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

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!

 

 

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!

  

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.

Buddha Bowl

This week’s lunch has been the usual improvisation: What do I have, and how can I combine it so it tastes good?

Starting with starches, I almost always have some cooked brown rice on hand, which is the basis for such a wide variety of dishes.

Next come vegetables. I have some basics like carrots and celery, as well as loads of kale (it was on sale!) and some raw beets.

I also need something proteiny and some flavor. My options were a little limited this week as I had only dry beans and no time to cook them, and very few nuts. I do always have peanut butter and some frozen peas, which I think are the most budget-friendly and convenient sources of protein you can get, aside from lentils and split peas which still have to be cooked.

So let’s get cooking! I decided to forgo the peas since I had some in my oatmeal for breakfast, and whip up some peanut sauce. Three birds, one stone: Flavor + protein + healthy fats.

Beets and carrots were quickly run through the grating disk on my food processor and tossed with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a little salt to make my favorite Easy Beet Salad.

I steamed a couple of stemmed and torn leaves of kale in the microwave in my Tupperwave Stack Cooker, but a covered glass or ceramic dish will also do the trick.

I simply layered the kale, brown rice and peanut sauce on a plate (use a big bowl, it will be easier to stir), and put a hefty serving of beet salad on the side, thinking it wouldn’t be great with peanut sauce. I was wrong; it was pretty good with peanut sauce. There you go, beets are a peanut butter food! Also topped the whole mess with some scallions, since onions are both delicious and good for your heart.

 

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

Since this is lacking a bean or tofu, I wondered what the actual protein content would be, since folks seem to be obsessed with where vegetarians get their protein. Plugged the ingredients into Google, and based on 1 cup each of rice and vegetables, plus two tablespoons of peanut butter, you end up with around 18g of protein, about a third of what a woman my size needs for the day. Not bad, right?

 

PS – I’ve been eating black bean soup for dinner at work all week.  In case anyone wanted the recipe, you can find a version of it here.

2 Meals, 1 Pan

In the interest of using up some leftovers today, I happily created both my lunch to eat at home and dinner to carry to work. In the fridge I found some already chopped onions and peppers as well a box of sliced button mushrooms that needed to be used up before they turned slimy. Additionally, I had a ton of leftover couscous and some lentil soup that I was getting tired of eating. So into the skillet it goes!

Saute until lightly browned and the mushrooms release their juices:
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 box of sliced mushrooms
about 3/4 cup of sliced bell peppers

Add:
2 ladles full of lentil soup, draining off as much of the broth as possible
Heat through.

For lunch at home, I served it over some of that couscous with half of a diced avocado (they were on sale this week for $.49!) and a generous scoop of salsa. An apple for dessert and I’m all set!

For dinner at work, I mixed it with the rest of the avocado and used it with a dollop of garlic hummus to top a microwaved sweet potato.

Yummmm… who says healthy eating is hard?

Green Paste

Today I whipped up some easy healthy soup to (I hope) make up for next week’s impending birthday cake and Christmas cookie binge. One of my coworkers likes to joke that all I eat is green paste, and I’m certainly not proving her wrong tonight. Here’s what I cobbled together in about thirty minutes today.  It isn’t pretty to look at, but it is pretty tasty.

My ugliest meal yet!

My ugliest meal yet!

Green Paste Soup

Ingredients:
1 medium bunch of kale or other greens, coarsely chopped
1 small can tomato paste
1 can butter beans, drained, or any other white bean
3 small onions, or one giant one, or two mediums, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 or more cloves garlic, peeled
whatever herbs you have hanging around
salt and pepper
2 Tbls soy sauce
1/2c whole wheat couscous

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (about half full). Add bay leaf, onions, garlic. Simmer 10 – 15 minutes.
2. Add kale, herbs, and tomato paste, simmer 10 more minutes.
3. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
4. Add beans and turn heat back up to low, adding soy sauce and other seasonings to taste. If it tastes too acidic, add a spoonful of sugar.
5. Dump in the couscous, stir well, turn off the heat and put a lid on it. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until the couscous is tender.

Enjoy!  I garnished it with some pepitas.  It was also good with nutritional yeast and a dash of hot sauce.

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew

Earlier this week I got a happy little surprise at work:  a $40 gift card for Giant Eagle for doing a good job!  I don’t live near a Giant Eagle, but just a short bus ride away is a fancy-shmancy Market District one.  I’ll just be honest here and tell you that I spent well over $40.  There were so many things!  Bulk bins full of seeds and beans and spices!  Some of the prices were on the high side, but there were also plenty of things I wouldn’t be able to get at my local Shop N Save like red lentils, wheat berries, fennel seeds, and coriander.  It was very exciting.  The sale items were great too, like $.89/lb for kale and collards and $.99 boxes of mushrooms.   By the time I had gotten through half the store (didn’t even get to the frozen foods), I was starving and had to quickly come up with a hearty, guest-worthy dinner for two that would cook up fast since I turn into an angry beast when I get hungry. Inspiration struck in the maze that was the produce section, so I stuffed my canvas bags to the brim and hauled them home on the bus with a little help from my handsome man-friend.

Dinner was to be baked potatoes, sauteed beet greens, and this red lentil soup.  All chosen for ease and speed of cooking.  I turned on the oven and started the water boiling before I even unpacked the bags.  While the lentils simmered, I chopped the sweets and onions.  Once the sweet potatoes were in the pot, I sauteed a shallot for the greens and washed them well (beet greens are impressively dirty).  All the while, russets were baking in the oven.  Altogether, the entire meal took less than an hour to prepare and we were satisfied before I got too hangry.

This is a warm, filling stew that is perfect for crisp autumn weather.

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew

Ingredients:

2 cups red lentils

2 medium onions

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes

1 bay leaf

1 inch piece of fresh ginger

Spices:

I think I used about half a teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, red pepper flakes, and smoked paprika.  Use what you have.  Curry would also be good in this soup.

Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Start by bringing a large pot of water to a boil, with the bay leaf in it.  Once it’s boiling, add the lentils and simmer.

2.  While the lentils are cooking, peel and finely mince the ginger and add it to the pot.  Then peel and dice the onion and sweet potato and add them.  Put in all the spices, 1/4 teaspoon at a time.  Let it cook a little longer before adding an additional 1/4 tsp or more of all or just some of the spices according to your taste.

3.  Simmer the whole thing for about 40 minutes beginning to end, or for as long as it takes for the lentils and sweet potatoes to soften and the spices to blend.  This is even better leftover because the flavors continue to develop, so feel free to double it to eat all week.

Note about the spices:  If you have the time and feel like dirtying another pan, toast the spices in a skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or so before you add them to the stew.  They taste better that way.  I was too hungry to think about it at the time, but it really does add to the flavor of the soup.

This stew is pretty hearty and would be great served with pitas and a green salad rather than baked potatoes and cooked greens.

Emptying the Cupboards

Dear friends, I have not had the time to do much writing in a while and I think it’s fair for you know why, since I hope that the reason will eventually lead to better content.

In a few short weeks I am leaving Brooklyn, my beloved home of nine years, for Pittsburgh, the city of my birth.  My reasons are many and diverse, but I’m hoping that I’ll find a stronger sense of community there as well as much much lower rent.  Brooklyn has been good to me.  I’m eternally grateful to so many people I have met over the years, all of the friends, teachers, children, and employers – many of whom have become like family to me.  All of you have taught me so much and made me into the woman I am today.  I will miss you.

So now that I’ve got the heartfelt sappy stuff out of the way, let’s talk about food!  For the past month I’ve been slowly stuffing things into boxes and trying to use up the contents of my freezer and pantry.  I successfully emptied the liquor cabinet by throwing a party, but I didn’t realize just how much real food I had been stockpiling.  I’ve still got a lot to eat (or give away) in the next five days before I abandon my apartment.  There are even things I can’t eat!  Namely a box of frozen salmon patties and some frozen raspberries. 

 It’s been a real adventure in eating finding ways to combine these things!  There have been grain pilafs with a variety of frozen veggies, soups and stews, innovative pasta sauces, oddly colored smoothies, and countless bowls of grits (why do I have so much cornmeal???).  Today I came up with a particularly good pot of glop stew that I’d like to share with you.

Quinoa Chili Glop  Stew

Ingredients:

1 big onion, diced

a few cloves of garlic, minced

1 big can of crushed tomatoes

2 cans of beans, drained and rinsed (I used kidney and black beans)

4 or 5 carrots, chopped

1 or 2 cups quinoa (or in my case, however much was in that jar (I didn’t measure))

cumin, chili powder, oregano, crushed red pepper, whatever spices you like in chili

1.  Saute the onions and garlic in a little water or broth until they are soft. Add the cumin and chili powder and saute a minute more.  Dump in the tomatoes and one can of water.  Cover and bring to a simmer.

2.  After about 10 minutes of simmering, add the carrots, quinoa, and beans and cook covered until most of the water is absorbed by the quinoa and the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes

3.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more water if necessary.  

There you have my lunch for the rest of the week!  Good stuffed into corn tortillas with some sliced avocado and hot sauce.  Who knows what I’ll do with it once I’ve run out of tortillas!