Go At Your Own Pace: Accepting Yourself and Your Choices

July 21, 2012 § 3 Comments

 

sprouted grain tortilla, black bean and guacamole wrap

Today’s revolutionary act part of the 101 days of blogging challenge is “Go At Your Own Pace: A healthy life is more a marathon than a sprint. So start where you are. Choose sensible, sustainable shifts over instant cures and quick fixes.”

To me, this not only means avoid fad diets in term of sustainable long term changes, but also accept yourself in the process. I’m a perfectionist and that “simple” personality trait impacts every single aspect of my life. On top of it I was raised Catholic which means no matter how I shake it, I feel guilty a lot of the time. When it comes to trying to get on the right track and set goals for myself, I get extremely frustrated if I fall short and that frustration is often masked in guilt.

Case in point: I had a really great day. After watching Food Matters last night (highly recommend!) I was excited to keep my plant based diet motivation going. I started my day with lots of water (something I don’t do enough of) and even tried hot water with lemon and cayenne for the first time. This supposedly detoxifies, gets your blood moving, and revs the metabolism. For breakfast I enjoyed my morning smoothie. At lunch I used the leftover black beans and quinoa from dinner last night and put it in a sprouted grain tortilla with guacamole and a salad. When an afternoon craving struck, I enjoyed fresh veggies and spicy hummus.

After all this great eating, where did I go wrong? Dinner. We had been out and ended up at a sushi restaurant. I know I could have ordered the tofu but in that moment I just didn’t want it so I ordered the shrimp. Once the plate came, guilt washed over me. Why didn’t I just ask for some vegetables since I didn’t want tofu? I’ve written recently about slipping on my vegan diet and the guilt that I feel afterwards.

But today I’m reminded that this is part of my journey. I need to accept it and remind myself to go at my own pace. As much as I want to be 100% vegan, every meal, every day, that has been a difficult task for me. I find that I usually end up eating fish about once a month – either due to circumstances like tonight or situations where I really truly don’t have anything else to eat. So today, I’m trying to see the good in my choices the rest of the day, and the rest of this week, and accept tonight as a slip and move on.

Don’t be too hard on yourself either. Remember tomorrow is a new day.

 

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Be Part of the Solution: Embrace Your Potential

July 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Remember when your parents were testing your judgement as a teen and would say, if everyone was jumping off the Empire State Building, would you? The answer was always “no” with a dramatic roll of the eyes.

But what if we remove this from the extreme examples of doing drugs, hanging with the wrong crowd, and generally getting into mischief that this question was intended for. What if we re-phrase and ask, “If no one else is willing to make a difference in this world, are you?”

Granted that is extreme, but it is valid. I was recently in a situation where someone very close to me said one person can’t make a difference. This is something that made me incredibly sad. One person can make a difference. An extremely good difference, or unfortunately in light of today’s events, one person can also make a terrible difference.

I’ve heard some people say there’s no point in not eating meat since everyone else does. Whether it be for animals, the environment, or our ever-increasing medical bills and conditions, I want to believe that one person’s food choices can make a difference.

Today’s revolutionary act part of the 101 days of blogging challenge is “Be part of the solution: It’s going to take a lot of strong, clear-headed, high-vitality people to solve the world’s problems. Be one of them.”

I feel I’ve made a difference. As I said yesterday, my husband and my mom eat a mostly plant based diet now. I haven’t given up hope on my sister 🙂 Many friends have started to reach out asking how they can incorporate this into their lives. That’s a huge difference.

Just because everyone else is eating highly processed foods, hormone plumped meats, and other junk doesn’t mean you have to. You can stand out. You can be different. You can lead. Embrace what some find weird. Find others similar to you that inspire and motivate you and never underestimate your potential to impact others.

As for my dinner plate shown above, my husband made black beans in the slow cooker last night which I mixed with some quinoa and served with a side of heirloom tomatoes. We’re making a difference one plate at a time.

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto

November 19, 2011 § 2 Comments

Fall is slowly arriving in Orlando. We’re always late to the fall game with our widely varying temperatures. The first signs of the season are usually the warm smell of cinnamon “brooms” and the autumn display of squash and pumpkins in the grocery store. When I think of fall, my mind jumps to squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato – ravioli, gnocchi, soup, and of course, risotto are must haves.

I picked up two types of squash on my last grocery run. The first was spaghetti squash which I’d never prepared and boy was it good – a little sun-dried tomato, spinach, and pine nuts and that’s as good as anything. The other was a butternut squash. While in New York, Luis had ordered butternut squash risotto at Candle 79 and I really wanted to try and re-create it. I picked up some mushrooms too to give it some more volume and decided to top it with fried shallots.

 

Risotto is traditionally made with arborio rice. This particular variety has tons of starch lending to the creaminess of risotto. So why did I make mine with quinoa? Well, I wish I could say it’s my newfound healthiness but it wasn’t. The night I chose to make it, I opened the pantry and realized the bag I was sure I had was long gone. I did have quinoa though and have heard of it being used in place of rice in risotto or paella so figured I might as well give it a try. This won’t give you a creamy risotto, but it did work and created a much healthier dish.

Many recipes call for sautéing the squash stovetop but I decided to go ahead and just roast it to make it easier. Cutting it is a bit tricky. Best thing to do is cut both ends and then in half. Next, cut the peel off and then scoop out the interior.

Cut into cubes, toss with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, a few dashes of nutmeg and into the oven for about 40 minutes until it’s nice and tender. This recipe only needs half the squash, I used the other half to make these stuffed shells.

To make the fried shallots, heat up some oil in a small pan and fry up the thinly sliced shallots. Watch them closely and turn frequently to avoid burning. A few of mine got too much heat but most of them turned out fine.

When the squash is almost done, saute the mushrooms with some oil, onion, garlic, and thyme and set aside. I used shitake which worked very nicely in this dish but you can use any mushroom you have on hand. The mushrooms cook up in no time and lend a beautiful earthiness to the dish. Meanwhile, heat up some vegetable stock to for the risotto.

Once the squash and mushrooms are done, rinse and toast the quinoa. Toasting the quinoa enhances its nutty flavor. Once toasted, add the wine. This is a traditional step for risotto. The grain picks up all the wine flavoring before adding any stock. Once the wine is absorbed, add almost all the stock the quinoa calls for, stirring the pan. Then, begin to add a little more, one ladle at a time until the quinoa reaches a risotto like consistency – your looking for a little liquid, not a soupy dish. Lastly, you may add in a tablespoon or two of vegan butter to give it a silky finish.

Add in the mushrooms and squash and serve warm with the fried shallots on top.

If you’ve never tried quinoa, this is a nice way to try it for the first time. The vegetable stock lends a nice flavor and still showcases the quinoa’s slight nutty flavor which works nicely with the squash and mushrooms.

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto
Serves 4 bowls

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • Small package shitake mushrooms sliced (or any other kind)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash nutmeg (optional)
  • dash thyme
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan buttery spread
Directions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the ends off the squash and cut in half. Peel by cutting the outside layer off. On the bottom half cut in half lengthwise and clean out the seeds. Cut squash into cubes and put in a large baking dish. Toss with 2 tbsp oil, salt, pepper, and a few dashes of nutmeg (optional). Roast covered for 30-40 minutes until squash is tender.  Note: You only need half the squash for this recipe. You can cook it all together and have leftover squash for another dish or just cook half.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in small pan over medium heat and fry shallots, turning frequently. Set fried shallots aside.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in large saute pan over medium heat and saute onions and garlic until soft. Add mushrooms, a few dashes of thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Once mushrooms are cooked and soft, transfer to dish and set aside.
  4. Heat vegetable stock in small pan and leave warm on the stove for risotto.
  5. Rinse quinoa and toast in pan over medium to medium-low heat. Once toasted, add wine and stir to allow quinoa to absorb all liquid. Add 2 cups stock and allow quinoa to absorb. Adjust heat as needed. Continue adding stock as quinoa absorbs liquid until you reach a risotto like consistency. Lastly add in 1 tbsp vegan butter.
  6. Mix quinoa with squash and mushrooms. Top with fried shallots and serve warm.

My Husband A Vegan (?!?!?) and Vegan Lunch Boxes

August 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole vegan “thing”. I haven’t given up yet, but I’m not convinced this is going to last for the long haul. I sat here on Sunday mindlessly watching TV – off daydreaming of eggs and parmesan cheese and thinking, have I had enough? At that moment Luis looked at me and said “I’m going vegan for 30 days” and gave me a high five.

Ummm….OK??????

Let’s be clear: this is a big deal. My husband is Guatemalan and a serious meat lover. Ropa vieja, carnitas, filet mignon, you name it. I remember a dinner out recently as I approached my 30 day mark, eating some sad and badly prepared veggies as he devoured a steak rooting me on to not to give up. I don’t even like steak but I wanted a bite that night – I was hungry!

So fast forward and I’m approaching two months, having the same questions and here Luis is saying he’s giving it a shot. He was even trying his best to convert his mom tonight – I’m sure she was thinking “Dios mio! What’s happened to my son? Quick call 911 and get him a steak!”

Well, I can’t give up now can I?

The biggest question my husband had in his new vegan quest – “What on earth will I eat for lunch?” He works for a hotel so lunches allow just enough time for a visit to the cafeteria, which will have a few daily options. I asked if he wanted me to make him lunch the first day which he said, no, no, don’t worry. But I knew we were in trouble as the texts started rolling in around 12:30 the next day:

Is mayonnaise vegan? –No

Is rice vegan? –Depends

Is chocolate vegan? –Only dark

There was only one thing to do. I had to create a vegan lunch box. So Monday night after we dined on that delicious summer tomato pasta (If I could have that every day, the beginning of this post would have been different) I set to work in the kitchen and prepared a few containers of flavorful lunches for his first week.

Raw corn and tomato salad – olive oil, balsamic, basil, salt and pepper

Pasta with peas – a little good quality fruity olive oil, basil, salt and pepper (cooked a whole package of pasta when I made the summer tomato pasta so this was a super quick fix).

Greek quinoa salad – red peppers, cucumber, scallions, and oregano vinaigrette

Lentil salad – One of my favs with red onion, cucumber, and lemon vinaigrette

All these can travel easily, don’t require refrigeration immediately, or reheating, making them perfect vegan lunch box options. A side of nuts and seeds, veggies and hummus and he was good to go.

Now, I’m still not saying being vegan is easy. But I’m also not saying it’s necessarily “hard”. It is just about making it convenient – thinking ahead and being prepared. Here’s to yummy lunches that leave you light and fulfilled – vegan or not!

Another easy vegan lunch recipe you may enjoy: raw zucchini pasta with chickpeas and tomatoes.

Explorations in Flavor and Cooking – End of Week One

July 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

Last night at midnight I’d officially made it through the first week of my 30 day vegan challenge. As I wrote in my last post (on day 4!) it’s been challenging to say the least. I’m starting to get the hang of it, filling up on lots of fresh veggies and fruit, but man is it tough. Not to mention that I’ve just been hungry a lot! There were several times this week that I really thought – I’m going to have to quit. Luckily, or unluckily depending on how you look at it, I documented it here so I felt quitting would be, well losing I guess. I’ve never been known to be one to hold back on indulgences – I enjoy my desserts, pasta, wine, all in all just good food. This has kind of become a self control challenge – let’s see what I can do. And, while I’m testing my self control, I’m trying new flavors – good and bad.

It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine of making the same thing over and over – or even just ordering the same things when you go out. We all have our go to recipes that provide us quick comfort on week night ensuring a good meal. In the age of multi-tasking, it can be hard to find the time to try something new. My go-to recipes all include meat, seafood, or dairy, so I’ve been starting fresh over the past 7 days. My adventures in cooking this week: quinoa and eggplant.

I’ve seen lots of recipes with quinoa that look great but had never made it before. I actually was really overzealous and bought a package at Costco I think two years ago thinking I’d get healthy and it just sat in the pantry until it expired. I don’t know how to describe quinoa – it’s a grain that is like a tiny little pearl. Once cooked its quite light and fluffy. It’s known for it’s “delicious” nutty taste. I for one, didn’t think it was so delicious. To me it just tasted like health food – and not good health food. I had made a veggie stir fry and served it over the plain quinoa. I’d cooked the veggies with coconut oil which is healthier than olive oil, but man was it plain. It needed a spicy sauce or something. The picture above looks much more appetizing than it was. That was the night I almost quit – I could barely take it.

But the next day I decided to try it out again as I had some cooked quinoa leftover and I made what turned out to be a very good Greek quinoa salad. The key, I learned, was the dressing. The red wine vinegar was acidic enough to counter balance the quinoa flavor – providing a nice salad with some added protein and texture.

To make the salad, rinse and cook the quinoa according to the package instructions. Add diced and seeded cucumbers, scallions or red onion, red pepper, and black or kalamata olives. I didn’t have tomatoes on hand but they’d certainly be a great addition. The dressing is two parts olive oil and one part red wine vinegar with a generous portion of dried oregano. The result – a quinoa salad I can enjoy and feel satisfied from!

The cooking adventures continued Friday night with a homemade marinara sauce made of tomato, roasted eggplant, peppers, and garlic. I’ve never made eggplant. Clarification: I’ve never purchased or ordered eggplant. There is nothing about eggplant that appeals to me – except it’s beautiful purple skin, which I do have to admit, is quite special. This eggplant avoidance comes directly from my mom. She hates the thing after many years of eggplant parmesan on Friday nights when Catholics still observed meatless Fridays. So needless to say, we never had eggplant in our house.

I recently saw Rachel Ray make this marinara and figured anything with roasted peppers and garlic has to be good right?  The kitchen smelled amazing with the vegetables and garlic roasting away. Even my husband couldn’t wait for his meatless dinner to be ready. As I pulled each item from the oven, the fragrance intensified and my stomach churned. This was going to be gooooood! I had full confidence in Rachel’s testament that this was in fact the best marinara ever. Or not…

I plated that gorgeous pasta, pouring extra sauce full of all those veggies over the top and sat proudly to eat it. I took a bite and — nada. It tasted, well, I don’t quite know how to describe but kind of just like some plain ‘ol marinara from a nondescript jar. No depth. No complexity of flavors. This sauce had a whole head of roasted garlic in it I may add – and still nothing? Rachel was a bit too sure of her testament – or what it may have been is that I still just don’t like eggplant. Last night as I recounted the story to our friends and they had ordered babaganoush. To confirm this like or dislike of eggplant I tried it and yup – no me gusta. So perhaps the eggplant flavor killed it for me.

So, I know I haven’t made a sale of this by any stretch – but if you like eggplant, you might like this recipe. I did have the leftovers today for lunch and doctored it up a bit and it was much better. I sautéed some garlic and crushed red pepper in oil and then mixed in the pasta – the extra heat and spice gave it the kick it needed. If you do try it, I’d suggest just using canned roasted red peppers. I don’t have a gas grille and trying to roast them under the broiler was a pain. I think I’ll try it again but just leave out the eggplant and see how that changes it.

So, we’ve had some successes and failures this week in the kitchen. In the end though I got to end my week on a high note. We went to Ceviche with friends before a fabulous concert. I’d recommended Ceviche as it’s right across from the arena and is one of our favorite restaurants. But as my husband pointed out – “what on earth are you going to eat?” As he says, before I was picky, now I’m just plain difficult.

So what did I eat at a restaurant full of meaty and seafood delights? I ordered my usual aceitunas y pimintos – marinated olives and peppers to start as I mused over the menu. As I’ve learned in just a few weeks, there’s only a handful of vegan options at any restaurant. I decided upon the gazpacho, arroz con pimientos, and champinones al ajillo which I confirmed all complied with a vegan diet. The gazpacho arrived and the beautiful pink color had to mean one thing – cream. There was no way that soup didn’t have dairy. I confirmed with the waiter and yes, they add cream. Interesting for a gazpacho as I’ve never had it that way. We switched the creamy gazpacho for a house salad, which I finished without a second thought. Whatever is in their vinaigrette is amazing. The arroz con pimientos – saffron rice with peppers – was so flavorful I’m not entirely convinced it was vegan. I’m guessing it had to have seafood or chicken stock in it. I confess to eating every last grain and everyone at the table reassured me saying they were pretty sure it was vegan friendly – I think they may have just been trying to be nice.

Now for the champinones al ajillo – these are sautéed mushrooms in garlic oil and finished with a sherry flambé. If you’re following along, you know I don’t like mushrooms. At all actually. So the fact that I’ve now eaten mushrooms twice in one week is pretty big. There was something spicy in it that I couldn’t figure out what it was, but must have been some red pepper flakes infused in the oil. The combination of sweet sherry and spicy, garlicky oil was amazing. I think I’m starting to like mushrooms – that’s good.

For me, this meal was success. I was worried about eating there and being tempted, wanting everything else on the table than what sat before me but I wasn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and the best part was I didn’t leave with that overstuffed feeling I usually have when I eat there. Instead, I felt content and happy.

I wonder what this week will have in store for me! On to week two…

Update: Check out how I did with my 30-day vegan challenge and read my recap here.

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