Wednesday, March 20, 2013

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad...
Ahh...I just love The Sound of Music! But this blog isn't "Tofu and Movies", so let's get to our main topic of FOOD.

Having been eating our new diet for close to five months now, we have accrued some favorite recipes. This post does not provide all of our favorites, but is a selection of some that we find easy to make, delicious, and satisfying. We were talking just yesterday about how we sometimes miss foods we no longer choose to eat, but the missing doesn't overwhelm us because we have the pleasure of enjoying so many dishes that are within our dietary standards. I hope that these recipes appeal to you and that you find as much enjoyment from them as we do.

Big Salad
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A big salad is exactly what it sounds like: a SOUS (salad of unusual size...Princess Bride reference). Or to quote Elaine from Seinfeld, "It's a salad, only bigger...with lots of stuff in it."

A big salad is an easy, convenient, and delicious way to eat a variety of vegetables with any meal. Here's our recipe, but you should certainly modify to include veggies that you love if these aren't your favorite.

Dressing Ingredients, from the Wellness Forum:
  • 12 oz pkg firm or extra-firm silken tofu, drained
  • 1/3 cup mustard (we like HEB's whole grain organic mustard)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (make sure it's 100% pure maple syrup)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • Pepper to taste

Salad Ingredients:
  • Salad greens (so many choices: green leaf, spinach, arugula, romaine...)
  • Matchstick sliced carrots
  • Broccoli florets
  • Cucumber slices
  • Radishes, thinly sliced
  • Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • To make the dressing: Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and creamy. You can make a double or triple portion and store in the refrigerator, it'll keep for several weeks. It also makes a yummy veggie dip.
  • Compile your salad ingredients in a big bowl (or small if you like) and top with dressing. It's that easy!

Stir-"fried" Rice
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This is a recipe that I made up, based on a couple different dishes we've made from our cookbook. It's extremely easy to make if you have all the ingredients on hand. It literally takes me 10 minutes from start to finish, so this is a dish we eat at least once a week whenever we need a quick, but filling and delicious meal. It also has four kinds of vegetables in it, so it's an easy way to incorporate more green veggies into your day. My advice is to always keep some cooked brown rice on hand in your fridge. You can play around with the quantities to make it how you like it.

  • Baby-cut, matchstick, or chopped carrots (I use about 1 cup)
  • Broccoli florets and chopped "stumps" if you like them (~1 cup)
  • Asparagus, trimmed and cut into ~1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • Kale, roughly chopped (~2 wilts down)
  • Vegetable stock for sauteeing (I use a couple Tablespoons at a time)
  • Pepper to taste
  • Ground ginger to taste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Brown rice syrup (~1 Tbsp) (check the natural foods aisle at Kroger...mine looks like this)
  • Low-sodium soy sauce to taste (they sell gluten-free soy sauce if you avoid gluten)
  • Cooked brown rice (~ 2-3 cups)

  • Add carrots, broccoli, asparagus, and kale to a large pan/pot and pour about 1-2 Tbsp of vegetable stock. Saute over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes or until veggies are to desired tenderness, adding small amounts of vegetable stock at a time to keep from sticking. Season with pepper, ginger, and garlic powder. Add brown rice syrup and stir in.
  • Add cooked rice and soy sauce and heat over medium-high heat until heated through (since we usually make this using cold cooked rice).

We like pizza. No, we love pizza. Who doesn't? Especially when you can actually eat pizza and it's healthy. Yes, finally, there is justice in the world. We are presently eating these two pizzas every night this week, and we don't have to feel guilty one little bit because it's all made from scratch and from healthy ingredients. Although the "cheese" on these pizzas aren't real cheese, they are a delicious substitute. Pizza was one of the big items we thought we would never have again, but then we heard Pam Popper mention this cookbook. These recipes, when making all of them in one day, take a bit of time, so we like to prep the toppings and make large batches of the sauces and "cheeses" ahead of time, so that each night during the week all we have to make is the dough, top it, and bake it. Sorry this is so long. No, wait, I'm not sorry. You should be thanking me for giving you permission to eat pizza every night in one week.

Pizza dough
We now eat gluten-free (Michael has a gluten-sensitivity), so we buy and follow the directions for Bob's Red Mill Pizza Crust mix, using ground flax seeds and water as a substitute for the eggs (note that buying already-ground flax seeds is not best because flax seeds go rancid quickly after breaking the seed capsule; instead grind your own flax seeds in a blender or coffee grinder and use immediately in this dough recipe). But before we started eating gluten-free, we used this recipe, omitting the oil and using sucanat as the sugar.

Tomato-based Pizza
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Tomato Sauce (one week's worth):
  • 4 6-oz cans organic tomato paste
  • 2 15-oz cans organic tomato sauce
  • 2 12-oz pkg. silken firm tofu
  • 4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Basil (dried) to taste
  • Ground oregano to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Directions: Blend all ingredients in blender or food processor until smooth and creamy.

"Mozzarella Cheese" Ingredients (altered from the Uncheese cookbook):
  • 3 cups plain unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • 3/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/2 cup oats (we use GF oats)
  • 6 Tbsp sesame tahini
  • 4 Tbsp arrowroot (it's sold in the baking aisle)
  • 4.5-6 Tbsp lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
  • 1.5 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1.5 tsp sea salt

"Mozzarella Cheese" Directions:
  • Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
  • Pour into saucepan, cook and stir over medium heat until until slightly thickened.
  • Pour into storage container, and cool, uncovered in refrigerator. You can cover it once it's completely cooled. You'll have to use a knife and spoon to spread gently over your pizza.

  • Prepared sauce and "cheese" above
  • Fresh parsley, oregano, and rosemary as desired
  • Chopped yellow onions
  • Broccoli florets
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Sliced red bell pepper
  • Sliced roma tomatoes

Alfredo-based Pizza
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Sauce Ingredients (altered from the Uncheese cookbook):
  • 4 cups plain unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • 2 12-oz pkg. silken extra firm tofu
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 bulb garlic, roasted (cover in foil, bake at 400 for about 30 minutes) and peeled
  • 1 large head cauliflower, steamed
  • 2 cups from the "Parmesan cheese" batch below

Sauce Directions:
  • Combine all ingredients, except "Parmesan cheese", in a blender and process until smooth.
  • Pour into large storage container and stir in "Parmesan cheese".
  • Cover and store in refrigerator.

"Parmesan Cheese" Ingredients (altered from the Uncheese cookbook) (Makes 6 cups):
  • 3 cups almonds
  • 3/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 6 tsp mellow white miso (found at health food stores in refrigerated section)
  • 1.5 tsp sea salt

"Parmesan Cheese" Directions:
  • Put almonds in a saucepan and add enough water to cover almonds completely. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain completely (in a colander is best) and allow to cool either on its own or by running cold water over it.
  • Pinch each almond individually to remove the skin (it should easily pop off, but I admit, it's time consuming to do this to every single almond!) and place de-skinned almonds in a food processor container. Process until almonds are finely ground.
  • Add remaining ingredients and process until well incorporated. It should look like the Parmesan that comes from a shaker can. (Also makes a delicious topping for popcorn!)
  • You can store in airtight container in refrigerator for several weeks.
  • This recipe makes 6 cups, and you'll need 2 cups of that for the Alfredo sauce above.

  • Prepared sauce and "cheese" above
  • Fresh parsley, oregano, and rosemary as desired
  • Fresh chopped basil
  • Chopped yellow onions
  • Broccoli florets
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Spinach, sauteed in water until wilted

Banana "Ice Cream"
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We've hit the motherload! We recently found this gem of a dessert. It's a quick, easy, and delicious substitute for ice cream when you're feeling weakened to temptation. Or when you just crave some ice cream. Or when you just want a healthy snack. It's a mildly sweet, ice-cream-cold dessert. And it's fat-free. Can I get an 'Amen!'?

We made this the first few times using only frozen bananas, vanilla extract, and ground cinnamon. It's delicious! Last night we added unsweetened cocoa powder instead of cinnamon. Yummy! Although it wouldn't be fat-free, you could add some nuts or peanut butter if desired. This summer we'll probably add some fresh berries. Or maybe we'll freeze some berries and make flavored ice cream.

If you don't have a strong blender, you may have to let the frozen bananas thaw for a little bit. You may be able to make this in a food processor, but I haven't tried it. This is the fun part of trying something get to eat all the trials! Boy do we have a good life!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Eat More Veggie Tails

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There are literally thousands of vegetables in the world. This means that your odds of finding some veggies that taste good to you are strongly in your favor.

I did not grow up eating many vegetables. As your average "city girl," who sadly was not raised on a farm (I say sadly because I've had a lifelong dream of owning a horse), my idea of a vegetable was what came from a can. My childhood favorite was canned green beans.

I had no idea how much variety there was in food. Heck, I didn't even know what a clove of garlic was. The first time I tried to cook some garlic mashed potatoes for Michael, I mistakenly thought a bulb was a clove, so they were very garlicky. Oh, and I didn't even saute it first, just roughly chopped it up (didn't have a food chopper to properly mince it either) raw and stirred it in. Large chunks of raw garlic in every bite. Yeah...

I also used to avoid trying something new. I was your stereotypical restaurant patron who would order the same item every time because once I found something I liked, why bother trying something different?

Allow me to share another story from our dating years...Michael and I were shopping at Walmart, and Michael purchased a mini-eclare pie (maybe 3 or 4 inches in diameter). While I was driving, he wanted me to try a bite, but it didn't look appealing to me, so I refused. He insisted. I refused. Insisted. Refused. Then he reached over and shoved it in my mouth. I spitting it back out...onto the remainder of the pie he was still holding in front of my mouth. He didn't finish it...can't imagine why. :)

So as I've aged, I've learned to be more open-minded to new foods. I make myself try something at least once before I let myself say, "I don't like it." And surprisingly, foods that I didn't like as a child, I now love the taste of. Tomatoes, for example.

I have since discovered many new foods that I enjoy. Specifically in the vegetable world, I have at least quadrupled the number of vegetables I used to enjoy eating as a child. (I'm somewhat guessing, because like I said, there are thousands of vegetables.)

We strive to eat vegetables with all meals. We add a vegetable powder to our breakfast smoothies every morning (we make it ourselves). At lunch, we usually eat a vegetable-based soup, poured over a whole grain. With dinner, if the meal itself doesn't incorporate many vegetables, we eat some steamed veggies or a big salad as a side dish.

One day, we'd love to build a garden in our backyard and grow our own vegetables. But until then, I will continue to walk through the produce section like a kid in a toy store. :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Exercise - Just DO It!

When we first decided to change our diet and I noticed some weight-loss, I was secretly hoping that I had found the golden ticket of losing weight while avoiding exercise (all the claims you hear about the latest diet pill). Secretly, and sometimes not-so-secretly (picture a super pouty face when Michael asked me if I wanted to work out), all I wanted to do was lay on the couch all day and look fabulous at the same time.

I mean, who actually wants to work out?!

Although it is true that following a whole foods, plant-based diet will result in weight-loss, it will, by itself, not lead a person to optimal health. In other words, an optimal diet must be coupled with exercise to make a person optimally healthy.

Why is exercise necessary? Or more accurately, why isn't diet alone or exercise alone all it takes to be healthy?

There are many reasons, but the main one is that as you age, without exercise, you will slowly lose basic but necessary functions like balance, strength, coordination, and flexibility. You can eat a perfectly optimal diet all your life, but if you don't exercise, you will still become weak, frail, immobile, and dependent on others when you're old.

Diet helps you reach old age, but exercise helps you enjoy it once you reach it. What fun would it be to live to 105 years old, but be bed-ridden?

How else does exercise benefit you? Here's Dr. Pam Popper's list from the Wellness Forum:
  • Increases your metabolism
  • Improves digestion
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Increases flexibility
  • Improves balance
  • Increases energy levels
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Promotes a positive attitude
  • Improves muscle strength
  • Builds stronger bones
  • Improves coordination
  • Reduces depression
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves mental alertness
  • Increases your endurance and stamina
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves your immune system

How often, how long, and what type of exercise should you do? Pam recommends:
  • Aerobic exercise 3-4 times per week for 45-60 minutes
  • Strength training 2-3 times per week for 45-60 minutes
  • Stretching 1-2 times per week for 45-60 minutes
Your goal should be to workout (aerobic and strength training sessions) in your target heart rate zone, which you can easily determine by the "talk test" method -- you're in your target heart rate if you can carry on a conversation, but you'd prefer the person talking to you would zip it (while loop holes here you introverts!). You also want to strive for progress over time. In other words, if you've been exercising on the same speed and incline on a treadmill for several weeks, perhaps it's time to kick it up a notch!

Our typical week looks like this:
  • Monday: either P90-X Chest and Back or Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps
  • Tuesday: cardio day...usually P90-X Plyometrics
  • Wednesday: either P90-X Shoulders and Arms or Back and Biceps
  • Thursday: cardio day...either run or do P90-X Core Synergistics
  • Friday: P90-X Legs and Back
  • Saturday: shorter cardio, bike ride, or P90-X Kenpo or Cardio
  • Sunday: P90-X Stretch

But I don't have time to workout!

We've all said this at one time or another, but let's be honest: with a few legitimate exceptions, we all have time to workout, because we all make time for the things that are important to us. It's all about priorities, so until you make the decision to make working out a priority, you're right, you don't have time to workout because you don't allow time to workout.

It may require some changes in your habits and some planning ahead, but everyone can make time to work out if they make it a high enough priority. There are so many ways to exercise (outdoors, indoors, in your house, at a gym, etc.) that you should have plenty of opportunities to get some exercise into your typical week.

Start slow, and start small, but work your way up and, most importantly, stick with it. I assure you that once you begin to routinely workout (coupled with an optimal diet), it won't take long for you to notice some results. And then those results help keep you motivated to continue your new exercise habits. And eventually, you may actually find that you enjoy working out. Yes, it's true. You may find that if you skip a day, you'll actually wish you hadn't.

It happened to me, and let's not forget what I started out secretly hoping. I used to hate exercise. I used to have such a negative attitude about it (I can't do that...I'm not good at push-ups...that exercise doesn't work for me).

But I stuck with it. And now I'm fitter than I've ever been in my life, and I truly enjoy exercising. Sure, there are some days that I'd rather skip a workout, and sometimes we do skip it, but overall, I look forward to our workouts, and more importantly, I look forward to how good I know I'll feel once I've finished working out. It's a wonderful feeling.

I used to hate running. And when I would run, I was never capable of running more than half a mile without stopping to walk for a bit. But now I'm able to run for 2-3 miles straight before taking a rest. You will see progress and results if you make it a habit to workout.

Buddy up with a friend or your spouse to help keep you accountable. Hire a personal trainer if you can afford it. Join a gym (and actually go). Schedule your workouts on your calendar and treat it like an appointment or commitment. Download a workout plan from online or make one up for yourself. Keep a written record of your exercises, reps, and weight amounts so you can track progress over time. Download an exercise-related app on your phone. With today's technology, you have an abundance of tools to help you exercise.

Just DO it!

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I grew up watching old episodes of "I Love Lucy" and one of my favorite scenes was the famous Vitameatavegamin stunt. In case you haven't seen the episode, Lucy is hired to star in a commercial for the product, and during the rehearsal has to drink the stuff, which has a very high alcohol content, so she gets drunk as a skunk.

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Though a made-up product, the idea of marketing about a person's need for all kinds of vitamins and nutrients is nothing new. It is extremely common for a person to be on some form of vitamin or supplement because at some point, they believed that they were in need of a particular nutrient, or a doctor told them to. There are many problems with that situation.

First, vitamins are not the best way for your body to absorb the particular nutrient in the capsule. Your body was designed to absorb vitamins and nutrients it needs from, duh, food. Taking these isolated nutrients in supplement form interferes with your body's natural process of absorbing nutrients. When a food naturally contains a vitamin, it also contains the proper co-factors that help complement your body's ability to absorb it. Vitamin supplements may be labeled as "natural" or "from food", but they are in fact highly processed and have been stripped of the necessary co-factors. This means that a vitamin capsule contains a highly concentrated dose of that isolated nutrient, but your body would not absorb that large isolated quantity as effectively as it would a smaller dose contained in actual food. As Pam Popper says in her Wellness 101 course, "The body does not need large amounts of any micronutrient, but it does need tiny amounts of all of them; this is impossible to accomplish through supplementation. You cannot take enough pills in one day to duplicate the broad array of nutrients found in foods."

Second, taking supplements does not improve one's overall health and can potentially lead to other health problems cropping up. Many times, people choose to take a supplement because they were told or believed on their own that they were deficient in some nutrient. But the real issue is that most people (eating a poor diet) are deficient in good, healthy food. They are likely consuming an excess of things like processed foods, fats, calories, etc. If a blood test shows you are deficient in a certain nutrient, it is likely due to a poorly structured diet, and is likely a symptom of other health conditions going on. Changing your diet to a varied whole foods, plant-based diet would not only clear up a variety of health conditions, but would eliminate the apparent deficiency.

Third, it is so common for doctors to merely treat the symptoms of health conditions, rather than get at the root cause of the issue. Again, if a blood test shows you are deficient in something, it could be another symptom of a more serious health condition. So instead of treating the symptom via a supplement, the doctor should strive to find the root cause of the deficiency.

Fourth and finally, the use of supplements can be misleading because the supplement-taker may feel better in the short-term, but I believe they are just delaying the inevitable. If a person continues to eat a poor diet, it will eventually lead to poor health, even though the use of supplements may delay that for a bit. In other words, a supplement may help you feel better, but will not help you get better.

I was at a point last fall, just as we changed to this diet, where I was taking a ridiculous number of vitamins, supplements, and other medication. If you asked me why I was taking each one, my answer would have either been "Because my doctor told me to" or "Because I read/heard somewhere that I need it". I was very misled. I kid you not, I was taking: a pre-natal vitamin, vitamin D, Calcium with vitamin D, evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil, and using a progesterone cream. I also took Clomid for one month (a fertility drug). And before that, I was taking Fertile CM three times a day, in addition to vitamin C by itself. Yikes! And just so you know about me personally, I hate swallowing pills. I'm a total 4-year-old and make a scrunchy face every time.

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After learning the above information from The Wellness Forum, we happily and easily made the decision to stop taking all this stuff. This picture was taken as I emptied out our medicine cabinet, dumped the contents, and recycled the containers. Goodbye pills!

Now, I want to end this post with the point that there is a role for supplementation, but not in the way that most people use it. There may very well be a reason for a person to take a supplement for a short-term period of time until a particular health issue is resolved, but this should only be coupled with the person's efforts of striving for a healthy diet and lifestyle. For example, Michael and I both take a probiotic supplement because we each had a history of GI-tract issues. I will take this supplement for two years and then stop, because the general rule of thumb is take a probiotic for one month for every year you've had an issue (which for me, was most of my life, and I'm 28, hence about 24 months). I'm so glad to save the time, money, and scrunchy faces by stopping all the supplements above.