Serving Up a Meat-Free Thanksgiving With Vegan Chef Stacey Dougan

Turkey and Dressing alternative courtesy of Chef Stacey Dougan


It’s that time of the year again when we come together to express our gratitude for family and friends over a scrumptious, hearty dinner.  Thanksgiving is a comforting holiday in so many ways, especially as it relates to food.  With all of the delectable options available for Thanksgiving, it is often a struggle to keep the pounds off.  Film professionals know all too well how important it is to maintain a healthy body weight especially for the camera.  This Thanksgiving holiday, Reel Focus will help you to celebrate Thanksgiving with healthier food alternatives that will keep you looking good while eating good.  In order to do this, I have asked the self-taught vegan chef Stacey Dougan to share with us what she knows about veganism and to provide some food items appropriate for this holiday. 

Stacey, I applaud you for your vegan lifestyle.  Maintaining a healthy diet is very difficult for most but with the delicious looking meat-free meals that you prepare, you make it seem easy.  First, tell our readers how you became a vegan yourself.

Vegan meal courtesy of Chef Stacey DouganI became a vegan when I was very young.   I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan and when I was a youth, I attended an African school called Nataki Talibah and it was there that I was regularly exposed to a vegetarian diet.  This was back in the 1980s, well before vegetarianism and veganism became as popular as it is today.  I preferred this way of eating ever since.  I didn’t actually remain loyal to this diet until I was about 23 years old; however.  By this time, I decided to eat like this not only because I was exposed to it as a youth but also because I had health issues such as excema.  Once I switched to a vegan diet, these health issues ceased.

I know several people who are vegans and I myself have attempted to be vegan as well.  Tell us about the challenges involved in being a vegan and how to overcome those challenges so that becoming a vegan won’t be a life trend but instead a lifestyle.

Please know that I’m speaking specifically for myself and not for all vegans when I say this but I took my time to become vegan.  I encounter many people who decide to become vegan and its almost like an overnight decision but for me it simply didn’t work that way.  I gave myself time to become a vegan and what this did is it allowed me to find substitutes for the food items that I eliminated from my diet.  As I said, I had been exposed to vegetarian diet early in my life but I did eat beef and chicken and fish occasionally.  When I made the decision to become fully vegan, I gradually eliminated one meat at a time.   After eliminating meat, I began to eliminate dairy products such as cheese and milk.  This was a major challenge for me and I’m sure that this is a challenge that most who want to become vegan will experience. 

Another thing that you may not anticipate but presents a challenge is attending family gatherings while being vegan.  Family doesn’t always know or even understand how to prepare vegan meals.  In that case, I would suggest that you either make dishes yourself to bring to the family function, try to locate a vegan restaurant in the local area and order take out from them, or ask the host to set aside a portion of the food that contains no meat.  Another challenge to being vegan is raising vegan children and that is such a complex topic that I won’t get into the details of it here.  I have a two year old son that I am raising as vegan and as he grows older, I’m going to instill in him what I know about veganism but I will allow him to make his own decisions about what he wants to eat because this is not something that I want to force upon him.Vegan Lasagna Courtesy of Chef Stacey Dougan


Simply Pure is your vegan restaurant located in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Tell us how you founded this restaurant.

Well my career as a restaurateur all started about 15 years ago.  I had recently graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta and I started a restaurant in Atlanta with a few business partners called Everlasting Life Raw Restaurant.  For those familiar with the area, it was located in the West End across from a restaurant called Soul Vegetarian.  Raw food is a little different from vegan because you can consume nothing over 120 degrees.  I eventually got out of this business deal and I started working exclusively for a Ghanan ambassador in Chicago providing vegan meals for him.  I did this for about two years but while traveling back and forth between Ghana and America, my father got sick so I wanted to be close to them in Las Vegas, Nevada.  When I got back home, I briefly worked for the Wynn hotel as a chef and this is basically how I learned hands-on skills related to restaurant ownership.  I already knew how to cook but working for the hotel helped me to perfect my presentation skills.   Eventually, I started working for Zappos doing some catering for them and a gentleman by the name of Tony Hsieh heard about me and approached me about opening a vegan restaurant in the heart of Container Park as a part of the downtown project to revitalize Las Vegas.   And I’m still here today.


Stacey, many of us are guilty of gorging around the holiday.  Can you share with us some healthy vegan alternatives to typical holiday foods that will keep us from feeling guilty about our calorie intake?

Like I said before, it would be ideal to contact a local vegan restaurant and obtain a full holiday meal from them because a lot of vegan restaurants usually provide this service around this time of the year. However, if you want to attempt to cook on your own then here are a few things that I suggest.

As a meat substitute, the most popular on the market are Tofurky or Field Roast but I personally am not a fan of alternative meat substitutes because as a vegan chef, I simply make my own using tofu and a bit of sage.   But these are good choices if you are not too familiar with how to prepare tofu.  Vegan mac-and-cheese courtesy of Chef Stacey Dougan

Dressing is primarily a vegan dish.  You would just leave out the items that are meat or meat based (gizzards, eggs, etc.) and in place of beef or chicken stock, use vegetable stock.  This will make your dressing vegan.

Again greens is a vegan dish too.  You just leave the meat out and if you want that smokey flavor that the meat provides, simply use liquid smoke in the greens to flavor them.

Macaroni and cheese is a difficult vegan dish to tackle because vegan cheese doesn’t melt the same way as regular cheese.  But I make a mean vegan macaroni and cheese dish.  This one I would advise either purchasing from the store from a popular vendor or if you want to try it yourself, just google vegan macaroni and cheese recipes.  Or, of course, you can always come by and sample mine.

When it comes to sweets and pastries, I will admit that this is not my strong point. I’m more of a vegan food chef not a pastry chef so I usually solicit the help of other vegan chefs who specialize in the pastry side of things.  So I don’t have any advice to share regarding preparing baked items.  I would suggest either finding a vegan baker or simply buying what’s on the market.  Or, again if you are adventurous, google search will yield a lot of recipes for baked vegan goods.


Chef Stacey Dougan



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Celebrity Life Coach Lauren Handel Zander on Organizing Your Life in 2018


Photo of Lauren Handel Zander
Image courtesy of Handel Group

Welcome to 2018!

Are you busy working your way through your list of new year’s resolutions?  Are you going to stick to them this time?

Reel Focus blog is usually concerned with all things film and television.  However, occasionally we take a break from the lights, the camera and the action to focus on the key ingredient in entertainment: you!

Keeping in the tradition that we began a while back, I want to keep the momentum going by including a health and well-being segment that helps to make a better you so that you can get all the good that this year has to offer.  Whether you are a veteran or an aspiring film professional, we can all use a small dose of self-improvement, especially this time of the year.  In order to bring in the new year with a new you, this year I have invited renowned life coach Lauren Handel Zander,  Co-Founder and Chairwoman of Handel Group, to share tips on how to help you sort out your life for greater success and abundance this year.  

Lauren, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share this important information with Reel Focus readers.  Everyone comes to a point in life where they feel as though they are inundated with deadlines, family obligations, professional obligations and a host of other “busy-ness.”  First, tell our readers how to recognize when life is becoming overwhelming and when they should seek the help of a life coach to aid them in clearing the chaos.

No problem. It’s very much my pleasure (and my job!).


In the fast paced, digital world we live in today, it’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed, anxious, inundated, stressed, excuse-filled, and guilt-ridden.  [And then some.]


If you’re not fully happy, inspired, and proud of yourself, more than likely you are not living true to your highest ideals for yourself.  


That’s where I and HG Life Coaches come in.


The very first assignment we give to each and every client is to dream. And not just dream in one or two areas of their life where most of us dabble, but twelve areas of their life––from their body to career to love life to areas they possibly haven’t thought about in years––like fun, adventure, and spirituality. Dreaming wakes us up to ourselves. It gets us into the right fight. It acts as our own internal GPS, allowing us to see where we really want to go. And worse (and best), it gets us to very clearly see that there is a gap between what we say we want AND what we are currently doing about it (see: excusing and blaming).


As a coach, your dreams give me (your GPS) our final destination.


That was a long way of saying it, but basically you know you need a life coach if you’re not tickled with or particularly proud of any area of your life.

Lauren, most of our audience members are film and entertainment professionals and this industry is definitely a beast in terms of climbing the ladder of success.  Specifically, share with our readers how your organization can help members of the film and entertainment community get their lives on track and realize their dreams.   

No matter how partial you are to believing your industry is the fill-in-the-blank-est (hardest, nit-pickiest, most sexist, etc.), truth be told, climbing any ladder in any industry is difficult. Sure, the entertainment industry has its own brand of beastly; however, watch out if you think your industry––whatever it may be––is harder than any other. After all, doesn’t that theory allow you to 1) be a bit less accountable for your own aspirations, actions, and ascent, and 2) blame your industry for it? 

In my twenty plus years coaching clients––from CEOs to entrepreneurs to politicians to award-winning artists––I have yet to meet a human, no matter how huge and successful, who REALLY understood how to create and design their time so that it’s not only consistent with and true to their dreams, but allows them to get ahead. A coach comes in and helps you get smarter about your time, get your head under new management (curate your thoughts), fight for your dreams, and learn how to make and keep promises to yourself that are wholly consistent with your dreams.

People (even A-list-ers!) think change is hard. It’s not. It’s just different than what you, left to your own devices, are currently doing.

Text messages, social media, work meetings, sporting events, friends’ weddings, kids’ school plays, spouse’s needs – whew, everything and everyone is competing for our attention and time!  In general, tell us more about what your organization does to help us “cut the crap” so that we can complete our obligations happily and successfully.  

See the species packaging: we all (and I mean all––from CEOs to artists to your aunt) know what we should be doing daily to be more productive, happy, and proud.

But we aren’t doing it…

Ever wonder why?

See the title of my book:  Maybe It’s You. Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love Your Life. There is no maybe about it––you are your productivity, happiness, and pride’s biggest problem.

Here are some basic pointers for how to get more productive and, in turn, wildly proud of yourself and what you’re up to.

  1. Instead of battling time and pretending like it is not finite, start partnering with it. Befriend it. There really is a certain amount of time each thing you want to get done takes. Most of us play a bit duh-mb to it. I have clients actually schedule every item (yes, every) on their ‘to do’ list into their calendar and stick to it. I have you wake up to what things actually take to accomplish in real time, not in your head.  

  2. Learn how to keep a promise to yourself and make sure your promise forwards your vision for your career, like working on your business plan (or scripts) for 5 hours a week or attending networking events monthly, or even, uh, having (let alone writing down) a vision for your career, etc.

  3. Be bigger than your favorite brand of excuses. Listen. Excuses are brilliant. They work. They also, however, sabotage your own dream. Discover, once and for real, that every time you sell yourself an excuse and buy it, your relationship to yourself suffers.

  4. Put in a self-imposed consequence should you not succeed at #2. For example, if you don’t put in 5 hours a week on your business plan, lose your weekend wine. The key is not to lose your wine (or whine!) but to keep your promise. It’s pretty impressive how most of us will fight for our vice more than our dream. But, so be it.  At least, let’s use our bad for good, no?

  5. Go public with your promise (and consequence).

Try following these 5 methods for 1 month and you’ll be astonished (and proud!) at how much you’ve accomplished already in 2018!


“Most of us will fight for our vice more than our dream.”  Wow that is a powerful statement, Lauren and I can certainly relate to being my own worst enemy at times.  I want to end with sharing more about your best-selling book “Maybe It’s You – Cut the Crap.  Face Your Fears.  Love Your Life.”  For those readers who are not quite ready to seek personalized life coaching sessions, tell us how this acquiring this book can still help them to get on the road to success starting this year.

For those of you who aren’t quite ready to work one-on-one with a life coach and/or would prefer to work at your own pace with no one in your face (hi!), I have two great options for you. First, my book, MAYBE IT’S YOU, takes you through ten coaching sessions, it gives you the actual assignments I give to my clients, plus you get to follow the stories (and assignments) of four of my clients. The other option is my digital coaching course, Inner.U., which is over fourteen hours of coaching with yours truly. There will be assignments, stories, and even prizes (!). You can push ‘stop’ on me (a rarity), do the deep work at your own pace, all the while wondering if I’m aware that not only do I cackle, care about you, and crack myself up, I still have a slight (smirk) Long Island accent.

If you’re looking for an easy way to get started, my free Current Reality Quiz is a quick, easy, and fun coaching tool. Use it to self-assess and get a better idea of which areas of your life to work on:










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