Thanksgiving time period is one of my favorite times in the year to cook. It’s finally cold (oh, to backpack in this weather is divine!) and when I come home from work or travels, I am up for a hot, filling meal. I tried a number of new meals this week and though they were good, my stomach told me to go back to the basics. One of my staples is the below meal- one of the few meals I can eat a few days a week and not be sick of it. 🙂 It’s one of my favorites. Enjoy!
This recipe was a mixture of an awesome spanish bean recipe given to me by Doris, our recent guest blogger, which I subsequently changed to my desires and a dish I’ve eaten at a restaurant called Guasaca. The use of avocados, spinach, and plantains together with beans and rice (or orzo in this case) is such an amazing complex flavor.
Spanish Beans with Whole Wheat Orzo, Avocado, Spinach, and Plantains
3 cups black beans with sauce
1/2 small onion or 1 shallot, diced
3 large cloves garlic
1 handful fresh cilantro, diced
1 tomato, cubed (roma is best, but any will do)
1 packet organic herb seasoning (I use Rapunzel sea salt and herb)
Saute onion or shallot, cilantro, tomato, and garlic for about 10 mins until fragrant.
Meanwhile, put tomato sauce and beans in a large pan and put on medium heat until almost boiling. Add in other ingredients. Cook about 15-20 mins until thick and soupy. Let cool to thicken up.
While the soup is cooking, cook the whole wheat orzo (however much you would like) from the package directions.
Once all is done, put as much orzo as you’d like into a bowl. Top with as much bean recipe as you would like then chopped bunch spinach, avocado, and a portion of the cooked plantains from above (and sour cream if you would like). Enjoy for at least 4-5 meals during the week (per person)!
This is a guest post by a good friend who manages to have a busy job involving lots of travel, climb all over the world, cook healthy food, keep up a climbing blog, a house, a cat, and a very large group of friends! I always ask her how she does it, so here she is telling us how!
I often have folks ask me “How do you do it all?” and I just respond, “I am a trained Project Manager in trade, and I somehow am actually really good at transferring those skills to being a Project Manager at Life.” It may seem like an Infomercial pitch, but truly that is my approach and I am quite successful so far.
As a background, here is my story: I am working on an advanced masters, possibly PhD, rock climb around the world, work to cure cancer, hike, bike, exercise, cook fresh meals, blog, Instagram, Facebook personal, Facebook Climbingjourney, interview folks, see my family, help my mom, and so on. Oh my, now I am thinking “how do I do it all?”
There are many ways to balance one’s life and not one right way. There are many learned skills and not one perfect skill. And when I stated Project Manger of Life, that is how I view it. This is how I categorize my life to make it happen:
Make it a breathing priority – Without breathing, we die. Not taking it that drastic, but these are the things that we really need to focus on a daily basis. I categorize it as the must do, I don’t always want to do, the must do to live, the must do to have fun, and the must do to love myself. These are not scientifically proven to work, but it is how I categorize my day, how I balance my life.
Must do, I don’t always want to do – go to work everyday
Must do to live – eat everyday
Must do to have fun – social media, talk with friends, text, etc.
Must do to love myself – breast check in the shower for lumps, meditate and do yoga for 10 minutes right out of bed every single morning
Make it a frequent habit – This is not breathing, but maybe filling the gas tank type of level of prioritization. It does not happen every day, but you need to keep an eye on it several times per month. Here is where I try to schedule in things like paying bills. I only do this on the 16th and 1st of every month. If not those two days, I put it aside and revisit just those two days (unless an unexpected bills comes in that I must address). I also even schedule my laundry 2x per month (don’t have kids, have that luxury for now!) and if not those laundry washing dates, I just parking lot it until my next routine clothes washing day.
Make it a less frequent habit – This is not filling the gas tank, but this might be like dusting the house, once per month type stuff. I have routine tasks that I just don’t do as often but need to make sure I visit them every month or every couple months. This could be changing the oil, washing all the sheets, and so on.
Annual Clock Work Tasks – This is the routine physical exam. Like clock work, we need to do it, but it is something we just don’t do very often. I set up milestones and try to stick to them. I try to set one milestone per month. January like clockwork is my PE and teeth cleaning. May of every year is my neighborhood yard sale, so April is when I schedule spring cleaning. And so on and so on. By doing this, I tend to get the most important things done around the house and for myself.
Go into the 70’s and dream about it – There are things that seem so far out of our reach, that we must dream about them first. And out of 10 things we dream up, we can actually make 1-2 of these things a reality. Things here can be a house renovation project, a road trip, a ½ day at a spa, and so on. Anything that you want to dream up, do it freely. It does not hurt to dream at all because that is how typically I may have that 1 or 2 things unexpectedly amazing things I get accomplished. But because it is a dream, there are no commitments or disappointments; I shift any over to reality if the stars align. If not, I just keep dreaming and stay in the 70’s.
Overall, many ask how I do all that I do. Life is a balancing act and truly I have perfected being a project manager at my life. It may seem a bit overboard, but this allows me to travel everywhere and climb and explore different places while I still carry on a career and pursue other things in life. It may seem like too much and yes, I will slow down some day, but in the meantime, while I am trying to juggle many awesome things in life, I also do want to actually cherish and enjoy every moment of it too.
Two of our good friends have been exchanging some of their food for the week with ours so we can have a little more variety in what we eat (’cause leftovers get pretty boring after a while without it). A few weeks ago, they made cardamom ice cream in their ice cream maker for an Indian meal we cooked and OH MY GOSH, IT WAS THE BEST ICE CREAM I’VE EVER HAD. So we ended up borrowing the ice cream maker…and OH MY GOSH, I CAN’T STOP MAKING ICE CREAM (OR EATING IT).
Sorry about the caps; I get a little excited about these things. Even though it is the fall and getting colder here in NC, I have an ice cream maker temporarily and I’m going to use it! So I’ve made six batches of ice cream in three weeks just so I could perfect a recipe or two for all of you (I know, what a sacrifice). Am I really not the only one who enjoys ice cream when it is 30 degrees out? Enjoy!
2 cans of Thai Kitchen coconut milk, chilled in fridge for a few hours ( An alternative if you want more of a frozen yogurt texture is use 1 can of coconut milk and 1 cup of yogurt or 1 cup of almond milk.)
1/2 cup honey or vegan cane sugar* (reduced from 3/4 cup in the original recipe)
1 cup frozen raspberries (or blueberries or cherries…any frozen fruit works here!)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or carob chunks
1 tsp vanilla extract
The recipe calls for blending everything together except the fruit in a blender before adding it to an ice cream machine and putting the fruit in about 20 minutes into the mixing process. This provides you with a coconut ice cream base with chunks of fruit, so do it this way if you would like. I wanted a fruity, chocolate-y, and coconut-y base with additional chunks of chocolate and fruit. If you would like it this way better, put 1/2 cup fruit and 1/4 cup chocolate/carob chunks into the blender with the other ingredients and then add this to the ice cream maker. After 20ish minutes of ice cream maker mixing, add 1/2 cup fruit (chopped smaller if needed in a food processor or by hand) and 1/4 cup chocolate/carob in. Mix until stiff, about 10-15 more minutes. Serve by itself or on a brownie…or eat directly out of ice cream maker. Make sure to lick the mixer.
*Note: If you’re wondering about why I noted vegan cane sugar, most sugar is not vegan because it is filtered through activated carbon, which is often made from bone char.
2 cans coconut milk, chilled in fridge 2-3 hours before
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp maple syrup
1/3 cup chocolate chips
2 handfuls of mint leaves, chopped
Blend all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a blender and put into ice cream maker. About 10 minutes into mixing, insert chocolate chips into the top of the ice cream maker. Keep the ice cream maker on for another 10-15 minutes until desired consistency is met. Enjoy! This is a little bit more of a soft-serve flavor than the berry ice cream, likely because there is nothing actually frozen in it to start. However, it is very refreshing and soooo yummy!
Are you one of those people who can eat the same thing every day and be happy? I’m unfortunately not. I go through phases of liking a staple food for a few weeks and then can’t stand it for another three months. It’s difficult. Thus, I am always going through recipe “staples” and this was one of them: salad in a jar. The concept is awesome and simple and really healthy. The best part is that you can use whatever grains, veggies, fruits, and nuts you have in stock and mix and match like you would a smoothie. And these keep for up to a week in the fridge if you layer appropriately! So all it takes is about 15 minutes cutting fruits and veggies and cooking some grains and putting ’em all together into 5 mason jars for a whole week of lunch at work (or home).
Basically, the issue with bringing a salad to work or making one ahead of time in general is that you need the stuff that is liquidy to be separated from the stuff that needs to stay dry until eating. The solution is layering the wet stuff and the dry stuff appropriately with the wet stuff on the bottom and dry stuff on the top and when it’s time to eat…bottoms up!
I get some weird excitement from turning a jar upside down into a bowl; don’t ask me why.
Here are some recipes to get you excited about bringing healthy and filling salads in a jar to lunch too!
A general recipe:
Bottom layer: Dressing
Next layer up: Absorbent stuff (like beans, rice, or whole wheat orzo) that will absorb some of the dressing flavor
Layers above it: Any veggies or fruits or nuts to your heart’s desire. I recommend fruits and nuts on the top.
A more specific suggestion recipe:
Bottom layer: olive oil with pepper and salt
Next layer: cooked whole wheat orzo, canned black beans (I use Eden brand because they are BPA free), baked tofu cut into cubes
Layers above that: tomatoes, raw almonds, carrots, broccoli, spinach, avocados
Top layer: blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, grapes, sunflower seeds, pecans
Have fun with it! Experiment! Challenge yourself to eat all the colors of the rainbow or put all the superfoods you can into your salad. Feel free to leave pictures in the comments of your creation! 🙂
Last night, D and I made our meals for the week with a friend. Our friend is trying to eat healthier and doesn’t have much experience with cooking and so as a trade for taking care of our puppy in December, we are training her on the N and D ways of cooking healthy. Last night reminded me of my beginning attempts to cook, especially when I became vegetarian. At first, I attempted to take family recipes made with chicken or turkey and just transform them into recipes made with tofu, seitan, tempeh, or other fake meat products. I can’t say I make most any of these meals anymore, but it was a good start to transitioning to healthier cooking as I started with what I was comfortable with.
One of the meals that I made at that time of transition was a recipe that I made for many meat eaters and was able to convince them it was meat when it was actually made with tofu. I knew that if I told them it was made with tofu, they wouldn’t even bother trying it. There are some tofu haters out there! I will admit that tofu made in the typical way with breading is not my cup of tea either. But tofu is one of the most versatile foods out there. It takes on the flavor and texture of everything around it. So give it a chance here first before you diss all tofu forever.
I’ve given this recipe out to many people, and every time, I received a raised eyebrow because the ingredients are so out there (though simple and cheap as well). However, they’ve always come back to me and said “Ya know, it was really good…and it really tasted like chicken!” Without further ado, here it is:
Crispy Total Tofu
2 heaping tbsps peanut butter
1 heaping tbsp fruit preserves or jam (any flavor)
1 box Total cereal or any corn flakes (preferably without corn syrup)
1 container extra firm tofu
Preheat oven at 375.
Mix peanut butter and preserves together in a bowl. Press tofu between your hands over a sink and then with paper towels so it is as dry as possible. Cut into medium-sized cubes. Dry your hands. Crumble Total (or corn flakes) in your fingers into a bowl- Start with a few handfuls and keep adding into the bowl as you need it. Roll the dry tofu cubes in the peanut butter/preserve mixture and then dip into the Total/corn flakes.
*Note: Don’t think you’re doing something wrong if it’s a total mess. It is! It can be made easier if you have two people, one to dip the tofu into the PB/preserves and one that then dips the tofu into the Total. You may need more PB/preserve mixture. If you do, just make sure there is a 2:1 ratio of PB: preserves in any quantity you need.
As you complete each tofu cube, place onto aluminum foil on a cookie or baking sheet. Once done with the whole tofu block, bake at 375 for 15 minutes.
Suggestion: Serve with low-sodium teriyaki sauce for dipping and steamed veggies with brown rice.
Another great tofu recipe is a marinade you can read about here.
Is there a recipe you have that you would like advice on how to make healthier? Comment with it below and I will do my best and hopefully make it into a featured recipe of the week. 🙂
My Jewish-raised grandparents used to pick me up from school every day. They would bring with them buttery croissants, chocolate chip cookies, eclairs, black-and-whites, and numerous other fresh baked goods. It was as though fattening me up was, in their mind, key to my success. Food always seemed to be on their mind. As such, every day, the minute I heaved my very large backpack into the car, my grandma would ask me the same question. “What did you have for lunch today, honey?” Every day, I would roll my eyes and mumble my answer under my breath. It annoyed me to no end. I felt like all the other events of my day (like tests or presentations or friend issues) just didn’t matter to her. One day, I decided I had had enough. She asked me the question and my response was more than audible that day. “A goat. I ate a goat for lunch.” She got very quiet…and she never asked me again. But I also noticed her disappointment and sadness within the silence from that day on, and this confused me for a long time.
Coming from an extended family not unlike that in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I was raised to believe that food was a sign of prosperity, of love, and of health. To decline such an offer or not eat heartily from one’s plate was the equivalent of a major insult as well as an indication that you might be sick (at the very least, in the head). Instead of accepting this view as my own, however, I realized that food had power- power to control my weight, my physical and mental health, how people viewed me, how I viewed myself, and even the power to make decisions to better the world. I sought to use that power to my advantage instead of allowing food to take control of me.
Why am I writing about families, culture, and religion when the title of this article is about being vegetarian? Because families, culture, and religion are SO tied into how we view food and so many of us do not have a healthy relationship with it. If you don’t believe me, think about your favorite meal and think of the reason why. I will bet that when you think about your favorite meal, a number of sensory “images” come to mind. I would bet that your favorite meal is rich in calories and flavor, that it is a warm meal, that its smell reminds you of one of your favorite times as a child when you were eating this meal, or at the very least reminds you of the person who makes or made it for you as a child and who shared it with you. I would wager that no matter how much you have searched for finding the best place that makes your favorite meal, you have yet to find a time where it tastes as good as the first time you ever had this meal. My favorite meal is one I have not eaten in a long time. It is a strange concoction of Kraft macaroni and cheese with extra milk, ketchup, and tuna fish. Whenever I imagine it, I can’t help but smile. I am reminded of the unique smell and my unique grandma making it for me as a child. Though this memory provides me with a pleasant feeling, I do not allow myself to dwell on the food, as I’ve realized that the food is only a lifeless medium that provides saliency for the emotion.
I only began to understand what food really is at its simplest- a combination of nutrients for our body to thrive- when I became vegetarian. Until then, I was always in conflict with food: If I eat this, will it make me gain weight? Will it make me feel bad? Will it give others power over me? Do I know what is really in this? Do I know how this food got to my plate? Will others think poorly of me? Will I look in the mirror and like what I see? If everyone ate this, would it still be here in a thousand years for others? Until I became vegetarian, I didn’t consciously realize that these conflicts existed within me, that what I was consuming was really eating up (no pun in tended) so much of my mental and emotional energy. I believe the direction I went with my decision to be vegetarian stemmed in part to resolve these debates within me, although my husband will tell you we went vegetarian because he lost a debate.
A coworker of my husband’s was/is a vegan. Not an “only when I eat at home” vegan or an “I eat no animal products except honey” vegan. He was a VEGAN in all caps…and that is what his very large green tattoo said running down his arm as well. He was the kind of vegan that called up every company he bought anything from and would make sure every single bit of what he wanted to buy was without animal products of any kind (example: Pepsi uses crushed beetles within the dye in some of their sodas.). My husband D respected his sincerity and consistency, but would always have intellectual debates with him about why he was vegan. His coworker’s response was always the same. “Because I don’t *need* meat.” And D at some point realized it was a sound argument and one he had no response to. After showing interest in this lifestyle, he received a link to “Meet Your Meat” on goveg.com. We both watched it…or tried to. I was in tears within a few minutes. We decided in that moment that it would be wrong to continue eating meat now knowing what horrible means it took to get to our plates. And thus began our evolution of reasons for being vegetarian.
The first- Moral: Though the moral issue is the first reason that brought me to being vegetarian, it is the reason most people find issue with. I find the defensive reactions I receive interesting because a number of children, when informed of how meat gets to their plate, give up meat without a second glance back. When they realize that an animal that was once happily living its own life was killed in order for them to eat it, they determine whether it’s nutritionally necessary to eat it and then some will choose to give it up entirely (See video here.). I don’t think that response is something we get over, but one we learn to repress. I think back to my experience earlier that same year we made the switch to vegetarian when I was making my first (and last) Thanksgiving turkey. When I had to remove the organs from inside the turkey, I burst into tears. I had been confused at that reaction, as I had made chicken or sliced turkey so many times before without much thought. I believe it was a piece of me that finally connected the dots, that realized this was not just meat, it used to be a real animal with functioning organs…and now I am eating it. Though we call what we eat chicken and the animal the same, it doesn’t seem to register for a very long time until we stop repressing this reaction that really, this is from an animal that used to be breathing and thinking and living its own life. Once we stop eating meat, we stop needing to repress and thus can appropriate those emotional resources to be used for other needs.
Sustainability: Though I became vegetarian for moral reasons,my reasons for staying vegetarian evolved beyond this into personal and environmental health as well. The side effect of eating meat is that we need the resources for livestock to survive for long enough to eat them. In order to raise livestock, we need lots of water, land, and fossil fuels which then causes de-forestation and pollution and this increases greenhouse emissions. The amount of methane cows “fart” is dramatically contributing to the demolishing of the ozone layer as well on the order of 100-500 liters a day per cow (Read more here). The US livestock population outweighs the human population by five times and therefore “the amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet.” (Read more here.) Thus, if everyone were to ditch the meat and eat a plant-based diet, we could reduce our greenhouse emissions by 70% (Read more here.). That is a lot! So by being vegetarian, it makes me feel better that I am also doing well by the earth.
Health: Many people have asked me if I feel different being vegetarian compared to when I ate meat. The answer is yes, much. Let’s just say my intestines and my stomach are MUCH happier. When you become vegetarian (as long as you are open to actually eating vegetables), your dietary fiber intake skyrockets. Dietary fiber is like a brillo pad for your intestines and hence those half hour sessions on the toilet where your legs are falling asleep…well, they just don’t happen anymore. Additionally, after I eat, instead of feeling like some time on the couch is in order, I am energetic and ready to take a walk or run or climb. Food is my fuel, not a rock in my stomach weighing me down. Moreover, weight is no longer a pendulum. As long as I am eating something vegetarian (but not just scarfing down vegetarian cookies), I’ve found I maintain more or less the same healthy weight. Of course, I’m an “n” of 1 and I exercise a lot, so I may not be the most accurate representation. Many studies do show that vegetarians and especially vegans tend to have lower levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, renal disease, dementia, diverticular disease, gallstones, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis (Read more here). I have also heard other vegetarians and vegans discuss the same phenomenon. If you’d like to read one of the most thorough research studies about why vegetarianism (and also veganism specifically) is healthier than the average American diet, I recommend the wonderful book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell (Read more here or buy his book here.)
Beyond feeling better, one of the most important changes that came from restricting my diet to vegetarian was that counterintuitively, my diet actually became more varied and healthier. Similar to a haiku where the limitations of expressing an idea make the result all the more beautiful, becoming vegetarian forced me to expand my taste buds and try new foods and learn how to cook in a different way than I had been. When I used to eat meat, I was apt to make every meal centered around meat with a side of vegetables or a starch. Becoming vegetarian made me change my perspective on what a meal is and found ways of incorporating proper nutrition into every meal without using meat as a backup plan for nutrients. It opened my eyes to fruits, vegetables, and grains I’d never even heard of before like these foods. It made me (and my Midwestern husband) discover an appreciation (if not love) for foods from different ethnicities like Indian, Persian, Ethiopian, and more. This also led us to make friends of different ethnicities and become more well-rounded culturally. It made me become more informed about what proper nutrition is and how to balance a complete diet. It made me learn how to transform recipes into ones that not only tasted better to me, but also were truly healthier (Read more here). I suppose the term for what I’ve become is an “honorary food scientist” (coined by a good friend). On that note, stay tuned for weekly easy, health-ified vegetarian recipes I’ve found to be a good balance of well-rounded, nutritious and tasty (first example here).
I am not trying to convince anyone to be vegetarian or vegan. Though it does effect the life of our planet and our people and ourselves, it is still a very personal decision. Besides, I know that force and persuasion don’t go well together. 🙂 I am just clarifying my stance, as it is a question that comes up a lot and is one of the major ways I balance my health, my lifestyle, and my mental attitude about food.
*Side Note: I know there are some of you out there who are asking why I am not vegan. I’m assuming those of you asking are probably vegan yourselves. I did go vegan for a little while and I just didn’t feel good or healthy. In reality, I do eat mostly vegan foods: I cook almost entirely vegan at home except for occasional cheese, but don’t limit myself to only vegan when I am out of the house. I had a hard time getting enough calories, protein, iron, etc when entirely vegan with all the exercise I do. I also felt like I could not enjoy being with other people eating out at a restaurant or their house because of my (voluntary) dietary restrictions. I’m not saying that others can’t or that it is not a positive direction to take. There are plenty of vegan athletes very successful in their endeavors, for example, and I respect them very much for making it work for them. I am also very much a proponent of people taking every step they can/are motivated to in being healthier and being consistent with their own moral, emotional, and physical compass. For me- right now- I am not taking that step.
Since the number one advice people ask me for is food-related, I’m going to start posting with a taste-approved health-ified recipe every week with reasons for why I made the revisions I did. The temps are finally starting to drop here at home and the leaves are finally changing color and for me, this always brings with it a desire to eat creamy comfort foods. Thus, I thought I’d start with a simple fall favorite.
Most of the recipes I come across that inspire me are on either Pinterest (see my Pinterest food pins here) or this awesome blog. I almost never cook from recipes directly though. I change bits and pieces of it to make it healthier to my satisfaction (or my/D’s taste buds). A good friend told me that I “go by the recipe”…with an asterisk. 🙂
4 roma tomatoes – I replaced the condensed tomato soup with roma tomatoes. Though the condensed soup provides more thickness, I figured the coconut milk would make up for the creaminess. Romas compared to condensed tomato soup also have less calories per serving (27 versus 90), less sodium (7mg versus 480mg), less sugar (4g versus 12g) and more vitamin C (32% versus 10%). Romas are also obviously not processed like condensed soup is.
2 handfuls of spinach, torn
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 large can full-fat coconut milk (Thai Kitchen is the brand I use)- I replaced the half-and-half with coconut milk because coconut milk has no cholesterol (compared to 90mg cholesterol in 1 cup of half-and-half, more iron and magnesium, and about the same amount of protein. Coconut milk does, surprisingly, have more saturated fat though (51g per cup versus 17g in half-and-half). Reduced fat coconut milk would also work as a substitution, but would not be nearly as creamy. Coconut milk also does not have casein, while half-and-half does.
2 cups vegetable broth- I replaced chicken broth with vegetable “broth.” Instead of broth in general, though, out of laziness, I often just mix the amount of water I need with a block of Organic Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt and Herbs by Rapunzel.
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt- I omitted the salt. Use it if you want to.
1/2 tsp pepper
1 whole 9 oz package of whole wheat cheese tortellini- I always try to find a whole wheat pasta alternative rather than white pasta whenever I can because it doesn’t spike glucose as much and the whole wheat option is less processed and has more protein in it. If you want to make this recipe vegan, you can make the recipe with a non-cheese tortellini or other pasta and omit the parmesan.
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese- You can add this or not. The original recipe calls for it as a topping, but I mixed it into the sauce for some added thickness. It’s quite tasteful without any extra cheese though.
Directions: Saute garlic with olive oil in medium pot. When garlic is done, add tomatoes, coconut milk, vegetable broth, parmesan and spices. Bring to a simmer. Once simmering, drop tortellini into soup. Cook according to package directions. After the tortellini are cooked, ladle soup into bowls and top with parmesan if desired.
My picky husband declared this a “definite make-again” and said it was “the best soup you’ve ever made.” And when he gives something accolades like that, I know it is safe to share with you all!
Enjoy this soup- ideally next to a fire while leaves are falling outside. 🙂