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Meatless Monday: The Year of No Excuses

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We're barely over our holiday hangovers and yet are already bombarded by ads shaming and shouting at us to lose all our holiday weight, join a gym, take a cleanse, get sixpack abs -- no more excuses.

Ain't nothin' wrong with a sixpack, but don't get suckered by all that "new you" business. Be especially wary of so-called cleansing diets, especially those sold in kits comprising little more than a bottle and a powdered, unpalatable mix of mystery ingredients. Going from a month of pounding party foods to a diet solely comprised of lemon and water may help you pee off a few pounds but it's nothing you can stick to, especially in the heart of winter, and it exacts a toll on your body and soul. It makes you cranky and weak.

And yet a certain detox or dietary rethink is appropriate after the bingeing of the Bermuda Triangle of Holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve). So make 2011 the year you dial down -- or stop -- eating meat.

Why go meatless? A little mad cow and E.coli in tainted beef here, a little heart disease and cancer there. Americans may love their beef, but it does not love us back. The more meatcentric your diet, the more at risk you are to serious illness. As Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) president Neal Barnard says, "The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined."

Speaking of natural disasters, beef production is a carbon nightmare, causing roughly three times more carbon output than a meatless diet.

The good news is, it has never been easier to go meatless. Start today. It's Day #1 of the PCRM's 21-day vegan kickstart program. This program provides daily pep talks from celebs, meatless menus and recipes, even its own iPhone app. And meatless support keeps going long after the three weeks are up. There's sources galore, from meatless cooking videos on YouTube to, ahem, this weekly post. I've been writing Meatless Monday posts and providing original meatless recipes every week for a year and a half, and baby, I plan to keep going -- happily busting the absurd myth that meatless cooking means a handful of lettuce and a block of tofu. The food is infinitely varied, easy on the wallet and utterly delicious. Meatless cookbooks, which used to be rare if not freakish, are now hot, with great new ones coming out every day. There's one tailored to whatever your needs and wants are. Here's a handful of recent terrific possibilities:

For the hip and skinny -- skinny bitch Kim Barnouin's Skinny Bitch Ultimate Everyday Cookbook
For meatless basics -- Vicki Chelf's Vicki's Vegan Kitchen
For die-hard carnivores -- Kim O'Donnel's The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook
For the minimalist and less-meatarian -- Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook
And for a new start in the new year -- Terry Walters' Clean Start

Go meatless for your health, for the planet's health, to improve how you feel, how you live, how you eat -- it's a single act with a gazillion profound consequences. Maybe you've been thinking about it, Now's the time to do it. Do the planet and yourself some good. You have nothing to lose except poor health, a heavy carbon load and a heavier karma. You really do have the power to change. No more meat. No more excuses.

Sweet Pepper Hash

2 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
3 to 4 slices day-old whole grain bread, cut into cubes (roughly 3 cups)
1 teaspoon balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 handful chopped parsley
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Lightly oil a large oven-proof baking dish.

In a small bowl, soak raisins in sherry.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon olive oil and pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss to coat.

Place seasoned bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until dried out.

Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes, garlic and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften and turn fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add chopped red peppers. Continue cooking for another 5 to 7 minutes.

Add chopped tomatoes, raisins and sherry.

Gently fold bread cubes into pepper and tomato mixture. Add chopped parsley, season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon into baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, or until top is slightly crusty.

Serves 4. Doubles easily.

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