Getting Into Shape with a Plant-Based Lifestyle

***Long post alert!***

So, I’ve had this post working in my mind basically since I found out I was pregnant. It has been a mission of mine since I came up with the idea for this blog to show readers how simple it can be to maintain a healthy body—inside and out—via a healthy lifestyle, rather than a fad diet or a quick fix. I figured what better time to share my wellness tips than right after my body has gone through more changes than it ever will during pregnancy and childbirth.

Yesterday marked one week since my second son, Oliver, was born. Like Nolan, Oliver arrived early. I was somewhat prepared for this possibility, but still in disbelief when I headed to the hospital at thirty-five weeks and six days pregnant. I am happy to report that despite being in and out of the hospital three times, delivering my son nearly a month ahead of schedule, and going through some miserable precautions all throughout my pregnancy to help prevent a premature birth, I have delivered another healthy, happy baby.

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As you know from reading my bio, I credit much of my healthy pregnancies, childbirths, and babies to diet and lifestyle. I have been living a plant-based lifestyle for nearly four years. This has allowed me to maintain an appropriate weight and solid bloodwork both before, during, and after pregnancy.

While I’ll be discussing my pregnancy and post-partum body at length in this post, my wellness tips can easily apply to anyone trying to get in shape or make a lifestyle change. You’ve heard the famous Hippocrates quote “Let food be thy medicine.” That’s what we’re focused on today, no matter your gender, age, body type, or, gestation. 🙂

First of all, I’d like to share with you my status one week post-baby. I am currently 136 pounds, just ten pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. I gained a total of twenty-four pounds while pregnant with both of my sons and expect that I probably would have gained about thirty had I made it to forty weeks. This amount of weight gain is appropriate and typical for someone of my height (nearly 5’2”) and so far, it has been nearly effortless to lose the fourteen pounds I’ve already dropped.

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These are pictures of my post-baby body at one week after delivery – thank you for not judging the messy hair, tired eyes, and lack of makeup. 🙂 I had glorious plans to share pictures right after I arrived home from the hospital, but there was cleaning and grocery shopping to do that of course, I had planned on doing prior to yet another eager-to-exit infant showed up. Now that my life is mostly in order again—except, ya know, for that waking up throughout the night thing—I am ready to truly begin my journey to getting back into shape.

I say “truly” begin because I never stopped making maintaining a healthy physique a priority. While there were definitely splurges during my pregnancy—regular readers know how much I was craving sweets—for the most part, I did not veer from my usual path: a mostly vegan diet composed of 60-70% raw plant foods. This diet, couple with other aspects of plant-based living, allowed me to stay in relatively good shape even when I was less active and not feeling my best. Now that I am not disproportionately heavy, I am ready to get back into actively watching what I eat and exercising.

Here are my tips for getting in shape, no matter who you are:

Stock up and meal prep. This is essential to avoiding poor takeout choices. While I was certainly healthy at my pre-baby weight of 126 pounds, I’d like to get back to my pre-babies weight of 113. My body changed a lot after having Nolan, so I’m not trying to be too hard on myself and worry about every little pound, but I was certainly more active and fitter before I had any kids at all. Part of “letting myself go” a little was due to less formal exercise (although chasing around a toddler does have its aerobic benefits!); the other component was being too exhausted to prepare a proper meal and resorting to takeout.

Even if I find something vegan or vegetarian to pick up, it isn’t necessarily healthy. There really is a big difference between “vegan/vegetarian” and “plant-based vegan/vegetarian.” The former might include items like cheese or processed vegan cheese (which, in my opinion, is pretty gross); just because the item doesn’t contain meat does NOT mean that it is healthy. Point is, most of the reasonably priced, quick takeout options are not up to plant-based living standards.

So, having something ready to go when I don’t have the time or energy to prepare an acceptable snack or meal is important to maintaining supreme health. You know I love my Bountiful Baskets for this reason: There are always deals for stocking up on produce in bulk. Today, I’m making a couple of gallons of pasta sauce to freeze in single dinner size portions and chopping and freezing chunked pineapple in single smoothie size portions. All of this planning and prep is work in the beginning, but saves my figure later on.

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Get outside. Sunshine = happiness. Originally from Michigan, I know that this time of year, sunshine can be hard to come by, but it does happen. I’m lucky to live in Arizona where I have more sun than I know what to do with, but seeking it out even in the coldest of places is important, too. My doctor said that for this first month post-baby, the only exercise I can engage in is walking. I didn’t object as I know that this is sage advice for properly healing my body and because, well, I don’t feel like getting into fast-paced cardio yet.

If I’m going to do so much walking, I want scenery and fresh air to go with it. Starting on my fourth day home from the hospital, I’ve been going for short, twenty-minute walks with Travis, Nolan, and even Oliver, whom I carried in a wrap. I’ve noticed some increased aches and pains if I try to walk for longer, so I figure there is no rush to increasing the time on my feet. Next week, I’m aiming for twenty-five minutes and so on until I am able to get to a jogging pace again (I really enjoy an easy run!).

Beat the blues. Speaking of happiness, sunshine and exercise will help to beat the blues, be it postpartum depression, low self-esteem, or discouragement on a weight loss journey. If you’ve ever had a period in your life where you haven’t been happy with your body—inside or out—you know what I’m talking about.

After I had Nolan, I believe that I did suffer a bit of post-partum depression, mainly because he spent two weeks in the NICU and I felt like I needed to ask permission just to hold my own son. It was a trying experience to become a new mom to a premature baby, leave him at the hospital, and go home with an empty, saggy body.

This time, while, again, the joy I am feeling heavily outweighs the sadness, I am having a hard time coming to terms with this being my last pregnancy. After struggling to conceive Oliver and then just not feeling as great overall as I did the first time around, Travis and I decided not have any more children. If you’re a parent, you know that the decision to complete your family is certainly more complicated than what I can describe in a few sentences, but in a nutshell, I’m definitely feeling a different kind of emptiness with my baby carrying days having come to an end.

In addition to sunshine and exercise, what can you do to combat the blues? Eat well! I’ve shared with you before that I have more energy than ever before following a plant-based diet and thus, am happier. When I feel positively about what I’m eating, I tend to feel the same about my body because I know I’m providing it the best possible nourishment and maximizing its shelf life. I also find that food preparation itself can be therapeutic. A couple months back, I made my first pie from scratch and honestly felt so accomplished afterward that that happiness carried me through the day. Consider trying a new recipe or making something from scratch that you would otherwise buy premade (e.g. pasta, plant milk, bread, etc.).

Don’t obsess. I have long ago admitted that I am not perfect at plant-based living. I still splurge every now and then and still miss some downright terrible-for-you yet totally satisfying and delicious comfort foods from my past. I don’t expect that my postpartum fitness journey will be any different. For me, it’s about regular habits. That takeout I mentioned earlier? It happens two to three times a month (probably four to five while pregnant!), which honestly, is a lot for us when we make so many things ourselves. It’s ok every once in a while, but if I’m going to get serious about getting back in shape, I’m going to have to make some sacrifices…key word being some.

I also don’t plan to jump on the scale every morning and expect to see 113 overnight…or ever. While the numbers are one indication of progress, they are not the be all, end all. What is more important to me is that I feel good about myself and that I have the energy to give my kids and my husband every smile, hug, and kiss that I can.

Avoid quick fixes. This tip is especially important because it is so tempting to resort to a quick fix to seemingly solve weight loss and body image issues. While I realize that they truly work for some people, I am not a fan of diet pills, processed drinks (i.e. powders, shakes, etc.) as meal substitutes, fad diets, calorie counting, or regimented programs. There are programs out there that even have the word “fix” right in them; I realize that I’m not at my best right now, but I’m not broken!

Again, while those methods do work for some people and may even be necessary for people with particular dietary needs or health conditions, I don’t see them working long-term for enough people that I can get on board (nor do I want to spend the exorbitant amount of money that many of them require). I’d rather just live a healthier life. I’ve written before about walking to the store instead of driving or making a smoothie with fresh, whole foods rather than mixing a protein powder with milk. These are easy lifestyle changes that last. Nearly four years into living better, I really don’t have a ton of work to do to get my pre-baby body back.

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In the coming weeks, I will continue to share Fresh Formulas and update you on my progress. My personal goals:

  • Walk outdoors daily for at least twenty minutes.
  • Lose ten to fifteen pounds (I won’t obsess; I know that muscle weighs more than fat and blah blah blah).
  • Beat post-partum depression by focusing on my family and hobbies.
  • Maintain a 60-70% raw plant foods diet, incorporating healthy cooked options as desired.
  • Splurge every so often and not feel badly about it. 🙂

Best of luck to you on your fitness journey. I hope that sharing my personal struggles and triumphs will inspire and motivate you to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Wish me luck!

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Our DIY Kitchen Renovation

Yea, I know, today’s post is not about food (and it’s pretty long, too). It is, however, about the most important room in my house where all of my plant-based eats are prepared: the kitchen. I gave you a tour of my kitchen early in the life of this blog so that you could get an idea of the food that I purchase and keep on hand to maintain a plant-based lifestyle, so you’ve seen a little bit of it already.

I wanted to share my kitchen renovation with you for a number of reasons. First of all—and most importantly—I’m happier preparing food in a workspace that I can enjoy. Looks aren’t everything, but I grew tired of staring at the 1980’s builder grade Formica splashed all over my kitchen. I found myself depressed at the thought of preparing food on countertops that were clean, but stained and scratched from years and years of use (and surely, abuse…we bought our home foreclosed and in rough shape over five years ago). When Travis was super busy completing his MBA, it was just me in the kitchen…a place I started to resent because it didn’t feel as fresh as the food I was prepping in it.

Secondly, I think that it’s valuable to see how I make the most out of a small space. My sister, Petra—author of 100 Tacks and currently living in Tokyo, Japan—has a series on her blog called Small Kitchen Missions. Her work in a space a third of the size of my kitchen has inspired me to make the most of what I consider a very small American kitchen, at least for someone that chops, blends, and cooks as much as I do. Travis and I always joke that we have the perfect kitchen for people who live on takeout, not people that like to prepare their own food. The sad truth behind the laughs is that a lot of people in a small space probably do get frustrated and resort to too many ready-to-eat meals that are either expensive, unhealthy, or both. Part of why I write this blog is to help people change that.

Lastly, speaking of expensive eating, I wanted to show you just how inexpensive a perfectly workable, presentable kitchen renovation can be, thus motivating you to do more food preparation at home. As I’ve mentioned before, plant-based living is not cheap when you’re striving for organic, non-GMO, fresh, and non-processed foods. You know how I live by Bountiful Baskets and am otherwise as thrifty as possible, so the place where all of the consumption magic happens needed to align with how I spend my money.

So, what exactly did we do to spruce up our dated space (pictured below)? When we first moved into our home in 2010, we removed all of the cabinets, sanded, and stained them. We were able to remove/cover years of wear and tear and ended up with a refreshed, darker, richer color than what came with the house. Are they my dream cabinets? No, but they look so much better than they did when we moved in. After completing that tiring, but inexpensive project, I wanted to keep going on the rest of the kitchen (we didn’t have kids yet, ha!), but the budget at the time—I was a seventh grade teacher and Travis was a college student—just didn’t allow it.

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Flash forward five years and we found ourselves expecting Baby #2. I cannot explain what the popular term “nesting” is from a biological perspective, but I am TOTALLY in the mode. I have a seemingly endless list of DIY projects to complete before the baby arrives and have been cleaning even the tiniest crevices of my home to ensure the best possible environment for he/she to come home to. I decided—okay, so my husband had a little input—that now was the time to finally finish the kitchen we started renovating five years ago…and we did it for just $300!

A friend and neighbor of mine did concrete countertops in her kitchen a while back and I was seriously impressed with both the appearance and the cost. She said that she poured, spread, sanded, stained, and sealed the concrete right on top of her existing Formica and completely transformed the look of her kitchen. I did some research online about how to complete the project and found this helpful article, which I followed step-by-step. I even bought the same materials to increase my chances of achieving an outcome similar to what I saw in the pictures.

One Saturday, Travis and I sent Nolan over to Mimi and Papa’s for the day and got to work. We cleared out the kitchen, scoured the existing countertops and backsplash (to allow for better adhesion), removed all of the switches and outlets, and laid and sanded three layers of concrete all in about a ten-hour period that included food breaks and showers, too. The next day, we sent Nolan back to his grandparents’ and spent another eight hours or so applying three layers of concrete stain, two layers of seal, and one layer of waterproof wax, and hanging an entirely new backsplash.

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We found a great backsplash that is a combination of glass tiles and natural stone for $3.99/square foot and used almost thirty-eight square feet for our space. Travis learned how to cut, affix, grout, and seal tile from YouTube videos years ago when he renovated his parents’ shower. Neither of us has any background in construction; we just like to save money and get our hands dirty now and again.

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The following day we grouted the tile, a process that took almost two hours, including all of the wiping that needed to occur. The next couple of days, whenever we had a few minutes to spare here and there, we chipped away at any dried grout that we missed in the wiping process and then sealed the backsplash. Sealing took about ten minutes and we let it dry overnight, just to be on the safe side.

The last step, which took another couple of hours, was installing new, crisp, clean, white outlets and switches. Travis finished this in time for the baby’s diaper party (future post) and the look we were going for was finally realized: a noticeable, inexpensive upgrade that complimented our travertine floors. If you’re not familiar, travertine is an expensive natural stone. It was in the house when we moved in and every kitchen decision we’ve made has centered on those gorgeous tiles.

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When we went to place all of our usual countertop clutter back into the kitchen, we reduced we had and found new homes for some of the items—like cookbooks—that really didn’t need to be sitting on the countertop 24/7. Our small space got a little bit bigger, motivated by a long-awaited facelift. We didn’t want to cover up everything we worked so hard to create, so in the process of aesthetically improving our kitchen, we also obtained a slightly larger one.  🙂

What do we leave on the countertops? Two appliances that we don’t have any other space for: the toaster oven (which honestly isn’t used often) and the extremely heavy KitchenAid stand mixer. We also have a knife block, three jars of baking goods (e.g. flour, etc.), a paper towel holder, a typically empty cookie jar (sad, but good for the body, folks!), a couple of bottles of infused oils for cooking, salad dressings, etc., a wire vessel in which we collect wine corks (woo!), and a large basket for produce that need not be refrigerated. This might sound like a lot or a little, depending on your kitchen, what you do in it, and how big it is, but this is the best we could do with limited cabinet space.

In a nutshell, we now have a kitchen that feels bigger and is more enjoyable to work in, all for a little sweat equity and about $300 (countertop materials, backsplash, and electrical upgrades). If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can find amazing deals and learn a lot, too. Someday, I’ll have a professional chef’s gourmet kitchen with luscious countertops and high-end appliances. For now, living simply is providing us everything we could want or need. Good luck with your next DIY project!

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Update: Our Backyard Garden

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Here in Phoenix, temperatures will be over 100 degrees by the end of this week. This means the beginning of some summer crops, but the end of most, with temperatures eventually reaching the teens. Since I last updated you on our DIY backyard garden, we’ve had a few changes and one surprise.

As previously mentioned, growing your own garden allows you to control the quality (i.e. organic, for example) and saves you money on purchasing pre-grown produce. Unless you’re an expert and/or have a ton of available land with extremely fertile soil and/or live in a region with perfect gardening weather year-round, you probably can’t grow everything that your veggie heart desires, but there may be a few items with which you can find success.

Other than our extensive herb collection—which, unfortunately, is starting to take a beating from the heat—our biggest success by far is tomatoes. We have at least four different varieties (that we’re aware of) growing in our garden, including these gorgeous beefsteaks (pictured above). Our plants are holding strong as summer approaches and we have 40-50 fit-sized tomatoes near maturity, including some sweet yellows and black rim.

We have a few baby yellow summer squashes and leeks, too. We received leaks in our Bountiful Basket one week and thought we’d try planting it; months later, it’s going strong.

DSC_2045 DSC_2043Other successes (not pictured) include continued growth of our pomegranate trees, shrub-sized rosemary and lavender, and lemongrass that’s been going for well over a year. We have about five ears of corn with a couple of kernels each and green onions that we planted over two years ago that just keep on giving.

Our oleanders are in bloom, as well as a few different flower varieties. The mini-red roses below came from a “house plant” given to us nearly two years ago. It was near death living inside, so we took a chance and planted it outside and it has been in bloom since. Blooming flowers = birds and bees = new growth cropping up unexpectedly…

DSC_2051Surprise: We have wonderberries! It took us a while to research and name the mystery plant that has taken root in our yard, but we finally did it. Wonderberries, sometimes referred to as sunberries, look similar to blueberries. When they are green, they are poisonous. Once they turn black, they are edible. When the skin goes from shiny to dull, they are at their best, but never quite as sweet as other berries. They are commonly made into pies or jams where extra sugar can be added. I’ll let you know when we harvest ours and make something out of them.

DSC_2041Still feeling daunted? Again, start with windowsill herbs and work your way up to planting bigger crops. 🙂 Your organic palate and fuller wallet will thank you in the end!

How to Start Your Own Garden

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I am often asked how Travis and I make a plant-based lifestyle affordable.  As I’ve mentioned before, although I spend less than I did in my omnivorous days, to purchase high quality, organic, GMO-free, all-natural, plant-based foodstuffs isn’t cheap, and that may be one of the reasons why more people don’t get on board.

First of all, let me reassure you that we are NOT perfect at this and I’m sure that there are some deals that we miss, but we are pretty diligent and creative.  In my post about Bountiful Baskets, I shared a few of the ways that we stock up and save for cheap.

Sometimes, we make compromises.  You can find lists in a number of places of the produce that is considered “dirty” if not purchased organic (we discovered one in a baby food cookbook ourselves).  These, we don’t compromise on; if the organic version of grapes is not available, we don’t buy them.  Other items, like bananas, we aim to buy organic, but if the organic is out, we will buy the non just because we love bananas so much and consider them crucial to our diet.

When I buy something that is processed—almond milk, for example—I try to avoid the “big” brands that are known for using GMOs.  The problem is, I don’t yet know what all of the those companies are, so I’m learning more and more each day that goes by.

One way that I can guarantee the quality of our foodstuffs is by growing it myself.  If you pay your garden adequate attention, you can produce a great amount of produce for pennies on the dollar.  In addition, your backyard will look and smell wonderful.  🙂

Travis and I maintain an all-organic garden in our yard.  We started small—with fresh herbs (basil pictured below)—and grew to planting larger produce that takes longer to grow.  We also have a compost pile in one corner from which a number of surprises have grown.  We once through butternut squash seeds out there and without even consciously tending or watering that area ate a few delicious squashes months later.

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If you’re interested in starting your own garden, begin with research.

  • What type of soil do you have where you live?
  • What grows best in it?  In what season?

Then, plan.

  • What space in your yard will you designate for gardening only?  (No dog poop, no kids playing, etc.)
  • Will you plant from seeds or small plants?
  • Will you install an automatic watering/drip system or water by hand?
  • How much shade vs. sun do you have available?
  • What types of critters come through your yard that might help or hinder your garden’s growth?
  • Do you have room for a compost pile?
  • Do you have someone that can (and wants to!) tend to your garden if you go out of town often?

Finally, start small.  Here are the steps that Travis and I took to creating a garden in our backyard:

  • We started growing herbs from seeds in small pots in our house, just to get a feel for our gardening abilities.  Hey, some people can’t keep a simple house plant alive, so we had to make sure we could do this before we committed.
  • Next, we designated gardening space in our backyard.  The perimeter of the yard was made up of landscaping rocks with periodic trees.  We left the trees, cleared out the rocks, and tilled the soil beneath it to prep for planting.  One corner of this perimeter is our compost pile and the rest is space for growing shrubs, trees, and produce.  The entire area is surrounded by a short fence so that the dogs don’t poop back there and Nolan doesn’t play.  🙂
  • Then, we planted flowers and flowering shrubs and installed a hummingbird feeder to attract the birds and the bees.  They are essential to pollinating crops and spreading seeds for new growth.

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  • Finally, we researched what crops grow best in Phoenix soil in various seasons and got to planting.  Sometimes we start with seeds and other times small plants.  The herbs that we started growing inside eventually grew big enough to be transferred to larger pots and then, to the ground.

Since we started gardening, we have reaped nearly ten different herbs, cilantro and basil in particular in large quantities that come back on their own every season.  We have also reaped tomatoes, cauliflower, kale, carrots, potatoes, squash, green onions, and lemongrass.  We have pomegranate bushes (pictured below…pardon all of the leaves that have fallen from our tree!  Trav insists we let them stay once they’ve fallen because they trap moisture for the soil underneath, which is certainly critical in Arizona!) that are growing from a pomegranate that we opened and stuck in the ground.  They are still years away from producing, but are going strong!

DSC_1874Due to the increased influx of birds and bees, we have also seen the growth of new trees, shrubs, and flowers that we didn’t plant ourselves…they really hold up their end of the bargain if you provide them some pollen and sugar water!

Our garden is evolving all the time and we have had plenty of failures, but we are getting better and better at it and have saved tons of money on herbs alone, which are quite pricy to purchase fresh in much smaller quantities than what we can grow ourselves.

Don’t be daunted – start with windowsill herbs and build up.  You’ll be growing your own organic produce and saving money in no time!

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The Answer to a Popular Question: What Do You Eat?

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If you’re a vegetarian or even more “extreme,” a vegan, you’ve probably had omnivores ask you questions like these: If you don’t eat meat or cheese, what do you eat? Wait, no eggs either? What’s left to eat? Before I knew what I know about plant-based living, I may have behaved just as incredulously. So, I think it would be helpful to spend a day in the life of a mostly-vegan to see exactly what I eat…and it’s a lot!

As you know, I very occasionally splurge on an item of my former omnivorous diet, be it a bowl of macaroni and cheese (of COURSE that’s what I craved when I was pregnant!) or baklava dripping with honey. On the regular, however, thanks to my getting-better-everyday discipline, these splurges don’t occur. Travis and I pretty strictly refrain from purchasing any animal products for our kitchen. At home, we eat totally vegan, 99% of the time. As I explained in my bio, animal products typically only make their way into our lifestyle when we are out and about, if then.

Parents may also be wondering what my two-year-old eats on a day-to-day basis. As you learned in my post about his second birthday party, he basically eats like we do, although is a little less adventurous with raw vegetables at this stage of the game. Here’s a sample of what I eat in a given day (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Breakfast: unsweetened green tea* and raw fruit:
  • Snacks (2-3 daily): more unsweetened green tea with one or more of the following:
    • raw nuts or seeds
    • dried or raw fruit/veggies
    • homemade trail mix
    • dark chocolate
    • popcorn –> popped on the stove from bulk seeds
    • rice cake with or without nut butter
    • homemade graham crackers
    • homemade hummus with raw veggies, pita bread, etc.
    • super food muffin
  • Lunch: more unsweetened green tea with salad, as is, wrapped in a tortilla, or sandwiched between slices of homemade bread:
  • Dinner: another salad or a cooked or partially cooked plant-based meal:
    • veggie curry
    • chili
    • soup/stew
    • veggie burgers
    • pasta
    • homemade cheese-less pizza
    • veggie stir fry
    • roasted vegetables
  • **Dessert: raw fruit, dark chocolate, or homemade vegan dessert (e.g. cookies, brownies, etc.)

*I drink 3-4 cups of unsweetened green tea daily. I’m sure you’ve heard greatness about this superfood, but just in case you haven’t, you should know that it is jam-packed with antioxidants, has healing properties, and can even help you to lose weight.

**On a regular basis, I don’t eat a traditional dessert like cookies or brownies…not because I don’t like them, just because I can’t always make a dessert as healthy I can a square meal or snack. If I do have a craving for something sweet, I make it myself and you guessed it: it’s vegan and made with smart substitutes (i.e. whole wheat flour and flax seeds for white flour, maple syrup for white granulated sugar, etc.). I will very often, however, have more raw fruit and/or dark chocolate near the end of the day.

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This typical menu may look like a lot or a little bit of food to you. As I’ve mentioned before, because I am eating mostly raw fruits and veggies and whole grains, I can basically eat as much as I want. When I eat a salad, for example, it is often the size of a large mixing bowl, just to give you an idea. The energy level I maintain is such that I am hungry more often and am burning a lot of calories, even when not exercising very intensely. As a result, I eat when I want to eat and as much as I want to, depending on what I plan to consume, of course.

DSC_1764 Here’s a day in Nolan’s life, which you will notice is not much unlike my own:

  • Breakfast: super food muffin and raw fruit and/or togurt (so far, he will eat any fruit in any capacity and the muffins are a great way to hide vegetables that he isn’t willing to try yet)
  • Snacks (2-3 daily): see above (finely chopped/small pieces)
  • Lunch: will sometimes eat the same salad that I make for myself or will munch on cubes of marinated tofu, baked veggie fries, or any one of the cooked meals above
  • Dinner: will sometimes eat another mostly vegetable or bean salad, but is typically always up for a salad made with grains (e.g. quinoa, wheat berries, etc.) or one of the above cooked meals
  • Dessert: raw fruit, every night before bed

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Lately, I’ve been trying to track what I eat so that I can give you the most realistic picture of my lifestyle possible. These are just rough estimates, and amounts certainly vary from day to day based on what is available at the store, what we have in stock, and what’s on our schedule, but here are more of my food stats:

  • I eat 60-70% raw plant-based foods in a day; the rest are partially or fully sautéed, steamed, boiled, or baked.
  • I eat 3-4 different whole grains daily (e.g. farro, quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries, cracked wheat, rolled oats, etc.).
  • I eat 7-10 different fruits daily, in varying amounts.
  • I eat 10-15 different vegetables daily, in varying amounts.
  • I eat 2-3 significant sources of protein daily (e.g. beans, seeds, nuts, etc.).
  • I eat 2-4 significant sources of calcium daily (e.g. plant milk, seeds, green vegetables, etc.).
  • I eat 6-7 times per day, be it snacks or meals.
  • I drink only water, tea, plant milk, or 100% juice with no sugar added (plus alcohol in reasonable amounts, although not daily).
  • I do not count calories, carbs, or fat grams, but do pay attention to amounts of protein, fiber, and iron, vitamins, calcium, etc. and thoroughly read the list of ingredients when I am considering eating something that is packaged.
  • I eat within an hour of waking up and within 90 minutes of going to bed.

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This certainly isn’t the entire picture and life circumstances can change any strong or poor diet at a moment’s notice, but I wanted you to see how fulfilling it can be to subsist primarily on plants. There are endless combinations and methods and I can assure you that there is, definitely, plenty to eat. 🙂

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Fruit Scraps Turned Scented Candles

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When it comes to expensive organic produce, I don’t like to waste a single scrap. If you have a compost pile, you can always put your fruit and veggie scraps there. Otherwise, I’ve come up with a few solutions to maximize every inch of your plants.

With my veggie scraps—which include items like carrot tops and kale ribs—I like to make my own veggie stock. You can read more about how I collect and transform the scraps under Basic Formulas.

Coming up with an edible use for fruit scraps—peels, cores, pits, etc.—has proved much more difficult. I was reminded of a time that I visited a candy factory in France. The chocolatiers had candied orange peels and they were pretty tasty. I figure I can experiment with candying other types of peels, but being that I like to keep my lifestyle low in added sugars, I’m not eager to do this any time soon.

I decided to go another route. My husband bought me a bouquet of winter plants on Christmas Eve and we thought that it would be neat to do something with the pine needles since they smelled so wonderful. We researched online how to make scented oil candles and then it hit me: If I could make candles out of pine needles, flowers, and herbs, why couldn’t I use my fruit scraps to do the same?

Alas, I started deliberately saving my fruit scraps (while still allocating many of them to my compost pile in the backyard). I placed a food storage container in the fridge and added to it every time I peeled or cored a new fruit. It took me only a couple of hours to accumulate the scraps that you see here, which include peels from oranges, lemons, grapefruit, kiwis, and mangoes, and the core of a Red Delicious apple.

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There was no rhyme or reason to this combination of scraps and a happy aromatic accident resulted. While my fruit scraps continued to marry their flavors in the fridge, I collected the necessary candle-making supplies: mason jars, oil wicks, and vegetable oil. I already had mason jars in several sizes, and you can find them many places, including the dollar store. For the wicks, I perused Amazon and found these pretty glass wicks; they are available in many metal varieties, too.

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As for the oil, I selected vegetable simply because it is economical and pale in color – I really wanted to be able to clearly see all of my colorful fruit scraps. Being new to candle making, I’m not sure if one oil is preferred over another for the best scent or longest burn time. In my limited research, I found that you can use just about any oil you’d like, but I imagine it will take me many an attempt to figure out which one is truly the best. For example, I made the candles you see in this post almost two weeks ago and upon lighting today, they are just starting to smell. The length of time it takes for different scents to infuse the oil probably has to do with their intensity and the oil selected. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I am enjoying the appearance of my fruit scrap candles while I wait for them to smell even more delicious.  🙂

AT HOME FORMULA: FRUIT SCRAP CANDLE

What you’ll need:

  • Fruit scraps of any variety (accumulate in the fridge over the course of a day or two) –> I’m using citrus, kiwi, mango, and apple.
  • Oil –> I’m using vegetable.
  • Mason jars of any size
  • Oil wicks –> You can make your own or purchase in store or online. I’m using wicks with a glass covering.

How to make:

  • Puncture a hole in the lid of your mason jar. The size will depend on the type of wick that you are using. The lid of a mason jar is easy to puncture with just a screwdriver or other metal tool with a semi-sharp tip.
  • Fill the mason jar with your fruit scraps. Cram them in tightly, leaving a small gap in the middle to accommodate your wick. You can arrange them with your fingers or a variety of different kitchen tools. I squished the scraps down with an ice cream scoop myself.
  • Fill the remaining space in the mason jar with oil. Keep in mind that you will need to add the wick, so don’t fill it quite to the brim.

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  • Thread your wick through the hole you created in the lid and gently push the end of it into the candle itself. I used a skewer to do this.
  • Screw on the lid and wait an hour or two for the wick to absorb the oil before lighting.  Don’t expect the candles to be immediately scented, although it could happen.

Here, you can see my fruit scrap candles front and center, as well as the pine needle candles mentioned earlier, and some red rose candles made from dried roses from the hubby. Fresh would have been better, but I didn’t have this oil candle brainchild until long after they had been dried over the years. You can intensify and expedite the scent experience by adding complimentary essential oils (you can purchase these in many places that sell candles, oil burners, etc.), which I did with the roses since they weren’t fresh. Enjoy!

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What’s in YOUR Kitchen?

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Welcome back! As plant-based living may be new for you – or perhaps you just need new ideas – I thought it would be helpful to give you a tour of my kitchen so that you can see the types of produce I buy and some of the nonperishables that I regularly keep on hand.

The photo that you see at the top of this post is a shot of my countertop, which is often overflowing with produce that does not require refrigeration. I maintain a plentiful stock of bananas, as I use them in many of my recipes and they are among my son, Nolan’s, favorite fruits for snacking. This time of year, I also have an array of citrus, much of which I obtain from neighbors for free. Citrus fruits are ripe for the picking during Arizona’s winter.

You’ll also see in this photo that I have fresh vanilla beans on hand to use in various recipes and to make homemade extract. The basic formula for an extract is the flavor agent plus vodka and involves a long soaking period (another post, another day). Moral of the story? If you have the opportunity to make your own extracts, you’ll find that they are purer and higher in quality than many of the store-bought, imitation varieties. I digress…

Next, we move into my fridge, where you can spy everything from a batch of homemade veggie stock (located under Basic Formulas), to black-eyed peas that have been soaked and are ready for further cooking, a bowl of triple berry togurt (located under Breakfast Formulas), and of course, more produce. We always have a ton of it and get the biggest bang for our buck with a local food co-op called Bountiful Baskets. Through this organization, weekly, we have the opportunity to pay a flat rate of $25 to obtain approximately $50 worth of organic produce. The offerings are seasonal and often local and the contents of the basket are always a surprise. Check out the bountifulbaskets.org or conduct a web search to see if your state offers a similar program.

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On to my spice cabinet, which is my husband, Travis’s, pride and joy in our kitchen! Although the spices and herbs sometimes get misplaced during quick cooking, my hubby generally has them organized by ethnic application (e.g. Italian, Mexican, etc.) or other similarities. For example, mace is located on the exterior of the nutmeg shell; although different spices, they are part of the same fruit and often used together in cooking/baking, so they are grouped together. Yea, I know – our cabinet organization is a bit over-the-top, but with over 60 spices and herbs to choose from, it does well to have them arranged in a way that allows for easy selection.

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When we travel we stock up on herbs and spices that are native to the area and end up saving a ton, as those in jars in the supermarket can be pricey. We are still using, for instance, cinnamon sticks that we purchased during our honeymoon on the British Virgin Island, Tortola, in July of 2011, and turmeric that we bought the following summer when touring a spice farm in Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania in East Africa.

Finally, here’s a look into my pantry. First, you can see a variety of oils, vinegars, and sweeteners. It is amazing what these products can do in the way of flavor, even in very small amounts. On the two shelves below those you’ll find staples like beans (dried and canned, no sodium added), seeds, and grains. While I always have quinoa and oats, for example, regardless of price, more expensive items like nuts, dried fruits, and dark chocolate I purchase and stock up on when they are on sale. The flexibility of my formulas and my willingness to experiment with new combinations allow me to create a delicious bite out of whatever I obtain. The very top shelf (not pictured) includes standard baking supplies like cornstarch and baking powder.

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If your kitchen needs a plant-based makeover, consider starting with one or two target areas and make changes slowly, especially if you’re trying to get a meat-and-potatoes spouse or some picky little ones on board. When Travis and I decided to start eating more healthily, the first item we did away with was cow’s milk, which we replaced with almond. Travis, who was a diehard whole milk drinker for years, now swears by almond and I, being lactose intolerant, couldn’t have found a better milk match. Nolan is even more adventurous, drinking coconut and oat milks on a regular basis. If those do not appeal to you, you could try soy, flax, rice, grain, cashew, sunflower, etc. There are lots of options that don’t include added sugar, hormones, or cholesterol and are often higher in calcium than the dairy variety. Plus, you can easily make your own plant milk (we’ll cover that another day, too)!

I hope that a private tour of my humble cooking headquarters has given you some ideas and inspiration so that you are prepared to tackle my formulas (and plant-based living in general) head on. Happy shopping and stocking!