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

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!

 

Penny Parsnip in Pittsburgh

Hello Readers! I’ve been on hiatus for a while now, moving to and getting settled in to my new home: Pittsburgh, PA. This hasn’t left much time for fun creative cooking. I’ve been eating old favorites like black bean stew and endless combos of beans, rice, and fresh veggies. All the while, I’ve been wearing the soles of my shoes thin by walking all over this beautiful city. Pittsburgh is a pleasant mix of yesterday and today. Old factories and warehouses and falling down houses dot the landscape, while folded in are new buildings, brightly painted townhouses, hip small businesses and cheery murals.

Gorgeous store in The Strip District

Gorgeous store in The Strip District

Nearly two months later, I’m finally feeling at home:  I’ve got a room in a big old house with some other women and a fluffy cat, complete with a giant kitchen.  My dear friend Dorothy the food processor is out of storage, and as the days cool into crisp autumn weather, I’ll be back to whirring vegetables into little bits and boiling big pots of beans.  I have a job I like, doing fundraising for non-profits, and my neighborhood is very much like Brooklyn.

I spent last weekend with my family in the country, baking pies for our church festival.  Not too many, just four dozen ;).   And since I still had some energy left after baking the pies, I whipped up a birthday cake for my older brother and sister using my grandmother’s recipe.  It has eggs in it, so I won’t share it here, but I used soymilk in place of cow and no one knew the difference.

Silver-white layer cake, topped with fruit because I am terrible at at making icing look good.

Silver-white layer cake, topped with fruit because I am terrible at at making icing look good.

But now that that sugar-rush weekend is done, it’s back to healthy eating again.  I’m making my daily green smoothies again, and cooking stir-fry for lunch.  I’ve got kombucha brewing in hopes of finding some new customers.  Right now I’ve got a big batch of chickpeas bubbling on the stove to make hummus for our house party on Friday (and some for my little brother who is bringing the tahini.)  Plus I’m revamping some chili into a pot of quinoa and spinach laced glop for tonight’s dinner at work.  I’ve also developed a mild obsession with peanut sauce dumped on all of my veggies, so I’ll share with you a loose approximation of how to make it.

Peanut Sauce

Ingredients:

big blob of peanut butter (I like all-natural stuff, but Jif and Skippy are fine too)

Soy sauce

Rice vinegar (or whatever you have, apple cider is fine too)

a bit of sugar (maple syrup, honey, agave, etc)

Something hot like red pepper flakes, cayenne, or Sriracha

finely minced ginger and/or garlic 

a little water to thin, if needed

1.  Whisk it all together until combined and season to taste.  Sorry for the lack of measuring here, I just eyeball it and keep adding and tasting until it’s good.

More great recipes to come!  I’ve been challenged to make a healthy hot-pocket, so stay tuned!

Green Smoothie

Green smoothies are this crazy health-nut thing that I always thought sounded completely revolting.  Kale  and spinach in a fruit smoothie??  Yuck!  Or so I thought.  Sometime last fall, my roommate got a new blender and decided to try a green smoothie.  Well God bless her, because I tried making one soon after (taking careful notes on hers, of course) and with some tweaking found it delicious.  Here’s a loose formula:

1/2 c unsweetened plant milk (I like almond or soy)

1/2 c water

1 frozen, very ripe banana

1/2 c thawed frozen greens (spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, etc) OR a big handful of raw greens (Only go this route if you have a really good blender.  It doesn’t work so great with an immersion blender)

1/2 c other fruit (mango, strawberries, blueberries, etc), fresh or frozen

Optional:

a date or two, pitted (hides any bitterness from the greens)  OR some other sweetener.  But dates are a whole food, so I like to think they’re good for me.  Also, honey freezes in the blender.

a spoonful of ground flax seed

and if you really want it to be hearty and thick, add about 1/4 c dry oatmeal.  I do this for a meal on the run.

1.  Blenderize until smooth.  Sometimes it works better if you add things one at a time.

2.  Enjoy drinking something sweet and cold and good for you!  And if you use strawberries, try not to look at it.  Go for blueberries if you’re concerned about appearances 😉