Staying True To Your Beliefs

I spent last week hiking in the Adirondacks!

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We skied White Face last March, but hiked to the summit on this trip!

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This hike took us to the top of Cascade Mountain.

I seem to have the hands on hips pose down quite well, don’t you think?

 

My husband and I dropped our girls off at school in New York, and then ventured north to visit my son, who spent his summer as a camp counselor near Lake Placid. We really were looking forward to his day off, so we could spend the day hiking with him and his girlfriend, but the weather did not cooperate!

So on to Plan B. We browsed through the city of Lake Placid, enjoying each other’s company, and the locally grown food, while trying to avoid the rain! (If you ever find yourself in Lake Placid, you must stop at Liquids and Solids, and The Scape Cafe.) One of our non-food stops was the local bookstore. I  enjoy small town bookstores. The selection is smaller, so I am not as overwhelmed as I am while at Barnes and Noble. Plus, it forces me away from my “main stream” reads. I was not disappointed. Neither was my son. I came away three books:

Eat, Shoots, and Leaves, an entertaining book about punctuation, and a must read for all Language Arts teachers, written by Lynne Truss

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball (Just started this one.)

Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist

I started reading Diet Cults on our way back home, and I finished the book before we even got through Pennsylvania! I would say it was a quiet ride for my husband, but that would be very inaccurate. Remember how I like to spew info to anyone willing to listen? You can read about that here .

Diet Cults was one of those books that you choose because you believe you know what the content will be and you totally agree…and then BAM! The author puts a spin on it that makes you reevaluate your beliefs. I DO NOT believe in diets. I even wrote a post about that precise subject. So I felt this book would give credence to my cause.

In his book, Fitzgerald debunks many of the popular diets out there…Paleo, gluten-free, Super Foods, Weight Watchers,  raw food…no diet escapes his scrutiny. He begins each chapter by giving an anecdote of a person who has found success on each particular diet. And then he goes on to address the diet’s fallacies. I was feeling pretty good about myself, even nodding my head in agreement and parroting Fitzgerald’s words to my attentive hubby! But then, he touched on the Vegan Diet. I felt myself getting defensive.

Fitzgerald encourages people to steer away from the belief that there is only “One True Way” to eat. And I totally agree. He encourage you to play his “Agnostic Healthy Eating Game” as a means to promote healthy eating. The game classifies food into a Diet Quality Hierarchy. Vegetables and fruits are  ESSENTIAL foods. Nuts, seeds, and healthy oils, high-quality meats and seafood, whole grains, and dairy compose RECOMMENDED foods. Refined grains, low quality meats and seafood, sweets, and fried foods are ACCEPTABLE foods. And the good news? There aren’t any FORBIDDEN FOODS.

For those of you visual learners, the hierarchy looks like this:

vegetables

fruits

nuts, seeds, and healthy oils

high-quality meat and seafood

whole grains

dairy

refined grains

low-quality meat and seafood

sweets

fried foods

Ideally, you should be eating foods in the essential group most frequently. Recommended  foods don’t need to be eaten, but he highly recommends them unless you have a compelling reason not to, such as allergies or ethics. Acceptable foods should be eaten in small amounts. Basically, (and I am simplifying) you play the game by keeping track of the food you eat throughout a day, or week, by putting a tally mark next to the group you have just eaten a food from.

Now…back to the whole vegan thing. Once again, I was forced to come to terms with my “diet” (and I mean that in the most basic meaning of the word). Fitzgerald recommends high quality meat in your diet, saying that moderate consumption is healthy.  I first decided to eliminate meat from my diet for health reasons. But now, I know way too much about the care and processing of animals in the meat industry. It disgusts me. Then I think about the environment and the effects the meat industry is having on our world. So, eating meat? Not going to happen. But that’s me. If you do choose to eat meat, however, make sure it is of high quality and humanely raised.

Dairy is also placed in the recommended group, yet Fitzgerald states, “Anyone can get by without dairy…” . He refers to a “major review of past research” that reports that “subjects who consumed the most dairy products had a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes…than those who ate the least dairy.”  This contradicts everything I have ever read. What I have learned is that research can be, and frequently is, manipulated by the people funding the research. For example, the only reason there is a glass of milk on “My Plate” is because the dairy industry helps fund it.

The elimination of dairy was more complicated for me. I enjoyed an icy glass of skim milk with my meals, and ice cream or fro-yo was a weekly occurrence. And fresh mozzarella on pizza??? Yum. Plus, dairy is always IN things…pancakes, bread, cookies! But, I learned there are better (and healthier…think less processed, and more nutrient dense) options. I make my own almond milk and it is to die for! Same with cookies, and pancakes, and other baked goods. Cheese? Trickier, but doable. Cashew cream makes a great substitute! And again, I know way too much about the production of milk, and the treatment of cows. So, despite living in the Dairy State…I just can’t do it. There are better options for me.

All in all, I loved the book. I believe Fitzgerald has the right idea by showing us that there is not “One True Way” to eat. Listen to your body! I appreciated having my beliefs challenged, as it only solidified my beliefs. So…thank you Matt Fitzgerald! I can’t wait to play your game!

Veggies’ Best Friend (…and mine, too!)

The other day my husband and I were invited to a get together at some close friends of ours. Typically when we do this, everyone brings a dish to share. This time however, we were instructed to just bring ourselves. And being that I had little to no time to make anything, that was a huge relief.

Now, a “situation” that vegans sometimes experience, is that  when food is involved, the options are a bit slim. I can usually round up enough food to put on my plate…fruits and veggies are plentiful in the crowd I hang out with, but trying to find food that will fill me up AND satisfy me can be challenging. Now, keep in mind…I AM NOT COMPLAINING. I do not expect others to cater to me. I usually do bring several dishes that offer sustenance and satisfy me. I find this is also a great way to introduce others to vegan food. And I must say, I enjoy the shock factor when people ask me for a recipe and discover some of the ingredients I used.

In hindsight, I wish I would have whipped up a batch of hummus to bring along. It’s quick and easy, and it definitely satisfies!

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My basic hummus includes only 6 ingredients! And better yet, is super easy to throw together. And even better yet? It’s a big crowd pleaser!

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Simply drain a can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and rinse. If you want to impress a crowd, you could remove the skins from the chickpeas to make an extra smooth hummus. I have and it’s incredible. But it takes time and most of the time I just want to get it in my belly ASAP.

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Remove the skins from 2 – 4 garlic cloves.

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Roll a lemon on the countertop to make it juicy, and then cut it in half.

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Measure out 1/3 cup tahini.

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Then, put the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and tahini in your food processor.

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As it is processing, add enough water to thin it out so it doesn’t morph into a big chickpea ball. I used about 1/4 cup. Scrape down the sides of your processor as necessary.

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Interrupt the processing, and add 1 teaspoon sea salt…

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and 1/3 cup nutritional yeast.

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Check out all the nutrients in nutritional yeast! What a yummy way to get your B vitamins!

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Process until blended.

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Makes my mouth water just looking at it!

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Taste! Adjust as necessary…mine was perfect! Warm and garlicky…just the way I like it! Nothing beats fresh, WARM hummus! Can’t buy that at the store!

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While it looks like I just poured it onto the counter, it really is in a glass container. I can tell you it keeps for at least 24 hours. Beyond that I don’t know…it never lasts that long.

 

Hummus

1 can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)

1/3 c. tahini

3 cloves garlic (skins OFF)

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 c. water

1 t. salt

1/3 c. nutritional yeast

optional: buffalo sauce or olive oil and paprika

 

Drain chickpeas and rinse. Put in food processor with tahini, lemon juice and garlic cloves. Process while adding water to keep it from turning into a big ball. Scrape down sides as necessary. Add salt and nutritional yeast. Process until blended. Taste. Adjust if necessary.

My oldest loves to drizzle olive oil and paprika on her hummus. My husband loves to douse his with buffalo sauce. I like mine on a spoon. Or on my finger if I’m really in a hurry.

Serve with veggies, pita bread or pretzels. I will also put hummus on salads, or on a wrap with roasted veggies. Delicious!

Living the Sweet Life

I live a sweet life. And no, it’s not just because I have a happy marriage (which I do), or because I have 3 kids I enjoy spending time with (they turned out pretty well despite my parenting), or because I have a job I enjoy (especially in the summer). What I’m really talking about is the fact that I love sweets! A lot. And I have for a long time.

When I was preschool age, my mom would drop me off at my grandparents’ house while she went grocery shopping each week. My grandma always had fresh molasses cookies waiting for me in the Humpty Dumpty cookie canister on the counter. I would sit at the kitchen table with my grandpa, chatting away while we dunked our cookies into our coffee. (Grandpa had coffee with a touch of milk and sugar. I had milk and sugar with a touch of coffee).

In elementary school my lunches always included a Hostess Suzy-Q, or a Ho-Ho, or a Ding Dong. Suzy-Q’s would be separated into halves, much like an Oreo. I would lick the creamy frosting out of the middle, before indulging in the outer layers of cake. Ho-Ho’s were stripped of their chocolatey coating before being systematically unrolled into flat rectangles. And the Ding Dongs? Well, not much I could do to deface them before eating.

Five gallon pails of ice cream were always in the freezer. Vanilla was my favorite. I would scoop some into a dish, grind up chocolate chips in the nut grinder, and stir them into my ice cream until I had a creamy concoction that would rival Cold Stone. And sometimes, I would just pour maple syrup on top and sprinkle with walnuts. Heavenly.

I enjoyed  sweets and felt absolutely no guilt what-so-ever about eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Weight was not an issue for me, and I never connected food to how I felt emotionally or physically. That is I didn’t up until the time I was about 12 and went on my first diet. Suddenly, sweets became the enemy, as they were the source of unwanted calories. They were to be avoided at all costs. When I did ” slip up” and eat a cookie, or some cake, or a candy bar, I felt ashamed and disgusted with myself. This began a relationship that continued for most of my life.

Then, the summer before I left for my first year of college, I decided to eliminate white sugar from my diet in an attempt to get healthy. Within days, I experienced a headache like none other. The headache lasted for days. Definitely a sign that sugar was not good for me.

When I was in my 30’s, I went on the South Beach Diet. Hello aspartame! I used sugar free EVERYTHING-jello, soda, candy, cookies…you name it. This continued for years. Then one summer, I took a class on personal wellness and I began to make the connection between some physical symptoms I was experiencing (most noticeably heart palpitations, and limb numbness) to my use of the product. I decided to do away with artificial sweeteners once and for all. Back to white processed sugar I went.

Then, two years ago, when I switched to a whole foods, plant based diet, I began my quest for a more natural sweetener. I started wondering…

What is the healthiest sweetener I could be using? I wanted to feel good about what I was putting into my body both physically and emotionally. I wanted to provide my body with valuable nutrients, while keeping my diet as unprocessed as possible. So, I did a little research on the sweeteners I typically used.

dry sweeteners-coconut sugar, date sugar

liquid sweeteners-agave nectar (raw and organic), blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, honey, and maple syrup

real food sweeteners-bananas, dates

Guess what I discovered? One, every expert and non-expert has a strong opinion. And two, everybody’s opinion is different.

Looking for fiber? Use agave nectar, bananas or dates.

Want low carbs? Agave nectar and bananas for the win.

Protein? Brown rice syrup and dates.

Low GI? Agave nectar, blackstrap molasses, bananas and dates.

Want vitamin C? Bananas.

Iron? Blackstrap Molasses.

Calcium? Agave nectar and blackstrap molasses.

Yikes! What should a person looking for optimal health do? First and foremost…don’t panic! Remember…listen to your body. How do you feel after eating your sweetener of choice? Your body won’t lie.

I have discovered that I feel best when I use real food as my sweetener. Most of the sweets I eat are raw…meaning they are uncooked and unprocessed. This totally takes care of my sweet tooth and allows me to use fruit, dates, and banana as my source of sweetness.

Here is one of my favorite raw recipes:

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Raw Peanut Butter Cookies

1 c. raw peanuts

1/2 c. raw peanut butter (I make my own)

10 Medjool Dates

1 T. raw organic agave nectar

1 T. coconut oil

Process peanuts in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Add peanut butter. Blend. Add dates, agave,  and coconut oil. Process until you have a thick dough and you cannot see any of the dates.  Form into balls (about 1 1/2 T in size). Place balls on parchment paper covered cookie sheet and press with fork to get criss-cross pattern. Put in fridge while you make the chocolate.

Chocolate Dipping Sauce

3 T. coconut oil

3 T. raw cacao powder

1 1/2 T. raw organic agave nectar

Warm coconut oil by placing jar in warm water ( or stick in microwave if you are not a raw food purist). Put liquid coconut oil, cacao powder and agave in small bowl and stir until combined.

Remove cookies from the fridge. Dunk half of cookie into chocolate and place back on cookie sheet. Chill until set.

Enjoy!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tofu Eating Vegan Marathoner…Is That a Bad Thing?

Last week I spent a few days at the Positively Educating Healthy Kids Institute, a conference held at a local high school. Unlike the conference I attended last month (technology in education), I felt completely in my element! After all, what do I feel more passionate about than health and kids? (Oops…sorry, honey).

Anyway, one of the keynote speakers was a nutritionist. Due to my obsession of reading everything nutrition and wellness related, most of what he said was not new to me. He was preaching to the choir! He did, however bring up a few points that got me thinking. I really do like it when my beliefs are challenged, so I appreciated hearing his opinions. Forces me to synthesize (something I teach my students the importance of ALL THE TIME)! I will be blogging about those topics in the near future.

But then he completely wrecked the mood. He made a “not so complimentary” comment about tofu eating vegan marathoners, which made me feel like he was judging. I tend to be kind of sensitive that way. I used all the self control I had to not go up and introduce myself as a tofu eating vegan marathoner after his presentation. As a general rule, I tend to regret acting upon such impulses.

So instead, in his honor, I present the BEST TOFU RECIPE ever. I wonder if I could get his address and send him some? Hmm….

If you are looking for a basic recipe for tofu, this is for you too! Completely foolproof.

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Start with a block of EXTRA FIRM, non GMO tofu.

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Remove tofu from package.

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Wrap in several paper towels.

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Then wrap in a cloth dish towel. Look! I wrapped mine with Love!

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Press with some heavy books. I placed a cutting board on top, then balanced a couple of books on top of the cutting board. I try to press the tofu for at least an hour, but have gotten away with shorter times. I also check the wrappings. If they are soaked, I will rewrap with dry ones.

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Get out seasoning of choice! I typically use a flavored olive oil and sea salt.

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Cut tofu into cubes. I made 32 cubes bite size pieces from my block.

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I love the texture! It looks a lot like fresh mozzerella!

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A cube closeup!

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Next, place cubes in baking dish. Drizzle with oil and salt.

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Bake at 425 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown. Flip cubes halfway through baking time.

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Yum!

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Use however desired. Here I paired them with roasted veggies from my CSA and Gena Hamshaw,s Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tahini dressing from Choosingraw.com

My husband loves to drown his tofu in a Buffalo or BBQ sauce, but these can be dressed up however you would prefer!

Tofu. It’s not just for vegan marathoners. Take that Mr. Nutritionist.

 

 

 

 

So, What Do Your Kids Eat?

Here is a picture of the whole “fam damily” at a fun run last year:

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The love of my life (the hubby) is on the left, next to him is my baby (entering her sophomore year in college), and then my oldest (a senior in college), then me (yep…the short one…at 5’8″), and the other bookend is my son (a college junior). As you can see, they grew well despite the fact that we didn’t eat as healthy 10 years ago as we do now.

I would say we were rather typical in our eating habits, but leaned toward the healthy side. Red meat was served rarely, as I just didn’t like it. Pop (my  regional dialect is showing…soda, if you will) was rarely in the house, but if it were, the kids (and hubby) drank it like there was no tomorrow. Snack food consisted of pretzels, veggie straws, cheese sticks and yogurt. Chips were a special treat. We love(d) ice cream, so trips to Dairy Queen were frequent, although if the weather was nice we would bike. My husband and I are not ashamed to admit that we used bribery to force our kids into biking with us. (Hey kids! Want ice cream? Get on your bikes!)

By my own admittance, meals were very uninspired. And uninspired is a polite way of saying BLAH. A chunk of meat (usually chicken breast…I hated touching raw meat, so frozen chicken breasts were a life saver), a veggie, and potato or rice or noodles. We drank a lot of skim milk. An embarrassing confession? I use to make “Daddy’s Favorite Casserole” from time to time. “Daddy’s Favorite Casserole” consisted of potato chips, canned tuna, and cream of mushroom soup. Yep. I’ll wait until you get back from throwing up.

With 3 kids born within 28 months, and each one active in multiple sports, out to eat meals happened frequently, especially on weekends. We ate typical tournament food on tournament weekends. (And what do I miss most about soccer tournaments? The kettle corn!) If we needed to eat on the run, it was Jimmy John’s or Subway. If we could be a bit more leisurely, we migrated toward Panera.

So now, once people discover that I eat a whole food, plant based diet, they often inquire about what my kids eat. (And my husband too for that matter…we will have that conversation later). And that my friends, is a very good question.

When I decided to become vegan, I just did it. I didn’t announce it to anyone. I just stopped eating meat, dairy and eggs. And I stopped buying meat, dairy, and eggs. So over the course of time those items disappeared from the household. Skim milk was replaced with almond milk, rice milk and soy milk. Chia and flax seeds replaced eggs. Daiya cheese, tofu and tempeh appeared in the meat drawer. Raw nuts and seeds replaced crackers and pretzels.

Now what you need to keep in mind is that I get really excited when I read books on nutrition, and I am constantly quoting info from the books I read. (So my family was becoming educated whether they wanted to be educated or not.) At first, there was a bit of rebellion. I would find McDonald’s and Taco Bell wrappers in the garbage. And I kept my mouth shut.

Then, over the course of a few months, something incredibly awesome happened. My kids  started questioning me about nutrition. We would have family nutrition discussions. One by one they gave up dairy. And 2 of the 3 discovered they didn’t get excruciating stomachaches after eating rich, creamy, cheesy dishes, or ice cream. Requests were made to go eat at restaurants that offered locally grown foods, with vegan options.

It was no longer a big deal that meals didn’t include meat. I became a lot more creative in the kitchen and the food I made was actually tasty. (Although admittedly, there were a few flops along the way.)  Daughter #2  (D2) actually told me that she loved coming home to eat the meals I made, where that was definitely not the case previously. When they are at school, I get picture of the food they are eating. All lean heavily toward whole food, plant based. I regularly receive texts requesting certain recipes that I have made for them when they were home.

We have become restaurant snobs. Chain restaurants are, for the most part, a thing of the past. (Except for Chipotle…LOVE Chipotle!) And D1 has a slight obsession with Taco Bell…usually coincides with bar closing times. I forgive her for this as she is also the child who craves roasted veggies and eats them by the truckload. My son goes to school in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and he is forever discovering new restaurants and is eager for us to visit so we can enjoy them as well. (Of course, we are paying, so that might be part of the appeal as well). And D2, has a sweet tooth much like her mama. She is now a vegan baker, and is obsessed with the Chocolate Covered Katie blog. All 3 kids have NutriBullets so they make their own smoothies and Larabars regularly.

Are they 100% vegan? No. But I certainly wish I ate as well as they do when I was in college. D1 is mostly vegan, but when she goes out to eat, she will order seafood from time to time. S1 is just a food snob. Some of his meals are meatless, but he really enjoys quality food. He has been known to order the most expensive item on the menu on many occasions. And D2 still eats meat when she goes out, and still loves her sweets, but is very aware of the quality of food she eats and of the ingredients in the foods she eats. I frequently catch her comparing ingredients in products and then making an informed choice. This past summer she commented to me, “Mom, we don’t have anything to eat in the house, but we always have everything we need to make any recipe I find.” It clicked for her.

So, do my kids eat like me? Not completely, but I am proud of the fact that they take pride in the food they choose to put in their bodies. I just hope they stop growing.

 

 

I Love My CSA!

Once a week, mid June through mid October, I eagerly drive 5 miles out of town to this quaint little farm stand.

CSA
It is here that I pick up my box of fresh fruit and veggies compliments of my Oakridge Farms CSA (Community Shared Agriculture). If you have never tried a CSA, I highly recommend it. Each week I get to pick up fresh, locally grown produce. It makes me feel so good to be investing in my community! Plus, every Tuesday feels like Christmas, as the anticipation of discovering what goodies will be in my box, is much like guessing what presents will be under the tree.

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Look at all the goodies hiding in the box this week!

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Produce overtakes my countertop! I usually have a slight moment of panic as I try to figure out where I am going to put everything!

The berries didn't stand a chance. I  demolished them single handedly while unpacking all of the goodies.

I don’ worry about the berries. They  don’t stand a chance. I demolished them single handedly while unpacking everything that was in the box. That’s probably why the picture is so blurry. Kinda hard to take a picture with one hand and shovel berries into your mouth with the other.

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Among the other goodies, were cauliflower…

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and beets…

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and basil, sage, and thyme, just to name a few!

One of the most exciting aspects of receiving a box full of fruit and veggies is the challenge of incorporating them into meals for the week. Once I saw the broccoli, I started thinking of “Cheezy” Broccoli Soup. But, I didn’t have all the ingredients. So after a little research, I came up with  Kathy Patalski’s Easy Creazy Broccoli Soup on Healthy.Happy.Life.com. I made a few modifications to the recipe.

Broccoli Soup

Broccoli Soup

1 bunch of broccoli (stems removed)

1 head of cauliflower (broken up)

1 1/4 c. non-dairy milk (I used soy)

4 cloves garlic (remove skins)

1/2 c. nutritional yeast

3/4 t. salt (or to taste)

1/2 c. sliced green onions

1/2 avocado, cubed

Place broccoli, cauliflower and garlic into a pot of salted, boiling water. Boil until tender. Drain and then put veggies in blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. You could also use an immersion blender. Simply place all ingredients back in pot after draining.

Homemade Croutons

6 slices sprouted wheat bread (I used Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain bread)

olive oil

sea salt

garlic powder

Cut bread into crouton size pieces. Place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and garlic powder. Bake at 4oo degrees until crispy (check after 20 minutes).

I felt extremely proud of myself. I managed to use broccoli, cauliflower, and green onions from my box! Just another meal made with local love!

It’s Pizza Time!

My oldest daughter just returned home after spending the month studying in Italy. In an effort to make her transition to reality a little more palatable, we decided to make homemade pizzas!

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First up: making the dough. Water with olive oil and salt on the left. Yeast bubbling away in water and agave on the right.

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Adding the liquids to the flour in the food processor!

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Dough BR (before rising).

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And after rising for an hour.

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Kneading the dough.

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Before rising the second time.

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And after!

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Start preparing the toppings. Roasted veggies!

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Homemade pesto. I used this recipe.

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Tomatoes!

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Now the fun part. Roll out the dough on a sprinkling of cornmeal.

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Transfer to pizza pan. Drizzle with olive oil and fresh garlic.

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Brush surface all the way to the edges.

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Pizza sauce.

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Add veggies and pesto!

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Sprinkle with Daiya cheese.

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Admire. A work of art, really.

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Bake at 425 degrees for about 10-12 minutes.

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My hubby’s pizza. I take no responsibility.



Pizza Dough

2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour

1 c. amaranth flour

1/4 c. warm water (about 115 degrees)

1 packet (5/16 oz.) fast rise yeast

1 T. raw agave nectar

1 c. cool water

1 T. olive oil

1 t. salt

cornmeal

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add agave nectar. Put aside. Put oil and salt in cool water. Put aside. Then put flour in food processor, making sure you have the dough blade on. Set for dough. Turn on. Add cool water mixture slowly. Then add yeast mixture. Mix until a ball forms. Put ball into oiled bowl, cover with a dish towel and let rise for one hour. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Then form into balls. I make one ball for each person who will be making a pizza. I have made as many as 5 individual size pizzas, and as few as 2 large pizzas. Place dough balls on an oiled cookie sheet, cover with oiled plastic wrap and a towel. Let rise for another 2-3 hours. Roll out onto surface dusted with cornmeal. Then create your pizza! Bake at 425 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.

There you have it folks! A meal made with love!!

 

A Long Run Made Easy or How Come it Took Me So Long to Get Smart?

Okay, so maybe not easy, but certainly easier!

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Let me back up a bit. This was me last September. I had just completed my 4th marathon, and PR’d by 8 minutes. I was feeling pretty good about myself. The previous spring my son had convinced me to switch up my training a bit. After complaining about how my marathon time was always the same, no matter how I was feeling or what the conditions were, he offered me some advice. I believe his words were, “Mom, if all you do is long, slow distance, all you will be able to do is long, slow distance.” He had a point.

So…I found a new training plan. Each week, I did a tempo run, a speed workout, and a long run. The other days I cross trained. I hated the tempo runs and speed workouts so much, that I really looked forward to my long runs each week. It paid off!!! Not only did I PR, but I qualified for Boston. (Keep in mind that I am old, and it doesn’t take as much to qualify when you are old… but still.)

Then, a week after the marathon, this happened:

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I was out on a bike ride with my husband, took a corner too wide, and got into the gravel on the side of the road. I tried (a bit too aggressively) to get back on the road, my tire turned, and I couldn’t get my feet out of my toe clips to save myself. I then biked 5 miles home. First broken bone of my life. And, it just so happened it was my right (dominant) elbow. That in itself is a story.

Anyway…I digress. I was benched (can runners get benched?) until the middle of December. I resumed running, and my goal was to run a 1/2 marathon the following May. I used the same training approach and faithfully resumed my tempo runs, speed workouts, and long runs on the treadmill at the Y. It was a frigid, icy winter in Wisconsin and I didn’t want to risk falling. Plus I was too big of a wimp to venture out when the wind chill was below zero.

Then, on my first long run outside (end of March “ish”), I developed severe knee pain. I couldn’t run. After resting it without much success, I went to the chiropractor, and started therapy. I missed running the 1/2 marathon. You can read about that here. By the beginning of June it wasn’t any better. So, I ended up getting a cortisone shot which thankfully, allowed me to get back on track (pun intended).

So, I resumed my training. I still had some discomfort in my knee, but I could run!!

And that brings me to the present. Last week, I had an incredibly lousy long run…13 miles and I felt tired and weak from mile 8 on. Yuck. I hate runs like that. This was not normal, so I tried to figure out what was going on. My problem solving brought me to Brendan Brazier’s book Thrive.

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Although I enjoyed reading the whole book, my focus was really on nutrition before, during, and after exercise. Now keep in mind, I eat MOSTLY a whole food, plant based diet (and 99% Vegan)…so I feel pretty good about the food I put into my body, BUT I learned a lot about the specifics on how energy is transferred from food to your body. Your body’s needs are different  during low intensity, moderate intensity and high intensity exercise. It all made sense to me. Brandan even called me out (okay, maybe not me personally, but people like me who do not eat ANYTHING before or during long runs).

Eager to see if Brendan’s philosophy worked, I decided to try a couple of recipes from the book. The first one was for Energy Pudding, which I used as my pre-run food for my 18 miler.

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Here is the recipe from the book Thrive:

Energy Pudding

2 bananas

1/2 c. dates

1/4 c. ground flaxseed

1/4 c. cacao nibs

1 T. coconut oil

1 t. lemon juice

1/4 t. sea salt

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.

This made 2 servings and I ate one about a half hour before my run.

 

Then, along the way, I fueled up with his Direct Fuel Bites:

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Direct Fuel Bites

5 dates

2 T. coconut oil

2 t. lemon zest

1 t. lemon juice

sea salt to taste

I processed the dates first, then added the other ingredients and processed until smooth. Each ball was about 1-1 1/2 T. each).

I ate 4 bites during my run (18 miles). My first was at about 6 miles, and then I ate another one every 2-3 miles after that.

Along the way, I also sipped on coconut water.

Guess what happened? In true Karen form, I felt “blah” the first 2 1/2 – 3 miles. (And this, folks, is the reason I do not enjoy 5 K’s). Then…I got into the zone. My watch beeped every mile, and with each beep my optimism grew. Around mile 16 I came across another runner, and my competitive nature took over. I ran an 8 minute mile, because I wanted (needed?) to stay ahead of him. Thank goodness our paths parted, because mile 17-18 was big payback time. But…I still felt pretty good…I just couldn’t maintain the pace.

Once I got home I made myself a smoothie. I took a shower and went on with my day…forgetting that I had even run!!

After 30+ years of running, lesson learned. If you are looking to get all you can out of your body, I highly recommend reading the book Thrive. And although I would love to get paid for promoting the book, the reality is, I’m not.

What? No Kale?!!

I ran out of kale. I would say that this wasn’t a big deal, but it was.

As of late, I’ve been very into my massaged kale salads for lunch. I was all set. (Except for the kale, of course). A big, ripe avocado sat on the counter. A half of a juicy lemon was in the fridge just begging to be squeezed. My carrots and beets had been grated and were ready to act as  colorful adornments to my ultra healthy salad. Pepitas waited anxiously in a glass jar just ready to be sprinkled on top. Sea salt had been ground. But alas, no kale.

It simply wasn’t going to happen.

So, I took a look at the ingredients I did have, and decided that there was no time like the present to become a little more creative in the kitchen. Best decision I made ALL DAY. Because THIS happened:

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I must say that I was impressed with my abilities. So here it is, Fiesta Salad ala Karen!

Fiesta Salad

Makes about 3 servings.

1 c. cooked millet (other grain/pseudo grain may be used…I had millet sitting in the fridge, so I used it)

1 can black beans-rinse and drain

1 cob of corn (I microwaved mine…simply cut off ends, strip loose leaves, wrap in a wet paper towel and microwave for 2-3 minutes.)

1 tomato-chopped

1/4 c. fresh cilantro

1/2 lime

1-2 t. cumin

1-2  t. salt (I started with one, but added more)

1  avocado-chopped

salsa-about 3/4 cup

Cut the kernels off the ear of corn. Mix your grain of choice, black beans, corn, tomato and cilantro in a bowl.  Squeeze lime and sprinkle cumin and salt on top. Mix again. When ready to eat, top with salsa and chopped avocado.

I kept this in the fridge for 3 days (minus added salsa and avocado).

You could definitely sprinkle some crushed tortilla chips on top for an added crunch factor BUT I was totally satisfied without any.

 

My First Restaurant Re-Creation

Last month I was in Atlanta for a convention and I am happy to say that finding delicious vegan food was not a problem. I had stuffed my suitcase full of “just in case” food items, but I didn’t even need to rely on them. Breakfasts were not anything extraordinary, but I am glad I could count on Starbucks to provide me with a healthier breakfast that had a little staying power.

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Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal with banana, Evolution Sweet Greens juice, and a soy latte.

I really try to avoid chain restaurants at all costs, but time was of the essence, and Starbucks was very convenient. They were all over the place. Not only was there one on the way to the convention center, but there was one in the convention center as well.

Dinner time, however,  was the time to explore! Of course, it had to be within walking distance, as my friend/coworker and I were not eager to try Atlanta’s public transportation system. (Sorry MARTA.)

This particular meal was hands down THE BEST out to eat meal I had while in Atlanta! The restaurant was called The Terrace on Peachtree, which was conveniently located a few blocks from our hotel. Plus, it wasn’t busy due to the fact there was a bunch of loud kids hanging out on the sidewalk near the outside eating area. I believe this entree was called The Vegan Plate. It consisted of kale, red quinoa, sweet potatoes and tofu, a drizzle of olive oil, and some basil pesto. TO DIE FOR. (There is also a $5 bottle of water in the background…it tasted just like free water…imagine that!)

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I thought a lot about that meal once I got home, and I decided I needed to recreate it in the comforts of my own kitchen. And recreate it I did. (Minus the $5 water.)

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It was really quite simple. So here it is. My very first attempt at recreating a restaurant meal at home.

A Stacked Vegan Plate (serves 2 “ish”)

Ingredients:

4 c. raw kale

1 c. cooked quinoa (I used regular, as I didn’t have any red on hand)

1 sweet potato cut into thick fries

6 oz. tofu (I use Wildwood-extra firm)

olive oil

sea salt

Prepare your tofu by draining the water, and then wrapping it in paper towels and then a dish towel. Place a cutting board on top, load with something heavy (books). This presses  the excess water out. I have let it sit for as little as 20 minutes, or as long as an hour.

Cook your quinoa. I use a rice cooker, so it’s extra mindless. Dump 1 rice cooker cup (I think this is about 3/4 c.) full of dry quinoa and then fill the rice cooker full of water to the “1” line. Turn on and prepare your tofu and sweet potato. (You will end of with extra quinoa, but it keeps well and makes a delicious breakfast cereal!)

Next, cut tofu into 2 thick slabs (about 1/2 ” to 3/4′ thick). Put in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, and sea salt. Put this in the oven at 425 degrees. Cook for about 30-40 minutes, flipping half way through the cooking time.

Scrub your sweet potato, and trim off the ends. Cut in half the long way, and then cut each half into 4 “fries”. Put on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Put in the oven with the tofu and bake for about 30 minutes.

Tear your kale into large pieces. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Submerge kale into the water and cook for 3 minutes. Immediately drain the kale and then submerge it in a bowl of ice water. Then drain kale again.

Once everything is ready, assemble your plate. Divide the kale between two plates. Top the kale with 1/2 c. cooked quinoa. Line up your sweet potato fries on top of the quinoa. Finally, balance the tofu on top. Drizzle with olive oil.

Admire.

Bon appétit!