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!
For the month of January, I’ve been avoiding added sugar, which is a LOT harder than it may sound. Though I thought I already knew most of the culprits hiding sugar, I have discovered a few more places that I was unaware of.
For instance, sriracha has sugar. That might be common knowledge for people who eat sriracha regularly. I just thought it was like any other hot sauce, until I tasted it. It was so sweet that I had to check the label.
Sure enough – sugar is the second ingredient.
Though, the real conundrum is how they manage to put “0g added sugar” on the nutrition label…????
I don’t know what that’s about, but I decided not to take any chances and switched back to my regular hot sauce [Tapatio, at the moment] which has no sugar.
I also happened to be in the market for a new multivitamin and I thought I would give gummies a try [they are so dang popular after all], but I decided against it when I realized that they have added sugar.
These are the gummy vitamins that my kids take every day. They prefer gummies for obvious reasons [and truthfully, the sugar content is nominal], but they also like Flintstone chewable vitamins, and these don’t contain any sugar.
Sugar in Bread
By far the sneakiest place to find added sugar is in bread. It is very challenging to find bread in the grocery store bread aisle that doesn’t contain any sugar. It’s not impossible, of course, so if you really want to buy your bread, I recommend looking in the bakery for freshly baked loafs that only have the four necessary ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, water.
Obviously, if you want a sweet bread [such as zucchini bread] or even an enriched bread [such as brioche], then you can expect to find sugar in the ingredient list – but for every day, run-of-the mill sandwich bread and buns, sugar is unnecessary.
So, I’ve been making my own for years.
It all began when I experimented with giving up processed foods for a month. I was pretty new to baking at the time, but I had to find a bread recipe that I could actually make that would work for sandwiches – that was also 100% whole wheat. It took me quite a while to find one that worked for me, but now I’ve been using the same recipe for the past five years to make everyday bread for my family.
The base recipe is from An Oregon Cottage [you can find the recipe here]. Over the years, I’ve altered the recipe to suit my needs — namely removing the honey and swapping two cups of whole wheat flour for bread flour, which makes a slightly fluffier bread.
So, here is the recipe that I use [and it’s in my preferred format which is with ingredients listed in bold in the instructions].
Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
This recipe makes two loaves and takes me 2 hoursto make [1hr and 20 minutes of that is rise time], but I’ve been making it every week for years, so maybe plan on 2.5 hours.
1. Put 2 1/2 cups warm water [about 110°, but don’t stress it – just not so hot it can burn you] in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast over the water. Add 2 cups bread flour. Mix until incorporated. Wait 10-20 minutes [the mixture should rise and get foamy on top].
2. Add 1/3 cup olive oil [or any neutral oil], 4 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir until it becomes too thick, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until smooth, adding additional flour as needed to keep it from being too sticky.
3. Divide dough in half. Take one half and flatten, then roll up and pinch together. Curl up ends and pinch together. Place seam side down in oiled bread pan. Repeat with other half of dough.
4. Cover with a towel and let rise for one hour [preferably in a warm place].
5. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
And voila! Enjoy that freshly baked bread smell! Mmm…
This year, I’m considering setting a health-related goal for each month. I haven’t totally committed myself to this yet because…well, it would be tough. But I’ve been trying to tackle my COVID-induced bad habits for the past year with very little success. So I think having one new habit to focus on each month will be helpful.
Starting in January [or right now], I’m doing a month of no added sugar. I’ve actually done this before, many years ago, after reading Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.
Last time, I was astounded by two things:
1. Sugar is in everything. I found it hiding everywhere – even the most savory of foods like breads, sauces, frozen dinners, peanut butter, chips, snacks, and nearly every other processed food.
“There are many shortcuts in life, but perhaps none that come free of consequences. Sugar is one of those things we have manipulated into giving us lots of shortcuts: to better taste, to more convenience, to ever-higher food industry profits. But at what costs? As the old saying goes, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
Eve O. Schaub, Year Of No Sugar
2. Going without added sugar for a period of time allowed me to really taste and enjoy the natural sugar found in produce like carrots and peppers.
So I’m doing it again. In particular, I’m hoping that this will help me break my late night candy-consumption habit.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I didn’t start the first of January because my family took a vacation to Florida where we stayed in a private rented home with my parents and sister’s family. We enjoyed the sunshine, went to the park, walked through the zoo, and took our kids on the obligatory visit to Disney World.
Brett and I also had a really fun evening to ourselves in Orlando where we went to the Museum of Illusions, rode the Ferris wheel at ICON park, had dinner at the Sugar Factory, and then rode the world’s [almost] tallest swings.
Anyway, my classes started for the spring semester the day after we got back home, so it’s right back to reality.
I hope you enjoy the long weekend and the MLK holiday [for those in the US]. I haven’t decided yet how we will celebrate it in my home, but it’s more than just a day off work/school. It’s a day to reflect on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the continuing struggle for justice and equality for people of color. I’ll probably get some good books from the library and spend time talking to my kids about our responsibilities to ensure the fair and equal treatment of all people.
Several years ago, we got these excellent books from the library to read about Dr. King and the civil rights movement. I highly recommend them for anyone with kids.
Today, I’m writing a personal letter to share about a big change I’ve made in my personal life in the last month.
I quit veganism.
Before all my vegan readers swear me off for good, let me explain…
When it comes to what I eat, I’ve been on quite a journey, which began over ten years ago when I decided to get healthy and led me all the way to the past year of being vegan. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, studied nutrition in formal classes and on my own. All of this has lead me to improve my eating habits by eliminating processed foods, making food from scratch, buying fresh, whole foods, choosing organic whenever possible, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, reducing meat and dairy, increasing plant-based foods, and so on.
Then last year I became convinced of the ethical and sustainable imperative to stop eating animal products, and so I did. I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which shared horrifying details about the conditions in which American food animals are raised and slaughtered. I watched David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, which described how our choices as humans are impacting the planet and in which he states that the simplest thing we can do to combat climate change is stop eating meat. Other sources of information are How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger, the short film Meet Your Meat, and the documentary The Game Changers. These [and other] sources of information led me to a year of veganism.
All of that is still true, but I’ve realized that meat and eggs in small quantities from ethical, sustainable, and local sources are an important part of a well-balanced diet and so I became determined to find a source of meat that wouldn’t violate any of my ethical and sustainable standards.
[There are several sources of information that led me to this change including: RealFood by Nina Planck and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – the latter of which has a very compelling argument for eating local, sustainable meat.]
After much searching, I found a farm about an hour away that raises 100% grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chickens, turkeys, and lambs. Early one morning, we drove up to the farm for a tour. We met the animals, stood in the chicken coop, held the freshly laid eggs, and I immediately knew that this was a farm I could support. So we started purchasing meat from them.
As you may guess, buying meat from a local farm is expensive, so we buy limited quantities, only have meat once or twice a week, and make sure to fill up on plant-based foods at meals.
Though I am not vegan anymore, the past year of veganism has been totally transformative for me and my family. Because of the past year, we no longer think of meals as requiring a meat, and we now know how to prepare various delicious plant-based meals. I have become a pretty decent vegan baker and most of my baking will remain vegan forever. Even my [previously] “meat and potatoes” partner has embraced almond milk, tofu, tempeh, and cashew cheese.
For some people, finding and affording ethical, sustainable, and local meat products will be impossible. If it were impossible for me, I would remain vegan. It is not worth the cost to my health or the health of the planet to eat meat from factory farms. So if the only meat available to you is full of antibiotics, raised in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, and fed a diet of grains and dead animals, veganism is still the best and healthiest option. BUT the more we use our dollars to vote for a healthier and more ethical food supply, the more ethical and sustainable meat will be come available to everyone.
We all have to make the best choice we can with what is available to us.
[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.
So, I have a confession to make: I’ve gained weight since going vegan last October. Not like crazy amounts of weight, just five or so fluctuating pounds, but that’s enough for me to realize that despite my rigorous 6-days-per-week workout schedule, I’m going in the wrong direction. This is NOT to say that weight is the only indicator of health, by the way, but I know that my eating habits are not as healthy as they once were…or as they should be.
This realization [or revelation] made me re-examine my diet [aka what and how I eat] to find weaknesses. And I found one alright.
[I found other problems too, which I may share about at another time.]
The biggest problem was veganism.
My Vegan Story
Just so you know, I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or scientist – though I wish I were one [or all] of these things. I’m just a health fanatic who has been studying [and trying out and fine-tuning] my own healthy eating habits for the past ten years. I’ve also been a personal trainer for the past six years, which has taught me a lot about what motivates and influences people’s eating decisions.
I became a full-fledged vegan last year after flirting with veganism for about three years. The final decision was in response to climate change and the obvious havoc that meat consumption is wreaking on the planet. My side reasons were to no longer be complicit in the unethical treatment of animals, feeling much better when eating vegan, and the health benefits of avoiding meat.
Since making the switch, I’ve been writing a lot about being vegan, posting vegan recipes, discussing being vegan with kids, and sharing what my meals look like. However, now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Is being vegan healthy?
The Problem with Veganism
It’s a common misconception that vegan is synonymous with healthy. While it’s true that eating meat – especially too much and factory farmed meat – has negative health consequences, does that necessarily mean that cutting out all animal products is more healthful?
The short answer: no, unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The major problem with veganism is that lots of unhealthy foods are vegan. Veganism [or plant-based, if you prefer] as a diet isn’t necessarily healthy because plenty of unhealthy foods are vegan. Check out this list:
Potato chips [cheese free]
Dairy-free ice creams
Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, Frosted Flakes [and many, many other junk cereals]
Laffy Taffy candy [and many other types of candy]
Olive Garden breadsticks
Highly processed vegan alternatives to meat products
And the list goes on and on.
I remember the first time Brett and I went out together after I became vegan and the only thing I could eat on the entire menu was French fries. So, guess what I had for dinner? French fries. Would anyone call that a healthy meal?
[In retrospect, I probably could have ordered a plate of lettuce without any dressing and a side of steamed broccoli, but seriously, would you choose that over French fries???]
So, what I’ve noticed is that, if something is vegan, I’ll eat it because…well, it’s vegan and there aren’t as many options available for me. However, this has lead to me eating a lot of things that I ordinarily wouldn’t.
I hadn’t eaten French fries foryears before I became a vegan because under no circumstances [other than starvation and literally nothing else available] are French fries a healthful choice. I also had long ago given up burgers and chips and sugary candy, because they are also really worthless foods. And I’ve already expounded on how much I loathe cereal for being a total waste of a food in a previous post.
And yet, here I am eating vegan burgers with a side of fries like it’s totally okay.
I reached this point honestly, though. I was so focused on eating only what is vegan, that I totally forgot about eating what is vegan and healthy.
So, I’ve realized that in order to be a vegan [for all the very important moral, ethical, and health reasons] andto be healthy and live a long, productive, active, disease-free life, I have to tweak my version of veganism a little bit. I have to make it work for me in the healthiest way possible.
My Version of Veganism
So now that I’ve realized that veganism doesn’t mean it’s ok to eat anything that doesn’t list animal products on the label, I’m recommitting myself to a vegan diet that means: zero animal products [that’s pretty obvious] and also zero processed foods [of which there are tons in the vegan section of the grocery store] and zero added sugar [which is definitely a vice for vegans – even if it is organic and not processed using bone char].
I’m making an exception for some processed vegan meats because they really make veganism more accessible for my family [aka my partner, Brett], but I will mostly avoid them – even tofu, tempeh, vegan sausage [which I actually like way more than I ever liked real sausage], and vegan meat alternatives.
So what will I eat?
Well, It’s time to go back to…[drum roll, please]… my vegetable-only diet! I’ve done some form of this diet for roughly a month each year since 2018…and it’s time to bring it back, but this time with a vegan twist.
I will eat vegetables [lots and lots and lots of them], fruit, legumes, nuts, and the occasional whole grain [like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and 100% whole grain bread].
To live a truly healthy lifestyle, vegans have to not only pass up the animal products, but also the processed vegan alternatives, sugary snacks, and junk foods that are common in the vegan food aisle. These items, which are fine as exceptions, shouldn’t be diet staples.
I’ll post later with more details about my [nearly] vegetable-only diet, but in the meantime, I just wanted to encourage any other vegans out there who, like me, want to be the healthiest they can be, to put down the vegan breakfast bars, bag of pretzels, and dairy-free Haagen Das, and instead, pick up carrot sticks with hummus, a whole apple, or banana “ice cream.”
Until the last few years, I’ve always hated cooking, partly because I was terrible at it and partly because it seemed like a huge waste of time. But over the past few years, as I’ve embraced low-waste living and Veganism, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to cook healthy food that tastes good. And nowadays, I don’t even follow recipes. I view them more as guidelines. I like to go off script and make something that fits my families tastes and also uses up all the leftovers and loose veggies in the fridge.
Basically, I’m a scrappy cook. I do best when you give me a bunch of random food items and tell me that it will all be thrown in the trash if I don’t make something edible out of it. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster than the threat of food waste.
But still, our meal routine has gotten pretty boring. We, like most families, have a handful of meals that we eat every week. Our rotation consisted of bean burrito bowls, vegan burgers, tempeh veggie stir-fry, pasta, vegetable bean or potato soup, and usually a homemade vegan pizza night.
I was feeling like we needed some more variety in our meal plan. I wanted to try out some new meals and see if we could add some to our rotation, which is why I texted a picture of this book to Brett and very subtly hinted that I would like it for my birthday. Actually, I said “Hey, I want this book.” [My man doesn’t do subtle.]
So I picked some new recipes to try, made a shopping list, and got busy.
[All the recipes below are from this cookbook unless otherwise noted.]
Here’s the result:
June 4: Coffee Cake
First up – vegan coffee cake. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a coffee cake, but I was excited to try this vegan version in place of our usual banana muffins. It was delicious. I made it the evening for breakfast the next morning. I sent several pieces to work with Brett and the kids and I ate the rest.
Would have been even better if I was drinking coffee…but there’s that whole “only drinking water for a year” thing. So I’m logging this one away to definitely try on January 1, 2022 with a cup of coffee.
June 5: Brussels Sprouts Hash
I love a good hash. I’ve made varieties of hashes before – usually using up whatever I have available – but this time I followed the book and used carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts [my favorite vegetable].
Everyone loved it. Two thumbs up. 👍👍
June 6: Vegan [Baked] French Toast
This is the first time I’ve made vegan French toast. I was surprised that the recipe had me bake the bread slices in order to get them crispy, but they turned out perfectly and are a lot easier than our usual Sunday morning breakfast of pancakes.
Also, I was able to use up half a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread that was nearing its expiration.
Using up old food while making new food! Win-win!
June 6: Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
We typically have a pasta dish once a week – usually a box of noodles and a jar of vegan tomato sauce [gotta check the label on pasta sauce jars – they sometimes hide dairy]. But I knew I could do better. And this sounded delicious.
Admittedly, it was not the kids’ favorite pasta sauce but they all cleaned their plates [or bowls in this case]. So it couldn’t have been that bad. I, on the other hand, LOVED it, especially since it is an easy sauce I can make from scratch with just red peppers, one tomato, some garlic and seasonings – oh, and cashews for vegan ricotta. I’ll definitely be making this again.
I ended up with a jar of extra sauce too, for next time!
June 7: Nora’s Birthday
This cutie turned two on June 7th so we had burgers [vegan for me] and hot dogs at my in-laws’ house to celebrate.
But I did make these vegan cupcakes – my first time making vegan cupcakes and they turned out pretty well! The recipe is from Nora Cooks [my go-to blog for vegan recipes] – Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes. For the vegan frosting, I just used plant butter and powdered sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt [no recipe, just winging it]. I filled the cupcakes with mini m&ms and rainbow colored jimmies for a fun surprise for the kids.
June 8: Tofu Rancheros
This is the only meal that I will definitely not be making again because it was waaaaay too much work and took waaaaay too long. I doubled the recipe, because it said four servings, but definitely didn’t need to. I thought it was tasty. My partner liked it. My son loved it [and ate all the leftovers] but my daughters, not so much.
June 9: Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup
This soup was pretty good. I loved the combination of chickpeas, lentils and orzo – along with the veggies. However, I would have chosen to just throw in any veggies I want and probably season a little differently. But it was good and my kids all finished their bowls [some even asked for more].
I ate the leftovers for lunch over the next few days [with hot sauce – perfecto!]
June 10: Vegan Chocolate Mousse
Thursday evenings are busy with two Taekwondo classes back-to-back, so I’ve made it an unofficial leftover night. BUT I was dying to use the aquafaba from the can of chickpeas from the night before, so after lunch I whipped up some vegan chocolate mousse to have after dinner.
[Aquafaba is the cooking liquid from beans. Apparently chickpeas are best. You can use the liquid from the can or cook your own chickpeas. I’ve done it both ways and works great.]
This recipe doesn’t come from the book. I actually didn’t use a recipe, but there are some online. All I do is whip aquafaba until it forms peaks, then slowly add sugar one tablespoon at a time until it taste good [I’ve never counted how many tablespoons it takes – maybe 10-12]. Then I mix some cocoa powder with melted coconut oil and beat that into the aquafaba until it’s incorporated. Then refrigerate it until it sets.
My kids love this stuff, and I do too.
Never ever pour aquafaba down the drain!
June 11: Thin Crust Pizza with Mushrooms and Ricotta
Meet my new favorite pizza. This was DELICIOUS! I like mushrooms on my pizza anyway, but these are cooked and seasoned with soy in advance and then topped with a vegan ricotta and lemon mixture that is SO GOOD.
Brett doesn’t like mushrooms, so I made him and the kids two different pizzas.
Being vegan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza!! We love pizza night and we all enjoy our vegan varieties!
Side note: I didn’t use the cook book recipe for pizza crust [which I do want to try] because it has to chill overnight and I didn’t plan ahead. So I used my favorite recipe instead, which can be found at Sugar Spun Run — “The Best Pizza Dough Recipe.” I double this recipe for my family of six, but we do usually have some pizza leftover.
Homemade pizza dough is the BEST!
June 12: Green Goodness Salad with Tofu
This cookbook has an excellent recipe for a cashew-based cream dressing, which I love. It was delicious. And the salad was hearty enough with the broccoli, tofu, and avocado to feel like a really well-rounded [and super healthy] dinner. [I subbed peas for edamame, because I couldn’t find it anywhere in my small town.]
Even the kids all loved it. I’ve decided to add a hearty salad for dinner into our weekly rotation.
As delightful as this food has been, I’m looking forward to returning to my quick and easy [and boring] routine of roasting whatever vegetables I have and serving them with rice [I kid…kind of]. But I have learned some new tricks and picked up some good meal ideas for the future.
Also – I didn’t get compensated in any way for trying these recipes or sharing them with you. [I don’t make a dime off this blog.] But I do recommend the cookbook for anyone whose meal plan has become a little…repetitive.
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!
Composting is fundamental to a zero waste lifestyle, but my goal is to use as much of the vegetable as possible before tossing what’s left into the compost bin.
So, today I’m sharing three ways I like to use vegetable “scraps” that usually get tossed.
Pictured above is a recent Misfits Market produce delivery that I received. In order to create as little waste as possible, I used the broccoli stems for a salad, carrot tops for pesto, and the rest of the scraps for vegetable broth.
Broccoli Stem Salad
Poor broccoli stems. People like them even less than they like the rest of the vegetable.
Broccoli stems are perfectly edible, but they often get thrown out because they are woody and not as appetizing. Nowadays I will steam them with the rest of the broccoli, but [don’t tell anyone] I used to compost them because I don’t like them as much as the florets.
Then a girlfriend of mine told me about spiralizing the stem and using it in a salad! What a great idea!
All you need is a spiralizer to add broccoli [a superfood, by the way] to your salad. I have a small handheld spiralizer that I use frequently for small veggies [pictured below].
And a countertop spiralizer, which I don’t use as often, but it perfect for spiralizing big things like heads of cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc.
Carrot Top Pesto
I love making my own pesto! Besides being delicious and a great sauce or dip, pesto can be infinitely customized. I make mine vegan and throw in whatever greens I have. A traditional pesto uses basil; however, [nearly] any green will work.
When I have carrots, I throw the green tops into pesto along with whatever other greens I’m using, usually basil, kale, spinach, or a mixture of them.
[Side note: if you buy your carrots without the tops, likely someone else is throwing them into the garbage, so try to buy carrots in their full form.]
My produce order produced a lot of scraps – the ends of the zucchini and green beans, the leaves of the cauliflower, carrot peels, Brussels sprout stubs, etc. I take all of these loose ends and save them in a reusable bag in my freezer.
When the bag is full, I pour it all in my stock pot and simmer for…as long as I can. Then strain, pour in jars, and save in the fridge.
This is a no-brainer, but it still took me until recently to get into the habit of saving my scraps for vegetable broth. Now, I always have either some jars of broth in the fridge or a stash of scraps in my freezer.
Anyway, hopefully these are some ideas to help you reduce waste! Any one else have creative ways to use vegetable scraps??
Now that I’ve been on the sourdough bandwagon for a while, I’ve been anxious to find creative uses for the extra sourdough starter I accumulate from feeding it daily [usually called “discard”]. There are lots of ideas out there, but they never interested me much until I stumbled upon the easiest, simplest sourdough cracker recipe EVER. And so, of course, I want to share it with you, on this most special Super Bowl Sunday, because it is a great snack for a game day, for a party day…or for any day really.
Now, I know what you may be thinking, I’ve seen millions of these sourdough cracker recipes! And I totally agree with you. They are all over the interwebs right now – but, I promise you, this is the simplest recipe. I know because after I found this recipe, I lost it and it took me forever to find it again. Every other recipe I looked at had other ingredients like butter, rye flour,sesame seeds, etc. I couldn’t find a single other recipe that just had four ingredients: flour [any kind], sourdough starter, oil, and salt.
So, if you’re going to a party [which you SHOULDN’T BE – ahem, Covid!] or if you’re throwing a party [don’t even THINK about it!], or you’re doing like us, and pretending it’s a special occasion while sitting in your own living room watching the game by yourself, these crackers make a great snack.
If you don’t currently have a sourdough starter, get yourself one! It took me a long time to find one [without ordering one online], but I realize now that I have lots of friends who have them and all I had to do was ask! Sourdough bread is so delicious and simple to make [albeit time consuming] and only requires a few simple ingredients and is quite impressive to serve at your next family get together [after COVID, of course!].
I mean, who doesn’t want to say that they baked a sourdough boule [which is just a fancy French word for “ball”]?
I’ve even started attempting fancy scoring patterns. My latest attempt:
Eh, needs some work….
Anyway, on to the crackers.
The sourdough discard cracker recipe [which seems too simple to even qualify as a “recipe”] comes from Bon Appetit [You can find the original here.]. But I will summarize and add my own tips and modifications for you.
First, combine 1 cup flour [any kind] with 1 cup sourdough starter [ripe or not], 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1/4 tsp salt [or more]. I have used all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and a mix of the two – all with the same delicious results.
Next, mix until the dough comes together and isn’t sticky to the touch. After a few seconds of mixing, the dough becomes smooth and elastic. It isn’t dry, but you can touch it with your finger and it’s comes away clean. This far, every time I’ve made these crackers I have had to add a little bit more flour [just a sprinkle] to get the right consistency.
Then, take a portion [I usually pull about a fifth] and roll it out on a silicone baking mat [or parchment paper if you don’t have a reusable baking mat – but then go buy one!]. No flour needed. The dough should not be sticky [thanks to the oil]. I don’t even flour my rolling pin. The key: roll it thin. I roll mine so thin that I can almost see through them. This is important if you want a crispy cracker [and, I mean, who really wants a chewy cracker???].
Next, cut into crackers shapes with a pizza roller, prick each cracker with a fork, and top with salt and/or seasonings. I use a flaky salt or garlic salt.
Finally, pop in a 350° oven for roughly 15 minutes. I put mine in for exactly 16 minutes, but every oven is different, so some experimentation may be necessary. You’ll know when they are done because they will all turn a uniform [and lovely] golden brown.
[Obviously, repeat the last three steps until you’ve used up all the dough.]
This recipe yields at least five dozen crackers when I make it [usually closer to 100], but I’m not much of a perfectionist, so the sizes are all different and sometimes wonky…so, I don’t promise a certain amount of crackers. BUT I do promise that they will be yummy!
Great dips include hummus, guacamole, salsa, peanut butter – or just eat plain, by the handful!