Book Reviews [2021 Q1]

Book Reviews [2021 Q1]

One of my New Years resolutions for this year was to [re]focus on my health – getting rid of my late night snacking hobby, cutting out added sugars and processed foods, embracing veganism, getting all my needed nutrients, drinking more water, and, in general, rebuilding healthy habits. I am health obsessed normally, but last year’s Covid quarantine got me sidetracked a bit, so I needed to get back at it ASAP. To that end, I’ve added quite a few books about health and nutrition and food in general to my list, the first of which was Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which led me down quite a rabbit hole of discovering where my food comes from [let me just say – yikes!].

Beyond that I also read a great book about racism [probably the best of the 10+ books I’ve read on the subject], a book about poverty in America [giving me all the feels with a hefty side order of guilt], a book about loneliness [which I read because I thought I was lonely, but it ended up teaching me to be a better person], an awesome memoir that changed my life forever [Glennon Doyle is my new hero], and one really good fiction book.

My reading tastes are clearly very eclectic.

Top reads so far this year:

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Maid by Stephanie Land

These books couldn’t possibly be more different, but they each taught me valuable [even life-changing] lessons about life and love and health and politics and humanity and faith and forgiveness – and they all give me hope for a better future.

January

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I was already a vegan when I began reading [or listening to] Eating Animals, but if I hadn’t been, this book would have definitely sealed the deal. I wrote previously in Another Reason to Be Vegan how this book made veganism morally compelling, when before that, I was only in it for the environmental and health benefits. The book was really eye-opening, and for all you meat-lovers out there, pretty fair. While painting an accurately horrifying image of how meat is produced today, he also acknowledges [through a quote from a factory farm management employee] the difficulty [or impossibility] of feeding a billion people with just small, ethical, family farms. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to change our ways. The answer lies in eating less meat – or, even better, none at all.

My favorite quote from the book is not specifically about eating meat, but more broadly about our natural tendency to be willfully ignorant about issues that we know will demand a difficult change. We prefer to turn away rather than to do what is right. This has irked me about a million different causes, not just the animal welfare. This quote is so good, I stopped after reading it and repeated it it to my partner. Needless to say, he didn’t appreciate it as much as I did – but I hope you will.

“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Our society needs to stop pretending to be asleep.

If you are ready to face the truth and make changes, read this book. And then watch some powerful documentaries: Eating Animals, Meet Your Meat and Dominance.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”

Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

This is the most comprehensive, thought-provoking, and convicting book on racist ideologies that I have ever read. There is so much information in this book that challenged my understanding of racism – even being decently well-read on the subject – I can’t even begin to explain it all. It challenged so many of my previously held antiracist ideas and showed me how even in many of my attempts to be antiracist, there was still a racist idea at the center.

This is simply a must-read for every American…possibly every human.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I decided to read this because I wanted to see the Netflix movie [which I still haven’t gotten around to yet], and I really enjoyed it. I don’t read much fiction, but I love a good story and this served as a sort of break from my intense [and largely depressing] nonfiction books. One of the best parts of the book was how skillfully Jordan used foreshadowing to imply the ending, but leaving enough unspoken to still surprise me in the end. It’s a sad story, and of course, it doesn’t have a happy ending – but it ends with hope.

February

Unknown Valor by Martha McCallum

⭐️

[Fun fact: I was actually in the middle of this book when Martha McCallum praised the capital rioters and was promptly demoted by Fox News.]

I don’t watch Fox News, and I had never heard of this woman before receiving this book from my in-laws. When I looked her up, I already knew I wouldn’t agree with her opinions on the war, but I gave it a chance anyway and read the whole thing. It was very informative, but in a dry history textbook sort of way. And, as expected, I disagreed with much of her perspective about war in general, like her belief in “total annihilation” as the only effective way to win a war, her insistence on painting everything about the Japanese as terrible and everything that America did as flawless, and also her repeated use of racial slurs to describe the Japanese. There was only one sentence in the entire book about the Japanese internment camps, which seemed to me like a terrible oversight in a book exclusively about our relationship with Japan. The one thing I agreed with was her admittance that America only joined the war because we were butt hurt after the attack on Pearl Harbor and wanted some revenge. [But all of this could be easily learned through a quick Wikipedia search.]

Anyway, I appreciated the book because it forced me to read a different perspective. And I did learn something new – that there apparently are still Americans who are big fans of war.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

My feelings about this book are so strong that I’ve had trouble putting them into words. I think what moves me the most was that this book made me feel, for the first time in seven years, like I’m not totally alone in my worldview. Like, omg, this woman gets me. Of course, Glennon Doyle has no idea that I even exist, but knowing that she exists has given me a sense of hope that I haven’t had since I embarked on my own spiritual journey [my own “untaming,” if you will]. Leaving behind what I was trained to believe and how I was trained to live has been a sad and lonely experience. But Untamed gave me hope that there are others like me. It also reinforced what I have come to believe about the world because [yay!] someone else out there actually agrees with me!

Such an awesome book. I listened to the audiobook twice in a week and I will definitely be buying my own copy to proudly display on my bookshelf [which as a minimalist only contains my 5-10 absolute favorite books].

I don’t know what other reactions will be since mine was so personal, but I do know that this book is full of truth and everyone should read it.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I watched Pollan’s documentary with the same title years ago and finally got around to reading the book. And it was a great book. [The documentary is also good, so if you have the time, go watch that too.]

The basic principles in the book are so simple and yet vital to healthy eating and, as a result, healthy living. I don’t really want to give away the three rules…so please read this book.

“All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn and soy.”

Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

This is the root of the issue – and this book contains the key to healthy eating in our modern times of industrial agriculture.

[And it’s so good, I would later pick up another of Pollan’s books, which I’ll share with you below…]

How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach by Melanie Mühl and Diana Von Kopp

⭐️⭐️

This book was interesting. Maybe two stars is too low of a rating because I did think it was interesting, but it was more a compilation of all the psychology studies surrounding eating than actually helpful to me as an eater. How should a restaurant describe its menu items? There’s a study about that. What music should be playing during dinner? There’s a study about that. What affect does an overweight server have on restaurant patrons? Yes – there is even a study about that. Like I said, it was interesting [ok, I’ve said that three times now], but I didn’t find it all that practical, which is, I suppose, what I was hoping to find.

March

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma [a precursor to In Defense of Food] Michael Pollan traces the path of three different types of meals: an industrial/processed meal, an organic small farm meal, and a foraged/hunted meal.

For me, this whole exercise just gave more background [or proof, if you will] of what I already knew [and what I believe most of us intuitively know] about food. Food that is processed is not good for us. Food sprayed with pesticides is not good for us. Food that is fed antibiotics and growth hormones and lives knee-deep in its own shit is not good for us. Food grown in nutrient depleted soil, sprayed with chemicals, taken to laboratories and broken into its component parts then put back together into an unrecognizable [by nature] food-like substance is definitely not good for us.

It shouldn’t require this much research or a book of this length to convince us not to eat processed junk like McDonald’s cheeseburgers. And yet, here we are – continuing to eat [and in increasing quantities] what we know is not good for us.

Anyway, the book is really interesting. I learned a lot about our complicated history with corn, which is perfect timing because I live in a town surrounded by farmland and, of course, it’s all used to grow corn and soybeans. I’m literally in the middle of America’s farm belt and I can’t find a single organic family farm from which to buy my produce. Frustrating to say the least. But at least now I know how this conundrum came to be.

The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

So, now that I’ve learned about the industrial meat business and industrial agriculture, I picked up this book [at the recommendation from a friend] to learn about the great American waste…er, I mean, food machine: the supermarket.

This book is a little bit all over the place. It covers everything from how Trader Joe’s came to be [at one point I thought that the book was only about Trader Joe’s because this seemed to go on for quite a long time], to the trucking industry [it’s as bad as we all assume, by the way], to getting product on supermarket shelves [all a giant money-making scam], to human trafficking in the fish industry [yep, think about that next time you order fish], to cutting off one eye from each female shrimp [this random little tidbit just stuck in my head for some reason].

Looking back on it now, it all seems rather random and boring, and yet, it never felt random while I was reading it and I was never bored. Only an excellent writer could make this topic so interesting that I looked forward to reading more…

And let me tell you, Benjamin Lorr is an exceptional writer.

Maid by Stephanie Land

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the first time that I have read a first-hand account of an adult living in poverty in America. Honestly, beyond what she writes here, I don’t know a thing about homeless shelters or food stamps or section eight housing or school grants or anything about it. And I recognize that it’s because I am incredibly privileged.

But I do know that a lot of people like me [who lack any real experiential knowledge of our welfare system] have very strong opinions about it – and everyone who benefits from it. This book brings us face-to-face with our prejudices, with our false stereotypes, with our wrongful assumptions – with Stephanie Land, to be exact.

I didn’t know that it was so much work to get help, or that some programs have waitlists that last years, or that there is such a strong stigma around receiving help, or that people can be so openly rude about it, or that it’s all just so…difficult. I have always been a supporter of welfare and all government programs that help people who are underprivileged, and if anything, this book has reinforced the fact that we don’t help nearly enough.

None of us can help the situation we’re born into and even if our problems are due to our own mistakes [like, in Stephanie’s case, falling for a guy who ends up being abusive] – we all make mistakes. Should we really have to suffer forever without help? Should we have to feel judged by society? Should we have to feel guilty about any leisure time or hobbies? Should have to do it all alone?

Stephanie’s story has a happy ending, obviously, but most stories don’t end that way. We the privileged few have the responsibility to help those who need it.

Ok, getting off my soapbox now…

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the first book I’ve read by Brené Brown and I was drawn to it because I identify with the subtitle. I often feel like I am searching for true belonging, but always end up standing alone. I am always bucking the system, causing a stir, swimming against the current, and don’t have a tribe of my own. I don’t fit neatly into any group.

Though it’s comforting to know that Brené Brown also feels like she is standing alone, it didn’t really do anything for my “quest for true belonging,” but this book definitely holds a lot of wisdom that I will carry with me forever.

My favorite lesson learned:

“People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.”

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

It’s easy to make harsh judgments about groups of people without knowing the individuals, but this is damaging because it perpetuates lies and further divides us into categories of “us” vs. “them.” This is especially true when it comes to politics today. I don’t like it when I hear someone say that people on welfare are all lazy, so I shouldn’t say that republicans are all selfish. [Even though I really want to.] Neither of these are true or fair statements. Getting to know individuals allows us to see more clearly that people are not so bad after all.

Other important takeaways for me include:

– We have to stop de-humanizing people [no matter how much we dislike them], which is something I have to work on. [I have a tendency to call men who honk at or catcall me “pigs.”]

– The meaning of true belonging is different than fitting in. Belonging is being accepted for who you are and fitting in is changing who you are in order to be accepted. My whole life has been an education in “fitting in” and conforming to what was expected of a good Christian girl. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel true belonging anywhere. [And also why Untamed was such a helpful book for me]

– Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to assume that people are intentionally hurting us [or others], but it may be ignorance. I know some people who are very loving and wonderful individuals, but are also extremely sexist. Because I know that they are good human beings, I give them the benefit of the doubt. So the best response is educating rather than attacking. [On the flip side, I also have to accept criticism and be willing to learn. There is much that I am ignorant of as well.]


You know what I love most about reading? It allows me to hear different perspectives, meet different people, and understand different worldviews than I would ever come across in my daily life. It expands my understanding of the world. And even if I don’t agree with everything I read, every book adds to a more inclusive and well-rounded perspective of the world.

It’s an education in life.

And reading is also a quiet break from my kids. So that’s good too.

Let me know if you have book recommendations!!

Happy Reading!

📖 📖 📖

Karis

Super Simple Vegan Banana Muffins [and a rant about breakfast cereal]

Super Simple Vegan Banana Muffins [and a rant about breakfast cereal]

A few days ago, I showed off the silicone cupcake liners that I use every Friday when I bake vegan banana muffins.

Read all about it here.

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”].

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Mash bananas in a mixing bowl.
  3. Mix in sugars and coconut oil.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.
  5. Scoop into muffin tin [or muffin liners] until 3/4 full.
  6. 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!

Give it a try and let me know if you agree!

Happy Baking!

👩‍🍳 👩‍🍳 👩‍🍳

Karis

A Month of Misfits Market [saving the planet by saving produce]

A Month of Misfits Market [saving the planet by saving produce]

Shortly after moving to our small town in southern Illinois last November, I signed up for Misfits Market, a weekly produce delivery service. Here are my thoughts for those considering using this service.

What is Misfits Market?

Misfits Market rescues organic produce that isn’t fit for grocery stores and ships them at a discounted box rate to customers around the country.

“Every box of Misfits produce you order benefits farmers, helps prevent food waste, and ultimately helps save our environment.”

Misfitsmarket.com

Sounded really good to me, almost too good to be true, so I was a little skeptical. I have heard negative reviews of other similar programs promising to “rescue” produce, but now that I’ve received several orders, I believe that a lot of this produce is, in fact, rescued. I’ve found banana-shaped cucumbers, oranges the size of my head, perfectly round sweet potatoes, plenty of bruised [but perfectly edible] apples, and extra large lemons like this one here:

Of course, a lot of the produce seems to be perfectly normal and fit for any grocery retailer, but then again, I’m not even close to a professional in this area.

They also ship the produce in eco-friendly packaging, which you can read more about here.

[This is one of those businesses that I would like to visit so I can really see with my own eyes what’s happening and, more importantly, how it’s happening. Because if this company is really doing what it says it is, then it’s fantastic and everyone should get onboard!]

Why Misfits Market?

Our town has two grocery stores: a Walmart Supercenter and a local grocer which is mostly salvaged and overstocked goods. Neither option is great for produce on a normal day, but I’m used to our CSA produce from our local farm, so I really wanted to find something comparable down here. Shouldn’t be hard, since this is a farming community…or so I thought. I began searching for local farmers markets or CSAs in the area, but couldn’t find anything open or running during the winter season. I did, however, discover Misfits Market.

As with everything, there are pros and cons. I prefer not to have anything shipped if I can pick it up myself and I have advocated repeatedly for eating local produce, so…I am definitely compromising a little bit. However, eating fresh, organic produce from sources I can trust is my number one priority. And I am committed to shop local for all of our other needs, like pantry items, dry goods, etc.

How does Misfits Market work?

Currently on Misfits Market, there were two sizes of weekly boxes. I chose the larger [called “Madness”] for $35 per week. The box comes with fourteen types of produce, 2-4 portions each. [The smaller box is called “Mischief” and has 12 types of produce, 1-2 portions of each for $22.] The price doesn’t include taxes and shipping and I have the option of adding additional items for extra cost from the “market,” which I have always done because I LOVE Brussels sprouts. So with my add-ons, I have spent $45-50 per week on the box.

Each week, I have a window of two days to make selections based on what is currently being rescued from farms around the country. The items are available on a first come, first served basis. I literally have an alarm set on my phone. I make my selections on Saturday and my box is delivered on the following Friday [I could choose my delivery day from a list of three or four options].

Today was my delivery day, and here is what my box contained.

Looks a lot like my CSA box, doesn’t it? [Except for those pesky stickers on all the fruit and several things still wrapped in plastic.]

What I Like

Overall, I am really happy with the service. My box always arrives on time, it is priced really well, I get to choose the items I want, the food is in season, the produce is all organic, and it comes straight to my door [which is super convenient – I’m a mom of four, don’t forget!]. I can also skip a week, pause my shipments, or opt for bi-weekly delivery any time I want. And my experience with customer service has been terrific [more on that below].

As I said before, I would prefer to find local produce, so when the summer comes I will likely pause my deliveries and return to my absolute favorite store: the farmers market! But, in this case, shipped produce is better than my alternatives.

What I Don’t Like

I’ve had a few problems with things missing from my box. But it is very easy to contact them about a missing item [quick form online] and I was issued a credit within twenty-four hours [no hassle and no fuss].

I’m not complaining or trying to discourage anyone from using this service, but be warned – the quantities can be a little strange. One week I ordered Brussels sprouts and I found six tiny sprouts at the bottom of my box. Another time I ordered spaghetti squash and received four ginormous squashes. Sometimes I get two oranges, and other times I get six. When I ordered lettuce, I got TONS of lettuce. You never know. It’s not really a problem, it’s just unexpected. [Part of the fun, I guess?]

Sometimes the produce is not in great shape. I avoid ordering leafy greens [especially delicate ones like butter lettuce] because they have often arrived soggy and brown. Of course, this is part of the issue with shipping produce, and it is to be expected. Not a big enough problem for me to stop using the service.

Overall, I am really happy with Misfits Market. I recommend it, but I also recommend hitting up local farmers markets, looking for CSAs in your area, and making the decision that is best for you. If you don’t have a local option available to you, then this is a good way to get organic produce for your family AND help cut down on food waste [which is a major problem here in America].

So, it’s a win-win! Eat produce and save the planet!

🥦🍐🥬

Karis

Only Drink Water for a Year [and other 2021 resolutions]

Only Drink Water for a Year [and other 2021 resolutions]

As we all know, 2020 was a crazy year due to Covid-19, so two of my top goals couldn’t happen [travel out of the country and run a marathon], but I’m choosing to focus on all the things I DID accomplish as a result of my resolutions last year…

I have been studying Spanish every day for 353 days on Duolingo, I switched to buying milk in glass bottles, I swapped my plastic dish brushes for sustainable [and beautiful] bamboo, I got a mealtime routine down for the family, I signed up [and was approved] for kidney donation, I volunteered 24+ hours at my local food bank, and I donated $20k to organizations that are helping vulnerable children all over the world, and I began sponsoring a third child through Plan International.

So resolution-wise, it was a pretty good year.

Since it doesn’t appear that Covid is going away anytime soon, I have decided to really scale back my resolution list this year. In 2021, I want to focus on my family, my health and my efforts to end the water crisis.

That’s it. Just three things.

Of course, I have sub points within each of those things…and maybe some bullet points under each sub point. [What can I say? I’m goal-oriented!]

My Family

First, Brett and I have decided to start spending intentional one-on-one time with each of our kids. Since we have four kids and they are all close in age, it’s easy to always group them altogether, or allow some siblings to receive more attention. All of that is totally normal, but I want each of my kids [especially want my middle kids who are quieter and more emotive] to have my undivided attention at times.

The plan is to take turns enjoying special one-on-one time with one kid a week. That’s as far as I’ve planned at the moment.

Second, I am going to dedicate more time to walking my dog. Our new yard is not fenced in so she doesn’t have the space or freedom she used to enjoy, so she really needs regular exercise – and I need to get out of the house every day, for my sanity’s sake.

Third, I want to improve the health of my family by switching to mostly vegan but 100% vegetarian meals in our home. I don’t eat animal products in part because I am thoroughly convinced that they are not good for us [at least not in the quantities we eat them] and because I believe that the morality of our current meat industry is sketchy at the very best. And I’ve come to realize that if I won’t eat meat because of health and ethical issues, then I certainly can’t feel good about feeding them to my kids.

Now don’t go off on me just yet. I will write about this internal [and external] struggle I’ve been dealing with in a post later on to fully explain myself.

[As a side note, I – with the help of Darin Olien’s book SuperLife – have convinced Brett to eat vegetarian/vegan. This is a HUGE win and required quite a bit of coaxing and maybe some bribing but really allows me to change the eating habits of our entire family now that he is on board.]

My Health

As a health and fitness fanatic, healthy goals are always on the list – usually things like improve flexibility and run a marathon. This year, I want to tackle healthy eating. I am generally a very healthy eater, and now I’m also a relatively new vegan; however, I still tend to be an emotional eater and a late night snacker [even tho I’m snacking on healthy foods, it’s still a bad habit]. These two things have to stop. So my first order of business is to get a handle on these bad eating habits.

Second, I’m going to do more research on healthy eating. I want to read several books on nutrition that have been on my list for a while and research controversial health topics like organic produce and current trending diets [keto anyone?]. I’m also going to be studying the ethics of what we eat. I spent the last few years realizing that what I spend my money on is a moral issue, and what clothing I wear is a moral issue, and what I put in the trash is a moral issue, and now I realize that what I eat also has moral and ethical implications.

Third, I’m not going to drink anything but water for one year. Truthfully, I don’t usually drink a whole lot of other beverages – just a few cups of coffee every morning and mimosas on holiday mornings and a glass of wine on the weekends and sparkling waters when visiting friends and an occasional cocktail on dates with Brett – so this should be a breeze.

😬

But I’m excited to see what it does to my health. After only a few days I can already tell that I am much more hydrated.

My reason for this water only year is not just for my health…which brings me to my last resolution for the year.

Ending the Water Crisis

One of the most impactful quotes I read last year was from Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save, which says:

“If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spend on things you don’t really need.”

I wonder how many times in my life I said I couldn’t afford to give money to a cause, while freely spending money on beverages that I don’t need [and are bad for my health to boot!].

So, this year, I’m only drinking water. Not only that, I’m only drinking free water. This water bottle is basically my new best friend. And all the money I save will go to help fund water projects around the world for the 700+ million people who don’t have access to clean water [through Charity:Water].

I’m also going to be researching water waste and trying to waste less water in my home by changing some of my habits [cutting back the shower time, running the washers less, catching rainwater for watering plants, etc].

Assuming we don’t have a repeat of 2020, this list seems totally doable [I’m going to go knock on wood].

I hope you all set goals for the year or at least are putting last year behind you and looking ahead with positivity! [Just don’t watch the news…]

I’m a week late, but Happy New Year!

🥳🥳🥳

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

My first experience with a vegan diet was two years ago while I was breastfeeding my middle daughter. She was having terrible reflux issues and our pediatrician suggested trying no dairy or eggs. Since I was already eating a vegetarian diet, I suddenly became a vegan [and my [Nearly] Vegetable Only Diet was born].

The problem was that all vegan recipes either called for a vegan version of the standard ingredient OR strange ingredients I’d never even heard of, let alone had in my cupboard. If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you will likely be familiar with all of these things, but as a newcomer to that way of eating these ingredients were totally unfamiliar to me:

  • Flax eggs
  • Aquafaba
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Tempeh
  • Tahini
  • Chia seeds

I had no idea at the time that cashews could become cheese, oats could make milk, quinoa could replace beef, black beans could make brownies, and avocados could transform into chocolate mousse.

Oh, the wonders of the vegan world!

But at the time, I just needed to eat something that wouldn’t make my baby sick. I didn’t have time to go down the rabbit hole of experimental vegan cooking OR go to the grocery store to stock my house with every vegan alternative.

And so was born a simple way to do plant-based, vegan meals – without a single specialty vegan product [no vegan butter, vegan mayo, vegan cheese, etc] or any of the fancy vegan ingredients that can only be found tucked away in the “international” aisle of your grocery store.

And even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian or even flexitarian, it is still smart, sustainable and healthful to reduce your consumption of animal-based foods. So, you may find these suggestions to be helpful as well.

Vegan Meals

I’m not here to provide recipes because I’m leaving that to the professionals. But what I DO want to do is inspire you to SIMPLIFY the food you eat. Eating healthy food is about taking whole foods in their original form, cooking and then consuming them. It doesn’t have to be complex. These meal ideas I’m going to share are just ways to take simple foods you would find in the produce section and make them into a nutritious and delicious meal.

So without further rambling, here are the simplest vegan meals.

Oatmeal

Let’s start with a vegan breakfast – but, of course, I’m not opposed to the “breakfast for dinner” deal either. I LOVE breakfast. And oatmeal is most definitely my favorite breakfast.

If you are a cereal kind of person, then, yes, you could just swap your cows milk for a non-dairy milk alternative. But WHY when you could have a totally dairy free, incredibly healthy breakfast with so many possibilities you’ll never get bored of it??

Here is a secret: oatmeal DOES NOT need to be made with milk! I just add boiling water and let it sit for a minute or two then add my sweetener and toppings!

Oatmeal is the perfect breakfast because it is minimally processed and contains healthy carbohydrates, protein and lots of fiber. Top it with fresh fruit and you have a nutrient packed breakfast.

[My kids also love oatmeal! We eat it every morning – with the exception of rare, special occasions.]

Here are some of our favorite oatmeal varieties:

  • Chocolate and peanut butter
  • Cinnamon and raisins
  • Bananas and peanut butter
  • Fresh berries and maple syrup

Salad

Salads are totally misunderstood. People think of salads as bowls of lettuce drenched in sugary dressings to make them more palatable. But salads are DELICIOUS when done correctly.

Salad is not only about the greens. You can make a taco salad by adding salsa, black beans and corn. You can make a Greek salad [my personal favorite] by adding olives, artichokes, tomatoes and capers. You can make a classic salad by throwing in every vegetable you have in your house. You can add protein with quinoa or chickpeas. You can add fat with avocados and olive oil. You don’t even need a sugary, store-bought dressing – just toss your salad in fresh lemon juice, or make your own balsamic vinaigrette.

[Here is my favorite homemade salad dressing.]

Salads are not just side dishes anymore! They can be a full, satisfying meal when you think outside the greens.

Burrito Bowls

You’ve probably heard of “meatless Mondays” which are a good idea for everyone to implement because of the health and financial benefits of eating less meat. Years ago, when we started our own meatless Monday tradition, it was always Mexican because Mexican food is already full of so many wonderful whole foods – beans, rice, corn, peppers, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, to name a few. Of course, a big part of Mexican cuisine is cheese, but it’s still delicious to top a burrito bowl with salsa and guacamole and – if you’re like me – a large amount of hot sauce.

Our vegan burrito bowls are delicious and so simple because I just use whatever we have on hand. If I’m feeling extra ambitious I can always turn these into tacos by making flour tortillas. Or we can throw everything into the crockpot with a jar of salsa and have Mexican chili. Or we can make tostadas. Or we can make loaded nachos. Really, Mexican cuisine has endless possibilities. But I prefer the simplest option: a burrito bowl with rice, beans, peppers and onions, salsa, avocado, and some hot sauce.

Delicioso!

Soup

I’ve already written about my vegetable soup obsession here. I make soup about once a week and it is always different because I throw in whatever I have. I always use some vegetables but I also frequently include other delicious whole foods like beans, rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc. Homemade soup is about as simple as it gets and it doesn’t require any weird vegan stuff – just real, normal, plant-based food.

On soup day in my home, I throw everything in a pot with some water and let it simmer until dinner time.

Mm-mm Good!

Stir-Fry

Stir-frying was my very first cooking experience. When Brett and I first married, I LOATHED cooking and so we bought a lot of those frozen stir-fry meals until I finally got smart and realized that I could make them myself.

To this day, my favorite way to eat vegetables is sautéd in a skillet with some seasonings. I usually skip the sauces because they are typically full of sugar or sodium, but I occasionally create my own with something like honey and balsamic or lemon and capers. But just a seasoning blend is enough to turn ordinary vegetables into a delicious meal.

Sometimes we put the stir-fry over rice or quinoa. Sometimes we eat it plain. Sometimes we make vegetable fried rice! The best of both worlds!

It’s a “choose-your-own-adventure” sort of meal.

Make Any Meal Vegan

Additionally, you can make any meal plant-based by following these simple tips:

1. Cook with olive oil. Just leave out the butter. It is not necessary. I keep butter on hand for baking treats for my kids, but we don’t use it otherwise. There is no reason to go buy a vegan butter. Just cook with oil instead. It is a plant-based, healthier alternative.

2. Pass on the meat. No meal that I have ever heard of is made 100% of meat, so just eat everything else. If you are like me and live with a family member who simply MUST have meat, then go ahead and cook meat. You don’t have to eat it just because it is being offered.

3. Make some vegan Parmesan. No vegan cheese is exactly like the real thing, unfortunately [at least not that I’ve found yet], but vegan Parmesan is a good enough alternative if you are trying to avoid animal products. It is cashew based and you will have to pick up some nutritional yeast, but it’s a worthwhile investment and will make the transition to a cheese-less existence more palatable.

So, hopefully you are on your way to a healthier and more sustainable way of eating!

🥗 🥗 🥗

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Vegetable Soup

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Vegetable Soup

Before I get started talking about my highly customizable, completely zero waste, delicious and hearty vegetable soup, I need to admit a few things…

First, I am not a chef. I would barely qualify as a cook if it weren’t for the fact that I now find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to cook…A LOT. I don’t know if the sheer quantity of meals I prepare is enough to call me a cook, but I still don’t feel like one. In fact, I’ve always hated cooking.

“Baking have I loved and cooking have I hated.” [Good ol’ scripture reference from the religion of my youth.]

Anyway, to be fair, I’ve become a decent cook. I can prepare a whole meal without needing to consult allrecipes.com and I very frequently “wing it” with good results. I’ve even found myself creating my own recipes!!! This is totally out of character for me – but, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. [At least, I think that’s a saying…]

🤷‍♀️

Secondly, this is not a recipe.

Sorry about that.

This is more about encouraging everyone to look through the fridge or the pantry and find what’s just hanging around unused and forgotten and throwing it all in a big pot with some water and seeing what happens.

It’s an adventure really. And I love adventure!

So, let’s get on with it.

Why Vegetable Soup is AWESOME

Vegetable soup is a staple in my home for many reasons:

1. It is versatile. I have never met a vegetable that didn’t like to be in a vegetable soup. I also love to add quinoa, lentils or rice in for fun sometimes.

2. It is zero waste. I never have to add the ingredients for this soup to my shopping list because the whole point is to use up what I have lying around. And, believe me, I’ve thrown some random things in my vegetable soups [all edible, I assure you].

3. It is easy to make ahead and reheat. In fact, I usually make this while my kids have their quiet time so that I don’t have to worry about four staving children nagging me for dinner. I also always make this when my husband works late because I can make it earlier in the day so dinner time is a breeze. Soup is also great for freezing.

4. My kids love it. I love it too. [My husband is iffy on it, but that’s only because he doesn’t believe that anything without meat or cheese is real food, so don’t listen to him.] In fact, my vegetable soup is the only thing that I can count on my picky two-year-old consistently eating.

5. It is SO GOOD FOR YOU! I frequently encourage my personal training clients to up their vegetable intake by trying to have two different types of vegetables at every meal. This soup could have DOZENS! Most people are not getting enough vegetables, so this soup can really help [and a salad at lunch goes a long way too].

How to Make the Vegetable Soup

Ok, so I already admitted that this is not a recipe, but I will walk you through the basics.

Step 1: Find and chop all the vegetables you want to use. Literally any and all vegetables will do.

Step 2: Cook them in a stock pot with a little oil starting with the hardest vegetables and then moving to the softest. [Or just throw them all in at once and move to step three. Feel free to be lazy with it. It’s all going to simmer in the end anyway.]

Step 3: Add water to cover and bring to a boil.

Step 4: Add anything else like beans, potatoes, quinoa, rice, sweet potatoes, other vegetables you might have forgotten, anything else you found lying around in the fridge like a leftover jar of pasta sauce, etc.

Step 5: Let boil as long as is needed for everything to soften then let it simmer for…as long as you want. Or take it off the heat and let the flavors meld. Or serve it up right away. Up to you.

Note: always taste and season as you go. May need some salt. Maybe some pepper. Maybe some chili powder. Maybe some garlic. Maybe some onion powder.

[Again, this is not a recipe.]

This is literally how I’ve made soup once a week for the past year and it has always been delicious.

…but it clearly doesn’t always look appetizing…

Pictured above is a corn, onion, celery, potato, quinoa soup – which turned into more of a stew cuz that quinoa really soaks up the liquid. Very hearty and delicious.

Here is a carrot, onion, corn, green bean, and chickpea soup.

Now this soup had A LOT in it: carrot, onion, tomato, sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, kale, and a few other things I can’t remember…

Ok, in this one I added shredded chicken, BUT IT WAS GOING BAD, I swear! If you’re a meat eater then it’s totally fine to add some meat! And top it with cheese! [But really, I’d prefer you not because a plant-based diet is better for you and the planet.]

Just had to throw that in there.

🤷‍♀️

Anyway, vegetables. Eat them. Throw them in a pot with some water and salt. Delicious.

That’s all I’m trying to say. 😁

🥦🍅🥕

Karis

A Week of my [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet

A Week of my [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet

As promised, I have tracked my food for one week and am going to show you what my meals look like on my plant-based, no processed, mostly vegetable diet.

But first…

The Problem

Let me tell you a story.

Yesterday, I was in the Panera drive-thru ordering three chocolate chip cookies for my kids [it was flu shot day], and the employee tells me that it is cheaper to buy four cookies than it is to buy three. So, of course, I order four cookies.

The problem is, I only have three kids who are old enough to eat cookies. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen to the fourth cookie…

But I definitely ate it, despite telling myself that it could just sit there uneaten all day.

That cookie was 440 calories!!!! That is more than a THIRD of my total caloric goal FOR THE DAY! ONE COOKIE!

No wonder so many of us have trouble managing our weight.

So that brings me to the veggie diet.

The [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet

Some things I need to mention:

1. I am not pretending to be a dietician or nutritionist.

2. I aim for between 1,100-1,200 calories per day, which is less than I need because I am trying to lose weight. But I always eat when I am hungry and never eat less than 1,000 calories. This is also a CARB HEAVY diet.

3. There are some foods I eat that I don’t track such as some raw vegetables that have very little caloric value and I don’t measure and track the olive oil I use for cooking. So my total calorie amount is higher than what my tracker shows. [I didn’t take pictures of my snacks which varied and usually made up about 300 calories each day.]

4. I exercise every day – usually twice, sometimes three times…so this helps me with weight loss. [Hence, the large amount of carbs I eat.]

5. This is baby weight.

Ok, so here we go:

Day 1

Brown rice, black beans, peppers and onions for dinner. 100% vegan and made from scratch. 👍🏻

Day 2

Eggs with sweet potato and black bean hash for dinner. Otherwise, vegan and made from scratch.

Day 3

Egg for lunch. Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce for dinner. 👍🏻

Day 4

A random assortment of vegetables for dinner. 100% vegan and made from scratch. 👍🏻

Day 5

Grilled chicken with roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and squash.

Day 6

Vegetable frittata for lunch [made by Brett!!], and homemade vegetable stew for dinner. 👍🏻

Day 7

Leftover sweet potato and black bean hash, with vegan Parmesan. 100% vegan whole foods made from scratch. 👍🏻

Before and After

I lost five pounds and I never went hungry.

As you can see, I like oatmeal for breakfast and salad for lunch. What can I say? I like routine.

One week postpartum and earlier today.

Here is our family photo a week after Nora was born:

And here is me with the kids tonight before going out trick-or-treating:

[By the way, how adorable are these kids?!?]

And the week is over just in time to enjoy Halloween!

Now, it’s time to go eat some candy!

Confession: I definitely fall into the 44% category!

Who is with me?

🍭 🍭 🍭

Karis

My [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet v.2

My [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet v.2

Last July, I posted about the diet I used to drop 20lbs of baby weight in a month.** This way of eating is simple and basically consists of no processed foods and mostly vegetables. [Read about it here.]

**As a personal trainer, I have to tell you that the recommended maximum for healthy weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week. My results were accelerated because it was weight gained in just a few months during pregnancy.

Well, I’ve had another baby since then, so it’s time to revisit the diet – because, folks, I gain 50-60lbs with each pregnancy!

This is me with my firstborn, Evangeline, literally in the middle of labor with my fourth [and final] baby. I am looking quite huge, but that’s to be expected when I am about to birth a baby – so I don’t feel badly about it.
And I am anxious to lose all that extra weight. [Of course – to all my postpartum ladies out there – no need to rush the weight loss after having a baby. Enjoy the cuddles, take lots of naps, and worry about your pant size later. But for me, after doing this four times in five years, I’m ready to lose this extra weight for good!]

This is me and my kiddos on Mother’s Day, looking every bit of 36 weeks pregnant. Again, no shame in my game.

So I’m back on the [nearly] vegetable-only diet to get back into my pre-pregnancy pants.

But this time, there are some modifications to make the weight loss more gradual and sustainable.

I am still not eating processed foods and I still eat mostly vegetables, but I occasionally eat eggs and lean meats in small portions. Still no dairy, which I still do not miss…except ice cream. [Time to buy that dairy-free Häagen Dazs ice cream again!]

This is me a week after my baby was born.

Just like last time, I’m logging my meals and on Thursday I’ll will post what a week of eating this way looks like – just in time for me to binge on my kids Halloween candy.

😆

[What can I say? We all have our vices…]

I may even share a before and after photo….[well, I’ve already shared the “before” photos.]

[UPDATE: Visit my post A Week of my [Nearly] Vegetable-Only Diet, to see exactly what I ate that week and to get ideas about how to eat more plant-based meals. 👍🏻]

Happy 🥦🍆🍅 Eating!

Karis

My Favorite DIY Salad Dressing

My Favorite DIY Salad Dressing

One of my secrets for getting lots of fresh vegetables in my diet is to eat a salad every day for lunch. I make the salad and dressing myself – prepping and packing it to go when necessary.

Salads are a very healthy choice, but salad dressings are usually full of calories, sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. In fact, ordering a salad at a restaurant is usually not going to be the healthiest option on the menu, despite what you would assume.

So, I’ve been creating my own salad dressings to avoid unhealthy store-bought varieties. For a time, I would premix a vinaigrette of sorts, but I got lazy and wanted something I didn’t actually have to make ahead. Now, I create my salad dressing right in the bowl with the following ingredients:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Italian dressing seasoning mix (homemade according to this recipe by The Midnight Baker)
  • Lemon juice (freshly squeezed, when possible)

You could use the Italian dressing mix to – duh – make Italian dressing, but this stuff is DELICIOUS as just a plain seasoning. I originally found the recipe in order to marinate some chicken. The chicken turned out delicious and the dressing really tasted like Italian; however, I wanted to just mix my dressing in my bowl with a few ingredients I always have on hand.

I essentially make the dressing, but in my bowl – and I use lemon juice instead of vinegar because it’s a more natural option and adds a more summery, citrus flavor. I just cut a lemon in half and squeeze a little juice right into the bowl.

This salad dressing tastes like summer. I’m not kidding.

Then I get creative with my toppings.

Other toppings I frequently add: almonds, capers, olives, peppers, cucumbers, etc

Don’t let your salad get boring!

And don’t let your salad dressing derail your healthy eating habits!

Share your fave DIY dressing below!

🥗 🥗 🥗

Karis

Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy

Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy

Dinner tonight was from the farm….

…but it wasn’t anything spectacular.

Roasted potatoes and sautéed pattypan squash.

I was considering preparing eggplant as well, but I realized that the potatoes and squash provided plenty of food [there was even enough for leftovers].

I read an autobiography earlier this year called Kisses from Katie by a young woman who left her privileged American life to live in Uganda and love on the people in her village. One story she tells is how she was preparing beans for dinner for her family and she didn’t realize how long it takes to cook dried beans – but the story was a lesson for me that we are far too opinionated around here about what constitutes a meal.

They were eating beans for dinner. That’s it. Just beans. And here I am feeling like my meals have to contain at least five different food groups AND be beautifully presented.

Dinner doesn’t have to have courses, or side dishes, or any specific food group. It doesn’t have to be colorful, or appealing to look at, or come from a recipe. Dinner could just be food – preferable real, healthy food. And in our house tonight, dinner was just two vegetables that I cooked and we all ate until we were satisfied.

[The kids asked for seconds.]

What I love most about our new simple lifestyle is that our food is simple. The meals are simple. The preparation is simple. The ingredients are simple. And they are healthy.

There are many homes in America where a box of mac and cheese is a standard meal for the kids [and I’m not judging because I’ve definitely been there and done that]. But I almost felt guilty about what I fed my kids tonight, and it was literally just vegetables. It may not have been colorful or fancy or a lot of variety, but it was healthy and it was filling and it was tasty.

And it was from our CSA, which I love more and more.

Don’t get me wrong – there are nights when we have company and I pretend that I love to cook and prepare three-course meals and a home baked dessert. But most nights are simple.

Maybe not usually quite this simple…but pretty simple.

Karis