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How to Cook Vegan for a BBQ

I love summer in Japan! It is the only season that I can feel truly comfortable with the weather – on most days, at least. On some days, the intense Japanese heat and humidity make me wish I had never left the Caribbean and it’s tropical marine climate. However, another reason I love summer, is because this is the time when everyone is having a barbeque – and I love a good barbeque! But, back in Jamaica, we had barbeques all year long.

Jamaican BBQs
To many Jamaicans, a BBQ is usually a professionally catered community event, where you pay for a packaged meal and enjoy live entertainment. But, when I was growing up, my parents would often bring us into the backyard to sit around the coal stove, a barbeque grill or my brother’s pan (the traditional Jamaican grill made from a repurposed steel drum) to grill up dinner. Sometimes we made popular dishes like roast fish, BBQ chicken or jerk pork. But most of the time we would just make a feast of roasted corn, sweet potatoes, yams and probably some frankfurters. On those days, my brother, sister and I never complained about what was for dinner! LOL. It was such a delight to watch the food cook on the mesh wire, then eat it under the open sky.

All About the Sides
Although most people focus primarily on what meats to serve when they are hosting a barbeque, what really makes a great barbeque menu are all the creative side dishes, refreshing drinks and lip-smacking desserts. So, if you’re hosting your first backyard grill-up, don’t forget to toss some fresh vegetables together for a quick salad: garden salads and coleslaw are popular. You can mash some potatoes to soak up all the BBQ sauces and gravy or mix some macaroni with mixed vegetables and raisins, for quick dishes to pair with your favourite entrées.

Snacks, Drinks & Desserts
Dinner rolls, hotdog and burger buns will balance out other side dishes like rice n’ peas, festival or roti; and fill a bowl with your favourite chips and dip to tackle the munchies while everyone gathers near the grill to fill their plates. Try to prep a platter of fruit to keep your guests cool and hydrated in the summer heat and don’t be shy to offer everyday delights like fried ripe plantain or steamed bammy when you spread your table. The key to a great BBQ menu is preparing a little bit of everything to fill everyone’s plate and appetite. If you choose to serve alcohol-based beverages, be sure to have lots of water, iced teas, and fruit juices as well, to help wash down the bickle. Then some slices of sweet potato pudding or a platter of chilled sugarcane sticks is sure to settle every craving after all the plates are empty.

The Main Dishes
With all of that yumminess up for grabs you’re probably wondering who will have space to eat anything else. But, you should try to put something on the grill, if you really want to call your linkup a ‘BBQ’. So, what do vegans throw onto the grill? Well, even after I had stopped eating flesh foods, my mother would still have barbeques in the backyard, and she never failed to cater to my new palate. She would buy frozen veggie burgers, cans of veggie links (hotdogs) and fill skewers with cubes of marinated tofu, pineapple chunks, onions and other veggies. Of course, we always had to make extras because my friends and relatives would happily fill up on the vegetarian goodies, as well.

Fire Up the Grill
If you’re looking to keep things simple, some of the most popular veggies to toss onto the grill are: corn on the cob, marinated mushrooms, asparagus, stuffed sweet peppers and slices of eggplant. Slabs of tofu, smothered in jerk seasoning, hold together well, if you firm them up in the toaster oven ahead of throwing them on the grill. You can also find simple recipes online for making bean burgers, veggie sausages and wheat gluten ribs for putting on the grill. If you’re not into ‘creative cooking’ then you can buy meatless burgers and other treats in the refrigerator section at major supermarkets. This list of plant-based grilled dishes isn’t extensive since non-grill entrées like baked beans, curried chickpeas, lentil patties (handpies) or ackee lasagna are also excellent choices for your barbeque.

Whether you’ve decided to stop eating meat and are worried about what to eat at your friend’s BBQ or you’re just trying to increase the amount of plant-based foods you pile onto your plate, you have plenty of easy and delicious dishes to choose from. So heat up the grill, fill up your glass and enjoy the heat and carefree spirit that comes with it.

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5 Simple Strategies To Rediscover the Joy of Eating, Manage Weight, Reduce Stress & Improve Your Quality of Life

The first time I came across the idea of ‘mindful eating’, the article had something to do with using chopsticks to eat. But, since I am living in Japan and already using chopsticks daily, I flipped the page and moved on to something I felt was more relevant. At that time, I never imagined that the practice they were prescribing looked so much like my mother during mango season: sitting carefree and in satisfied silence on her verandah, with a basin filled with sweet, sun-ripened mangoes, peeling away the skin with her teeth and allowing the sticky juice to run down her chin and arms. In no rush. Accepting no distractions. All while pausing to examine, admire and celebrate the tasty fruit she filled up on. Each and every year, mango season was definitely a time where I could watch my mother slow down her mind, satisfy her appetite and nourish her body with simple, real, whole food. But, I never saw it as a practice one would need to cultivate.

You see, the world that we’re raising children in today, is so different from the child-rearing days of our mothers and grandmothers. We have more to do and less time to do it in. We are constantly being told to move quickly, work faster, multitask, and do more than the next person if we want to keep up. So, of course, we are prone to skip breakfast or have it on-the-go. It’s no surprise that we serve up microwave meals on the days when we can’t eat out. Plus, the restaurants encourage us to buy from their drive-thru windows and with all the different take-out menus available, it seems like everyone eats on the run. We often have ‘working lunches’ and if we decide to step away from the desk to take our lunch break, we’re usually in a rush to get back. When we eat, it’s ‘cut and swallow’; because when you’re busy and famished, something has to take first place – it’s not usually the stuff on our plates.

As the pace of life gets faster, more of us become overweight, undernourished and start operating off frazzled brains. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve forgotten the value of long, leisurely mealtimes and become blinded to the impact of how we eat, when we eat, why we eat and what we eat. Today, we are expected to balance work commitments, social appointments, commuting and childcare responsibilities, and most of us are internally crying “unfair” as we struggle to juggle it all. We’re hurdling ahead, because we plan to die fighting, but the frustration, exhaustion, and the absence of simple pleasures, is certain to bring us to our knees, in our own tears – sooner or later.

But this doesn’t have to be the end of our stories, as 21st century mommies. We have to get back to the basics and that means a resolve towards self-preservation and a solid self-care routine. Since we eat to live, why not start with intentional and attentive eating?
It’s not as complicated as you might imagine. These are 5 simple strategies we can all employ to rediscover the joy of eating, manage weight, reduce stress levels and improve our quality of life:

1. Slow Down
Stop and pay attention. Decide to be present as you eat. Take the time to chew your food (5-10 times for soft foods and 30-50 times for denser foods) until it’s all smooth before swallowing. Rest your hands in-between bites, by putting down the food or cutlery while you chew.

2. Select
Choose a time each day to stop the crazy world and unplug for some ‘you-time’: snack time, coffee break or main meals. Choose to eat real food, and increase the amount of homemade meals you enjoy.

3. Schedule
Three times daily, we get the chance to disconnect mentally from all the hustle and bustle, to nurture our bodies and enjoy the bounty of the earth. Don’t miss out on it! Take a seat. No walking or driving while you inhale the food. Step away from the busyness and make mealtimes an important appointment with yourself.

4. Silence
Put away the newspaper or work report. Turn off the TV. Pull those earplugs out of your ears. Lock your phone-screen and put the laptop to sleep. Give your mind some breathing room. Forget, for just these few minutes, the problems you need to fix and the conversations on your favourite social media networks. It’s time, instead, to listen to your body.

5. Savour
Tune into all your senses for your meals. Inhale the aroma. Admire the shapes and colours. Listen as the textures get smashed between your teeth. Intentionally identify the flavours that swirl around your tongue. Be aware of the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that different dishes generate in you. Give thanks!

Mindful eating allows us to unplug from the overwhelming world we live in, to return with satisfied palates, nourished bodies and grateful souls. The practice can look different for each of us, and doesn’t require much more than a mental shift. Frequent opportunities to feed ourselves intentionally and attentively will always result in more contented and whole individuals. So, remember to pause and take a deep breath before your next bite.