Crouching Basil, Hidden Kale

We can all eat more greens, but naturally, we often don’t want to.  Sometimes, as refreshing as it is, a big ‘ole salad just doesn’t fill us up the same as a bowl of mashed potatoes.  And smoothies are delicious, too, but what if I want something warm?  I could wilt my greens, but then, I’d have a plate of wilted greens (sorry ya’ll—that texture just doesn’t do it for me!).  How am I going to get my greens when I’m in the mood for comfort food?

Pasta to the rescue!  Growing up in an Italian family, pasta was a staple, and to this day, it is the comfort food I seek more than any other.  Pasta is also easy to prepare and extremely versatile.  Sometimes I toss it with my simple marinara, and other times, my creamy vegetable sauce.  You could even use my nacho cheese sauce to create your own mac.  Today, I’m revamping my pesto formula.

Fresh herbs make for one insanely flavorful pesto, but I’ve found that just about any raw greens will yield a bright and complex pasta sauce.  Thus, I’ve readapted my pesto formula to include the option of greens other than herbs.

Today’s rendition uses kale, which Nolan used to eat raw in a salad like a champ but wouldn’t even consider touching now if it isn’t blended up in a smoothie.  🙂  While smoothies remain my go-to for ensuring my toddler gets all of his nutrients on his pickier days, I’ve gotten creative with hiding vegetables.  Of course, hiding veggies in a bacon cheddar cheese omelet makes that effort moot, so I’ve had to work hard to make this game of hide-and-don’t-seek healthy.

If you need a change from hiding veggies in my super food muffins or smoothies, try out this new take on pesto.  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: PESTO

Makes about 1 ¾ cups 

  • 1 ½ cups fresh herbs or greens –> I’m using 1 cup kale and ½ cup basil.
  • 1 cup raw nuts –> I’m using cashews
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 5 cloves raw garlic
  • ½ cup citrus juice or water –> I’m using the juice of two lemons.
  • Additional spices (optional) –> I’m not using any.
  • Water/oil as needed for smoothness –> I’m adding water a tablespoon at a time as needed.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding water and/or oil as needed. The less oil used, the lower in fat the end product will be.  So flavorful, this pesto doesn’t even need salt!

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How to Keep an Omnivore Happy

I just said goodbye to my dad, who we lovingly nicknamed Papa Kale while he was visiting from Michigan.  My dad was raised in a typical American omnivorous family with meat and potatoes and good old comfort foods on the menu often.  In fact, I think a lot of us millennials were raised that way, too; research about plant-based living is relatively contemporary in the grand scheme of human existence.

Thankfully, amid overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet is substantially healthier than an omnivorous one, it is becoming increasingly popular to ditch animal products.  Check out any menu at a respectable food establishment:  vegan—or at least vegetarian—items are popping up everywhere.  It’s never too late to eat healthier, to educate ourselves, and to educate generations prior.  I don’t try to convert anyone; I just share what I know when people come to stay with me.  You might eat hamburgers, but they’ll never be flyin’ off the grill chez Witzke.  🙂

My dad earned the title Papa Kale because he really embraced what he calls “how the other half lives.”  Ha!  Although skeptical at times, my dad cleaned his plate—and went for seconds whenever possible—of all of our vegan food.  I’m still new-ish to the plant-based eating scene (four and half years in), but for real, my food is delicious.  As you know, every party or get together we host at our house is 100% vegan…and no one goes hungry…ever.

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I’ve written before about how making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle takes time and patience, but truthfully, that’s much easier that pleasing those that have little or no intention of changing their diets long-term, but simply want to survive staying with you.  🙂  Whether you have out-of-town guests or are trying to convince a persnickety spouse or children to consume healthier foods, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t start with something extreme. Items like kale and tofu aren’t likely to win anyone over on the first try.  A green smoothie or edamame?  Same ingredients, different story.
  2. Offer variations of popular comfort foods. Classic dishes like chili and pizza (two of my dad’s favorites, vegan or not) are generally winners in everyone’s book.  Make a vegan version and blow minds.
  3. Dispel myths about how bland and boring vegetables are. Yes, frozen, crinkle-sliced carrots that are heated, salted, and served can certainly be unappealing.  In addition, I think that when Americans picture “salad,” they often see iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, and ranch dressing.  Travis and I whipped up these two salads (above and below) for my pops and vegetables were the main event.  (The top salad is a combination of kale, cucumber, millet, red grapes, and slivered almonds.  The bottom includes fresh tomatoes, grilled corn, avocado, lime juice, green onion, and black beans.  Both salads were loaded with herbs/spices, too.)
  4. Have sweets on hand, too. I have literally never made a bad vegan dessert—I’m not just saying that!  So far, they have all turned out fabulously, despite the gambling I’ve done with substitutions for animal-based components.  My brownies are always a crowd pleaser and my dad enjoyed my first-ever dessert smoothie, which I make all the time, and not just for dessert.
  5. Most importantly, foster a supportive, judgement-free zone. Plant-based living isn’t totally effortless for anyone.  I’ve been very frank with you about occasionally splurging myself and it takes time to break those habits…IF they are ever totally broken.  No worries—making an effort to do better is what matters…and we can ALL do better.

Moral of the story?  I can’t prepare chicken or steak for my dad—or anyone—in good conscience now that I know what the potential consequences are.  So, I continue eating and living how I always do and end up keeping my guests full and happy in the process.  Good luck—not everyone is as easy to please as Papa Kale.  🙂  Miss you, Dad!

bean salad

How I Made the Switch

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What I love about being an educator is my ability not only to teach students important academic content, but to help shape their lives.  I am thankful that my work habits trickle into my personal life, allowing me to reach those outside of the classroom, too.  Since adopting a plant-based lifestyle over three years ago, I’ve had many students, friends, and family members interested in making the switch themselves.  They’ve asked me for ideas and recipes, just wanting to live a healthier life.

As I’ve always stressed, I am not an expert in nutrition or dieting; I know what I know from old-fashioned research and experimentation.  For me, the proof of my lifestyle and Fresh Formula concept is in how I look, and more importantly, feel, in the day-to-day.  While I’ve never been overweight or unhealthy overall, I really believe that we can always improve, which is what I set out to do.

I also believe that the people in my life bring out the best in me, making me want to live as long and as healthy a life as I possibly can.  My husband and son in particular are what inspire me to make smart choices (as my mom always says!) each and every day.  I don’t want to watch my son ride his bike off to school; I want to ride my bike with him.

11001720_10204884344286016_940481854688695948_o_edited198628_10101096867216124_2241408_n_edited The most common question that students (and people in general) ask me once they learn that I don’t typically eat animal products is “What do you eat?”  I addressed this in a previous post, so I’m here today to answer the second most popular question:  “How do/did you do it?”

I’m an ordinary person with a busy lifestyle and like many people, occasionally make a really unhealthy food choice.  As a result, I knew that I would have to take baby steps in transitioning from a traditional, animal-laden American diet to one revolving around plants.

For me, the first step was doing away with cow’s milk.  Many varieties contain added sugar, hormones, and more (I’ll let you research that on your own).  I gave up cow’s milk over six years ago and should have done it sooner, being that I am mildly lactose-intolerant.  Skim milk never irritated my system much, but I knew that it wasn’t the healthiest milk option for me for a number of reasons.  So, I have since switched to plant milk.  I drink primarily almond, but I also like cashew, hemp, oat, and grain.

Less than two years later was when I was told I had high cholesterol.  Ugh!  My doctor advised me to give up red meat, pork, eggs, and butter.  I went without these for an entire year—not that I previously ate them much anyway—before I kicked all meat and most dairy to the curb.  Despite being lactose-intolerant, it’s been more difficult to give up dairy because it is often the staple ingredient in comfort foods:  ice cream, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes, etc.  I am no different than the average person – sometimes, comfort food just sounds damn good.

Now, “comfort food” to me is a big salad or rich smoothie because that’s what I’ve come to crave.  I also really look forward to making customary animal-based comfort foods vegan, trying new things, and learning about the latest super foods.  That leads me to the next stage in my plant-based journey…

About six months after eliminating animal products, I decided to make it my mission to try new fruits and vegetables.  A friend that I used to teach high school with and I would head out to the farmer’s market and while I would buy plenty of familiars, I would also try to grab at least one or two items that I didn’t recognize.  While this sometimes wound up in failure (you can’t help what you like and don’t like!), 90% of the time I found some—or a lot of—success with new produce.

The last phase in my journey to plant-based living involved what I call, for no particular reason other than simplicity, “picky vegan things.”  I gave up honey, gelatin, white sugar, etc.  In other words, I gave up the foods that don’t outwardly say “I’m made with animal products,” or that we commonly associate with chickens cooped in their pens or salmon being fed corn, but foods that contain animals or are made by animals nonetheless.

Today, I am working on becoming even more dedicated to an imperfect model.  I am not above grabbing a slice of pizza at a party; I just choose not to eat like the majority 95% of the time.  For this, I am healthier than ever, with great blood work, loads of energy, reliable sleep habits, and a normal weight and heart rate.

I hope that taking a look into how I got where I am inspires you to make a healthy change in your lifestyle, however big or small.  There’s nothing wrong with baby steps and there is no perfect diet.  🙂  For more inspiration and ideas, read more about me, plant-based living, and my Fresh Formula concept.  As always, enjoy!

The Plant-Based Decadence That Is Risotto

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If you’re like me, at some point, you may have thought or assumed that risotto contained milk, cheese, or some other form of dairy to give it its creamy consistency. While some cooks add dairy to make risotto extra creamy, it is a naturally plant-based and wonderfully decadent dish.

I use risotto as an opportunity to fulfill a craving for comfort food and to eat vegetables that must be cooked to be palatable, such as sweet potatoes. When Travis and I whip up a batch, it almost always contains some form of potato or other root vegetable, allowing us to eat the majority of our other vegetables raw. If you’re not in the mood for veggies (hopefully because you’ve been chowing them all day!), just make it plain, seasoned to taste.

Since it doesn’t, in fact, contain dairy, you should know that risotto achieves its creamy consistency through a slow and steady cooking process that involves an abundance of liquid and regular stirring. Risotto is NOT a last-minute go-to dish, nor is it for light snacking; this, is a square meal that will fill you up before you get to the bottom of your bowl.

Risotto is prepared with an Italian short-grain rice called Arborio. Arborio rice is high in protein, packed with vitamins and minerals, easy to digest, and can even help to fend off disease and maintain regular bodily functions. Plus, when slowly simmered in white wine, vegetable stock, sweet onions, and fresh herbs, it is simply delicious!

DSC_1936While you can certainly prepare this Italian must-have as a side dish, I put down a whole bowl as my dinner. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: RISOTTO

Serves 4 (as a meal)

  • 8 cups homemade vegetable stock (or water)*
  • 2 cups Arborio rice**
  • 1 cup chopped vegetables (optional) –>  I’m using one medium peeled garnet yam.
  • ½ cup white wine –>  I’m using Riesling.
  • 1 small onion –>  I’m using yellow.
  • Several cloves garlic (go with what you like) –>  I’m using three large.
  • 2 tbsps oil –>  I’m using refined coconut.
  • Fresh herbs, spices, salt, and pepper to taste –>  I’m using a sprig of fresh rosemary (which I will remove after cooking) and a pinch each pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

*You may not use it all, but it’ll be close. Have it handy on your stovetop in a pot on low heat, ladle-ready.

**Unlike other grains, do not rinse your Arborio rice before use.

Start by chopping your onion and garlic and sauté in a touch of oil over medium-high heat until they are almost cooked through, but not quite. Then, transfer them to a bowl, return the pan to the stovetop, add a touch more oil, and sauté your vegetables, if using, until almost cooked. Transfer them to a separate bowl and return the pan to the stovetop, this time over medium heat.

Add more oil (about 1 tbsp) to the pan to toast your dry rice. Stir the rice constantly to prevent sticking, toasting it until it has deepened in color slightly, about 5 minutes. Add in half of the cooked onions and garlic, as well as your seasoning of choice, and deglaze your pan with the white wine. After the wine cooks down, add a ladle of your veggie stock and stir fairly regularly over the course of the time it takes for that ladle to absorb completely. You can expect 3-5 minutes between ladles.

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You will repeat this process—ladle and stir—many times over the course of 40-45 minutes. When the rice is almost finished, add in the remaining onion and garlic, as well as your veggies (if any), to the pan to finish cooking. From start to finish, this dish will take you 60-75 minutes (depending on how fast you prep and such) and a lot of attention. As soon as the rice is tender, you’re done, so taste as you go.

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Garnish with fresh herbs or thinly-sliced green onion. Makes for yummy, comforting leftovers for 3-5 days.