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.

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!

 

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.

Happy New Year, and Veggie Sausage

Please forgive my week-long delay in publishing this.  Now please enjoy the only post I’ve ever written with a massive hangover.

Clean Plates!

Clean Plates!

I’m sipping ginger kombucha and hoping my stomach settles some time today as I write this. I rang in the New Year last night with some of my closest and oldest friends, ate a lot of food, and drank an unknown quantity of whiskey. Hence my stomach’s need to settle.

I did prepare for this situation though, by planning ahead for my first breakfast of 2015: I sent my manfriend to the store for coffee beans and eggs yesterday while I stayed home and made fake sausages and unpacked a gallon of sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is necessary for New Year’s Day so you have good luck in the new year, and as an added bonus it is cheap and easy to make, as well as great for your micro-biome. I’m not sharing how to make kraut today because there are too many other people more qualified than me, but I will share with you how I made my meatless sausages! I made them up as I went along, so understand that the measurements are not precise, but they were awfully tasty.

Veggie Sausage

Ingredients
1 cup cooked lentils, well drained
1 cup cooked white beans, well drained
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup cooked pearl barley (brown rice should also work, I just happened to have cooked barley on hand)
1/4 cup walnuts
1 medium onion
lots of garlic (I used a bunch of those tiny cloves from the center of the head and I didn’t count)
1/2 a medium apple, cored and chopped
3 Tblsp nutritional yeast
1 Tblsp tomato paste
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp each of several different dried herbs; I used oregano and thyme and lemon-pepper seasoning blend. Put in sage too. I don’t know why I don’t have it.
1 tsp each of ground coriander, paprika, and turmeric (smoked paprika would be great!)

1. Start by grinding up the onion, garlic, herbs and spices, and walnut in the food processor until you have a chunky paste.
2. Add the beans and lentils, oats, barley, tomato paste, and yeast. Pulse until combined but not totally smooth.
3. Taste for seasoning and once you’ve got it just right, add your apple chunks and pulse a few more times. You want to be able to see some bits of apple.
4. Refrigerate the goop for about half an hour, then shape into links or patties. Actually, make patties because links kind of look like dog turds. Then put them back in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them, even overnight.
5. Cooking method is where I’m not sure what to tell you. I pre-baked mine yesterday at 400 for about 20 minutes (both links and patties), then fried them this morning. They were way too brown and a little dry. I think you’ll get the best results if you fry them in a bunch of oil from raw goop, but that will take forever. So that being said, also feel free to bake them on a parchment-lined pan or greased pan (for more oily sausagey results). Do them like any of my burgers, but perhaps less time since I assume you’ll be making smaller patties. Sorry to be vague. I trust you though. You’re smart people who are probably less hungover than me, and you can figure it out.

We also had grapefruit, grits, bagels, eggs, and coffee for breakfast today with our good-luck kraut and sausage. Put ketchup on the sausage. Why don’t we ever buy ketchup?

Bon appétit! And happy New Year!

Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Pancakes were always a big deal in my family. Every weekend, my dad would cook up heaps of homemade pancakes from his own recipe stored deep in his brain. My dad is an early riser, whereas my mom has always worked the evening shift at the hospital, so on Saturday mornings she slept in while Daddy took care of breakfast. Some of my best memories are of sitting around the kitchen table with my siblings, fighting over who got the next pancake.

Pancake!

Pancake!

Eventually though, all good things must come to an end. My dad took a new job driving a truck cross-country and wasn’t home on the weekends anymore. One of the first Saturdays without him, my little brother, who must have been about eight at the time, decided that cold cereal wasn’t gonna cut it. So we pulled our mom’s Fanny Farmer Cookbook off the shelf and looked up a recipe for pancakes. He did most of the work, although I guess I supervised the use of the stove and stuff. My most important job though, was to eat the pancakes however they turned out. Flipping pancakes is not necessarily easy if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s even harder when you are a little kid who has trouble reaching the back of the stove. Some of them were bad. Really bad. Burnt and raw all at once, somehow both over-mixed and with baking powder lumps, but I ate them!

We worked on pancake making for months, trying different recipes, convincing our dad to write his down as best he could, and after much experimentation (and many awful pancakes for me to eat) my brother came up with his own perfect formula. I went off to college with his recipe in hand and made pancakes for my friends more times than I can remember. As the years have gone by, I’ve done my own experimentation, adding different ingredients, making them healthier, veganizing, improving, playing, and always eating the (occasionally awful) results.

Today’s experiment went well, so try these fluffy and flavorful, healthy and hearty pumpkin pancakes, perfect for fall.  This recipe makes a ton of pancakes, by the way.  If you are just one or two people and don’t want to eat leftovers all week, halve it. If you are feeding four growing children, get two pans going so that they cook faster and minimize arguing.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup quick oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon*
1/2 tsp salt

3 cups milk of choice**
2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin puree***

1. Stir vinegar and vanilla into the milk, either in a bowl or right in the measuring cup.  Then add the oats and let them soak in the milk mixture for about ten minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.  This is a great time to make coffee!

2. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients.

3. Add the oat-milk mixture and the pumpkin to the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Let it rest for a few minutes while your pan warms up. This is a good time to pour a cup of that coffee you made in step one.

4. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat for about five minutes. I like non-stick, but sometimes I use cast iron lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Ladle some batter into the pan, tilt it a little to spread the batter out, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface and the edges start to dry. The flip and cook a few more minutes until brown and puffy.

Bubbles!  Almost ready to flip.

Bubbles! Almost ready to flip.

5. Eat drizzled with maple syrup or honey, maybe some toasted walnuts if you feel ambitious, and a nice hot cup of coffee.

*Feel free to add other spices like nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and clove. Today I happened to only have cinnamon
**I used almond, soy should work too.
***I used a can from Aldi – only 79 cents! Make sure it’s just pumpkin, not pie filling.