April 30, 2014

Raspberry Orange (Green) Smoothie

I always keep my freezer stocked with a variety of frozen fruit, some of which I buy frozen and others which I freeze myself.


When I found an opened bag of raspberries stashed in the back of the freezer, I couldn't remember the last time I'd used them. I go through phases with different fruits; I'll eat them like they're going out of style. Recently, it's been bananas, blueberries, and oranges, the latter of which makes an appearance in this smoothie. But raspberries? It's been a while.

Raspberries are a marvelously sweet addition to any diet, though if you want the full antioxidant effect, go with organic. For anyone with inflammation, especially for those with inflammatory diseases, raspberries will help to cool down that fire. Berries are incredibly cancer protective, too, and raspberries have the power to reprogram cancer cells, causing them to shrink and even die. Add to these benefits a dash of omega-3 fatty acids and the all-important and sometimes elusive vitamin E, and behold another of nature's superfoods!


Raspberry Orange (Green) Smoothie
1 serving

-1 cup frozen raspberries
-1 cup almond milk, unsweetened
-1 orange, peeled and cut into segments
-2 handfuls of chopped romaine
-1 tbsp chia seeds
-1/2 tsp allspice
- 3-6 drops of orange stevia, optional

-Blend and serve.

April 28, 2014

Meatless Mondays Tip: Converting a Non-Vegan Recipe to Vegan

J and I both have our signature meals that we prepare for each other. I rock the salad dressings and sauces. He makes a mean risotto. We know our strengths and use them to our advantage. When we work on a meal together, something magical happens. I love having a partner that loves to cook as much as I do.

Over the weekend, I had a bunch of asparagus in the fridge, and I wanted to do something special with it. I've been seeing a lot of risotto dishes online lately and I thought a lemony risotto would hit the spot. The only problem (not really so much of a problem, really) was that J was swamped with finals in addition to packing for a trip to see some of his best friends.

That meant that I was on risotto duty. Those who know me know that I love to take my time in the kitchen, that my disinterest for detail that is obvious in other parts of my life somehow disappears when I'm in the kitchen. So, one may wonder how it is that I've never made risotto, a dish that takes attention, care, and constant stirring, before. Hey, why would I when J makes it so well?


When I try something for the first time, I look at multiple recipes, somewhere between 5-10, to see how the ingredients and methods differ in those recipes. Then, I often combine the bits I like most from the best looking recipes and create a recipe of my own. This time though, I found this recipe from Martha Stewart Living, and everything looked too perfect to mess with. It was completely vegan except for the cheese (and consult Barnivore to make sure you use vegan wine). So, what do you do when you find a recipe that calls for so much cheese and you have no vegan cheese on hand?

Ok again, this is a problem that is not really a problem. Risotto is already ultra-creamy without adding cheese. It's an unneeded ingredient. So, just leave it out! I would have done that, but I have this desire to always do more. I want to elevate a dish, make it a little bit more special. The pull towards this is not as great when I cook for myself, but I love to see people's faces light up when they taste my cooking. In between stirs, I decided to whiz up a quick vegan parmesan. I don't have a recipe for what I did, but I can give you some guidelines.

Grind nuts into a powder - toast them first for extra flavor if you want/have time - and mix with nutritional yeast and a touch of salt. Cashews are the most common nut that I've seen used for vegan parmesan, but any nut will work. I used the creamiest, dreamiest walnuts because that's what I had on hand, and I was planning on this being the creamiest, dreamiest risotto ever. Hyperbolic much?

I think I used about a 1/4 cup of nuts and a 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast and then stirred it in at the end. It was good enough for being made on the fly, but I think the ratios could be tweaked a bit to make it really evoke a parmesan flavor. Of course, I should add that there are several packaged vegan parmesans out there if that's your thing, too. Or like I said, just leave it out and it will be just as brilliantly delicious.

April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day!

It's that day again. Every year, we dedicate this day to our love for Mother Earth, to our commitment to preserving the beauty, diversity, and awesome miracle that is the life of, and the life on, this planet.



Today, people talk about buying a new reusable water bottle, walking instead of driving, or planting a tree. All of these things are wonderful, and we should be doing these things, but I often wonder...why stop there? Why not make every day Earth Day?

By going vegan you can do just that. Every time I eat a meal, I am making a conscious choice to conserve. I am choosing not to take part in the most egregious destruction of our earth. By eating vegan, I am standing against the violence inherent in animal food production, including that which is inflicted upon our living earth.

Additional ways that vegans can help the environment:
  • limit the purchase of packaged vegan food items, especially those in plastic.
  • buy your food locally.
  • educate yourself about palm oil production and seek out alternatives for your diet.
  • reduce food waste by composting.
  • use your compost to enrich the soil and grow your own food.
Other fun ways to show your love for the Earth:
  • use a bike for transportation and for leisure. It's great exercise, too!
  • use non-toxic household cleaners, laundry detergent, and personal care products.
  • buy your clothes at thrift stores. I've found some of my most loved clothes this way.
  • remember that "reduce" and "reuse" come before "recycle".

The above points are made to motivate. If you don't do any of them, don't put pressure on yourself to incorporate everything all at once. Build it up slowly. Always do what you can. Strive for more, but don't feel ashamed for not being perfect. No one, myself included, can claim that they are perfect. Do your best!


On this Earth Day, I hold the animals in my thoughts. I keep my hopes high that, slowly but surely, people will understand what veganism means for this world and all that it holds and will adopt the diet and way of life as their own. Until then, those of us who are already vegan must understand that we humans have fears, emotional blocks, and a general aversion to discomfort. A vegan world will not happen overnight, but I am in awe to witness how many people are letting in the light.

April 21, 2014

Vegan Russian Easter Recap

For my whole life, I was lucky to have had 2 Easters.


My parents are different religions, so we celebrated the Western Christian Easter that most of the United States celebrates, but also Russian Easter which most always falls on a different day, though this year was an exception. For one Easter, I got to hunt for plastic eggs and an Easter basket, and also sing the fun, celebratory songs in choir that I'd been waiting a whole year to sing.  For the other, I got to admire the beautiful ornate artwork on the pysanky, including the red egg symbolizing Easter,


 learn the language of my ancestors,

 "Christos Voskrese." "Voistinu Voskrese!"

eat all the traditional foods I loved like paska (which means Easter) bread smeared with butter, nut rolls/poppy seed rolls/apricot rolls, kielbasa, beets with horseradish, hrudka (an egg cheese of sorts), and more.


When I started working, I always had jobs in the food industry which meant that we never had holidays off unless it was Christmas. Since everyone else was always requesting off for Easter, I was happy to work that day if I could have Russian Easter off. That way, I still got to spend time with my family.

This is what a vegan easter basket looks like.


These days, I don't have to worry about all of that, but I do have a new desire that grows with every year. Let's make Easter more vegan-friendly! If you noticed, all of the foods at a traditional Russian Orthodox Easter are animal foods except the beet and horseradish, but one can hardly make a meal of that! Even the bread contains eggs. Though I must say that my grandma is so amazing that she used to make a special small paska without eggs just for me. I'm not in the habit of eating so much bread anymore, so she focuses her generosity on other guests. She's such a beautiful person!


This year, my dad, who's been eating less meat, offered to make mushroom halupki which I thought was a great idea. He's been loving the Field Roast kielbasas lately, so he cooked a few of those as well since they fit in with the food theme. We used an incredible organic horseradish to make the horseradish and beet sauce, and I (of course) brought along greens which I topped simply with some orange and grapefruit sections.



For dessert, my dad ordered this raw vegan turtle pie from Vegan Essentials for us to try. I'd heard of Pure Market Express before, so I was interested to see how their pies tasted. It was incredibly rich and super sweet. They used agave - I'm really looking forward to the day when raw and vegan companies stop using agave to death! - which I'm not crazy about but I do consume from time to time. It was really small for the price, which is the one common complaint I've heard, but if it were any bigger the calorie/fat/sugar content would be ridiculously high for one person. As it was (I can only take so much sugar at once!), I shared some bites with my dad, brother, mom, and grandma and still had enough that I felt satisfied. I tried to give some to my little cousin who balked at the word "vegan" when I responded to her question as to why there wasn't a piece for everyone, but she wasn't convinced.
My Vaute Couture dress is perfect for Easter!
All in all, it was a wonderfully delicious day with my family, and when I hit the pillow last night, I was still smiling.

April 19, 2014

Welcome to the Family, Pepper!

On the first warm night of spring, J and I took an evening walk around the neighborhood with Tucker. It was the first day that we didn't feel winter in the wind, and wanted to take full advantage of the warm night. This winter was so frigid and felt like it would go on forever. The warm day felt like a trick, as if winter would swiftly come back with another polar vortex. But, it didn't happen. I thought,  "We finally made it to springtime!"


We took a long loop around the neighborhood. When we were just about home, we heard a noise. "Mew!" We looked in the direction of that adorable noise and saw a tiny collarless cat, less than a year old, hiding behind a fence. He looked at us longingly and glanced cautiously at Tucker before squeezing under the fence and following closely behind us as we continued home.

Every once in a while we stopped to pet him. His fur was soft and clean. He didn't feel an outside cat. He didn't act like an outside cat or seasoned stray either. He was extremely friendly; not like the other stray cats around our house. He also didn't seem to understand the concept of cars being dangerous. As I observed his behavior, I was starting to worry that this little guy had gotten lost. He continued to follow us, taking care not to get too close to Tucker. Tuck loves cats and showed interest, but the kitty wasn't ready to trust him.

I wasn't completely sure what I was going to do. I wasn't sure, that is, until he zoomed ahead of us (past several houses) and hopped up our stoop and flopped on his side. What!? I practically saw neon arrows pointing at him and flashing "help me, please!".


I then had 2 not-so-small problems to contend with. We cannot have cats at our house, and J is allergic to cats, sometimes badly. We borrowed a carrier, a blanket, and some cat food from a friend. That night, I placed the carrier next to the couch and slept with the cat, so that he wouldn't be alone. He was really attached to me, and treated me like I'd always been his mommy.

He meowed a lot that night, but I couldn't do much except tell him it would be ok. I had no idea if he was litter trained and couldn't let his dander spread around the house, so I couldn't let him out. He did seem to calm down when he heard my voice. He just wanted to know I was close by.


The next morning, I got him scanned for a microchip, reported him found to the local shelters, and canvassed the neighborhood to see if he belonged to anyone. No luck. I had to find somewhere for him to go and quickly. I called my brother and asked if he'd be interested in adopting a brother for his cat. I thought it was a long shot, but he told me that he'd just been thinking about doing just that. "Just one catch," I told him, "You have to take him ASAP."

I took the cat to the vet to most importantly get him checked for FIV/FELV but also for a general check-up. Once he was in the clear, I excitedly told my brother that this was really going to happen! He needed time to get ready, so we had to wait a few days. We found out that J is not as allergic to the kitty as he is to other cats, so having him in the house for a few extra days wasn't a bother. I even realized while we were at the vet that he would only go to the bathroom in his carrier and not on the floor. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was litter trained, and indeed he was.


My brother brought up a litter box and for the next couple of days, I let the cat roam in the living room with supervision. He mostly wanted to cuddle with me and follow Tuck around. He asserted his dominance by swatting at Tucker, but they also were known to hang out together in peace. Once they were finally becoming comfortable with each other, it was time to bring him to his new home and start all over again with another animal!

Pepper's new sister, Abbey
I spent a week at my brothers house, helping to ease the transition for his cat, Abbey. I spent time with both cats in separate rooms and made sure to switch rooms occasionally, mingling their scents. Once the kitty was neutered and healing up, I reluctantly headed home.


My brother named him Pepper. Pepper still looks to me for assurance, still treats me like his mommy. I don't know why he instantly attached himself to me, but he picked the right person to be his advocate. I fell crazily in love with this gentle little guy, so I am happy that he stayed in the family. I can visit him whenever I want some cuddles and purrs. Welcome to the family, Pepper, and welcome to your new and wonderful life!

April 17, 2014

Fennel Apple Orange Juice

Fennel is my all time favorite vegetable to juice. This bright, crisp, and sweet veggie has a subtle, yet intoxicating, licorice flavor makes it the ultimate refresher in my eyes. It's not just taste that fennel has going for it. It's full of vitamins and minerals that will make you feel your absolute best!


Typically, when most people think of vitamin C, they think of oranges, lemons, or perhaps even strawberries. There are so many more fruits and vegetables that are excellent sources of vitamin C. Fennel is one of them. In the winter, I emphasize the importance of vitamin C intake because it helps strengthen the immune system, but it's not just in the chilly flu season that we need an immune boost.

Getting physically sick is only one way to run down the immune system. There's another way, the big lion-in-the-room way, that can have deleterious effects on one's immunity. What is this figurative lion I speak of?

...

Stress. dun, dun, DUN! Whether it's adrenal fatigue (the adrenals play such an important role in immune system strength), sleep deprivation, a hectic schedule, or even things like marathon training, any stress on the body can take it's toll. The more we stress, the bigger we must make our deposits into the vitamin C bank. Vitamin C is needed for the production of adrenal hormones, like cortisol. When we stress our bodies, our adrenals quickly burn through this precious vitamin. Keep in mind that it is water soluble (meaning you pee it out instead of storing it), so it's important to spread your vitamin C intake throughout the day. Not only will it be available for the production of adrenal hormones, but it will also be useful in actually lessening cortisol spikes. If you get enough vitamin C and all goes well, you'll be stronger and calmer. Sounds pretty good to me!

Fennel is a great source of fiber, and it helps to promote a healthy digestive system, including a clean colon and the proliferation of friendly flora. When we juice, we strip the fiber away, but I have good news for you: fennel is amazing to eat, too! Try shaving it thinly on a salad (my preferred method), grilling it, or baking it with a balsamic glaze. I've even made a lasagna with fennel in it.

Some other nutrients that you'll pack into your soon-to-be glowing body with this juice are:

  • Potassium- If you have heart problems or high blood pressure, consuming more potassium and less sodium is crucial. In general, more potassium and less sodium lead to more vibrant health. 
  • Folate- It's not just potassium that will help protect your heart. Folate (like B12) helps lower homocysteine levels in the blood. High homocysteine has been linked to cardiovascular disease as well as brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Also, if you're feeling really grumpy or suffering from depression, a little bit of extra folate in your diet might help cheer you up! 
  • Calcium- when we think of getting calcium as vegans, we think of sesame seeds, leafy greens, and beans, but fennel has a decent amount of calcium, too. It won't give you your daily recommended dose of calcium, or even ½ of it, but it will move you toward your target. Isn't that what healthy living is all about, after all? It's not about eating one thing – or swallowing one pill that will give your body everything it needs just so that you can eat foods for the rest of the day that are useless to you. It's about nourishing yourself with every meal by focusing on the foods that were intended for your body.

Now that you know a thing or two about what makes this vegetable so irresistible, it's time for juice!


Fennel Apple Orange Juice

-1 large bulb of fennel, about 3 1/2 inches in diameter*
-1 large gala apple
-1/2 large cucumber (or 1 small cucumber)
-2 stalks of celery
-1 small orange, peeled

-Run all ingredients through your juicer and serve.

*If your fennel bulb has the stalks and fronds still attached, you can use those for juices, too.

April 14, 2014

The Real First Day of Spring

On a gorgeous, wonderous day a couple of weeks ago, the weather was so promising that J and I decided to have a date day. Spring had technically arrived, but we'd yet to feel true warmth in the air. And as you can see from the picture below, the trees still looked barren, with no buds in sight. That day, there was no hint of winter lingering in the breeze. I was shocked, realizing that there was a part of me that thought spring may never come again. We were determined to make the most of it.

First stop: Sree's food cart for lunch. I didn't take a picture of my food, but did take this picture of my beautiful necklace for the first day of the Vegan Cuts Instagram contest. It was a really fun contest and I loved following everyone else's posts.


Sree's has two storefronts, but I like going to the food cart when it's nice out. For $6, you get to pick 3 of the 4 vegan options of the day over rice (there's also one chicken option, but that's no option for us!) and a piece of pita bread. They were out of bread that day, so they gave us all 4 of the vegan options. Since I stay away from gluten as much as possible, I was really happy to get a little bit of extra gluten-free food in exchange for bread!


Afterwards, we took a leisurely walk which which ended with bubble tea. I haven't had bubble tea in a long time. Since it was almost 80 degrees (unbelievable!), I decided to get my tapioca pearls in a fruit freeze. I got lychee and J got mango. Mmm, lychee.

We walked a little bit more and explored, catching a really nice view overlooking the East End. 


At this point it was dinner time, but we were still full from Indian food. Instead, we took Tucker to the dog park so he could play. There were almost 30 dogs there at one point! It was way more crowded than I ever remember. Tuck had a blast as always.

That night, it was still warm outside, and we couldn't think of turning in early. We took another long walk with Tucker, this time zigzagging through our neighborhood, and long story short, this little guy followed us home!


He was lost and instantly attached himself to me. My search for the owners was fruitless, as was the scan for a microchip. After a week of no progress, I spent another week acclimating him to a new home (not mine, though I was so tempted to keep him). I'm working on documenting the story, so look forward to many more adorable pictures. Welcome to our family, Pepper!

April 09, 2014

Review: Vegan Cuts Snack Box

When Vegan Cuts reached out to me asking if I'd like to review their beauty box, they also offered to send me one of their snack boxes. I was, of course, excited to get a sampling of their monthly snack box subscription. The March snack box was curated with Bianca Phillips, who has a cool blog called Vegan Crunk.



THE GREAT:

My absolute favorite was Vigilant Eats Espresso Maca Mulberry Superfood Cereal. For one thing, it was convenient to prepare. All I did was open it up and pour in some homemade hemp milk, and it had a tiny spoon inside that you could use if you were on the go. The flavor was unbelievably amazing. I've never been much of a coffee drinker, but I've always loved coffee (and espresso) flavored foods. Though the caffeine from the espresso powder gave me some jitters (I'm sensitive to caffeine), it was worth it.


What I loved about it most: I already talked about the taste, but I also love that all 4 of their flavors are organic, soy-free, gluten-free, and use no preservatives or additives. They also use low-glycemic sweeteners like mesquite, lucuma, and coconut sugar. I know a lot of people say "sugar is sugar"- which is true to an extent - but I notice a difference in how my body reacts to white sugar vs. unrefined cane sugar vs. coconut sugar (and other low glycemic/unrefined sweeteners). The last thing that I really loved about it was that they don't skimp on ingredients. I'd read on the label that cacao nibs and dried mulberries are added to the cereal, and I was pleased to see that there was a decent amount of both inside.


Another favorite of mine was Roots powder by Deeply Rooted. This fruit and vegetable powder boasts having 19 superfoods in each serving, some of which are spinach, broccoli, bilberry, reishi mushroom, and dandelion leaf powders. It's one of the better tasting powders that I've tried, though it was a tad too sweet for me in my smoothies. The blueberry and lemon flavoring (made of dextrose and natural flavors) definitely tasted like artificial candy flavors. It wasn't so bad, but I like to taste the fresh fruit in my smoothies. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but I'd choose to use it in something like raw blueberry brownies or toss a packet into banana ice cream. In addition to those suggestions, if you have a sweet tooth and want to cut down on your sugar intake, you may enjoy adding Roots to smoothies to help you wean off of sugar. There is only 1 gram of sugar per serving, but it tastes very sweet and fruity.


One of my favorite candy bars when I was little was Mounds. Dark chocolate with coconut filling. Delicious. These Ocho bars, which are organic and free of preservative, additives, and artificial flavors, taste very similar. I loved it, but it was a bit sweet for me since I don't eat candy all that often. I shared the mini square of chocolate with J, and I'm pretty sure he wanted a bag full of them after the tiny tease!


R.W. Garcia makes an interesting product called Tortatos, which are chips made with a blend of corn and red potatoes. I got a bag of the salt and vinegar Tortatos in my box. These chips are verified by the Non-GMO Project. Because the major GMO ingredients, like soy, cottonseed, and corn, are regularly used in chips, this certification label is one thing I look for when I'm buying potato or corn chips. I love salt and vinegar chips and am used to the strong flavor, but I also loved these more mild flavored chips. They tasted more like corn than potato which I rather liked. They also tasted fairly fresh for being a bagged chip. Sometimes chips can taste stale and the oils make my throat scratchy, but these weren't like that. I munched on these happily.

THE SO-SO:



Explore Asian's Soybean Noodle Soup was a unique soup for sure. The noodles are like chewy, almost rubbery, thin strands of tofu. I wasn't entirely put off by it, but I wasn't sold on it either. What's nice about this soup is that is free of MSG and gluten, and you can control the sodium content of the soup. Inside the carton are a couple of packets and a spoon. One packet has the dehydrated vegetables and flavoring in it and another contains salt. I think it's really helpful for people to have the option of using less salt since soups are generally very high in sodium. I used a pinch of my own salt and thought the broth was very good. The depth of flavor in the broth, independent of the added salt, was the best thing about this. The one thing I really hated about this soup was that there were hardly any vegetables in it. Once it was made, I couldn't see any chives, spotted only two pieces of quinoa-grain-sized carrots, and had about 5 kernels of corn. I want more vegetables!


Also worth noting is that I got the vegetable flavor. My nutrition label was vegan, but on the website the vegetable soup contains egg powder. Not sure what that's about, but if you order or buy these soup cups, make sure to read the label first to make sure it's definitely vegan.


Garden of Life's Raw Protein Powder in vanilla spiced chai wasn't horrible, but I didn't like it very much. Overall, I think their high quality food powder and protein powder packets are nice and convenient for travel, and I've relied on them many times for just that. They're organic, Non-GMO Project verified, and contain no fillers, artificial flavors, or synthetic nutrients. As a company, they're pretty great. As for this product alone, I'm not very interested in it. Brown rice protein always feels so gritty in my mouth and tastes bland and sandy. Because it is so bland, it offsets the rest of the flavors of whatever you put it in. I couldn't taste the vanilla chai flavor.

THE FLOPS:


The Earnest Eats superfood trail mix bar could've been better. Despite saying "chewy" on the package, I didn't find these bars to be chewy at all; they were quite hard. The ingredients and the nutrition facts are great and the flavor is just ok, but I wouldn't buy this granola bar. There are too many delicious brands (not to mention homemade recipes) out there for me to be interested in buying this one.


Oogave's Loca Diet Ginger Ale was a disaster in many ways. J liked it alright, so I gave him the can to finish. I must admit, I've never liked pop too much (I live in that pocket of the U.S. where we call it pop, not soda), but that isn't the only reason I wasn't a fan. When I took a sip, it fizzed up so much in my mouth that it effervesced into my nose. It didn't have a very strong ginger flavor - it actually had no real ginger in it - and tasted watered down. The last thing taste-wise that really bothered me was the extremely bitter aftertaste from the stevia, and I generally don't mind stevia.

They misrepresent the diet ginger ale on their website when they imply that there is real ginger in the product. "This 10 calories blend of stevia and agave uses real ginger!" The ingredients mention ginger nowhere, only "natural flavors" which could mean anything. It's not the lack of ginger that annoys me, but that one may assume from this sentence that there is real ginger in it. They could have easily reworded that sentence to be more clear about what their drink contains. Or maybe the ingredient label should read differently. Either way, it doesn't look right.

My last - and most major - gripe with this product is the preoccupation with calorie content. First of all, they call it "diet" soda. Any food/drink that uses that word on their packaging is going to make me cringe big time. Also, it announces very largely on the front of the can that it is only 10 calories per can. That alone isn't too annoying since tons of products display calorie content largely on the front of the packaging. Where it gets obnoxious is when you turn the can around and it tells you exercises you can do to burn off 10 calories. Seriously? No really. Seriously? I find it unnecessary. I know it's meant to be in good fun, but it's boring and conventional.

THE VERDICT:

Overall, I really loved this snack box. Snacks evoke very personal preferences; they really bring out the pickiness in people. I thought they did a great job appealing to a wide array of taste buds without trying to please too much. I'm thrilled to be introduced to some tasty products, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to familiarize and educate myself on others. If you're interested in subscribing to the Vegan Cuts snack box, visit their page here.