Okay, you want healthy and you want a traditional dish for Thanksgiving. I’ve got it. Oh, by the way, it’s EASY, too. Two ingredients. If you like spicy, you’ll love these and will likely make them way after Thanksgiving Day has come and gone.

For each serving, peel one sweet potato. Cube and steam for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the steamer and mash. Open a can of chipotle in adobo and remove one pepper for each sweet potato you cooked. Dice it finely and add some of the sauce in the can. Add to your mashed potatoes and serve. Easy, different, and yet, traditional.

Thanksgiving Epiphany

November 8, 2012

Thinking ahead to Thanksgiving and the menu I want to enjoy, I had an epiphany. The traditional foods that we Americans enjoy for this holiday are quite plant-friendly (except for turkey). Think about it. There’s sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberries, bread, and pumpkin pie.
Since making my transition to a plant-based lifestyle, I’ve learned that all of these foods can be prepared in a healthy, delicious way.
So, as you plan your holiday menu, think about it. You can enjoy your traditional foods…but consider preparing them in a more healthy way.
For example, forget about the marshmallows in your sweet potatoes. Bake them and toss in some walnuts and a splash of maple syrup.
Don’t drown your green beans with sodium-laden mushroom soup and fried mushrooms. Heat them with some fresh mushrooms or toss in some almonds. Make a vegan pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake. Choose whole wheat rolls. And, instead of butter on your mashed potatoes, consider making a delicious vegan brown gravy.
As for the main event, the turkey, just say no. With all the other delicious dishes, you won’t even miss it!

It’s November, and before you can believe it, those sugar-filled treats will be everywhere. I’ve just discovered a new secret weapon and have to share!
Want something sweet? Of course. Want something cool and decadent, like ice cream? You know you do! Want something sparkly and special? Oh, yeah.
Well, take a trip to your supermarket and head for the fruits and vegetables. Look for holiday grapes. Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of them, but now I’ve spotted them in Whole Foods and Raley’s, so they must be growing in popularity.
What makes holiday grapes special? First, their size. They look like regular red grapes on steroids. Next, their sweetness. Finally, their ability to freeze and eat.
Here’s what you do. Bring them home, wash them, and freeze them in a large ziploc bag. Then, when you want a treat, bring out a bunch and let them thaw about 10 minutes. Ready? Indulge.
They have a creamy, sweet texture like ice cream and a bowl of these grapes is much healthier than a bowl of ice cream, for sure.
If you’re having a get-together, put these out on a tray with healthy crackers, and some sliced pears, and they’ll be a hit.
You don’t need candy or sweets. Think of holiday grapes as your holiday weapon in the war on obscenely sugared desserts. It will be our secret!

Holidays are Coming

October 26, 2012

Even the most diligent healthy eaters can be thwarted by the holidays. It starts with candy for Halloween, then the turkey and pumpkin pie of Thanksgiving, and the grand finale of Christmas/New Years. Since so many of our traditions are, indeed, based on food and family how can we be plant-strong and still be participants in our traditions?
Let’s take the holidays one step at a time, let’s keep them from being overwhelming. Halloween. Candy. Sweets. Indulging. How do we get around it?
My suggestions: replace, replace, replace. Buy a bag of candy if you must for trick-or-treaters. The next day, TAKE the LEFTOVERS to your OFFICE. Do NOT nibble on the remainders of the day yourself. Treat yourself instead to my new treat–holiday grapes. These grapes look like grapes on steroids. They are huge. When you get them home, wash them and Freeze them. When you want a treat, take a bunch out of the freezer, give them about 10 minutes to warm, and enjoy. The texture is fantastic. They taste like ice cream! They are sweet and delicious and a whole lot better than mild duds, for sure.
Or, if you really need that chocolate Halloween fix, try this: when you make your oatmeal in the morning, put a teaspoon of vegan chocolate chips on top. The chocolate melts and you get the “fix” you need without going off the wagon.
I hope these tips will help you think Outside the Candy Box next week. Happy Halloween!

Use It or Lose It

October 22, 2012

My mother grew up in the Great Depression, and even though she lived to be 90, she never lost the mentality of not allowing food to go to waste.
Our family was not rich and as I look back, many of our meals were cheap. This past week, the memory of one of our familiar Friday (meatless) meals came back when I was trying to not waste some precious (and expensive) mushrooms.
I had made faro and mushroom risotto earlier in the week and I had a variety of mushrooms left over. I did not want to waste them, but wasn’t sure what to do. Then, I remembered the mushroom soup over toast with peas and carrots meal from my childhood, and decided to try a healthy vegan take on it.
My mom’s dish consisted of a can of cream of mushroom soup, toasted white bread, and a can of peas and carrots. Heat the soup and vegees and pour over the bread.
My take on it was to finely chop the mushrooms and cook them down, then finely chop an onion and sauté it in vegetable broth. I put the two ingredients together and then added some nondairy milk. After it warmed, I added some cornstarch and water to thicken it into a gravy. Next, I steamed some organic carrots and heated some frozen peas, and made whole wheat toast.
Voila! A recreated classic, much healthier as well.
Out of curiosity, I went to the supermarket and checked out the ingredients on that can of cream of mushroom soup.
In addition to mushrooms and water, I had been eating modified food starch, soybean oil, dried whey, monosodium glutamate, potassium chloride, yeast extract, disodium insinuate, disodium guarylate, and disodium phosphate, along with corn syrup solids.
My version was mushrooms, vegetable broth, onions, nondairy milk, and cornstarch.
The neat thing was, I still frugally used up my leftover mushrooms. Mom would be proud.

Broccoli in a Burrito?

October 16, 2012

I never would have imagined anything so delicious–who knew?

Last weekend, I attended the Healthy Lifestyle Expo in Woodland Hills, California, and was introduced to Chef AJ. She has been a vegan for decades and is well known in the Los Angeles area. One of her missions is to bring healthy options to fast food, and she has done just that.

Several Los Angeles communities have a local fast food restaurant named Sharky’s. If you go there, you can ask for the AJ Burrito. It’s not on the menu board, you have to know to ask for it. And, what is it?

There are two styles, the AJ Burrito or the Naked AJ. The AJ Burrito is a whole wheat tortilla, stuffed with black beans or pinto beans, rice, guacamole, and BROCCOLI! The Naked version skips the tortilla, and features all the ingredients on a bed of greens. Either way is delicious. What a clever way to sneak broccoli into your diet–at a fast food restaurant, no less!

Many fast food restaurants are now claiming to offer “health” options, but in my opinion, this option really IS healthy. Congratulations, Sharky’s!

Everyone needs a companion

October 6, 2012

Certain things in life are better shared…and your companion may be your cat or dog, a spouse or partner, or your child. Going to a movie or out to dinner is better together.

And so it is with food. One easy vegan cooking time-saving tip is to cook meals with similar ingredients at the same time. Not only does this save effort and time, it also saves money. One example, cauliflower. Because I’m a one-person vegan eating household, if I buy a whole cauliflower it is likely that most of it goes to waste if I only make a side portion of cauliflower for dinner one night. The remainder of the cauliflower will sit in the refrigerator bin until it gets weird and smelly and ends up in the trash.

But with some easy planning and companion cooking, all the cauliflower is enjoyed, nothing goes to waste, and money is saved. Let’s use the cauliflower for example. Cut it up into flowerettes. Use half of the pieces to make a cauliflower and no-queso macaroni. Then, take the other half, and use it immediately to make a cauliflower dal. One prep and cooking session–two meals.

Another example is spinach. Buying a whole bunch of fresh spinach means I have to create multiple meals. Typically, I’ll clean it and use it for a pasta florentine, a spinach and fruit smoothie, and a vegetable lasagna.

By cutting and cleaning vegetables at the same time and making multiple meals, you not only use up your ingredients, you also save time, and your vegan cooking gets easier.

By now, most of us know what foods are good for us, but it’s not always easy to incorporate them into our daily lives. Take, for example, cabbage. I grew up in an ethnic family, and my grandmother made a Polish delicacy called golumki. It is steamed cabbage, with ground beef and spices wrapped inside. As a child, I could not tolerate the smell of cooking cabbage, and so I’ve avoided it throughout my adult life.

While visiting Seattle recently, I ate at a vegan restaurant and the dish I tried was brown rice with vegetables on top, with a peanut sauce. When I got the dish, I saw that there was a lot of cabbage. I was a bit apprehensive, but when I tasted it, I could not believe how delicious the cabbage was. When I returned home, I decided to re-create the dish.

OMG…it was easy and even more delicious! Now I have a way to eat cabbage.

First, I cooked my brown rice. Then, I shaved a half of a green cabbage and half of a red cabbage. Into a few cups of boiling water, I placed a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar and some salt. I put the shaved cabbage into the boiling water for only about 1-2 minutes, just enough to make it limp.

I steamed some broccolini tips in another pot, and made a peanut-hoisin sauce, using chunky peanut butter, soy sauce, agave, garlic ginger sauce, and tomato paste.

To assemble the bowl, I put a few scoops of brown rice in the dish, topping it with a few spoonfuls of the cabbage and the broccolini. Then, I poured the peanut-hoisin sauce on top. Yum. It is sweet, peanut-y, and very filling.

Cabbage is going to be my new friend. So, to those of you who say “I can’t eat healthy” or “I don’t like (fill in the blank)”, I’m here to tell you that it’s not so hard. Try something new every day, you might just like it!

Last week, I visited Seattle, and came to find it is a city that has a multitude of vegan-friendly restaurants. I stayed in the University District, and when I checked in to my hotel, I asked the desk person if there were any restaurants within walking distance. She asked me what kind of food I liked, and I said vegan. Wow. Within a mile of my hotel, I had to PICK from no fewer than 7 vegan or vegetarian restaurants!

My favorite turned out to be the first all organic, all vegan restaurant in Seattle, a local spot that had been in business for more than 20 years. Hallelujah. I tried the Thai Peanut Bowl. Simple, yet incredible. Brown rice atop a bed of fresh spinach. Baked cabbage atop the rice, baked tofu atop that. And then a delicious peanut-y sauce over everything.

Most of the dishes at the restaurant also came in two sizes…the angels now sang! One of my pet peeves at restaurants is that whatever you order, you get enough food for a family of four. Here, I was able to get the smaller portion and be comfortably full. I wish more restaurants would take note.

Having so many vegan restaurant choices made me realize how wonderful it felt to eat normal. By that I mean that whenever I go out to dinner or lunch with friends, they ALWAYS say, “What will YOU eat?” They’re afraid to suggest a restaurant because it might not have something for me because I “eat different.” So, at least for the week I visited Seattle, I ate normal–and it was fantastic!

Happy Autumnal Equinox

September 22, 2012

Ancient cultures (and modern ones, too) have always celebrated the passage of seasons. In northern countries like Finland, the Summer Solstice is marked with parties, parades, and merrymaking. Because of the angle of the sun at Midsummer, it stays light nearly all night, so they get to stay up and party! The darkness of Winter is marked by celebration of light across many cultures, with candles lighting the night.
Today marks the beginning of my favorite season, Autumn. There is a crispness in the morning and evening air, the skies and the light are different, too. The growing season is nearly done and plants and trees show that they are tired and ready for a rest.
As a healthy, vegan eater, it’s time to turn our recipes over from the fruits of summer to the bounty of fall. Squashes and pumpkins should be on our recipe list, with their myriad of flavors and texture. Seek out some new recipes and try something new to celebrate the season.
Today I’m making a butternut squash soup. Happy Day!