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Meatless Monday: Life, Death and What to Eat for Breakfast

You could argue that compared to the news of recent weeks, what to eat for breakfast is pretty insignificant. I'd argue there's nothing more important.
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I recently gave a public talk on Living Green, Eating Green, which I fashioned to be a sort of meatlessness' greatest hits -- how being meatless is cool -- Bill Clinton and Oprah are doing it, and it's cool in terms of carbon output. It's good for our health -- even the USDA's new dietary guidelines say so. It might even dig us out of the deficit, as Mark Bittman argues. I even threw in a stanza from D. H. Lawrence's erotic poem "Figs" to get the audience revved up about the connection between produce and pleasure.

People nodded, I felt like it was going well, I ended big -- Change what you eat, then change your life, then change the world. Applause. Then I opened it up to questions.

A guy in the third row asked, "What do I eat for breakfast?"

Excellent question. Because you can't change the world when you can't even figure out what to eat. And it reminds me while I think only the choir is listening, sometimes I can actually connect with mainstream folks who want to change but need some boots on the ground basics.

Great news, I said. Many of the foods you already eat are plant-based. Let's start with breakfast. You eat oatmeal? Granola?

"I don't like cereal."

How about fruit?

"No fruit."

Okay. So what do you like? What do you usually eat for breakfast?

"Bacon and eggs."

My heart went out to the guy. Change is hard, man. If you eat and enjoy eggs and bacon, even if you want to give them up, there's a primal fear of deprivation. You imagine a great big zero on your plate where the foods you loved used to be. Well, that sucks.

Heart disease doesn't have much going for it, either. I worry for people's health. Something you should know about eggs, I tell him. I'm not a big fan of steak, but one egg yolk has more cholesterol than an 8-ounce steak. That doesn't mean you should eat steak, though.

I glossed over the worst bits of environmental impact and animal cruelty -- this group wasn't ready to go there. I'd rather woo people about the benefits of a plant-based diet then terrify and terrorize them. I don't want to alienate, I want to entice. And I'm a slut, I came with a bribe -- fig and walnut bread, wholesome and homemade, organic and totally vegan. The crowd wolfed it down (know your audience). My goal is to be the vegan who invites everyone to the table.

So while Egg Man and the others munched, I took the opportunity to offer as many other morning meatless options as I could think of. Coffee is plant-based (hallelujah), so is fruit juice. Yogurt is meatless. Faux bacon and sausage offer great plant-based meat options for meat lovers looking to make a change. While you're changing, go wild -- just because it's breakfast doesn't mean you have to eat traditional breakfast food. Nothing wrong with peanut butter on whole wheat toast. Or leftover veggie pizza. In Asia, the word for breakfast is asagohan -- literally, morning rice. I thought of telling Egg Man about tofu scramble, which I love for any meal of the day. But I shied away from mentioning it. Because while tofu is widely available and accepted and even on a lot of restaurant menus, to a certain sector, say, those who eat eggs for breakfast every day, it's still out there.

You could argue that compared to the news of recent weeks -- the death of Osama bin Laden, the devastation wrought by tsunamis, tornadoes and floods -- what to eat for breakfast is pretty insignificant. I'd argue there's nothing more important. Eating meatless may not bring about global peace or restore the environment overnight, but I think it's a start and it's one instance where a single action affects all of us on many levels. It's a matter of life and death. I just tend not to bring it up at parties. There is no up side, as Fran Costigan said last week, in being more vegan than thou. We are each on our own journey. And we all deserve great eats along the way. So, Egg Man, if you're out there -- and I know you are -- be in touch. Let's do breakfast.

Tofu Scramble

I happen to love this recipe -- scrambled eggs without the eggs. It works well for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night, any time you're in the mood. Feel free to change up any vegetables with what's fresh at your local farmers market, but aim for organic tofu -- most soy out there is genetically modified.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion or 3 scallions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast*
1 tomato, chopped
12 ounces (about 3/4 of a 1-pound package) firm organic tofu, drained and squeezed to get rid of excess water
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped fine
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, jalapeno, red pepper and zucchini. Stir and continue to cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables soften and turn golden and fragrant.

Stir in cumin and turmeric and nutritional yeast, coating vegetables well.

Add chopped tomato and mix well.

And now, the fun part. Crumble tofu in the skillet. You may mash it with a wooden spoon or enjoy the wonderfully tactile sensation of smooshing it between your fingers (a nice aggression release).

Scramble everything together in merry fashion, breaking up any odd tofu clumps. Season generously with sea salt and ground pepper and continue cooking for about 3 minutes, until heated through.

Mix in chopped cilantro and serve.

Recipe serves 2 to 3 people and doubles easily. Enjoy fresh, hot and at once.

* a fabulous dairy-free cheesy-tasting golden powder available in the baking section of many natural food stores. Vegan bonus -- several brands are B-12 fortified.

Vegan Fig and Walnut Bread

This recipe comes together superfast and easy. Feel free to strut or give a self-depricating smile, depending on your personality when people gasp and say, this is homemade? This is vegan?

You can substitute other dried fruit like raisins. apricots or dates for the figs, but figs are yummy and high in fiber and iron (not to mention eroticism).

Awesome by itself or with a schmear of nut butter for extra protein, fiber and fun.

1 cup water or tea (black, green, herbal, whatever you like)
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped and any tough stems discarded
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour *
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup brown sugar or Sucanet
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (from 2 to 3 oranges)
grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

Lightly oil a 9 X 5 inch loaf pan.

In a small saucepan, heat water or tea over medium-high heat. When it just starts to bubble, turn off heat, and leaving pot on the burner, add chopped dried figs. Leave them to soften while you continue with prepare the recipe.

Pour chopped nuts into a shallow baking pan and toast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until walnuts are brown and buttery-smelling. Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift together whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour and baking soda, orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a separate bowl, combine orange juice, oil and Sucanet or brown sugar. Whisk together until sugar dissolves.

Add wet ingredients to dry ones. Stir in apple sauce.

Drain figs and add to batter. Gently add walnuts and stir just till combined.

Pour into prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until top is golden and puffed and an inserted tester comes
out clean.

Makes 1 loaf.

Wrapped well, bread freezes well or keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, but judging by the audience last week, tends to be consumed immediately.

*available in most natural food stores and gourmet stores and many grocery stores, it produces light, tender baked goods.

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