We are officially in the thick of fall season, folks! And I LOVE IT!
You know how some people feel about pumpkin — pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, pumpkin everything? That’s how I feel about apples — apple fritters, apple pie, apple compote, apple bread, apple cider donuts [oh my god], apple sauce, apple cider…I could go on and on….
Caramel apples, appletinis, apple crisp, apple cobbler, apple cider sangria…
Anyway, I recently bought 20 pounds of apples from my MIL who went to a local orchard to pick [she and her friend together picked over 55 pounds of apples!] so I’ve been making apple goodness for the past week.
So when my apple bread was in the oven, I surveyed the damage —which was extensive because I am very messy in the kitchen—and saw the apple scraps.
I remembered a post years ago by my absolute FAVORITE zero waste blogger at Zero-Waste Chef about using apple scraps to make vinegar. You can find her whole how-to guide here. Basically you add the scraps with some sugar and cover with water and let it sit for several weeks.
So, I decided to give it a go.
Hopefully I have made the Zero-Waste Chef proud.
[Her name is Anne-Marie Bonneau, by the way and she has a great cookbook out which I of course own, and which also contains the apple scrap vinegar recipe and a gazillion others.]
Back to the vinegar. I’ll have to let you know how it turns out. Right now it is sitting on my counter with a few other fermenting goodies like hot sauce from our home-grown hot peppers and cabbage that is hopefully on its journey to becoming sauerkraut!
What do you use the apple scrap vinegar for, you might ask? I use it in [of all places] the dishwasher because it helps the glass dishes to come out sparkly. ✨ It is also good for cleaning and gut health. So don’t waste those scraps!
And I’ve been enjoying lots of quality time with my kids and my handsome man [who now works from home!] since I withdrew from grad school [a story for another day]…
So, I’ve been staying busy and not posting, but now I’m ready to update you on my monthly goals.
Starting in January of this year, I chose a new health goal to focus on for each month.
January = no added sugar
February = a salad every day
March = practice more yoga
April = no alcohol
May = no more cheat days
June = drink more water
July = start meditating
I skipped August altogether because I was so stressed over school and so this month I decided to refocus on ALL of the goals. Yep, that’s right, no added sugar, no alcohol, no cheating, more salad, more yoga, more water, and more meditation. And, honestly, it’s been a great month so far. I feel great. I have lots of energy. I’ve been training for a marathon [not sure which marathon at this point]. I’ve been making strength gains. I finally feel like I’m getting back to my old self [the self before I had two surgeries…and almost back to my old self before I had four babies].
So, anyway, I’m not adding any more new goals, but I am taking suggestions for later this year. Anyone making mid-year health resolutions?? Lemme know!
The concept of a “cheat day” is pretty common in the health and fitness world. As a personal trainer, I would typically recommend that clients follow an 80/20 rule [eating clean 80% of the time and loosening up the other 20%], which basically allowed some wiggle room in the diet for weekends or nights out or their kid’s birthday party. For many people, knowing they can have a “cheat meal” really helps them to maintain a healthier diet the rest of the week.
Not so for me.
Unfortunately, a cheat meal for me turns into a cheat day, then to cheat weekend, then a cheat week…and so on. Just when I get into a good system of not snacking after dinner, only having one drink a week, and no sugary candy, cheat day shows up and throws me off my game. So frustrating!
My food weaknesses are: sour gummy worms, spicy garlic wings, McDonald’s French fries, chips with queso, and ice cream [any kind or flavor will do]. For some reason, when “cheat day” rolls around, I convince myself that I must eat ALL of these things in one day. You would think it was my last meal on earth….
[Of course, I am doing this to myself.]
So, I have decided to get rid of the whole idea of “cheating.”
Last year I read the book, Four Pack Revolution, and in it Chael Sonnen talks about having a “reset meal” once a week [instead of a “cheat meal”]. The difference is really just in the name, but it helps psychologically. I’m not “cheating” on my diet and throwing all of my health goals out the window, but instead I’m “resetting” so I can re-focus on my goals.
We’ll see if this mind trick works.
Oh, but I WILL be having a small dessert on Mother’s Day [a mini chocolate raspberry tart that I intend to make for myself] and a slice of cake for my birthday [which I will also make because I love baking cakes, so happy birthday to me].
Oh wait, there’s more!
I’m also going to save movie candy for the movies ONLY. I have a real problem with eating family size bags of chewy, sugary, preferably sour candy. This started a decade ago when I was running 45 miles a week and putting in six hours of cardio at the gym on top of that…and gosh darn it, my body needed those carbs! [Well, truthfully, it needed healthy carbs, but back then I was nutritionally illiterate.] So today I am still struggling with that same bad habit I developed all those years ago.
That habit has got to go! 👋 Bub-bye!
So, I’ll save my bag of candy for when I go to the movie theater [which is very rare now that I have to drive 45 MINUTES TO THE NEAREST THEATER!!].
As a personal trainer, I always love sharing the surprising fact that a person’s overall fitness is dependent on their flexibility. The vast majority of my clients over the years would have described themselves as “not very flexible,” so most did not appreciate this bit of news. But the most important thing about improving your fitness is working on your weaknesses. And, unfortunately, your weakness usually correlates with your least favorite part of the fitness triad.
What is the fitness triad, you ask?
Fitness is measured by three important elements: cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance, and flexibility [which I have personally entitled “the fitness triad”]. In my experience everyone has a preference for one of these three. Some people love cardio and can spend hours on a bike or a treadmill. Other people prefer lifting weights and building strength. And I’ve known many, many yogis who swear that the only thing they need is a mat. Even my fellow personal trainers over the years have had definite favorites [just like I do] BUT trainers know fitness is very much like a three-legged stool. You really need to have a balance of all three elements if you want to reach peak fitness.
[Common Fitness Myth: It is a common misconception that cardio is for weight loss and strength training is for body building and stretching is just to cool down at the end of a workout. Actually, cardio is for heart health – which is super important since more people die from heart disease (in the US) than any other cause. Weight training is important for strengthen muscles, increasing their size and endurance, but also to increase bone density. If you’re worried about osteoporosis, you could cut back on the milk and start lifting weights. And stretching is about keeping optimal range of motion in all of your joints so that you’ll always be able to bed over and tie your shoes. Exercise is less about looking good, and more about feeling good. It’s about having a body that is fully functional for as long as possible.]
So, to find your weakness, just ask yourself which of the three elements you like the least – and there you have it.
My Fitness Weakness
As for me, I’m a total cardio junkie. I have been since I first started working out eleven years ago. But, on my journey toward my own fitness, I learned that I had to also strengthen my body through weight training AND stretch my body to improve [or at least maintain] my flexibility. Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate all three; however, if I’m running short on time, or have an extra busy day, the one thing I will skip is stretching.
This is NO BUENO.
Check out my planner from a typical week…
On the right page, I put a list of “daily tasks” – things that I want to accomplish every day. As you can see, I’m pretty terrible at getting yoga in. Last year at this time I was doing 20-30 minutes of yoga every night before bed…and it was AMAZING! Besides the benefit to all my tight muscles, doing yoga in the evening prevented me from snacking on junk food or just sitting in front of the television. I miss it. But I am also [obviously] not working up the willpower to get it done in the evenings.
So, for March, I’m going to focus on re-cultivating my yoga habit. And I’m going to use some tips I got from Atomic Habits by James Clear [a great book and a quick read that I recommend if you need some practical help with making your goals happen].
One of my favorite tips that Clear shares in this book is that if I want to change my behavior, I must first change my beliefs – particularly, about myself. So, for instance, instead of thinking of myself as an inflexible, cardio-addict who wants to try to squeeze in yoga several times a week, I am going to think of myself as a yogi and do yoga because that’s what yogis do. [That’s why I titled this post “Be a Yogi” and not “Practice Yoga.” I really do want to BE a person who makes yoga a regular practice, so I that is my goal. It is not just the simple change of an action, it is the change of my identity.]
“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”
James Clear, Atomic Habits
Here are the four tips Clear provides for changing habits and how I am using them to get my yoga habit back on track:
Make it obvious. Clear recommends “habit stacking,” which is to add the new habit to a habit that you already have. So, I have been stacking my yoga habit on top of my exercise habit. I never miss a workout, so if I add yoga to my workout, then I should [theoretically] not miss yoga either.
Make it attractive. I haven’t found a way to reward myself for a consistent yoga practice. Truthfully, I know how great regular yoga makes me feel and how good it is for my body, and that is reward enough. And I guess, in a way, my reward for getting yoga done is that I get go relax – my workouts are done for the day! [I love working out, but it is still hard work, and I am always relieved when I’m done.]
Make it easy. I have moved my yoga mat and yoga blocks into the television room, so that they are very close by and a constant reminder that I need to do yoga. I have also changed my commitment from 20-30 minutes of yoga to “any amount will do” – so sometimes I only do 5 minutes, which is the shortest yoga workout available on the Peloton app.
Make it satisfying. Every day when I practice yoga, I check it off my daily habit list and that is quite satisfying for my obsessive list-making inner organizer.
I recommend Atomic Habits if you haven’t read it – especially if there are habits you wish were part of your life: getting up early, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating more fruit and vegetables, reading more books, learning a new skill or improving a current skill, being more successful in your career, or in general, improving discipline.
There are always ways for me to improve myself. I, personally, want to be a flexible person, but I won’t get there without changing my habits.
My healthy goal for February is to serve a salad with every dinner.
It’s no secret that I am a lover of salads. I’ve posted many, many times about them. They are my favorite way to eat a lot of fresh, raw veggies.
Healthy Salad Dressings
I have been making my own salad dressings for years and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It is better for your health, better for your wallet, and allows you the freedom to customize a dressing that’s perfect for you. I usually mix the dressing right in my salad bowl, but sometimes I do make it ahead for when I’m taking a salad to dinner at a friend’s house.
To make, put equal parts olive oil and vinegar of choice in a jar with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of dijon [or any kind] mustard. Then shake to combine.
This dressing is customizable in a million different ways by using different vinegars, adding different spices/herbs, and adding lemon [or other citrus] juice.
Healthier Homemade Ranch
Like pretty much all kids, my kids like ranch. They like the vinaigrettes that I make too, but ranch is their favorite. I make my own healthier version by mixing the following seasonings into plain Greek yogurt: parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Use equal amounts parsley, garlic and onion. About half the amount of dill. Even less chives [this can be omitted altogether]. Then salt and pepper to taste.
Or you can just buy the ranch dip package at the store – but why when you have everything you need in your cupboard already???
Vegan Green Goddess Dressing
This is a recipe that I got from America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Plant Based Cookbook, but of course I’ve modified it.
I basically soak a cup of raw cashews in hot water for 30 minutes, then blend with 3/4 cup water, fresh lemon juice from one lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, pepper [and whatever other seasonings I feel like] until smooth. I add water if it’s too thick.
So far this month, we’ve had side salads, taco salad, and “salad pizza” [which is just salad on top of my homemade pizza dough – more like a flatbread]. I’ve even had a “smoothie salad” – don’t ask. And my kids keep asking me for their favorite: chickpea salad.
Looking forward to this month of raw veggie salads!
[I’m kidding about vegan carb-cycling being a starvation diet…but only partially kidding. When your going low carb as a vegan, the pickin’s are slim.]
Since I’ve been talking a lot recently about what I eat, I thought I’d mention that I recently gave a new dieting fad, carb-cycling, a try. When I first started doing this, I scoured the internet for information on carb-cycling for vegans and found very little info and basically no personal experiences, so I’m here to share my story for any vegans wanting to give carb-cycling a try.
What is carb-cycling?
Truthfully, carb-cycling isn’t new. This method of rotating macronutrients to get super lean has been a part of body-building for a long time. It’s only just recently become mainstream, popularized by the ever-growing community of online fitness professionals.
Historically, carb-cycling has been very strict and, admittedly, very unhealthy as a long term diet. But it is so effective at getting body builders in prime shape for competition day, that many, many people put their bodies through this unnatural regimen in order to compete.
Now, however, carb-cycling has been modified to fit the every-day fitness buff who wants to get lean without giving up all the foods they love.
Here’s how it works:
You basically divide up your week into carb days and no-carb [or in my case, low-carb] days. The exact ratio depends on your goals, but if you’re looking to get cut or lose weight, you will have more no-carb days. My plan was to have two low-carb days followed by one carb day and then repeat. This is a pretty typical carb-cycle for every day fitness. On the no [or low] carb days, less than 20% of total caloric intake should be from carbs. And on the carb days, you can eat as many carbs as you want. In fact, you are encouraged to eat a lot of carbs so that your body doesn’t think you’re starving it.
Without getting to science-y on you, carb cycling works because if you don’t feed your body carbs, it will choose an alternative energy source to burn [ideally fat], which is good for losing weight…until your body realizes that you’re not going to give it any carbs and then it freaks out and starts burning as little fuel as possible to conserve energy stores. In other words, your metabolism will go to shit if you go without carbs for too long. So, by only giving your body carbs every few days, you keep it from going into survival mode on you and your body continues to burn fat [fingers crossed].
That’s the theory behind carb cycling, anyway. And I can tell you as a student of a previous body builder, carb cycling is definitely affective. However, the question always is…at what cost?
Carb-Cycling for Vegans
I’ll just tell you right off the bat, most people doing this are not vegans because nearly everything that vegans eat is high in carbs. Vegetables are mostly carbs, legumes have a ton of carbs, grains obviously are high in carbs. It’s actually really challenging to find low carb vegan foods. A typical low- or no-carb day would consist of lots of meat and cheese – the only two food groups that have no carbs. Of course there are also some fat foods like avocados, nuts, and oils, but you can really only eat so much of those things.
So basically, if you want to attempt this as a vegan, you are in for a challenge. Is it doable? Yes. Is it easy? No.
Foods I could eat on low-carb days:
Leafy greens and other low carb vegetables
Low carb fruit [of which there are not many]
What my food typically looked like:
Breakfast: tofu scramble with spinach
Lunch: salad with oil and vinegar and avocado
Snack: mixed nuts
Dinner: vegetable stir-fry
Breakfast: vegan keto bar [these things are NOT yummy]
Lunch: an avocado, tomatoes with oil and vinegar
Snack: two tablespoons natural peanut butter
Dinner: green goddess salad with tofu
What my low-carb macros typically looked like:
I managed to eat 1000-1200 calories per day [which is not enough for me with exercise] and I managed to maintain this carb-to-fat ratio. But it was HARD. It was hard to eat enough calories. It was hard to find foods that I could eat that didn’t have carbs so I ended up eating a lot of the same things. And I mean, A LOT.
But…I did it.
However, there was a downside.
My carb-cycling experience
Besides the question of whether carb-cycling is doable, I needed to ask is this healthy?
Based on my experience – No.
At least, not for me, not right now.
As a fitness professional and health nut, I’m always interested in trying new things, but this messed me up. I was originally planning to try it for a month, but I only lasted two weeks.
To start with, I had intense stomach cramping for the first few nights as my body rebelled against this no-carb idea. Then I bonked on a five mile run for the first time in my life. A FIVE MILE RUN! [For my non-runner friends, to “bonk,” or hit the wall, is when you run out of energy stores in your muscles and basically feel like you can’t go another step.] In all my years of running long distances, I’ve never hit a wall like that before. I could barely workout on my low-carb days, and forget about cardio. So I would workout like crazy on my carb days, but I like to exercise six days a week, so a sudden switch to only two days was just not working for me.
Besides physical pain and lethargy, I was only eating a handful of foods, when before I was eating the rainbow of plant-based options. And the work required to maintain this diet made it completely unappealing.
Of course, the carb days were fine. I could eat like I always did [except I would avoid all fats], but there were so few of them that I constantly felt weak and slow and lazy. I think advocates for this way of eating would tell you that it gets better as your body adjusts, but I really had no reason to continue to torture myself. I don’t need to lose weight. I’m not training for a bikini competition.
Basically, I don’t want it that bad.
We live in a carb-hating society right now. I’ve worked with many trainers and athletes [even ultra marathoners and Ironman competitors] who never eat any carbs. They live on lean meats and dairy with a side of leafy greens. And that works for them. [Though I could write a whole post about the negative impacts of low-carb diet on athletic performance.] As for me, I prefer to fuel my exercise with carbs – plant-based, whole food carbs.
So, anyway, my advice to vegans wanting to carb-cycle: proceed with caution.
In the last three months, I read twenty books! That is way more than usual [hence why it’s taken me so long to put this review post together]. I think some other parts of my life have suffered as a result of all this time spent reading [sorry, Babe] — but then again, a lot of my “reading” is done via audiobook while I am cleaning, folding laundry, and chopping vegetables. So, on the bright side, maybe all this reading has made me a better homemaker [my least favorite of all the jobs I have ever held, if I’m being honest].
Regardless, these books have definitely taught me a lot. I’ve learned things about mental health, racism, healthy eating, politics, and Matthew McConaughey’s wet dreams [I may have learned a little too much].
Anyway, here we go!
The New Health Rules by Frank Lipman and Danielle Claro
This super quick book is basically a list of tips to be your healthiest self – from what to eat, to how to exercise, to what chemicals to avoid. It’s a great place to start for someone who has no clueabout how to be healthy. I didn’t learn anything new; however, and I disagreed with a couple of suggestions [for instance that everyone is somewhat gluten intolerant and should avoid gluten].
The trouble with claiming to share “health rules” is that there are very few things in the health industry that are agreed upon by everyone. And the information is constantly changing [hence the “new” part]. Still, this is an approachable guide…until the new new rules come along.
Four Pack Revolution by Chael Sonnen and Ryan Parsons
First, I want to say that I am not a fan of MMA, UFC, boxing or any other “sport” whose goal is to bash another persons brains in. Also, I didn’t even know who Chael Sonnen was when I checked out this book from the library [he is a UFC fighter, for those who don’t know]. I chose it because I was curious what this “revolution” was that I had never heard of in my six years as a fitness professional.
This is basically a diet book; however, it is probably one of the best diets I have ever heard of because it sets attainable goals [the “four-pack”] and reminds you that the fitness professionals you see live unrealistic and largely unhealthy lives to achieve that chiseled look. I also really loved the idea of a weekly “reset meal,” as opposed to a cheat day. The line between “cheat day” and “binge day” is very blurry, so a “reset meal” allows you to eat a meal that you love, but only once a week and only one meal. After all, we need to be able to enjoy a special meal with friends and family sometimes.
Lost Connections by Johann Hari
This book blew my mind. On the one hand, it affirmed what I instinctually knew – that I have not suffered from depression because my life has been privileged and easy – and totally shocked me by proving that depression actually may not be due to a chemical imbalance.
Now, I should explain that I’ve never had mental health issues, I’ve never seen a psychiatrist, or been to therapy of any kind – all of which are extremely common [and becoming more so] in our society. Sure, I’ve been sad at times and definitely experienced my share of postpartum “blues,” but I always understood that people who are truly depressed fall into a different category. Despite never having been depressed, I absolutely believed that people with “clinical depression” were those who had a chemical imbalance which made their depression so severe that they required drugs to “even them out.” I really believed this.
The United Nations—in it’s official statement for World Health Day in 2017—explained that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health, and must be abandoned.” There is a “growing evidence base,” they state, that there are deeper causes of depression, so while there is some role for medications, we need to stop using them “to address issues which are closely related to social problems.” We need to move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’ to focusing on ‘power imbalances.’”
Johann Hari, Lost Connections
I know that was a long quote, but oh my god, when we realize that the pharmaceutical industry has been selectively sharing research results in order to make medications appear more effective than they actually are, I mean, this changes everything – especially for the millions of people taking antidepressants and, as a result, suffering from all kinds of side affects like weight gain, low libido, and more depression!
According to the evidence in this book, the root of much of the depression in our society is a result of our lost connections—connections with purpose, respect, the natural world, meaningful work, a secure future, and each other. So, it turns out, there isn’t something broken inside of us, there is something broken in our society, in the way we live, in the things we value.
I was shocked that this book, which started out about depression, turned into a book about how to live a meaningful life—the same journey that I have been on for the past five years. While this book may be especially insightful if you have personal experience with depression, it is also just a great book for anyone who wants a joyful, meaningful life.
I highly, highly recommend it.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
I really, really wanted to love this book, but it turned out to be awkwardly written. Or, at least, not what I expected. It was written as if it was trying to be a novel; however, it is non-fiction and lacking the historical details to make it flow naturally. It turned out to be a strange mixture of the two genres. Obviously in historical fiction, the author is able to take liberties to write a creative story. This author took no such liberties.
Still, I was fascinated by this story of young women in the 1920s who suffered absolutely horrendous illnesses and deaths due to painting radium dials. And I was shocked and horrified at the extremes that these dial companies went to in order to avoid being responsible for the suffering of these women.
This is a fascinating piece of little known history [at least, I had never heard of it before] which showcases how expendable female workers were at the time, and how important our workman’s compensation laws are today — in fact, these women are to thank not only for the discovery of how dangerous radium is, but for the improvement of the laws protecting workers rights.
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
“The beautiful thing about the piano is that you got white keys and you got black keys. And the only way to make the most beautiful, magnificent, and poetic noise is with both sets of keys working in tandem. You can’t just play all white keys, because you won’t maximize what the instrument has to offer. You can’t just play all black keys, because you won’t maximize what the instrument has to offer. But integrate the white and black keys together, and that is when the piano makes a joyful noise. That’s what this “we” is all about. If we can truly integrate white people and black people together, working in tandem, that’s when our world will make its joyful noise.”
Emmanuel Acho, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man
This is a great book for white people to read because it is like sitting down with a black friend [which most white people don’t even have to begin with] and asking the tough questions you have about the black experience in America. Questions about cultural appropriation, “black” vs “African American,” protesting and white privilege —he hits all the hot topics with clarity and candor, and he really does come across sounding like your best friend.
In my opinion, the great divide on the issue of race in our society is a result of the two sides not understanding one another. From my own experience talking to my white friends and family, I get the impression that white people simply do notunderstand what racism is or how seriously it affects people of color or how deeply embedded in society [and in us] it is. And since white people are to blame for this whole system and have remained adamant about their own innocence ever since, it is our responsibility to hear out our fellow Americans of color [without crying “reverse racism!” every five seconds].
This should not be so frickin hard.
A good place to start is with this book. In fact, I’m giving a copy of it to my white, ultra conservative, republican father-in-law for his birthday [because we frequently discuss race issues] – it is that accessible. I’m hoping Emmanuel Acho will become his friend too.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
It’s no secret that I love Fredrik Backman. A Man Called Ove was one of my favorites until I read My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and now I can’t decide which I like better. But I have also read a book of his that I didn’t enjoy as much, so I didn’t know what to expect.
My verdict: it’s not my favorite, but I liked it a lot. It kept me guessing and at one point did genuinely surprise me, which I always love in a book. But, the end seemed to drag on…like, for a loooong time. I got a little bored at the end, honestly. This is a bit of a “who dunnit,” so after the big reveal, I felt like the book was pretty much over. Only it wasn’t.
Still, Backman writes with a unique style that I really love. He manages to be profound and funny, in a way that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. He really cuts to the heart of the human condition with these novels, which I absolutely love.
Every Day is Earth Day by Harriet Dyer
I love this title because it’s so true—everyday IS earth day, or at least it should be. This short book contains tons of facts, diagrams, and images that explain carbon emissions and how to reduce them. I would consider this a great starter guide. It’s short, uncomplicated, and very informative.
“It is estimated that, by 2030, that five billion people will belong to the “consumer class,” a type of lifestyle revolving around accumulating non-essential goods. Considering this, it’s clear to see that we have a slight obsession with buying material things. If we are going to stop climate change in its tracks, we need to re-evaluate our habits and focus on purchasing fewer but better items that are sustainably and ethically made.”
Harriet Dyer, Every Day is Earth Day
This is the commitment that I made five years ago when I purged 80% of my belongings and stopped mindlessly buying the cheapest crap I could find.
This book has many other tips, ideas, and even recipes to help everyone easily switch to a more sustainable life.
Climate change has become such a political issue these days, but it really shouldn’t be. Stewardship of the planet’s resources is just common sense and morally responsible. To do anything less is to stick one’s head in the sand. So, if you’re interested in damaging the planet less, this book is a great place to get started!
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
In Nickeland Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover into low wage jobs around the country to see if she can afford to live on what she earned as a waitress, cleaner, and Walmart associate. I’m sure no one would be surprised with the answer. From shady motel rooms, to unreasonable bosses, the low-wage work scene circa 2001 was no picnic.
“It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition—austere perhaps, but they get by somehow, don’t they? They are ‘always with us.’ What it is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: the lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog buns, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The “home” that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be “worked through,” with gritted teeth, because there’s no sick pay or health insurance and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle…They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that’s how we should see the poverty of so many millions of Americans—as a state of emergency.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, things have only improved nominally in the twenty years since this book was written. Yes, wages are higher now, but so is the cost of living — especially housing and education. And, since I read Maid, which is a recent version of the same low-wage struggle, I know that things have not changed as much as they should.
This book is great because it opens the eyes of middle-class Americans like me to the struggle of the people who clean our hotel rooms, serve our food, and stock the store shelves —and all the other low-wage workers who work hard to make society nice for all of us, and yet suffer for it.
“Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: If we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way….But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
This is my second Brené Brown book. I found it to be full of wisdom once again; however, I listened to the audiobook while driving twelve hours to Virginia Beach, and I felt like I couldn’t absorb all the information. I needed to actually read it. So, when I got home, I immediately requested it from the library. One look at the book, though, and I couldn’t read it. I had some PTSD from all my years of going to church bible studies [I even worked in the design department of a bible study publisher for a few miserable years] and this book wasaaaay too much like a book that a bunch of women might sit around to discuss over a cheese ball and crackers. I never even tried to read it, I just returned it.
The major concepts of the book stuck with me, like how to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection in your life, but the little details are all fuzzy. I think there were good things in the book, it just didn’t really stick with me.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Despite their fame, I have only read one other Agatha Christie novel: Murder on the Orient Express. Probably because back when I was reading a lot of fiction [from childhood to high school], I was limited to the Christian fiction I could find in my church library. But a reader recommended And Then There Were None on my last book review post, so I picked it up from my library and took it on my beach vacation.
This was a great beach read, the only problem was that I finished it in two days and had to read my partner’s book selection for the rest of the trip [as you’ll see below].
Overall, I enjoy mysteries and though I prefer the ones where I can try to guess the culprit, Agatha Christie isn’t called the Queen of Mystery for nothing.
The Shining by Stephen King
I’ve never seen the movie, other than the snippet that plays at the drive-in movie theater in the movie Twister, so I really had no idea what I was in for when I picked this book up. My partner had brought it on vacation and since I had finished my Agatha Christie in record time, it was my only other choice.
And it turned out to be a really good one. I didn’t finish it until we were home from vacation, but I was pretty riveted the entire time, even having occasional dreams [or maybe nightmares] about it. You can tell I’m really into a story when I start talking out loud while reading it. And I was practically yelling at some points in this book. “DON’T DO IT, DANNY!!” When Brett asked if we would watch the movie now, I said, “If the movie actually shows the stuff in this book, there’s no way I’m watching it.”
But I definitely loved this book. I’m thinking about reading a few other Stephen King books now, though I’ve never thought of myself as a fan. I think the sequel, Doctor Sleep, will be up next—but I’m still not watching any of the movies. No way.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
I’ve spoken to so many of my white friends and family about race issues over the past five years [since the problems first became apparent to me], and it never ceases to amaze me when I read a book like this that literally quotes every rationalization I have heard from white people on the subject of race. In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo breaks down these excuses from white America.
“For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge that our race gives us advantages is a major effort. The defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deep.”
Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility
This is a struggle that I know well, and I find it so incredibly frustrating. I wish more white people would read this book [actually, I wish all white people would read this book], but even the title of the book is offensive to many white people who believe that they cannot be racist because they “are nice” or “have a black friend” or [worst of all] “don’t see color.”
C’mon, white America. We are better than this!
How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky
It all began with Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, which I started reading in February and didn’t finish until June [which is not to say it wasn’t a great book, but I’ll tell you about that later]. I was learning so much about American politics and the processes that are required to make change happen—and I’m not talking about learning the branches of government and how a bill becomes a law of any of those things I learned in high school. I’m talking about the real stuff: the fight for every vote, the filibuster fiasco, the pressure from constituents, the refusal to work with the opposing party, the role of midterms in literally making or breaking any opportunity for change. The whole thing is SO MUCH MORE COMPLICATED than they made it sound in government class.
So, anyway, I’ve had all this in my mind since February and I’ve become keenly interested in politics—not about fighting with people over which parties and policies are right, and not even about following everything happening on capital hill, but the theory behind politics. I became curious about the individual people in politics and how they plan to change America through a system that seems so broken.
And that led me to this book.
The authors, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, are political scientists and professors at Harvard University who study democracies [especially their demise] around the globe, but this is the first time when American democracy has come under their scrutiny. And, despite what you may assume, they do not blame all of America’s political woes on Donald Trump or the conservative right.
This book was probably the most educational book I’ve ever read. I really didn’t know so much of America’s political history, having ignored it completely until just the past few years. And like anything, the past matters. The political shift in the Reagan era had a huge impact on what is happening today. The race issues in America that were highlighted during Obama’s presidency helped pave the way for the Trump presidency. And so on. Understanding our history is so important.
This book explains political roles like “watchdogs” and the electoral college and others who are meant to safeguard our democracy against threats from individuals or the population as a whole.
But this book also explains the signs and symptoms of failing democracies, using examples of countries where democracy has fallen to dictatorship. And, ya’ll, we should be concerned, we should be very concerned. A lot of what is happening today in America is a precursor to the dismantling of democracy—deeply divided political views, false accusations and slander of political opponents [aka McCarthyism], suppression of voting rights, and so on.
“The fundamental problem facing American democracy remains extreme partisan division—one fueled not just by policy differences but by deeper sources of resentment, including racial and religious differences. America’s great polarization preceded the Trump presidency, and it is very likely to endure beyond it.”
Steven Levitsky, How Democracies Die
It’s not that they don’t talk about Trump, but they don’t blame Trump solely for the problem. They do, however, point out how many things Trump has in common with other authoritarians. Even the methods he used to win the presidency [casting doubt on our political system and politicians and democracy in general] has been happening around the world for ages, allowing powerful and popular men to overthrow governments. For instance, his tolerance and even encouragement of violence. At one point in the book they quote the violent things that Trump has said. Quite frankly, it is totally crazy to hear the man who was the leader of the free world say, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. There won’t be so much of them because the courts agree with us.” This book was written before the capital riot, but I bet these guys were thinking, “we tried to warn you guys…”
This book also addresses the racial divide and the challenge we face to be a truly multi-racial democracy, which has apparently never been done before. Since our democracy was established and sustained by racial exclusion from the beginning, we have to find a way to bridge this chasm that has come between us as Americans and work together to repair our democracy for all Americans.
I could say a lot more, but…just go read this book.
The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris
Please, please, please read this book.
I don’t know what else there is to say other than that this book made me fall in love with Kamala Harris. I truthfully didn’t know anything about her when she was named Biden’s running mate, but now I can confidently say that she is absolutely 100% deserving of the position of Vice President and I really hope that she becomes President someday—preferably right after Biden so we can get and maintain some good momentum in the federal government for a while.
“For too long, we’d been told there were only two options: to be either tough on crime or soft on crime—an oversimplification that ignored the realities of public safety. You can want the police to stop crime in your neighborhood and also want them to stop using excessive force. You can want them to hunt down a killer on your streets and also want them to stop using racial profiling. You can believe in the need for consequence and accountability, especially for serious criminals, and also oppose unjust incarceration. I believed it was essential to weave all these varied strands together.”
Kamala Harris, The Truths We Hold
This is the kind of wisdom she brings through this book. I would quote the whole thing if I could.
“Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. . . . We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the mistrust.”
Kamala Harris, The Truths We Hold
Amen, amen, amen!
Even if you don’t know her at all, even if you don’t like Biden at all, you’ve got to read this book so you can get to know our Vice President better. She has a heart of gold and has been fighting to protect and empower underprivileged groups in America from the beginning of her career. She is truly brilliant and amazing and I can’t say enough good things about her.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
If you’re going to read this book, do yourself a favor and get the audio book. It’s like listening to the one-man Matthew McConaughey show.
He starts out by saying that it’s not a memoir because he’s not sentimental enough. He says it’s more like a book of lessons, a guidebook of sorts. Either Matthew McConaughey has never read a memoir or he changed his whole plan after the intro, but this book is 100% a memoir. It’s about as memoir-y as they come.
The first half especially is very entertaining. He shares about his family growing up, the twenty-story tree house he built, his adventures in Australia, and how he wound up in the movie business.
Half way through, it starts to get weird though, as he starts following his wet dreams around the world [and it turns out he’s not great at geography].
I do, however, like how he says “green light” after every good thing that happens to him [like finally finding the Amazon River].
“We all have scars, we gonna have more. Rather than struggle against time and waste it, let’s dance with time and redeem it. Cause we don’t live longer when we try not to die. We live longer when we are too busy living.”
Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights
He’s not half bad as a philosopher with southern charm. I can’t say that I found the book to be as profound as McConaughey clearly does, but it definitely was entertaining.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
After reading Michelle Obama’s memoir last year, I was so excited to read A Promised Land. When it first came out, I put a hold on it at my local library, but there were already OVER 500 HOLDS on it!!! At that rate, it would take me years to get my hands on a copy. So, Brett surprised me with my own copy. He definitely knows my love language.
This was a looooong book. It took me five months to finish it. It is 700 pages, so not exactly a short read, but it definitely wasn’t a quick read for me either, and also, I don’t have as much time to sit down with a physical book as I do to listen to audio books. So, I didn’t rush it, and taking my time allowed me to learn so many things that I never knew about running for an elected office and running a country. While I don’t think it needed to be quite so detailed, I also learned a lot about this incredible man. He continually shows grace and humor and kindness in a position that is stressful and exhausting, is constantly under scrutiny and bombarded by criticism. I took pictures of many, many pages [which is my way of saving quotes from physical books], and there are many, many excellent excerpts I could include here [though they are all very, very long, because Barack Obama is apparently not know for his brevity], but my favorite quote is actually from the very beginning of the book, in the preface, which he wrote in August of 2020.
“And so the world watches America––the only great power in history made up of people from every corner of the planet, comprising every race and faith and cultural practice––to see if our experiment in democracy can work. To see if we can do what no other nation has ever done. To see if we can actually live up to the meaning of our creed….If I remain hopeful, it’s because I’ve learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation, whose conviction in the equal worth of all people seems to come as second nature, and who insist on making real those principles that their parents and teachers told them were true but perhaps never fully believed themselves. More than anyone, this book is for those young people––an invitation to once again remake the world, and to bring about, through hard work, determination, and a big dos of imagination, an America that finally aligns with all that is best in us.”
Barack Obama, A Promised Land
Crippled America by Donald J. Trump
You may be surprised to see me read a book by Donald Trump, but let me explain. As I said earlier, I was on this political memoir kick and was really enjoying learning about these political leaders. So, naturally, I was interested in reading about Donald Trump.
When I began looking for a book, I immediately realized that there is no shortage of books on Donald J. Trump, all of them overwhelmingly pro-Trump [such as The Case for Trump by Victor David Hanson, whose audacious title appears to be a play on the popular Christian book series, The Case for Christ, as if Trump and Christ are one and the same] OR overwhelmingly anti-Trump [such as Everything Trump Touches Dies written by Rick Wilson, a Republican political strategist, no less––though I doubt the Republican party will let him in now.] As entertaining as it is to look through all the options, they were all so obviously biased from the outset and that wasn’t really what I was looking for.
Then I had an “ah-ha” moment, when I realized how much I appreciated hearing from these political leaders through their own books. I loved learning their sides of the stories that we so often get second, third, or even fourth hand––through media, friends, co-workers, and [god forbid] Facebook. It was refreshing to hear these people, who are so often cast as terrible and doing terrible things for our country, speak for themselves. So, I thought, Man, I wish Trump had a memoir. And turns out, he does––several, in fact. I chose Crippled America first because it was published in 2015 during his political campaign. I thought this would maybe let me see that Trump isn’t the devil that the liberal world paints him to be.
But I was wrong.
Besides being incredibly arrogant throughout the entire book, reading it was the exact same as hearing him speak in public, a lot of mockery of anyone who doesn’t agree with him and a lot of claiming everyone else’s ideas are terrible and calling all of his opponents [and half of his friends] weak and [his favorite insult] losers, and yet, not offering a single specific alternative to correct anything.
I did make a discovery about Trump and what I think the root of his problem was in office. He lacks diplomacy. As much as people thought it would be great to have a so called “brilliant businessman” in office instead of those so called “crooked career politicians,” we forgot one important thing. America is not a business. It is a government. The President is not the “boss” who gets to order everyone around. The President is also not the ruler of the entire world, and he doesn’t get to order around other countries like they are little minions. I mean, I get love for your country, but let’s be real, Americans take that patriotism way too far if they agree with Trump that the President gets to tell other world leaders what to do and then pull out the “big stick” on anyone who doesn’t obey. Things are not as simple as “winners” and “losers” when it comes to the world. What Trump calls weakness––that desire to see everyone get along and work together for the greater good––that’s what I call the mark of a great leader. And that, to put it simply, is why I don’t believe that Trump is one.
How Not To Die by Michael Greger
How Not To Die is right up my alley because, well, I love books about nutrition [and I don’t want to die, obviously]! And this one lined up perfectly with all the things that I have already learned over the past ten years and taught me some new things. Since reading it, I have bought turmeric and ground mustard for my spice cabinet, and keep fresh berries around at all times.
I really believe that food can be medicine. But in order for us to heal ourselves, we have to know what and how to eat. Unfortunately, as Greger points out in the beginning of the book, you’re not going to get that information from your doctor who has only been trained to treat diseases, not prevent them from happening. So, this book is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to have their very best shot at a long and fruitful life.
“The top reason doctors give for not counseling patients with high cholesterol to eat healthier is that they think patients may ‘fear privations related to dietary advice.’ In other words, doctors perceive that patients would feel deprived of all the junk they’re eating. Can you imagine a doctor saying, ‘Yeah, I’d like to tell my patients to stop smoking, but I know how much they love it’?”
Michael Greger, How Not to Die
In the book, he breaks down the leading diseases causing death in America and explains what to eat to avoid these [seemingly inescapable] ailments. We often want to blame our bad health on genetics, but did you consider that, as Greger states, “the primary reason diseases tend to run in families may be that diets tend to run in families.” Food for thought…
Plant Paradox by Steven R. Gundry
I read this book right after finishing How Not to Die, and wow, there could not possibly be two more different opinions on nutrition. According to Gundry, lectins are the cause of all your health woes and your weight gain and your bloated belly. Therefore, you should never eat any fruit or any vegetable that is an anatomical fruit [which means has seeds inside], no legumes, definitely no peanuts [because they are actually legumes], no processed foods [well, on that point he agrees with every other nutritionist] and no, or minimal, animal products [except four ounces of salmon a day]. I mean, seriously, what does this man eat??? But, he claims to have healed many, many people from debilitating diseases and autoimmune disorders––even claiming he helped Usher [yes, THE Usher] to get fit for a movie role, which I’m assuming happened because he couldn’t eat anything other than salmon, broccoli, avocado, and macadamia nuts. But who knows?
“Quite simply, plants don’t want to be eaten—and who can blame them? Like any living thing, their instinct is to propagate the next generation of their species.
Steven R. Gundry, Plant Paradox
So, what you’re saying is that the plants are sabotaging our health? Sounds like The Happening to me, which we all know is just a thriller and not real at all…right?
Well, I could do a lot more research on it, but I’m no scientist or doctor so I probably wouldn’t even know how to go about deciding if this book is telling me the truth and I should really never eat peanut butter again [I mean, really, I might prefer to be sick rather than give up peanut butter, just sayin’]. But I will say this, in How Not to Die, Michael Greger uses tons of evidence to support his nutrition recommendations. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time he said “double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial,” I’d be able to go buy myself a new set of skillets [which I desperately need]. On the other hand, though, Gundry never cites any studies or scientific data. His sources are his patients, which he treats like guinea pigs.
Now I’m not saying the book is all bad. I like hearing differing opinions, so I found this book to be fascinating and I did find many of his recommendations to be in line with all the other sources of nutritional advice I have heard over the years. But some of this stuff seems to come out of left field. Only dairy of the casein A-2 variety? Good luck finding that at the grocery story. But, hey, why not just do what I do and skip the dairy altogether? Who knows? Maybe he is right and that’s why I feel so great without dairy?
Educatedby Tara Westover
This was a fascinating first-hand account of a woman [who happens to be my age] who was raised “off the grid” and completely out of any form of education and, also, totally out of the doctors office, in the name of religion––that religion being Mormonism, but really the specific religion doesn’t matter that much. For me the major takeaway here is how few people actually believe what their religion teaches them. That’s a strange thing for me to get from this book, but the whole time I was thinking that people would call Westover’s family “extreme” even within their own religion. Her family refuses to see doctors or get vaccinations or go to hospitals despite truly terrible injuries and accidents because they believe their god will heal them. I mean, most people I know believe in the healing power of god [and pray for it all the time, though quite selectively], but they still all go to the doctor when they get sick, they take pain killers when they have a headache, and they get their vaccines. Most people I know don’t consider this a contradiction. But now that I’ve learned about the Westovers, I wonder whether the contradiction has just been lost on everyone because we don’t encounter people who really do believe what they say they believe.
I mean, in the end, Tara Westover makes the same discovery that I made when I was twenty-seven. But it must have been much harder for her after seeing how strong her family’s faith was. But, then again, doesn’t matter how strong your faith is in something, if that something is a lie.
Well, I am so relieved to finally be done with this post [my apologies for the length].
As always, drop me book recommendations! Two from this quarter were recommended by a reader and I really appreciate them!
As a vegan, I don’t miss the meat nearly as much as I miss the sweet stuff: ice cream, brownies, cake, buttercream!
But, don’t worry. I wouldn’t let veganism stand in the way of my sweet tooth. So, today I’m sharing with you my three favorite homemade vegan sweets. These treats are so easy to whip up and only use a handful of natural ingredients.
Vegan dessert options are still pretty rare and/or pricey. So, if I want a vegan dessert, I have to make it myself, unless I want to pay $5 for a pint of dairy-free, calorie-bomb ice cream [which, I’ve definitely done] or some other specialty vegan product. But the truth is, making sweets myself is more rewarding and also free of all the additional junk in processed foods.
These three desserts require very few ingredients and varying degrees of effort. Let’s start with the easy one.
Easy: Vegan No-Bake Brownies
Brownies are pretty much the best things ever baked [in my opinion, anyway], which makes these vegan no-bake brownies the best things ever…not baked. They aren’t an exact replica of a traditional brownie, but they are really frickin’ good! They are nutty, gooey, chocolatey, and that ganache is the perfect sweet topping.
The ingredients for the brownie bit are: walnuts, almonds, dates, cacao powder [or cocoa], and salt. You basically throw everything into a blender under it gets all gooey and then press it into a dish and refrigerate. [I’m oversimplifying a teensy bit, but that’s the gist.] Doesn’t get much simpler [or natural] than that!
[Actually it does get simpler, if you read on to the next recipes, but never mind that for now.]
The ganache has almond milk, dark chocolate chips [I always buy the allergy friendly or certified vegan chocolate chips], salt, coconut oil, and powdered sugar.
The recipe is from the Minimalist Baker, and you can find it here. I don’t change anything, except I once swapped the walnuts for pecans and they were still delicious.
Side note: these are a pricey dessert to make due to the nuts and dates – but totally worth it! They are also high in calories [because nuts have a lot of good fat]. I’m a strong believer in the idea that if I put in the work to make something from scratch, then I deserve to enjoy the fruits of my labor guilt-free. [Though I still limit the quantity.] Whereas, buying an overpriced, mystery-ingredient-filled vegan dessert from the grocery store just isn’t as satisfying.
Easier: Vegan Coconut Macaroons
Not to be confused with macarons [which can also be made vegan, but would never, ever by any human being be described as easy], these vegan macaroons are little bits of coconut and chocolate heaven. Of course, I love coconut. If you don’t like coconut, just skip down to the next sweet treat [but know that you’re missing out on all the goodness that coconut products offer to us vegans].
Most vegan macaroon recipes call for aquafaba, which I always have, but never feel like using because it requires all that beating. It’s quite time consuming. I wanted something simpler than that…and I found it.
Over at mindfulavocado.com, Amanda provided a super simple macaroon recipe, which I now use to satisfy all my coconut cravings. You can find the full recipe here, but I did modify this one to make it even more simple. Basically, all I do is mix together sweetened coconut flakes [you could pulse in a blender to make them finer, if you prefer], almond flour, maple syrup, a pinch of salt and enough almond milk to make it come together into a thick “batter” of sorts. Then I spoon it onto my silicone baking mat in little ball shapes and bake them at 275° for about 30 minutes [sometimes longer, check frequently.] Then once they are cooled, I dip and drizzle with melted dark chocolate chips.
And they are so good. Slightly chewy, slightly crispy, with the touch of dark chocolate.
Easiest: Vegan Peanut Butter Cups
No matter what shape you prefer, these are sooooo good. And quite frankly, I don’t know why everyone else puts butter and vegetable shortening in them!!! Why complicate matters when you can make these with three ingredients and like two minutes [excluding freezer time]?!?
So, there is no recipe for these treats – which, by the way, are my absolute favorite. It’s too simple for a recipe.
All you need is peanut butter, powdered sugar, and chocolate chips.
Some side notes about these ingredients:
1. The peanut butter needs to be natural peanut butter. And, by that, I mean that the only ingredient in it is peanuts [and maybe salt] – that’s it! No one should be eating that weird oily smooth peanut butter that Jiff is selling anyway. What the heck is that stuff? It’s definitely not peanut butter. But, anyway, I digress. I make my own peanut butter using peanuts and a blender [Ninja], but you can find a jar of natural peanut butter at the grocery store you just have to read the label. Many jars say “natural” and they still have sugars, oils, and god knows what else in them.
[Ok, sorry about that. I’m passionate about peanut butter.]
2. Chocolate chips should be vegan if you are vegan, but if you are not vegan you can use any chocolate chips you want and you will still LOVE THESE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS! I mean, I have yet to meet a human who doesn’t like chocolate peanut butter cups. [Obviously, a peanut allergy will prevent some people from having these…and I am just so so sorry.]
Now, all you have to do is put some peanut butter in a bowl and mix enough powdered sugar to get a thick-ish consistency [there is no right or wrong here]. Then shape however you want and put in the freezer to harden. Then dip or roll or drizzle or coat in melted chocolate chips. Once set, enjoy!
If even that sounds like too much work, look, just put some peanut butter in a bowl, mix in some powdered sugar, and sprinkle in chocolate chips…then go sit on the couch and watch Netflix. Okay?
Sometimes that’s all I’ve the energy for myself.
No shame in my game.
Footnote about eating sweets:
Now, one last thing. I am an obsessively healthy eater, so you may be surprised to see me promoting sweets. But, the truth is, being healthy does not mean that you can never have dessert again [and being vegan definitely doesn’t mean you have to deny your sweet tooth]. We just have to level up our treats. We need to be eating occasional desserts in reasonable [aka small] quantities that contain natural, and healthful ingredients.
I don’t eat these things every day. Truthfully, I eat a sweet treat about once a week at the most. That’s enough for me to feel like I’m not depriving myself.
Food is fuel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it too.
And I hope you do enjoy these recipes! If you try one out, let me know! And you can also tag me in a photo on Instagram @no.makeup.mama – though, fair warning, I’m not on social much.
A few days ago, I showed off the silicone cupcake liners that I use every Friday when I bake vegan banana muffins.
I’m going to share my super simple, go-to recipe for these muffins in just a minute, but first, I feel like I have some explaining to do.
Baking muffins every weekend might make you think I have some strange banana muffin obsession, or maybe I have a banana tree in my backyard. But the truth is simply that I refuse to give my kids cereal for breakfast. [Just bear with me, I’ll explain.]
[If you don’t want to hear my rant about breakfast cereal, by all means, skip down to the recipe below.]
My Rant about Breakfast Cereal
I have a sort of hatred for breakfast cereal.
Of course, I grew up eating cereal [like every other American I know], but when I decided to start eating healthy foods, cereal was the first thing to go. In the past ten years, I have had cereal maybe three times, and each time it made me feel like crap and almost immediately hungry again. So I don’t like giving it to my kids. I also used to preach against it to my personal training clients.
Cereal might not be so bad if we didn’t eat waaaaay too much of it. A serving size for most sugary cereals is 2/3 to one cup. A typical bowl of cereal probably has three or more cups in it! [You can find some great YouTube videos on this topic to see for yourself – or actually do the unthinkable and measure your cereal!] And don’t even get me started on the highly processed, super refined carbohydrates and sugars that make up pretty much the entirety of boxed cereal. Any food that has to make dubious health claims like “may reduce your chances of heart disease” is probably not worth eating – take it from me…and Michael Pollan.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, banana muffins aren’t exactly a healthy breakfast either, vegan or not. And you are correct. But I’ve made the following “deal” with my children because…well, I want them to love me…or at the very least, not hate me.
On weekdays, we all eat oatmeal with fresh fruit and brown sugar. And as a concession [and so I won’t be accused of a being a terribly cruel mother], I make special breakfasts on the weekends: banana muffins on Saturday and pancakes on Sunday. [I still eat oatmeal.] Both special meals usually contain chocolate chips. [No, I am not afraid to use chocolate chips as bribery.]
On the weekends I could give them cereal. But like I said, I hate cereal. Plus, cereal is a slippery slope. It is just too dang easy and convenient.
So, now, on to the recipe.
My Vegan Banana Muffin Recipe
You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t typically do recipes on this blog, so I don’t even know how to make a “recipe card” thingy.
But here we go anyway….
This recipe is based off “Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (Healthy)” recipe from The Simple Veganista which you can read here. I’ve taken this base recipe and modified it to make it simpler [I do this every weekend, ya’ll] and how my kids like it [aka I’ve taken out the word “healthy”].
3 or 4 ripe bananas
2/3 – 1 cup sugar
2 – 3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 3/4 cup of AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: chocolate chips (as many as you want)
Preheat oven to 350°
Mash bananas in a mixing bowl.
Mix in sugars and coconut oil.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.
Scoop into muffin tin [or muffin liners] until 3/4 full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. [Mine are always done at exactly 22 minutes.]
And that’s it!
I love this recipe because it doesn’t require any funky vegan stuff like flax eggs or vegan butter or even non-dairy milk. Of course, I usually have all these things on hand anyway, but this is a totally accessible recipe for everyone and [dare I say it] it’s even better than any traditional banana muffin recipe I have ever made. Even Brett said so!
It’s almost time to post my 2021 Q1 book reviews, and I realized I never posted by reads from the last quarter of 2020!
Better late than never, as they say! I read some really great books [and some not so great books] and I’m excited to share them with you!
Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha
Truthfully, this book was a huge disappointment, but I know it’s my own fault for having different expectations. I was hoping for profound purpose-seeking, life-changing, minimalist, back-to-the-earth wisdom to come out of this woman’s misery [and let me tell you – there is a lot of misery in this story], but instead it left me feeling miserable.
Fashionopolisby Dana Thomas
“This is how the fashion business has functioned on a grand scale for 250 years: creative thievery, indifference for others, corruption, pollution.”
Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis
As someone passionately opposed to the current fashion ecosystem, I am always interested in reading any books that shed light on this worldwide problem – a problem that we are all complicit in. So, of course I loved Fashionopolis.
It has now been four years since I have bought new clothes [save ethical underwear from a gift card two Christmases ago], and I have only bought used clothes twice in all that time – both times in order to meet a new job dress code. By now, my desire for new clothes has completely evaporated, and reading books like this remind me of why I quit buying clothes in the first place.
“We imagine ourselves as more learned, more egalitarian, more humane than our predecessors. More woke. That by procuring $5 tees and $20 jeans by the sackful, we aren’t causing grievous harm. We might even be creating good jobs on the other side of the world for those in need. Having visited many offshore factories and spoken to dozens of workers, I can assure you this is not reality.“
Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis
But Dana Thomas also reminds us that, though things are bad, we are not without the ability to make changes. Using our collective willpower and moral compass we can course correct. And, honestly, when we face the reality of our fashion industry as it stands today – we have no choice but to change.
Notorious RBGby Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nothing short of a total badass. Growing up in my conservative religious circle, her name was always associated with negative things like feminism and liberalism [both of which I have since had the maturity to form my own opinion of], so I never really knew anything about her. I just had a negative idea of her.
All that changed when I watched On the Basis of Sex, which is based on the true events of RBG’s career of leveling the playing field for women. I began watching and reading everything I could get my hands on about her.
I am so indebted to this woman. And if you are a female, you are indebted to her too. When she died on September 18 of last year, I was devastated – not because of any of the political drama that surrounded her passing, but because we lost from this earth such an amazing woman.
So, of course, I loved this book. If you don’t know anything about her life and career, you simply must read this book and watch the documentary about her life. If you are like I was and have been influenced by conservatives at home or in the media, I implore you to study this woman’s life and see for yourself how indebted we are.
I want my daughters to grow up knowing that the opportunities they have, the dreams they can achieve, the endless possibilities available to them as women are largely due to a woman named Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Notorious RBG.
Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans
“When we require that all people must say the same words or subscribe to the same creeds in order to experience God, we underestimate the scope and power of God’s activity in the world.”
Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled
Another great book by Rachel Held Evans about religion. Her books, including Searching for Sunday and Inspired, have been slowly coaxing me back to a new understanding of God that I lost back when, after twenty-five years, I finally recognized how errant and misguided my religion was. This book is a reminder that it’s not religion that defines God, try as it might. She is so much bigger than that.
“When we know how to make a distinction between our ideas about God and God himself [or herself], our faith remains safe when one of those ideas is seriously challenged. When we recognize that our theology is not the moon but rather a finger pointing at the moon, we enjoy the freedom of questioning it from time to time.”
Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled
Evans’ books have all helped me to see that I don’t have to be a part of the Christian cult or culture in order to know God. And that realization has changed my life.
Rachel Held Evans died in 2019, which is a HUGE loss for the Christian world. Who is going to challenge all of the hypocrisy, pride, and false beliefs of the American Church now???
Superlifeby Darin Olien
I’m a total health fanatic, so this book is right up my alley. It is also very similar to my own experiences of a healthy lifestyle. Darin Olien is not a doctor or health professional, which would probably cause many people to toss out this book as unfounded [though it provides plenty of resources and statistics], but my own journey to health and wellness has followed a similar path of trial and error. For instance, I, like Olien, am a vegan because I just feel better when I’m eating a vegan diet. Do I need a doctor to justify this for me? Or to tell me medically or scientifically that being a vegan is better? No, I don’t. [Plus, no one will because the meat industry runs this country.] I have found what works best for me and the proof is in my body. I think we often rely too much on what the nutritionists say and too little on our own intuition. After all, the “professionals” have gotten it wrong plenty of times.
“Rather than sending us to the pharmacy with prescriptions, our physicians should send us to the farmers’ market.”
Darin Olien, Superlife
The basic gist of this book is that our bodies suffer from chronic illness, pain, fatigue and disease because we aren’t taking care of our bodies at a cellular level to prevent or treat the issues. Instead of fueling, hydrating, oxygenating, detoxing and exercising, we medicate, which masks the problem [and often causes new problems].
“With our eager cooperation, food manufacturers and restaurant chains and fast-food giants get rich by making us sick. Then the pharmaceutical giants and the insurance companies and hospitals and other health care providers get rich by making us better. Not healthy, mind you, but well enough to work and pay the bills we’ve just run up. If we ate our broccoli and quinoa and salads and berries and almonds and drank our water and green tea and took long, vigorous hikes and got enough sleep, we might feel great, but who would profit? Nobody. What kind of system is that?”
Darin Olien, Superlife
I can say this about Darin Olien, he is definitely healthy, fit and eternally awesome, so I’ll have what he’s having, thanks!
The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment
“A magical childhood isn’t about having the best toys, gadgets, and vacations. It’s actually the opposite. It’s about simplicity. A magical childhood is about freedom. Freedom to explore, discover, and play.”
Ainsley Arment, The Call of the Wild + Free
I’ve been homeschooling my preschooler and first grader this year [due exclusively to covid], and so I picked up this book to try to be a better “homeschool mom.” Truthfully, reading this book made me realize how much I am not cut out to be a homeschool mom. And I am confident that I will put my kids back into the traditional classroom next fall.
But, that being said, there was a lot of beautiful ideas in this book like the quote above, which I love. Freedom and creativity and imagination and play are all so important for children. I’ve been lucky to spend this time with my kids to explore the outdoors and make nature art and study the stars by actually studying the stars and read books in our backyard while soaking up sunshine.
However, there are still very real things that my kids need to know, and as far as I can tell, they won’t learn to read by osmosis. I have to do some legit teaching. The imagination, play, freedom, exploration – that I can do. For me, the teaching is the hard part. I’m too much of a planner, organizer, task-lister. The very idea of a “daily rhythm” instead of a “daily to-do list” kind of makes me twitchy. If I’m going to teach, it has to be structured. I just can’t do it any other way.
But, anyway, I digress.
For this [hopefully] brief time of homeschooling, this book was at least an encouragement to keep on keeping on.
Saving Capitalism by Robert B. Reich
I stumbled upon the documentary by the same name on Netflix and decided to watch it one night while Brett was in Florida for training [he does not like documentaries, unfortunately]. It was so good that I immediately borrowed the audiobook, in which the movie is based, and started listening.
And let me tell you, I learned A LOT. In fact, ever since I finished it, I’ve talked about it so much people are probably sick of hearing about it. It’s the first book I’ve ever read about capitalism and the economy and it simultaneously reinforced what I already knew and blew my mind.
The opposing arguments about capitalism in America today are basically, government deregulation vs government oversight [Republican vs Democrat respectively]. This is constantly being debated by both sides. Republicans want less government “interference” and democrats want more government regulation. But as Reich clearly shows throughout the book, the very concept of a “free market” is a myth since government rules are what creates the market to begin with and the real question is not whether the government should regulate the market, but how the government should regulate it.
A market—any market—requires that government make and enforce the rules of the game. In most modern democracies, such rules emanate from legislatures, administrative agencies, and courts. Government doesn’t “intrude” on the “free market.” It creates the market.
Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism
And even more important than “how” is the question “for whom.” Reich also makes it clear through plenty of examples [such as in the quote below] that the government is no longer regulating capitalism in an effort to protect the working class or the majority of the population, but that they are largely serving the wealthiest people and businesses who have the greatest means to influence regulations in their favor.
“Lehman Brothers’ Repo 105 program—which temporarily moved billions of dollars of liability off the bank’s books at the end of each quarter and replaced them a few days later at the start of the next quarter—was intentionally designed to hide the firm’s financial weaknesses. This was a carefully crafted fraud, detailed by a court-appointed Lehman examiner. But no former Lehman executive ever faced criminal prosecution for it. Contrast this with the fact that a teenager who sells an ounce of marijuana can be put away for years.”
Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism
In the end, the most frustrating part is that I see most political opinions being based solely on party allegiance, rather than on actually understanding the system or caring about what helps the most people.
This is an important read for anyone interested in the economy of America or who believes themselves to be strongly political [on either side] because this book could be the bridge that unites America once again.
Bad Feministby Roxane Gay
I just realized that I started out the year with Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger, and then closed out the year with Bad Feminist. Very different books, but both very compelling.
I love Roxane Gay because of her bravery. Even the intro to this book is a brave confession of how hard it is to be a feminist – with everyone’s false stereotypes and negative associations with the word. I love her for being a bad feminist.
“When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement. In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.”
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
[Ironically, this is the same excuse Christians make. Who know Christians and feminists had so much in common!]
Two years ago, I probably couldn’t even tell you what feminism was, but over time I’ve pieced together my own version of feminism, which pretty much lines up with Roxane’s.
No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
👏 👏 👏
Well, there you have it.
I read 42 books in 2020, four of which were fiction. The rest were nonfiction books that challenged my worldview and [hopefully] helped me become a more compassionate, empathetic, and loving member of our global society.
What have you been reading lately??? I welcome any and all book recommendations!