Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rise-n-Shine Breakfast Bars

Gluten free. Vegan. No sugar added.

What more could you want? Oh, and also, you can make them without adding oil. And they're full of protein. And fiber.

And they're kid-approved. My kids eat them as a snack between school and dance or while we're skiing. Plus the recipe is super flexible, so you can substitute ingredients as needed.

Ok, now what more could you want?

Right. The recipe.


A few recipe notes:
  • This recipe is baked at low temperature on purpose. The goal is not so much to "bake" the bars as it is to semi-dehydrate them. 
  • When you are buying seeds for this recipe, choose raw and unsalted seeds. They're better for you and taste just fine here. I get mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods.
  • Does the pan really need to be lined with parchment? I don't know – I've never tried it without the liner, but I like lining the pan because then it's easy to get the whole slab of granola out at once. 
  • It's a great idea to let this recipe cool completely (or almost completely) before you cut it into bars. I usually let it cool for 15-20 minutes before I lift it out of the baking dish and onto a cooling rack. I've had best luck cutting the bars using a serrated knife. 
  • Once the bars are cut, they do fine sitting out overnight. I think it even helps them dehydrate and crisp up a tiny bit more (at least in my dry climate it does). Then I either wrap them individually or put them in a sealed container separated by layers of parchment. 
  • At my house these bars don't last longer than a week. I mean, they might taste fine after that, but I wouldn't know because we can't keep them around that long!

And some photos of the process:

Dates and chia soaking. Do this in your blender for one
fewer dirty dish.

Unbaked mixture ready to be pressed into the pan.

Pressing. Cover your mixture with plastic wrap and then press with a smaller
flat-bottomed baking dish.

Baked and cooling, waiting to be cut!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cream of Tomato Soup

When I was a sophomore in high school, I visited Northwestern University with a friend and our moms. It was February so I wore a new navy blue pea coat with toggle buttons and a super cute floppy hood. My mom bought me that coat just for that trip – isn't it funny the things we remember? While in Evanston, we ate at a restaurant that had the best tomato soup any of us had ever tasted (I'm sure my palate was advanced for a 15-year-old). The soup was so good, in fact, that we asked the waiter if he could get us the recipe. And he did.

Do you ever ask for recipes in restaurants? This is the one and only time I've requested a restaurant's recipe, but maybe I should try it more often. It would cut down on the number of copycat failures my family has to endure.

I've altered the original recipe to fit how we eat now, meaning I've replaced the animal products with veggie alternatives. I promise it tastes great as a vegan version of cream of tomato (my kids say it's even better than Panera's cream of tomato, which speaks volumes coming from them), but I've included some dairy options in the recipe in case that's your preferance.

Northwestern Cream of Tomato Soup

  • 5 carrots, shredded
  • 5 stalks of celery, shredded
  • 1 medium white onion, shredded
  • 1/4 C water + 1/4 C olive oil OR 4 Tbsp butter + 4 Tbsp butter (I don't buy fake butter/margarine due to the palm oil it contains. Here's why.)
  • 3/4 - 1 C flour
  • 6 C water
  • 1 Tbsp veggie Better than Bouillon (OR replace water and bouillon with chicken or veggie stock)
  • 1 28oz can puréed tomatoes
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 C cashew butter OR half and half
  • 1 C almond milk OR milk
In a very large stockpot or Dutch oven, sauté shredded carrots, celery, and onions with water for 7-10 minutes or until tender. Move to a bowl and set aside.

Warm olive oil over low heat. Add flour and cook 4-5 minutes. Increase heat to medium and add water (or broth), bouillon, tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaf, garlic, pepper, salt, and cashew butter. Bring to a simmer and then add carrot mixture. Bring to a simmer again and reduce heat to low.

Simmer 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add almond milk and stir until well blended. Purée some or all of the mixture if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread and salad greens.

Makes 4 quarts.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The end of a lifelong struggle, continued

Last fall I wrote this post about how finally, after a lifetime of struggling with my weight and body image, I managed to lose weight and keep it off. It's been a little over a year since I wrote that and about 18 months since we changed our diet. I feel like I owe you an update.

Backpacking near Buena Vista.

Here it is: I'm still not fat. I weigh a few pounds less now than I did last fall, which is between 20-35 pounds less than I weighed during all the rest of my adult life. My weigh-ins consistently put me between 148-152 pounds. That's slightly less than I weighed in high school (even when I was swimming a few hours a day) and about five pounds under the wishful thinking weight that is on my driver's license. I could still lose another 10 or 15 pounds, I'm sure, but I'm happy where I am now. Happy with this lifestyle and this body. It's easy to find pants that fit – I'm firmly planted in a size medium, even on the bottom which is something I never imagined would happen. I feel good about my body. My kids are on board with our lifestyle and food choices. I don't feel deprived; in fact, I only feel deprived when the food I've grown to love isn't available.

Backpacking near Breckenridge with the kids.

What we're doing
  • We crave plants and eat them by the pound, not by the leaf. (Case in point: this veggie Pad Thai, which ended up with over 5 pounds of veggies, for a family of four.)
  • We cook with more water/veggie broth and almost no oil. (See a post about that here.)
  • We eat a bit of cheese occasionally (a little feta or goat cheese added to salad, a very light dusting of cheese on pizza).
  • We are inspired by plant-strong vegan bloggers like Angela at Oh She Glows (last night we had these Thai Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers and they absolutely rocked) and Lindsay Nixon at Happy Herbivore.
  • I go to the free Health Starts Here classes at Whole Foods – at our location they're usually once a month on Wednesdays.
  • On most Mondays we buy the Whole Foods Five for Five deal. The recipes they use are vegan, plant-strong, no oil, and no or low salt. It gives me a break from cooking and lets me feed the whole family for $20.
  • We adapt conventional recipes to fit our needs – I double the veggies, leave out the meat, cut the oil down to almost nothing, and don't add salt until the end. One of my favorite recipes to adapt is this kale and barley soup from The Little Red House. I make it a couple times a month when the weather is cold. 
  • We eat a lot of Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese-flavored dishes. Asian food is so easy to use in a plant-based lifestyle.
  • We drink water. Our kids drink water at every meal. Scott and I drink water, beer, wine, coffee, and tea.
  • We make smoothies from frozen berries, almond milk, and kale or spinach. Our kids make their own.
  • We use organic produce when it is available.
  • We allow our kids to eat some junk food (ie: Halloween candy, s'mores, ice cream, some processed snacks like cereal bars when they're running from school to an after-school activity).
  • We let our kids make their own lunches and we encourage them to help us with dinner prep.
  • We are active. I walk a lot. I build stuff. Scott runs, bikes, hula hoops (I'm not kidding), and does pull-ups, push-ups, and planks. The kids walk to school, they dance, they ride their bikes, and they run around outside.
Sending Callie off to summer camp.

What we're not doing
  • We don't eat a lot of tofu. 
  • We don't really eat fake meat. I mean, occasionally. But fake meat is expensive and has very little nutritional value when you compare it to beans or plants. 
  • We don't eat much fake cheese. Sometimes I'll grab some if a recipe specifically calls for it, but it's expensive and, again, has no real nutritional value. 
  • We almost never drink soda. Maybe once or twice a year and pretty much only for a special occasion like a big football game. 
  • We almost never drink fruit juice (including orange juice), although we are indulging in fresh apple cider this time of year.
  • We don't count calories. 
  • We never go hungry. 
  • We don't limit our portion sizes. 
  • We don't tell our kids what they can or cannot order when we go out to eat, but we do offer guidance when they are open to it. They make their own choices (and suffer the consequences, like an upset tummy from too much cheese or oil). 
  • We don't try to make food that feels like a replacement for meat. Instead, we enjoy plants for what they are – flavorful and full of the nutrients that our bodies need to be healthy. 
  • We don't fill up on pasta, but we do eat it occasionally. Maybe once a week. Lots of times, our pasta dishes have more veggies than pasta.
Scott and Brynn on Brynn's first 14er.

Highs and Lows
This change to a plant-based lifestyle has been great for us in almost every way and has been much easier to maintain than we ever thought it could be. We don't feel deprived when we see people eating meat and cheese. I don't even miss the half and half I used to put in my coffee every day (but I do still eat ice cream once in a while). We really enjoy the food we're eating and we feel good about feeding it to our kids. I love that I don't think of myself as a fat person anymore. I love the freedom that comes with being satisfied with my body. I love that I can shop without dreading the dressing room. I really love that I can talk about food or health and not feel like a hypocrite.

But it isn't always easy.

Especially in a super-conservative place like Colorado Springs, we are definitely an anomaly. Our eating-out choices here are improving quickly but they're still pretty limited when you compare our city to places like Berkeley or Portland or even Denver. We have very few friends who eat the way we do and we end up being the butt of a lot of jokes and sarcasm from the bolder members of our friends and family, which seems weird since we're obviously healthier now than we've ever been before.

Scott on top of Mt. Harvard.
Also, it is becoming more and more difficult for me to feel sympathetic when people talk about their risk for cancer or heart disease or their frustration with unsuccessful weight loss but don't see a plant-based lifestyle as an option for them. My lack of sympathy and understanding makes me feel callous and out of touch – when a solution that seems so obvious to me is not even a consideration for most people, I must be the one who is missing something, and so I have become very intentional and cautious about what I say about food and to whom. And I try to listen more and speak less.

Scott and Callie after the girls' dance recital.
I also worry about our kids. Not about their health – I know I'm doing the best for them that I can. I worry that in trying to impress upon them the importance of a plant-strong lifestyle, I will cause them to be judgmental of others. I hope that we emphasize grace as much as we talk about health. I hope that they will know that people are fighting all kinds of hidden battles and that stopping in the McDonald's drive through three times a week might actually be the best thing they do for themselves or their kids.

Brynn during her Irish dance class.
Even with all of those elements of concern or social anxiety, I still feel like I've got it figured out...for me and my family. I know that my body (and my husband's body and my kids' bodies) thrive with a plant-strong lifestyle. I know that I am healthy, my husband is healthy, my kids are healthy. I know that we still have a ways to go; we could cut out all refined sugar, we could juice every day, we could find new ways to get our kids to eat more leafy greens, I could start exercising harder. But I've made a lot of progress in the right direction and dealing with my body no longer feels like a daily struggle.

And so, for me, that is success. I'm about to turn 36 years old and for about 30 of those 36 years I hated my body. But for the last 18 months I've been thankful for it and satisfied with it. That, my friends, feels like victory to me.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Five tricks I use to get last-minute dinners on my table.

This morning Callie asked me, "How do people plan what time they're going to have dinner ready?"

Oh, sweet Callie. Can you tell she's growing up in a home where dinner doesn't come at a predictable time each night? It comes...eventually. And it's always good (and good for her). But she never knows from night to night when she'll be eating.

And until yesterday, I don't think she realized that dinner time could be planned. And consistent. Last night she overheard us talking to Brynn about how "bed time" at our house is no more a set time than "dinner time." That those words just mean that it's the time to go to bed, or time to eat dinner and that we don't set a rigid time for those things because they tend to shift depending on our day.

So this morning when Callie asked me how people plan what time they're going to have dinner ready, I explained that most people start with a recipe, figure how long it will take to gather and prep the ingredients, how long those ingredients will take to cook, and they work backwards from what time they'd like to eat dinner.

Her response was classic: "Oh, that would never happen in our house." No, darling. No, it wouldn't.

Because it seems that at 5pm I'm usually still working on a project. Or doing something that, at that moment, seems like it (a) will be done quickly and (b) has a good stopping point in the near future at which time I can drop the project and move onto making dinner.

So our dinner time usually hits around 7:00 or 7:30. Yes, the kids are hungry. But eating dinner late gives them time to finish up their afternoon extra-curricular activities and do their homework before dinner. And it means that I don't get kids rifling through the pantry two hours after dinner.

I used to be a great planner of dinners. I would use my Everyday Food magazine each Sunday to plan out the dinners for the week, make a list of all the ingredients I needed to buy, and do my shopping for the week on Monday. That all went out the window when we joined our CSA six years ago. It got me into the use-what-you've-got mode and that has stuck with me, even in the winter when the CSA isn't running.

So here are my secrets for making a quick, last-minute plant-strong (and usually vegan) dinner.

  1. I use my pressure cooker. I couldn't do healthy last-minute dinners without it. If I think about it in time, I'll do a quick soak for my beans for an hour before I cook them, which cuts the pressure cooking time down to 11 minutes at high pressure. Usually that means boiling some water and pouring it over the beans before I run out to get the kids from school, and then letting them soak until I'm ready to make dinner. If I don't do that, I'll cook them starting from their dry state, which makes the cooking time a bit less predictable – it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour of cooking time, depending on how fresh the beans are and what kind they are. I learned the pressure cooking technique from this awesome cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey.
  2. I "approximate" recipes. Meaning, I find a few recipes I like (or a meal I like at a restaurant) and I use approximate amounts of similar ingredients (or the same ones, if I have them on hand) to create dinners that work. The downside of this is that we never eat the same thing twice. Which is also the upside, depending on whom you ask. Sticking to an exact recipe is too constraining for me, both in time and in planning. Once I've made a recipe a few times, I can get close to the original recipe (or sometimes even better) by using my memory, imagination, and whatever I have around the house. 
  3. I make huge salads. It's easy to keep the ingredients for salads on hand. They're predictable and with a few small changes, a salad can take on a whole different taste. The key (for me) is having a big enough bowl. I bought the biggest metal bowl that Ikea sells and we use it almost every night for our salads.
  4. I make extra. Always. Usually our dinner looks like enough to feed 10 people, and sometimes it is. Not only does this mean that Scott has something to eat for lunch every day, but it's also great when I am genuinely running behind and we have a "fend for yourself" night. Ahem. Those are the exception, not the rule. I also use leftovers (like plain leftover quinoa or leftover beans or lentils) as an ingredient in whatever I'm making the next night.
  5. I stock everything I need to make a variety of dinners. I (almost) always have potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, lettuce, spinach, kale, garlic, dry beans, lentils, quinoa, canned tomatoes, and veggie stock or Better than Boullon on hand, plus a handful of other produce items. Those depend on what is in the garden or what came in our CSA or Door to Door Organics box that week.
This is what works for me now. I imagine that in a few years, when we hit the middle school and high school years, I will have to adjust my strategy somewhat in order to get dinner ready at a time when we can all sit down together and eat. But for now, as harried as it may sound, this is working for me.

What do you do to get your family together at the dinner table?

Psst...for more on my personal journey to health, check out this post.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

{making the switch} Cloth Napkins

A small change I made a few months ago is inspiring a new series here at The Friendly Home.

I'm going to call it "Making the Switch," and I'm hoping to use the series to introduce small changes that I've made (or am in the process of making) in order to contribute to a healthier eco-system, a healthier body, or a healthier home.

Today's Making the Switch post is...drumroll please...cloth napkins.

While we were on our spring break trip, we stayed with a childhood friend of mine near my hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was astounded one morning when I went looking for a napkin to go with my breakfast and all I could find was...cloth.

Why was I so surprised? First of all, she's got three kids. Little kids. Like, kindergarten and younger.

Second, these cloth napkins were like none I'd felt before. Cloth napkins have always given me the willies. The only ones I'd used before were made of polyester or cotton-poly blends that were about as absorbent as teflon-coated nylon and felt kind of like wiping my face with sandpaper.


These were soft. Cotton. I fell in love immediately.

So I asked her where she got them and she pointed me to Cost Plus World of my favorite stores. Within a couple weeks of getting home from our trip, I'd bought four 6-packs of the same napkins and I love them.

Are they the end-all, be-all of eco-consciousness? No. So don't attack me, all right? Baby steps, my friends.

Here are some issues you might have with my napkins, if you're so green that people mistake you for Kermit:
  • They're made of cotton, a typically thirsty (read: water-hogging) and pesticide-laden crop. A better alternative would be organic hemp, but when I bought them I was just trying to make one (budget-friendly) step in the right direction, I wasn't trying to conquer the world.
  • They're white, which means the cotton was bleached. Colored cotton napkins are dyed (and, for all I know, probably bleached too) which is potentially nearly as environmentally damaging as bleach. For more on that, check out this great Patagonia essay called "Dyeing Rivers."
  • We only use them once before we wash them. At this point in my life, keeping my napkin separate from my kids' napkins is not something I can tackle. So even though they don't really need to be washed after each use, we toss them in the wash and run them whenever we run the next load. (This is a lovely benefit to having our washing machine in the kitchen.)
  • We use our dryer to dry them. These napkins would dry quickly and easily on a line in the sun, but I don't have a line and I don't dry my laundry in the sun. Maybe you'll see that change here in the Making the Switch series someday far, far in the future. It might happen after I master closing my car windows and sunroof to prevent surprise thunderstorms from flooding my car (true story: that happened last week).
Here are my answers to some questions you might have if I've piqued your interest in making the switch to cloth yourself:
  • How do you keep them clean? Eh, it's actually not that hard. I use cold water (my washer thinks it is warm water but for some reason we never have warm water in our washing machine). I use this natural laundry detergent, which I get at Costco. Occasionally I soak them in this plant-based, non-bleach whitener before running the load (although ran out of the whitener, so today I soaked them in water and {gasp} a few tablespoons of conventional bleach -- I know, I'm totally headed for eco-hell). 
  • How messy are you? (Or, the more socially-acceptable version, how messy are your kids?) I'm not that messy. But my kids? They're pigs, just like every other kid out there. Barbeque sauce, curry, tomato sauce, sweet potatoes...they've smothered the napkins in it all. I haven't had a problem getting them clean.
  • How long does it take to fold them? Like five minutes. Especially since I rarely wash them all at once. A few come out with each load of laundry (we probably run 3-4 loads of laundry per week) and it's actually been a great chore for my 8-year-old. When I fold the napkins I get scolded by both my girls for doing it wrong. You can probably guess what my response is to that. They do the folding now.
  • Aren't you using more water and energy keeping the napkins clean than it would take to make/distribute paper napkins? This is the argument Scott used when I first mentioned the possibility of switching to cloth a few years ago. Between his resistance and my history with scratchy polyester napkins, I postponed the switch indefinitely. The answer is no. No, even if you wash them after only one use. Even if they're conventional cotton. Even if you use conventional detergent and maybe even the occasional tablespoon of bleach. Even if you dry them in your clothes dryer. Even if you do everything wrong, cloth napkins are still a friendlier choice than paper. You can google it yourself, but here are a couple of posts I found to be helpful when I was researching cloth vs. paper napkins and whether making the switch was really an eco-friendly decision, even if I did it all wrong.
 Okay, and I'd be remiss if I didn't give you a warning about these particular napkins. After you wash them a time or two they will no longer be square. And by square, I'm not referring to all sides being the same length. I'm referring to the corners -- they will no longer have four ninety-degree corners. Your napkins will be shaped like parallelograms. Or maybe rhombuses. Someone in one of the online reviews says that this is because the fabric is cut incorrectly? I really have no idea nor do I care.

They're going to be covered in spilled, dropped, and sometimes chewed up food anyway. So the shape? Yeah, that's really not a huge concern for me.

But when my kids are ready to start doing napkin origami with them, I might have to upgrade.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cookies without butter and eggs?

Monster Cookies with no butter or eggs!

Maybe you're like me and you don't look forward to helping your kids with science fair projects. You know it's a valuable experience, but it's just not your thing. Maybe it sounds like a lot of work and mess and maybe you're not a scientist so you're not sure how you can guide your kid through a project that won't be judged harshly.

Or could I be the only person with those insecurities? Social science I'm pretty good at, but science science? Not so much.

So when my ten year old girl, Brynn, came up with a great idea for a science fair project that would actually answer some questions that our family had, and when it was clear that it was something she could do mostly on her own...I was pretty excited to find out what her results would be.

So, here's what she did. Brynn made two batches of Monster Cookies -- one using eggs and butter and one replacing the eggs and butter with ground flaxseed and water.

She wanted to find out whether the flaxseed cookies would come out looking appetizing and tasting okay. She wasn't so interested in getting the exact same flavor and texture, but would the flax cookies be good enough to want to eat?

That was her question. Would they be good enough to want to eat? That's my kind of scientific question. And I love how she sets the bar low. She makes success easily attainable.

The answer to her question? Heck yes. They were tasty and she actually found that the texture of the flax cookies was better than the texture of the conventional ones. They were moister and less crumbly than the conventional cookies and they tasted just as good.

Flax cookies on the left, conventional on the right.

Here's the recipe for you, because I know you're going to want to try out these cookies for yourself!

1 1/2 C ground flaxseed + 8 Tbsp water (to replace butter)
3/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed + 6 Tbsp water (to replace eggs)
2 t vanilla
3/4 C peanut butter (the real stuff, not with added oil or sugar)
3 1/2 C old fashioned oats
1/2 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 C chocolate chips
1/3 C chopped walnuts

Mix wet ingredients before adding dry ingredients. Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet halfway through bake time.

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Eat To Live secret for cutting calories

It's not really a secret, not if you've read Eat to Live or Engine 2. But it might be new to you.

This is something I want to share with you because I've heard of so many friends making resolutions to lose weight and get healthier, and it's something that has been a really simple change for me and a change that I think played a huge part in my weight loss last year.

What is it?

Use less olive oil. Or any kind of oil, really.

I've never been the type to eat much fried food, but I do eat sauteed food, like almost every night. When I'm cooking now, I sautee my veggies in low sodium veggie broth instead of olive oil. And when I make salad dressings, I'm more inclined to puree an apple and some vinegar and spices in my blender rather than throwing together olive oil and vinegar.

I still use some olive oil or coconut oil or grapeseed oil, depending on what I'm making, but where I used to sautee in two tablespoons of oil and then add another two as my veggies started to dry out (I never cook in nonstick pans so moisture is a must), now I might use one tablespoon or less, and then I add veggie broth a little at a time until I'm ready for the next step of my recipe.

When I started subbing low sodium veggie broth, I did some mental math to figure out how many calories I was saving by leaving out the oil. The numbers were too big, really, when you consider there are 119 calories in one tablespoon of olive oil (as opposed to 15 calories per CUP of veggie broth), and I was using at least four in each meal I made, not to mention the salad dressing. Over the course of a week, those really add up and they are, essentially, empty calories. Yes, you need some fat in your diet but, according to Dr. Fuhrman of Eat to Live fame, you're better off getting your fat from nuts that you incorporate into your meals (not snacks by the handful) rather than added oil in salads, main courses, and sides.

Veggie broth is not expensive and it comes in really easy to use cartons. I buy my organic low-sodium broth from Whole Foods, where the regular price is $2 per carton. Our Costco just started carrying organic veggie broth too, but it's not low-sodium, six cartons for about $9, I think.

I used to kind of laugh at baking recipes that gave you the option to replace oil with apple sauce. It seemed silly -- let dessert be dessert, right? And that is still my attitude, mostly because we don't eat much dessert-y food here. But cutting out oil in food I eat every day? To me that makes sense, and I wish I'd known sooner about the veggie broth option. Here's hoping a few of you can save some calories, too!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The making of a "happy" Thanksgiving dinner

Those of you who have known me for a long time know that for about the last five years I've differentiated between "happy" food and "unhappy" food. For those of you who are new, here's a little primer for you. Happy food is sustainably grown and harvested, sustainably, ethically, and humanely raised (obviously referring to meat and dairy there), and usually (but not always) organic and local. Now that we've moved to a diet of mostly high nutrient density foods (like Eat to Live or Engine 2), our definition of "happy food" has expanded. Now it isn't just about how the food was grown, raised, harvested, slaughtered, etc. but also about what it does to our bodies. So, for example, local organic kale is just about the happiest food ever, right? Cool Whip, on the other hand, uh...yeah. Cool Whip is like really, REALLY unhappy.

Making a Thanksgiving dinner that reflects a high-nutrient-density food pyramid.
Can it be done? I think it can!
Although we've moved away from a diet that includes meat and other animal products (they simply don't have the nutrient density that our bodies crave now), we still have our 21 cubic foot freezer in our artifact from our local meat buy-a-whole-hog-at-a-time days. And it still has some meat in it, including a beautiful organic turkey that I bought last year at Costco after Thanksgiving.

And shortly after I bought it, we went vegan. And now we're not really into meat.

Luckily, our kids still like meat (although when Callie eats too much meat and/or oil, she pukes -- case in point, last night she puked up a gigantic Pei Wei dinner all over her bedroom carpet). We're having Thanksgiving with a family who eats meat, too. And I'm sure I'll have a slice of turkey, but not because I crave it or feel like I need it. Just because it's there.

Here is what we'll be eating this Thanksgiving, besides the turkey.

We'll have a Gardener's Pie (aka: vegan shepherd's pie) stuffed with lots of veggies and topped with mashed potatoes.

We'll be eating Kickin' Corn Puddin, a vegan spicy creamed corn recipe that we got at our last Whole Foods Health Starts Here class.

We'll have our usual Tangy Cranberry Chutney, similar to this recipe. I've been making this since our first Thanksgiving together and it might be my favorite part of Thanksgiving. It's got apples, raisins, a little cider vinegar, cloves, and a ton of sugar. This year I'll be experimenting with subbing dates for the sugar. But...shhhh...don't tell my kids, okay?

I'll make some baked Stuffed Apples. I plan to hollow out some of the apples from our local CSA, stuff them with the same stuffing I'd usually use to stuff a turkey (mine always has nuts and dried cranberries in it, along with the usual onions, celery, and blend of herbs), and bake them for a while. How long? I dunno. Until they're done, I guess. This is how dinner happens around here.

I'll make some gravy to go with the turkey. I was thinking of including some chantarelles that I picked up at Whole Foods for about half-off, but I don't really want them to get lost in the gravy. Plus, the kids like gravy more than anyone and I don't think they'll appreciate the chantarelles. So if you have some ideas for what to do with 1/4lb of chantarelles, speak up. Seriously.

My friend Emily, who is much better at following recipes than I am, will bring over the Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes and the Tarragon Green Beans from the Forks Over Knives companion book.

For dessert, I bought an unhappy but probably quite tasty Pumpkin Cheesecake from Costco. I'm pretty sure it will satisfy everyone who feels like eating dessert. I, for one, will have a bite but would probably be satisfied with a good cup of coffee after dinner.

While this isn't a super high nutrient density Thanksgiving dinner, it is a mostly-vegan Thanksgiving dinner that will satisfy our desire for traditional Thanksgiving foods, but in a healthier way. I'll report back on what is popular and what isn't and I'll share some recipes. Maybe I'll learn something that you can use for a healthy meal during this holiday season!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Last-minute cole slaw dinner

After my post about how my family and I went plant-strong, I got several questions from friends asking what I eat and what recipes I use. I don't use many recipes and when I do, I treat them like inspiration (much to the chagrin of friends and family who need plant-strong ideas). But, I thought I could give you a little window into what my dinner-making process looked like tonight. Here we go.

It's 5:30pm. Like most nights, tonight I don't have a plan for dinner. I look in the fridge to figure out what I'm going to make.

I've got kohlrabi. I have kale. There are carrots and apples and green onions. I've got sliced almonds in the pantry.

Decent beer is, of course, a necessary ingredient for any dinner-making adventure.
Sounds like a big cole slaw to me.

Here's how it came together.

Dressing (all measurements VERY approximate, so use your best judgement):
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T seasoned rice vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
1 medium apple, cored and roughly cubed
2 T peanut butter
(One whole peeled orange or a lime would be good, but I didn't have one. I forgot to add garlic, but you probably should. It would also be good with some red pepper flakes, but Callie is way spice-averse.)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. (I used a Vitamix high speed blender.) Taste and adjust if needed. Refrigerate.

Cole Slaw
4 small apples, cored
2 medium kohlrabi, tough peel removed
6 medium carrots
1 bell pepper, seeded (I used green because I had it on hand. Yellow, red, or orange would be better.)

Shred ingredients listed above. I used my food processor with the shredding attachment.

1 bunch of kale, finely chopped
3 green onions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Pour on dressing and toss.

1 C of sliced almonds

Toss one last time and serve.

I just used what I had on hand to make this, but you could add ingredients like broccoli, purple cabbage, edamame, or bean sprouts. If you're looking for more substance, this would be good with rice noodles or mung beans or even lentils.

I ate two big bowls and felt full. Scott also had two servings. Brynn had one big bowl. Callie ate one medium bowl and then she had a couple of dried dates for dessert. For us, this was enough. If we were going straight from a chicken-and-ribs lifestyle to a plant-strong lifestyle, this dinner would obviously raise some eyebrows at the table. But, since we eased into it, a meal like this is expected and satisfying for us.

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The end of a lifelong struggle

I've struggled with my weight and my body image my entire life. I've never been obese, but I've always been overweight. Even in high school when I was at morning and afternoon swim practices, probably swimming as many as 8000 yards a day, things were never quite right. I played sports year round and was always an athlete, but always carried extra weight. I didn't eat candy, I didn't drink soda, I didn't eat typical junk food or much processed food. My mom said I was fine and my doctors said I was fine, so I didn't worry too much about it. I just never felt great about myself and I always figured someday I'd shed the extra pounds.

But, I was never willing to do anything difficult to get there. I'm still not, actually. I am not and never will be a runner. I despise running. I love food and am not willing to feel hungry. I can't make myself throw up (although I did try, probably like most teenage girls who are unhappy with their weight). Once in fourth grade, the meanest boy I know called me a "110 pound whopper." I don't think I weighed that much and I know I wasn't huge, but I still torment myself with that comment.

My struggle is over. Do you hear that? I'm done. Not because I no longer care. Not because I've decided to restrict my calories. Not because I'm exercising myself to death. I haven't done anything extreme. I've just tweaked my diet a little bit. That's all it took.

My diet has changed from the majority of calories coming from animal products, grains, and oils to the majority of calories coming from plants. I use significantly less olive oil than I used to and recently I completely removed chocolate from my house (that was hard, actually). I did not get rid of cocoa powder, mind you, but chocolate.

For the past four or five years, Scott and I have only been eating meat as a main course three or four times a week, and it was always from local ranches and farms -- never from the grocery store. But we never cut out cheese or milk or completely eliminated meat. And, actually, we still haven't gotten rid of them completely, but we did cut way, way back.

When I say the "majority" of my calories are coming from plants, I don't mean 55%. I mean like 85-90%. I mean the vast majority. Scott and I started by going 100% vegan for six weeks. We didn't rely on bread, pasta, and other grains to fill us up. We filled up on salads and veggies and beans. We significantly reduced our olive oil use. We mixed nuts into our salads and we started to juice veggies. We were not hungry. We did not count nor restrict our calories. In the first three weeks, pounds of fat literally disappeared from my body. I lost about 14 pounds in the first three weeks. Things slowed down after that and I've slowly continued to lose weight since then even though I'm no longer trying. I'm down about 25 pounds now and today, for the first time ever, the weight listed on my driver's license is accurate.

Not that I meant to cheat when I got my Colorado driver's license eight years ago. I think I was close and was headed toward that weight. But then I had Callie and never made a conscious effort to get back to my pre-baby weight. After going plant-strong, I'm now below my pre-baby weight and in the healthy BMI range for the first time in my life.

This was in June. I'm down another 8-10lbs since then!
I will never be a tiny person. I will never be skinny. That's just not who I am. I am 5'8" and built like a tank. A feminine tank, but still, I'm the cliché "big-boned" person that every fat person thinks they are. In high school my friend Gretchen and I used to talk about how our hips were built for twins. I never had twins, but the doctor who delivered Brynn said I have "the Cadillac of uteruses." Brynn was born 9lbs 14oz. We are not small people.

Will I always kind of wish I were that little person? Yes. Do I realize that my build is not related to my health? Yes. And I am so thankful to have found a healthy lifestyle.

If you're interested in learning more about a plant-strong lifestyle, I'd suggest that you start by reading Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live. That is where we started and it turned our ideas of health upside-down. The book has several testimonies from Dr. Fuhrman's obese and really sick patients (ie: diabetes, heart attacks, super high blood pressure) who used his plan to get healthy. We didn't relate so much to those stories, but the rest of the book was packed with information that is useful for anyone. I also read (and purchased, which is big for me) Fuhrman's book Disease Proof Your Child. It is a great guide to getting micronutrient-dense plant foods into your kids and setting them up for a lifetime of health. It's not so much about weight-management as it is about preventing diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I've paged through The Engine 2 Diet and think it is totally on-target. I own the new Forks Over Knives cookbook -- it is vegan, plant-strong, and super accessible. No weird ingredients. The Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead documentaries are really motivating and available for instant watching on Netflix.

Have you changed your health lately? Or dropped weight without struggling? I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No more ziplocks!

A few years ago I found a new way to reduce my dependence on oil...I decided to quit using ziplock bags. Because, as I'm sure you know, the manufacture of anything plastic requires a good bit of oil. To replace plastic bags I made a big batch of fabric snack bags. I made some of the bags the size of sandwich bags and some the size of the smaller snack sized bags.

My first bags...they're still in use!
That was two years ago. I haven't bought ziplocks since.

I know! It sounds so...un-American!

Yes, sometimes I get complaints from Scott when he's packing for the airport and wants ziplocks for his toiletries (I haven't had a problem getting through security with my toothpaste in my regular ditty bag). Other than that, I think we've adapted pretty well.

For my snack bags, I've used both cotton and nylon liners. I like the cotton liners better because I don't have to worry about what kind of weird chemicals were used to make them (although conventional cotton is sprayed with lots of pesticides and then later it is bleached...but I try to use fabric that's been washed several times). If I'm sending a messy sandwich in one of the bags, I just wrap the sandwich in parchment paper (I buy the pre-cut squares of deli paper at Costco) before I put it in the bag. My girls pull out their sandwiches wrapped in paper and use the paper like a plate when they eat at school. We use the bags several times (shaking them out when necessary) before tossing them in the washing machine inside-out.

I played with several designs before landing on this one. The rounded top is forgiving and the small piece of velcro is all you really need. I tried bags with full velcro closures, but they were hard to open and close. We've never had problems with this design -- the food we put in the bags seems to stay in the bags!

I want you to be able to join the no-ziplock revolution, so while I worked on another batch of bags over the past few weeks, I took (poorly lit because it was usually the middle of the night) photos of each step.

Let's get started.

First I cut out two pieces of fabric (one for the outside, one for the lining) using a pattern that I created. The pattern is made of one 8 1/2"x11" piece of paper taped to another piece of paper with a rounded top edge. I traced a mixing bowl to get the rounded edge. The total pattern height is 17 inches. When I'm cutting a sandwich bag, I use the full height of the pattern. For a snack bag, I fold the lower sheet of paper in half, so the total height is 11 1/2 inches.

Place the fabrics with the wrong sides together (these pieces are cut to snack size).

If you're going to use a ribbon tab on the rounded flap of the bag, now is the time to cut it. I make mine about 2 1/2".

Fold the fabric tab in half, center it (as best you can) on the rounded top edge, and pin it between the two wrong sides with the cut edge poking out.

Sew along the perimeter of the bag, but leave the flat bottom end open.

Press the seams open and then turn the bag inside out.

Press the edges flat and do your best to round out the top -- sometimes this can be challenging!

Fold the raw bottom edge inward and press it. You're going to top-stitch it closed.

Pin the pressed edge.

Top-stitch the bottom edge. Sometimes it is fun to use contrasting thread for this part...if you're confident in your ability to sew a straight line. I'm not, but I use contrasting thread anyway!

Now add velcro to the outside of the bottom part of the bag.

Fold the bottom part of the bag up toward the rounded flap. I use my best judgement on this rather than a precise measurement.

Once you've figured out where you want your fold, top-stitch all the way around the bag, starting from the top right corner of this picture, down around the curve, and then up to the left corner. I don't go across the bottom -- I just leave the fold.

You're almost done! Match up the rounded flap with the velcro on the bottom and add a piece of velcro to the inside of the flap.

That's it! The bag I was working on in the photos is a snack sized bag. For the sandwich bag, follow the same steps but make your fold in the appropriate place to get the size bag you want.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My favorite kitchen tool.

I love my knives. I love my cast iron pans. I love my lettuce spinner and my Vitamix and my juicer.

I guess on any given day any of those tools could be my favorite.

But today I was reminded how much I love one tool in particular, and I want to share it with you.

I love my pressure cooker.

For making people-friendly, planet-friendly food, there is no better tool.

My pressure cooker cooks beans from start to finish in under an hour. Can your favorite pot or pan do that?

Here's how I do it, using a method I learned from Madhur Jaffrey.

First Step: Sometimes I quick-soak my dried beans. Sometimes I don't. I try to do it every time I make beans, but I don't always have time. For a quick-soak, pour boiling water over your beans and let them sit for about an hour. Then rinse well.

Second Step: Put your quick-soaked beans into your pressure cooker and cover with an inch or two of water.

Third Step: Add a few drops of peanut oil or other high-heat oil. (I avoid canola because it comes from a genetically modified seed. Grapeseed oil or coconut oil would be good options.) The oil keeps the water from foaming up and clogging your pressure release valve.

Fourth Step: Bring your pressure cooker to full pressure and then reduce the heat to keep it at full pressure until the beans are cooked. For chickpeas like those I cooked tonight, this takes about 15 minutes. Check out this handy guide for cooking times of other types of beans.

Fifth Step: After 15 minutes at full pressure, turn off the heat and let the pressure reduce on its own. This will take at least half an hour if not a bit longer.

Last Step: Drain and rinse your beans. They're good to go!