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!

June 02, 2014

What To Eat When You Have No Food Left in the House

Ok, so this scenario isn't really what to eat when you have absolutely no food in the house, but is more about what to eat when you are missing most of the major staples in your daily diet; you know, those times when you really needed to go grocery shopping yesterday. These are the days where you feel like you have no food, but there is always a way to make it work.

I had one of those days this weekend. J and I were rationing the last of our vegetables and I had no fresh fruit (except 4 strawberries) which is a major bummer because I thrive on fruit in the summers. Well, thank goodness for frozen fruit because that saved my day!

One great thing to do to avert having nothing to eat is to always have your pantry stocked with dry and canned goods. That way, you aren't tempted to run to the cornerstore and get through the day on corn chips and salsa, dark chocolate bars, or a gallon of orange juice - unless you live in New York City and have the luxury of filled-to-the-brim-with-healthy-vegan-food bodegas and fruit stalls everywhere. In which case, what are you reading this for? Go!

I always have a variety of grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and various varieties of rice (if you're a pasta person, you can stock up on pasta, too) as well as a selection of canned beans which can always be thrown together for a filling meal. Of course, if you're low on fresh produce and love veggies as much as I do, you're sure to miss them on your plate. But it's only one day, and sometimes a vegan's gotta do what a vegan's gotta do. I managed to gather enough ingredients to satisfy me throughout the day, but if I hadn't, I would've definitely cooked up some grains and beans for meals besides dinner.

Grains and beans are extremely affordable, even more so when you buy dried as opposed to canned beans, and can get anyone through a produce dry spell. Preparing for fruit shortages, on the other hand, could be a little more pricey depending on where you shop. Dried fruits, while low in water content, high in sugar, and fairly expensive, can provide many vitamins as well as energy, though it's not advised to subsist on an entire bag if you're low on fresh fruit. Sprinkling them on your food or adding a few tablespoons to a smoothie though is fair game. Frozen fruit is perfect for replacing fresh fruit, but can also run on the expensive side unless you're freezing them yourself. Even when I think I've stocked up fully on frozen fruit, I still feel like these lulls in fresh fruit completely wipe me out! But, as I said, do what you gotta do. Always go for the healthiest choice possible.

Mangoes freezing on baking sheets for smoothies and ice cream

Green powder can be a saving grace for me. I use Vitamineral Greens (love, love, love Healthforce Nutritionals!), but you can use any brand that you enjoy. In an ideal situation, we wouldn't need to rely on green powders - and please don't rely on them for an everyday source of greens! -, but they're perfect for providing my leafy green fix when I run out of the fresh stuff. Plus, it has a lot more nutritional goodness in it than just leafy greens.

Another great thing to have on hand is protein powder. Extra protein is not necessary, but it can help with satiation on days like these. My breakfast and lunch is usually a smoothie and salad. I get my protein from my greens in these cases (I use a lot of greens in my smoothies and my salads are ginormous), sometimes also opting for beans or tempeh on my salads. Of course, eating the grains and beans mentioned above will give you enough protein without using powders, but if you eat tons of raw foods in the summer like me, protein powder is a fine option, too. Plus, the one I use thickens up my smoothies so that they're creamier. I love the consistency!

If you have health issues, too, running low on food can be a problem, even when it seems to others that you have plenty. As I mentioned above, I thrive on fruit in the summers. And, while I've seen some health improvements since the beginning of this year, I still have a few kinks to work out. The number one thing that keeps me going is fruits and vegetables, and when I know what my current best feels like, I don't want to settle for anything less! Despite being so low on produce, I pulled together these cooling, energizing meals for myself, and my body loved me for it. I didn't feel a lag in energy during the day, which can happen when I'm not eating enough of the right stuff, and my food even kept me in a mellow mood. (It's true! Try keeping a food diary and tracking your moods after meals. You'll start to notice which foods are affecting you both negatively and positively!)

Here's what I ate:

Breakfast

Mango pudding made with frozen mango, my 4 remaining fresh strawberries, Vitamineral Greens, khadrawy dates, hemp seeds, and fresh ginger. 

Lunch

Berry sorbet using frozen raspberries and strawberries, vanilla bean powder, coconut flakes, and 1 scoop of protein powder.

Dinner

Our remaining produce stash (oh no!) was saved for our dinner salad. The dressing was a simple vinaigrette with dried basil and minced garlic clove.

I also made sweet potato fries in the oven and mexican spiced beans and rice.

What I did differently

Breakfast: It was pretty normal for me since I just substituted frozen fruit for fresh, but I used more dates than I usually do to bulk up the calories for the day. I was missing my mountain of fresh greens, and I sometimes like to throw a lemon and cucumber/celery/fresh herbs in there as well.

For lunch: I don't generally make smoothies. I may eat a big bowl of fresh fruit or top a salad with a bunch of fresh fruit. If I don't eat fruit, I usually add several slices of avocado to my meal. I'll have a rice wrap (which I was also out of) filled with vegetables, avocado, and some kind of sauce, or make a kitchen sink salad with tons of fresh vegetables, avocado, and a homemade dressing. In other words, I am usually eating a crap ton of vegetables. I felt fine, but would've preferred a more satiating lunch if I had the options available. 

For dinner: This is pretty standard fare for a fall/winter dinner (although my salad is usually much larger and what is on the plate is usually a slightly smaller serving). However, it was 84 degrees outside and sweet potatoes and beans and rice was just too hearty a meal, and I didn't feel exactly amazing after dinner. I think sweet potatoes are a cold weather food for me.

As you can see, because I was stocked up on pantry items and frozen foods, I was able to feed myself nourishing foods without my body feeling the lack of fresh produce too much. When you're healing or generally eating for health, every single day is important. Every day affects how you feel on the whole. Things happen all the time to get in the way of plans (like grocery shopping). You know what you need. Set yourself up for success!