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!

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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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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. 🙂

Bountiful Baskets

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Plant-based living, in general, is not cheap. While I am still coming out ahead of my omnivorous days, no longer purchasing sirloins and brie, to eat high quality, fresh, organic “real food” can still be costly. Consuming sometimes twenty different fruits and vegetables in a day requires real diligence in seeking out the best prices for produce (as well as whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds).

Travis’s parents introduced us to a farmers’ co-op called Bountiful Baskets. I’ve mentioned BB before, but today, plan to go into a bit further detail about what a value it really is.

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Each week, the sale opens online on Monday and closes on Tuesday for pickup on Saturday. Popular items—like the organic fruit and vegetable basket—sell out quickly, so you have to be on your game. We head over to the BB website to place our order. You have a choice between a regular basket ($15) or organic ($25), plus extra add-ons like whole grain bread, tortillas, granola, and bulk produce. These add-ons change each week, as do the contents of the baskets. You can count on a 50/50 mix of fruits and vegetables, but the rest is a surprise.

I love the surprise element of the basket because every once in a while, it contains a fruit or vegetable that I have never heard of before or at the very least, never eaten or prepared myself. This challenges me to research typical preparations and uses, as well as flavor and nutrition information. This week, there is nothing out of the ordinary, but I am elated to see beets in the organic basket…stay tuned for a beet hummus recipe that you just have to try. 🙂

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Anyway, the add-ons that we selected this week were pineapples (twenty-one pounds, to be exact) and what the BB website called a “Freezer Pack.” The FP contained a large quantity of broccoli, carrots, and asparagus. We are keeping half of these vegetables and two of the eight pineapples fresh in the fridge and chopping the rest to go in the freezer. Below, you can see that we filled one-gallon food storage bags with chopped vegetables that will be ready to dump into a pot of vegetable stock for a quick soup. The pineapple chunks, since they will inevitably freeze into one solid unit, are in smaller baggies, the perfect size for smoothies.

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When add-ons like these—or similar bulk deals in the supermarket—come along, we always stock up and get creative. A couple of months ago, for example, we paid BB an extra $20 for twenty-five pounds of organic tomatoes which we promptly turned into homemade marinara sauce. This was frozen in food storage containers in perfect portions to accompany a box of pasta (or the equivalent in fresh eggless pasta). Today, we are cracking into the last one.

Living a plant-based lifestyle, for us, is still cheaper than being omnivores, in part because we seek out deals and find creative ways to preserve produce that we have stocked up on. Many of the deals come with the seasons and holidays. I don’t often purchase pecans and walnuts, for instance, because they are among the more expensive nuts, but my farmers’ market had longstanding sales on these around Thanksgiving and Christmas, at which point I bought a whole bunch that lasted us for months.

In addition, since we don’t buy prepackaged frozen food, our freezer typically always has room to store produce that we have peeled, chopped, or otherwise prepared ourselves. We freeze fruits and vegetables in convenient portions for the anticipated future application. This forethought comes in especially handy when it looks like there is “nothing to eat” and then I open the freezer and remember that I have soup-in-a-bag ready to go.

The photos in this post display $57 worth of produce, most of which is organic. The fresh produce will last us a week or two, but the frozen weeks or months beyond that. The fact that this is a smokin’ deal not enough for you? The extra produce and forgotten pickups are donated to local fire stations. 🙂 See if you can find a farmers’ co-op program in your area!

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Vegan Eats at Sage Kitchen

OutisdeWhile my plant-based, mostly vegan lifestyle isn’t perfect, family members and friends that come to visit me in Arizona look forward to eating clean when they stay at my house. I can’t even count the number of times a visitor has exclaimed about living plant-based for their stay in hopes of feeling refreshed and energized and even, losing weight. So, when I have an eager-to-be-temporarily-vegan visitor, I don’t disappoint! I prepare vegan dishes at home and try to maintain my plant-based lifestyle when heading out for local grub (except when we’re out for authentic Mexican food…that’s one time that I will, against my better judgment, eat copious amounts of cheese!).

My mom was recently in town for Nolan’s birthday and offered to treat my little family to dinner on her last night in Arizona. I perused the web to find a restaurant in the Phoenix area that I hadn’t yet tried and came across Sage Kitchen, an organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegetarian eatery. The food was so yummy I can practically still taste it and I’m excited to share my review of the restaurant with you.

Sage Kitchen is located next to Chakra 4 Herb and Tea House, which shares its owner. As a result, the menu features a variety of teas and herbal remedies that I just had to try. Although I still dislike coffee, after our trip to Japan this past summer, I have recently grown very fond of tea. I sampled a blueberry kukicha green tea over ice that was subtly flavored and not too sweet, which is how I prefer it. Teas at Sage Kitchen are sold hot or cold by the cup, glass, pot, or carafe.

Next, it was time for an appetizer. We ordered a trio of dips with marinated raw veggie sticks and homemade, gluten-free flatbread. Pictured below is an avocado dip with sunflower seeds and pepitas, a black bean hummus, and a lemon herb hummus. We were afraid of becoming too full for dinner, so we ate about half of the dips and took the rest home (they were just as delicious, if not more so, the next day).

FullSizeRender (2) As indicated on the card you see below, Sage Kitchen avoids unnecessarily processed vegan “meats” and “cheeses,” opting for those made in house with nuts, vegetables, and spices. While the menu contains no actual meat products, many menu options offer real or homemade vegan cheese (as well as homemade meat substitutes) that I wanted to taste for myself.

Card In the description of my creamy sauce formula, I admit that there really is no completely satisfying substitute for dairy cheese, but Sage Kitchen definitely came darn close to making it happen. While Travis opted for real cheese in his veggie enchiladas, my mom ordered a black bean quesadilla and I ordered a “sausage and mozzarella” pizza, both containing different varieties of Sage Kitchen’s signature vegan cheeses. Let me tell you, they were so good, I didn’t miss the real thing for a second and am determined to figure out how they did it so that I can try to make these cheeses (and the sausage) on my own.

Enchilladas FullSizeRender[3] (2) FullSizeRender[2] (2) The kids’ menu is not featured on the Sage Kitchen website, but I was happy to see that it offered simple vegetarian/vegan food that is kid-friendly in ingredients and presentation. We ordered Nolan this adorable sunflower butter and apple flatbread. He couldn’t finish it and had to twist our arms to polish it off for dessert. Poor us. 🙂

FullSizeRender[1] (2) The only downside to our dining experience at Sage Kitchen was that the restaurant seemed a bit dead for a Saturday night. Travis and I concluded that this was probably a result of the early hours (it closes at 8:00) and lack of alcohol. The restaurant is a BYOB and does not serve booze of its own. I’m sure that during the weekday lunch rush, Sage Kitchen is packed.

Overall, no complaints. Grab a bottle of your favorite wine and go to Sage Kitchen to get your vegan eat on!

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