Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Are Salads a Big Part of Your Life? and a Roasted Kabocha Squash, Dried Fig and Walnut Salad

A few weeks ago I wrote a guest blog post for The Daily Beet, which is The Engine 2 Diet's blog. I wanted to repost that content right here on HGK, because the thoughts I expressed in it are so important to this lifestyle, to maintaining a healthy weight and to having a strong immune system. So it's ironic that as I type this, I am suffering from a cold.. But sickness for me is so rare these days, and even the viruses that I contract don't take me down like they used to. Perhaps it's the salads?

I make an effort to eat at least one huge salad just about every day. Besides finding them delicious (and you will too if you know how to make a kick arse salad!), they provide an endless variety of low calorie, high volume food for me to enjoy. Since I have never eaten like a bird, it is very important for me to eat �volumetrically.� Like Doug Lisle says, eat your raw veggies first (the salad!), your cooked veggies next, and then your whole grains third. It�s almost impossible to over consume calories that way!

A salad can be a feast. A meal. Dinner. Not just a side dish or an appetizer or, heaven forbid, a garnish. Unfortunately, for many, the word salad conjures up visions of limp lettuce on a plate with nothing but a slice of tomato, a slice of cucumber and a white goopy dressing. And given what is typically served as a salad in a restaurant, I can hardly blame them!

Salads can be extremely quick to prepare and relatively economical. They can become one of your favorite meals, if you learn the basics of building a nutrient dense salad.

There are 4 major components to building a meal sized salad. You cannot mess this up. Use whatever you like or whatever you want to experiment with. It�s all good! The four components are: the greens, the other vegetables and fresh fruit, the beans, and the dressing.

The Greens

Romaine lettuce, green and red leaf lettuces, butter lettuce, spinach, arugula, spring mix or bibb lettuce. Choose one or a mix of two. This is the largest component of the salad, so fill the bowl at least � full of raw leafy greens.

The Other Veggies/Fruit/Herbs

Raw or cooked, throw handfuls of them on top of the greens. Raw vegetables include, but are not limited to shredded green or red cabbage, mushrooms, scallions, red onion, carrots, tomato, radishes, chopped cauliflower, broccoli, finely chopped kale, celery, cucumber, hearts of palm and bean sprouts. Whatever you like!

Cooked and roasted vegetables of all varieties are also wonderful in salads. You can prepare them especially for use in your salad or just use up whatever happens to be in your refrigerator that day! Great examples are roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, carrots and onions. Roasted sweet potato or butternut squash or frozen corn that has been defrosted can be tossed in. Artichoke hearts packed in water are also scrumptious.

Even fresh fruit like diced apple, diced pear, orange segments, blueberries, and strawberries and/or chopped fresh herbs can take a salad from �so-so� to �oh wow!

The Beans

Black beans, edamame, garbanzo beans (chick peas), cannellini beans, pinto beans and kidney beans are all great in salads. Beans can be purchased canned, you just need to drain and rinse them before tossing them in. If you are ambitious, you can buy dried beans and cook them yourself in larger batches. This saves mucho dinero but involves planning and time that I rarely have.

The Dressing

So many amazing no-oil salad dressing recipes are now at your fingertips. Many do include nuts or tahini, so watch out for those ingredients if you need to. My blog readers and I compiled �The Big List of No-oil Salad Dressings� a few months ago. I recommend printing that list out and inserting the pages into plastic page protectors (available at office supply stores). Maybe put them into a small binder. Keep these pages handy in your kitchen so you are never at a loss for a new and exciting dressing recipe.

Link to The Big List of No-oil Salad Dressings

A word about salad �indulgences� like dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, currants, etc), seeds and/or nuts: use these very sparingly or not at all if you would like to lose weight or have chronic disease.

Time Saving Tips

I like to wash and store a lot of lettuce at a time. I don�t buy pre-washed or cut lettuce, I think it�s treated with chemicals and it�s way to expensive. I use a Progressive Lettuce Keeper to store washed and torn lettuce and green bags to store all of my other vegetables. These newfangled storage products have worked amazingly well for me to extend the life of my vegetables.

Pre-washed baby spinach and spring mix can be purchased in large boxes�no chopping involved or storage issues, just grab and go.

Purchase pre-cut items
Every grocery store is different, but I�ll give you an example of what I picked up at a recent Trader Joe�s trip: shredded carrots, shredded green cabbage, cooked beets, cauliflower florets, and broccoli florets.

Own at least one very large salad bowl
My everyday bowl is very large ceramic bowl that I threw myself when I was a potter (another lifetime ago!). I own another humongous one for serving a crowd. These bowls can be plastic or ceramic.

My very large salad bowl holds enough salad for my husband and I for one dinner if all we are eating is salad. If a soup, stew, sauteed greens dish or casserole is also on the menu, that same salad would last us for two nights.

Salad is a great make ahead meal
Don�t dress all of your salad unless you are sure you are going to eat it. My undressed salads last for days in it�s big bowl in the refrigerator, which means you can prepare a lot of salad and not have to worry about it for days. Oftentimes I will make salad in the morning before leaving for work so that my evenings are more relaxed. Plus I�m usually extremely hungry when I walk in the door and having healthy food at the ready means that I am far more likely to make good choices.

Prepare Dressing in Advance (and a lot of it)
Consider making a double batch of no-oil salad dressing. You could store it in the refrigerator in a big canning jar and feel so hip. Use it up until it�s gone and then make another. Not only will this save you oodles of time, it will save you oodles of money on bottled dressings that don�t taste one iota as good as the dressings on The Big List of No-oil Salad Dressing.

Chop it if you Wanna
Have you ever had one of those wonderful chopped salads in a restaurant? If you don�t like the idea of doing all that chewing every day, simply take all of your salad bowl ingredients (before the dressing) and lay them onto a large cutting board. Dice and chop your heart out, scoop the salad back into the bowl and dress it. Viola! A wonderful meal sized chopped salad.

Some great salads:
Roasted Beet and Cranberry Salad
Outside In Salad
Mexican Jicama and Orange Salad
Chinese No Chicken Salad

Roasted Kabocha Squash, Dried Fig and Walnut Salad
serves 3 for dinner, 6 as a starter

Print me!

1 large head romaine lettuce or two small heads green leaf or red leaf lettuce, washed and chopped
1 large kabocha squash, roasted, cut into bite sized pieces
6 large stalks celery, cut into 1" thick slices on a diagonal
1/2 cup dried figs, sliced thin
1/4-1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Chef Aj's house dressing (get that recipe below) or dressing of your choice

To roast your kabocha squash:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash the exterior of the squash and cut in half. Remove seeds. Do not remove the skin of kabocha squash, it's perfectly edible!

Cut squash into even slices (they will look like half-moons) about 1" thick. Spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray and arrange squash slices in one layer onto cookie sheets. Spray squash lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with a touch of salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.

Let squash cool a bit and then cut into bite sized pieces. Place lettuce, roasted squash, figs and walnuts into a large salad bowl. Dress with Chef Aj's House dressing or dressing of your choice. Enjoy!

Chef Aj's House Dressing

1 Tbsp maple syrup or 2 small dates
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 cup water
6 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup stone ground mustard
1/4 cup low sodium Tamari or low sodium soy sauce

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

So, how often are you eating a big salad?

Do you have a favorite group of ingredients in your salad? If so, what is the combination of things that sends you to the moon?

Should we as a group create The Big List of Salad Ideas just like we created The Big List of No-oil Salad Dressings and the Big List of Green Smoothies?

3in6: Starting Month #2

For the challenge guidelines, see this post.

Tomorrow, we'll enter month #2 of the 3in6 Challenge.  This February, I'll wear medium/large box braids every two weeks.  My regimen will consist of biweekly washes and conditioning.

Ladies, how did month #1 go for you? What will do in month #2?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lemon Coconut Chia Seed Muffins

Lately I've been really into making muffins. For one thing, I feel like they are a no-so-bad-in-the-scheme-of-things treat for my kids. They work really well in a lunch box, and I am filling up three of those every morning. And they provide a way of satisfying my sweet tooth without going overboard.

I'm a big fan of the Lemon Poppyseed muffin from way back. You know, those big over sized muffins that we thought were healthy when we were really eating the equivalent of a big hunk of birthday cake?

So when a recipe for Lemon Chia Seed muffins came to my attention while I was on vacation at the end of last year, I immediately put it on my list of must-makes. Plus I'm on a chia seed mission these days. Inspiration came in the form of this recipe from the blog Peas and Thank You (thanks Sarah for recommending them!). I have become a master at eliminating the added fat in my baked goods, so I knew I could give this one a shot.

The last remaining no-no in my baked goods is the sugar. These muffins have a scant tsp and a third of maple syrup per muffin. Not bad! I didn't have any lemon extract in the house, but no biggie! I used my trusty coconut extract instead for a more tropical effect. This one's a keeper!

Lemon Coconut Chia Seed Muffins
makes 12 muffins
adapted from this recipe from Peas and Thank You

Print me!

dry ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup barley flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup chia seeds

wet ingredients:
1/2 cup unsweetened almond or soy milk
1 1/2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp coconut extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest (or zest of 1 small lemon)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, place all dry ingredients and stir to combine well.

In a medium bowl, place all wet ingredients and whisk to combine well.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Fill each well of a muffin tin that has been lined with cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly golden in color and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Want more muffin recipes? Check out these HGK muffin recipes:

I love muffins! What varieties am I missing? Let me know and I will make 'em!

Skin Care || Coping With Vitiligo

WHAT IS IT?: Vitiligo is a skin disorder in which the destruction of pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) creates white patches on various parts of the body. It can be as mild as one small patch or as severe as large depigmented regions across the body. Vitiligo usually spreads quickly when it first occurs. It may continue doing so for years, halt, or go through a resting phase before spreading again. The cause of vitiligo is unknown, but current studies note an association between the skin disorder and oxidative stress. Vitiligo can affect any race, but it is more visible in those with darker complexion. Though the condition may affect one's self esteem, it is not a life- or health-threatening condition.

PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT: Depending on the severity of the skin condition, one's self esteem can become severely impacted. Having obvious white patches on the skin can make one self conscious and affect one's self image, especially in a society where physical appearance is valued. According to one study, "majority of vitiligo patients experienced anxiety and embarrassment when meeting strangers or beginning a new sexual relationship and many felt that they had been the victims of rude remarks."

MEDICAL TREATMENTS: First thing is first; see a dermatologist if you suspect you may have vitiligo. The sooner you see one, the earlier it may be treated. Medical treatments range from cortisones to skin grafting to PUVA and more. For detailed descriptions of these treatments, click here.

NATURAL TREATMENTS: Assuming medical treatments have failed you, there are natural alternatives you may want to explore, such as L-phenylalanine, Ginkgo biloba, vitamin E, etc. Some of these options are debatable, but studies on Ginkgo biloba prove promising for ceasing the progression of vitiligo.

COVER UP WITH MAKEUP: Over the years, concealers and cover cremes have improved in durability and skin tone varieties. You may choose to conceal your vitiligo so that it is less visible or unnoticeable. Look into brands like Dermablend, M.A.C., Mary Kay, and Cover Girl for ethnic skin tones. To get your exact complexion, you can mix concealers within or across brands. Concealing the affected areas can help to boost your confidence.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: Stay away from even complexion and skin lightening products, both of which may aggravate your vitiligo. Examples of such products include those with soy, licorice, and hydroquinone, to name a few. Include foods with antioxidants (which work against oxidative stress) as a regular part of diet. Examples include: green tea, tomatoes, black tea, carrots, cranberry juice, etc. Minimize stress in your life.

This is easier said then done, but when you have exhausted all treatments, do not let the skin disorder destroy your self esteem. Stay confident in your self image. Surround yourself with positive family and friends. Be grateful that the condition is not life threatening. Be thankful for what you do have in life.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

And the Winner of The Vegan Slow Cooker is . . .

Thank you to everyone who left a comment and entered my blogger giveaway for a copy of Kathy Hester's The Vegan Slow Cooker. I've got Kathy's Carrot Cake and Zucchini Bread Oatmeal in my slow cooker right now and I can't wait for tomorrow morning.

The winner is entry number 79, Sara, who made the following comment:

"1) I use mine to cook a batch of dried beans every week. After cooking, I put it in pyrex, and then use the beans all week. Sometimes in the winter, I use it to cook a single serving of steel-cut oats (using this method:http://annkroeker.com/2008/03/25/overnight-crockp... overnight for me to eat before work. I also use mine as an "air freshener" in the kitchen, often after cooking the beans! Basically, fill your crockpot with water, baking soda, and a bit of an extract (I usually use peppermint extract), turn on low (WITHOUT the cover on), and allow it to rid your kitchen of cooking smells.

2) I'm pretty confident in modification, but not so much in developing my own recipes. Creating my own recipes is something I'd like to work more on. I always stir-fry with vegetable oil broth, and always add tons more veggies (e.g. an entire pound of greens to a big pot of soup) than recipes call for. I'm much more confident tweaking some types of recipes (such as soups and stir-fry) than others, such as casseroles, and other baked dishes. A lot of vegan baked dishes use nutritional yeast - which contains MSG, which I'm allergic to - so I always have to modify those recipes. What I normally do is follow the recipe as closely as I can given the ingredients I have on hand or am willing to purchase (I don't usually buy things that I can never see myself ever using up), because I'm always curious to know the taste that the author intended. After that trial, I modify it to fit my preferences. Regardless of the author's intent, I always up the veggie content"

So Sara, please e-mail me at healthygirlskitchen@gmail.com to claim your prize!

Have an excellent week everybody. Back tomorrow with another muffin recipe to go with all of these soups and stews we're all making.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Reader's Question: Low Porosity Butter Mix

"Porosity is the term used in the science of hair care to describe how easily water and other matter can diffuse back and forth through the cuticle layer and into or out of the cortex." - naturallycurly

Reader's Question: I'm just wondering is any of the butter mizes you mentioned would work for low porosity hair. My hair is kind of fine but also low porosity. Shea butter makes my hair soft but a bit greasy, do you have any moisturizer recommendations.

Loo's Answer: For low porosity hair, I would actually recommend using a humectant-based moisturizer after a good deep conditioning treatment. After washing your hair, rinse with hot water (not too hot), then apply a moisturizing deep conditioner. (The hot water and subsequent heat will help to lift the cuticles a bit.)  Let the conditioner sit for 20 minutes with heat, then rinse with warm water. Follow up with a moisturizer containing glycerin or honey.  (I recommend whipping a moisturizer of 1/2 part shea butter, 1/2 part mango butter, 1 part conditioner (I recommend V05), and 1/2 part glycerin.  If this mixture does not work for you, then check out the Hibiscus & Banana Leave-In from Curl Junkie (click here).  It contains even more humectants and is also geared towards fine hair.)

For porosity classifications and more tips of caring for low porosity hair, check out this article.

Friday's Length Retention Tip!

Do you want to reach your goal?  Then ...

seal those ends.  Regular moisturizing is insufficient for some people.  Sealing may be necessary to lock in the moisture and keep the ends supple.

The sealing process: Begin by moisturizing the ends of your hair with water (or a water-based moisturizer).  Then follow up with an oil (e.g., coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil) and/or a butter (e.g., shea).  That's it!  Be sure to seal after every wash as well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Vegan Slow Cooker: Review and Blogger Giveaway!

A few weeks ago I contacted cookbook author Kathy Hester and asked her for a review copy of her new book The Vegan Slow Cooker. I was very intrigued at the concept of this book and even purchased it as a birthday present for a Vegan friend a few months ago. I mean, who doesn't want delicious meals that magically appear at the end of a long day?

Kathy also has a very active blog, Healthy Slow Cooking, with loads of slow cooker recipes. She graciously agreed to do a blogger giveaway of The Vegan Slow Cooker, so make sure you enter by leaving a comment on this post. Thank you Kathy!

Little did I know that Kathy uses the slow cooker for far more than soups and stews. Oatmeal, seitan, bread, sandwich fillings, sauces, and on and on. Kathy is one very creative slow cooking chef!

Once receiving the book, I quickly set out to test a few recipes. Her Soy Chorizo Black Bean Stew was absolutely delicious, with my addition of a head of Swiss chard at the end to get some greens in. And her Chick'n Mushroom Casserole was the thing that finally got me to make homemade seitan. Although I opted for a quicker method than the one she outlines in the book, I used my seitan in Kathy's casserole recipe and the results were outstanding. Total comfort food.

Kathy even got me back to eating oatmeal in the morning. Just hearing that you could make oatmeal in a crock pot was intriguing to me, and I followed Debby's, The Healthy Librarian's, recipe for "Heart-saving" Chocolate Oatmeal. Next on my list? A modified version of Kathy's Carrot Cake and Zucchini Bread Oatmeal.

But a word of caution about this cookbook. I'm not sure anyone would be able to lose weight eating these recipes (look, the book doesn't say anything about being low calorie, it just promises deliciousness and it does deliver). They are, as Chef Aj likes to say, rather "plant indulgent." Do you need to make a meal that is going to wow the Vegan skeptics in your life? This is the book to turn to. Fun, creative, delicious slow cooked Vegan fare is Kathy's specialty. But as a daily source of low calorie, high volume food? Not so much. To be totally fair, the book never promises to be low calorie/high volume. That's just our schtick!

But that's no different than the vast majority of Vegan cookbooks on bookstore shelves right now. So I hope you are becoming good at modifying recipes to make them far more Nutritarian. I think I have become a master at this, so The Vegan Slow Cooker will have a prominent spot on my bookshelf for years to come. It serves as wonderful inspiration for some really Plant-strong food I hope to slow cook up this winter.

Thanks again Kathy!

Would you like to win a copy of The Vegan Slow Cooker? Just leave a comment here answering the following questions:

(1) What's your slow cooker story? Do you own one, does it sit on your shelf or do you use it frequently? Do you want to use it more?

(2) How comfortable are you at modifying recipes to make a non-Nutritarian Vegan recipe into a keeper? Do you automatically eliminate the oil and up the vegetable content? Or are you less confident in your abilities as a Plant-strong cook and stick to already perfected Nutritarian recipes?

Have fun! Contest closes at midnight on Friday night, January 27, 2012. Winner will be selected at random and announced on Monday, January 30th.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Join HWC for Market to Table: Souper Bowl Edition

Join representatives from Healthy World Cafe this Saturday, January 28, from 11 am - 1 pm, at Market to Table: Souper Bowl Edition.  We'll be back at the Rojahn Performance Kitchen, inside Central Market, doing live cooking demonstrations with our Guiding Committee Chair, Chef Sean Arnold.  Celebrate local flavors, taste our food, and pick up recipes - most importantly, come out and support Healthy World Cafe.  See you on Saturday at Market!

Favorite Soups: Split Pea and Barley Soup and Some More

As you probably know, I've been focusing on getting organized since the start of the new year. I'd say it's going swimmingly well. I'm pretty much following this 365 day organizing calendar that I found on Pinterest. I'm certainly not perfect, but even following along with the calendar in my own imperfect way, I'm decluttering, getting rid of stuff we don't use in droves and generally getting stuff organized.

Hence the new meal planning for the kids, grocery shopping and salad prep systems. And this all got me thinking, a few years ago, when I turned my life around and got really healthy for the first time in my life, I used to make a gigantic pot of soup every weekend.  At least half of the soup would go into two serving (4 cup) deli containers in a big case freezer in my basement that my dear hubby bought me for the storage of all of this soup. And that went on for months, so by the time winter hit, I had squirreled away a lot of soup that kept us eating uber healthy through the winter.

The next summer, I did the same thing, but not as frequently.

This past summer, not at all. Whatever soup I made got eaten and I just wasn't making huge pots of soup like I used to.

But in thinking about this whole menu planning and making life easier in general, I'm wondering whether I should go back to the weekly huge pot of soup. I know I'm going to do it this coming up weekend and I've already planned what I'm making. It's a recipe that Chris-Anna told me about. Seems it's a relatively healthy favorite of hers from the restaurant chain California Pizza Kitchen. But of course, we had to make it even healthier!

Split Pea and Barley Soup
serves 6-8
adapted from California Pizza Kitchen's Pea and Barley Soup

print me!

1/2 cup pearl barley
1 3/4 cups water
1 pound dried green split peas
2 quarts water
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce or Tamari
1/2 Tbsp dried thyme
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp cumin
2 cups diced carrots (3 medium carrots)
3 cups diced onion (1 large onion)
1 1/4 cups diced celery (3 large stalks)

Place barley and 1 3/4 water into a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 45 minutes, until barley is cooked and water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot or dutch oven, combine peas, 2 quarts water, bay leaves, soy sauce or tamari, thyme, garlic, sage and cumin. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in carrots, onions and celery. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, another 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check to see if peas are completely soft, if not continue to simmer until they are soft.

Turn heat off. Remove bay leaves and discard. Using a hand-held immersion blender, puree soup, leaving it as chunky you prefer or puree completely. Stir in barley and serve.

Here's some other soups that rock that I plan on making double batches of in the upcoming weeks:

Red Lentil Soup with Cauliflower and Indian Spice
HGK's Energy Soup
Chaya's Carrot Soup
Coconut Curry Kale, Chick Pea and Sweet Potato Stoup

What's your favorite soup? 

Monday, January 23, 2012

How the Family Started to Eat Better-A New System


Wow, was last week was a whirlwind week in Healthy Girl's Kitchen. First was the Paula Deen scandal. Then I won the book Wildly Affordable Organic by Linda Watson in a blogger giveaway on the Healthy Slow Cooking blog. This was all topped off with a guest blog post on salad making on  The Engine 2 Blog (thanks to everyone who left some love over there!). And that doesn't even include my first ever culinary attempts at Vegan Mac-n-cheeze and Chik'n Seitan. Phew! I wonder what's in store this week?

Really cool stuff, I'm guessing.

And it starts with this: something to make your life way easier. I don't know if you remember, but my one resolution this New Year is to get organized. Why? Because life is just easier that way.

As everyone knows, feeding kids day in and day out is challenging. Add in two full time working parents, a desire for the food to be healthy AND the need to make meals that are kid friendly. All complicated by the fact that I want to make Vegan meals that are oil-free and very adult centric (curried soups and huge bowls of salad are not exactly high on my 4 and 7 year old's list of favorite foods to eat). You have got yourself an almost impossible situation.

Even I was getting severely fatigued. I resorted to embarrassingly horrid child feeding habits by the end of 2011 (they did not involved fast food or Kraft macaroni and cheese, but it wasn't that far off). Something needed to change.

And then ideas appeared like an angels from heaven.  It all started with this blog post entitled Healthy Eating Tactics in the New Year by the lovely Sarah Matheny over at Peas and Thank You. I highly recommend checking that post out before reading the story of how Sarah's idea impacted me.

Sarah's suggestion is to create lists of healthy food options and post them in the kitchen. Sarah suggested a kid's snack list (it helps if the kids can read, but it's not a must) and a grocery shopping list. Here are mine:

Healthy Snack List
When the kids come home from school. they walk over to the list and choose a snack. Far less dramatic than an adult having to rack their brain for ideas and then having the kids reject them!

The Master/Staples Grocery List
This simply makes it so much easier for the responsible adult to always have the healthy food choices in the house that are necessary for building meals on a day-to-day basis. Again, no more racking your brain trying to figure out what it is you need to get at the grocery store. Just keep an eye out about once a week that the kitchen is stocked with whatever is on your or your family's list. And it works just as well even if you don't have kids or a family.

I created those lists and posted them. I loved these ideas, but I had no idea if it would work magic on my kids' eating habits. So I didn't stop there. I took it two steps further, and here is where the magic happened.

I created a weekly dinner schedule. I did this for me, so that I would not have to go through the daily stress of deciding what to make the littles for dinner all while attempting to prepare some Vegan feast for my husband, myself and my 12 year old daughter, Sophia, who thankfully eats like an almost Plant-strong adult.

Kid's Weekly Dinner Schedule
The pressure is off. The kids helped create the list so all of the dinners are kid approved. No more last minute bad decision making. The kitchen is stocked with the healthiest versions of the ingredients that I need to prepare these meals and nothing is difficult to make.

But the kicker is this: serving the kid's dinner on cafeteria lunch trays. Maybe at this point you are saying, "Duh Wendy." But sometimes I am slow on the uptake! I purchased three of them many years ago at Target but never really put them to use. Somehow, they magically reappeared and the kids are loving them. They are the ones who fill up the compartments every night with fresh fruit and vegetables of their choosing. I think they feel empowered and it's much easier to get them to eat a variety of healthy food that way.

Lunch trays-they key to happiness. Everyone's happiness.

And after writing the guest blog post on nutrient dense salad making for The Engine 2 Diet blog, I decided another chart was in order. This one to help ensure that we have a variety of salad ingredients stocked in the fridge and pantry at any given time, but also to remind me on a daily basis of all of the variety of things that can and should go into our salads. Less thought, better salads! It's awesome.
Salad Making/Salad Item Stocking List

Here's what the outside of our beautiful refrigerator looks like right now, but I don't care. My life just got better.

What are your tricks to make grocery shopping and daily meal preparation easier? Please share your strategies!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Overnight Oats

Lately I've been wondering how to get more chia seeds into my diet.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with these strange little seeds, yes, they are the seeds that grow the grassy "hair" on a Chia Pet from the 70s. But they are also an incredible source of omega-3 fatty acidseven more so than flax seeds. And it has another advantage over flax: chia is so rich in antioxidants that the seeds don't deteriorate and can be stored for long periods without becoming rancid. And, unlike flax, they do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body. Chia seeds also provide fiber (25 grams give you 6.9 grams of fiber) as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc.

Another advantage: when added to water and allowed to sit for 30 minutes, chia forms a gel. Researchers suggest that this reaction also takes place in the stomach, slowing the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them into sugar.

Chia has a nutlike flavor. You can mix seeds in water and add lime or lemon juice and sugar to make a drink known in Mexico and Central America as "chia fresca." As with ground flax seeds, you can sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on cereal, in yogurt or salads, eat them as a snack, or grind them and mix them with flour when making muffins or other baked goods.

I find them tasty and an interesting addition to my diet. I happen to really like the consistency of them in smoothies and puddings. For some people, it will take a little getting used to. For others, it might be love at first bite. And for some, you just might never become a chia lover. But if you have never tried these little buggers and you are up for some nutritional adventure, I highly recommend getting a bag of 'em.

Chia seeds are all the rage amongst a group of healthy bloggers. Somehow, a recipe for something called  Banana Soft Serve Vegan Overnight Oats emerged. I made my first parfait about a year and a half ago. It was love at first bite, but somehow I forgot all about it until I saw it again this weekend on Pinterest, just as I was pondering how to get more chia seed into my diet! Ka-Bam! There are tons of awesome recipes out there on the web for this done up with different flavors. It's so much fun to experiment with!

I made a chocolate cherry version but I'm already dreaming up my next one . . . peppermint patty.
VOO: looks strange, tastes good.

Chocolate Cherry Vegan Overnight Oats
serves 1

Printable Recipe

layer A:
1/3 cup regular oats (not steel cut)
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 cup alternative milk, like almond or soy
1/4 scoop Amazing Grass Green Superfood Chocolate Drink Powder or a chocolate protein powder
1/2 tsp maple syrup
layer B:
1 large frozen banana or 1 1/2 small frozen bananas
1/2 cup frozen cherries
up to 1 Tbsp raw cacao powder or high quality cocoa powder (not dutch processed)
splash of alternative milk

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients for layer A and refrigerate overnight or for 1 hour.

In the morning, prepare layer B by placing all of the ingredients into the canister of a high speed blender or the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade. If using the blender, blend the ingredients and tamp them down until the mixture is even and creamy. If using a food processor, process and stop to scrape down the sides often until the mixture is even and creamy.

Layer the overnight oats mixture with the banana soft serve and eat immediately.

Do you have chia seeds in your pantry? Have you ever made Vegan Overnight Oats?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday's Length Retention Tip!

Do you want to reach your hair goal?  Then ...

keep heat usage to a minimum.  Heat can translate into split ends galore, particularly when used inappropriately.  Try alternative methods (i.e., braidouts, twistouts, roller sets) to stretch your hair.

If you must use heat: Apply a good heat protectant from root to tip beforehand.  Also, if using a flat iron, use a relatively low or moderate heat setting and only 1-2 passes.  Lastly, use quality products and tools to minimize heat damage.

Loo's recommendations:
Heat protectant - Carol's Daughter Macadamia Heat Protection Serum
Flat iron - GHD
Blow dryer - Conair Infiniti (tension method)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My First Vegan Mac-n-Cheeze

I have resisted making a Vegan Mac-n-cheese for the over two years that I have been cooking the no-oil vegan way.

It's hard to believe, although I came pretty close to making it about a year ago. I got scared off when I read the review's of a very famous blogger's recipe. Let's just say they were very mixed. Some were complaining that it didn't taste at all like classic mac-n-cheese. And I wasn't taking any chances.

Fast forward about a year when I happened upon this recipe from Oh She Glows. I used to read this blog pretty regularly, but the frequency with which Angela posted recipes and photos about food that I have no business eating drove me away (my own personal problem--trigger foods). It's really too bad, because I have a suspicion that she's got some kick butt savory recipes on there.

But somehow a recipe for Butternut Squash Mac 'n Cheeze from Oh She Glows crossed my path last week. And this time, I just could't resist. With some adaptions (elimination of the Earth Balance and turning it into a baked casserole), the results were outstanding. Absolutely one of the best casseroles I have ever made, vegan or not.

Does this taste like real mac-n-cheese? No. But who the heck cares with food that tastes this great. I will be honest, this does involve the use of many pots and a casserole dish. And you don't want to make it when you need to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes. But I promise, it's worth all of the dish washing and time!

Cheezy Macaroni Bake with Butternut Squash and Greens
serves 6-8
1 hour 45 minutes

Printable Recipe

1 large butternut squash,* peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
1 1/2 cups almond or soy milk (or any unsweetened alternative milk that you prefer)
2 Tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 heaping Tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt (or not)
pepper to taste
16 ounces brown rice pasta-fusilli or other shape
1 head Swiss chard or other greens, washed, stem removed and rough chopped
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs**

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray. Spread chopped butternut squash onto tray in one layer and lightly spray with cooking oil. Sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper. Roast butternut squash for 45 minutes.

While squash is roasting, set a medium-large pot of water on your stove to boil.

In a sauce pan placed over low heat put cornstarch or arrowroot and almond milk. Whisk until all lumps disappear. Add nutritional yeast, mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper and whisk until everything is well combined. Continue to cook over low heat, whisking occassionally, until sauce thickens. Turn heat off.

When you water is boiling, cook pasta according to your package instructions, being careful not to overcook it. After draining your brown rice pasta, run cold water over it to stop the cooking process and to prevent it from becoming one big lump of pasta.

Place a large soup pot over a medium-high flame and cover the base of the pot with low sodium vegetable broth. When broth is bubbling, add swiss chard or greens of choice and saute until greens are cooked but not overdone (they should retain their bright green color). Pour off any excess cooking liquid before going to the next step.

Pour cooked pasta into soup pot with cooked greens and stir.

In a blender or food processor, combine all of the cheeze sauce (the sauce made with the almond milk, nutritional yeast, etc.) and 2 cups of the roasted butternut squash and blend until creamy.

Turn the heat of your oven down to 350 degrees.

Place the remaining roasted butternut squash into the pot with the noodles and greens. Pour the cheeze sauce over the noodles and stir well. Transfer into a 9"x13" casserole dish that has been sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Top with whole wheat breadcrumbs and bake for 30 minutes.

*I have found that the best way to cut and peel a whole butternut squash is as follows: Poke a bunch of holes in the skin of the squash. Microwave the squash on high for four minutes. Remove your squash from the microwave and proceed, peeling and chopping it.

**I save the ends of loaves of whole wheat bread in a baggie in the freezer. When I have a bagful of ends, I use my food processor to make whole wheat breadcrumbs. To do this, you toast the bread first, then place the toast into the food processor fitted with an s-blade and processor. I store the whole wheat bread crumbs in the freezer until I need them for a recipe.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Easy Vegan Chili and Pumpkin Spiced Cornbread Muffins

I'm SO excited, I have a guest blog post over at The Engine 2 Diet Blog right now! Please hop on over there and check out How Healthy Girl Makes a Salad and Makes Salad Making Easier.

And that's not the only thing I'm excited about! Did you see this article over at VegNews about the leaders of the Raw Food movement making a statement that oil and nuts are not good for you? Holy. Moly. That is a major shift in thinking for the entire raw food world. Here's the comment I left on the article:

"Oh. My. G... I am in shock. And actually, really relieved. I thankfully figured this same thing out after trying to go raw for a couple of months and gaining a ton of weight from the oils and the nuts and the raw desserts. I am so happy that this information is coming out now and that more people do not have to be lead down a ridiculous path of consuming coconut oil, olive oil, etc. and thinking that these things are health foods. Yes, eat raw vegetables! But don't shun incredibly healthy cooked food."

So on and on it goes. Trying to figure out what is best for humankind. It's never easy, but I think it's worth it.

I have a feeling that a lot of people are craving chili right now. With the cold weather and the dreary days, I know that chili is one of the easiest ways to warm myself up.

But you don't always have the time for a complicated or lengthy chili recipe. That's why this recipe is so outstanding. It's fast, easy and very, very tasty.

And what goes better with chili than cornbread? I have tried a number of Vegan cornbread recipes and this is by far the best one to date! The pureed canned pumpkin and Pumpkin Pie spice add an unusual twist to this classic.

Easy Vegan Chili
serves 8-10
Prep time: 20 min. Cook time: 70 min.

Printable Recipe

2 cups chopped onion
8 garlic cloves, pressed
2 28oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 4 oz. can green chilies
4 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp ground cumin
3 15 oz. cans black beans, drained
1 10 oz. bag of frozen corn

Saute onions in a large pot over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water if necessary to prevent sticking. Add garlic and saute 3 more minutes.

Add tomatoes with juice, chilies and dried seasoning. Mix and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add beans and corn. Reduce heat to med. low and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Pumpkin Spiced Cornbread Muffins
24 small muffins or 18 medium sized

Printable Recipe

dry ingredients:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 cups cornmeal (for a smoother finish, use corn flour)
wet ingredients:
1 15 ounce can pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp flaxmeal
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup unsweetened almond or soy milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together all dry ingredients.

In a medium bowl or a very big measuring cup stir together wet ingredients until well blended.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and mix until well blended.

Distribute batter evenly into greased muffin pans (either 18 or 24 holes). Bake for 20 minutes.

What foods are warming you up these days?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Video: Reading Your Body

A video on learning to read your body (when it comes to eating better).

When You and Your Partner are at Food Odds

Good morning! Today I present to you a guest blog post by the blogger over at Kitchen of Health. Do you know that when I started blogging a little over two years ago there were very few "Nutritarian Bloggers" or "Plant-strong Bloggers?" That's simply not the case today, and it's really hard for me to keep up with the scores of new bloggers in this genre. It's wildly exciting because to me, it's a symbol that the movement is rapidly growing.

The subject is what to do when you and your partner are at food odds, but the advice could apply equally well to children, parents, friends and other relatives.

Here's what Hailey has to say:

Pete Spreet ate only meat
His wife ate only greens
And so between the two of them
They licked the platter clean.

The rhyme would be hilarious if there weren�t a bit of pathetic truth to it for many households. Living with an omnivorous spouse if you are plant-strong can be challenging, if not downright frustrating. I have vacillated between anger and amusement when fixing his and hers menus. If I weren�t frightened for the long-range consequences on his health, I wouldn�t care what he eats. The question that plagues me is, �How do I nourish him when he doesn�t want it?�

Recently, mealtime friction came to a head when my 16-year-old son decided to join me on the quest for greater athletic prowess. At once, my spouse felt betrayed. It was no longer the meat-eating men against the salad-eating women. The strong swimmer was taking sides�and choosing beans!

A shaky truce kept things together until the squash debacle: I served a �family-friendly� meal of stuffed squash with Boca Crumbles (http://www.bocaburger.com/). Revolt was in the air. Hubby took a polite �no-thank-you bite� and headed straight to the store to buy steak and crab�and Polish sausages.

So what have I learned from this?  The biggest lesson is that power is not the same as control.  empower people when I increase their ability to make decisions that lead to freedom, growth and strength. I control them when I restrict their autonomy and force them down a path of my own choosing. Said another way, when I educate them about nutrition and demonstrate consequences � both positive and negative � I am giving them the power to live a better life. When I manipulate them into eating my way, I am trying to change them against their will. That latter approach works for no one.

What I really mean is leaders pull; tyrants push. Have you ever tried to push a cooked spaghetti noodle across the counter top? It just bunches up without going forward. But take the same noodle and get in front and lead out and it will trail with the gentlest tug. The point is to be an example that others can look to for strength. That brings me to the next lesson:

Exude confidence; spurn fear. Emily Boller recently wrote for Disease Proof that pushy relatives may actually be feeling envy or resentment, turning them into �food bullies.� If we feel threatened by them, we actually exacerbate the problem. Her solution was to be clear in our own determination to eat healthy and not waver when confronted about our choices.

She said, �Bullies have a strong need to control and dominate�.If a food bully�s intended target exhibits a �defeated attitude� in response to the pushiness, then the bullying is likely to continue. However, as in most all cases with bona fide bullies, if the intended target responds with a clear attitude of self-confidence and a strong boundary line, the bully�s attempt to dominate will quickly diminish.�
Fruits Veggies
After all, whose problem is it that we choose healthy alternatives and they don�t? Of course, we�re making an assumption that our choices actually are healthy ones. 

Next lesson: challenge your assumptions.Science is continually finding new answers. What was �correct� in the 1980s may no longer be valid. For example, I learned at a young age that good health comes from eating three square meals a day. Compare that paradigm with today�s shape of health:

Knowing what�s actually true requires that we keep learning! That�s where community comes in. We should never assume we�re fighting all by ourselves. You are never alone. Whatever roadblock stands in the way, someone else has faced it and is prepared to spot you in your leap across it.

May all your relatives be Nutritarian some day!

What has your experience been with your loved ones? Do you and your partner see eye-to-eye about diet? If not, how is it negotiated in your household? 

What do you think of Hailey's advice? Do you have any advice of your own?

Have you seen an evolution in your situation over time or is it at a standstill? Are you witnessing more and more of your loved ones eating more Plant-strong as your time committed to this continues?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jill's Hit It Out of the Ballpark Recipe

I don't know about you, but I had an energetic weekend full of cooking, organizing, and socializing. Until my head hit the pillow each night, I don't think I sat down on Saturday or Sunday for a minute! Except for when I was blogging and responding to comments on this post, I guess I sat down then.

An when I was on Facebook. I sat down then too. In fact, someone on FB this weekend asked me if I knew of any real entrees that didn't include tofu. I immediately thought of this recipe that I knew I would be posting soon. It comes from HGK contributor Jill, and here's what she has to say about it:

"I was looking to make a hearty dish for a cold winter night. Since Shepard's Pie is typically lamb  (hence the name  Shepard) I thought it was more appropriate to call it Farmer's Pie. Chock full of lentils and veggies and topped with sweet potatoes, it  blends savory and sweet in a perfectly delicious way. I made it for a group of people (all foodies) who devoured it. My  husband loved it too. He said that it was absolutely his favorite dinner ever! It's now officially  in my regular rotation. Very easy to make!"

I was one of the so-called-foodies that tasted the Farmer's Pie and I can vouch for Jill's enthusiasm about it. It's a winner! Of course, I would double all of the ingredients (except for the maple syrup) and bake it into a 9"x13" casserole.

Jill's Shepherd's Farmer's Pie
serves 6

Printable Recipe

Top layer:
2 12.75 ounce cans sweet potatoes (vacuum packed such as Taylor�s brand)
1/4 cup almond milk
3 T maple syrup
Bottom layer:
Frozen apple juice concentrate for saut�ing
1 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
10 ounces peas, fresh or thawed
1 package Trader Joes pre-cooked vacuum sealed lentils (or about 2 � cups cooked lentils)
* If using canned lentils, drain and rinse before cooking
� cup red wine
2 T low sodium tamari
� tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
8-10 ounces baby spinach

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a hand mixer, blend sweet potatoes, almond milk and maple syrup until smooth. Set aside.

Saut� onion on medium heat in a little frozen apple juice concentrate until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms and saut� another 5 minutes.

Add peas, lentils, wine, tamari, thyme and oregano. Mix well. Simmer about 8 minutes.

Add spinach in batches until it is wilted.

Spray the bottom of an 11 x 7 or 8 x 8 Pyrex dish.  Pour lentil mixture into pan. Spread sweet potatoes on top of lentils. Bake 35 minutes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Easy Chik'n Seitan Recipe

For a couple of months now I have wanted to try my hand at preparing homemade Seitan. It seems to be all of the rage amongst the Vegan bloggers, but it looked almost daunting. Well, I'm here to scream from the rooftops that "Seitan is easy!"

I was about to follow Kathy Hester's Slow Cooker recipe from The Vegan Slow Cooker because I am working on a review and giveaway from that book (yeah! giveaway coming up soon!). But as I was surfing the net last night, I read some stuff about how seitan making can be very unpredictable, even to the point of failure.

But then I happened upon this recipe which promised perfect seitan every time. And I knew it was the one! With a few minor adjustments (I totally eliminated the 2 Tbsp of olive oil and everything was fine and made things easier on myself by using garlic powder rather than fresh garlic) I am thrilled with the results!

I cannot believe that homemade seitan is going to become a staple in my kitchen.

Healthy Girl's Kitchen Easy Chik'n Seitan
makes 4 small loaves

Printable Recipe

1.5 c. vital wheat gluten
T Tbsp garlic powder
1/4 c. chickpea flour (you can also sub in all-purpose, but the chickpea's definitely more flavorful)
1/4 c. nutritional yeast
1 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1.5 c. vegetable broth
a dash of soy sauce

In a large bowl combine wheat gluten, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, thyme, paprika, poultry seasoning, and salt.

Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in vegetable broth a little at a time and stir well with a rubber spatula. Add the splash of soy sauce. As you mix and scrape from the sides of the bowl, a dough ball will form.

Turn ball onto a clean cutting board and knead for knead for 3 minutes. Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes and then knead again for 30 seconds.

Cut into 4 equal pieces and shape into logs/loaves.

Place a large pot with a few inches of water and a steamer insert onto heat and let water boil. Turn down to low when steam is filling the pot.

Tear off four 8 inch by 12 inch pieces of foil and place one loaf into the center of one piece of foil. Fold the short sides of the foil on the left and right over the loaf. Fold over the bottom and top ends the foil, leaving room for loaf to expand but securing the foil.

Place four wrapped loaves into the steamer basket and steam for 30 minutes.

Allow the dough to cool to the touch before chilling in fridge or overnight.

Store seitan in the fridge tightly sealed in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. Seitan can be frozen, just defrost before use.

Unwrapping the finished Chik'n Seitan.
sliced seitan

What am I going to do with this seitan? Got any ideas?