Learning vs Schooling

My son was picked on by one kid last year. Repeatedly. It never got physical, but it was a daily torment. People with Aspergers or HFA can come across to us neurotypicals as abrasive, headstrong, disruptive, etc. That never excuses name calling, being picked on or having teachers turn a blind eye. My son was singled out many times by the school’s PE coach, who seemingly enjoyed power struggles with a 10 year old, and failed to read and implement his 504 plan until a month before school was out for the summer. (I had submitted all documentation at the beginning of the school year when we registered.) His new class has 37 students. There is no way that even if every student had no extra needs that 1 teacher could, or should, have that many students in his or her charge. They might as well be in a college lecture hall.

My daughter complained of stomachaches multiple times a week last year. There was some social drama – what we deem “normal” and marvel at how young it seems to start. It got bad enough last year, we sought counseling. There’s popularity, boys and multiplication tables, but there are also teachers who are tired. Teachers who perhaps would be better suited for other vocations. My daughter overheard her teacher swear in frustration. She shared with me that she would get a lump in her throat when called on in class because if she gets the answer wrong, the teacher will humiliate her in front of her peers. A student should be allowed to make mistakes – that’s how we learn. She cried every week not wanting to go to school. This from a girl who has loved school up until this year.

When cleaning out the daily lunch boxes, I asked the kids, “Why didn’t you eat your lunch today?” I was often met with the same response – no time. They cut down the lunch to 20 minutes. Line up, sit down, be quiet, stop talking, sit still. Get up. Line up. Walk to class. My mom made the comment that it’s like they just want a class of robots. It sure feels that way.

There are benefits to public schooling, when it is done right. I also get that as a parent, my involvement is key to a school’s success. That said, I fear that schools that get it are few and far between. We were fortunate to have been a part of such a school in Texas, but not all the schools even in that district were so fortunate. I didn’t necessarily love all aspects or subjects in school, but overall, I liked it. (Okay, I loved school supplies. And the smell of books. And paper. And the crisp way a freshly sharpened pencil writes.) When I overheard my kids state they hated school, my heart broke. I asked them if they were at their old school, would they still hate it? It was an attempt to see if the work itself was challenging or if it was the social/teacher/atmosphere they were dealing with that caused such a visceral reaction. It was definitely the latter. It was as if their love of actual learning was being eroded away.

Homeschooling was something that we agreed was never off the table. It’s been something we’ve been open to, if needed. My sister has homeschooled my nieces off and on through their school years. They have been involved in all kinds of extra curricular activities and are well-rounded, social, and bright, critical thinkers – and isn’t that what we want? A population that thinks critically? Adults who can function, are polite, and well-educated? There is a clear difference between schooling and learning.

We’ve decided to homeschool our children this year. We have a curriculum that is well-laid out and meets all state requirements. It will allow for working ahead on subjects in which they excel, as well as the time and flexibility for areas in need of work. The idea of going completely against the grain feels scary – but in a really exciting way.

Kids learn more from our actions than what we say. I hope they will learn through this process not only the things required from an academic perspective, but also how to do what’s right for them. I pray they have the guts to go against what everyone else does, or what they think they “should” do when needed. I hope to instill in them that different isn’t wrong – just different – and different can be wonderfully freeing.

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Plant Life

Today marks two years of not eating anything with a face. I discussed my reasons for moving toward a plant-based diet here, but two years in, a review of the process seems in order.

There have been many failed recipes. Homemade bean burgers that fell apart before we even got them out of the oven, a spring roll that was fine with enough sauce, but the wrapper tasted like rubber, and a misused spice that ruined a whole pot of stew all come to mind. Trial and error. Find what works. Dump what doesn’t.

Gather knowledge. And recipes! I have a penchant for purchasing cookbooks. The more photos, the better. Discovering Forks over Knives has a quarterly magazine FULL of tasty concoctions that I’ve revisited many times was a game changer. The internet?! Hello. SO. MANY. IDEAS. It has been a learning curve, but some tasty eats along the way.

Health. There has been much research on the health advantages of a plant based way of eating. Here are a few:

NutritionFacts.org

Forks Over Knives

Thug Kitchen (Language alert – but SO funny and great eats!)

Dr. Dean Ornish

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Quick article from Harvard Health

Dr. Garth Davis

Personally, it’s been a road of increasing health, but not in the way we typically think of it. For most of us, we think of health in terms of appearance. 6-pack abs, a certain size, before and after pictures, etc. all promote an idea of what healthy looks like. The fact is, you can be very unhealthy and achieve those things. I’m talking about health from the perspective of cholesterol and A1c (blood glucose levels). Health from the inside out.

For me this process began after getting blood test results that indicated I was prediabetic. Basically that means that I was on the road to Type 2 Diabetes. I sought advice from a registered dietician and followed her instructions. My numbers came down. Among the list of foods to consume was lots of processed meats; and it just didn’t seem right so I kept investigating, reading books such as Protein-aholic by Dr. Garth Davis, Presto! How I made over 100 pounds disappear and other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette, The China Study by Dr. Colin T. Campbell among many others. I read about Type 2 diabetes and how the conventional advice was to limit carbs/sugars and watch the A1c numbers come down. It’s true, the numbers will come down a bit. But it’s putting a bandaid on the problem. It’s not addressing why the body isn’t processing carbohydrates the way it should.

Fat is actually the issue. Fat gums up the locks of our muscle cells, not letting insulin do it’s job of letting in the energy (carbohydrates) in. “Fat in the bloodstream can build up inside the muscle cells, creating toxic fatty breakdown products and free radicals that block the insulin signaling process. No matter how much insulin we have in our blood, it’s not able to sufficiently open the glucose gates, and blood sugar levels build up in the blood. And this can happen within three hours. One hit of fat can start causing insulin resistance, inhibiting blood sugar uptake after just 160 minutes.Fat is actually the issue. Fat gums up the locks of our muscle cells, not letting insulin do it’s job of letting in the energy (carbohydrates) in.”

-Michael Greger, M.D.

And what type of fat? Saturated fat. The kind from animals, trans-fat, deep fryers, etc. You know – the ones that you know you shouldn’t eat. (The fats from avocados and nuts are unsaturated fats.) According to my registered dietician, eating meat was going to help me lower my blood glucose levels. By eating meat?! Nope. Bandaid for sure, but not a long-term solution.

My A1c numbers came down but my cholesterol and triglycerides had shot up! Great. (insert eye roll). It’s no wonder most of us are so dang confused by nutrition. The ‘experts’ attend conferences funded by fast food companies. While many practitioners are simply teaching what they are taught, it’s not solving the problems, and it’s not accurate information.

Fast forward a year in to a plant based diet, I had bloodwork done yet again to check my A1c and cholesterol. My triglycerides came down from 276 to 118. My doctor was so excited by my results she called me from her personal phone after hours to celebrate with me! My A1c number when from 5.6 to 5.3. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but it is a trend in the right direction. The farther down the normal range the better. A plant based diet has done just that!

BUT WHAT ABOUT PROTEIN!? My answer is two things.

  1. Proteins are amnio acids. There are 20 amino acids – some are made by the body, some we obtain from food. Regardless of whether you get those amino acids from plants or animals, the amino acids are the same to the body.
  2. Take a look at a gorilla, one of the strongest animals on the planet. Guess what? They have lots of muscles on their body and are capable of lifting 10 times their body weight. They are STRONG. And they are plant eaters. I don’t think they are saying to their gorilla friend at the gym, “What about protein, Brah?”

I also did a test of sorts, I looked up the nutritional value of my typical breakfast and compared it to a typical meat/egg breakfast. Here’s how it stacked up:

Bowl of oats with sliced almonds, blueberries, and hempseed: 23g protein, 12g fiber.

2 eggs, 2 slices bacon and an English muffin: 11g protein, 0.8g fiber

The numbers are clear. Protein is more than sufficient and plant based eating will give you the fiber most omnivores lack and then some!

My palate has changed. Eating a steak or a piece of bacon doesn’t even sound appealing. (I used to LOVE me some bacon!) When I walk by the meat department in the grocery store I can actually smell the blood. It’s so weird. Two years in and I’m feeling great, my doctor is beyond thrilled with my results and I have energy! I have no desire to return to eating meat. Doing so would undo all the health progress I have made and wouldn’t make sense.

Cheers to eating nothing with a face for life!

Changes

We have recently moved for the 9th time in about 12 years.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks with packing and unpacking, and then for good measure we threw in a dog CCL surgery!

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He leads a rough life. Obviously.

We are loving the new digs and the ocean of cardboard boxes is slowly diminishing.  San Diego doesn’t get winter weather, although you’d not know it based on the winter jackets and Ugg boots in abundance any day that is below 70 degrees. There have been a few overcast and even rainy days that have induced me to make some yummy soups in my fabulous new kitchen. I actually have room for all of my kitchen gadgets and I missed my coffee mug selection more than I had realized!

Internal things have been changing  in addition to our physical location. This post has been sitting in my mind, and the drafts folder, for a couple of months. A few years ago, I  arrogantly posted a meme about exercise being equal to medication for the treatment of mild depression. It was a platitude photo with little concrete research behind it. I regret posting it because I now know better. For years I’ve used exercise as a way to combat depression. And it kind of works – for a while. But it’s not the only way or even the best way to combat depression for many people; myself included. (I’ve also used retail “therapy”, and of course alcohol. What I’ve come to learn is that drinking with depression/anxiety is like pouring kerosene on a fire. It makes everything significantly worse.)

There’s definitely a stigma around the subject of mental health and seeking help – but it shouldn’t be. Knowing this intellectually for other people is one thing. Getting my head around it for myself is another thing all together. My psychiatrist explained a couple of things. “We use what works, until it no longer works.” For as long as I can remember I’ve been a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of person. “We can often point to life circumstances as reasons as to why we feel what we feel, which is why the average span from onset of symptoms to getting help is 10 years.” Oddly enough, this blew my mind when really it shouldn’t have because I should’ve sought help years ago. When you see a therapist or psychiatrist, they take in your history – a sort of timeline of your life snapshot. I don’t think most people look at life like that, but it was enlightening because patterns emerged of depression, low moods, unexplained or irrational thoughts and behaviors, etc. Laid out in that way, it was not only surprising I didn’t recognize the pattern before, but confirmed the statistic that people just don’t get help – for many reasons.

Depression is more than just being sad. We all get sad. It’s part of the ebb and flow of feelings. But actual clinical depression is much more and can have different causes. It also presents in more ways than simply low mood. Depression can come out as anger and irritability, irrationality, physical aches and pains, fatigue, and restlessness to name a few.

  • Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
  • Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.
  • Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result with pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid problems, menopause or a number of other conditions.
  • Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.

– Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

As part of my treatment, I now take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. It was like seeing in black and white and then after a few weeks, the color came back. Technically speaking, more neurotransmitters are firing and working properly in the brain. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, I didn’t know how bad I felt because it was normal. That’s what depression does – it’s a slow creeper that you don’t see coming. I was no longer jumping at every little noise. I didn’t feel panicky at the irrational thought spirals about awful things happening to the kids. I wasn’t having panic attacks in a store and feeling like I couldn’t breathe walking with a group of people picking up our kids from school. I wasn’t irrationally irritated by the sound of my kids saying, “Mom…” Having depression and anxiety is exhausting.

I *may* have told my doctor that he would have to pry my medication out of my cold dead hands – I feel like myself for the first time in a long time. He laughed and shared that I wasn’t the first patient to have that reaction. “Medication helps a person with depression let more of their personality shine through.”

I’ve returned to exercising, although not at my previous “running marathons” pace. I’ve missed the endorphins and the mind-clearing adrenaline of a great workout. I will get there again, but there’s less frenzy and anxiety about it now. I’m doing it because moving feels good. I’m walking the dogs because I love them and spending time with them makes me happy. I’m running on the beach because I can and the sand helps cushion my injured ankle/tendons. I’m riding bikes with the kids up insane hills because we can do hard things, it feels amazing, and as Hannah says, “the steep downhills are FUN!”

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I hesitated in sharing this part of my life because it’s not comfortable to need help. Who doesn’t like to feel like they have all their shit together?  Growth and change are rarely easy and often uncomfortable but to not do so would be worse. My hope is that sharing my experience might encourage someone who needs it to seek help. I’m grateful for a handful of friends that were open and brave enough to share their own struggles, which in turn gave me the courage to get help for myself.

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I’m Alive….

I love that song by Sia, “I’m Alive”. I belt it out at the top of my lungs in the car. I used to belt it out during a killer spin class climb when it was on the set list. Powerful vocals plus adrenaline = euphoria on a whole other level. There are a few songs that do that for me.

I haven’t written much about fitness in the last 1.5-2 years, basically because I’ve been walking dogs and that is pretty much all I’ve been doing. Getting sober, getting through a low period, revamping my nutrition, physical therapy/shoulder rehab, nursing an ankle, an 11-month deployment and just getting through the days were the focus. Fitness was not. I didn’t give a rip about miles or squat form. Burn out seems a little harsh, but it was somewhere in the mix. I LOVED working at the gym. I loved working with clients one on one. I love teaching. It’s in my DNA. What I did not have at the time was balance. When I was at home, I was thinking about work, and vice versa. It wasn’t tenable at that level for me long term. My body was also telling me in not so subtle ways to go slower. I tend to the all or nothing – slug-sloth-fest on the couch or running marathons and working out 6 days a week. No in-between. (Some life lessons I seem to be determined to learn only after being clobbered with it more than once!)

It is not sustainable long term to go balls to the wall all the time.

I knew I would come back to it. I’ve been itchy for some good endorphins for a while now. I was good with my hiatus. I needed it. My body needed it.

But now I need to get me back.

Chatting with a friend we both expressed a need to get back to ourselves, to feeling amazing and strong and….alive. What I did in 2012 and since is awesome, and in large part why I started a blog in the first place. This fitness stuff is such a great ride – but it’s for the long term, not just for a reunion, a 6 week-program, a year, whatever. There is no expiration date.

It’s for life, for my life. 

Today started with a brief walk/run warm up with the dogs for a whopping 1.25 miles. I came home and had to get the space organized. Adios cardboard!

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My new space

It’s smaller than what I have had in the past – but is so doable. I also have access to a small gym within walking distance. YES! I also had to dig out the ankle brace because it was talking to me. (*See above “balls to the wall” comment above. Insert eye roll here.) Sure! Take a year and a half off and then go run a 5k. That won’t hurt at all!

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Make it work

After getting it all set up and running up and down 2 flights of stairs about a bazillion times, (so sorry ankle!) I was ready to rock. (Some of my gear was in the garage, some was on the 3rd floor.) Yay stairs!

I popped on the playlist and got to work:

Warm up: Bear crawl 30sec, 12 reps inverted hamstring each side, 10lb ball hip hinges, bodyweight lie down and get up 60sec, shoulder mobility work, cobra presses, bodyweight glute bridges and full body stretches.

Kettle Bell Swings: Sets – 5 30sec duration Rest 30 sec

Set 1:  3x, 60 sec rest

KB Goblet Lateral Lunges -10 reps, BW Push up- 5 reps, full body stretch – 5 reps

Set 2: 3x 30s rest

KB Goblet Squat to step forward lunge – 30sec, BW Power Push ups – 5 reps

Set 3: 3x, 30 sec rest

Plank stir the pot on stability ball – 30 sec, Stability ball dead bugs 30 sec.

Finisher: Banded Squat walks – 20 paces out and back x3

The cheerleading squad

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Sweaty and hot after my workout

It was hard. It was uncomfortable. I’m not as strong as I have been in the past, but I was able to do more than I anticipated. I was able to do pushups without shoulder pain which is a GINORMOUS win. I won’t be surprised if I have leg cramps later. The foam roller will be my best friend. I have a new start line. The nutrition piece is working. The house is basically unpacked. Time to get back at it, again.

I’m here.

I’m alive.

And it’s a great place to be.

The First Time

The first time I had a drink, I was 4 or maybe 5 years old. My older step-sisters, in high school at the time, were having a party. I don’t remember much about that night, other than I felt amazing being with all those big people. I was making them laugh! They let me play their ping pong ball game with them, and even let me cheat and win! I don’t remember having an opinion about what I was drinking, or even what it tasted like. I drank it though. I liked the attention. I have a vague recollection of not feeling good, but specifics are not clear. I do recall dark brown fuzzy carpet.

Dragging me by my arm, I was told to go to bed and pretend to be asleep, as people rushed around shushing each other and scrambling to pick up. Hindsight and retelling of family stories years later filled in the gaps that were confusing for me as a child. They were home, and evidently earlier than anticipated.

To this day I do not know where my parents were that night. Or the time I woke up one early morning to a sea of sleeping bags and blankets, covering so many bodies splayed out all over our rec room floor. It was a different time, the eighties. The thought process was “at least they are partying at home instead of out driving around. They are doing it safely”.

I will be 40 in 10 days. I have drank alcohol up until 65 days ago. I didn’t drink in my early teens, but by 18 had a boyfriend with legal friends. For over 20 years I have ….

been an alcoholic? An on and off binge drinker? Both? Does it really matter?

When I look back at my history, on paper yes. If I was reading this about someone else, it would leave no doubt. Of course she’s an alcoholic. But because it’s me, it’s somehow normal….

It’s not that bad…I didn’t wake up and have a bottle of vodka for breakfast. (Although I’ve had Kahlua in my morning coffee on a couple of occasions with friends.) I didn’t hide bottles. I never drank before work. I did strategize calorie consumption with alcohol, as in skipping meals to get tipsy quicker, skip meals to compensate for anticipated alcohol consumption. Switched from sugar- and calorie-dense cocktails to straight liquor over the years. Granted, the worst of the bottom occurred in my twenties.  I didn’t drink while pregnant. After the kids were born, I drank, but responsibly. I didn’t drink alone.

Until I did.

I’ve had horrendous hangovers, but never withdrawal symptoms.

I think that’s the thing. That alcoholic term is so loaded. (Pun not really intended, but I’m leaving it there.) Alcoholics are physically addicted, right?

I don’t think it matters.

I don’t care what the definition is. Alcohol does not work for me. It doesn’t make me feel good, it doesn’t improve my life. It never feels as good as that elusive just-tipsy-but-not-drunk feeling does for that brief moment. Chasing that ever-closing window of buzzed perfection always led way past excess. When having 1 leads to 10, it’s not good regardless of whatever the definition says. I love the way Jim states it at Fit Recovery, “I didn’t want to drink, I wanted drunk.”

Exactly.

I am done wrestling with am I or not. Doesn’t really matter in the end, does it?

Day 55

I have not had a drink in nearly 2 months. In 5 days I will have earned my 2 month chip. In that time I have also switched to a plant-based diet.

I would like to say that these 2 decisions are miraculously making me into the fabulous version of myself that I always knew I could be, much like an after picture where life is now wonderful and amazing and the problems of daily life do not exist.

Truth?

What I'm noticing is an awareness of the pervasiveness of drinking culture. Mommy play groups, social media, cute videos depicting funny women discussing parenting over glasses of wine, college life, radio ads, military groups, music, books, etc. It's everywhere. It seems normal. But is it?

I notice personally, that my skin is clear-ish. My clothes are loose. Life is going by, just as it always has. My head is clearer. I feel better. Burying feelings under a heavy blanket of alcohol is no longer an option. I'm reading more and am noticing more, but it's still me. I think that's the thing is that you still have to deal with yourself. I am not reaching and pining for something to drink, as I imagined I would. I don't wake up tired and cranky most of the time. I go to bed without regret, usually just tired and ready for the day to be over.

The 'one day at a time' mantra is ringing true just as much for sobriety as it is for deployment. Play a game with the kids, be present. Prepare a meal. Read. Write. Be with the dogs. Clean the house.

Just do life.

Without the numb.

Culinary Escapades

This week we tried a vegan pulled “pork” sandwich that was featured on Tasty Vegetarian’s facebook page. WOW. The flavors did not disappoint, however the jackfruit, was …messy. (To put it mildly.)

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This thing was a beast!

Here’s the video, if you are interested:

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So weird, but fun! Side note: super glue is likely manufactured from jackfruit. This is the stickiest substance on the planet! Sheesh! I had it everywhere and had to wash my hands with a scrub brush multiple times to get it off!

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The house smelled AH. MAZING at this point, regardless of how this pile of fruit looks.

It was very tasty, but sadly, we were missing an ingredient so a trip to the store resulted in a longer cooking time. Ours came out mushy. We will be trying again, however – but this time with canned jackfruit. Once was enough of an experience for this cook!

Later I whipped up this little experiment of my own. I love tacos. LOVE them. For these, I used cauliflower for the crumbly “meat”, (sounds weird, but seriously, cauliflower is amazing in its ability to take on different flavors.) With the cauliflower seasoned and sautéed with homemade taco seasonings, I topped the tacos with some brown rice and black beans that I had left over, some fresh salsa and sliced avocado. They were divine!

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Even hubby said they were good, and he’s not a fan of tacos!

I picked up a cookbook and tried this slaw made with veganaise, a mayonnaise substitute. It was not my favorite. At all.

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May look pretty, but the dressing was gross! Veganaise gets a thumbs down from this girl.

I had made some red lentil chili the other day and it made a bazillion servings. (Recipe in the link.) It was delicious, but a bit spicy even for me – and I dig heat! I had a numb mouth and a ready glass of ice water while eating! Using the leftovers, I topped it on some mixed salad greens and added avocado and tomato to dial down the heat just a notch. Turned out pretty good!

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Gotta get those greens in!

One thing I miss with our veggie tray is ranch. Hummus is okay, and it’s growing on me – but sometimes I just prefer ranch dressing. Attempting to make a completely vegan/plant-based version and perhaps dial up the nutrition factor, I found a recipe for one here. Made with tofu and seasonings, I thought it might work well….

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…I don’t know if it was because I used more potent red onions, or the silken tofu instead of regular, but I just did not like this. Thumbs down. It didn’t taste like ranch.

I’m still experimenting with different ranch versions and am excited to find one I like! Going to try one that uses almond milk this week! Fingers crossed because I need ranch for these beautiful veggie trays!

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This $2 divided tray has been key in getting my kiddos to snack on veggies this summer. Best two bucks ever spent! I just keep it filled with whatever veggies I have on hand and set it out. It gets eaten!

And finally, made this quick lo mein last night. Super easy and came together in a flash. I added in my tofu crumbles that I like. They have the texture of mushrooms and even my hardcore carnivore hubby likes it!

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Lo mein! YUM!

I have quite a few recipes printed up for next week. I tend to gravitate toward stir fries and tacos, so we will be venturing out a bit and trying something different!

If you have a favorite plant-based recipe – share in the comments!