Archive for February, 2010

Here I go talking up another “miracle” product!  Maybe you’ve heard of these magical little seeds:

But did you know that you can eat chia seeds?  And that they have a pretty impressive nutritional profile?  You can read all about the history of this Ancient superfood over on Raw Reform.

In a nutshell, they are loaded with protein, antioxidants, minerals like calcium, iron, and potassium, and they contain 60% essential fatty acids (omega 3s and omega 6s).  In fact, they have more EFAs than flax seeds and are more easily digestible.  They also have loads of soluble and insoluble fiber.  When you put them in liquid, the seeds absorb up to 10 times their mass in water.  You can take advantage of this “gelling” to use the chia seeds in recipes like the one below. Admittedly, it looks a little scary, but the chia gel has a similar texture to tapioca (and a similar taste, if you’ve ever made tapioca pudding from scratch you know that it only gets its flavor from the sugar and other things you add to it). You can probably find chia seeds in bulk at your local health food store or co-op, or they are readily available online. I got mine from Nuts Online.

Vanilla Chia Pudding (vegan)

2 Tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
tiny splash vanilla extract
just a pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar (or to taste)

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir.  Let sit for about 10 minutes and stir again.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or as long as overnight).  I topped mine with banana and kiwi and a couple tablespoons of granola.


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OIAJ – Oats In a Jar

You will see OIAJ (Oats in a Jar) all over the blogosphere.  The concept is pretty simple – when you have a jar of nut butter and get down to the last tablespoon or so at the bottom of the jar, you make your oatmeal right in the jar.  I usually give my empty peanut butter jars to my dog, but this one was glass and I didn’t think that would be a good idea, seeing as how she can splinter a pig hoof in about 5 seconds.  So I finally tried OIAJ, and they were delicious!  (And I gave my dog the last couple of bites).  These are just my typical oats with 1/2 water and 1/2 vanilla soymilk, with a pinch of salt, a little cinnamon, 1/2 a banana, and some granola on top.

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I love pasta.  Who doesn’t?  It’s such carby goodness – for me it’s a huge comfort food, especially macaroni and cheese!  I had this big spaghetti squash on hand and was planning to prepare it with marinara sauce, but when I turned to the cupboard there was none to be found.  Instead of running to the store for one thing, I decided to try making a sort of baked cheezy casserole with the squash.

I used this recipe from Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Life as a base recipe for the sauce.  Having made this recipe before, I made a couple of notable changes this time around – I used only 2 Tablespoons of shoyu and only 1 Tablespoon of oil.  The original recipe was way too salty for me, so I curbed that by reducing the shoyu and I added just a little salt at the end.  2/3 cup of oil seems excessive in almost any context to me – you really do need it to recreate the traditional macaroni and cheese texture, but I wanted to try leaving it out here and it worked really well – the squash has more moisture than pasta will, so there was no problem with dryness.

I was really happy with how this turned out, baking the squash twice made the texture even more like pasta.  It’s not exactly the same, but I would consider it a reasonable fascimile and it’s much healthier!

Cheezy Spaghetti [Squash] Casserole (vegan)


1 medium sized spaghetti squash, about 2 pounds
1 recipe cheezy sauce, with modifications
2 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon melted vegan margarine (or oil)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cut the spaghetti squash in half length-wise and scoop out the seeds.  Bake the squash in the oven for about 40 minutes – 1 hour, or until it’s tender and the squash “strands” separate easily.  Let cool until you can handle it.  Meanwhile, make the sauce Scoop out all the squash strands with a fork, into a large bowl.  Add broccoli and sauce and mix.  Pour into an 8″x8″ square baking pan.  In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs and melted margarine or oil.  Spread the crumbs over the top of the squash mixture, and bake for 25-30 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and bread crumbs begin to brown.

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Have you heard about this stuff?  Argan oil comes from the nut of the Argan tree, which is native to Morocco.  The oil has a rich history in Morocco, where people have been eating it and using it on their skin for centuries.  It’s rich in Vitamin E and contains several essential fatty acids.  I had no idea you could eat it!

You’ll find a lot of websites touting Argan oil as a miracle product.  I’m not so sure about that, but I’ve been using this Josie Maran Argan oil on the ends of my hair, which tend to get extremely dry this time of year.  After I’ve styled my hair (dried and flat ironed) I rub about three or four drops of it around between my hands, and then gently apply it to the ends of my hair and whatever is left on my hands, I use to lightly smooth down any fly-aways or frizzy bits of hair.  Then I massage the rest into my hands and cuticles.  It doesn’t seem to have a smell to me, it absorbs quickly and is not greasy at all.  This little jar has lasted me a couple of months already.  Other uses purportedly include: reducing fine lines and wrinkles, reducing the appearance of scars, a baby oil, as a facial and body moisturizer.  I like the Josie Maran Argan Oil because I trust that it is the real thing (apparantly there are a lot of impostors – sites selling cheaper oils at a big markup) and I trust that it is ethically sourced.  You can read more about Argan Oil and specifically this brand at Josie Maran Cosmetics.  I got my .5fl. oz. jar at Sephora for $14.

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Make me up make-up

I love make-up. I find this very amusing now because for the first 25+ years of my life, I would never wear make-up, ever. Well, that’s not true. I was in theater in high school, so I’d wear theater make-up. But, every day make-up? No way!

Flash forward to now where I actually become giddy like a school girl when I watch youtube tutorials of make-up looks. Or feel like the mother ship is calling me home every time I walk by Sephora or MAC. Why? Where did this come from? I have a theory. And again, it always goes back to being the funny awkward “fat” friend. I didn’t concentrate on my appearance because in my own head I thought I wasn’t attractive. I worked on being funny and having fun with people. I love to make people laugh. If I could make someone laugh, then I was loved. That’s my deal and it’s always been my deal. Why concentrate on being attractive by using make-up if you’re not attractive? I know, horrible logic.

Fast forward to today. I’m confident in myself. Sure, I have issues with my wobbly bits, but who doesn’t? But, I love make-up now. I love how it makes me feel good about myself. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’ll rock the bare face like nobody’s business…but, I take pride in how I look. I’m not the prettiest pickle in the bunch, but I can get by…So, I think that with weight loss came more self confidence. When you feel good about yourself, you want to put your best foot forward. And for that, I’m really grateful for my weight loss. Because it’s given me a confidence boost. And now I want to try to look as good as I can.

So, you know how they say dress up for a speech even if it’s not required? Or wear fancy underwear even if no one else will see them? Because when you feel good about yourself then you tend to act in ways that make you more confident. The whole “self-fulfilling prophecy” concept. That’s how I feel when I put more effort into my appearance…I find myself making better choices food wise and health wise.

This short little post was not to suggest that people where make-up…not at all. But more, take pride in what you’re doing for yourself. Find something that inspires you and makes you motivated. Because when you feel good about yourself, you’re more likely going to act in ways to keep that positive feeling going. So, you’re probably find me posting a few tutorials here and there or reviews of my favorite make-up/beauty related products…just sayin’…haha

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Here’s another easy soup for the cold winter months – this time with some in-progress photos.  As I type this post, we are in the midst of yet another blizzard-like weather event here in Iowa!  I think that makes five blizzards and about 5 feet of snow piled in my yard.  I really wish I were exaggerating.  About the soup – I’m a huge squash fan, but I’ve never cared for a sweet preparation (except for maybe pumpkin pie).  This soup has a little bit of a spicy kick to it, but you could definitely increase the amount of jalapeno (or leave the seeds in) or hot sauce for even more punch.

Butternut Squash Black Bean Soup (vegan)

Makes about 12 1-cup servings

1 medium-sized butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
1/2 yellow onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 sweet bell pepper (I used yellow)
3 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 cups packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon lime juice
hot sauce to taste (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Cut the squash in half length-wise and place on a baking sheet.  Roast in a 375F oven for 45 minutes-1 hour, or until the flesh is very soft (test with a sharp knife or fork).  Remove from oven and let cool.

2.  In a medium-sized pot, saute onion, garlic, and peppers over medium-low heat until onion begins to caramelize.  Add the broth.

3.  Scoop the flesh from the squash halves and add to the onion mixture.  At this point you can either puree part of the soup, or just mix the squash in to the broth.  I pureed mine partially, with an immersion blender.  I left some chunks of vegetables for texture.

4.  Add black beans, corn, cumin, hot sauce if using, and lime juice, and heat through.  Stir in spinach and cook just until wilted.  Stir in lime juice and add salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition Info for 1 cup:  75 calories, .5g fat, 17g carbs, 4.2g fiber, 3.4g protein.

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Vegan Eating On-the-Go

Some may think the words “vegan” and “fast food” don’t belong in the same sentence… The fact is that my lifestyle and that of a lot of other people, requires eating on-the-go once in a while.  Do I eat fast food every day?  No.  Many of my co-workers do, and I know it is the norm for a lot of people my age who “don’t know how to cook” or claim to not have time.  I want to tell those people you don’t have to actually “cook” to eat vegan at home, and that there are things you can do with very little time, but that’s another topic.  Sometimes it’s necessary to grab something on the road.  And sometimes it’s just fun to go out for a bite with your friends!  So I’ll describe my approach, which includes some good strategies for anyone trying to eat healthy, not just vegans!

I have my “go-tos” – things that are easy to find almost anywhere in America (that is on the Interstate Highway system at least).  Subway veggie on white (their wheat bread has honey), load up on veggies and you can have a 12″ salad on a bun for $5 (most locations) and around 400 calories.  Taco Bell bean burrito without cheese (and onions for myself).  Less than $1, seriously, and 320 calories.  Find your own go-tos.

I do some research – ahead of time or on-the-fly.  I use an app for the iPhone called Vegan Xpress (Vegan Xpress iPhone app).  It has a lot of fast food and chain restaurants (like Applebees, Red Lobster) with lists of vegan menu items.  Most restaurants have nutrition information, including ingredients, online now.  If you know ahead of time where you will be going this is a great way to find something suitable.  Almost every chain restaurant will have allergy information – either online or in the restaurant.  This can be tremendously helpful as eggs and dairy are common allergens.

Then you have local or non-chain restaurants.  These are a little trickier. Again, if I know where I will be going ahead of time I try to find a web presence for the establishment.  Hopefully they at least have a menu online so I know what I’m going into.  It is rare that I find myself somewhere without a single item that is at least vegetarian (and therefore easily modified by omitting cheese, for example), but it happens.  Do not be afraid to ask questions of the wait staff, and to request they relay information from the kitchen if they don’t know the answers.  In this day and age, it’s common for people to have special diets and/or food sensitivities and allergies.  Businesses need to know that 1) they need to educate their staff on these issues, and 2) they need to have options available.  A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to go to lunch with some former co-workers to celebrate a retirement.  The retiree picked a local restaurant – Aunt Maude’s.  I had trouble eating here when I was vegetarian, so I knew it was going to be a challenge.  I looked at their menu online and as I had suspected, no vegan (or vegetarian) options.  So I called the restaurant up during non-peak hours (before the lunch rush) a few days before the event.  I explained my situation and they were very nice about it.  They said it would be no problem to make a vegan entree for me and asked about my preferences.

I make the best of the situation. I’ve only been in a few situations where there was absolutely nothing I could eat.  Honestly, I actively try to avoid establishments where I know there are no vegan or vegetarian menu items (local BBQ places, for example).   If you are with your family or unsympathetic friends, this may not be an option.  My advice would be to either make a special request or just get something to drink.   If I’m going somewhere this may be a concern, such as a wedding, I try to eat a little something beforehand and stick a Larabar or a small snack in my purse.  The bottom line is that you’re probably not going to starve.  I also don’t like others to get the impression that being vegan is a pain in the ass, so I try to be as graceful as possible and not make a big deal about it.  If you are out with your family or friends, or at an event, try to focus on the company and the moment itself.  It doesn’t have to be about the food!  You can still have a great time without it.

Sometimes, I stoop low. Most gas stations that carry snack food will have a few vegan options.  Familiarize yourself with the I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan! food list over at Peta.org.  My usual suspects are Wheat Thins and Twizzlers.  Sometimes, you just gotta eat.

So there you have it, a few suggestions on how to eat vegan and/or healthy on-the-go.  Some other links you might find helpful:

My Life as a Vegan – Fast Food Options

Happy Cow Food Finder

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