Archive for January, 2010

Ode to Oatmeal

The other day I was talking to my dad on the phone and he told me he had been eating oatmeal for breakfast lately.  I was excited because I love oatmeal and I hate that it gets such a bad rap!  I have a theory that most people who think they hate oatmeal actually hate instant oatmeal.  That stuff’s nasty, but there are other (better) kinds!

Oats have been around for centuries.  They were a staple in Scotland because of the short, wet growing season which suits the grain.  Today you can buy oats in many forms:  Scottish (or Irish, or Steel-cut) oats, rolled oats (come in varying thicknesses depending on machine settings), quick-cooking oats, instant oats, and even oat flour, whole groats, and oat sprouts.

Scottish oats are made by removing the outer husk of the whole oat grain (groat), then toasting it and cutting it into two or three smaller pieces.  They have a longer cooking time, but are less processed than rolled oats and some people prefer the texture over rolled oats.  Rolled oats are just whole groats that have been steamed and flattened by a roller.  By cutting the groat into smaller pieces, then rolling, the cooking time can be reduced (such as with quick-cooking oats).  Instant oats are cut even smaller yet, and are often packaged with added sugar and other ingredients.  I recommend staying away from instant!  Most people who say they hate oatmeal are thinking of this type!

Oatmeal is a healthy whole grain food and is considered by The Mayo Clinic to be one of the Top 5 foods for lowering cholesterol.

Health benefits of whole grain oats:

  • Contain 7 B Vitamins
  • Contain Vitamin E
  • Contain 9 minerals including iron and calcium
  • Contain soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol
  • all that fiber also helps fill you up!
  • Contain healthy unsaturated fats
  • Contain Gamma Linolenic Acid, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and potential to supress tumor growth and metastasis [research into these claims is ongoing].

Other benefits:

  • Cheap!
  • Versatile!
  • Delicious!

You can use oats to make oatmeal, or you can use them in recipes ranging from smoothies to savory pilafs to muffins and pancakes.  I like to make my oatmeal with old fashioned rolled oats, using about half water and half soymilk, with a splash of vanilla and cinnamon.  I usually add fruit like banana, apple, or pumpkin, and sometimes nuts or granola or a little crunch.

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Tu-not melt – Recipe

Before I was vegetarian I ate a lot of tuna.  I’d stick those foil pouches in my bag and have one for lunch a few times a week(!)  I had no idea at the time how much mercury I was probably consuming.  I came up with this salad one day at lunch time when the cupboards were pretty bare.  When I was working in The Bakery, we used to make tuna salad a couple of times per week for our lunch menu.  Everyone’s favorite seemed to be Curried Tuna Salad, and I’m planning to adapt this vegan recipe into a Curry Tuna Salad recipe, so keep an eye out for that.  This one is pretty simple and straightforward – feel free to add anything you might like in your usual tuna salad – I don’t care for raw onions or celery, but both would be good here.  Don’t be scared of the kelp powder – it gives a slightly “oceany” taste to this vegan salad and adds a salty flavor as well, but you could leave it out.

Tu-not salad (vegan)

1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 Tablespoon vegan mayo (I prefer Veganaise)
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
1 small carrot, diced (about 1/4c)
1 small dill pickle, diced
1 teaspoon pickle juice (optional)
1 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon kelp powder
a few splashes of lemon juice
hot sauce to taste (optional) or a pinch of cayenne pepper

Put the drained chick peas in a bowl and mash them with the back of a fork.  You want them to be mostly crushed, with few if any whole beans.  But don’t get too crazy, you don’t want them to be all mashed up.  Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.

To make the Tu-not Melt (makes 2 servings):

Preheat your oven’s broiler.  Place two pieces of bread (I used Ezekiel brand) on a baking sheet.  Place about 1/2 cup of the tu-not salad on top of the bread and top with shredded vegan cheese (I used Teese.)  I know vegan cheese is a contentious issue – some like it and some hate it.  I will admit it’s not the same as dairy cheese, but Teese is pretty good.  It can be grated and it has a decent melting effect.  You could leave the cheese off entirely, you could use a few sprinkles of nutritional yeast for a bit of a cheesy flavor, or use a dairy cheese if you’re not concerned about the recipe being vegan.  Bake these until the cheese is melted – watch carefully! – it only takes a minute or two.

Nutritional Info (for just the salad – the melt will depend on your bread and cheese) per 1/2 cup serving:  125 calories, 3.6g fat, 17g carbohydrates, 5.5g fiber, 5.25g protein.

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DIY Sushi

I love veggie sushi.  I get mad sushi cravings all the time, which is inconvenient because sushi is expensive and requires going to a sit-down restaurant around here.  A couple of years age I tried my hand at making sushi at home and to be honest, it was kind of a mess.   I’ve had the remainder of a big tub of sushi rice and 1/2 a pack of nori just sitting in my pantry ever since.  Sunday I was sitting around watching some videos on YouTube, as I am known to do on lazy Sundays, and I came across this one:  How to make a sushi roll.

And of course, the chef made it look so easy.  And of course, it made me hungry for sushi.  So I rustled up some veggies and my sushi-making supplies (a bamboo mat – like this one, my sushi rice, nori sheets – like this stuff) and got to work making some veggie sushi in my own kitchen.  I took the video chef’s advice and made sure to keep my hands wet the whole time, and it really helped.  The trickiest part of making sushi is working with the rice because it’s very sticky.  After that, the hardest part is the initial “tuck” of the roll – it is here that you need to make sure all your ingredients are snug inside the first roll.  I won’t explain rolling the sushi here, because it’s much easier to understand if you just watch the video.  My roll isn’t the prettiest, but it sure was tasty!

This isn’t really a recipe, just instructions.  To make maki sushi at home you need sushi rice.  I’ve seen some people use different rice, even brown rice, so you can try that at your own risk.  Cook the rice per the instructions on the package or box.

While the rice is cooking, you need to prep your fillings by cutting them into narrow (about 1/4″ in diameter) strips.  For my sushi, I used avocado, cucumber, carrot, and some marinated tofu.  Some other things that would be good:  zucchini or squash, bell peppers, green onions, asparagus, mushrooms, sprouts, lettuce or spinach, snow peas, whatever you like that can be wrapped up.

Also while the rice is cooking, you need to make some seasoned rice wine vinegar (or you can buy this pre-made) – for every 1 cup of uncooked sushi rice you are using (1 cup uncooked will make 3-4 larger rolls after it’s cooked), combine 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan and heat, stirring just until sugar is dissolved into vinegar then remove from heat and set aside.

Once your rice is cooked, let it cool slightly and stir in the seasoned rice vinegar.  Let it cool a little more until you can handle it, then make your rolls.  You can eat the rolls right away or wrap them in plastic wrap and chill until serving.  I will definitely be making this at home more often!  It was very inexpensive and so good.

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I’ve been trying to come up with a more portable breakfast than my usual oatmeal.  I saw a recipe for these carrot muffins in an issue of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine, but I couldn’t find the recipe on her website so I came up with my own vegan version.  I used cranberries because I have a big bag of them, but I actually think these would be better with golden raisins.  I also used pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), but any kind of nuts or sunflower seeds would be good too.  The muffins are not very sweet at all, but increasing the sugar should work if you prefer a sweeter muffin.  These are really hearty and filling – they have everything my usual breakfast has: oats, fruit, protein, and a little fat. I know the list of ingredients seems long, but these come together quickly in one bowl.  I had enough batter to make 19, so I used that number to figure the nutrition information.

Morning Glory Muffins (vegan)

Makes 18 (or 19) muffins

1 Tablespoon ground flax seed
2 Tablespoons water
3/4 cup soy yogurt
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (1 medium-sized banana)
3/4 cup soy milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup grated carrot
3/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins (or both)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons ground flax seed
1/4 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 18 muffin tins with paper liners, or spray muffin tin with non-stick spray.
In a small bowl, mix together 1 Tablespoon ground flax seed and 2 Tablespoons water.  Set aside to thicken.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together yogurt, applesauce, mashed banana, soy milk, and vanilla.  Stir in carrots, cranberries or raisins (reserve a couple Tablespoons for tops of muffins, if desired), cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and brown sugar.  Stir in oats.
In another medium-sized bowl, sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add to wet ingredients and stir to combine well.  Stir in pumpkin seeds and remaining 2 Tablespoons flax seed.
Divide batter into 18 muffin cups (1/4 cup batter per muffin).  Top with a few cranberries and pumpkin seeds, if desired.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tops spring back when you push on them gently.  Let cool.

Nutrition info for 1 muffin:  118 calories, 1.5g fat, 24.6g carbs, 2.7g fiber, 3g protein.

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So, yeah, as I previously mentioned that while I am on hiatus from exercising, I joined Weight Watchers. Wanna know what? It’s actually working. I’ve lost 5.8 pounds since I joined December 30, 2009. Well, yeah, of COURSE I’m going to lose weight…I’m eating so little calories (and I’m not sure how much longer I will continue Weight Watchers once I start back at my exercise routine, but you never know). But, I will say this…I’ve been consuming even more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good protein than I normally do…
Here was my dinner tonight:

Earth Grains 100% Natural Thin Buns (1 point)
Boca Vegan Burger (1 point)
1 slice fat free cheese (1 point) – can substitute a vegan cheese
A few thin slices of tomato (0 points), mustard (0 points), ketchup (0 points since I used so very little), sliced red onion (0 points) and spinach (0 points)…but since there are so many 0 points I am marking all of this as 1 point
1 serving Market Pantry Light Homestyle vegetable soup (1 point)
Steamed veggies (0 points)
1 cup of zero calorie sweet tea (0 points)

So, all of this for 5 points. I really enjoy this meal and it definitely keeps me satisfied. And I’m sure Lindsay could easily help you modify it to make it vegan.

I’m not the best photographer, so this is the best I could do for now…haha.

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Thank you, drive thru!

Yes, it’s true. The same classy establishment that advertises for “The Fourth Meal” is now capitalizing on the health craze with the “Drive Thru Diet.” I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials – they tell you about Christine, Taco Bell’s version of Subway Jared, who lost 54 pounds over two years by choosing items from the Fresco menu – a 7-item section of the menu with choices ranging from 150 to 340 calories, and each with 8g of fat or less.

Now it’s time for a dirty little secret confession…..Taco Bell is a guilty pleasure of mine. The only thing I ever get now is the bean burrito, without cheese (there are several vegan offerings on the menu), but I always loved Taco Bell. We ate there once in a while when I was a kid, and when I started driving I would hit up the drive thru for “fourth meal” on a regular basis. The Taco Bells in my hometown were open until the wee hours of the morning, and the line for the drive thru was often 10 or more cars deep. It remains one of the only places where you can get seriously cheap fast food. When I came to college I was surprised to find that Taco Bell wasn’t a very big deal here! There is only one TB for the entire town of 50,000 and it closes at a perfectly reasonable hour! I was also disappointed to have met and eventually married a man who doesn’t like Taco Bell! I still have it once in a while, though not nearly as often as I used to. I don’t advocate eating a lot of fast food, I really don’t. But I just love me some Taco Bell once in a while.

Now, with no love lost, I think the “Drive Thru Diet” is ridiculous. Yes, one could lose weight the same way Christine did – I’m not saying there is anything wrong with her or what she did.  Losing 54 pounds is a great accomplishment, and if it took her 2 years to do so, she likely did it slowly and in a reasonably healthy manner. I highly doubt she actually ate Taco Bell every day, but “eating Taco Bell once in a while” just doesn’t have the same draw.  I do believe that eating fast food once in a while can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But I don’t like diets as marketing schemes. I hate that people will so easily buy into an idea for long-term weightloss and maintenance that involves anything less than changing your life. “Eating Better Just Got Easier”? I don’t like the implication that losing weight is easy. I don’t like the insinuation that you should eat Taco Bell (or any fast food) every day, or multiple times per day. The sodium alone is likely to bloat you up like a balloon.  One thing that worries me is the temptation – once you’re in the line, how likely are you to stick to ordering from the Fresco menu?  How easy is it to add sour cream, or tack on an order of Border Fries?  How much better would your favorite double-decker-extra-cheesy-deep-fried taco supreme taste? I think it could be a slippery slope for some people.  It’s also really important to remember that calorie counts on restaurant food are notoriously unreliable because the servings are not totally standardized. I’ve seen this with my own eyes – one visit to Taco Bell will yield a burrito the size of a newborn baby, and the next time I’ll unwrap a burrito the size of a bubblegum cigar. You can’t count on fast food to be “diet” or “health” food. But you can have it as part of living a healthy lifestyle if you make good choices.  To echo a sentiment Andrea put forth in her goal-setting post, “Make wise choices!”

What do you think of diets like The Subway Diet, Drive Thru Diet, or The Special K Diet?

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My husband and I went out to the bookstore last night to read magazines – it’s a sneaky little way of saving money.  I saw a recipe for Iced Oatmeal Cookies in Vegetarian Times, but I didn’t copy the recipe down because Vegetarian Times has all their recipes online!  Except I couldn’t find this one…I think they may wait a month or two to put recipes up, I suppose they want to give some incentive to buy the magazine.  I found a non-vegan recipe online that seemed somewhat close, from what I could remember.  I set out to veganize it (and – you know me, I can’t leave a recipe just the way it is – I changed a few things) and these cookies are what I ended up with.  I have to say, they are freakin delicious.  They have no strange ingredients, and they come together very quickly.  I think they would be good with other kinds of fruit and possibly nuts as well.  The cookies themselves aren’t very sweet, so the supersweet icing really finishes them off nicely.  The original recipe is here, and my version is below.

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with Maple Icing (vegan)

For cookies:
1 Tablespoon ground flax seed
2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons Earth Balance margarine, melted
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup dried cranberries

For icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 1/2 – 3 teaspoons water

Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a small bowl, combine ground flax seed and water, set aside until thickened.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine melted margarine, oil, and brown sugar.  Stir with a fork until well combined.  Add applesauce, vanilla, and flax seed mixture, stir just until combined.  Stir in oats.  In a separate medium-sized bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add to sugar mixture and stir until combined (note: dough will be moist).  Stir in cranberries.  Drop by the tablespoon (I used my small ice cream scoop!) onto a lined baking sheet*.  Bake for 12 minutes, or until tops are set.

While cookies are baking, make the icing.  In a small bowl combine powdered sugar, maple syrup, and water.  The icing should be a drizzling consistency but you don’t want it to be too runny – add the water slowly.  Cover the icing with plastic wrap until you’re ready to use it (so it doesn’t dry out.)

When the cookies are done baking, let cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes then transfer to a cooling rack (if you don’t have a cooling rack, you can use several layers of paper towels).  Once they are cool to the touch, drizzle the icing over the tops of the cookies.  Let the icing set up for at least an hour before packing the cookies away.

*The cookies don’t have a lot of fat, so they might stick to a plain baking sheet.  I lined my baking sheet with a Silpat silicone baking mat, but you could also use parchment.  If you don’t have either of those, spray the pan with a little non-stick spray.

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Tofu Scramble – Recipe

Tofu scramble is one of my favorite things to make on the weekend for breakfast or brunch.  It’s easy to throw together, and my husband likes it too!  I love to serve it with these vegan sausages from Field Roast Grain Meat Co. The Smoked Apple Sage flavor goes so well here.  You can feel free to add in whatever veggies you’d like, think of it kind of like an omelet.  Nutritional yeast is used in a lot of vegan recipes to impart a cheesy flavor.  I buy mine in bulk at my coop, but you might be able to find it at your regular grocery store – Red Star is one brand-name I’m aware of.  I also love to remix the leftovers into a breakfast burrito – just load the scramble and any leftover sausage pieces in a tortilla and too with salsa and avocado if you have it.

Tofu Scramble (vegan)

1 package extra firm tofu, drained and pressed*
2 teaspoons oil
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/3 cup shredded carrot
1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
1/4c water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
hot sauce (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook for a few minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent. Add the bell pepper and carrot, stirring to coat in oil, and cook for about a minute. Add the tofu. Break the tofu into chunks – about 1/2″ to 3/4″ in diameter. Some of the tofu will crumble in the process and that’s just fine. Leave the tofu to cook without stirring for a couple of minutes, so it starts to brown on the bottom. Then stir it and let it sit to brown, repeat this a couple of times until most of the tofu is browned. Reduce heat to low. In a small bowl, mix together the spices, water, and tamari. Stir this into the tofu, warming through. Add more water (a tablespoon at a time) if the mixture becomes dried out. Stir in nutritional yeast flakes and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*To press the tofu just means to put it between several layers of paper towels (or a tea towel, if you want to be more enviro-friendly) and press press press. you dont need to squish it, just press down firmly several times to get as much excess liquid out as you can.  I use Westsoy Organic tofu and it works really well in this dish.

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Carrying on with the with Lindsay’s resolutions posts, I thought I’d chime in here as well. When I started my weight loss journey back in May 2006, inevitably people would ask, “What’s your goal weight?” or “What’s your ideal size?” And I could never answer those questions. I still can’t. All of my goals have been fitness based. And they still are fitness based.

So, even now, with just having had significant plastic surgery one month ago that took off 8 pounds of loose skin, which included 8 inches off my waist and 4 inches off my hips, my goals are not weight related nor clothing size related. All I’m thinking about is when I can get back into the gym and start working on my fitness goals (you know, being out in the gym, working on my fitness…haha). I don’t know where this comes from…maybe because I realize that if I ever did have an ideal size, I probably don’t think my body structure would allow me to get there OR I would be disappointed if I never got there. And even at my peek physical condition I was never low in weight.

But, I can always improve myself physically. I can run faster. I can lift heavier weights. I can practice that yoga position until I am fully extended and breathing properly. When I first started to lose weight, I just wanted to be able to complete a full 30 day cycle of The Firm. That was my very first fitness goal. Then I started fantasizing about running. Just running for 1 minute straight, that was all. And after I finished my first 5K back in April 2007, I decided that I would set a goal to beat my previous 5K race time at each new race. Lucky for me, I have done that. And I think it’s because I have those goals. I make very clear and specific goals and I write them down.

Lately my physical fitness goals have been Crossfit related (I will do a Crossfit post soon, as I’m quite obsessed). I want to deadlift 285 pounds. I want to clean and jerk 140 pounds. I want to do 20 consecutive kipping pull ups. I want to have a “sub 4:00 Fran.” Those are goals to which I can work towards and keep me motivated.

I have some yoga related goals as well. I want to fully complete bird of paradise or side crane, for example. Size 6? Meh. If I get there, that’d be nice. But, for now, that all elusive elephant truck pose/astavakra seems like a bigger challenge and a more formidable goal…for me.

I firmly believe that people need to use WHATEVER motivation that gets them up and sweating and eating healthy daily. If it’s being a size 2? Great. Make wise choices. If it’s being 150 pounds? Great. Make wise choices.

But, WRITE THESE GOALS DOWN! You want to be able to check them off and show your progress, don’t you? I like visually seeing my progress, which is why I diligently enter ALL of my exercise sessions on an Excel spreadsheet like the complete dork that I am. I’ve done this since September 2006 when I got my first heart rate monitor (tracking my calories burned, time in heart rate zone, etc.). I like being able to document my progress. It helps with my goals. I am indeed an awesome dork like that. But, that’s what keeps me motivated day after day.

What keeps you motivated? What are your goals? What are your resolutions? Are you writing them down? What about Lindsay’s Inspiration Board? I think I’m going to do one myself now!

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Inspiration Board

Continuing on my New Years Resolutions post

I’ve seen these Inspiration Boards a few places, and most recently over at The Fitnessista.  I love the idea – I’m a very visual person and I think having something to look at as a daily reminder (or more frequently, depending on where you display your board), could really help with staying focused.   I decided to put some of the dozens of magazines I have sitting around my house to good use by making one for myself.  Mine is small, about 12″x16″, and my plan is to stick it inside my closet so I can see it every morning when I’m trying to decide what to wear.  Since I also took pictures of it for this post, I can look at those whenever I want!  Basically an Inspiration Board can be anything you want it to be.  Mine has my goals for 2010, surrounded by images that inspire me or make me happy.  You can make an inspiration board for your bedroom, for work or personal goals, for an assignment, for your wedding – whatever you’d like.  I have to admit it was fun to do the cutting and pasting, I felt like I was back in elementary school!  And I’m really happy with how it turned out.  I even stuck a couple of motivational quotes on there for good measure.


Let me know if you make one!

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