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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Breakfast Club: Vegan Banana Pancakes



Breakfast. A Neccesity.

I am a breakfast person. No, I am an extreme breakfast person. If I do not eat within the hour after waking up I get cranky. I can, and have, rolled out of bed, put on a pot of coffee and immediately poured myself a bowl of cereal to enjoy. I do not understand people who don't like breakfast. In fact, I don't trust them. I don't trust people who don't drink coffee either.

My closest friends who how crazy I am about breakfast and they understand that it is imperative that I am fed in the morning, even if we are traveling, on vacation, at a strangers house or in the middle of nowhere. I am going to visit my brother and his wife in North Carolina this week and I am already contemplating the breakfast situation. Should I go to the store and buy cereal, almond milk and blueberries  I doubt they will have that stocked in their house. I used to be shy about eating breakfast around people who don't and I would try to wait until both of us were hungry. Now I am older and wiser and realize breakfast makes me happy, so it must happen.

I don't stray too much from what I consume for my morning meal. It is usually Trader Joe's Multi-grain O's mixed with Strawberry O's or Puffins of some kind mixed with blueberries. However, every once in awhile on a day off I will treat myself to a heavy, indulgent breakfast, such as vegan and gluten free french toast I previously wrote about or, in this case, vegan blueberry pancakes. I am still trying to get the hang of the perfect pour for pancakes. The last time I made pancakes was on Christmas for my boyfriend and I. They were a messy, burned and way too thick. This pancake attempt went much better. I discovered this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Sweatpants and Superfoods. I can not stand to let any of my produce go bad and I always buy too many bananas; it never fails. So, instead of making banana bread for the 500th time this year, these pancakes were a good alternative. In addition to what the recipe calls for I added some cinnamon, vanilla and blueberries. I indulged in one pancake with just butter, which was good, but of course it was definitely better with maple syrup. Save this recipe for a special morning, rainy Sunday or holiday brunch. It warms the heart and tummy!

Banana Pancakes

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10-15 minutes, depending on how many pancakes
Total Time: About 15-20 minutes

Ingredients:

2 bananas
2 cups soy milk (or other nondairy milk)
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder

::Optional::
Add vanilla extract, cinnamon or chocolate chips (or all of them) for additional flavors

Preparation:

1.Blend the banana in a blender or food processor until smooth. ::I did not use a blender. I mashed the bananas by hand. If your bananas are ripe this is very easy.::

2.Pour the banana into a mixing bowl and add the flour, soy milk and baking powder.

3. Mix together and make some short stacks!







Friday, August 17, 2012

Local Produce: A day dedicated to fresh food









Recently I have been overwhelmed by how much I would rather be cooking than doing almost anything else. But alas, I have a job and other obligations to attend to. However, whenever I get the chance I dedicate my time to exploring new food aspects. A few weeks ago I decided that I would skip buying produce at the store and take a trip out east to gather my usual essentials from the many farms that populate Long Island. I wish I could easily do this every week, but the time commitment makes it difficult.

My cousin, Lauren, came along and we drove until we hit Harbes Farm. I have been there a few times before, mostly to drink their wine. I love everything about it there. They have a diverse farm stand and a berry stand across the street, as well as a food stand that sells fresh corn, salads, fresh lemonade and cider donuts. Lauren and I each got a freshly squeezed strawberry lemonade and browsed the produce with wide eyes. I had to pace myself because I knew the point of the trip was to visit a few stands, not just one. I wound up buying a lot anyway. I left with two limes, four peaches, lettuce, an onion, a shallot and grapes. Then we ran across the street and I bought two bundles of blueberries and two bundles of strawberries. I am obsessed with blueberries and religiously eat them in the morning with my cereal. My plan for the strawberries was to make a jam with them, since I had made a fig butter the night before and am now currently obsessed with jams and jarring. I also bought fresh honey, which I have been using in shakes that I bring to work, which keep me full for hours.

Plants and herbs at Sang Lee Farms

I was also determined to buy some fresh herbs. My boyfriend and I had grown basil and I used it all the time, but unfortunately we lost some plants when the heat wave hit. To buy organic basil in the store it costs almost $4 and it goes bad quickly, especially in the summer. I prefer fresh herbs because they taste better and are more cost effective. I drove until I spotted a certified organic farm, Sang Lee Farms, and frantically cut the wheel of my car so we didn't miss it. I bought oregano, mint and basil for a total of $10 and I will have a constant supply for whenever I need it.

My cousin Lauren, browsing the merchandise
By this point, we were starving. We kept heading east until we hit Greenport, where we strolled along the water, grabbed some pizza and kept with the local theme by visiting the Greenport Brewing Company for a tasting. I wound up bonding with a woman over my license picture, in which I'm sporting a perm, as the result of a bad break up. Apparently she had made the same brilliant decision. I guess bad break ups sometime equate to bad hair as well. Lauren and I enjoyed the beer, people and the wood work that decorated the walls and then I wound up leaving with a jug of their Triton beer.

The trip made me feel refreshed and excited to use all of my local products. The next morning when I threw the blueberries in my cereal, my taste buds became very excited. The taste of fresh produce is in no way comparable to produce that has been grown, picked, packaged, shipped, unloaded and stocked. For the next week I used the things I bought for some nutritious creations. Below are my recipes for a great salad, a filling smoothie and a fresh strawberry jam.

Fattoush Salad


I created this salad based on a recipe I found on the blog Eat, Live, Run. I used the lettuce that I bought at the market to create it. It is a deceivingly light salad with a lot of filling ingredients. I used Tzatziki instead of Tahini the first time I had the salad and the second time I mixed together olive oil and lemon for a lighter dressing.

Total Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

8 cups spring mix (about 2 10-oz packages)
10 oz cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
2 whole wheat pitas, cut into thin strips (easiest way to do this is with a scissors)
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon (more or less to taste)
small pinch of salt (to taste)
Tahini for serving

Preparation:

1. Place the pita strips in a small skillet on the stove over medium high heat. Toast, tossing often, until pita strips are very crisp. This will take about four to five minutes. Don’t let the strips burn! When crisp, remove from heat and set aside.
2. Toss together the spring mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, feta crumbles, cilantro and chickpeas in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Add the toasted pita strips and toss again.
3. Finish salad by drizzling a spoonful of tahini over top just before serving.

Peach and Honey Smoothie

I found this recipe in the book "Homemade" by Clodagh McKenna. It is a simple creation that I have started making a few times a week, alternating with a mint mango smoothie that I love. It keeps me really full for up to four hours and gives me energy at work when I start to feel sluggish. McKenna's recipe calls for plain yogurt but I have been using soy yogurt instead. Although I do not like to eat a lot of soy, the dairy substitute works well and I do not have to worry about getting a stomach ache later on. I used the peaches and the honey that I bought at Harbes Farm to make my smoothies for the week.

Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh peeled and sliced peaches
1/2 banana
2 teaspoons honey
generous 3/4 cup plain yogurt
4 ice cups

Preparation:

Simple. Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.


Strawberry Jam
I am just getting familiar with jam making and as of yet, I do not have a jarring kit, so this was a bit of an experiment. I took the simplest recipe that I could find and threw it together. To my surprise it came out really well! I also learned an interesting trick. If you want to know if your jam is ready, place some on a cool plate. If it thickens and stays put it is ready, if it slides on the plate, it needs more time to cook. This recipe is from the blog Rumbly in My Tumbly. This recipe and some others, say to only cook the ingredients for 8 minutes. I found that I needed at least a half hour. I have been enjoying this jam with Earth Balance Coconut Butter on a piece of Ezekiel Bread. Mmmmm.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Ingredients:

2 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 tsp fresh lemon zest

Preparation:

1. Wash, hull, and slice your strawberries.
2. Put them into a saucepan with the water, lemon zest, and sugar.
3. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until jam thickens and reduces. Mash with a potato masher while cooking to break up big chunks.
4. Pour into a heat resistant jar and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.




Monday, July 30, 2012

Living, Breathing, Reading Food: My recent good book find


A few weeks ago I went to Barnes and Noble to track down a murder book, specifically, "Shake the Devil Off," about the murder in New Orleans, which I previously wrote about. This is because I might be slightly crazy or sick in the head. Regardless, they didn't have it. So, I went the more normal route and bought "Homemade" by Clodagh McKenna and "Apron Anxiety" by Alyssa Shelasky.

"Homemade" was a book that I actually found in Anthropologie in the Chelsea Market while waiting to go on a job interview at Amy's Bread. I wanted it badly but figured I could find it cheaper elsewhere. It is a book based on entertaining, explaining things such as how to organize your cabinets, how to make fig butter, making energizing smoothies and making the perfect picnic. It is a charming book and I sigh lovingly every time I look at it.

I bought "Apron Anxiety" pretty much out of boredom. The book summary explained it was about a girl who moves in with her chef boyfriend and falls in love with cooking in the process. It did not seem that impressive, but I bought it anyway. Turns out, this girl was dating Spike Mendelsohn from Top Chef. I'm not a dedicated Top Chef fan, but I enjoy it when I watch it. Shelasky never out right says that this is the person who the book is about, calling him Chef throughout the book instead, however a quick google search blows her cover immediately.

Shelasky worked for US Weekly and People magazine and her celebrity stories pulled me in like the little celebrity gossip whore that I am. Before I knew it I was sucked into the book and was shocked when I realized it. She tells a good story of falling in love, figuring out if love is enough, finding herself and realizing how stabilizing food and the act of cooking can be. I think the main reason I like the book so much is that I can relate to the love affair she winds up having in the kitchen with cooking. After a bad day all I want to do is cook or bake. On my days off I spend my time either food shopping or cooking. I sometimes cook things and don't even eat them and then contemplate bringing them to the homeless guy who begs for money on Middle Country underneath the Nichols Road bridge. I think I might. He needs food more than .50 at this point, I think.

I read this book in two days. It is definitely a "chick" book and an easy read, but enjoyable nonetheless. I found myself googling Shelasky and Mendelsohn for a few days after I finished it, trying to soak up any other information I could get about their relationship (again, I am a celebrity gossip whore). The book also provides recipes from different events and points in her life, which is nice. I recommend this read...and now that my murder book has arrived via Amazon.com, I will disappear into that for a few days and will probably need another light-hearted read. Suggestions please!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cooking as a Cure: Strawberry, Avocado, Goat Cheese Toast


Yesterday I took the plunge and dyed my hair completely blonde. Well, my amazing hairdresser did the actual hard labor, and I owe her a big plug...so if you like my hair now or have in the past, ask for Bryn at Salon Eden in Bayshore. This is something that I decided I wanted to do a few months ago, adding it to my bucket list. I have had almost every shade or hue of brown, black and red but never blonde. I even made an attempt to dye my hair purple (that is what college is for, isn't it?) and got a perm after a bad break up, but I have always been too scared to go light.

I pride myself in being pretty low key about my looks, especially my hair. I like to think that I have the confidence to pull off any look because as long as you think you can, you will find a way to make it work. I left the salon today loving my hair and feeling daring, but as I got home my anxiety started to creep up. I wondered if I looked silly or fake or if my friends and boyfriend would like it. I hadn't eaten much since my hair took almost three and a half hours to complete and the anxiety caused my chest to feel so tight that I couldn't even tell if I was hungry. But I needed to cook. I knew the familiar motions in the kitchen would normalize me. I decided to make an open faced sandwich that I had found on pinterest and wanted to try. There was no recipe attached to the amazing picture of toast with avocado, strawberry and goat cheese since it was linked to a food photography Web site, so I made it up as I went.

Sure enough, I cooked, ate and felt better. I looked in the mirror and found my confidence and fell in love with my hair. So now I have a new look to sport in the kitchen while I kick ass. Here is my recipe for this simple, decadent toast. It made for a great pick me up and might even work as a great appetizer or dessert.

Strawberry, Avocado and Goat Cheese Toast



Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 18 minutes

Ingredients:

- 1 Hass Avocado, mashed
- 8 Strawberries, sliced
- 2-4  tablespoons of honey goat cheese (Trader Joe's)
- 2 slices original Ezekiel bread
- Olive Oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

1. Slice and remove pit of the avocado and then remove the skin. Put the avocado in a bowl and mash it, like you are making guacamole. Add a touch of salt.

2. Slice 8 strawberries into thin, long pieces.

3. Coat one side of each piece of Ezekiel bread with olive oil. On the other side spread a layer of the avocado. Put half of the strawberries on each piece of bread.

4. Slice 2-4 tablespoons of the honey goat cheese and split between the two pieces of bread, spreading it on top of the layer of strawberries.

5. Heat a frying pan on medium for 5 minutes, place toasts in pan and cover with top. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the top layer of goat cheese is warm and slightly creamier than usual. Season with salt and pepper. Then you're ready to enjoy!

Makes 2 servings

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Feeding Friends: Girl's Night and Gluten Free

No breakfast is complete without coffee.
Food speaks to me. Not in a crazy, voices in my head, kind of way (Well, only sometimes). Most of the time it is inspiring. While at work I noticed Mango Butter and for some reason I needed to buy it. I had no idea what I was going to do with it besides put it on toast and that seemed way too boring, so I googled some ideas and came across a vegan and gluten free recipe for french toast with mango butter spread on top. I love food, but there are only rare circumstances when I taste food and it is so perfect that I feel at ease and let out a sigh of relief. That happened with this dish. The star ingredient of this meal is the coconut oil that it is cooked in. It was my first time using it and I am now obsessed and will find any reason to use coconut oil. It leaves a subtle beachy, exotic, lay on the beach drinking pina coladas, after taste. I was so enamored by it that I told my best friend, who is gluten free, that I would make it for her. Only, this meant that I had to lug all of my ingredients onto the LIRR, into a taxi and up to her apartment to cook it in her closet sized kitchen. But it was worth it. After being up for over 24 hours due to work at 5 a.m. and a night out with my two very best friends in New York City, being our crazy selves and meeting one of my favorite bands ever (thanks Melissa and Sam), we all woke up with headaches and slight hangovers. After a trek to Starbucks to obtain caffeine and some mango juice, I focused as much as I could on cooking, because no hang over could have stopped me! As an extra treat I sliced some of the gluten free and vegan banana and chocolate chip bread and added it to our plates. There is nothing better than making your friend's belly's happy after a great night together. So, without further ado, here is the recipe for this haunting dish, as well as the banana bread. I hope it brings you as much joy as it has me!

Gluten-Free and Vegan French Toast with Mango Butter
Recipe from Sweatpants and Superfoods (Amazing blog title and I am jealous that I didn't come up with it)

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: Approximately 2 minutes per slice
Total Time: 20-30 minutes, depending on size of batch

Ingredients:

- 1 cup soy milk (I used Almond Milk)
- 4 Tbs oat flour
- 2 Tbs flax meal
- 1 Tbs coconut oil (for cooking)
- 4-6 slices of gluten-free bread

Preparation:

1. Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a skillet. Whisk the batter ingredients together in a shallow dish with a whisk or fork. Let it sit for a minute so the flax meal has time to soak up the milk; this will help mixture will become more batter-like and almost frothy.

2. Dip each piece of bread in the ‘batter’ and cook each side in the heated skillet for a few minutes or until the edges start to brown.

** The blog also includes a recipe for fresh mango butter, but since I had already bought mine, I use that. I guarantee the fresh one is better though!


Gluten Free and Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Recipe from Whipped

I somehow did not take a picture of this. Silly me. Just trust me, it looked and tasted amazing.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: Approximately 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Ingredients:

- 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon xantham gum
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 2/3 cup agave nectar
- 2/3 cup rice milk (I used Almond Milk)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3)
- 2 cups chocolate chips

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 7 x 4x 3 inch-loaf pan.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, xantham gum, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup oil and agave nectar, rice milk, and vanilla to dry ingredients and stir until smooth.

3. Using a plastic spatula gently fold in bananas and chocolate chips.

4. Fill prepared pan halfway with batter.

5. Bake on the center rack for 35 minutes, rotating 180 degrees after 20 minutes. Cook until when you press on the loaf is bounces back slightly and a toothpick comes out clean.

6. Let banana bread sit for 20 minutes before inverting onto a cutting board to cut.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A creepily inspired love note to New Orleans


A calm Bourbon Street
Yesterday was my day off and I had a list of things that I wanted to do in order to enjoy it. Yes, I even make lists regarding how I am going to "try" to relax. I made myself some delicious vegan and gluten free french toast (the recipe will come later, I promise), enjoyed a cup of coffee and put on an episode of "Final Witness" which I had dvred. I love murder mystery shows and I recognize that it is somewhat disturbing that watching tragedy is enjoyable for me, but I am always intrigued by human behavior in general. However, in recent months, I have started to become more spooked and anxious while watching these shows. Maybe it is because I am getting older and realize that the terrible things that I am watching, did and do happen in real life and could happen to me or anyone else that I love. Ugh. Terrifying thought.

Sam and I, the night we arrived in New Orleans
Either way, I put this show on, expecting to watch it and move on with my day and my list of things. If you have never seen "Final Witness," which is possible since there have only been 3 episodes, it is a show based on true crime, depicted by actors and narrated by friends and family of the victim and suspect. The episode I watched yesterday was "Graveyard Love" about Addie Hall and Zack Bowen, two people who fell in love in New Orleans and their ultimate demise. The show opened by explaining that Addie arrived in the French Quarter and immediately felt like she was home. Those who are close to me, know that my best friend and I were very close to moving to New Orleans about 2 1/2 years ago. So I can definitely relate to this statement and from the very beginning the episode sucked me in.

Here is the shortest summary of the show that I can provide:

Blurry Bourbon Street from a bar balcony
Addie and Zack met at a bar they both worked at and slowly developed a relationship. They were both lost souls, looking for a place to call home and looking for comfort and they found it in each other. Zack had been deployed and had already been married and had two kids by the time they met. Their love affair began before Katrina and when the storm was due to hit Zack decided he needed to be with his kids. When he went to go say goodbye to Addie, he decided that he could not leave her, so they weathered through the brutal hurricane together. What was interesting is that the show depicted the aftermath of the storm in a way I had never heard. Apparently, the French Quarter was never flooded, damaged yes, but still livable to an extent. Zack and Addie found magic in the fact that a city that is always "on" was now quiet and peaceful. They had the whole city to themselves and a few others who had stayed. When the city started to come back to life was when things fell apart for them. They started to look for the magic they had experienced in drinking and drugs. They fought. Zack had an affair with a man. Things got ugly. They tried to save their relationship by getting an apartment together, but Addie wanted to play it safe and secretly signed the lease with only her name on it. When she found out Zack was cheating, she kicked him out. Zack told people that she left him and moved back home. He was seen hopping from bar to bar, racking up tabs and leaving. A mutual friend of the couple called him to see if he was okay and Zack invited him out that night. They were out until 4 a.m., when Zack abruptly said that he had to leave and go on vacation, and then left. Soon after, police found his lifeless body. He had jumped from a building, committing suicide. In his pocket they found a note which explained that if the police visited his apartment they would find his girlfriend's corpse. They arrived at the address and searched the apartment, but no body was in sight. On the walls sayings were spray painted, such as "I am a failure" and "I really loved her." Addie's journal was on the table but the last few pages were written by Zack, where he explained how he killed his girlfriend. They had been fighting and she kicked him out. She would not stop talking so he, calmly, started to strangle her. It did not take long before she was lifeless. He slept next to her corpse that night. He went to work the next morning. He thought about how to get rid of her body and decided that he would cut her body into pieces and then cook the parts to detach the flesh from the bone. Police found arms and legs in one pot and a head in another, all partially cooked. Zack explained that he was not disturbed by the fact that he killed Addie, but by the fact that he had no remorse and this is when he decided to spend the last of his money having a good time and then take his own life.

Whew. Okay. That is a lot to take in. So I will give you a minute....

Here is my experience with New Orleans and why the episode hit me so much:

Me, at peace, enjoying Cafe Du Monde coffee in New Orleans
As I mentioned before, I watch these terrible kinds of shows all of the time. What made this different is that in a weird way I felt connected to these lost souls in New Orleans. My best friend and I took a road trip to the city at a time when we were both a little lost. Me especially, after my parents shocking divorce, my abrupt break up and move from upstate New York back to Long Island, long nights working at a bar followed by long nights of drinking and little sleep. I was the definition of lost. When I got to the French Quarter, I felt like I was home. Apparently this is a very common feeling and it is hard to explain if you have never been to New Orleans. I felt calm. I felt like I could be and do whatever I wanted or needed and it would be okay. Granted, I was on vacation and that is a common vacation type thought, but this was different. I felt it in my heart and my gut. It is very easy to fall in love with that city. On our road trip back my best friend and I decided we would move there. Why not? We had no careers or boyfriends holding us down. It would be a fresh start. We were both bartenders so we could find work easily. Immediately we were excited and became wrapped up in the romantic idea of moving there. We made a time line and I even got a second job, mainly to help me save for the move. We both had a common goal that brought us even closer together and motivated us. We had Nola nights, where we drank Abita beer, made muffaletta's and watched "Princess and the Frog" (it takes place in New Orleans. Don't judge). Nothing else mattered because New Orleans was in our future. We planned a second trip to the city to look at apartments and secure jobs. However, the second trip lacked the magic that we had experienced the first time. This time we considered the reality of what we were about to do and bottom line, I think we both got a little scared. So instead of searching for our potential future residency, we decided to treat it like another vacation and the dream of moving there slipped from my fingers. It was devastating to let go of that dream, but when I woke up and looked around my life, I could not help but notice all of the improvements that I had made while holding onto this dream. I was happier, motivated, making more money, secure with who I was and the decisions I had made. Even though I did not physically move to New Orleans, the city helped me come back to life. It helped me find my balance. I will always carry New Orleans in my heart and my time there has shaped who I am today. I know people who had moved there and I carry a sense of jealousy toward them, but I would not trade my life at the moment for a life in that city. However, the city in part, got me the life that I have now. Which is why I proudly explain to people that the Fleur de lis on my wrist is not for the football team The Saints (Although my best friend and I literally cried when they won the Super Bowl), but for the city of New Orleans.
My Fleur de lis tattoo
There are a few reasons this episode of "Final Witness" hit me so hard. I can relate to be being a lost soul in that city. I can also imagine that my life there would have been somewhat similar to what their lives were. Each working in a bar and doing side jobs to stay afloat. I can imagine falling in love and having a whirl wind romance in a magical city. I had imagined these scenarios so many times while preparing and daydreaming about my move. I can't understand how Zack could kill the person he loved, but sometimes a downward spiral is only that. You are not guaranteed an upward spiral. That you have to work for. Basically, the episode made me look back on my time in New Orleans and my love for the city in a way that I have not done in a long time. I am that person who believes everything happens for a reason, and obviously New Orleans is not a city filled with all good (no place is), but New Orleans was my life preserver and I will continue to romanticize it for as long as I please.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food Smarts: Know what is listed in the ingredients

Courtesy of igourmet.com

I am a health conscious person and I have been a vegetarian for 18 years. I have tried a few times to go vegan, but have failed due to my adoration of cheese. I have never been a person to study food labels, just assuming that based on common sense, certain foods did not contain meat, or that cheese, for example only contained milk from an animal. Oh boy, I was wrong.
My whole outlook on consuming food took an interesting turn while at work the other day. A customer asked a co-worker a simple question about an ingredient in the Parmesan cheese, animal rennet to be exact. He asked another employee and found the answer that shock my world. Animal rennet, as it turns out, is from a mammals stomach. It is series of complex enzymes that are commonly used in the production of cheese for the use of coagulating the milk and separating it into solids and liquid.

Ok. So, I admit that I should have done this research a long time ago, but I didn't. So here I am, an 18 year vegetarian veteran finding out something that is probably common knowledge to many other people. Shame on me. However, I spent a long time looking at different cheese after I found this out and discovered that a majority of the cheeses use vegetable rennet or microbial rennet.

I did some more research though and discovered that vegetable rennet is mostly derived from mold. Yum. However, this would technically make it a microbial rennet and leave the cheese with somewhat of a bitter taste. Another option is genetically engineered rennet, which turns me off immediately because anything concocted in a lab to pass as food, makes me apprehensive. Below is a description of GM rennet from Wikipedia. It is a complicated thing and I do not think I can explain it well enough.
"With the development of genetic engineering, it became possible to insert cow genes into certain bacteria, fungi or yeasts to make them produce chymosin. Chymosin produced by genetically modified organisms was the first artificially produced enzyme to be registered and allowed by the US Food and Drug Administration. In 1999, about 60% of US hard cheese was made with genetically engineered chymosin[4] and it has up to 80% of the global market share for rennet.[5] By 2008, approximately 80% to 90% of commercially made cheeses in the US and Britain were made using GM-based rennet.[6] One example of a commercially available genetically engineered rennet is Chymax, created by Pfizer. Today, the most widely used genetically engineered rennet is produced by the fungus Aspergillus niger.

Cheese production with genetically engineered rennet is similar to production with natural calf rennet. GMO-produced rennet contains only one of the known main chymosin types, either type A or type B. Other chymosin types found in natural rennet do not exist in GMO-produced rennet."

It goes on to say that GM rennet is safe to use by vegetarians but that requires knowing if calf rennet has been used during the genetic modification and by simply reading the ingredients on the back of a package, you are not going to be able to tell. So, this poses a problem for me because my diet contains a lot of cheese. It is my downfall. I love pizza, and bagels with cream cheese and dips with cheese and cheese and crackers. All of these things I limit to indulging in only every once and awhile, but on a daily basis I put cheese in my wraps, on my salad, I sprinkle some on my roasted vegetables.
I have read that cheese can be addictive. I found a great Op piece from Boston.com, by Anthony Howard, titled "Culinary Curious: Addicted to Cheese? Here's why." He explains that the primary protein in milk is casein and when humans digest it, our bodies produce casomorphins, which have a "opiate-like" effect on humans. Casein in cheese is very concentrated and therefor produces a lot of casomorphines in humans as compared to other dairy products, such as plain old milk. In addition research starting in the 80s confirmed that cheese already contains small amounts of morphine, explained by scientists as a result of cows producing it in their milk to help calm their calves. Aw and Ew all at once.

So, now I have a mountain of reasons to not consume cheese. Will I stop completely? Probably not. I wish my will power was stronger than it is, and I admire and envy all vegans out there kicking ass and taking names. However, my life is already difficult enough as a vegetarian. I love my lifestyle and food choices, but I am not going to say it is always easy. I do not crave meat, but simply making smart choices can be hard. Also, when you cook for someone who does eat meat, things get tricky. If I added no cheese to the list, not only would I be making two meals each night, but my food bill would increase, since I would probably wind up buying both dairy and dairy substitute products.

All of this information does make me eager to be more informed about exactly what is in my food. This scenario only occurred last week and since then I have turned over very package and read the ingredients. If there is something I do not recognize I look it up on my fancy smart phone. I encourage you to do the same. Just be aware of what you are putting in your body and if you are not comfortable with it, make changes accordingly. I plain to curb my cheese intake and to definitely try to only purchase ones that are made with vegetable rennet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eating Healthier: Taking in Your Food Surroundings and Options



Lentils and veggies as a fulfilling dinner

Working at Trader Joe's is a great education in food and for taking advantage of what is available wherever you buy your food. I used to go into Trader Joe's and buy the same things every shopping trip, only varying slightly from time to time. Now that I am at the register seeing what people buy and putting all of the products on the floor, I see how many other options there are, especially healthy options, that I never paid attention to.

It is very easy to get stuck in a food rut, which is why I am grateful that I am in an environment that allows me to learn about different options. When checking people out at the register it is interesting to notice what people buy. It is possible to shop at a store like Trader Joe's and not buy healthy food. The cookies, candy, dip and chips there may be a better option than other places due to no preservatives or additives and organic options, but it still does not make it healthy. Also, the frozen meal options are great and convenient, but all frozen dishes are high in sodium. According to LiveStrong.com (Yes, that LiveStrong. If you still don't know what I'm talking about, it is Lance Armstrong's organization) the simple reasoning for this is taste.

"Processed foods such as frozen dinners, pizza, appetizers and snacks are often high in sodium primarily because the American palate is accustomed to salty foods. Sodium-free meats and combination foods such as pizza are generally not considered tasty and the food industry responds by placing salt where it is expected. Salt is also easier to obtain and cheaper to use than higher-quality flavorings, spices and herbs. Sodium is added as a preservative in some foods."

I started to notice that customers who looked exceptionally healthy and fit were buying simple foods, such as lentils, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, quinoa, kale, yogurt or granola. If they were buying frozen food it was frozen vegetables or fruit with nothing added to it. This is actually a good option if you are not planning on eating the fruit or veggies you buy within a day or two.

Based on this realization I decided that my shopping list needed a bit of a makeover. Now I try to buy something new and healthy each time I shop. Recently I decided to buy pre-cooked lentils. I had a few customers ask me for them so I was intrigued. I have had lentil soup before, but never just lentils prepared on their own. That night I made a dinner with them, veggies and some feta cheese. That's it. Simple, healthy, filling and something I would have not usually thought of making.

Lentils are a healthy food for many reasons. They are high in iron, which is great for a vegetarian like me. The high fiber helps stabilize blood sugar by helping with steady slow burning energy. They also are a good source of vitamin B, which helps the nervous, digestive and immune system.

 Here is the brief recipe.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes

Ingredients:

- 1 package of pre-cooked Trader Joe's lentils
- 1 bag of Trader Joe's frozen vegetable medley
- 1 cup of Trader Joe's frozen spinach
- Crumbled Feta to taste
- Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste

1. Boil enough water to emerge lentils package in pot. When water starts to boil, turn off heat and place lentils bag in water for 5 minutes. Remove lentils bag, cut open being careful of the hot steam and pour into a bowl.

2. Heat a frying pan on medium heat. Pour the contents of the frozen vegetable bag into the pan and coat with just enough olive oil to cover the veggies. Do not slather them with olive oil, they will be mushy and oily and gross. Cook until tender.

3. Combine the veggies with the lentils. Add feta cheese, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Freedom of Choice vs. Sugar: What is more important?

Courtesy of SugarStacks.com

I should have addressed this whole Bloomberg soda ban last week, but alas, I missed my newsworthy time frame. So now I will simply address it because it is interesting to me.

Mayor Bloomberg announced that he plans to enforce a ban on all sugary beverages over 16 ounces in restaurants, theaters and other establishments. This caused an outrage from people who think this is an infringement of their rights and freedom of choice. I feel ya people. I am a full supporter of freedom of speech. Although hateful speech is sickening, if I support freedom of speech, I have to support this right for all people even if I don't agree with them. So, in turn I have to support people's freedom of choice, even if I think it is stupid to drink a 16 oz soda or to be able to offer it in the first place.

I see soda as evil. I consider myself lucky that my parents did not raise me on soda, as a lot of kids are. The only time I do indulge is when I have a sore throat or upset stomach and only then do I crave ginger ale. The recommended daily dose of sugar is no more than 40 grams. According to Sugarstacks.com, in a 12 oz Coca Cola, there is 39 grams of sugar, so a 16 oz soda is well over the suggested amount. Not to mention there is added sugar in a lot of food that you might not even realize, such as cereal. In a regular 7-11 Big Gulp (28 oz), there is approximately 91 grams of sugar. Apparently there is also a super big gulp and an extreme big gulp. Seriously? This research made my stomach hurt and my heart feel bad for society. Sugar is high in calories but not filling which is why it contributes so much to weight gain.

There are additional reasons why sugar is bad for your health which are explained nicely on the Nutrition Diva's Web site. The stop five reasons it is bad for you are:

1. Sugar suppresses the immune system
2. Sugar promotes inflammation
3. Sugar suppresses the release of human growth hormone
4. Sugar promotes glycation
5. Sugar raises insulin levels

Admittedly it is hard for me to imagine ever drinking that much soda. I live for water. As humans, we all do, but I actually love it. I have one of those fancy pitchers that hold fruit in the middle to give it flavor, courtesy of my brother and his wife because they got too many for their wedding shower! However, things like that make me happy. Not soda.

I understand both sides of the argument regarding Bloomberg's policy. It may seem like it is constricting on freedoms, but the guy means well. He is watching out for the health of his people and I respect that. I understand that if people really want 16 oz of soda or more they will just buy two sodas, but that is also more money out of their pocket, so hopefully they draw the line when they start to see their bank account slim down, and in turn they will see their waste slim down as well.

The soda issue hurts me most when it comes to kids. There was a pre-teen boy who would come into one of my restaurants with his mom every week. Every week he would gulp down no less then 6 sodas. He was an obese child and my heart ached for him and my anger mounted toward his mother for letting him continue to order another soda. There were times when I would ignore them so I did not feel obligated to bring another soda and contribute to this kid's health decline.

In conclusion, Bloomberg might be pissing some people off, but his heart is in the right place. I know when I have a family all soda will be outlawed in my house. This policy doesn't directly effect my life routine, but to all those who are feeling the pain from this, please take this opportunity to consider cutting back on the added sugar from soda. I promise after a week you will feel better.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Creating the Perfect Bite: Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Muffins



A few weeks ago my boyfriend told me that he was having a breakfast food party at worked and asked me to make some muffins. I send him to work with a packed lunch (because I am a dork and need to know that he is eating and eating healthy) and sometimes that includes muffins that I make. His co-worker had tried one and liked it and had actually suggested to him that I make the breakfast muffins. So, I got really excited and motivated and went a little crazy with them, but they were awesome, so that is all that matters.

I decided to adapt a lemon-blueberry yogurt loaf recipe that I found on pinterest from the blog Sweet Pea's Kitchen. I made muffins because at a work party it is more convenient to just grab something and go. I even went out and bought a muffin carrier. I told you I went a little crazy!

The recipe called for confectioners sugar and when I was first thinking about making them, I did not have any so I googeled confectioners sugar substitutions and wound up finding out how to make it, which is really easy! Powered sugar is ground up granulated sugar and cornstarch, which works as an anti-caking agent. I used 1 tsp of cornstarch (which I did have on hand) for every cup of sugar. I mixed them together and ground them in my food processor on high until I had the consistency of powered sugar. It worked and was really fun and interesting to do.

I have never worked so hard to create a baked good. This recipe took almost two bags of lemons, which I hand squeezed for all the lemon juice needed. These are not a vegan treat, but there is no milk in them, which is my biggest concern. I love food, a lot. But it is not every bite that makes you instantly relax and be thankful for what you are consuming. That actually happened for me when I had my first bite of this muffin. Maybe it was because I worked so hard on them, or maybe they were just great. I hope both. Here is the recipe from Sweet Pea's Kitchen. Give them a try.

For the Loaf: (Muffins in my case)
  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I used organic low-fat vanilla yogurt)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed
For the Lemon Syrup:
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup sugar
For the Lemon Glaze:
  • 1 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease bottom and sides of one 9 x 5-inch loaf pans; dust with flour, tapping out excess.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the blueberries with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and fold them very gently into the batter.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing loaf to a wire rack on top of a baking sheet.
  5. While the loaf is cooling, make the lemon syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir together the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once dissolved, continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside.
  6. Use a toothpick to poke holes in the tops and sides of the warm loaf. Brush the top and sides of the loaf with the lemon syrup. Let the syrup soak into the cake and brush again. Let the cake cool completely.
  7. To make the lemon glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and 2-3 tablespoons of the lemon juice. The mixture should be thick but pourable. Add up to another tablespoon of lemon juice if the mixture is too stiff. Pour the lemon glaze over the top of each loaf and let it drip down the sides. Let the lemon glaze harden, about 15 minutes, before serving.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Homegrown Ingredients Used In Simple Recipes: Proven To Make Them 1,000 Times Better

Pizza made with garden fresh basil

Picked the basil from the back yard for our pizza enjoyment

My boyfriend and I started a small garden in early spring, which is now a very large garden. We are growing lettuce, basil, radishes, beets, onion, cucumbers, kale, chard, beans, zucchini and more. It has taken us awhile to see things start to reach full growth but it has finally started to happen! We picked and ate radishes, similar to chowing down on a carrots. That was fun, and interesting. We were just so excited to eat them, that preparing them in any fashion seemed like too much work.

The other night for dinner I made a homemade pizza, which I do quite frequently, when I can't think of anything else to make. The only thing I used from our garden was the basil, yet I was very excited to do so, since I usually buy tons of basil and then half of it goes bad.

So in honor of my homegrown ingredient, here is my simple pizza recipe.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

- Whole wheat pizza dough (mine is Trader Joe's)
- Whole wheat flour
- Olive oil
- Pizza or Marinara sauce
- Oregano
- Basil leaves
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
- One small sweet onion
- One Kumato Tomato
- Salt

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Coat a large piece of wax paper with whole wheat flour to make it easier to roll the dough out.
3. Place dough on wax paper and roll the dough out until it is your desire shape and size. Have fun with it. Make it thick, thin, round, oval, square, it's your pizza, go crazy!
4. Slice the onion into long pieces. Place in frying pan with enough olive oil to coat the onion in order to caramelize it. Heat the onion on medium heat until it starts to turn golden. I like mine burnt, but that's just me.
5. Coat the dough with olive oil to your liking. I like to only do a thin layer, just enough so the dough is glistening and the dough with be the right amount of soft/crunchy when it is cooked.
6. Spread desired sauce over the dough. The amount you use is up to you. Sometimes I am not in the mood for a very saucy pizza, especially when I am using yummy veggies.
7. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the pizza, again to your liking.
8. Slice one Kumato tomato and place generously over the pizza.
9. Sprinkle with salt.
10. Spread the caramelized onions over pizza.
11. Bake for 10 minutes or until the dough starts to rise and is golden brown.
12. Place basil leaves over the pizza to your liking. Do this after you cook it! Cooked basil is an acquired taste and it gets soggy.
13. Okay, time to eat. Yay!


Fate Forcing Change: The Upside of Being Broke and Jobless

Taking advantage of my new lifestyle and relaxing.

The focus of this blog has always been to learn how to balance the things you enjoy (and those you may not) and live a happy life. I tend to focus a lot on food because for me, that is what makes me happy, and I believe that it is at the center of many other people's lives. However, I was in a personal slump due to my work situation, making it hard to be motivated or inspired by much. I have been waitressing for about 5 years, due to not having an exact professional goal and unforeseen circumstances. Waitressing is not all bad. I made good money in a short period of time, I met a lot of great people and I learned a lot about food and business. However, at the end of the day, it simply did not make me happy anymore. I tried to be positive and I tried to look for other jobs, but I worked 6 days a week, some doubles and all nights, making it hard to get anything accomplished or see anyone.

I started to get irritable and depressed. I never saw my friends or family. I could never make plans and I tried to stay away from buying tickets for events since getting off of work was simply a miracle. Waitressing is a hard job and a respectable profession, but I became almost embarrassed to tell people what I did. When I was in Florida, people would ask what I do and it killed me to answer. My boyfriend caught on and like the gentleman he is, started jumping in to talk about his job at the IRS, which is way more interesting anyway. Bottom line, I knew I needed to make a change. But change is scary. So I stalled. I thought about going back to school, but the amount of student loan debt I carry around with me already is stifling. I applied to different kinds of jobs in different places but nothing seemed to work out. Then fate decided for me that my waitressing career had reached a close. Thanks fate!

Returning from my vacation, where I had spent too much money on amazing food and drinks and massages and more, I found that one of the places I worked at was bought out and the other was severely damaged by a flood, which caused it to close almost 2 months ago. I had to find a job. Quick. I knew that this was my chance to stop waitressing, so I took it.

I went on an interview for an organic bread company in New York City. I loved the company and the product. The interview felt more like a friendly conversation than anything else. I wanted the job. I got a second interview! Things looked good. Until I stopped and really thought about what my life would become. It would mean being up at 4:30 a.m. to be on a train at 6 a.m. to make it to work by 8 a.m., only to work an eight hour day and then rush to make the train so I could be home by 6 p.m. and be in bed by 10 p.m. to only get about 6 hours of sleep. I have no intention or desire of moving to the city and all of the commuting and time gone would not make my social life any better. Not to mention the strain it would put on my relationship. I actually took the time to consider what would make me happy and before they could give me an answer about the job I wrote them and graciously declined the position.
Instead I am now a full-time employee at Trader Joe's. They are a company that I whole-heartedly support and have since I was a kid shopping with my mom. Everyone there is nice, I get to work with food all day and the schedule is flexible. Oh, not to mention the fact that I get health insurance. I have been working there for about three weeks now and I can honestly say that I am happy. I do not mind going to work and work does not have to be my life now. I was able to spend a great few days in the city with my best friends and see my brother and his wife this past weekend when they came to visit. Those things probably would not have happened in my previous work situation.


I am now.
What I have learned is that even if it is scary, change can make you a million times happier. Also, the options that seem great in the beginning might not actually make you happy in the long run. You need to continuously have an internal dialogue with yourself and your desires. I am happy to end one sub plot of my life and move onto the next.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Love is Part of a Balanced Equation

Courtesy of sfist.com

I love love. I always have. I am one of the biggest hopeless romantics, even when I thought I was crushed and jaded and would never love again, I still loved love. In my opinion it is one of the most important factors of our lives, whether it is family, friend or intimate love. It is essential in keeping us balanced and has the most influence to make us completely the opposite. I think everyone is entitled to whatever kind of love they choose as long as at the end of the day, they are happy. Which is why I have always supported gay marriage. For me personally, I can not remember a day in my life where I thought otherwise. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions and I am not the kind of person to drill my own into other people. One of the great things about America is that we can all have different ideals, but there are some things that I believe so deeply in, that it is hard for me to imagine someone else feeling differently.

Yesterday President Obama made a historic announcement by stating his support for gay marriage. I can not claim to be a heavily political person. I watch the news from time to time, I get updates on my phone from Newsday and News 12 and I get a large amount of my contemporary issues knowledge from John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I have never had a huge problem with Obama, yet I do not know enough to back him blindly. I did vote for him in 2008. He seems like a cool guy, someone you could hang out with. Maybe even start a band with him and Bill Clinton, since apparently Obama can sing. What really moved me and surprised me is that during an election year Obama chose to voice his opinion on a very split issue and stand by it. Just the night before I told my boyfriend Obama couldn't make a stance on the issue, even though Biden was hinting his support, because it would ruin his campaign. He proved me wrong and for that simple fact alone I am proud to have him as my president right now.

I had to touch on this issue because human rights and civil liberties are a very important factor in what contributes to an American's inner balance and I know I am guilty of taking advantage of them. I admit that I day dream about my wedding day and marriage a lot. I'm a girl, sue me. But I also know that these dreams are possible, and legally acknowledged. I have seen the downside of marriage (See: my parents tragic divorce) but in a world where we have fortunately progressed over the years and have made slaves free and have given women the right to vote, how on earth are the ones still being persecuted, the gays? The first historical mention of same sex marriage occurred during the Roman Empire. How is it possible that we as a people have become more closed minded?

Love me or hate me for these views, but I live in a world with rose colored glasses where I want everyone to be happy and everyone to be loved. So, Obama, I salute you, not even necessarily as my president, but simply as a person.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rainy Day Slimmed-Down Grilled Cheese

Rainy Day Satisfaction

We have been getting some much needed rain recently. I am the minority who loves rainy overcast days because it gives me an excuse to do as little as possible and not feel very guilty about it. I also love the way rain smells. It gives me a sense of balance when nature is washed clean. Okay, enough hippy talk for now. Onto the goodies...

On rainy days I also love to eat and eat and...eat. And the chances that I make it to the gym are cut in half since I think I hear the rain telling me I look good in sweat pants and an over sized shirt, eating crap. One of the warm, comforting meals that I crave is tomato soup and grilled cheese. I managed to bypass the soup since I have not tried to make my own soup yet and the sodium in the cans makes me bloat for two days (Side note: Please, please do yourself a favor and look at the sodium counts on both canned and frozen foods before you buy and ingest them. I know they are convenient, but I swear you will feel 15 pounds lighter if you go for fresh versions, where you control the amount of salt that is included). I could not resist the grilled cheese, however. I always associate grilled cheese with the tag of "extremely unhealthy," but I realized something recently. I pack myself sandwiches or wraps almost every day and the only difference between those and the grilled cheese version is that it is warmed and the cheese is melted. The trick is to limit the butter and cheese, and not have more than one. I know, I know, those are all the good things. I promise you, this creation will leave you satisfied.

The Weather channel says that it should start to get nice out tomorrow, so either eat this is the warm sunshine or save it for a rainy day.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

- Whole Wheat or Gluten Free Bread
- 1 Roma tomato, sliced
- Yellow Onion, sliced
- 1/4 Avocado, sliced
- Earth Balance Spread
- 2 slices Organic Cheddar Cheese
- Salt

1. Grab two slices of whole wheat or gluten free bread (white flour is simply no good for you) and spread the Earth Balance evenly on one side of each piece. Earth Balance is dairy and gluten free but I swear it tastes as decadent as butter. Put the bread aside.
2. Slice the tomato, onion and avocado.
3. Warm the frying pan on medium heat while you prepare the rest of the sandwich.
4. Place a piece of cheese on each piece of bread and load the sandwich up with the tomato, onion and avocado. Season with salt to taste, since avocados and tomatoes really burst with a little bit of sodium.
5. Place sandwich in pan and warm each side evenly. Cut in half and serve!

All of this should not take more than 10 minutes, of course unless you burn it, which I have done a few times with grilled cheese. This is a filling meal with a lot of different tastes that does not overload you with fat from butter and cheese. As always, let me know how it goes if you try it!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cinco de Mayo Quesadilla Recipe

Eat Me!

I love Mexican Food. It is an option that is vegetarian friendly and with about 5 ingredients, you can create 10 different Mexican dishes. In honor of Cinco de Mayo I am going to share my quick and easy, but most importantly delicious, quesadilla recipe.

Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 13 minutes

Ingredients:

- 2 Whole Wheat Wraps or Tortillas
- 1 Roma Tomato, chopped
- 1 Small Sweet Onion, chopped
- 1/2 Hass Avocado, sliced
- 1/4 Can of Organic Black Beans
- Your Favorite Salsa
- Shredded Mexican Cheese
- Sour Cream, optional
- Salt

1. Chop tomato, onion and avocado and put aside.
2. Let pan warm on medium heat for two minutes. Spray with olive oil to prevent the quesadilla from sticking or burning.
3. Place wrap in the pan and cover with Mexican cheese to your liking. Place the other wrap on top and press down with a spatula, encouraging the cheese to melt between the wraps.
4. Flip continuously, being careful to not let cheese fall out of the quesadilla, so both sides are equally cooked.
5. Remove from pan and cut into fours.
6. Cover the quesadilla with a coating of salsa. Toss the tomato, onion and avocado and place on top of the quesadilla. Season with salt to taste.
7. Spoon out black beans and spread on quesadilla.
8. Enjoy!

Be cautious when eating this! There are a lot of goodies involved and the wraps can start to get limp and soggy quick, which is why I always eat it with a knife and fork. I put all of the good stuff on top of the quesadilla because a lot of the times it falls out of the middle anyway and I find it more enjoyable this way, but feel free to adapt this process as you like.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! I will be attending a gathering, wearing an itty bitty sombrero and drinking Abita Strawberry Harvest while eating mango and banana guacamole that I plan on making. What are your plans for the day?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Food Inspiration: Whole Wheat Pasta Creation

Sometimes I feel like I have a ton of food but nothing to make. However, when I am feeling very inspired and creative I stand in the kitchen with all the cabinet open looking at potential ingredients that I could use. The other night I surprised myself with a great pasta creation.

The end result was a whole wheat pasta with a herb and garlic goat cheese and butter sauce, tossed with chick peas and oven roasted tomatoes. I sent my boyfriend to work with the leftovers the next day and was told it is great cold also.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: Approximately 45 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Ingredients:

- 1 package of whole wheat penne pasta (I used Trader Joe's brand)
- 2 Roma tomotoes, sliced
- 1 can chickpeas
- 1/2 package of garlic and herb goat cheese (I used Trader Joe's brand)
- 1 stick of butter
- Salt, pepper and oregano to taste

Preparation:

1. Fill pot with water add salt and cover. Heat until water starts to boil and pour pasta in. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Place sliced tomatoes on a roasting pan or baking sheet. Drizzle or spray olive oil to coat tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano and toss until all peices are covered. Bake for 25 minutes.
3. Place chickpeas in a sauce pan and heat for about 8 minutes or until tender.
4. In a sauce pan melt butter with the burner on medium heat. Make sure to stir constantly so the butter does not burn.
5. Once butter is melted add the garlic and herb goat cheese. Half of the package should make it slightly thick. Adjust amount to your liking.
6. Once all ingredients are cooked thoroughly, strain the water from the pasts and mix all ingredients together. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, as the sauce will thicken slightly.
7. Eat and Enjoy!!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Vegan Banana and Pumpkin Bread

Left: Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, Right: Vegan Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Sometimes all a girl wants in life is a warm piece of bread and some tea. I have been experimenting with different kinds of baked goods, especially breads, since the holidays. I made chocolate chip pumpkin bread, mint chocolate bread and regular old chocolate. All yummy in their own way!

Recently I have been trying to perfect different vegan recipes, including chocolate chip banana bread (bananas and chocolate are the perfect combination in my opinion) and pumpkin bread. The finished product of each went through my critical taste test, and unfortunately the pumpkin one still needs some improvement. However the banana one was great! I will experiment with the pumpkin further, but this time around it came out very tough and chewy. The recipe that I used was from The Happy Herbivore Web site. I have made other great pumpkin breads in the past that included dairy, so my scientific assumption right now is that pumpkins and dairy work well together and the pumpkin is lonely without it.

For the chocolate chip banana bread I followed the About.com recipe. It is a very simple recipe and I was able to find all the organic ingredients that I needed at Trader Joe's. I also used vegan chocolate chips which were from Whole Foods. The great thing about making banana bread is that all of the bananas that I never got around to eating during the week can still be put to good use. Also, a sweet treat is waiting for me in the morning or as a desert at the end of the day. Although it does contain sugar and flour, there is a boost of potassium that makes indulging in this treat seem a little less guilt ridden.

Below is the recipe that I followed, however I replaced the walnuts with the chocolate chips because I'm a rebel. And if anyone has a vegan pumpkin bread recipe worth trying, let me know!

Makes 1 9"x5" loaf
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups white granulated sugar (I prefer unrefined cane sugar)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 3/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup plain soy milk or almond milk
  • 1 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups mashed banana, from about 4 large very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 T. maple syrup
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • Walnuts (optional)
Preparation:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugars, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the soy milk and cider vinegar and let stand for 2 minutes. Add the mashed banana, canola oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract, whisking until well combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing until just combined (do not overmix!). Fold in the walnuts if using and pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. Allow the bread to cool on a wire cooling rack for 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vacation Habits: The Appeal and the Downfall

View from The Ringling Mansion
All dressed up with somewhere to go

I recently took my very first trip to Florida! You may gasp if you'd like. I am aware that it is incredibly rare to find a 25 year old who has not ventured down to the sunshine state for a trip to Disney or spring break. I went with my boyfriend for a wedding in Sarasota, which took place at Ca' d'Zan, John Ringling's mansion (Yes, of the Ringling circus). Words cannot describe how perfect it was.

In preparation for this vacation I worked out every day and tried to stick to organic and clean eating even more than usual. I used this trip as a reward for really getting my eating and lifestyle habits in order. For the most part, it worked! I knew that I would indulge in fruity, sugary drinks by the pool and fried, cheesy food when I got there, and I did indeed. We ordered room service every morning, which included organic eggs to my surprise! We spent the afternoons drinking and indulged in exotic dinners. My boyfriend took advantage of the great seafood, while I tried different things such as truffle fries and fried black bean cakes. I ate and drank and lived guilt free, but by the end of the trip, I felt heavy. Not fat, but just physically heavy and more lethargic than usual.

This fact proved to me more than ever, that eating clean and organic is more than just a cool sounding fad, it is actually beneficial. So, rather than take my time getting back into my before-vacation habits, I jumped right back in.

The weekend after we returned we visited Garden of Eve's Chickapolooza, which focused on how to raise chickens. I snacked on Kale chips, which were to die for, rainbow chard salad and I grazed a buffet created with farm based ingredients. Afterward my boyfriend and I loaded up a wagon full of herb and vegetable plants and took them home to do some gardening. We now have two full green houses of food we are growing ourselves. The lettuce is almost ready to harvest and I plan on making the most delicious salad with it!
Chicken and tour guide at the Garden of Eve


I encourage you to try to incorporate organic and clean eating into your diet. A really great Web site to visit to get started is The Gracious Pantry. It will take some time to learn to read the fine print and the ingredients, but after a few weeks it will become second nature. I also urge you to plant your own food. All of our plants are in pots, since we have space constrictions and this allows us to take them with us, whenever we have to move. Besides being beneficial to your health, this will cut down on your grocery bill also!
A home grown vegetable and herb garden


Do you grow your own food? And if so, what is your favorite thing to grow?