Healthier Before 6

20 Sep

After nine months of Weight Watchers, I was a little tired of following the rules. I wanted to stop thinking and worrying about food and just enjoy eating. Cut to a few months later…oops. I might’ve enjoyed a little too much.

So I’m going to try something else! What if I cut out white flour and white sugar before 6PM? I’m a little inspired by Mark Bittman’s philosophy in “Vegan Before 6.” I’m already vegan 100% of the time, but what if I cut out a few of my vices until dinner time? I love pasta, bread, and cookies, but if I could just have enough willpower to wait until dinner, maybe I’ll be inspired to make better choices during the day. Breakfast is now smoothies, chopped fresh fruit sprinkled with cinnamon, oatmeal, and tofu scrambles. Lunches can be veggie (lightly!) fried rice, soup, kale salad, curries, and bowls made with whole grains, veggies, protein, and sauce. Snacks are grapes, hummus with sliced cucumbers, banana fro-yo, and apples with nut butter. I’m relying more on water and tea instead of sweetened lattes to get me through my day.

And then dinner? I can have whatever I want! How exciting is that? If I’m craving lasagna and a glass of wine, I can have it. If I want grilled cheese and a vanilla bean Dry Soda – done. A cookie before bed? Delicious. The idea is to make better, whole food choices during the day, so I’m not reaching for chocolate chip cookies every time I have a craving, because that happens a lot. Also, I don’t know about you, but I have a lot more willpower at the start of the day than at the end. If I can just tap into that until 6PM, I think I’ll notice a difference.

We’ll see how it works! I put my scale away because the weekly weigh-ins with WW were driving me nuts, so I won’t be using it as a way to track progress. All I know is that I’m not feeling that great and my jeans are a little uncomfortable. If either of those things improve in the upcoming weeks, I might be onto something. I’ll keep you posted!

Happy Vegan Pizza Day!

30 Jun

This is coming in a little late, but I had to jump on to wish you all a very merry Vegan Pizza Day!  I still remember my first vegan pizza.  It was from zpizza, a dairy-free “Tuscan,” topped with daiya mozzerella, lots of mushrooms, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, truffle oil, and thyme.  I almost ate the whole thing before I even got home, it was so delectable.  Better yet, it convinced me I could do this whole vegan thing, after all!

So on this holiest of vegan holy days, I decided to treat myself to one of daiya’s latest creations – PIZZA!  There are actually a lot of restaurants in LA that partake in Vegan Pizza Day, but I’m on a budget and I already had this beauty in my freezer.

Daiya Mushroom and Roasted Garlic Pizza

Daiya Mushroom and Roasted Garlic Pizza

One thing I didn’t realize until I was heating up my oven, is that this bad boy is gluten-free!  That’s pretty cool, and it makes a lot of sense since a big chunk of daiya’s business is thanks to gluten- and dairy-adverse celiacs.  It also explains the price tag.  $10 for a frozen pizza is not a good deal unless you really need to eat gluten-free.   I, thankfully, do not.

The instructions called to preheat the oven to a whooping 500*, almost more than I could stand in the middle of a heatwave, but I cranked up the oven and preheated my fancy new Emile Henry pizza stone.  After cooking the pizza for a few minutes, I realized the oven had heated up to 550*!  I didn’t even know my oven could get that hot.  Part of the crust began to burn and I had to crank it down a lot in order to balance out the temperature.  Eek!  The high heat needed to melt the cheese and the delicate gluten-free crust do not mesh well.

I managed to salvage it and was left with a pretty delicious pizza.  Not one I would serve to guests or even my picky husband, but still, pretty good. The crust was buttery, thin, and crispy – very impressive for being gluten-free. There was lots of cheese but just a sprinkling of diced mushrooms, unfortunately.  Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer daiya melted on sandwiches or tossed in cheesy pasta dishes, rather than on pizza.  It’s just a little too gooey and creamy for my pizza needs.  Still delicious, just not perfect!

All and all, I don’t think I’ll be buying another daiya pizza.  I don’t need to eat gluten-free and $10 is too much money for frozen food.

I hope the rest of you had an excellent Vegan Pizza Day!  How did you celebrate?  Take-out, frozen, or homemade?


30 Apr

I had lots of cashew yogurt sauce leftover from my Indian feast, and resorted to eating it with a spoon (yes, it’s THAT good).  Clearly, I was in desperate need of another delivery system, so I flipped through “Vegan Eats World” to see if Terry had any other suggestions.  Of course she did!


Tonight I made Turkish Zucchini Pancakes, or mucver, and to my absolute delight they were delicious, incredibly healthy, and really easy to make.  I was amazed by how many veggies could be jammed into a pancake!  The whole batch doesn’t even need a cup of flour, and still it binds together really well.

I shredded the veggies with a box grater while watching “The West Wing,” and the rest came together quickly.  My first two were a soggy mess, but once I got the hang of it, the mucver firmed up with a nice crust on the outside.

The only thing that could’ve made it better would’ve been some harissa, just as Terry suggests.  I settled on Sriracha because that’s what I had, and it did the trick.  Turkish/Thai fusion, is there a market for that?

Mucver is a great way to eat a ton of veggies without even realizing it, and an even better way to use up all that cashew yogurt you have sitting in your fridge.  If you never made Turkish food before (like me!), I can’t think of a better, easier way to start.

My Indian Basics

29 Apr

My Indian fiancé, Sam, has indirectly influenced my style in the kitchen, by introducing me to a whole new cuisine and way of eating. I now love home cooked Indian food – it’s flavorful, hearty, healthy, easy to veganize, and makes great leftovers.  When I picked up Terry Hope Romano’s “Vegan Eats World,” I was delighted that she had recipes for some Indian basics that I was still lacking.  Here are my favorites:

Basmati Rice Pilaf


Terry taught me how to make rice.  I’m not even kidding.  I will be forever grateful for her breaking down the steps and taking the time to teach her readers how to get it right.  I learned about soaking, toasting, rice to water ratios, and how to add a little something extra to make basmati rice sing.  I toast my basmati in coconut oil and cook it with cardamom and a cinnamon stick.  It makes the best rice I have ever had.

Cashew Yogurt Sauce


This versatile sauce can be used in a lot of different ways, but I like to serve a little on the side to cool down a spicy curry.  Her recipe turns plain yogurt into something really fantastic.  I plan to experiment and make it more like the raita Sam knows and loves (with cucumber, mint, and cumin), but I am just crazy about this sauce as it is.  I keep inventing new ways to use it!

Green Chutney

green chutney

This stuff is so good, I can’t have Indian food without it.  Make a big batch then freeze your leftovers in a mini muffin tin or ice cube tray.  Once frozen, pop them out, put them in a freezer bag and back into the freezer they go, ready for you whenever your next Indian craving hits.  I defrost them in the refrigerator a couple of hours before I start cooking, and then let them defrost the rest of the way sitting outside while I cook.  They’re ready to go by the time I’m ready to serve!

And now…How to Throw an Indian Family-Style Dinner


Making a proper Indian family-style meal can be daunting for a new cook.  Because I’m still learning and take some time prepping, I’ll often be in the kitchen for over two hours getting everything ready, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.

For the meal above, I started soaking the rice and the cashews (for the sauce) in the afternoon.  I also started defrosting the chutney.  When I came home and was ready to cook, I got the rice ready first and let the rice cooker do it’s thing.  Mine has a “keep warm” setting which is so handy when I’m trying to get everything to the table at the same temperature!  Next, I made the yogurt sauce, since it needed to chill for a bit before serving.  The sauce was super easy and only took a few minutes to make, which was quite a relief.  Once I got it into the refrigerator, I took the chutney out to further defrost it.  Then, I attacked my main course, lobia, which is a Punjabi black-eyed pea curry.  This took some time to prep but it’s actually a pretty easy dish!  To round out the meal, I relied on my secret best friend, Tasty Bite.  When I’m cooking Indian food all by myself, I like to take care of the accouterments, rice/bread, and the main dish, but I have no shame when it comes to heating up some yellow dal and baingan bharta.  You’ll have an impressive spread that you mostly made yourself, and an Indian feast of which to be proud.

If you want to put on the whole show yourself, I suggest making the dal and/or a bean dish ahead of time.  They actually freeze really well, so you can make a big batch when you have time, and defrost when you’re ready.  If you’re serving anything with potato, however, save that to make the day of, since it doesn’t freeze as well.

I hope this helps budding chefs learn how to juggle the different dishes it takes to put on a proper Indian family-style feast!  Do not feel any shame if you need a little help from the restaurant around the corner or Tasty Bite at first.  I look forward to the day I can make everything from scratch, but we all have to start somewhere.

Ani’s Fast Blast, a retrospective

24 Apr

I can hardly believe it myself, but I have survived 17 days of eating nothing but raw, good-for-you food, thanks to Ani Phyo, author of Ani’s 15-Day Fat Blast.  I did 17 days because I had a wedding to attend and went off the program, but stuck to eating raw foods.

Orange Vanilla Shake

Orange Vanilla Shake

What inspired me to “fat blast”? I’ve been losing weight for about 9 months at a very slow and steady rate, but hit a plateau that I just couldn’t shake.  I am not one to buy into claims of “get a new body super fast!” but I knew I needed a short change to inspire me and recharge my weight loss.  I only have a month until my wedding so it’s now or never.  Also, I love a good challenge! I tried the plan before and only lasted 4 days, so this time I was in it to win it.

The Program: Raw foods to help you detox and melt the stubborn pounds away. Smoothies, soups, salads, wraps, sushi, and desserts are all yours to be had.  The idea is not to deprive, but nourish, so you get to eat as much as you want of her prescribed foods.  And for the most part, they are delicious.  Everyone has different tastes so follow your gut and make swaps here and there as you see fit.  I know I did!  I was NOT about to blend raw broccoli into a soup (Kreamy Dill Delight), so I just added more spinach.  I also read that people were severely disappointed in the Orange Vanilla Shake, so I made it without spirulina (which is optional anyway) and was totally delighted by the outcome.  It’s that easy.

The Pros: It definitely works!  She claims you can lose up to 15lbs, and I lost 6lbs, which is still a lot for only two and a half weeks.  My jeans fit better, I’m not bloated anymore, and a lot of my cravings have pretty much been extinguished.  I learned a lot of awesome recipes that I will definitely incorporate into my not-so-raw life.  Raw sushi was a revelation!  Collard wraps and zucchini pasta are way tastier than I could’ve ever imagined.

The Cons: I lost a lot of steam near the end.  I still ate raw and used her recipes, but for the last two days, I gravitated towards simpler dishes I already had in my refrigerator instead of whipping up something all together new.  I just couldn’t get it together enough to julienne another carrot.  The detox symptoms are not a lot of fun, either.  Day 3 and Day 17 were the worst.  I felt achey, nauseous, and just exhausted, without any desire to leave the house.  She doesn’t really prepare you for that, just promises boundless energy that I never really got to enjoy fully.

In summary, if you have weight to lose but are not into calorie counting, and you hate restricting how much food you can eat, Ani’s Fat Blast will rock your world.  If you want to follow someone’s journey through the whole program, check out Raw Food Rehab, Living Girl Living Foods, and Jill’s Well.  They have lots of advice and give honest reviews of all the food!

I think vegans will have an easier time with this detox since it incorporates foods we already adore (coconut oil, nutritional yeast, miso, cashews, etc) but a well-rounded and adventurous omnivore could totally make the Fat Blast work for them.

Tonight I’m treating myself to raw pizza at Cafe Gratitude to celebrate the end of my cleanse, and I’m pretty excited! Now it’s just a matter of maintaining what I’ve lost and looking fly on my wedding day.  Smoothies for the win!

A Can of Pumpkin

3 Oct

There are so many things I love about this time of year.  Cooler weather, comforting foods, the holidays on the horizon, and of course, the infamous duo, pumpkin and spices.  I admit, I was a Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte lover for a very long time, but what a shame, there’s dairy in it even if you order soy, no whip.

Lattes aside, we’re currently experiencing unseasonably warm weather here in SoCal, and it’s depressing.  100+ degrees when I’m already nostalgic enough for falling leaves?  Get me out of here.  So I’ve been doing my best to tap into what I love about this time of year while fighting to keep cool.  Chocolate-Covered Katie saw into my sad soul and posted a recipe for a pumpkin spice frappuccino, totally healthy and of course, vegan.

My favorite canned pumpkin, Farmer’s Market. Organic and no BPA!

I’ve always been nervous of recipes that call for anything less than a can of pumpkin.  How am I going to use the rest?  Will it go to waste?  Now I can only laugh at the notion of not knowing what to do with delicious pumpkin – you eat it, duh!

I popped open a can and managed to whip up 5 different things throughout the week.  This is what a can of pumpkin can buy you:

1. Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino (CCK)

2.Two servings of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin (CCK)

3. Toasty Pumpkin Chickpea Fritters (Happy. Healthy. Life.)

4. A smoothie made from almondmillk, frozen banana, a tablespoon of pumpkin, and a packet of Starbucks VIA Pumpkin Spice (which I don’t recommend spending your hard earned money on).

5. One serving of Pumpkin Pie Smoothie (Oh She Glows)

There are a bunch of vegan pumpkin spice latte recipes that I meant to try, but it just didn’t cool down enough to justify.  Maybe by November?!  Here’s hoping.  All of you living in cooler climate (JEALOUS) should swap one of these smoothies for a latte and check out this recipe from Happy. Healthy. Life.: Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Or have Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal from CCK!  Seriously, just eat every delicious, warm pumpkin thing you can get your hands on and rub it in my face.

Never again will I wonder how to use a half a cup of pumpkin.  I’ll be too busy eating it.

Taco Meat on the Cheap

29 Sep

I accidentally celebrated my birthday all month long, and my debit card is not pleased.  Whoops.  To get my savings account back in order, I’m tapping into my neurotic, Virgo self and making budgets and lists up the wazoo.  I now have a four page excel spreadsheet comparing prices of my most frequently purchased pantry items at 5 different stores.  When I buckle down, I go all out.

Part of my “buckle down” plan is to not spend any money on food Monday through Friday, which means I plan for the week, grocery shop over the weekend, and then avoid the siren call of Native Foods and Veggie Grill by creating even better grub at home.  I was up until 3am the other night, dreaming of tacos, kale salad, curried tofu scramble, pumpkin fritters, and baked falafel.

It’s one thing to plan it, it’s another to put it into action.  How was I going to find the time to cook five different meals to keep up with my demanding taste buds?  They need variety or they will revolt/go get take out.  Believe me, I’ve tried the “cook a big meal on Sunday and eat all week” technique and it did not end well.  So this time, I put the prep into my calendar.  I looked at the recipes, saw what needed to be done, looked at my schedule, and planned accordingly.  I’m budgeting time for it just like I would for a meeting, so I don’t come home exhausted Monday night debating whether or not to call for Thai.  Because I would definitely call for Thai.

So tonight, I made a bunch of taco meat so I can assemble whatever my heart desires throughout the week.  There are greens, taco shells, beans, rice, salsa, and some vegan sour cream and cheese leftover from when I still thought I had money to spend.  Ahh, those were the days.

When I first thought of tacos, I considered beans as a base, but I wanted to get a little more punch without breaking the bank on veggie meats.  Here is the delicious outcome.  Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) is about $3.50/lb, and I needed less than half that to make 10 servings of taco meat.  I think I just met my new best friend.

Taco Meat
serves 10

2 cups dry TVP
1.5 tbsp coconut oil, divided
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Better than Bouillion, No Beef Base
1 packet of Trader Joe’s taco seasoning mix (vegan, $0.79, and no scary ingredients! Jackpot)

Prep the TVP by soaking it in just under 2 cups of boiling water for at least 5 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed.

Hello world, meet rehydrated TVP. Kinda looks like oatmeal.

While waiting, dissolve the bouillon in a 1/4 cup of hot water.  Heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil (save the rest for later) over medium heat in a non-stick pan, then add the TVP, soy sauce, dissolved bouillon, and taco seasoning, stirring occasionally.

All into the pan.

After about 8 minutes, push the meat to the side of the pan and heat the 1/2 tbsp of coconut oil.  When it’s warm, toss everything together and cook for another two minutes.  You know it’s done when it stops looking wet and takes on a good crumble.

Voila! Taco meat for cheap!

Making this reminded me of helping my mom prep ground turkey for tacos.  I was warm with nostalgia when handling the taco seasoning mix and stirring everything together.  I also remember how much I hated handling the meat raw, but loved how it would transform from flesh into “food” right before my eyes.  Now I like to think what I eat is food from beginning to end, though I wouldn’t recommend munching on dry TVP!

A Meditation

24 Sep

There’s a longstanding joke, “How do you know there’s a vegan in the room?  Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”  But in my experience, I almost never bring it up and yet it almost always becomes a topic of conversation.  Perhaps I have to decline the cheese tray at a party, or say no to sharing a dessert.  Like moths to a flame, someone will feel compelled to ask, “Why not?”  because even people on diets take a sliver of cheese or a bite of someone’s chocolate cake.  There is just something so weird and uncomfortable about a person not partaking in food that everyone should love and not be able to resist.  So the dreaded “V” word is dropped and boom, there goes the party.

“Wait, really?  Why?”

I don’t think I’ve ever had a truly positive experience explaining to someone why I’m vegan, which is such a shame.  I remember an aunt asking me what I thought was so wrong with dairy.  “Do you really want to know?” I asked respectfully.  “It’s kind of intense.”  “Yes, absolutely!”  She seemed really responsive, so I took the bait.  “Well, veal is a byproduct of the dairy industry, and the abuse sustained by the dairy cows is so heartbreaking that I…”  She huffed.  She didn’t really want to hear it at all.  I backpedaled immediately.  “Also, I’m lactose intolerant.”  That was an acceptable answer.

Showing empathy for animals that most people consider to be food does not go over well.  I learned really quickly that if I didn’t wanna get into it, the best answer was, “Health reasons.  I have trouble digesting animal products,” which is true, but considering how much I love alcohol and cupcakes, it’s not like I’m one to act in the best interest of my body at all times.  Responses along the lines of, “I’m just trying to do my part for the environment,” or “I love animals,” or “It just feels wrong to me,” are rarely ever tolerated because they imply that the person you are talking to does not do their part, does not love animals, and is doing something wrong.  What a wallop.  I’d get defensive, too, if I really loved my eggs in the morning.

I have no agenda.  I am on my own path, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone for being on it.  You wanna know why I’m vegan?  Because I really care about the earth but I’m the laziest person of all time.  It’s the absolute easiest way to be an activist and a good person without having to trade my car for a bike, picket city hall for change, volunteer at homeless shelters, reuse plastic baggies, foster twenty animals, or live off the grid.  I have friends who do so much good work for the community, and I absolutely believe they are better people than me.

If vegans make you uncomfortable, just remember what you’ve done to make the world a better place, and pat yourself on the back big time.  Then tell me all about it – I promise I won’t get defensive.  We might all be on our own unique paths, but we’re on this journey together, and anything we contribute to make our shared home a better place is worth its weight in gold.

Mocha Smoothie

20 Sep

ImageSeptember in Los Angeles is just too damn hot.  When I’ve made my money and have the luxury of choosing my own schedule, you better believe that I will be on the East Coast from 9/1-9/30.  Nothing makes me more homesick than craving a change in season and instead being forced to reckon with 100 degrees, or getting sunburnt walking to and from the car.  I mean, really.

This is the time of year I should be bringing out sweaters, baking pumpkin bread, and sipping a latte without risk of breaking out into a sweat.  I want to be comforted by warmth, not suppressed by it.  Goddamnit, sun!

Okay, so all this rage really stems from me wanting a cup of coffee this morning and not being able to have it because my apartment is a furnace.  We get the rising sun so mornings are bright, which is nice, but so hot, we’re covered in sweat by 8AM.  I wandered into my kitchen, slightly delirious, and wondered, “What can wake me up, cool me down, and not taste disgusting?”

I should note here that I am usually adverse to sweet frozen coffee concoctions, due to their association in my mind to Starbucks’ “Frappucinno.”  That stupid, stupid store only uses sweetened vanilla soymilk, so even a tall frappe has enough sugar to bring on diabetes instantaneously.  Gross.

But here I was, in my kitchen, needing something.  A guest of mine had left Starbucks VIA instant coffee packets, another item that usually turns my stomach, but I’m not one to waste caffeine.  The wheels began to turn.

Mocha Smoothie
makes 1

1/2 cup unsweetened almondmilk
1/2 cup Silk Light Chocolate soymlk
1 medium frozen banana
1 packet of Starbucks VIA Colombia medium instant coffee
1/8 tsp cinnamon

In a measuring cup or bowl, stir milks until homogeneous in color.  Place frozen banana and instant coffee into blender.  Pour milks overtop and add a dash of cinnamon (about 1/8 tsp).  Blend on high until smooth.

It was love at first sip.  Sweetened only by the chocolate soymilk and banana, coffee was the predominate flavor, just the way I like it.  Instead of being icy and watered down, this was rich and creamy, filling enough for breakfast.  This is perfect if you’re on the run but usually need food and a cup of coffee to get your day started.

This is going into my morning rotation until the temperature finally cools off enough to enjoy a proper latte while curled on my couch, under a blanket.  At this rate, it’s going to be a while.

Cacao Fig Smoothie

7 Sep

I just had the loveliest smoothie that really embodies what September means to me – celebration (my birthday month!), change, and comfort. Early fall is the last hurrah for fresh figs, and yet it’s their time to shine. A touch of raw cacao compliments the earthy fruit perfectly, and I can believe I’m having a decadent treat when I swirl it all together.


Cacao Fig Smoothie
serves 1

1 cup vanilla soymilk
6 figs, halved
1/2 frozen banana
1 tsp raw cacao
1 tsp maca (optional)

Blend ingredients together on high until smooth.