I am thrilled to introduce you to my dear friend, Char Nolan. I could fill a very long page with fitting labels for Char. She is a dynamo! A true friend, super smart, kind, connected – and a connector – and compassionate, a lifelong learner and teacher. Char has a way of taking a complex issue and getting to the heart of the matter. One of the best parts for me about moving from New York City to Philadelphia is that I get to see more of a woman I am honored and lucky to count among my very best friends.
Today, Char has shared one aspect of her story. She has a very interesting history, too, that includes teaching, public health, jewelry making, charity work, promotion, and much more. Going forward, Char has some very exciting, important almost ready to announce news, so you’ll want to stay connected with her. Thank you very much, Charlene, for your participation in my Fabulous Woman in Vegan Food series.
It was a bright, early fall morning in Rockville, MD. I was at a meeting for marketing team leaders for Whole Foods Market. It was a cool and crisp day that began just like any other. It was Wednesday, September 23, 2009. I remember that day because it is the day that I became a vegan. I started the day as a carnivore and ended it as a vegan, go figure.
The funny thing is that I didn’t set out to go vegan, but at our meeting, our regional president was telling us about the Engine 2 Diet and its 28 Day Challenge. I thought to myself, “I could do anything for 28 days. I’d give it a whirl. Why not, right?” With a life-long weight struggle and fondness for food, I thought that this 28-day challenge would be the ticket.
On my way home I stopped at a brick and mortar bookstore and bought my copy of Rip Esselstyn’s book The Engine 2 Diet. My next stop after that was the grocery store, where I followed the book’s shopping list to the letter. When I got home, I made the announcement to my husband that we were going vegan for a month. He was skeptical, “Not another diet.” He didn’t say that, but that’s what my instincts told me.
My first day as a vegan was super easy. I ate lots of greens and grains and felt satiated after each delicious meal. Weight was melting off. By day-ten, I was sold and that’s because I was totally free of chronic, osteoarthritic pain. Once dependent on over-the-counter meds for pain relief, when I put my foot on the ground on that day-10, I said to myself, “Food is medicine, I am totally pain-free.”
For the last eight years, people seem to be concerned about my health and well-being, and they constantly ask me questions about food, my health, their well-being and more.
Here are the top five questions that people ask me all the time, so step into my world for a glimpse of living the life of a 68 year-old, plant-based vegan, whose food choices are largely influenced by the Esselstyn family. That means a daily regime of eating foods that are sugar, oil, and salt free.
1. What do you eat?
I batch-cook, so you can always find baked potatoes, brown rice, beans, oatmeal, and Japanese sweet potatoes in my fridge. Those are often the base ingredients for any meal during the week. I eat six cups of greens a day. I love making soups, and often add steel cut oats to them, that extra fiber is great, and the soups become creamy and delicious.
I have a huge appetite, so filling up on greens and grains suits me well. Since 2009, I’ve lost about 100 pounds eating this way.
And, yes, everyone asks that protein question.
2. How do you eat out?
There’s a ‘go-to’ restaurant list that I rely on. Chefs are very accommodating so, it is never an issue. The easiest place to eat is at a steak house, because I can grab a baked potato, salad, and steamed vegetables. Over the years, I have found, however, that it isn’t always about the food, but the people we are with when dining out.
For example, we go to a Chinese restaurant where they serve brown rice, and I get a big bowl of steamed vegetables. Filling and delicious.
3. What is your go-to cookbook?
To learn the principles of eating this way, I relied on the Engine 2 Diet and The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook. This arsenal of recipes from the Esselstyn family has taught me so much. Learning to sauté with broth or water was easy and still gives a fabulous caramelized flavor profile for onions and other aromatics. I often pretend that Rip’s mother, Ann Crile Esselstyn, is in my kitchen guiding me. I wanted to learn everything I could about plant-based cooking, so I completed the six-month course at the Rouxbe School.
I grew up in my grandparents’ Italian restaurant, so cooking, you might say, is in my genes. I also come from a long lineage of chefs.
4. What’s the hardest thing about eating this way?
Well, it isn’t really hard. Any boxed foods require loads of label reading on my part, this is why I eat very little processed food. My ideal is a milligram of sodium for every calorie. It’s all about the nutrient-density.
5. You’re not thin, are you sure this works?
I am currently reading A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio, an endurance athlete. Her thoughts about fat shaming are very relatable to me. She is a 250 pound runner, and her roster of long distance events is beyond laudable. Her size doesn’t get in her way, nor does mine to me.
The reality is that you can’t really judge me by my size. My blood pressure is low-normal, my cholesterol is low (between 143-160), and I take zero medication. I once wore a size 24 and lived on drive-thru, secret eating. I’ve shed many sizes and have abandoned junk food and fast food
This really does work, it’s like they say in 12 step programs, “take what you want and leave the rest behind.” I recommend to eat a lot of greens, drink water, exercise, and get to bed at a decent hour, and you will feel better, for sure.
Char’s Quick Homemade Ketchup
- 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons of sriracha (I prefer Ninja Squirrel)
- 3 tablespoons of your favorite vegan fruit conserve
- Put ingredients into a high-speed blender. Mix until blended well. Place in a squirt bottle. Serve.
- Store in fridge for no more than five days.
Char Nolan resides in suburban Philadelphia. She has been married to Patrick Connelly since forever, they have two grown children. Char is a contributing author at The Town Dish, a digital magazine. She teaches “Meatless Monday” classes in South Philadelphia with a program affiliated with the Culinary Literacy Center of the Free Library of Philadelphia. She was recently inducted into Les Dames de Escoffier PHL.
When Char isn’t teaching or writing, she is busy training for a half-marathon. She swims almost daily, too.
Want to Reach Char? You’ll find her on Instagram at @char_nolan.
Char and I have a copy of The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter. The contest ends at midnight eastern time on October 24th. U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!