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! 🙂

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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!

A Few of My Favorite Things: Portland

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of returning to Portland, Oregon for the second time to visit my best friend, Danielle, and her precious new baby, Devlin.  I absolutely love Portland:  the people, the culture, the lifestyle, and most importantly, the food!

Portlanders are a health-conscious people, frequently opting for a vegetarian/vegan diet.  Even in just two trips to this green city, I was able to see that no matter where I went, there would be plenty of plant-based options available.  Danielle jokes that you can find kale anywhere; she even found a small pile of it outside of her car in a parking lot one day!

When it comes to plant-based eating in Portland, restaurants, bakeries, and even Bob’s Red Mill are all on board.  Bob’s products are essential in my vegan kitchen.  In particular, I purchase his whole wheat graham flour to make homemade graham crackers and hulled hemp seeds to add to baked goods, salads, and smoothies.  In addition to selling his wide array of products, Bob’s also serves good ole country style food in house, including a variety of vegan options.  Honestly, I think that Portlanders expect it and I’m thrilled that it’s a standard here.

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Looking for something fresher?  Head over to the Laughing Planet Café.  The LPC—serving fresh, high quality ingredients on a menu that includes vegan, gluten-free, and paleo-friendly options–has many locations, so you’re not limited to Portland to dig in.  The atmosphere at the LPC is bright and eclectic and made me excited to try the food before it arrived.  I chowed down on this totally vegan grains and greens salad; it was delicious!  Maybe there really is kale everywhere in Portland…

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Lastly, who wants to skip dessert?!  Not this preggo!  Both times I’ve been to Portland I’ve stopped into the famous Voodoo Doughnut.  Voodoo is well-known for many reasons, from its pink exterior to eccentric decor to, of course, its classically scrumptious doughnuts.  Naturally, I gravitated toward the plentiful vegan selection.  When in Portland the first time, Travis tried both the regular and vegan doughnuts and confirmed that they were equally tasty; as I’ve been preaching for years, vegan doesn’t mean sub-par flavor or quality.  Would you believe that Voodoo even has a peanut butter and jelly doughnut?!  Only my #1 preggo craving.  I was in heaven.  🙂

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There are a million reasons you should visit Portland, but the fantastic eats top my list.  I hope you enjoy eating your way through the city as much as I have!

Plant-Based Entertaining for Everyone

I have many times had friends or family over for dinner and prepared an entirely vegan meal with great success. This was only my second time, however, throwing a large party with an extensive plant-based menu that needed to please guests all of all ages and diets. In attendance, I had several vegetarians, one gluten-free eater, and a whole bunch of standard omnivores.

I tried first, to think of foods that it seems everyone likes to eat: fruit, chips, and sweets. Then I thought about how I could make all of those items vegan (and some gluten-free, too), but tasty enough that my guests would never know it…or at least never miss the animal product varieties.

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Here’s what I served:

Chocolate peanut butter truffles: A play on my power ball formula, I used extra cocoa powder and rolled them in unsweetened shredded coconut. Guests said that they were delicious and rich: exactly what I was going for with a truffle!

Mini-fruit kabobs with cinnamon coconut whipped cream: As you know, I’ve been recently delighted to make and try coconut whipped cream in conjunction with my nice cream formula. I added ground cinnamon to this batch – yum!

Mini-chocolate chip cookies: A variation of my chip cookie formula, these were tasty, but a bit crumbly. I was surprised since I’ve made them many times before. Maybe my preggo brain forgot an ingredient?! Very possible. 🙂

Tahini dip: My creamy dressing formula kept extra thick for dipping. It was a crowd favorite.

Roasted fennel hummus: My hummus formula with fennel as the star vegetable was a gamble…and I won (or, I should say, my guests won)!

Lemon raspberry cashew mousse: Remember that failed attempt at vegan cheesecake turned mousse? I served these delightful little cups at my party and several people asked me for the recipe. I’d say they worked out ok after all.

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In addition to fresh fruit, I also served raw veggies, organic blue corn tortilla chips, and two different types of pretzels for dipping. I adorned the tables with small bowls of trail mix for extra munching and had beer and white sangria flowing. Guests seemed happy and full.

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As I mentioned when I threw Nolan’s second birthday party, I’m done serving food that I no longer regularly eat. I hate the idea of potential meat and dairy-based leftovers that threaten to throw me off the wagon (I don’t waste food, ya’ll). Stick to your guns in designing the menu for a party. Remember, guests don’t have to eat your food, but they would definitely be missing out if they didn’t!

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In case you were wondering, the party was a diaper party for Baby #2. Since it isn’t customary to throw a second shower, I wanted to have a more laidback celebration for our family’s final installment. Offering food, booze, and a good time in exchange for diapers was a win-win for all involved…and baby is stocked up for the first year or more of his/her life. Just an idea if you’re looking for a fun and easy way to celebrate a second baby or beyond. 🙂

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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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Two of My Favorite Things

Plant-based eating is about creating food that is as simple as possible, relying on the natural flavors of plants to trump the need for too much added fat, salt, or sugar. Today, I wanted to share with you a couple of vegan delights that I not only love, but that are healthy, too.

Let’s start with the gorgeous truffles you see pictured above and below. PuraTea Water is a fair trade tea shop strategically placed next to a vegan restaurant. (Remember my post about Sage Kitchen and its connected tea shop? Perhaps this is a trend?) As the name suggests, PT sells many varieties of tea and fresh herbs. One of the co-owners makes these truffles as a special treat, sitting at checkout.

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My husband knows the way to my heart and picked up a bunch of these precious goodies while out shopping with our son. The best part? These “desserts” are guilt-free powerhouses of nutrition! Animal product-based truffles are, of course, wonderfully delicious (see my cherry cordial smoothie post), but most are nothing to write home about in the way of nutritional content. The homemade truffles at PT contain such super foods as dates, seeds, cocoa powder, and nuts. They are minimally sweetened with agave and taste very similar to my protein-packed power balls. I ate them for breakfast this morning paired with PT’s iced apple spiced chai. 🙂  Yum!

Upon leaving the tea house, Travis and Nolan wandered into Loving Hut, a vegan chain with over 200 locations around the world. LH’s ethical and environmental stance on plant-based eating makes them a winner in my book. Plus, even though there are some processed items on the menu (gotta watch out – not all vegan food is created equally) there are some fantastic fresh eats, too.

These spring rolls are one of my favorite vegan takeout items ever. Fresh vegetables and tofu are rolled in rice paper and served with a sweet and savory peanut dipping sauce. As I always have my Fresh Formula thinking cap on, I would include unbreaded tofu since the moisture in the surrounding vegetables negates the purpose of a crunchy outer coating. Really, though, I shouldn’t complain…these are vegan bites at their nearly best and I could seriously eat them every day!

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Travis and Nolan coming home with two of my favorite things last night (plus having flowers delivered to the house during the afternoon, if you must know!) was pretty fantastic, but there was extra icing on this cake:  The sweet folks at PT were excited about my blog!  I started The Fresh Formula to help ordinary people like me live healthier lives, so the more people I can reach, the better.  Look forward to seeing what the future holds.  Go green!

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The Pomegranate Cafe

Today, I’m sharing with you my review of a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called The Pomegranate Café here in Ahwatukee, Arizona.  In a part of the country known primarily for its authentic Mexican cuisine (which I also love), it isn’t always easy to find healthy eats that cater to our plant-based lifestyle.  When I have the chance to try something new here in the valley, I really relish the opportunity to eat high-quality food that will ultimately inspire me in my own kitchen.

TPC, a mother/daughter created concept, is located in a bustling strip center in the east valley of Phoenix.  It is a charming establishment—as I’m finding many vegetarian/vegan restaurants are—with reclaimed wood tables, mason jar lights, fresh flower centerpieces, and images of plants displayed on the walls.  I could hear Bad Religion playing in the kitchen and the young people on staff appeared to really embrace the way of life that comes with plant-based eating.

The menu at TPC is lengthy and diverse.  I really appreciate choices, especially when it comes to plants.  I was happy to see that they indicated when an item was raw (not cooked above 118 degrees) and even when an item’s proceeds went to charity.  While just about everything looked absolutely delicious, after watching a powerful documentary called An Apology to Elephants, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to play a small role in helping the elephants in need; I ordered the Elephant Bowl Curry.

The curry was a little spicy for me, but I’ve admitted before to being a total wimp.  🙂  This rendition had a variety of vegetables and sat atop one of my favorite super foods, quinoa.  It wasn’t much unlike my own curry formula.

FullSizeRenderTravis ordered a Macro Bowl, which I don’t see here on their online menu.  It was also fantastic and a harmonious pairing between raw and cooked elements, from tofu to black beans to kale to seaweed.  It came with a zesty lime macadamia pesto that reminded me of my pesto formula; I now have a new combo idea!

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In case you were wondering, Nolan had an almond butter sandwich on whole grain brain with fresh fruit and a vegan cookie.  Once we saw his cookie, Travis and I knew we needed dessert for ourselves.  All of the pastries at TPC are vegan, but don’t taste like it.  Rich, sweet, buttery, and filling, I needed to take the rest of my “cheesecake” home.  That’s a raspberry vanilla slice below, along with Travis’s selection, a play on an Almond Joy candy bar.  Both were, in a word, impressive.

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What was not so impressive, however, was the service.  While the staff was friendly and knowledgeable, they were inattentive to detail, bringing our dinners out at three different times (Nolan, me, then Travis) and messing up simple orders (green tea instead of mint, Almond Joy instead of Snickers).  Being that we were one of three tables occupied on the 4th of July, I wouldn’t have expected it too much of a challenge.  You win some, you lose some; I’d come back for the food any day.

TPC:  Take out rather than dine in, but definitely try it.  Double check the bag and enjoy eating green.

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Plant-Based Living On the Go

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I’m back!  Travis, Nolan, and I just returned from a ten-day trip to Michigan, where I’m originally from and grew up.  Our vacation was jam-packed with weddings, places to go, and people to visit, but despite the hectic pace, I managed to stick to my values when it comes to plant-based living.

As you’ve read in my bio, I consider myself a mostly-vegan:  I follow a strict vegan lifestyle at home, allowing only the occasional animal product splurge when out and about.  My vacation was no exception.  If you think about it, fresh fruits and vegetables are really the original fast food.

That’s right:  fast food, which need not carry a negative connotation.  Whether you’re looking for a quick snack, need to pack a lunch for work, are meal planning for the week ahead, or are about to embark on a vacation, you will most likely have nature’s fast food available somehow, somewhere.

A dietician I follow (whose research and knowledge I’ve mentioned previously) once posted that if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry.  I couldn’t agree with this more.  It is ultimately quicker to rinse and bite right into an apple than it is to deep fry and season potatoes or plop a frozen beef patty on the grill.  If you wouldn’t be willing to grab the fresher, faster option, how hungry are you?

I try to keep this as my mantra when I travel.  It is easy to get caught up in all of the treats, especially at occasions like weddings.  Don’t get me wrong – I did a little bit of splurging, but I know my limits and stick to them for the sake of my health and energy level.  I have a two-year-old and I’m pregnant, remember?  🙂

Today, I’m sharing with you the ways that I was able to remain mostly-vegan on vacation.  First, pictured above, I ordered the vegetarian dish at the first of two weddings I attended.  Quite frankly, when I sit down to dinner at banquet hall, I’ve come to expect a bland pasta or lifeless salad of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots.  Imagine my surprise when this filo dough purse, filled with vegetables and sitting atop polenta, arrived!  The meat entrée recipients at my table were definitely impressed.  “What is that?!  Looks amazing!”  While I don’t think it was vegan—I imagine the dough involved butter at some stage or another and there was a creamy sauce on the plate that probably contained dairy or mayo—and it certainly wasn’t raw, which is generally my preference, it was easily the best vegetarian banquet hall fare I’ve tasted.

Next, we have a veggie burger from Rainforest Café.  Again, I’m not sure it was vegan, as an egg was may have been used in binding the chickpea patty, but I could tell that it was handmade and not frozen.  There was no dairy or mayo on top; just raw veggies and guacamole – yum!  I opted for a side of seasonal vegetables, which I picked at, trying to prioritize the protein of the veggie burger.  While, as a rule, I try not to waste food, I discarded most of the bun.

IMG_4851On to a completely raw vegan salad from Dublin Square, an Irish pub in East Lansing, home of my alma mater, Michigan State University.  Go Green!  While I wish the salad’s base was a heartier green like spinach or kale rather than romaine lettuce, this salad was fresh, filling, and delicious.  The cherry vinaigrette (Michigan is known for its cherries) didn’t hurt!

IMG_4850Finally, oatmeal topped with raw fruit at the bed and breakfast where Trav and I stayed for the night, the Wild Goose Inn, also in East Lansing.  The innkeeper presented us with a small menu that had four choices, following a fruit salad and muffin course.  Three out of the four dishes included eggs, so of course we selected the oatmeal, which contained dried Michigan cherries, almonds, and the raw fruit you see here.  Sweetener—namely brown sugar or honey—was offered on the side; we didn’t even need it!

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The rest of my eating took place in my parents’ home or in the homes of friends and family where we bounced around.  Again, I allowed myself the occasional splurge – what was I supposed to do when my mom baked homemade red velvet cupcakes?!  🙂  At each place we stayed, I tried to make smart choices:  a bagel with peanut butter instead of cream cheese or super food smoothies for breakfast, and I got into the kitchen for some of my old standbys for lunch and dinner:  multi-grain salad with strawberries, bean salad, and more.

I’ll never be perfect at plant-based living, but I work really hard—even on vacation—to meet a high standard for my health and well-being.  You can, too!  Happy eating!

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!

New Learnings from Fed Up

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A couple of nights ago, Travis and I sat down to watch the documentary Fed Up, exploring the childhood obesity problem in the United States. Not a dietician, doctor, or chef, I love to continue to learn—especially about food, health, and nutrition—and this film did provide me with some new insight.

First of all, I learned that juice is not what it’s cut out to be. A couple of years ago, after watching a documentary entitled Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Travis and I were inspired to have more fruit and vegetable juice in our lives. In that documentary, an overweight gentlemen got his health in check with a juice-only diet. He bought a high-quality juicer and transformed his whole produce in seconds. He did lose weight and became a healthier person all around.

I remember thinking that I could never sustain myself on liquids only, but that I would try to make freshly squeezed juices a bigger part of my diet. Travis and I bought a juicer and started drinking juice (with an approximately 70%/30% ratio of vegetables to fruits) every morning with or for breakfast. I found that this practice helped me to feel more energized throughout the day and kept me regular, too. Until we obtained a high quality blender capable of pulverizing whole fruits and vegetables to a smooth consistency, we kept juicing. Our juicer has since been collecting dust for the past couple of years.

Despite our short period of success with juicing, I have always known that eating the whole fruit or vegetable is preferable, thus leading to the switch to smoothies. Why juice an apple when you can just eat one, skin and all, whole or in a smoothie? The skin and pulp of fruits and vegetables are where the fiber is contained and of course, fiber is nutritious and essential to a healthy diet.

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Even though I knew that whole foods were better, I didn’t really understand what the body did to process juice until I watched Fed Up. The example given was comparing eating an apple to drinking the equivalent in calories in soda. Because the apple contains fiber, it is processed much more slowly, preventing its sugars from turning into fat. Soda, containing no fiber, runs quickly through the digestive system and well, you know the rest.

After providing this example, the expert explained that our bodies process juice similarly to soda. Without the fiber from skin, flesh, and pulp, the sugar in juice is really no different than the sugar in soda, as far as how the body processes it. Now, if the juice contains skin, flesh, or pulp, you’re in a little better shape, but no matter what, it isn’t the same as consuming the whole food.

Nowadays, I sometimes use juice in smoothies, salad dressings, etc. While it goes through the body similarly to soda, it does still contain nutrients that soda never will. I figure if I were a regular, everyday juice drinker, then I’d have a habit to worry about.

This lesson, illustrated with fruit vs. soda, also made me realize why counting calories is a flawed system. I have never counted calories and don’t plan to start, but I have many friends that do/did. It is clear that 160 calories in apples and 160 calories in soda are not the same calories at all. It isn’t enough to decide to eat only 1,500 calories a day without conscious thought about where those calories are coming from. If you eat 1,500 calories of just soda, rather than 1,500 calories of fruits and vegetables, the body won’t use them in the same way. I have heard too many times things like, “I have 500 calories left for today, so I can eat that piece of cheesecake!” We all know where that cheesecake will end up…

The second major learning I took from Fed Up was that the legal requirements for school lunches in America are really just missing the beat. Did you know, that in the U.S., French fries are considered a vegetable and so is pizza, because of the tomato paste? I’m sorry, what?! If the fries were baked with minimal oil (check out my version!), that would be one thing. If the pizza were totally vegan (I’ve got a formula for that, too!), topped with a homemade sauce, and loaded with vegetables, that would be different, too. Ugh.

DSC_1727DSC_1869At the end of the day, it feels hard to make a difference in the childhood obesity epidemic. I can play my part by teaching Nolan how to eat healthy foods. In the grocery store today, he spotted his favorite food and went right over and picked some up to put in the cart. Was it French fries? Pizza? Nope, blueberries. An older gentlemen who was doing his shopping and had observed my son’s excitement for fresh fruit was impressed and said, “You don’t see too many kids these days excited about healthy food. Bless you for what you’re doing with your son.” Made my day. 🙂