October 27, 2014

September Petit Vour Beauty Box

The September Petit Vour beauty box was co-curated by Logical Harmony, who also did the July box. When I heard that they were collaborating again, I was hyped.


Based on some hints on Instagram, I had an inkling that there would be a Yarok product featured in the box. I was expecting that to be my favorite, but I got a big surprise when I opened the box.


My favorite by far was the Ellovi tinted lip butter. I'm a girl who loves her lip products (as you may have noticed from my review of the Mi-Me lip butter). I was running out the door when my package arrived. Usually I like to open things when I have time, but I was too excited that day. I opened the box, and in no time at all, I was walking back out the door with a beautiful tint to my lips. Since then, it's always been in my pocket or purse.


Yarok is a brand I'm familiar with. I use their Feed Your Do styling whip on a fairly regular basis. Feed Your Ends is their leave-in conditioner. This came at such a great time because I've been dealing with some really dry ends. I've never had dry hair, so I have no idea what is causing it. I haven't even used conditioner in ages because I never needed to. Even though I've recently purchased conditioner, I was happy to try this product, too. I've used it a couple times and think it's great. I especially love that I'm getting some added protection while I'm blow-drying my hair. Now that it's getting colder and I'll be needing to blow dry more regularly, I'm glad I have this product. In addition, it works great as a detangler. My hair can get crazy tangled, so I've been using it for that as well. Lastly, just like the Feed Your Do, the blend of essential oils smell really good. It's an herbal citrus scent. I really like it.


The Lily Lolo mineral eye shadow I got was Sidewalk, a matte gray. I've used it a few times, and really liked using a small amount blended in to my eyeliner to create a smokey eye look. Not all of their products are vegan, so if you're interested in buying something, make sure you check it first.


The last item in this box was the Root Science face scrub. All you have to do is sprinkle some in the palm of your hand, add a few drops of water, and mix to form a paste before applying. It smelled really minty and felt really tingly. It was really refreshing and left my skin glowing, but an hour or so after using it, I noticed an uncharacteristic sheen on my face. It wasn't the biggest deal, but it did leave my skin somewhat oily after subsequent uses as well. On the website, they say it is for all skin types, so it's possible my skin is reacting to one of the ingredients or it's just not the perfect match for my skin. Despite that, I think this company is worth checking out. I'm interested in trying out their Youth Serum which was included in some of the other boxes.

Again, I have nothing but good things to say about the Petit Vour beauty box, and I definitely think that they should make this collaboration with Logical Harmony a regular thing. I know, I know. Broken record. But, what can I say? I really love this box.

October 24, 2014

I Like Toast by Stephanie Strowbridge

One day, I was browsing Instagram, and I came across the cover image of a new cookbook. I Like Toast, it read across the front. The cartoon image of toast with a heart cut out in the center was so cute and lively. I was really interested in this book. But what really drew me in was not the cute illustration, nor was it the title (though who doesn't like toast?!). The subheading of I Like Toast reads "Every morning is a GOOD morning!" That is what initially drew me in to this awesome cookbook by Stephanie Strowbridge.

Image courtesy of the author

I love that this book emphasizes the importance of morning routine in combination with a nutritious breakfast. I've found that there are a lot of things that can help deal with chronic illness, especially when beginning on the path to wellness or when reaching one of those frustrating healing plateaus. Creating a morning routine, having some structure to ease myself into a happy, productive day (whatever that means for each day is different), that's one of the biggest keys to not losing myself to the depressing things in this life.

A few really great points in the book:

  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is a practice. So keep practicing!
  • Honor your body. Acknowledge that what it needs will change through time. Be in tune with these shifts to best nourish yourself.
  • Get your kids involved. Learn and grow together in a fun way.

The book is filled with the most adorable illustrations as well as pictures of toast and toppings that will make your mouth water. Aside from the eye candy, I love that at the bottom of some of the recipes, there's a tiny blurb explaining why it is so nutritious. That gives everyone the opportunity to learn more about what they're eating and why.

The first part of the book outlines some ways to create a supportive morning routine as well as some ways that we may be sabotaging our day with unsupportive morning routines. Strowbridge gives a good deal of examples, so you can pick and choose what may work for you.

The recipe section is divided into 3 parts: Toast Creations, Jams and Conserves, and Breakfast Sandwiches. I like the variety of the recipes in this book; there's literally something for everyone. Plus, the toast recipes aren't only for breakfast. They can be eaten at any time. Using toast as a vehicle for nutritious foods is a great way to begin to healthify one's diet.

You can put pretty much anything on toast and it tastes amazing. It's no wonder that toast was the chosen focal point for this cookbook. I tried a lot of scrumptious recipes from the book including:

Applelicous



Cocoa Nut



Banana Nut Bread



Toast with Orange, Apricot, Banana Jam (my personal favorite)



Toast with Carrot Cake Jam



What is really great about this cookbook is that it's very relatable and most of the ingredients are easily accessible. Strowbridge's tone is very down-to-earth, and she comes across as very in touch with the realities of having a busy life.

image courtesy of the author

In addition to authoring this cool cookbook, she is also a hair and makeup artist. (I'm hooked on the retro chic pictures she posts on Instagram!) If you're interested in learning more about the author, I really enjoyed this interview with her on Chic Vegan. And definitely check out this book. It's one that you'll keep coming back to!



I received this cookbook in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

October 09, 2014

August Petit Vour Box

So, you've seen me sing the praises of Petit Vour, as a company and for their beauty boxes. It's definitely fun to get a box of surprises in the mail every month. I admit though that I was a bit worried about what the August box would look like since the July box had my favorite everything in it. Had the bar been set too high?


Of course it hadn't. I loved this box (almost) as much as the last. Once again, I felt that there was a great range of products featured, and the value was high.


I love this eyeliner by Beauty Without Cruelty. Black eyeliner was a staple of my teenage life. I loved the way it made my eyes pop with intensity. I did on occasion still use eyeliner around the time I got sick. That and a whimsical eye shadow palette were all I had left of my dwindling makeup collection, but I have since thrown them all away. This eyeliner goes on so smooth and looks awesome. The black can be very delicate on my eyelids, but I can make it bold, too, if I want. I'm really into the softer looks, so this is a really appealing item for me.


Mi-Me is a brand I've seen here and there in bloggy land. Their tangerine lip butter was in the box. The scent of this lip butter is so uplifting and cheery. Let me tell you how excited I was that this was included in this month's box since I had just run out of my favorite tangerine lip balm. I knew I loved it right away. I could instantly feel it hydrating my lips, and they stayed soft and supple all day even when the product was long gone. And really, isn't that the point of products like this; to rehydrate our lips so we don't have to be constantly reapplying?


The Journey perfume by Harvey Prince was one thing that I wasn't too excited about. I could smell it when I opened the box and thought it was just too much for me. I kept an open mind though, and considered that it might smell differently when I spritzed it on. J loved how it smelled on me, but I wasn't quite convinced. I think it may be too "mature" smelling for me. I may still use it for certain occasions or I may gift it to someone who will love it. I'm undecided as of right now. One (massive) positive about this product is that it doesn't make me feel dizzy and sick the way that people's synthetic perfumes do. I'm sure that speaks to the quality of the ingredients.


The Earthbody Brighten cleanser and mask caught my interest right away. They included an insert with the ingredient list and description of the product. It's made of Moroccan lava clay, plant powders, and essential oils were made with Ayurvedic principles in mind. Yes, please! My skin is really loving this mask!


The Rose Mira Organics sweet coconut body butter gives me silky skin and smells like I'm on a tropical vacation. What's not to love about that? I use a lot of coconut oil to moisturize in the winter, so I knew this would hydrate dry spots on my skin very well. What was different about this vs. using coconut oil alone is that it soaked into my skin much faster and it had a bright fruity scent (the addition of the mango butter, no doubt) that I found really pleasing. Since winter will soon be here, I may have to invest in a full size of this one!

All in all, the August Petit Vour box was incredible. I still can't believe how much value they pack into one $15 box, and by value I don't mean monetarily but quality-wise. I'm quite happy with these monthly beauty boxes!

October 02, 2014

Autumn Apple Pie Green Smoothie, A Smoothie for Colder Weather

When the colder weather arrives, there's one health-related question I hear more than most: How can you drink smoothies in the fall and winter? Usually, the person is also silently asking how it is that they can manage to drink one in the winter, too, without feeling like an icicle. I can give some answers to this, but I think one must also consider why it is they want the smoothie in the first place. There are three major reasons that smoothies are a go-to breakfast choice for people.

1) Raw greens are your morning power food.

I know I feel this way. If I don't have anything green in the morning, I feel like something is missing. Having greens in the morning, raw greens usually, gives me the same "ready to take on the day" feeling that people get from coffee, and without the slump later in the day.

2) You love having a blended breakfast.

I know I'm not alone in that I like something light and easily digestible in the mornings. It's not very nice to bombard your digestive system with a heavy meal after fasting all night long, is it? When I ease in to eating, my body thanks me for it.

3) Smoothies are convenient.

What's quicker than pouring nut milk into a blender pitcher, adding in a few pieces of fruit and a handful of greens, and blending away? The cleanup is even fast, and the end product is super portable.


Now that we know why we want smoothies in the winter, let's find some options for those who just don't want their beloved green drink when it's cold.

Get your morning greens and digest easily

There are a couple changes you can make to accommodate your need for greens in the morning. Try having green juice alongside an oat or grain porridge. If you miss the creaminess of a smoothie, you can cook grains that you've ground up into a flour or try blending them after cooking. You'll have a creamy bowl of porridge! Not only is it a filling breakfast, but you can squeeze even more green goodness into a juice than a smoothie. If you don't have a juicer, you can either blend and strain the juice through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag, or you can buy a quality green food powder to have along with whatever you eat for breakfast.

If it's not just raw greens that do the trick for you in the a.m., a vegetable saute with dark leafy greens is a beautiful breakfast. You can add in anything you'd like: beans, sweet potatoes, tempeh, a cooked grain, or whatever strikes your fancy. Some of these foods may be too much for you in the mornings. But you know your body and what feels good to eat in the morning, so tailor these suggestions to your wants.


Get the convenience factor


Getting a high quality green powder, as I mention above, is as convenient as it gets. I think these powders are nice to have on hand, but they shouldn't be relied upon for healthy breakfasts everyday. In the end, if you want options, you have to be flexible. Wash and cut your juicing produce the night before. Overnight oats or muesli are both fast and convenient options for hurried mornings. If you need something warm, rolled oats cook up in minutes. Add in warming spices, fruit, and nuts and you're done.


Speaking of wanting to stay warm....

I covered why people want to drink smoothies, but didn't expand upon why they feel they can't. Um, it's cold!!! For some people, smoothies just aren't going to happen in the colder months, which is totally fine (try some of the suggestions I mention above), but for those who want to find a way, these following suggestions will be useful.
  • Seasonal foods are your friend. Nature adjusts with the seasons and so must we. That means changing the way you think about building your smoothie. In the summer, I want banana soft serve all day everyday, I love sipping on a cool mango smoothie, and I can sit down and eat half of a watermelon with a spoon. In the winter however? Not so much. Sticking with seasonal fruits -- apples, pears, cranberries, etc. -- helps make winter smoothies more doable.  
  • Spices are your friend, too. (you have a lot of friends!) I like to use warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cayenne, turmeric, and ginger (fresh and dried) in my smoothies. For a few days, I'll put a tsp of cinnamon in, then maybe switch to 1/2 tsp allspice for a few days. You can even use spice blends like pumpkin pie or chai spice blends. 
  • Don't shy away from fats. Adding a sensible amount of fat to your smoothies, and your diet, during the fall and winter can make a real difference in how cold you feel. Try a handful of nuts or seeds in your smoothie or some coconut oil, the latter of which will help to boost your metabolism and keep you warm.
  • Just say no to frozen. If you do use frozen fruit, don't make it more than about 1/3 cup of berries or 1/2 banana. Otherwise, it starts to really cool down the drink which cools your body when you drink it. I try to make my smoothies about the same temperature that I like my water. (and I hope you're drinking water throughout the day!) 
  • Experiment with different smoothies. If you're making the same smoothies that satisfy in the summer, it's no wonder that you're turned off by them when it's cold. Browse around on the internet and in cookbooks, looking for some that might work when it's colder. Two that I can consistently drink no matter the weather are Ricki Heller's Protein-Rich Cranberry Oat Smoothie and Kimberly Snyder's GGS (Glowing Green Smoothie). And while you're here, you may as well give my apple pie smoothie a go!


Autumn Apple Pie Green Smoothie 

  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 2 small apples, any sweet variety
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1/2 romaine heart (~2 cups chopped and loosely packed)
  • 3 Tbsp walnuts
  • 1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • dash of cloves
  • 3-5 drops of lemon stevia (opt.) or a spritz of fresh lemon juice

-Place all ingredients in the blender, greens last, and blend until smooth.

Tips: If you don't have a high-speed blender, you may need to add a bit more liquid. If so, add in a 1/4 cup of water or cider and continue blending.

September 30, 2014

Playing Catch-Up: Petit Vour's July Beauty Box Review

I've been getting much more interested in vegan beauty products as of late. I used to wear eye makeup (mostly fun colored eyeliners. Punk rock, what?!) in high school and until my 20s loved painting my nails (I only stopped because I started working in restaurant kitchens where polish is a no-no), but other than that I've always been extremely low maintenance when it comes to beauty routines; a splash of water on my face and I was ready to go.


As for what sparked my current interest in beauty products, who can say? It's probably a mixture of being excited about the possibilities for artistic expression and having a desire to nourish my skin from the outside as I do from within. The latter is somewhat backwards from what most people do, I think, but I've always done things in my own order. So surprise, surprise!

I wish I had the funds to delve into the vast array of vegan beauty products, but alas, I'm not in that position. That's why beauty boxes are so awesome. For only $15-20/month (depending on which beauty box you subscribe to), you can get a taste of what kinds of products are available to you. I had a lot of fun trying out the Vegan Cuts beauty box this past spring, and I was eager to continue on with my vegan beauty education.


Around the time I reviewed that box, I started to hear a lot about the Petit Vour box. I checked out the website, and I was tres impressed. I loved the attention brought to featuring not only the highest quality vegan brands, but ones with clean, non-toxic ingredients to boot. That is a huge bonus for me because I not only have to make sure my beauty products are vegan and cruelty-free, but for the sake of continuing on my healing path, I am very, very picky about what I put on my body. I looked into which products had been included in the past, then I did a little bit of research about each product's ingredients just to make sure they'd be up to my health standards. Again, tres impressive!

That put my only reservation about subscribing to this beauty box at ease; I was only worried that I'd spend $15 a month and not be able to use 1/2 of the products because they contained ingredients I won't use. Since that was a nonissue with Petit Vour, I went ahead and got a subscription to their beauty box with my birthday money. Woohoo!

What I really love, in addition to the clean ingredient lists, is that I get so much value in each box. I'm paying $15 for a box that includes several full-sized products in addition to generous sample-sized products and that would retail for well over $30. I always feel like I get more than my money's worth.

What I also love about the Petit Vour boxes is that they make an effort to include products that will look good on various skin colors. In the past, it seemed like some companies and boxes favored cooler colors that just wouldn't look great on me. I appreciate that when I get a box from Petit Vour, I'm not worried about getting products in colors that will wash me out.

The July box, co-curated by Tashina of Logical Harmony, was my first box, and I basically died and went to heaven when I opened it. Because of my aforementioned high standards, I'm so used to being like, "Wow, this is really great, but...". Not with Petit Vour! I felt like the box was specially put together for me. I loved every ounce of it.


It couldn't hurt that LVX's Lolli was included in the box. I'd been lusting over that color since they debuted it in their summer collection. It's the most perfect pastel bubblegum pink that is playful and elegant at the same time. I've yet to see anyone look less than stunning with it on. I am obsessed with this color.


Pelle Beauty is a completely new company to me, and I am so thrilled to be introduced to them. I received the Luxe beauty oil in my box, and have been using it religiously. The full-bodied scent (a blend of jasmine, cucumber, neroli, ylang ylang, meadowfoam and more) is an amazing aroma and makes for terrific aromatherapy. I just love falling back onto my pillow at night and having every breath heavy with this soothing, deep scent. They have several other face oils, too. You can check them out as well as their other skincare products here. I'm totally smitten with Pelle Beauty.


The Modern Minerals eyeshadow in Vixen was a cool find in the box since I mentioned how I love jazzing up my eyes. Described as "soft brown with gold highlights", this shade is nothing short of glamorous. Loose mineral powders are new to me, so it's fun to learn how to use them. My favorite way to use this one is to line my outer eyelids with a dark eyeliner and then use a small brush to line my inner eye with Vixen. It makes my eyes glisten, but it's also toned down enough for everyday wear.


Schmidt's deodorant has been on my radar for some time, and I'm so happy that I finally got to try it. I got the Lavender Sage scent, which I admit was a bit too heady for me, but if you like to have a stronger smelling deodorant with a scent that lasts, this one's for you. They have several other scents and an unscented one, too. I'd love to smell the ylang-ylang calendula one. That's more my style! It worked marvelously, keeping me dry and smelling of flowers even through hot, humid summer days. I'd say it even worked a little too well because my underarms were so dry that I started getting some irritation. Schmidt's deodorant comes in glass jars instead of tubes which is great for reuse. You have to apply with your finger, warming it up between your fingers then spreading it on your underarm. They also have an applicator inside to help scoop it out. For some people this application process is a turn-off. Maybe it's because I'm hyped on the eco aspect of the product, but I didn't find it bothersome, especially because once you put it on there's no need to reapply for the rest of the day. Even though this wasn't exactly the best deodorant for me, I still think it's one of the best out there. It works much better than most other natural deodorants. So, I'd say it's worth trying out.


The Tay cleanser was a bonus sample because it was my first box. The rosehip balancing cleanser with sea buckthorn is pretty great. I haven't used any other cleansers of this caliber, but at the very least it's inspired me to spend a little bit more money for a quality cleanser. I started to use this sample in combination with the Pelle Beauty Luxe oil at night, and oh my goodness, my face was so pillowy soft and silky in the morning. I've always relied on reducing stress and eating healthily for great skin, but I now see that using a few stellar products on my face can really make a difference, too.

So, that was July's box. I can say I'm officially hooked on the Petit Vour beauty box!

August 04, 2014

7 Years of Love + Easy Vanilla Cinnamon Yogurt Dip

Earlier in May, we were supposed to have a birthday party cookout for J at my parents' house. Yep, even though I threw him a party already, and we also went up to his mom's house for his actual birthday, he was gonna get another celebration. Crazy, I know. It was to be the first time that both of our families had gotten together for an event, so it was more of a "let's find an occasion to get together" thing. It's so funny that it hasn't happened yet after all these years, but that's how it went. It was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, but unfortunately we had to reschedule due to a difficult circumstance that came up.

We tried rescheduling it a few times, but our families have a lot going on this summer. Finally we found a day that worked. Wouldn't you know, it happened to be on our anniversary! We don't usually do anything big to celebrate our anniversary. One year, I made him a nice card with a poem and pictures of us (and our rescue ratties) inside. Another year, he took me out to dinner. Some years, it was nothing more than kisses and I love you's. No matter if it's big or small gestures, it's the great love we share that matters. And this year, we happened to choose to celebrate our belated birthdays and our anniversary with a family cookout.

Clockwise from the top: potato salad, zucchini. marinated mushrooms, field roast sausage, and a big heap of Caesar salad

We made as many things vegan that we could. It was our party after all. They did cook hot dogs and hamburgers for some of the people there, but we also grilled vegan sausages, marinated portobello caps, and zucchini. For the sides, J and I made a Caesar salad and potato salad. For the Caesar salad, I made the briny Caesar dressing recipe from Isa Does It, and J made herb croutons with a baguette that we had purchased from the French bakery. J was in charge of potato salad. He roasted the potatoes first instead of boiling them which gave them a really nice texture. The rest of it was made as traditionally American as possible (for the mayo we used Just Mayo because it rocks so much). We knew there would be some very picky eaters there, so we wanted to be accommodating to what they're used to. No harm in leaving the more jazzed up stuff for home or for crowds of more adventurous eaters!


The dessert was the stunner of the day. Oh my, how decadent, rich, and utterly mouthwatering was this torte from The First Mess. The brownie-like base was topped with an airy, fluffy hazelnut mousse, vanilla flecked coconut whipped cream, chopped toasted hazelnuts, and date caramel (the date caramel was not put on yet at the time of this picture. Oops!) I actually had some mousse and date caramel left over and ate them for dessert for a few evenings that following week. They made for a great sweet bite at the end of the night!

For appetizers and for snacking on later in the day, I made a vanilla cinnamon dip for a fruit platter, and we had chips and salsa as well. I had a different idea in mind when I committed to making the fruit dip. When it came time to make a prep list, I felt that I needed to lessen my load. I've been having more fatigue than usual, and I didn't want to make things more difficult than necessary. So, I canned my original plans for my fruit dip, and instead made this one. It was so extremely easy to make, and judging by the fact that there was none left at the end of the day, I'd say it was a success!



Vanilla Cinnamon Yogurt Dip

-1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut yogurt
-2/3 cup cashews, soaked 4 hours
-1/4 cup Bee Free Honee
-3/4 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp alcohol-free almond extract

Instructions:

-strain the cashews and blend everything until smooth.

Sweetener subs: If you don't have or can't find Bee Free Honee, you can use an equal amount of coconut nectar or 2-3 Tbsp of maple syrup.

For the almond flavoring: If you have an alcohol based extract, try using a 1/4 tsp instead of 1/2 tsp. I'm not sure of the exact exchange, but I know that it is stronger than the alcohol-free flavorings. The almond adds a nice undertone, but it's not meant to be a primary flavor here.



It was such a fun day. The rain didn't even stop us from having a good time; we just moved the party indoors! The adults and kids both enjoyed a dice game that's a family favorite of ours. The kids pulled out some board games, too, and I played piano with one of the little ones (or rather, she banged away at the keys while I played a little melody!). It went so extremely well, better than any of us had anticipated, and by the time I got home I practically face planted in my bed, exhausted and happy.

Every single day, I'm so amazed by the love that J and I share. I'm stunned that I met someone so incredible, strong, compassionate, and ethically driven. Plus, I found someone who would stick by my side through my years of illness and recovery, which has been anything but easy. We found each other, so different yet so complimentary. We're each learning, stumbling, and growing along this path together, but we always rise to the challenges, accept each others flaws, and encourage each others growth. I'm so lucky. Gratitude forever.

July 21, 2014

Pineapple Basil Quinoa Salad

In my vacation meal planning post, I talked about this amazing quinoa salad that I made at the beach and promised to include the recipe on the blog. Well here it is!


 It's wonderful on its own, but my boo loves to eat it along with baked breaded tofu and a few lime wedges, too.

Since we've been receiving an abundance of basil from our CSA this year, we've been making this grain salad a lot. The dressing always changes slightly (and I've included several ingredient options below), but it's always amazing. That's good news for those of you who don't have all of the ingredients necessary. Make this salad in the confidence that it will be great no matter what, and that if you make it exactly as written, you won't want to eat anything else for weeks. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but I dare you to try this and not fall in love with it.



Pineapple Basil Quinoa Salad

For the salad:
1 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 cup pineapple, chopped, fresh if possible
1/2 cup black beans
3/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup scallions, chopped
1/2 cup chiffonade of basil, loosely packed

For the dressing:
1/3 cup pineapple juice*
2 tsp ginger, minced
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp tamari
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil**

-Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
-Whisk the dressing together in a small bowl and pour over the salad. Mix to incorporate.
-For the best taste and to bring out the maximum flavor, cover and place in the fridge overnight.
-Before serving the following day, be sure to give it a good stir.

*For the pineapple juice, I juiced a fresh pineapple (this is a great way to use up the core). If you're using canned pineapple for the recipe, you can use the juice from the can as long as it is 100% juice and not a sugar syrup. If neither of these options works for you, you can also use 1/3 cup of low sodium vegetable broth + a 1/2 Tbsp of coconut nectar (or maple syrup).

**If you are an oil-free eater, you can leave the oil out of the recipe with little effect to the end product. The reason it is in the recipe is because it helps the dressing adhere to the salad ingredients rather than sink to the bottom of whatever container you're using. If you do leave it out, store the quinoa salad in a shallow dish or bowl so that most of it will be immersed in the dressing.

June 26, 2014

What We Ate at the Beach: A Week of Amazing Vegan Meals

As I mentioned last time, I recently spent a week at the beach with my family.


Beach time is me time, more specifically me at one with nature time. I don't go online except for a very few occasions; this time I went online to promote my Purely Elizabeth post and to check Instagram once or twice. Other than that, I was totally unplugged. I feel so much calmer and happier when I don't have the pressure to keep up with everything else that's happening in the world. It's so beneficial to stand back every now and again.

I spent most of my time in the water (it's home), reading on the beach, watching the wildlife (where have all the sand pipers gone?!), taking walks along the coast with my love, gazing at the stars, playing board games with my family, building puzzles with my brother, and cooking nourishing meals. The latter is that which I'll focus on in this post.

Meal planning makes eating on vacation so freaking easy. I have a tried-and-true formula that I've used for years. For a week, I generally plan 4 dinners, 3 lunches, and 3 breakfasts. I assume that there will be leftovers and that sometimes we won't be all that hungry for a big meal. On the days that I don't make a special vegan breakfast for everyone, I count on the fact that I'll be making a smoothie for myself and plan accordingly. We always keep a variety of fruit in our place and I also plan out a few snacks to have on hand because it's not always easy to find healthy snacks.

Here's the breakdown of this year's meals:

Breakfast


This is my dad's favorite breakfast of all time, so of course I make it every single vacation! The tofu scramble is loaded with vegetables like red bell pepper, mushrooms, onion, garlic, and chard and I also added in black beans and my own blend of spices and seasonings. It was served with a side of rosemary roasted red potatoes and vegan sausage. My dad is really getting into the Field Roast brand lately, so I thought it would be nice to try their new breakfast sausages. They're really good!

One of J's favorite breakfasts is waffles. My go-to waffle recipe is this gluten-free one from Waffle Party which I alter only slightly. I mix the dry ingredients and bring them down in a jar so that all I have to do in the morning is add the wet ingredients and I'm ready to go. My mom has a double waffle maker which makes the cooking process even quicker. Since this was J's meal, I made his favorite waffle toppings: raw berry compote (my own recipe), toasted pecans, maple syrup, and cinnamon.


My dad took his turn making breakfast when he made these palachinkas. Palachinkas are basically Eastern European crepes. One of my favorite breakfasts when I was little, I'd fill them with jam, roll them up, and top them with a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Dad is still working on veganizing his palachinka recipe, but I scarfed them up nonetheless. I filled mine with fresh mixed berries and topped it with cinnamon and Bee Free Honee.

That's it for our fancy breakfasts. We had leftover waffles which we ate one day and for the ride home I made J and I burritos with rice wraps, leftover scrambled tofu, and crumbled sausage. The other days were fruit days.

Lunch

Lunch is the one meal that isn't completely necessary to plan for. I ate a lot of fruit (watermelon FTW) and made some hummus wraps with cherry tomatoes and heaps of lettuce as well. I found that I really wasn't hungry enough to eat a large meal at this time, especially after eating much heavier breakfasts than I'm used to. Making dips and grain salads is a great idea for lunch time because they can be eaten cold and when you're on the go (pack it and eat it down by the water!). Plus, once you make them (in large quantities), they stay good for several days so it's not too labor intensive.


When I'm about to leave my house for a week, I go into major clean-out-the-fridge mode. I don't like anything to go to waste. At the end of the week, I was short on produce, but had an overabundance of parsley from my CSA. I used it to make this quinoa tabbouleh with sun-dried tomato and cucumbers. It was the perfect lunch food.


I also made this colorful quinoa pineapple basil salad which will be making a presence on the blog very soon! I'm hoping I can make the dressing every bit as delicious as I made it at the beach. As usual, I didn't measure. I couldn't have even if I wanted to though because they had no small measuring spoons! In any case, at first spoonful, this was so bursting with flavors that I knew I needed to share it with others. Get excited for this one!

That's all for lunch. I was planning on making a raw zucchini hummus as well, but it turned out that we didn't need any more food. The recipe I use for this is in the Thrive Foods book, and it's the Zucky Hummus from Crudessence. Everyone always loves this dip. It's the perfect thing to bring along to a potluck or picnic.

Dinner

We made a big salad for the start of all of our dinners. The beginning of our CSA year is always heavy on the greens, and I brought a large cooler bag full of collards, red leaf lettuce, rainbow chard, romaine, and more. My CSA provided a lot of fresh herbs like oregano and thyme, too, which came in handy when it was time to whisk together a quick vinaigrette. At home, J and I love starting our dinners with a nice salad, so we continued that tradition at the beach. Most times, we ate the salads while the rest of our dinner was cooking. That way we weren't waiting around for dinner for too long and also weren't eating salad while our main dishes were getting cold. See how perfectly that works out?! The salads were pretty much the same every night, so I didn't take a picture of it unless it was already in the shot with the main dish.


We always have pineapple pizza. Always. I picked up the Bob's Red Mill gluten-free pizza crust mix for the sake of ease. We topped the crust with 365 brand tomato basil sauce, daiya mozzarella and cheddar shreds, pineapple, red bell pepper, and Field Roast Italian sausages (that were leftover from another meal that I'll get to soon.) It's our classic beach pizza for a reason! Nom nom.


Like I was saying earlier, my dad has been really getting interested in Field Roast products. He had requested a meal to be made with their Italian sausage. Since I used to love hot sausage when I was a meat-eater, I decided to make something similar. I cooked down a huge pile of onions and peppers, added to the skillet some rhubarb (another thing I had an overabundance of from the CSA) barbecue sauce and the Field Roast sausages. J was in charge of potatoes. He asked if I minded if he used Earth Balance instead of olive oil because he really wanted that buttery flavor. I said "Earth Balance it up!" because I knew he was craving his traditional foods and that it would make him happy.


I just finished reading the fabulous new book How to Be Vegan by Elizabeth Castoria, and it had a whole recipe section at the end. I noticed one for Artichoke Alfredo that looked really interesting since the base of the sauce is artichokes and white beans. My dad wanted to have a pasta meal, so I put this simple recipe on the list. Here it is (made with Tinkyada brown rice pasta spirals) pictured with a hefty pinch of nutritional yeast. We also added in some rainbow chard. Man was this good! We had some leftover pasta and also in a separate container had more sauce. I mixed those with leftover lentils (from the meal below) for my dad on our last night and he loved it all over again.


Taco salad, oh my gosh, I love you! Lettuce, carrots, red peppers, chipotle salsa, freshly made guacamole, tortilla chips, Daiya cheddar shreds, and the most awesome vegan taco meat ever. I made the meat with lentils and almonds. You can't really tell from the picture, but this is a pretty big bowl and there are a lot of greens hiding under there. I think this was everyone's choice for best dinner of the week. Again, it was my dad's idea to have taco salad, and I came up with the components. We make a great team! I think this will find it's way to a permanent position on our yearly beach menu. Yeah!

Snacks


The entire month before the beach was taxing on my energy. There was stress and sickness (J's, then mine, then J's again), funerals, and other smaller things that made me feel pretty run down. I took the 11 hour drive to the beach as an opportunity to give my body a break and give it some nourishment. I bought (sometimes the convenience of premade juice is so, so nice) 2 green juices (Evolution and Suja), a root juice (Evolution's Ruby Roots), and a bottle of Harmless Harvest coconut water. We also stopped at Bob Evans at lunch time (my mom wanted their pancakes), and I got a bowl of plain oatmeal. Being vegan in the middle of nowhere can be hard sometimes, but it's far from impossible! After feeding my body all kinds of vitamins and getting a solid night of sleep, I felt refreshed and better than ever for our first morning at the beach. Good Sleep + Juice +  An Ocean Swim = How I want to feel every single day of my life.


Banana soft-serve. How could I not? I couldn't find ripe bananas at the store. In fact, they were all still a bit green. So, I had to wait most of the week for them to ripen. I really wanted them to top our waffles, which really would've rounded out the flavors, but I was also hoping to make them into smoothies and ice cream as well. I made this bowl above on our last night as my dinner. I really wasn't that hungry for anything that heavy, so I made this. On another morning, I made some with strawberries in it for J and me. I think strawberry soft serve is my favorite. At least, I feel like that every time I eat it!


I made some healthy snacks to bring along, too. One was my rice krispy treats which I sadly neglected to snap a picture of (but, hey, I did pretty darn good for the rest of the foods!), and the other was my raw mulberry bliss balls. These were so screamalicious that the recipe will most definitely have to be saved for something very special.

I miss the ocean so much. I can't wait to return. And when I do, as always, I'll have some awesome vegan food in tow!

June 18, 2014

Guest Post on the Purely Elizabeth Blog

I'm inside taking a break from the waves right now (vacation, yeah!) to tell you about a very special article I wrote for Purely Elizabeth's Wellness Wednesdays. If you follow my blog, you'll know that I am recovering from toxic mold, which caused havoc to my gut and adrenals. This winter, my doctor ordered some tests (ones that I'd gotten a few years back) to see if conditions in my gut were still in need of healing since I'd hit a plateau in the progress in my health.

I had doctors in the past who tried to help me with my gut healing, but I never had much luck with that. I took healing into my own hands and learned a lot along the way. When my tests came back showing that the conditions in my gut had normalized, I felt so empowered to know that I had done that on my own.

In my guest post, I've detailed some of the most useful tips I've gathered along the way in hopes that anyone out there who is struggling with IBS, leaky gut, SIBO, GERD, candida overgrowth, gut dysbiosis, or any other ailments that originate in the gut will find something of value in my discoveries and have some powerful healing of their own.

You can find my post here. I hope you enjoy it!


June 10, 2014

An Impromptu Birthday Dinner at Plum


It must be remnants of annoyance from all of those birthdays I had when I was younger – those ones where two of the girls I invited were fighting and they turned the party into a game of 'who's side are you on' –, but I am always wary of throwing a big birthday bash for myself. For others? Oh sure, let's party away! But, for myself, I love the low key birthdays.

I hadn't thought to plan anything at all this year since I'll be going on vacation soon after my birthday (and that feels like celebration enough), but my mom always wants to make the day special. She called me on Thursday and said that she and my dad wanted to take me out to dinner to celebrate. I wasn't sure I wanted to do anything since we are planning to have a very belated birthday cookout for J and I later in June – you know how summers are. It's so hard to find a time when everyone can make it – , but I decided that it would be really fun to do.

I opened my gift from J before we left for the restaurant. I lifted off the box's lid, saw the Vaute Couture tissue paper, and paused. We tend to get each other small but thoughtful gifts for special occasions, and this could only be something huge. I could barely contain my excitement though it may not have looked that way since I'm pretty sure my face was blank with disbelief. I unfolded the tissue paper, and there it was. My coveted Marais dress. I had been eyeing this dress since the spring line debuted, dreaming of the day when that dress could be mine. (Ok, I admit, my daydreams were not of this dress alone, but of a closet full of Vaute Couture!) You know when you see something, and it's like it's there just for you? That's how I felt when I first saw this dress. If J had to pick a moment to go big with gift-giving, this one was absolute perfection. Of course I put it on right away, slicked my hair back into a bun, put on some cute vintage earrings, and we were out the door to dinner.




We went to Plum, a pan-asian restaurant I'd never been to before. They're participating in VeganPittsburgh's restaurant campaign, and I was excited to see that they clearly label vegan items on the menu and even compiled their vegan options onto an entire separate menu that can be viewed online.

When I called for reservations, they told me that they were pretty booked up, though strangely during our meal, the place remained more than ½ empty. The ambiance was very classy and soothing with plenty of natural light. My mom really loved it; she's used to me taking them out to either extremely loud trendy spots or authentic ethnic restaurants with outrageously good food and that characteristic grit. This is a very mom-friendly place!

I'm not a big drinker, but I've always been interested in trying sake. I got the coconut lemongrass (how could you go wrong with that combination?) sake, and it was spectacular.


We got 2 starters for the table to share: roti canai and tofu satay. The roti was pretty greasy, but I loved it all the same. The tofu satay was bursting with flavor; the depth of the peanut sauce, the sourness of the pickled veggies, the watery crunch of the bean sprouts, and the crispy tofu made the perfect bite. My only complaint, and I didn't realize this until J and dad said they didn't get any, is that there should've been a few more pieces of pickled vegetables on the plate. The starters were really enjoyable!


For our main dishes, we got 3 different things so that we'd get to try more variety. I got the mango thai style, my dad got the bok choy, and J got Kung Pao tofu. And really, if you know us well, you'll realize how perfect each of these dishes were for us individually.

My meal was so different than any asian dish I'd ever gotten. The sweet tomato sauce went so beautifully with the mango and red bell peppers (I've used this combination in many a raw soup!). When J tasted it, he said something about it reminded him of being little and eating his mom's ham barbecue. After he said that, I couldn't shake my memories of ham barbecue either (in a completely good way, not a yucky eating meat way). I thought this evocation was so wonderful. So many times, people go vegan and try really hard veganize a food that they miss, failing because they are trying such literal interpretations. Little do they know that a thai dish at an asian restaurant could remind them of their long forgotten love for their mother's ham barbecue! Here's your friendly reminder to think outside the box, folks!


J's dish was dark and salty, slightly spicy, and everything that he loves in a dish. It was a little too salty for me both because I like to go easy on the salt and I like to balance salt out with other flavors more, but I would still give this one a thumbs up.


If anyone embodies the idea of eating gently, it's my dad. He likes flavor, but nothing too over the top. He enjoys eating grounding foods and doesn't like to feel stuffed. The bok choy in a light garlic sauce was right up his alley. I loved it, too. It's the kind of thing I'd crave if I wanted something with an earthy simplicity.

My mom is the only one who didn't get a vegan meal and thus didn't share with the table. She got walnut shrimp (she's not an adventurous eater but knows what she likes. This is her mainstay at Asian restaurants), and said it was the best she's had.

Once I was done getting my tofu quota for the year (but seriously, we ate so. much. tofu.), we stopped over at Whole Foods, which is just on the other side of the parking garage, to pick up a “cake” for me. If I had more time to prepare, I may have made a birthday cake for myself – even though I'm not the best baker, everyone looks to me to make cakes for events –, but an impromptu birthday dinner calls for an impromptu dessert.


We went for ultra decadence, getting Luna and Larry's salted caramel and chocolate ice cream and chopping vegan cappuccino brownies into tiny squares as the ice cream topping. Ultra decadence it was.

We set up chairs and ate our dessert in the backyard under the moon, just as dusk was setting in and right before we were able to see Mars above the waxing crescent. What perfect way to end a marvellous day!