Heal Thyself

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As I posted on Facebook, I recently completed a certificate program in plant-based nutrition.  In case you missed it, here’s proof:

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This program was incredibly eye-opening,  and I thought I was pretty well-informed before I started.  There was so much information, not only about the nuts and bolts of plant-based nutrition (protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals) but the course also provided an excellent overview about the relationship between nutrition and disease, understanding and evaluating nutrition research, and how research does and does not impact public policy.

Before I talk about the highlights of this program for me, I’d like to say that it is very possible to eat a diet free of animal products and not be particularly healthy.   Soda is vegan.  So are many processed foods like donuts, cookies, crackers and chips.  There are dozens of frozen and prepared vegan entrees full of fat and loaded with salt.   A whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPBD) eliminates all animal products as well as processed foods, sugar, and most, if not all, oils.   It includes vegetables, potatoes, beans and legumes, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds.  This program taught me a great deal about the relationship between nutrition and human health.  Here are the themes that stood out most for me:

Doctors Know Best-NOT

Unless your doctor is an alternative healthcare provider of some kind or a doctor who has taken this course (lots of participants were working in health care) or a similar continuing education series, I probably know more about nutrition than your physician does.  That’s not because I know it all, but because he or she probably knows next to nothing.  The fact is that nutrition is seldom taught in medical school.  Imagine your car mechanic not knowing the difference between diesel and regular gasoline!  Not so great. So, if you’re expecting your physician to educate you about the healing properties of food you’re barking up the wrong tree.  That’s also true if you’re expecting your doctor to endorse a way of eating that he or she is uninterested in trying for themselves.  It wasn’t all that long ago that doctors were recommending cigarettes to their patients and smoking themselves.  Doctors profiled in this course  sought out new ways of preventing and treating disease because their patients simply were not getting better with conventional, western approaches like pills and surgery.  They discovered that a whole foods, plant-based diet addressed the cause, rather than just the symptoms of disease. Sadly,  docs like these are in the minority, but the information is out there.  We can and must educate ourselves.

One Diet To Help Everything

There is plenty of compelling evidence that shows that eating an animal-based diet contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and a myriad of other chronic diseases and conditions.  At the same time, there is also evidence that shows that switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet can slow or even reverse these diseases as well–with no side effects.  Consider  a person suffering from Type 2 diabetes.  This person might also be struggling with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Treating the diabetes with medication might control blood sugar but won’t touch the underlying cause which is most likely obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.  A whole foods, plant-based diet will naturally lead to weight loss while at the same time positively impact the diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure.  Name me a pill that can do all that!  In this program,  we heard stories of many patients who traded in their bags of pills and syringes for whole plant-based foods.  Even chronic and progressive illnesses such as MS, fibromyalgia, arthritis and asthma could be greatly helped with a change to a plant-based diet.  People eating this way routinely experienced improvements in a very short period of time, and many were able to get off all medications.

Forests, not Trees

Eating healthfully on a whole foods, plant-based diet means eating from a wide variety of foods–eating the rainbow, if you will.  If we do this, we no longer need to fuss with how much of this or that nutrient we are consuming  (with the exception of vitamin B12  which should be supplemented).  What a relief!  By eating a mix of colorful vegetables, potatoes, beans, lentils, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds we have it all covered.  If you’re interested in the details, there are great books out there that show typical plant-based meals and how they stack up nutritionally against options one might find in an animal-based meal.  Let’s just say there’s no comparison in terms of the good stuff.  And in case you’re wondering, yes, there’s enough protein and calcium and  omega 3 and all the rest of it.  This is a gestalt approach to eating well, rather than a vitamin here, a mineral there.  A major point made in the program was that the body is infinitely complex, and if we eat the right foods our body will do right by us.  No single nutrient, vitamin or mineral can change our overall picture. I imagine though, that most of us who begin a WFPBD need to get educated about all the plant-based foods that are out there in order to benefit from the full spectrum of nutrients available.  For me, these “new” foods were beans, lentils, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds and nutritional yeast.  Again,  we have to take responsibility for what’s on our plates.

Follow The Money

It will lead you right down a path of poor health.  The horrible state of our collective health is a direct result of money to be made by corporations, individuals and organizations at every level.  Would it surprise you to know that at one point half of the members of a committee in the FDA assigned to create new dietary guidelines for public programs (such as school lunch, hospitals and programs for women, infants and children) had ties to food industries that had a financial stake in the policy?  It’s no wonder the kids in our country eat junk in their schools.  Scientists have known for decades that milk is unhealthy, yet it’s still touted as necessary for our kids.  Dairy lobby anyone? It’s all for sale.   It’s virtually impossible to not find conflicts of interest everywhere, and the goodies go to the highest bidders.  Consider who would lose money if everyone hopped on the whole foods, plant-based bandwagon.  Hospitals that make most of their money from heart surgery,  doctors, big pharma, big agra, and supplement manufacturers to name just a few.  So if you’re thinking that your health comes first, think again.  Our poor health is very big business and there’s no money in broccoli.  This certainly explains why a recent article in the NY Times was discussing the exorbitant cost ($14,000 per year) of a new class of (much needed!) statin drugs.  So much hand-wringing about that insane number, yet not a word about the cheaper and more effective way to lower cholesterol through a plant-based diet.  Business as usual.  We get sicker and lots of people get richer.

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to our health and nutrition, but I think the title of this post, “Heal Thyself” says it all for me.  The days of thinking that our institutions (government, medicine, education) will work tirelessly to keep us informed and healthy are long over, if they ever really existed.  But that does not mean we can’t educate ourselves and take matters into our own hands.  I am a 55 year old woman, and between my parents and two sets of in-laws there has been one quadruple bypass, two prostate cancers, two colon cancers, leukemia, liver cancer, dementia and chronic lung disease.  Two have passed away from these diseases.  While there are no guarantees when it comes to disease, this program convinced me that by switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet we can greatly reduce our risk of getting any of these diseases.  That is exciting and empowering, and I can’t think of a reason not to try.  Can you?

If you are interested in learning more about a whole foods, plant-based diet I recommend starting with the movie, Forks Over Knives, which you can access online.

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Recipe of the Week

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Twice-baked loaded potatoes with coconut bacon!

Like most women my age I have tried my share of diets over the years.  Starting back when I was in college I put on the predictable “freshman 15”, and I tried many ways to get rid of the weight.  I still remember eating a salad bowl full of fruit one day on The Scarsdale Diet.  Oy.  Eventually though, after having a baby or two I joined Weight Watchers and lost the extra pesky weight for good.  Probably the best thing I learned from WW was what a normal portion of food looked like (3 oz. of meat = a deck of cards).  Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Now that I’m vegan and my gold standard (what I aspire to, not necessarily what I achieve) is a whole foods, plant-based diet, I am often revisiting some of the messages I received in those WW days that have little to do with health and more to do with calorie restriction.  This is a long-winded way of saying that for years I believed that white potatoes were the equivalent of white rice and white bread–empty calories with little nutritional value.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  While there’s no place for white rice and white bread on a whole foods, plant-based diet, that is not the case with potatoes.  In fact, baked potatoes (skin included) are a good source of protein and a bunch of other nutrients.  Click here for a quick overview.  As such I’ve decided to bring baked potatoes back into my dinner rotation.  Oh, and did I mention that I love a crispy baked potato?

You may be wondering about these loaded potatoes.  Aren’t they also loaded with fat? Not at all.  There is a small amount of fat in the almond milk and coconut but that’s it.  Yet, these are as delicious and satisfying as they look.  There are four parts to this recipe:  potato mixture, “queso” sauce, pico de gallo and coconut bacon and it’s very simple to put it all together.  First I baked the potatoes for an hour, and scooped the potato out and mixed it with sautéed onion (I did it without oil), cilantro, liquid aminos and spices.  I also added in about 1/2 cup of black beans and two tablespoons of unsweetened almond milk to make it a bit more creamy.  Then I put this filling back in the potato shells and put it back to bake for another 20 minutes.  To make the queso, I blended almond milk, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, lemon juice, liquid aminos and spices and warmed it all up on the stove.  The pico de gallo is a simple blend of diced tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeño and lime juice.  Finally the coconut bacon is large flake coconut blended with liquid smoke, liquid aminos, maple syrup and water and baked until crispy.   When the filled potatoes were done baking, I spooned the queso and pico over them and added a sprinkle of coconut bacon. These potatoes are simply fantastic and you can check out the recipe here.

This was my first time making queso, pico and coconut bacon.  The queso is truly a cheesy tasting, creamy sauce that would also work well as a dip for veggies or chips.  The pico is tangy and refreshing and I plan to make more to add to salads.  I have to say that while the coconut bacon looks great, I’m not really a fan.  It’s just a little sweet and strongly flavored for my taste.  David loved it though, so if you’ve never tried this vegan staple, I encourage you to make it once and see what you think.  Many folks swear by it.

If you’re a fan of twice-baked and /or loaded baked potatoes this healthy alternative will not disappoint.  And for all you weight watchers out there, it really is okay to eat the whole thing ;).

Recipe of the Week

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Balela!

We haven’t made too many new recipes lately.  During the hot summer we’ve been eating mostly salads with some combination of greens, grains, beans, hummus and avocado.  When we were taking refuge from the heat at Costco (is that anyone else’s favorite weekend errand?) we found a big container of Balela and it quickly became a favorite of David’s.  So I decided to find a recipe online and make it myself.  This way we can control how much oil and salt goes into the mix.

Have you heard of Balela?   Balela  is a Mediterranean-style bean salad.  The basic recipe is a combination of garbanzo and black beans, tomatoes (the Costco version had sun-dried), red onion, mint and parsley.  The dressing is a zesty emulsion of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and jalapeño pepper which has a lovely kick.  The recipe I used is here.  It makes enough for an army so we’ll be eating it for the next week (score!).  This would also make a great Labor Day weekend salad for a crowd.

Even though school is already back in session in Tucson (those poor kids!),  it still feels like summer to me.  I will keep sunning, swimming and eating salads.  If you’re still eating salads where you are, give this one a try.  And let me know how you like it!

Recipe of the Week

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Green Chili Rice with Black Beans!

I haven’t tried a new recipe in a while.  While we were away I mostly trotted out tried and true dishes to minimize time spent in the kitchen.  So it was nice to try something new tonight.  David and I saw Plant Pure Nation last night (more on that in my next post), and I had that on the brain when I went searching for a new recipe on the Forks Over Knives website.  For those of you who don’t know, these movies (made by the same team) focus on the health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet.  This health-promoting way of eating includes fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.  It does not include any processed food, meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, salt or oil.

I am now a vegan lifestyle coach and educator, and I assume that many of my future clients will be interested in going vegan in order to prevent or reverse diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  I typically use olive oil in my cooking, particularly when I’m sautéing vegetables, and I think it’s important that I’m comfortable cooking either with or without oil.  Plus, I think it’s better for my own health to limit how much oil I consume.  The Forks Over Knives website is full of oil-free recipes and you can link to this one here.

This dish may be missing the oil but not the flavor.  The first step is creating a poblano pepper, mild green chili, spinach and cilantro puree (plenty of flavor right there!).  The puree is added to vegetable broth and the rice is cooked in that.  While the rice is cooking, you sauté an onion.  In order to sauté without oil, you stir the diced onion over medium heat and add water (one tablespoon at a time) if the onion starts to stick.  Once the onion is translucent you add jalapeño pepper, black beans and cumin.  I added some salt at this point because that’s my preference, but you can easily skip it.  Once the rice is cooked you mix all the ingredients together, sprinkle with lime zest and serve it up.

Our dish came out much creamier than the original recipe.  I’m sure that’s a technique thing (me and rice!) but in the end, David and I both enjoyed the consistency which was rather risotto-like.  The poblanos and jalapeño added just the right amount of heat, and neither of us missed the oil.   So I learned something new today, and I will definitely consider using this oil-free approach in other dishes.

So guys, what do you think about oil?  Yea or nay?

The Most Beautiful Ridge Trail Ever

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It’s our last day in Montana, and for our final hike we decided to revisit Logan’s Pass and see if we could go all the way down to the lake.  Turns out, the trail down to the lake has been closed since we visited last week. Apparently, the mama grizzly and her cubs are still hanging out there.  We were disappointed by this but very grateful that we already had a chance to hike that trail.  We were treated to some spectacular wildflowers though: DSCN2989

Since last week, most of the snow has melted and instead there’s just a stunning profusion of flowers.  So all was not lost.   We went as far as we could at Logan’s (about 3 miles round trip) but we were up for something more. So, we decided to hit the Highline Trail,  a ridge trail that actually runs over 11 miles through Glacier.  We read that this trail had the most spectacular views so we decided to hike it until we ran out of gas (11 plus miles is not an option for me!).

My favorite types of trails to hike are ridge trails.  This is true anywhere I hike.  Canyon trails and forest trails can make me feel claustrophobic at times;  on ridge trails I can see not only where the trail is going but expansive vistas all around.  I love that feeling of being on top of the world with lots of big sky all around.  And I can say that the Highline Trail is a ridge trail on steroids.  So grand, so expansive, so stunning.  The photo up top gives you a little idea of what it was like to be up there.  This trail is also known for a short stretch of narrowish trails with a precipitous drop to one side.  Here’s a photo of David on that stretch of the trail.  That’s the Going To The Sun Road down below: DSCN2998

There’s a cable that hugs the mountain if you want to hang on, but it really wasn’t a big deal.  I’m so glad we didn’t skip out on this hike.  Check out these views: DSCN3005 DSCN2996

On a funny note, as we were hiking back toward the trailhead we met up with four very spunky goats: DSCN3011

Even though the trail is pretty narrow, at this point there was room for us to step aside and let them trot on by.  As we continued on our way we quickly came across a long line of at least 50 hikers;  apparently the goats had caused quite a traffic jam and the hikers couldn’t get by until they decided to move on down the trail.  It was pretty funny.

All in all, this beautiful hike was a fitting end to our two weeks in Montana.  We certainly got our fill of all that Glacier and the surrounding area had to offer.  Finally, on our way back to our condo we stopped for lunch at the Montana Coffee Traders where I had a delicious Tempeh Reuben.  You just never know where you will stumble on a great vegan meal!

I’m looking forward to our next two days on the road.  Great company, great scenery and a great audiobook…

Travel Like a (Vegan) Boss

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Greetings from Glacier National Park!

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that David and I did this exact trip a year ago, and it was so fantastic that we decided to go back for two weeks this year.  We arrived yesterday after over two full days of driving.  It felt great to get out and hike this morning, and breathtaking Avalanche Lake was our first stop.  Everything feels the same, but different.  First of all, the weather is hot, hot!  Last year we did some hiking in the snow.  This Tucson girl prefers the heat!

The biggest difference from last year to this year though is that this year we are vegans.  And as all of my vegan pals know, that can complicate things unless you plan, plan, plan!  So that’s just what we did.  From the drive to get up here to hanging out at the park to finding reasonably accommodating restaurants we are on it and I’m convinced that this will be a smashing trip.  Here’s how we’ve done it so far…

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Our general plan for driving up here was to do a short leg from Tucson to Flagstaff on Thursday night (about four hours), stay over in Flagstaff, then continue on to Park City, Utah on Friday.   Since we did this trip last year, we knew that between cities we would be treated to spectacular scenery and absolutely nothing healthy or vegan to eat.  So we took a little cooler with some cold packs for all the perishables (Trader Joe’s vegan wraps, hummus, veggies, peanut butter) and tossed the rest of the nosh in shopping bags in the back seat.  The Boy Scouts have nothing on us as you can see from our pile of provisions!  BE PREPARED!

Along with bringing our own eats, we checked out Happycow.net to see where we might be able to grab a vegan bite in Flagstaff and/or Park City.  We found a funky-looking place for breakfast in Flagstaff called the Whyld Ass Cafe (really!), and according to the info the place opened at 5:30am.  So we took a few extra minutes to find this place hoping we could get a muffin and coffee and be on our way.  I like to frequent as many vegan restaurants as I can so they stay in business. Unfortunately, when we found the place it looked closed (like for good).  Not sure if that’s the case, but there was no sign of life there.  So, we found the nearest Starbucks, got some soy lattes and made some peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast.  No problem for us but a good reminder that while Happycow is a good resource, it’s not perfect.  For me a little bag of Starbucks almonds was not going to cut it.  I was glad to have my provisions.

En route to Park City, we stopped at a highway convenience place and munched on our Trader Joe wraps in the Burger King.  I was dying to find some picnic tables or anywhere else to enjoy our lunch, but the options were non-existent.  The whole scene there was pretty depressing and an acute reminder of how important it is that we spread the word about the health benefits of plant-based eating.  At least we were able to eat our own healthy and satisfying food.  By the way, if you haven’t tried Trader Joe’s vegan wraps, you’re missing out.  There’s a great selection (falafel, unchicken, lentil and veggie) and they travel well.  These are our go-to sandwiches for travel of any kind.  Convenient, tasty and filling.

Once in Park City, we unloaded our little cooler and put everything in the hotel room fridge overnight.  This Best Western happened to have a larger than average mini-fridge with a freezer area for refreezing our cold packs.  I hadn’t asked about this in advance, but in the future I will.  It made a big difference to be able to put all our stuff in a refrigerator overnight and those teeny tiny ones don’t fit much.  In Park City, we found a place (also on Happycow) that had a decent selection of vegan options.  It was right on the main drag, and it’s called 501 Main:

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We learned a lot here, particularly that the vegan food you request might not actually be vegan.  Case in point:

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We treated ourselves to “vegan” onion slivers with our drinks.  As you can see, the chipotle dipping sauce looks a bit creamy.  We made it clear to the waiter that we wanted the vegan option.  He obviously had no idea what vegan actually is, because when David asked him what was in the sauce he said “buttermilk”.  Uh, no.  He replaced it with another fruity dressing which didn’t exactly go with fried onions.  Maybe that was the universe suggesting that I could do better than fried onions.

I ended up having vegan chili (mine is much better) and a salad (mine is much better), and David ordered one of their specials, a vegetable risotto in a potato crust (vegan option).  When the dish arrived David dug in and lifted up a fork full of stringy cheese.  Um, no again.  Apologies, apologies and the vegan version arrived:

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This was actually very tasty (Mine isn’t better because I’ve never made it!).  We enjoyed our time at 501 Main hanging at the bar and watching World Cup Soccer, but the food bit was a grind.  It was a reminder that we really need to be vigilant.

Day two of driving took us out of Utah, through Idaho and into Montana.  Lunch again was in a truck stop place, but this time we munched on homemade hummus, veggies and crackers in the McDonalds.  Interestingly, the McDonalds was pretty empty so we didn’t have to deal with as much of a sensory onslaught.  Everyone seemed to be eating at Subway.  No better, but at least we could chill in peace.

Many hours and lots of chips and mango slices later we arrived in Columbia Falls.  Because we are staying in a time-share community, we have a terrific one bedroom condo with a full kitchen and all of the amenities.  We’ve  always enjoyed vacationing this way, but it’s particularly helpful now that we’re vegan.  This area has no vegan restaurants, and while we can make our way through some Asian and pizza places our plan is to cook most meals ourselves.  So as soon as we got settled we ran out to the local supermarket for some staples.

We started the day today with a berry smoothie (we brought our Vitamix with us) and hit the trail.  In the afternoon we needed to go to Costco for some additional items, and we were thrilled to find a Natural Grocer across the street.  TOTAL SCORE!  If you don’t have Natural Grocer near you, it is a store of all organic products including produce.  The selection of vegan products is excellent.  I’m now certain that we will have all we need for these two weeks.

I’m sure that my desire to cook will eventually start to wane, and we will venture out into Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Kalispell to see what we can find in the local restaurants.  A few places look promising, and as we make our way through the local offerings I will report back on how we’re faring.   In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a whole lot more of this:

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and this:

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My Neglected Blog and Recipe of the Week

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These are super simple and chewy chocolate chip cookies, but I’ll get to that in a minute…

Oh my goodness, where have the weeks gone?  It’s been about three weeks since I last posted and my “Recipe of the Week” should probably be renamed “Recipe of the Month”!  But I’m not quite ready to give up on weekly recipe postings just yet.

I have some good reasons and some not so good reasons for neglecting this blog lately (no judgment, just my own assessment).  First, I spent time in New York City attending Victoria Moran’s wonderful Main Street Vegan Academy, and now I’m a vegan lifestyle coach and educator!  Fifteen dedicated vegans from all over the country came together to learn, share and explore.  We heard from so many brilliant and committed professionals including Dr. Robert Ostfeld, Sherry Colb, JL Fields, Fran Costigan and others.  We also had time to enjoy the varied and wonderful vegan restaurants in New York, from vegan soul food at Seasoned Vegan to upscale eating at Candle Cafe West and Blossom to gazillions of options at Caravan of Dreams.

But easily the most wonderful part of the MSVA experience was sharing it with people with whom I feel a deep resonance.  I heard from many of my new friends that they sometimes feel isolated and sad.  I have certainly experienced some of that myself although both my husband and closest friend are vegan. Even before attending the academy I had begun actively seeking out like-minded friends here in Tucson and little by little I have been trying to build a community for myself. But I’m still aware of a need to scale it back or filter some of my thoughts and feelings about the animals.  At MSVA there was none of that.  While hanging with these people I could be fully open and honest.  I felt validated and understood and there is nothing better than that.  And being part of the MSVA alumni means I now have contacts and friends (I consider all MSVA grads to be friends) all over the country, and I will not hesitate to ask for their support or offer mine to them.

Another reason I’ve been neglecting my blog is because I decided, after a decade of saying “no, never”, to finally get on Facebook.  When Facebook first got going my daughter was in high school and heading off to college.  At that time getting on Facebook was a way to follow your kids to college and continue all manner of lurking.  I didn’t want any part of that.  And bearing witness to my sons’ adolescent shenanigans on Facebook didn’t seem like anything I wanted to do either.  But as Facebook morphed from the domain of kids and helicopter parents to the preeminent personal and business social network platform I knew I had to get connected.  And I’ve been enjoying my time there-too much time there actually, which is why my little blog has suffered.  It’s much easier to post pictures and share stuff than gather my thoughts and write something meaningful.  It didn’t take long for me to understand the allure of peeking into other people’s lives and letting them peek into mine.  And I did my share of “where are they now” searches.  But I think I’ve exhausted all that now, and instead I have another way of staying in touch with the people who matter to me.  And in terms of going forward with my vegan coaching, staying connected on social media is a must.  Evolution, evolution.

So on to recipes…I was going to share a recipe for a wonderful mushroom quinoa enchilada dish (you can see it on Facebook :)) but I don’t have permission yet from the author to reprint it.  If I get permission I’ll share it next week.  Regarding the cookies pictured above, I searched through lots of vegan chocolate chip cookie recipes for one that was not only delicious but super easy to make–one bowl, some elbow grease and a cookie sheet.   This recipe fit the bill and you can link to it here.  This uses coconut oil and a bit of almond milk but otherwise looks like the old Nestle Tollhouse version.  This batch came out great but I would probably use larger chips and add some nuts next time.

If you’ve got kids (or you’re still a kid!) and you need a quick and easy chocolate chip cookie recipe for all those school bake sales, this one should do the job.

Enjoy every sweet bite.

And don’t forget to “friend” me on Facebook (Lisa Slovin)

Recipe of the Week

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Tofu Tikka Masala!

This dish is a take off on Paneer Tikka Masala, which I’ve never actually had.  I have had Chicken Tikka Masala which was one of my favorite Indian dishes in my pre-vegan life.  I figured that the firm tofu would work well and I was excited to try to replicate some of the delicious flavors of the dish I enjoyed.  The result was a tasty and authentic Indian dish, but not quite the same as the restaurant version.  I found the recipe for this dish on the One Green Planet website and you can take a look at it here.

I made this dish pretty much as written.  I did add a fair amount of salt and the juice of half a lemon for some much-needed acid. I had to track down some spices (cardamom pods and fenugreek seeds), but I had the rest of the long list of spices on hand.  And of course, this dish is all about the spices, sautéed in a bit of oil “until a nice aroma fills the kitchen”.  That nice aroma is likely to be filling my kitchen for the next few days 🙂

I was most impressed with the creamy consistency of this Tikka Masala.  This is all achieved using only one teaspoon of oil and a quarter cup of soy yogurt for marinating the tofu and peppers.  Like many “creamy” vegan dishes the creaminess comes from blending the slowly-cooked vegetables and spices in a high speed blender.  No butter or cream in sight.  Kind to the animals and much better for our health.

Flavor-wise I liked this dish but I think I can do better with it next time.  First, I would leave out the cinnamon stick.  This might be less authentic, but I’m just not a fan of cinnamon in savory dishes.  I should know this about myself already but I keep trying.  If this doesn’t bother you, keep the cinnamon in there.  Second, I think I cooked the spices a bit too long.  While I didn’t think they were burning I detected a slight bitterness.  Plus the color of the sauce was deeper than I expected, and I think it was from the same problem.

So I recommend this recipe.  If you have more experience cooking Indian food than I do (i.e. you can do better with the spices)  give this a try.  It’s a lot of satisfying flavor and creamy texture in a surprisingly healthy dish.

Recipe of the Week

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Sushi!

How gorgeous is that?

Before going vegan I never ate sushi.  Never even tried it.  I wasn’t a big fish lover in general and raw fish held no appeal for me. Hmmm, maybe I was on to something.  Since going vegan I had one sushi roll at a Chinese/Thai place here in town.  I liked it well enough but wasn’t feeling the need to run right home and make my own.

Turns out though, I recently found out that my iodine is low.  I wasn’t too surprised about that mostly because I don’t use iodized salt and I haven’t been eating any sea vegetables.  Well, I do need to up my iodine and in keeping with my “food as medicine” philosophy I decided to investigate dulse flakes, nori and kelp noodles.  I thought I’d have the most luck sprinkling dulse flakes into some faux tuna salad, but on my first attempt to make a raw sunflower seed type thing, the dish was so nasty it went straight in the trash.  I just couldn’t handle the “essence of fish”.  Okay, so no dulse for me (at least not in that form).

And that brought me to option #2, the nori. And that brought me to sushi.  At least with sushi I knew that a tasty dish was possible. When I was searching for recipes, I was delighted to find that the Minimalist Baker had an easy recipe that even used a kitchen towel to roll the sushi up.  Sounded like a win to me.  You can check out the recipe and her technique here.

You can really put anything inside these rolls, and we settled on carrots, cucumber, tofu (I had some Whole Foods sesame tofu on hand), avocado and red pepper.  You can use short grain white rice to make the rolls, but we used sushi rice that we found at Whole Foods.  Interestingly I had always assumed that the “sticky” rice found in sushi had to do with the grain, but the rice is made sticky by adding a rice vinegar/sugar/salt mixture to it.  We followed this recipe exactly as written, and it worked out great.  Luckily David was on hand to do the rolling since I was all thumbs!

These little rolls were delicious.  We dipped them in a wasabi/soy sauce mixture that David whipped up and served it all with a green salad with some miso dressing:

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So while creating this dish might have been more a labor of necessity than a labor of love, I feel pretty great about how it all turned out.  I can get some of the nutrition I’ve been missing in a really tasty way, and I discovered a fun dish that I could easily serve to company.

Before I do that though, I really do need to pick up some chopsticks 🙂

Recipe of the Week

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Sesame Ginger Quinoa Salad!

With the weather heating up here in Tucson we’ve been shifting our attention from stews and soups to lighter fare.  Several nights a week David and I find ourselves grazing on big salads for dinner, and a fresh quinoa salad with a dollop of hummus over greens is one of my favorite combinations.

I have a few quinoa recipes already in our rotation, but I’m always on the hunt for new recipes.  When I found this recipe, with its Asian-inspired flavors and ingredients, I decided to give it a try.  Just look how gorgeous it is!  You can link to the recipe here.

Because quinoa is such a light and fluffy grain, I prefer it to be lightly dressed.  This recipe calls for just two tablespoons each of sesame oil and rice vinegar and that’s just enough to flavor the whole dish.  The rainbow of veggies (carrots, purple cabbage, red pepper, yellow pepper and edamame) is such a visually pleasing and crunchy mix.  Minced fresh ginger adds a nice bite to the otherwise mild salad.

This salad is really versatile.  It’s hearty enough for dinner and light enough for lunch or even a mid-afternoon snack ( I’ve been munching on the leftovers while I’ve been writing this post). Plus, the vibrant colors are a great addition to any pot luck or picnic table.

So if you’re ready to lighten things up where you are, give this one a try.  And let me know if you like it!