A Gratuitous Picture of Cookies

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I would love to be able to blog about all the awesome things I’ve been doing–especially awesome things I’ve been cooking–but alas I’ve spent the past five days trying to beat a nasty bout of the stomach bug. Out of all the diseases it’s possible to contract, stomach flu frustrates me the most! Cooking, baking, and eating are such big parts of my life that it’s a huge bummer to be relegated to the land of animal crackers and rice.

On the upside, there has been Yogi Tea’s ginger tea. In order to avoid sounding like a commercial for it, I’ll just say this: YUM, whether or not you have a stomach ache!

I have managed to do a couple of things. Before I got sick, I made these:

cookies

Chocolate Agave Trail Mixers, from the fabulous Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. (I’ll gush about this book at length in a later post.) Agave nectar was on sale at the local co-op this month and, never having used it, I decided to pick some up and grab the tastiest-sounding test recipe I could find. I used walnuts and left out the dried fruit, as I was lacking dried cherries and am not a fan of raisins and chocolate together.

Yes, they’re good. They’re amazing, in fact. My mom and I have been gobbling them down every chance we get.

As a side note, this was also the first time I had cause to use ground flax seeds as an egg replacer, and I really like the way it came out. The texture is perfect for cookies. (I’m sure all you more experienced vegan bakers out there are laughing at my happy surprise!)

I also updated the layout of the blog–I’ve always been a sucker for notebooks, even digital ones. There are still a few things that need tweaking, but overall I’m happy with it. Let me know what you think!

That’s all for this rather short post. I’m hoping to do more cooking over the weekend, and maybe whip up some brownies next week. Here’s to being able to eat real food again!

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The Other Side: Being Underweight in a Weight-Obsessed World

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It’s well-known that obesity is a growing concern in many developed countries. We hear about the negative health effects of being overweight all the time. By contrast, we see television shows, movies, magazines, and advertisements full of ultra-thin women and buff men–images that often evoke a negative attitude toward our own bodies.

There are of course many health benefits to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. However, the contrast between the sizes and shapes of real people and those of models and actors has led to the belief that you can never be too thin.

In truth, being underweight carries its own list of health risks, depending on the cause:

  • osteoperosis
  • anemia
  • weakened immune system (due to poor/improper nutrition)
  • amenorrhea/infertility in women
  • pain/discomfort due to lack of padding

I am currently about 10lbs. underweight. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, but for clarity’s sake I will say that it has nothing to do with eating a vegan diet. (Far too many people assume that vegan and thinness are synonymous!) It’s also not for lack of trying. I eat quite a bit of food and try to keep my diet full of varied fresh, plant-based dishes and nutrient-packed snacks.

When I first began talking to doctors about my weight, I was startled by the repeated question, “Have you tried exercising less?” I was exercising maybe 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week–not an excessive amount. It still strikes me as astonishing that multiple medical professionals would suggest cutting out exercise as a tool for weight gain rather than eating more food. This shows how deeply ingrained the idea of extra food being a bad thing is in our society.

The other thing that disturbs me about being underweight is the envy it can elicit from other women. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a conversation about food or health and heard the remark, “Well, you don’t have anything to worry about!” In public, I’ve been on the receiving end of dirty looks from complete strangers. And sometimes when I mention how much weight I lost, I get a response like, “Good for you!” Rarely, if ever, have I gotten a concerned reaction from people outside my family.

I try to make it a point to tell people that being underweight is no fun.  Can I pull off outfits I never would have considered wearing when I was 20lbs. heavier?  Sure.  But I also can’t enjoy walking around barefoot because my feet are so thin it’s painful to walk without shoes on.  Pants of all sizes fall off me.  In a bathing suit, I look like a walking skeleton.  I have no hips on which to balance things like heavy laundry baskets or big bags.  In the grand scheme of things, looking good in one outfit or another is hardly a positive trade-off.

With all the focus on weight loss and hype over diet products, it can be very hard to find useful information on how to gain weight in a way that’s healthy. Essentially, underweight people are dealing with a problem that very few others believe is a problem. In my experience, the best thing to do is take charge of your own health. Read what you can find, ask questions of people you know are knowledgeable, and seek out the truth rather than sensationalism.

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Recipe: Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Black Beans & Kale

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In case I haven’t already mentioned, I’ve always been a sucker for cookbooks. Even before switching to a vegan diet, I had a tendency to pick up collections of recipes. It never mattered that my family already owns more cookbooks than we know what to do with.

Now that vegan food is a staple in our household, I’ve been trying to gather both traditional and unique recipes to try. This has led to a growing collection of exclusively vegan cookbooks. But even with a shelf full of options, my books occasionally let me down.

Such was the case yesterday. I got up knowing that I wanted dinner to contain black beans and quinoa, but for the life of me couldn’t find a recipe that matched the sort of dish I was picturing. It’s been a while since I invented something from the ground up, so I decided to take a crack at it.

This was the result! Black beans, quinoa, and fresh kale, together with some cilantro and lime juice to season it all up. It was an instant family hit (thankfully!), and I’m glad it came out well enough to be able to share the recipe.

Cilantro-Lime Quinoa With Black Beans & Kale
serves 4

Ingredients
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water or vegetable broth

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 or 2 small hot chilis, seeded & minced
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red pepper
2 15oz. cans black beans, drained (reserve liquid)
3 cups fresh kale, chopped
1 cup fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tsp dried cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin
lime juice to taste
black pepper to taste

Directions

1) Rinse the quinoa and place it in a pot with the water or broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

2) While the quinoa is cooking, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chilis and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and pepper, cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

3) Add the beans, cilantro, cumin, and lime juice and pepper to taste. Add as much of the reserved bean liquid as you wish to make the whole thing moist, but not too watery. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the quinoa is done.

4) Once the quinoa is cooked, uncover the bean mixture and add the kale. Cook until just wilted, then stir in the tomatoes. Add the cooked quinoa and stir until everything is well combined and heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot. Drizzle with tamari, if desired.

How saucy and seasoned to make this is largely up to personal preference, so play around with it to find the flavor you like best!

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Kitchen Geekery: Rice Cooker Love

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I like rice. A lot. Many meals in my household somehow involve it: rice and beans, fried rice, jumbalaya over rice, seasoned rice as a side dish, etc. Given that it shows up on the menu so often, it’s kind of silly that it took me until only a couple weeks ago to acquire a rice cooker.

On more than one occasion, other people who love rice the way I do have extolled the virtues of rice cookers. I’ll admit that at first I thought it was kind of silly to have a kitchen appliance for the sole purpose of making rice, but then this little beauty caught my eye:

Not only does it cook rice, but it also allows you to steam veggies or anything else that strikes your fancy at the same time. I know. This shouldn’t be such a shocking novelty, but both my mother and I were so charmed by the idea that we were convinced to buy the thing.

The first meal I made in it was simple: basmati rice with steamed mixed veggies (broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, red and green cabbage) and tofu cubes. For flavor, I whipped up a batch of Spicy Szechuan Sauce from Vegan Fire & Spice. Easy as pie and, best of all, next to no cleanup!

I’m fond of the fact that the cooker will keep rice warm for indefinite periods of time. I also like that it can be used as a crock pot for things like soups, stews, and chilis. I don’t think I’ll ever use it for sole purpose of making rice, but as a tool for throwing together a quick, simple dinner or one-pot meal, it will come in handy.

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Playing With Recipes: Vegan Easter Pie

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There’s not much I miss from my days as an omnivore, but one thing I still have fond memories of is ricotta pie.  Growing up exactly one-half Italian meant that there was a lot of cheese to be had, and ricotta pie, being made largely of ricotta cheese, was no exception.  It had a sweet taste, thick texture, and flaky crust–all enjoyable in their own ways, but definitely not friendly to the lactose intolerant system.

After giving up dairy, I figured I’d never see the likes of such a pie again.  Enter the Italian Easter Pie out of Vegan Fire & Spice by Robin Robertson.  While not a veganized version of the ricotta pie I remember, it is a pie of similar type.  Savory instead of sweet, and meant for dinner rather than breakfast or snack, Robertson’s Easter pie is fully loaded with tofu, vegan sausage, and tons of great seasonings inside a flaky crust.

Since it’s a bit heavy on the protein, I served it with a simple side of kale.  The preparation of the pie itself wasn’t difficult, the most time-consuming part being crumbling the tofu and sausage.  Overall, another dinner success with plenty left over to share!

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Playing With Recipes: Chickpea Culets & Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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chickpea cutlet & roasted brussels sprouts

I’m the sort of person who prefers one-pot meals, for several reasons. One, they’re much easier to coordinate than a meal that requires cooking a lot of different things at once; and two, there are fewer dishes to worry about afterwards! However, sometimes I like to do my version of going all out and make a multi-dish dinner.

Last night was one of those times. Ever since my mom got me Veganomicon for Christmas, I’ve had my eye on the recipe for chickpea cutlets. I love chickpeas and get a major kick out of playing with vital wheat gluten. Plus, making patties, burgers, or cutlets from scratch gives me control over how much salt goes into the final product.

I knew I wanted something green to go along with the cutlets, and since my entire family has been suckers for Brussels sprouts lately, I went searching for a suitable recipe. Enter my favorite vegan recipe guru, Robin Robertson. I’ve been known to gush at length about her cookbooks, so that’s best left for another entry. Let’s just say that I’ve never gone wrong with one of her recipes. A quick glance through 1,000 Vegan Recipes yielded a fast, easy recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon juice. Fast, easy, and Brussels sprouts? Yes please.

The rice was the easiest part. All I did was cook brown rice as per the package instructions, with a little veggie bullion, thyme, marjoram, and basil thrown in to spice it up.

My only complaint was that the cutlets were underdone after the amount of time recommended by the recipe for pan-frying. I may have made them too thick. Other than that, the meal was tasty and well-received by all! Next time, I may try baking the cutlets in the oven to see if they cook through better.

Tonight I’m going to go for something easier, but it was nice to experiment with a little of this and a little of that from different cookbooks in my collection. My family has definitely found a new favorite in those roasted Brussels sprouts!

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Recipe: "Dandy" Chocolate Chip Walnut Bars

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Sometimes you just need dessert!

Though dessert consumption has declined considerably in my household over the last year or so, both my mother and I are still fond of making and eating baked goods. Most recipes we used to enjoy can be made vegan-friendly with a few easy substitutions!

One of the things I used to be a fiend for was brownies. Chocolate, chocolate chip, peanut butter; I loved them all. Looking back, I cringe at the amount of dairy- and egg-laiden desserts consumed as a kid. But that doesn’t stop me from breaking out the mixing bowl and making updated versions of the old favorites.

On a recent trip to AZ, I picked up a bag of Dandies vegan marshmallows from Green. I’ve been dying to make something with them ever since, and lurking in my brain was a memory of making “blizzard” cookie bars in 6th grade Home Ec.

After a little tweaking, the result isn’t the same, but the taste is just as fantastic! I made mine with applesauce and find that the lighter texture compliments the chewiness of the walnuts quite well.

“Dandy” Chocolate Chip Walnut Bars
makes 24 bars

1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened (I like the kind with olive oil)
1/2 cup applesauce
*note: using applesauce will result in a “puffier” bar–if you prefer a more traditional cookie texture, use 1 cup Earth Balance
1/2 cup sugar or Xylitol
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
equivalent of 2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup Dandies marshmallows, cut into small pieces

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. This makes for easier bar removal and less cleanup later on!

2) Mix the Earth Balance, applesauce, and sugars together until combined.

3) Add the “eggs”, vanilla, and baking soda. Mix well.

4) Slowly beat in flour until dough forms. Note: dough made with applesauce will have a slightly “stretchy” texture to it.

5) Fold in the chocolate chips, walnuts, and dandies.

6) Spread dough in the prepared pan as evenly as possible.

7) Bake for 20-25 mins., or until lightly browned. Your kitchen will probably start to smell like s’mores when the Dandies heat up! Bar texture may be more springy/spongy than expected due to melting of the marshmallows, but don’t worry–they’ll taste fine!

8) Cool completely in pan before cutting into 24 bars. Store in an airtight container, preferably between layers of wax paper.

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