo usage saves time, saves resources, and lowers the amount of waste you generate. I just condition once a week, do a scalp massage every day or so, and my hair is long, strong, and healthy. Simple. And simplicity is an easy favorite.

The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle. When a friend of the author pressed this book into my hands and implored me to read it, it went into the bookcase and did not emerge for several years. I was already a vegan, and it sounded too airy-fairy-new-age-hippie to be a really compelling read. But I was so wrong. Tuttle's book is clear and smart, and lays out a new sort of vegan apologetic. Whether you're already vegan and want to reinforce your reasons for being so, or an omnivore who doesn't resist a practical, thoughtful challenge, I highly recommend this book.

And finally, vegan children. Okay, so this is a bit of a cheat; I have two of them.

My daughter has been vegan since conception. At three years old, she is a healthy and intensely thoughtful, compassionate child. Her father and I had experienced all kinds of childhood maladies--chronic ear infections, frequent flus and colds, even pneumonia--so we didn't know what to expect with our kids. But our daughter has been sick only twice in her lifetime (once with swine flu, which resolved itself in three days, once with two days of sniffles), which I'm very grateful for. She knows what's vegan and what isn't, and why: "We don't eat animals, because animals are our friends," and "Cow milk is for baby cows, so we don't take it away from them." We sponsor a goat at nearby Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, and I can't wait to introduce her to all of the amazing animals there so she can understand our choices even better.

My son was born after a high-raw vegan pregnancy, and grew 3 inches in the first two months of his life, exclusively on vegan breastmilk. He is incredibly healthy and active, weirdly strong, and probably the most joyful baby I've ever met.

Choosing to raise my children vegan is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Plenty of doctors and medical organizations agree that a vegan diet is healthy for all stages of life, and it's true. Our family is thriving on it! For more inspiration and examples of vibrant vegan kids, check out these real vegan children.

Those are my favorites as we begin 2011. What are you in love with this year?