Clean Drinking Matters, Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to good health…and enjoying it!

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Clean Eating Equals Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are my tips for making clean eating more accessible:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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