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

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A Fresh Take on Beans and Rice

Let me start by saying that I LOVE the combination of beans and rice! B&R makes for a filling square meal, packed with protein and fiber. B&R also serves as a versatile base for a number of dishes, from curry to the burrito bowl. Today, I’m using quinoa in place of rice and adding yellow squash for a fresh take on a classic duo.

In Monday’s post, I touted the salad, which I hold responsible for helping me to lose baby weight and keeping me fit in general. While lately I have been consuming salads composed primarily of raw produce, I really enjoy salads with cooked elements, too. My multi-grain salad is among my faves and the formula behind my twist on B&R.

This southwestern cooked-but-cold salad also features raw yellow squash. Yellow squash—sometimes referred to as summer squash—contains high levels of vitamin C, beta carotene, and lutein. It is also an excellent vegan source of iron and folate, which are commonly found in large quantities in animal products. In addition, I find that the texture is more appealing when left raw, leaving more of the nutrients intact.

Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: MULTI-GRAIN SALAD

Serves 4-6

  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock –> I’m using water as I don’t currently have any stock on hand.
  • 2 cups dry grains –> I’m using white quinoa.
  • 2 cups chopped fruit and/or veggies -> I’m using 1 ½ cups yellow squash, ¼ cup corn, and ¼ cup diced sweet peppers.
  • Dressing of choice or a combination of herbs/spices and salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using the juice of one lime, a splash of olive oil, a splash of agave syrup, and the seasoning combo I use in my chili, in a lesser amount. I sprinkle the spices from one side of the bowl to the other; that’s how I often “measure.” 🙂
  • TODAY’S EXTRA: 1 ½ cups black beans.

Rinse your grains before cooking in order to remove any possible dirt or dust.

If you’re using a variety of grains: Because different grains have different cooking times, you may approach this in two ways: cook them all in the same pot, in stages, or cook them separately and combine them later. If you’re not sure about the grains you are using, research their cook times and even better, experiment in your kitchen.

If you’re using one grain, as I am today, find out how long it takes to cook and get it into your stove top pot or rice cooker. I use a rice cooker because I find that it reduces sticking to the bottom of the pan with just a few occasional stirs, but you can certainly cook your grains in a pot on the stove top, stirring more regularly.

While your grains are cooking, chop your fruits/veggies, drain your beans (in today’s rendition), and prepare your dressing and/or seasonings.

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I usually leave the lid to my rice cooker off for the last few minutes to speed the cooking liquid absorption process. When there is no liquid left, your grains should be done. Place the cooked grains in a bowl and chill in your fridge, uncovered and with occasional stirring to allow heat to escape more easily, until at least room temperature (about 30 minutes). If the grains are hot, they will par-cook your produce, which we want to keep raw. When cool, combine the grains with your other ingredients. Consume cold and store in the fridge for 3-5 days, depending on the shelf life of the produce used.

Progress Report and How to Build a Salad

The results are in: I’m down another three pounds and just one pound shy of my pre-pregnancy weight! My one-week raw food challenge yielded exactly the results I expected. Honestly, despite all of the raw produce I eat on a regular basis (and my success this past week), going 90% raw was more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until a few days in that I really got into a groove with snacks and small meals that kept me satisfied.

I found myself eating roughly 40% each raw fruits and veggies, 10% raw nuts, seeds, and butters, and 10% “other” (cooked items, oils/vinegars to dress salads, etc.). I experienced increased energy levels, which is essential these days with a newborn waking several times throughout the night. I found it easy to lose a little bit more weight even though working out did not go as planned.

In my last post, I was beaming about our new B.O.B. jogging stroller and getting back to running again. Well, I tried, and let’s just say I experienced some healing setbacks that I didn’t expect. I thought I was ready for a low-impact jog, but my mind and body had different plans. I did, however, keep with regular outdoor walks, began doing arm exercises with two-pound hand weights, and even got down on the floor for some good ‘ole ab toning. I’m feeling really great and look forward to trying jogging again soon.

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So, how did I consume all of that raw produce in order to feel satiated and energized and achieve the results I was looking for? Mostly, salad! No, we are not talking iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots…I mean big, hearty, versatile salads with flavorful low-sodium/fat/sugar homemade dressings.

Here’s how I build the perfect salad:

Start with a nutrient-rich leafy green base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with iceberg or romaine lettuces, you’ll get more out of a salad with kale or spinach. Leafier greens tend to be more fibrous, so chop them small and/or massage your dressing onto the leaves to make them more palatable. Also, consider greens that you may not have realized you could eat. Travis and I consume the tops of beets and carrots, for instance, either in salads or smoothies.

salad at home

Mix a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies pair well together, allowing you to balance sweetness and freshness. I prefer hard, crunchy fruits like apples or pears in my salads, but there’s obviously no limit to the combinations. This salad—surprisingly, from Chili’s—includes pineapple. Berries make for a delicious addition, too. As for veggies? Really anything goes. I prefer veggies that are palatable in a raw state, but you could even prepare a butternut squash and slice it thinly. Play around with combinations that maximize flavor and nutrition.

Chili's salad

Kick it up with a crunch. Raw nuts and seeds do the job nicely. Whenever possible, opt for those without added oil, salt, or sugar, of course. Even nuts that aren’t necessarily tasty raw—walnuts, in my opinion—take on a whole new life when paired with the right produce and dressing. I will eat a whole bowl full of kale with just nuts/seeds and am totally satisfied.

Make your own dressing. ALWAYS. There are many a tasty option out there in the world of premade dressings, but an abundance of them contain animal products, preservatives, and/or an excess of oil, salt, or sugar. It is simple and fast to make your own dressing. A vinaigrette comes together by mixing acid (mustard, citrus juice, vinegar, etc.) and a touch of oil and/or sweetener, plus salt, pepper, herbs, and spices to taste. Love ranch? Caesar? You can still have creamy dressings using a nut or seed butter as the base. This extra effort is worth it for a healthier salad. Ranch might make veggies tastier, but it takes over whatever health benefits you were gleaning from them without it…

Add cooked elements to make it extra filling. Lastly, your salad will keep you fuller longer if you add cooked beans, lentils, tofu, or whole grains. I especially love to do this when I’m making a burrito bowl. 🙂 Remember, though, that cooked items contain more calories than raw, if you’re trying to watch your weight. Point is, if you’re aiming to eat more raw produce, that is what should be the star. (You can’t go wrong, however, with my multi-grain salad, bean salad, or potato salad for a filling fix that is highly nutritious!)

Salad with beans

During my one-week raw food challenge, I was comfortable eating a lot of salad. In my ordinary plant-based life (60-70% raw produce), I typically eat at least one salad a day, either on its own or in a wrap. If the thought daunts you but you’re trying to eat more produce, start small: carrot sticks and dip (homemade, of course!), apples and peanut butter, etc. Once you find yourself having more energy, you’ll be chowing down on fresh fruits and veggies on the regular in no time!

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!

Fill-in-the-Blank Salad Sandwich

Chicken, tuna, egg, etc. + mayo = a salad sandwich. These popular combinations make for easy sandwich building, as the protein, produce, and condiments are prepared in one mixture. I have found that you either love or hate a salad sandwich, likely due to your feelings about mayo. Travis detests mayo, so he would only even consider one of these sandwiches if it were practically dry.

I, personally, love the creamy consistency and convenience of a salad sandwich, pending it isn’t soupy or drippy (soggy bread: no no no). Since I no longer eat mayo and don’t like to buy processed, vegan mayo substitutes, I had to get creative. Having already experimented with making my own creamy dressing, pesto, and potato salad, I knew that I really just needed to come up with a suitable protein base.

I have found that beans or lentils + raw fruits and vegetables work best for the ideal texture, but you could also use tofu. Since tofu has so much water in it, you would want to dehydrate it in the oven or on the stovetop first. This will result in a consistency similar to chicken, without the extra moisture to water down the creamy element of your filling.

Today, I’ve featured one of my favorite small kitchen appliances: the panini press. Travis and I received this one as a wedding gift over four years ago and it’s still going strong. I love that the plates are nonstick, so coating bread with butter or oil isn’t necessary. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I’m making my curry salad sandwich (chickpea base) into a panini on sourdough bread, fresh from San Francisco.

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All in all, this formula is pretty simple and keeps well in the fridge for days. You could easily make a big batch to have on hand for sandwiches or wraps all week long and opt either to mix your produce right in or keep it separate (which is what I like to do). This way, you can change up the combinations from sandwich to sandwich to suit the taste preferences of different household members. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: SALAD SANDWICH

Makes 4 sandwiches

  • 1 ½ cups cooked protein (beans or lentils, or chopped, dehydrated extra firm tofu) –> I’m using chickpeas.
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion –> I’m using green.
  • ¼ cup mayo substitute (seed/nut butter, vegan pesto, pureed avocado, etc.) –> I’m using tahini + a few tablespoons of water.
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • ¼ cup “crunch” (chopped raw nuts/seeds, unsweetened dried fruit, etc.) (optional) –> I’m not using any.
  • Spices, fresh/dried herbs, salt, and pepper to taste (optional) –> I’m using 1 tsp each cumin and garam masala, ½ tsp turmeric, and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.
  • Additional raw fruits/vegetables to mix in or for garnishing –> I’m topping with my salad with a few thin slices of roma tomato and green pepper, and slathering my bread with whole grain mustard.

Coarsely smash your beans/lentils, if using.

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Combine all ingredients.

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Assemble with additional produce on bread or in a wrap, if desired.

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I’m running my sandwich through a panini press before consuming. 🙂

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Cashew Cream Potato Salad

I see vegan cooks using cashew cream as a substitute for dairy in both sweet and savory applications all over the place lately, so much so that I knew I just had to try it for myself. After making my first batch of the stuff, I really couldn’t believe how smooth and decadent it was. I immediately thought to the russet potatoes I had sitting on my counter and thought of trying my hand at a creamy potato salad.

Potato salad typically gets its creaminess from mayo, which I find transforms into an unappealingly oily consistency the longer that it sits. Yes, if you’ve ever been to a good old American barbeque or cookout, you know that potato salad tends to sit…for a while. Even if everyone has a healthy helping, there always seems to be tons of it left over.

I’m happy to report that using cashew cream in lieu of mayo will keep your potato salad leftovers fresh and creamy. In addition, cashews are nutritious and versatile. These super nuts contain an abundance of antioxidants, are excellent sources of copper and vitamin K, and can even help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. They can be used in everything from trail mix to brittle to vegan cheesecake (a future blog post) and today, as “mayo.” Just blend raw cashews with water; it’s that simple!

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The other major component of my potato salad is, naturally, the potato. Today, I’m using russets so that I have a blank flavor palate to start with, but you could certainly use a sweet potato, yam, or potato of a different color or texture. Because, in America at least, the russet potato is often used in relatively unhealthy dishes like fries and chips, it has developed a poor reputation. The reality, however, is that the russet is quite the super food.

One large russet contains about a third of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorous. It’s low in calories, high in fiber, and the perfect canvas for endless kitchen experiments. Want to maximize the nutritional benefits of your russets? Leave the skin on! Roast it and it becomes crispy, or, in today’s potato salad, hide it almost entirely in our cashew cream.

DSC_2304Since I touted my rendition of creamy potato salad for its ability to hold up at the family picnic, you should know that it tastes even better the second day. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: POTATO SALAD

Serves 4-6

  • 2 pounds potatoes –> I’m using russets.
  • 2 cups diced raw vegetables –> I’m using 2 medium carrots and 2 large ribs of celery.
  • A double batch of my creamy salad dressing (see below)
  • ¼ cup crunch (raw seeds, nuts, etc.) (optional) –> I’m using pecans (and a small amount of pistachios leftover from my nice cream recipe earlier this week).

For the dressing (NOTE: Formula already doubled below.):

  • ½ cup seed or nut butter –> I’m using cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight and blend with just enough water to form a thick cream).
  • 5 tbsps acid (citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, or a combination) –> I’m using half freshly squeezed lemon juice and half whole grain mustard.
  • Thinning liquid as needed (ideas: homemade veggie stock, water, or more acid) –> I’m not using any.
  • Up to 4 tbsps raw garlic and/or fresh/dried herbs and/or spices (optional) –> I’m using 2 ½ tbsps minced garlic and 1 tbsp dried dill.
  • 1-2 tsps sweetener (optional) –> I’m using 1 tsp agave syrup.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using ¼ tsp salt and no pepper.

Thoroughly wash your potatoes so that you can keep the skin on. Chop into bite size pieces and steam, boil, or roast (I’m boiling). While your potatoes are cooking, make your dressing. Cover and place in the fridge for the flavors to come together.

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When your potatoes are done cooking, drain (if necessary) and place in a glass bowl to chill in the fridge, at least to room temperature. While the potatoes are cooling, chop your veggies and crunch element, if using.  After the potatoes have cooled sufficiently, pour your dressing on top and stir gently to combine. Enjoy for several days (if you have any leftovers!).

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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!

Nolan Turns Two: What We Ate

DSC_1715I can’t believe my son is already two years old! Everyone told me that the time would fly and they were right. Before I knew it, it was time to plan Nolan’s second birthday party, including a mostly vegan menu that was sure to please all guests.

And, it did! We kept the affair small and invited family members that are both vegetarians and omnivores. Everyone ate mostly vegan and loved it, exclaiming over the food and asking me for recipes. In the past, I’ve served foods at parties I’ve thrown that are crowd pleasers, but that don’t necessarily reflect our plant-based lifestyle. Animal products like meat and cheese were once on the menu for such an event and I would always be conflicted with the leftovers; I don’t believe in wasting food, but I don’t, any longer, choose to eat many animal products. This time, I knew that I wanted to be left with the food that we eat every single day.

DSC_1665To answer the question that is surely on many minds, particularly those of parents, yes, Nolan follows a plant-based lifestyle, too. While I’m no expert on this way of eating and living, I’ve done quite a bit of research and have been living plant-based for over three years. As a result, I know that animal products are not at all necessary to the proper growth and development of a young child. While Nolan eats the occasional piece of cheese or cup of yogurt when at the homes of friends and family, in our house, he eats just like Travis and I do.

So, when it came time to plan his birthday party menu, I knew I wanted to serve some of his favorites. I apologize for the less-than-stellar quality of these pictures, but with a house full of hungry guests, a toddler being a toddler, and dogs running all over the place, capturing these images ended up becoming sort of an afterthought. 🙂 Here’s what we served:

  • Two types of veggie burgers: a black bean quinoa burger with red peppers and a falafel burger with sunflower seeds; we served an avocado “sour cream” (silken tofu, lime juice, avocado) and sliced veggies for topping
  • Baked veggie fries: a combination of yams and sweet potatoes seasoned with paprika and garlic powder
  • Fruit salad: bananas, blueberries, grapes, strawberries, blackberries
  • Kale salad: baby kale mixture dressed in a lemon vinaigrette and topped with raw chopped pecans and sunflower seeds
  • Homemade graham crackers and dip (a thicker version of my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie)
  • California rolls: Other than the cake, which we custom ordered from a local bakery that we love, these were the only non-vegan items on the menu. Nolan isn’t yet at the point where he’ll munch on very many raw veggies when we go out for sushi, so we always get him a California roll. 🙂

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To answer another question that may be on your mind, yes, Nolan does eat (and love) all of these foods, often in one day. The kid DOMINATES plant-based yumminess like it’s going out of style and I’d be willing to bet that if we did a blood draw, the results would show that he’s in better nutritional shape than most adults. He has no food allergies, has energy for days, is happy and well-tempered, and has been sleeping through the night for at least twelve hours since two months old. I’d say that he’s doing just fine without animal products.  🙂

As you read in my bio, I am a mostly vegan, as sometimes it just isn’t feasible to be 100% plant-based. Case in point, Nolan’s cake. I have made vegan and gluten-free cakes and icings before, to much success. This time around, however, I needed someone to do the job for me. With Travis working full-time and completing an MBA, a steady stream of visitors since January (everyone wants to be in Arizona when it’s winter!), my job, and running our entire house, I honestly just didn’t have the time, this time. The cake was delicious and it was worth the very occasional splurge.

DSC_1660 I’m hoping that getting a glimpse into our plant-based lifestyle—even when throwing a party—helps you to embrace it yourself, even if it’s occasional or gradual. I can’t stress enough the health and happiness that living this way has brought to our lives and we have an adorable two-year-old to show for it. Happy Birthday, Nolan!

New Formula: Super Creamy Dressing, Hold the Cream!

DSC_1647A few nights ago, my sister sent me a recipe for spiced chickpeas that she said I just had to try, and she was right. If you’ve never heard of Thug Kitchen, you NEED to check out these uber-talented and funny vegan chefs! What the thugs figured out that I couldn’t put my finger on until I completed their recipe (sorry guys, it’s not on their website, but it is in their cookbook, which I am now ordering ASAP) is that seed and nut butters make for the ultimate rich and creamy dressing for salads, wraps, sandwiches, and fruit and veggie dipping.

Really, this has made sense for longer than I realized. I love to eat tahini (made from sesame seeds) on sandwiches and peanut butter on apple slices. So, I’ve been using seed and nut butters in a dressing and dip capacity for quite a while, and you probably have, too. When it comes to more delicate applications like salads, however, a thick peanut butter alone just won’t cut it in the dressing department.

Prior to becoming an honorary thug, I attempted to make creamy salad dressing in a number of ways, from thickening plant milk with chia seeds to puréeing silken tofu. While these methods have afforded me some success, the resulting dressings were no match for the tahini-based dressing in the thugs’ spiced chickpea recipe. As I do with just about any recipe I come across, I played around and made the dressing my own and thus, a new Basic Formula was born.

Yikes, seed and nut butters are fattening! Yes, but remember, fat is ok in moderation…and if it doesn’t come from animals. If you are going to opt for ranch dressing, for instance, think of it this way: You are also opting for cholesterol and potentially, hormones from the animal products. Seeds and nuts are cholesterol-free fats that do not contain hormones and do contain tons of protein and other nutrients. Also, when I shared my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie recipe with you, I explained that seeds are nuts are one of the only sources of fat in my diet, so a little here and there is not going to hurt me (or you).

Don’t forget to purchase, whenever possible, seed and nut butters than contain ONLY seeds and nuts. Many jarred butters contain unnecessary added salts, oils, and sugars. If I deem them necessary, I would rather add these ingredients to a homemade dressing so that I can control the quality and quantity.

Finally, I consider mustard an acid, even though it is technically derived from seeds and processed with acid (vinegar). The acidic, sometimes bitter taste reminds me of the sensation of consuming a purer acid like citrus juice or straight vinegar. If you include mustard in your dressing, seek out a stone ground or whole grain variety. Mustard seeds are an excellent source of selenium (just like brown rice…see my whole grain salad recipe) and Omega-3 fatty acids.

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Below is my new formula and an application inspired by the tahini dressing that gave way to my latest culinary brainchild. Satisfy your craving for a rich, creamy dressing or dip by turning to seeds and nuts rather than cows and goats. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: Creamy Dressing

Dresses 3-4 salads

  • ¼ cup seed or nut butter –> I’m using tahini.
  • 2 ½ tbsp acid (citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, or a combination) –> I’m using 1 tbsp stone ground mustard and 1 ½ tbsp lemon juice.
  • Thinning liquid as needed, depending on whether you’re going for a dressing or thick dip (ideas: veggie stock, water, or more acid) –> I’m using 3 tbsp water.
  • Up to 2 tbsp raw garlic and/or fresh/dried herbs and/or spices (optional) –> I’m using one small clove minced raw garlic and I tsp finely chopped fresh sweet mint.
  • ½-1 tsp sweetener (optional) –> I’m using ½ tsp 100% pure maple syrup.
  • Salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.

Combine all ingredients with a small whisk. Add thinning liquid as needed to achieve desired consistency. Still not creamy enough for you? Run the whole mixture through a food processor or blender (I enjoy the texture of the mustard seeds, so I am leaving my dressing as is after whisking). Drizzle over salad, spread on bread, pita, or wrap, or use for dipping. You are seriously going to LOVE this dressing! Ranch…what’s that?!

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New Formula: Multi-Grain Salad

DSC_1635Remember that DIY veggie stock I made a few days back? Today, I’m putting it to good use making a salad that I love. My multi-grain salad, now housed under Square Meal Formulas, is filling, nutritious, and an easy way to combine a variety of great-for-you grains.

Pictured below are the grains that I’m using for my salad this go-around, with descriptions to follow.

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Clockwise, starting in the upper left corner:

SHORT GRAIN BROWN RICE: As I’m sure you know, brown rice boasts far more nutrients than the white variety. Brown rice is rich in fiber and selenium and can even lower bad cholesterol.

QUINOA: Often referred to as a super food, quinoa is mega rich in fiber, protein, and iron, among other minerals. ‘Nough said.

FARRO: Farro is also rich in fiber and minerals and in my opinion, maintains an appealing semi-crunchy texture after cooking. It pairs nicely with softer grains like rice and quinoa.

WHEAT BERRIES: Finally, wheat berries, like farro, are crunchy, and high in fiber and micronutrients. Sprouting wheat berries will result in wheat grass, which I use in all of my super smoothies. So, there’s that, too.

A little off-topic, but a quick word about balsamic vinegar, since I’m using it in today’s recipe. When I’m not in the mood to use fresh citrus juice or don’t have any on hand, I turn to balsamic vinegar as a dressing base. Besides being loaded with potassium and calcium, balsamic vinegar can normalize blood pressure, stabilize cholesterol, steady glucose levels, and even aid in weight loss. To say the least, I adore it. J Thus, it is important to me to have a high-quality variety in my pantry. Pictured below is a brand that I like, with a middle-of-the-road price tag. The more you pay, the better vinegar you’ll get.

DSC_1631Ok, back to the grains! I pair my multi-grain salad with fresh produce. Having made this salad many times, I prefer it sweet and savory. I use strawberries for the sweet and cook the grains in veggie stock for the savory. Find a balance that works for your taste buds and, as always, enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: MULTI-GRAIN SALAD

  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock –> I’m using my homemade veggie stock.
  • 2 cups dry grains –> I’m using ½ cup each short grain brown rice, quinoa, farro, and wheat berries.
  • 2 cups chopped fruits and/or veggies –> I’m using nearly 1 lb of sliced strawberries.
  • Dressing of choice or a combination of herbs/spices and salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar, which pairs classically with strawberries. I’m also adding a splash of olive oil to prevent sticking, a tablespoon of dried basil, and a pinch each of pink Himalayan sea salt and black pepper.

Rinse your grains before cooking in order to remove any possible dirt or dust.

DSC_1623Because different grains have different cooking times, you may approach this in two ways: cook them all in the same pot, in stages, or cook them separately and combine them later. Having worked with my particular selection of grains before, I am opting for the former method. If you’re not sure about the grains you are using, research their cook times and even better, experiment in your kitchen. Or, make this salad with just one grain to start. Baby steps are a-ok.

I use a rice cooker because I find that it reduces sticking to the bottom of the pan with just a few occasional stirs, but you can certainly cook your grains in a pot on the stove top, stirring more regularly. First, add your veggie stock and wheat berries to kick off the cooking process. Wheat berries take longer to cook than any of the other grains I am using.

After 30 minutes, add your farro. 10 minutes later, add your rice. 10 minutes after that, add your final grain, quinoa, and cook for an additional 15-17 minutes, or until the last of your cooking liquid is absorbed. I usually leave the lid to my rice cooker off for the last few minutes to speed this process.

DSC_1627While your grains are cooking, chop your fruits/veggies and prepare your dressing and/or seasonings.

DSC_1626Cook your grains to completion and chill in your fridge, uncovered and stirring occasionally to allow heat to escape more easily, until at least room temperature (about 30 minutes). If the grains are hot, they will par-cook your produce, which we want to keep raw. When cool, combine the grains with your other ingredients. Consume cold and store in the fridge for 3-5 days, depending on the shelf life of the produce used.

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