Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies

As promised in my last post, peppermint cookies are here! When I originally conceived this recipe—a holiday take on my classic chip cookies—I imagined it would come together with candy canes to really signify the spirit of the season. I was willing to incorporate an ingredient so heavily processed because I was including only a small amount of it…and I love candy canes. 🙂 The more I thought about it, however, I realized that there was a way I could get a purer peppermint flavor in my cookies, free of Red #40 and refined sugars.

Here you see my peppermint plant (I also grow spearmint). What better place to start with obtaining a peppermint flavor than with the plant itself?! Peppermint is truly a super food. Most notably, peppermint can relieve indigestion. The plant’s oil is even sold on its own for this and other medicinal purposes.

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I figured I would just throw the leaves right into my cookies, making these treats the ultimate post-dinner dessert: Help soothe your upset tummy after that filling holiday meal and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  CHIP COOKIES

Makes 24-30 small cookies

  • 1 ½ cups flour –> I’m using whole wheat.
  • ¾ cup unsweetened plant milk –> I’m using ½ cup oat.*
  • 2/3 cup sweetener –> I’m using turbinado sugar.
  • ½ cup oil or nut/seed butter –> I’m using coconut oil (room temperature, not melted).
  • 2 tbsps flax or chia seeds –> I’m using flax.
  • ½-1 tsp extract (depending on flavor intensity) –> I’m using 1 tsp homemade vanilla extract.
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp pink Himalayan sea salt
  • 2/3 cup chips –> I’m using 1/3 cup mini-semi-sweet chocolate chips (vegan) and 1/3 cup packed peppermint leaves.

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*Because they are raw plants, the peppermint leaves themselves contain additional moisture, so I am using less milk to ensure that the dough is the right consistency.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Puree the mint leaves and milk in the blender and set aside.

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With an electric hand mixer, cream together the coconut oil, extract, and sugar. Add the dry ingredients and stir by hand to combine. Stir in the mint milk and finally, the chocolate chips.

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Grease 2-3 baking sheets or line with parchment paper.  Place heaping spoonfuls of cookie dough into your palm and form a loose ball (doesn’t need to be perfect). Space approximately a 1.5 inches apart. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the cookie edges are slightly golden brown.

 

 

 

 

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Staying on Track During the Holidays

I am pleased to report that while I didn’t see a decrease in numbers on the scale this week, I’ve noticed my body starting to tone up and change shape. After my previous failed jogging attempt, I decided to hold off on trying again until this week. So, in the past week, I focused on continuing to do some light toning with hand weights and ab exercises.

The real victory for me in the last seven days was getting back into my skinny jeans! I hadn’t attempted to wear them until this past Saturday and was excited to see that they slipped on easily and fit just as I remembered them. At six weeks post-partum, I’d say that’s not bad.

The holidays—and my December birthday—won’t stand in the way of my progress to reclaim my pre-baby body. Today, I’m offering some tips that have worked for me and will hopefully get me all the way through the New Year:

Eat more raw plants. If you tuned in for my one-week raw food challenge, you know that it resulted in an easy three-pound loss and left me feeling more energetic than I have in months. I strategically took on the challenge at a time when my weight loss plateaued, hoping to kick-start my metabolism and continue to achieve my goals. It worked, and I even succeeded in sticking with it despite Thanksgiving falling in the same week. I am not suggesting that you give up eating cooked foods – there are so many that are highly nutritious, besides being darn tasty! What works for me is to plan ahead. Since cooked foods are higher in calories and generally less nutritious than raw, if I know I’ve got a decadent cooked meal coming up, I try to eat raw only (or pretty close) the day or two leading up to that meal.

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I don’t splurge like I used to, but I still do to some degree. You won’t see me eating any turkey, but I’ll probably have a good two helpings or more of vegetarian (but probably not vegan) green bean casserole. I won’t “pay” for this indulgence later because I was proactive about making room for the splurge. My thirty-first birthday was last week and let me tell you, I didn’t hold back on more than one piece of cake and a whole bunch of cocktails. 🙂 I was sliding into my skinny jeans just two days later…

Offer to host. The holidays are a time for more frequent family gatherings and parties with friends. Chances are, you’ll attend at least a couple of events from November to January and there will probably be an abundance of meat and dairy served at the majority of them. If you want to control how you are partying this season, offer to host.

I’ve written several posts—starting with Nolan’s second birthday party—about hosting a non-vegan crowd with a totally vegan menu with great success. When guests come to my house, they know that they will be eating an entirely vegan meal that also extremely healthy and satisfying. No one complains and there is always at least one dish served that guests are truly raving about. When I host potluck-style, I never have to ask my family and friends not to bring meat; they just don’t. The respect that in my home, I don’t eat it, and there’s never a discussion. They typically bring dishes that are vegetarian and I never bat an eye – not everyone eats as strictly as I do and it won’t hurt me to go off the beaten path now and again.

Make your own satisfying treats. What many Americans—myself included—love about the holidays is the opportunity to eat special foods that they don’t prepare year-round. Every year since childhood, I look forward to my mom’s traditional Christmas cookies, which are definitely not vegan…and I will definitely be eating a few. 🙂 Surely you’ve indulged in a treat or two already and we aren’t even halfway through the holiday season.

So, don’t be left out. Make treats. Be a part of the holidays. Just do it on your own terms. I’ve proven time and time again with my dessert formulas that you don’t need butter and eggs to make a rich dessert.

Coming up on the blog before Christmas: thumbprint cookies made with leftover cranberry sauce and my classic chip cookies with peppermint. I’m starting a new cookie tradition—Nolan needs something to leave for “Santa,” after all—and not missing out on any of the holiday fun.

Many Americans gain significant weight over the holidays – you can still enjoy yourself without being one of them. 🙂

A Fresh Take on Beans and Rice

Let me start by saying that I LOVE the combination of beans and rice! B&R makes for a filling square meal, packed with protein and fiber. B&R also serves as a versatile base for a number of dishes, from curry to the burrito bowl. Today, I’m using quinoa in place of rice and adding yellow squash for a fresh take on a classic duo.

In Monday’s post, I touted the salad, which I hold responsible for helping me to lose baby weight and keeping me fit in general. While lately I have been consuming salads composed primarily of raw produce, I really enjoy salads with cooked elements, too. My multi-grain salad is among my faves and the formula behind my twist on B&R.

This southwestern cooked-but-cold salad also features raw yellow squash. Yellow squash—sometimes referred to as summer squash—contains high levels of vitamin C, beta carotene, and lutein. It is also an excellent vegan source of iron and folate, which are commonly found in large quantities in animal products. In addition, I find that the texture is more appealing when left raw, leaving more of the nutrients intact.

Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: MULTI-GRAIN SALAD

Serves 4-6

  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock –> I’m using water as I don’t currently have any stock on hand.
  • 2 cups dry grains –> I’m using white quinoa.
  • 2 cups chopped fruit and/or veggies -> I’m using 1 ½ cups yellow squash, ¼ cup corn, and ¼ cup diced sweet peppers.
  • Dressing of choice or a combination of herbs/spices and salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using the juice of one lime, a splash of olive oil, a splash of agave syrup, and the seasoning combo I use in my chili, in a lesser amount. I sprinkle the spices from one side of the bowl to the other; that’s how I often “measure.” 🙂
  • TODAY’S EXTRA: 1 ½ cups black beans.

Rinse your grains before cooking in order to remove any possible dirt or dust.

If you’re using a variety of grains: Because different grains have different cooking times, you may approach this in two ways: cook them all in the same pot, in stages, or cook them separately and combine them later. If you’re not sure about the grains you are using, research their cook times and even better, experiment in your kitchen.

If you’re using one grain, as I am today, find out how long it takes to cook and get it into your stove top pot or rice cooker. I use a rice cooker because I find that it reduces sticking to the bottom of the pan with just a few occasional stirs, but you can certainly cook your grains in a pot on the stove top, stirring more regularly.

While your grains are cooking, chop your fruits/veggies, drain your beans (in today’s rendition), and prepare your dressing and/or seasonings.

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I usually leave the lid to my rice cooker off for the last few minutes to speed the cooking liquid absorption process. When there is no liquid left, your grains should be done. Place the cooked grains in a bowl and chill in your fridge, uncovered and with occasional stirring to allow heat to escape more easily, until at least room temperature (about 30 minutes). If the grains are hot, they will par-cook your produce, which we want to keep raw. When cool, combine the grains with your other ingredients. Consume cold and store in the fridge for 3-5 days, depending on the shelf life of the produce used.

Progress Report and How to Build a Salad

The results are in: I’m down another three pounds and just one pound shy of my pre-pregnancy weight! My one-week raw food challenge yielded exactly the results I expected. Honestly, despite all of the raw produce I eat on a regular basis (and my success this past week), going 90% raw was more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until a few days in that I really got into a groove with snacks and small meals that kept me satisfied.

I found myself eating roughly 40% each raw fruits and veggies, 10% raw nuts, seeds, and butters, and 10% “other” (cooked items, oils/vinegars to dress salads, etc.). I experienced increased energy levels, which is essential these days with a newborn waking several times throughout the night. I found it easy to lose a little bit more weight even though working out did not go as planned.

In my last post, I was beaming about our new B.O.B. jogging stroller and getting back to running again. Well, I tried, and let’s just say I experienced some healing setbacks that I didn’t expect. I thought I was ready for a low-impact jog, but my mind and body had different plans. I did, however, keep with regular outdoor walks, began doing arm exercises with two-pound hand weights, and even got down on the floor for some good ‘ole ab toning. I’m feeling really great and look forward to trying jogging again soon.

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So, how did I consume all of that raw produce in order to feel satiated and energized and achieve the results I was looking for? Mostly, salad! No, we are not talking iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots…I mean big, hearty, versatile salads with flavorful low-sodium/fat/sugar homemade dressings.

Here’s how I build the perfect salad:

Start with a nutrient-rich leafy green base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with iceberg or romaine lettuces, you’ll get more out of a salad with kale or spinach. Leafier greens tend to be more fibrous, so chop them small and/or massage your dressing onto the leaves to make them more palatable. Also, consider greens that you may not have realized you could eat. Travis and I consume the tops of beets and carrots, for instance, either in salads or smoothies.

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Mix a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies pair well together, allowing you to balance sweetness and freshness. I prefer hard, crunchy fruits like apples or pears in my salads, but there’s obviously no limit to the combinations. This salad—surprisingly, from Chili’s—includes pineapple. Berries make for a delicious addition, too. As for veggies? Really anything goes. I prefer veggies that are palatable in a raw state, but you could even prepare a butternut squash and slice it thinly. Play around with combinations that maximize flavor and nutrition.

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Kick it up with a crunch. Raw nuts and seeds do the job nicely. Whenever possible, opt for those without added oil, salt, or sugar, of course. Even nuts that aren’t necessarily tasty raw—walnuts, in my opinion—take on a whole new life when paired with the right produce and dressing. I will eat a whole bowl full of kale with just nuts/seeds and am totally satisfied.

Make your own dressing. ALWAYS. There are many a tasty option out there in the world of premade dressings, but an abundance of them contain animal products, preservatives, and/or an excess of oil, salt, or sugar. It is simple and fast to make your own dressing. A vinaigrette comes together by mixing acid (mustard, citrus juice, vinegar, etc.) and a touch of oil and/or sweetener, plus salt, pepper, herbs, and spices to taste. Love ranch? Caesar? You can still have creamy dressings using a nut or seed butter as the base. This extra effort is worth it for a healthier salad. Ranch might make veggies tastier, but it takes over whatever health benefits you were gleaning from them without it…

Add cooked elements to make it extra filling. Lastly, your salad will keep you fuller longer if you add cooked beans, lentils, tofu, or whole grains. I especially love to do this when I’m making a burrito bowl. 🙂 Remember, though, that cooked items contain more calories than raw, if you’re trying to watch your weight. Point is, if you’re aiming to eat more raw produce, that is what should be the star. (You can’t go wrong, however, with my multi-grain salad, bean salad, or potato salad for a filling fix that is highly nutritious!)

Salad with beans

During my one-week raw food challenge, I was comfortable eating a lot of salad. In my ordinary plant-based life (60-70% raw produce), I typically eat at least one salad a day, either on its own or in a wrap. If the thought daunts you but you’re trying to eat more produce, start small: carrot sticks and dip (homemade, of course!), apples and peanut butter, etc. Once you find yourself having more energy, you’ll be chowing down on fresh fruits and veggies on the regular in no time!

Leftover Pumpkin Puree?

If you butchered and baked your Halloween pumpkins or stocked up on the canned stuff as it went on sale before Thanksgiving, you probably have pumpkin puree leftover from preparing America’s favorite dinner. You could whip up a batch of my pumpkin super food muffins or incorporate the puree into a savory application.

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I introduced my creamy vegetable pasta sauce to you with the loved and loathed eggplant. At the time, I hadn’t tried the formula with another vegetable, so I wasn’t sure how this pumpkin sauce would turn out. I’m happy to report that it was a success! I served it atop pasta to the guests at my Thanksgiving dinner (which we hosted early because my mom was in town visiting her newest grandson) and it was the most-talked-about dish of the evening.

If you have a blender and a box of pasta, you’re ready for this decadent and healthful pumpkin “cream” sauce to make an appearance at your next dinner. I’m using oat milk in today’s cashew cream, one of the sauce’s star ingredients. Oat milk is naturally on the sweeter side of plant milks, so it compliments pumpkin nicely, as we are often used to using it in sweeter culinary concoctions. Bonus: One serving of this particular oat milk will provide you over a third of your recommended daily calcium and two grams of dietary fiber. Not bad.

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Scoop up your leftover pumpkin and put this quick and easy dinner together in minutes. Nutritious—especially if you use a whole grain or vegetable pasta—and resourceful, I’m happy to help you use every bit of your leftover Thanksgiving eats. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CREAMY VEGETABLE PASTA SAUCE

Makes sauce for 1 box of pasta*

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped raw vegetables –> I used 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree. (This translates to approximately 2 cups of raw chopped vegetables, since it is already cooked and pureed down.)
  • ½ cup cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight and blend with just enough water/plant milk/veggie stock to form a thick cream) –> Because pumpkin has a strong flavor, I used extra cashew cream: 1 cup cashews + 1 ½ cups oat milk.
  • 2 tbsps nutritional yeast –> I opted out of this, figuring it didn’t mesh well with pumpkin. It worked out, but for most other vegetables, I would include it.
  • 1 tbsp acid (i.e. vinegar, mustard, citrus juice, etc.) –> I used whole grain mustard.
  • ¼-1 tsp seasoning (i.e. fresh/dried herbs, spices, etc.) –> I used ½ tsp dried sage and ¼ tsp ground nutmeg.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste –> I used ½ tsp salt and about 4 turns pepper.

Peel (if necessary) and chop your vegetables. Steam, roast, or boil to cook. While your vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare your pasta of choice. When the vegetables are finished, combine with all other ingredients (except the pasta, of course!) in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.

 

DSC_2572Pour atop your pasta (or use in another application) and enjoy immediately for most desirable consistency. It will keep just fine in the fridge, but will dry out a bit.

 

 

One-Week Raw Food Challenge

As expected, this week, I plateaued on my weight loss journey. After I gave birth to Nolan, the last four pounds were the toughest to lose and it looks like that is going to be the case again. While I didn’t gain any weight over the past week—plant-based eating works wonders for maintaining a healthy weight, regardless of the intensity or amount of exercise—I didn’t lose any either and I’m not seeing any differences in my appearance.

So, it’s time to take it up a notch. As of Sunday, it’s been four weeks since Oliver was born and I feel mostly healed from childbirth. I’m ready to make my daily walk at least a partial jog. My in-laws hooked us up with a brand new B.O.B. jogging stroller that can hold a child up to seventy pounds, so Oliver—or Nolan even—will be accompanying me for my runs for years to come.

While exercise is important and essential for heart health and weight loss, it is my belief that diet is even more so. As you know, I follow a mostly vegan plant-based lifestyle composed of 60-70% raw plants and 30-40% cooked. Since I have reached a plateau, to accompany gradual changes in exercise, I’m doing a one-week raw foods challenge where I’ll be upping my raw plant intake to 90%.

Eating raw plants is extremely healthy and in many cases, preferred to cooked plants. Most raw plants contain more nutrients than if they were cooked and cooked plants also contain more calories than raw. What?! I’m not a scientist, but in simple terms, according to what I’ve read, when a plant is cooked, it is injected with energy (heat). Since calories = energy, increasing the “energy” in a food is also increasing its calories. Point being, while I don’t count my energy molecules, I don’t need as many of them if I’m trying to lose weight. 🙂 All the more reason to go raw.

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Because I am used to eating mostly raw plants anyway, I am not concerned about feeling satisfied by even more of the raw stuff and less of the cooked. I don’t think I could sustain a 90% raw diet in the long-term because there are so many cooked plant foods that I can’t live without (potatoes, beans, whole grains, etc.), but I know I can do it for a week and expect to see a few more pounds drop as a result.

What are you going to eat? Where do you get your protein?

Some of you are thinking it, so here are the answers:

I’m going to consume a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, and plant milks as they are or in easy-to-combine dishes like smoothies or salads. I’ll incorporate grains by putting them dry and uncooked into the Vitamix and turning them into flour. I can use this flour in power balls or bars, for instance, and obtain the nutrients in fewer calories.

There is some level of protein in virtually all plants, but especially high levels in nuts and seeds. I’m not worried about getting enough protein—I never am—and I’m not a bodybuilder, so I just need to make sure to eat an adequate amount for my body type and physical activity level. Protein is nothing to stress about, despite getting this question often. A dietician I follow has written numerous times about how most Americans (even vegans!) eat way too much protein…I’m not a nutritionist, so I’ll leave it at that.

Part of staying full and satiated, for me, anyway, is grazing. The pics in this post exhibit snacks I eat all day long in lieu of three traditionally large meals. Just an idea if you’re not sure how you could make this work. 🙂 Check in next week to see how my raw food challenge went!

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Clean Drinking Matters, Too

This week, I’m down another pound and a half! I don’t have a progress shot for you because while every little bit matters when you’re trying to lose weight, not all losses are enough for a visible difference. Regardless, I’m proud of how far I’ve come in a short amount of time. I sense that I’m just about to plateau, so I’ll need to step up my game now that I’m feeling worlds better. More on that next week…

For Week Three post-baby, I’m focusing on clean drinking (check out my clean eating tips from last week). What you drink is just as important as what you eat on the journey to improved fitness. Today, I’m sharing with you what I drink on a regular or semi-regular basis. It’s a short list compared to what I don’t drink, but in a nutshell, I stay away from juice (except for occasional freshly pressed), soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, dairy milk, and coffee (coffee only because I don’t like it).

I try to consume beverages that are simple, as natural as possible, and packed with nutrients. Here’s my “do” list:

WATER AND WATER WITH LEMON: I’m not a scientist or nutritionist, but I’d venture a guess that water is the most beneficial liquid that you can put in your body. Living in the desert of Arizona, it’s especially important I am well-hydrated at all times. I don’t leave my house without taking water, even if I’m just running a short errand. While I don’t buy bottled water for environmental reasons, I do filter my water to remove the metallic, chemical-like taste in Arizona tap water. I don’t miss Michigan winters, but boy do I miss drinking delicious water straight from the tap!

Not only do I not leave my house without water, I don’t go to bed without a glass on my bedside table. If I wake up in the middle of the night—which is occurring quite a bit lately with a newborn—I drink water. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is drink water. Drinking cold water, in particular, right when you get up is a great way to get your metabolism revving.

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When I have lemons on hand, I also add lemon to my water and/or tea. Lemons are loaded with vitamin C and lemon in warm water (thus adding it to tea) has even more health benefits. In Arizona’s heat, I am only drinking my tea hot a couple of months out of the year, so most of the time, I am consuming lemon juice cold. You could simply cut a slice and squeeze it into your beverage of choice, or try making my drink infusers. They are quick, easy, and packed with flavor, and because they are frozen, you won’t have to worry about pre-squeezed juice spoilage.

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UNSWEETENED, UNFLAVORED PLANT MILK: It’s not often that I pour myself a glass of say, almond milk, but I love the taste of it enough to drink it all on its own when I’m not adding it to a smoothie or other dish. I love almond milk, but also drink oat, hemp, and cashew. Coconut milk is growing on me and I’m open to trying just about any kind; I’ve seen rice, sunflower, grain, and hazelnut milks, too. The key with buying processed plant milk is to find a brand that is organic, unsweetened, and unflavored. The upside to the processed variety—not often that those words are together in one of my sentences—is that they are often fortified with calcium, containing even more than dairy milk.

The downside, of course, is the processed part. Making your own plant milk is not terribly difficult, but it is somewhat costly. The amount of almonds, for instance, that it takes to make a half gallon of almond milk will likely cost you substantially more than purchasing it premade. There is also texture to consider. Having purchased a Vitamix a few months back, Travis and I are ready to attempt plant milk again, and recently acquired a plant milk bag (a sheer bag with tiny holes for straining) to help us with the job. We have made pumpkin milk in the past (from the seeds), but haven’t experimented with other types yet. I’ll let you know how it goes…

In short, plant milks contain an abundance of nutrients without the cholesterol found in animal milk, and are often lower in calories (if you’re counting) than the other kind, too.

GREEN TEA: You have probably heard that drinking green tea is great for boosting your metabolism and burning fat. It’s also loaded with antioxidants and has been a trusty health tonic in Asia for thousands of years. I was just getting into green tea when I visited my sister and her husband in Tokyo a couple of summers back, and after that, I was hooked. Green tea—and not that canned stuff with all the sugar in it—is available everywhere, hot or iced, and seriously tasted great every time I had it. There may not be any bad tea in Japan. 🙂

After drinking water upon first waking up, I start my day with green tea—typically before I even eat—and drink up to four cups a day. I am lucky to be a morning person and function extremely well without caffeine, so the nominal amount in green tea (when compared to coffee) does not play a role in my decision to drink it; the aforementioned health benefits and the taste make it my tea of choice. Now that I’m no longer preggo, I can go back to making it a regular part of my day.  (This one contains acai berry!)

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BEER AND WINE: Yup, I drink alcohol…not every day, and not a lot, but I do drink it. I love to have a couple beers while watching football or a glass of wine to wind down at the end of a long day. If alcohol consumption is smart and not excessive, there’s no reason why you can’t treat yourself and still lose or maintain weight.

Travis and I try to purchase craft and/or craft and local whenever possible. Quality and taste are important to me if I’m going to splurge on something that I don’t need. Growing up in Michigan—one of the country’s top craft beer destinations—and coming from a family that owns a gourmet food store specializing in some of the rarest and most sought after craft beers makes one a beer snob. Yea, I’m a beer snob…and so is Travis…

…so much so that we often make our own beer and wine just so that we can control the quality and flavor. There are tons of craft beers out there that we love, but when I offer you DIY as a wellness tip, I live up to it in nearly every aspect of what I consume, alcohol included. Turns out that brewing beer and fermenting wine yourself is not as difficult as one might imagine. While I don’t stress about beer and wine being vegan if I purchase it in the store (thankfully, most of it, naturally, is), if I make it myself, I can ensure that there were no animal parts involved in flavoring or stabilizing the product.

Cheers to good health…and enjoying it!

No-Bake Power Bars

Love my power balls formula? I think you’ll like my power bars even more! While I believe you could take the power ball dough and spread it into a pan to make bars, I decided to develop a formula that was even more specific to this alternative shape.

Additionally, personally, I’m looking for something different in the way of texture in a ball versus a bar. I enjoy the power balls with a softer, creamier center, like a truffle. I think that the bars are best with a crunch. Of course, with Fresh Formulas, there are no prescriptions—just guidelines—so it’s up to you to play around with the flavor and texture combinations that you enjoy best.

Today’s power bars will combine crunch and more fall flavors: cranberries and pumpkin seeds, to be precise. Surely you’ve heard that the cranberry does wonders for the urinary tract system and it is loaded with antioxidants, plus vitamin C and fiber. Pumpkin seeds are a less well-known super food, often in the shadows of flax, chia, and hemp seeds. These super seeds, however, contain an even higher protein content than the more talked-about seeds and are also packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals…too many to list even! ‘Tis the season to find these amazing little nutrient powerhouses in abundance.

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After carving our Halloween pumpkins, Travis immediately took to roasting the seeds (which can also be eaten raw). We put them in an airtight container in the pantry and he’s been eating a few here and there. I’ve found that I cannot digest whole (chewed, obviously) pumpkin seeds, so I am trying processing them into a flour to see if I have better luck. They are just too darn good for your not to get creative.

One other tidbit… This formula calls for unsweetened dried fruit (I would like to control the sweetener used in the bars), but my dried cranberries are sweetened. Unless you dry them yourself (I’m in the market for a fruit dehydrator, if anyone can recommend one!), you aren’t likely to find these sour mini-fruits unsweetened. So, I’m improvising and cutting out the two tablespoons of added liquid sweetener. I recommend tasting the bar dough as you go to ensure that it is palatable. We aren’t going for dessert, but some sweetness is part of what makes similar premade bars delicious enough to spend $3+ for just one. 🙂

Save money and control quality by making power bars yourself. From gathering ingredients to cutting the bars (not including chill time), it took me less than twenty minutes to make these while attending to the needs of two boys under the age of three. You can do it! Enjoy.

FORMULA BASE: POWER BARS

Yields 9 square bars*

For the dough:

  • 1 cup uncooked whole grains –> I’m using rolled oats.
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried fruit (without added oil) –> I’m using cranberries.
  • ½ cup nut or seed butter (nuts/seeds only) –> I’m using peanut.
  • 2 tbsps natural liquid sweetener –> I’m not using any.
  • Extract and/or spices to taste (optional) –> I’m not using any

Garnish ideas (up to ½ cup):

  • Raw seeds –> I’m using 1/8 cup roasted pumpkin (roasted only because Travis roasted them before I had this idea!) and 1/8 cup hulled hemp seeds.
  • Raw finely chopped nuts –> I’m using ¼ cup almonds.
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Melted dark chocolate to pour over the top (which will re-solidify after chilling)

*Double the recipe to make double the bars, or, to achieve thicker bars.

Turn your whole grains (and in my case, the pumpkin seeds) into flour using your food processor or blender. Then, combine the flour and your remaining ingredients, except the garnish. Run until a thick, pliable dough forms. You will probably have to scrape down the sides of the processor with a spatula at least once.

Turn the dough out into a mixing bowl. Use your hands to combine half of your garnish (unless it’s melted chocolate) and to break up any clumps of dried fruit and/or butter. Firmly press the dough into an 8 x 8 pan lined with wax paper. Evenly distribute the remaining garnish, pressing into/pouring onto the top of the bars.

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Chill the bars for at least 2 hours before cutting into the desired size and shape. Store in the refrigerator.

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Clean Eating Equals Progress

It has now been two weeks (yesterday) since baby Oliver was born. Per my post last week, I’m letting you in to my journey to get back in shape via a plant-based lifestyle. This week, I’m sharing a new progress pic, an assessment of my commitment to my personal goals, and my top clean eating tips.

I’m now 131.5 pounds, down from 136 last week. I’m just five and half pounds (and some toning!) away from my pre-pregnancy weight and eighteen and a half pounds away from my pre-babies weight, which, as I mentioned previously, I may or may not ever hit. The body changes a lot after having children and that is not at all bad. I also believe that the numbers on the scale are not the only indication of wellness success.

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Overall, I’ve been sticking to my goals. I skipped my twenty-minute walk outside on my first day alone with both kids. Honestly, I was just too tired to chase around my two-year-old with my two-week-old strapped to my chest. This is ok; exercise should be a regular habit, but something that I can incorporate routinely into my day. If it doesn’t fit one day, I’m not going worried about regressing.

Healthy eating comes easily to me, but eating regularly has proved challenging with the needs of the kiddos and exhaustion taking over my body. I’ve found that while I’ve made smart choices, I’m going too long between meals/snacks. I always make up for lack of eating early in the day later in the day, but I need to get back into the swing of grazing rather than gorging. I’m more of the six-small-meals-a-day type, rather than aiming for a structured breakfast, lunch, and dinner only. Smoothies help to keep me on track: meal in a glass!

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I’m also proud to report that I’m taking my own advice and making meal prep a priority. For the times that I just don’t have the energy to prepare a meal on the spot, I’ve got my family covered. In addition to a huge batch of butternut squash mushroom risotto that Travis whipped up, we also baked a boat load of potatoes. Nolan scrubbed the skin clean (awww) and we dusted each potato with a small amount of olive oil and pink Himalayan sea salt before wrapping in foil. THIS is the way to keep the baked potato the nutrient powerhouse that it should be – sour cream and cheese are yummy, but seem to overshadow the high levels of vitamin C and fiber that the potato has to offer.

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Here are my tips for making clean eating more accessible:

Garden. I’ve previously shared with you the steps to creating your own garden. While the startup is a task—buying gardening supplies, tilling land, planting seeds, and waiting for growth—the payoff is HUGE. We have saved so much money growing our own produce. These newly-planted beauties cost us $36 (even cheaper when we start from seeds) and will yield fresh herbs and vegetables as long as we tend to them. The flowers attract bees to keep pollination going, so we’ve got them in the backyard, too. Gardening is easier than perhaps it looks and makes for a beautiful, fragrant addition to your property. We garden organically, of course.

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Do it yourself. Gardening is one way that you can take control over what you eat and ensure that your food is “clean.” Clean has many connotations, but for me, means as pure as possible. If I’m gardening, I’m not using pesticides. If I’m baking bread, I’m not using preservatives. If I’m adding sweetener to a dish, I’m not using refined white sugar. If I’m preparing a salad, I’m not using a premade dressing. And the list goes on…

DIY takes more effort, but it saves money and guarantees a healthier product if you prioritize high quality ingredients. I recently read an article about a study on the cost of plant-based living. The study showed that plant-based living was cheaper than an herbivorous diet. While I doubt this is true for every vegetarian/vegan, it definitely is for me. If I were going to eat meat, I’d be going for grass-fed, hormone-free, etc., which is even more expensive than the already expensive antibiotic-laden variety. It pays—or at least, saves!—to eat plants…literally.

Keep it simple. When I introduced my veggie wrap formula last week, I emphasized how important flavor and texture are to my palate. I’ve never denied that foods containing animal products can be absolutely delicious, so in order for plant-only versions to compare—and hopefully, exceed—they need to be loaded with taste and appealing in texture. What I’ve come to discover is that this doesn’t need to be complicated. The longer that I develop Fresh Formulas, the more that I rely on fewer and/or simpler ingredients to pack a big punch.

I made this tomato salad for a snack today. It contains roma tomatoes, fresh basil, lemon juice, and a pinch each of garlic powder, onion powder, fresh ground black pepper, and pink Himalayan sea salt. It was scrumptious and filling, and not in that I-ate-too-much-turkey way.

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Think about the food labels that you’ve seen. You should be able to recognize every item listed in the ingredients section. If you can’t, you’re not keeping it simple.

Nature really has a lot to offer. Have you ever grown your own basil? Even if you’re not ready to dive head first into gardening, invest in a small pot and plant some basil in it. Its smell alone is pretty darn amazing. It’s the very plant that Travis and I grew first and now we have an elaborate potted garden in our front yard and a traditional garden in the back. And, it’s simple.

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I LOVE when a reader contacts me to share his/her progress on the journey to a healthier lifestyle. I have a few emails/messages that I’ve saved for my own inspiration. We are all in this together – keep at it! 🙂

Cereal Bowl Veggie Wraps

While vegetarian/vegan eating is certainly becoming more popular, the majority of restaurants in America cater to an herbivorous diet. As a result, the few vegetarian/vegan dishes offered at a restaurant that doesn’t specialize in plant-based cuisine often miss the mark, in my opinion. When I’m at an establishment with a mostly-meaty menu and spy a veggie wrap or sandwich, I typically order it (or a salad), only to be disappointed by the texture and interpretation.

You’ve seen this offering and may even have had it: grilled veggie wrap. This typically comes stuffed with overcooked, mushy portobello mushrooms, red peppers, and zucchini. The contents are often drenched in oil, mayo, cheese, or some other greasy substance that really takes away from the nutritional value of the veggies themselves. This wrap experience just doesn’t do it for me.

As I’ve mentioned before, most plant foods are more nutritious in their raw state, so I really try to limit my cooking of produce. Obviously something like a sweet potato needs to be cooked, but raw zucchini, for instance, is actually delicious, if you’ve never tried it. For me, texture is everything, and I prefer the crunch and freshness of raw vegetables over cooked any day.

The method here is simple: For one twelve-inch tortilla, you need almost a full cereal bowl of fresh veggies/fruits to adequately fill the wrap. Of course, if you can adjust the amount to make a traditional sandwich instead. Enjoy!

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FORMULA BASE: VEGGIE WRAP

Makes 1 wrap

  • 1 12-inch tortilla –> I’m using spinach.
  • Enough raw chopped/diced/sliced fruit/veggies to fill ¾ of a cereal bowl –> I’m using a combination of kale, spinach, cucumber, roma tomato, green onion, button mushrooms, and green apple.
  • 1-2 tablespoons homemade dressing of choice –> I’m using a lemon vinaigrette (or, consider my creamy dressing).
  • 1 tablespoon “crunch” (e.g. raw nuts, seeds, etc.) or unsweetened dried fruit (optional, for additional texture) –> I’m not using any this time.

Peel (if necessary) and chop, dice, or slice your fruit/veggies. Combine with dressing in cereal bowl. Assemble wrap and consume immediately.

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