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Meal Planning

I’m not by nature the most organized person in the world, I admit. But I have come to realize in my adult life that a certain amount of planning and routine gives me freedom and greater room for creativity. This is something I continue to struggle with in my artistic practice, but I think I’ve mastered it when it comes to food.

The first step for me is to have a well-stocked pantry and freezer. I always make sure to have certain staples around: whole wheat flour and pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, lentils, split peas, and usually a couple other kinds of beans and grains too, plus canned tomatoes and pumpkin puree. A few other things that are somewhat more perishable include onions and garlic, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. In my freezer, I keep plenty of frozen fruits and flax meal for my morning smoothies. I also like to have frozen greens like spinach, peas, corn, and some kind of vegetable blend. Sometimes I store tortillas or an extra loaf of bread as well.

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All of these things on hand make it easy to throw together a quick meal after work or on a weekend morning. For example, I can toss brown rice, lentils, and sweet potatoes in a pot with onions, frozen spinach and spices and have a delicious stew in less than an hour. Or split peas and potatoes, plus onion, carrot, and celery (other staples in my fridge!) I can make a breakfast hash with sweet potatoes, onions, and greens. I can improv a soup with frozen vegetables, pasta or potatoes, and some canned tomatoes. Spaghetti sauce comes together quickly with garlic and canned tomatoes. A baked potato is a great foundation for some steamed greens and leftover beans or lentils, or a spoonful of hummus. Frozen vegetables can be boiled with pasta and tossed with sauteed garlic or a little thinned out hummus. The combinations are endless. If nothing else, I can always rely on a hot bowl of oats, either sweet or savory.

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Favorite meal: Baked potato with hummus and spinach

The other important plan-aheads I do ensure I have healthy meals during the day at work. Every weekend, I prepare a big pot of something (usually a hearty soup or some variation on beans and rice) to pack for lunch every day. I try to have enough to last through Wednesday at the very least, when I ought to have time to come up with something else. Whenever possible, I also plan a snack for some point during the day – an oatmeal bar and some fruit, usually. Sometimes it’s cut up veggies and hummus.

I also prepare my morning smoothie ingredients on Sunday night. I’m kind of brain dead in the morning until after I’ve had my coffee, so I have idiot-proofed my breakfasts. I put my ingredients for each day into an old take-out container: Greens or chopped beets, flax meal, 1/2 banana, and 1/2 cup of berries or other fruit. Sometimes I include a plant-based protein powder, but I don’t think it’s totally necessary. Then in the morning, I can just dump it into my smoothie cup, add almond milk to cover, and blend it up to take with me on the bus. I’m also experimenting with blending up a big batch of smoothie and freezing it in individual cups, but the timing hasn’t been right with the thaw just yet.

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Two blueberry and kale, two mango and parsley, one strawberry and lettuce.

With a little planning and careful shopping, I can be sure to have healthy meals at my fingertips all week long. The more healthy whole foods I have around, the less processed junk or expensive take-out I am likely to eat. The busier I become, the more important this is! Especially now that I’ve gone from working 6ish hours a day to a full 9 hours. Please let me reward you with my current favorite smoothie:

Tropical Beet Smoothie

Ingredients

1/2 a medium beet, cooked, peeled, and chopped

1/2 cup crushed pineapple in juice (or a little more if you use chunks)

1 small thin-skinned cucumber (about 5″ long), in chunks

1 Tbls chia seeds

Juice of one lime

1/2 cup or so of unsweetened coconut milk (the kind in a carton, not a can)

  • Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Depending on your blender, you may need to add ingredients one at a time, or use a little more milk. My old Cuisinart blender probably couldn’t have handled this, but I got a Ninja for my birthday and it makes quick work of the beets and cucumber all at once!

 

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The remains

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Hangover Breakfast Hash

After a late night of celebrating with my now former coworkers, I awoke craving something fried. My fridge was looking a little empty, but I had just enough ingredients to make this delicious and nutrient-rich breakfast hash, which I served alongside oven-roasted potatoes and black coffee. Can you ever really go wrong with potatoes?

Ingredients

1 medium onion, diced

2 small sweet potatoes or 1 normal sized, peeled and diced small

1 block of frozen medium firm tofu, thawed, squeezed out and drained, then shredded

2 or 3 big curly kale leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped

roughly 2 Tbs barbecue sauce

salt and pepper to taste

a little oil or cooking spray, optional if you use a good nonstick pan

  1. Heat up your pan with oil, if using, on medium-high, then add the onion. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown.
  2. Add your sweet potato chunks and let them brown with the onion.
  3. When your sweet potatoes and onion are a little brown and starting to soften, add the shredded tofu and give it a good stir. The tofu will start to brown as the water evaporates. Add salt and pepper.
  4. When the sweet potatoes are soft enough and the tofu is brown, add your kale. Then put a lid on it and let the kale wilt for a couple minutes before uncovering and giving a good stir. Cover again and let the kale cook almost to your desired tenderness.
  5. When your kale is almost where you want it, throw in the barbecue sauce and mix thoroughly. Cook until the flavors have blended a little and the kale is sufficiently wilted for your taste. Adjust salt and pepper, or add more sauce if you prefer. I really think it’s at its best with just a little bit though.

There you have it. Serve with whole grain toast or more potatoes like I did! This would also be great for dinner with side of rice or another cooked grain.

Yum.

Whole Wheat Banana Chia Pancakes

I’m on a breakfast foods kick lately. Because, why not? All the best foods are breakfast foods. I threw together these awesome healthy banana pancakes recently and then negated their healthiness by dousing them in maple syrup (the real stuff, at least.) If you wanted to stick with the healthy idea though, I can assure you they are great leftover with peanut butter on them, and fresh fruit is always an awesome pancake topping. Or! You could make a no-added-sugar chia jam…I’m thinking blueberry….Ok bye, I have to go figure out how to make that.

Note: This recipe requires a little bit of advance prep, so make sure you read it the whole way through and plan accordingly. If you make these first thing in the morning, you could soak the chia overnight. Alternatively, start it soaking and then go take a shower or something.

Ingredients

2 cups unsweetened almond or other plant-based milk

2 Tbs chia seeds

1/4 cup water

1 Tbs vinegar (preferably apple cider or plain white)

1 tsp vanilla

1 very ripe banana

2 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

2 Tbs brown sugar, packed

2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Before you do anything else, get those chia seeds soaking in the water! You want them to soak for at least 20 minutes to soften up.
  2. Once your seeds are soaking, add the vinegar to your milk and give it a stir. Let this sit while you do everything else.
  3. Peel and smash the banana in a bowl. You may need a splash of milk to get it really squashed and that’s fine.
  4. Sift together your dry ingredients in a big bowl.
  5. In another bowl or a giant measuring cup, whisk together all the wet ingredients: Milk, banana, chia, oil, vanilla. Start your pan or griddle heating.
  6. Fold wet and dry together, being careful not to over mix. A few small lumps are ok.
  7. Fry up some awesome pancakes and then eat them!

 

 

Post-Gluttony Smoothie

I don’t know about you all, but I ate my weight in pie and stuffing this weekend! It was pretty great, but after this long weekend of indulgent fare, I am ready to get back into my good habits again. That means starting my Monday morning off right with a little yoga and a special seasonal green smoothie.

I have a discarded apple from my mother’s awesome centerpiece (they’re turkeys made of apples! I didn’t take a picture!), as well as a good amount of fresh cranberries in the freezer. I bought them not for the sauce potential, but because they’re a healthy treat this time of year. I’ve also got an abundance of lemons due to a special at the local store. It is with these humble ingredients that I bring you this sweet-tart, light, refreshing breakfast.

Ingredients:

1 small apple, or half of a large one (your choice of variety), chopped

1 lemon, juiced

1/3 cup of fresh cranberries, or to taste (they are quite sour)

handful of greens (I had celery and chard)

1 cup cold green tea

1-2 Tbls chia seeds or ground flax seeds

Optional, for sweetness: half a frozen banana or one or two dates

a bit of fresh ginger if you’ve got it, 1/2 tsp powdered if not

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp cardamom

And if you are brave, a dash of cayenne!

  1. Place all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth.

I hope all of you had as delightful a holiday as I did! My manfriend and I spent Thanksgiving day in the country with my family for dinner, then spent the rest of the weekend eating leftovers and snuggling under blankets watching Jessica Jones.

People often ask me what on earth I could possibly eat at a meal centered on a slaughtered bird, but in the 15+ years I have eschewed eating animals, I’ve never gone hungry on this holiday. Most sides can be easily made meatless (stuffing made with vegetable broth, for example), and the rest are mostly vegetables anyway. Since I figured out my sensitivity to dairy, it’s been a little trickier, but we just make the mashed potatoes with almond milk and butter the vegetables with Earth Balance. For a main dish, we used to buy a Tofurkey, but a few years ago my mom started to experiment with making her own seitan-centerpiece for my brother and me. Some of them have been frankly pretty bad, but this year she got it just right! I’ve also brought to the meal a good number of hearty vegan dishes, like last year’s Corn Chowder Quinoa Casserole (from Let Them Eat Vegan!) and this year’s foray into vegan potpie…That recipe is to come! Stay tuned!

 

Simplicity

Just thought I’d share my favorite quick meal with you all: A baked potato (microwaved) topped with steamed spinach (from frozen, also microwaved), and a big scoop of hummus (this one is curry hummus). Topped with a drizzle of sriracha, this is an easy, tasty, healthy meal that anyone can enjoy. Cheap too!

  

Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

A Day in the Life, Part 2

I typically start my day with a light, nutritious breakfast. When I worked in the afternoon and evening, I would cook first thing in the morning and have a big hearty breakfast and start prepping ingredients for cooking lunch. Now that I work a more standard 9-5 day, I don’t have time in the morning to do that any cooking. But I make my coffee and blend up a green smoothie. It’s easy to prep while the coffee brews and I feed the bunny, and easy to sip while I do my makeup and get dressed. I’ve tried having oatmeal or a sandwich instead, but it’s too messy while I’m rushing around and too heavy in my gut for the two mile walk to work. This week’s smoothies have been more purple than green – steamed beets, banana, blueberries or cherries, flax seeds, and almond milk.

For lunch, I do my best to cook something on the weekend to pack up for at least the first part of the week. Later in the week I will pack up other dinner leftovers. Worst case scenario, I take dry oatmeal with raisins or other fruit and nuts, or sometimes a savory version with peas and greens. This week we’re going out of town on Thursday, so I only need three meals, and I also need to use up some stuff in the fridge. I made tofu scramble with peppers, mushrooms, and peas for Sunday morning breakfast, then packed up the leftovers with some millet. There wasn’t a ton of scramble left, so I stretched it  out with extra peas and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds for each serving. I also packed up a side of raw broccoli and hummus. I have celery and cucumbers to take on the other two days.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

My dinners can be a little scattered. My manfriend usually gets home much later than I do, so we don’t always have dinner together. That’s just one more reason I try to cram a lot of nutritious food into the first part of the day! After walking home in the heat, I want a snack right when I walk in the door. Depending on my mood, I might have a bowl of popcorn, some chips and salsa, or even just fruit. If I’m really hungry, I eat some leftovers or a bowl of oatmeal. I’ll cook something light later on if we’re hungry, although I do make it a point to cook a proper dinner for two at least once a week.

Today I picked up some whole-wheat pasta and cans of beans at the store on my way home. It’s going to be in the 90’s this week, so I don’t want to have to cook beans from scratch! I have an easy formula for weeknight dinners: whole grain + bean + vegetables. Tonight I went with whole-wheat elbow macaroni, chickpeas, tomatoes, and broccoli. Here’s a “recipe” for tonight’s dinner (I’m using that term loosely, since actual recipes usually include measurements and stuff.)

Pasta With Raw Tomatoes and Broccoli

Ingredients:

Whole grain pasta of your choice (maybe half a pound?)

1 can chickpeas, drained

Small head broccoli, chopped

3 or more cloves garlic, minced

Tomatoes (I used small yellow plum tomatoes and a big red beefsteak), diced

  1. Combine the garlic and tomatoes in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Let them sit while you prep everything else.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. When it’s done cooking, ladle off some pasta water and add it to the tomato-garlic mixture (this warms the tomatoes and makes it easier to toss). Drain the pasta.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

  3. Toss the chickpeas, pasta and broccoli, and the tomatoes in a big bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add some fresh basil or parsley if you have it! (I didn’t.) Gobble it up!
Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

I followed dinner with a tiny bit of dark chocolate. And that’s my day, folks! I recorded a good one for you, just to be clear. There are plenty that involve eating chips on my way home from work because my job is depressing sometimes, and others that feature wine and take-out Thai food, but I always strive for one like this. Aside from my after-work tortilla chips and salsa, it was pretty low on processed foods, including cooking oil. I’m always amazed at how many calories oil adds to a dish! Every time I cut it out, I drop a few pounds. If you want to learn more about why oil is not great for you, check out Forks Over Knives. The film is eye-opening and they have some super recipes on the website. Anyway, my point as always is that with a little planning, a healthy diet isn’t that hard.

To your health!

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A Day in the Life

It seems to me that everyone in my life is trying to lose a little weight right now. I’m not sure if this is actually a new phenomenon or something I just happen to be noticing. But either way, between many friends turning 30 and feeling old, others getting ready to be married or recovering from having babies, and a weight loss contest at my office, I hear a lot about pounds and calories and steps and blood pressure.

I like to consider myself immune from this sort of hysteria – I’m already a pretty healthy weight for my height, and my other numbers are good too. Nonetheless, it certainly makes me extra aware of what I’m putting into my body. I’ve been a little down lately, which makes me more susceptible to the siren song of my favorite junk foods (Hello potato chips and coconut ice cream!). Add to that how hot it’s been, and I not only don’t feel like cooking, I’m more inclined to take the bus to work. So we’ve been eating a lot of take-out and convenience foods.

So here I’d like to chronicle a day where I make what are mostly good choices (I hope!) At least, if I am telling you about it, maybe I will eat better ;)  Here’s what my Sunday looked like:

Breakfast:

I started my day late, around 10:30am with a big glass of water and a 15 minute yoga routine, then followed it up with a peach and a cup of green tea while I cooked some cereal. It was a cool morning, so I figured I better embrace it and have a hot breakfast! I made a half-cup (dry) of Bob’s Red Mill 7 Grain cereal, intending to share it with my man-friend. He didn’t want any so I just ate it all! I flavored it with shiro miso and wakame, and a couple of halved grape tomatoes. Yes, I know that’s weird. It’s also delicious. I polished it off with a glass of homemade kombucha that I flavored with orange juice and red currants. Refreshing!

After puttering around on the internet for a while, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. I was cold, and since I have issues with my circulation, a brisk walk really helps. I just made a loop down to Highland Park and back around the block, but according to Google Maps, it was almost two miles! I had another cup of green tea when I came back.

Afternoon Snack:

Got a little peckish while doing some computer work, so I made a snack: Ants on a Log! Paired it with a cup of soymilk and got back to work.

Ants on a log!

Ants on a log!

Dinner:

Dinner had to involve eggplant and bell peppers, since that’s what I had in the fridge! I also had some tempeh, and after perusing How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I came up with a yummy dish that I paired with brown rice. It was simple enough to make that I’m not going to patronize you with a recipe. I just sauteed two peppers and an onion, then added cubed tempeh and blackened eggplant. My sauce consisted of 2 tablespoons of tamari and 2 tablespoons of Heinz ketchup, with a tiny bit of sesame oil.

The little black flecks are black sesame seeds.

The little black flecks are black sesame seeds.

There are two ways to blacken an eggplant, which is the easiest and least fussy way to cook it. You can do it under the broiler until it collapses, which is great on a cool day or if you have either a big eggplant or a ton of smaller ones. Or, you can do what I did with my two little ones and blacken them in a dry skillet over medium-high flame until they collapse. You have to turn them occasionally, but it’s stupidly easy.

Getting black!

Getting black!

Collapsed.

Collapsed.

That was my day in food! I am not a big believer in counting calories, but I do occasionally log a few days into My Fitness Pal to make sure I’m on the right track. Usually it serves as a big reminder that oil adds A LOT of calories to a meal, so I get back to using less of the stuff. According to the app today, I can still eat another 400 calories. That’s unusual for me, and is probably just because I slept so late that I never really had lunch. It also tells me that I’ve had quite enough sodium, thank you, and could stand to go easier on the cooking oil in my stir-fry. I thought about that when I made it, but I couldn’t talk myself into washing a second pan if I got out the non-stick skillet after blackening the eggplant in cast iron. Anyways, I’m a big believer in food diaries if you want to lose weight. Even without a fancy app, keeping track holds you accountable.

Let me know if you thought this was interesting, or I should just stick with recipes. People are always asking me what I eat since I don’t eat animals, so I figured I’d be nice and answer with something other than “Plants.” Not only that, lately I’ve been getting the question, “How do you stay so thin when I see you eating all the time?” Anyway, I could also show a work day of eating later on, if people are interested.