Saturday, September 21, 2013

Enjoying the Dining Out Experience on a Plant Based Diet: It's Tough

It was the most sorry plate of pasta I'd ever seen.

The menu at the fine Italian Cucina read, "Penne Mediterranean: Spinach, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, olive oil and feta cheese, tossed with barilla plus multi grain pasta. $12.49"

As I looked down at my pitiful plate, I counted. Five wilted pieces of spinach were hastily tossed into a bed of oil with noodles floating in it. Fifty noodles. Ten pine nuts. Four sun dried tomatoes. No cheese. $12.49.

I looked at my husband and his salad. "You want some?" He asked.

Quite stricken with shock, I nodded my head. We shared his salad, and then each ate half the pasta. As many times as we saw the waitress, we requested more "complimentary" bread.

It is rare that I will order pasta at a restaurant. Everyone knows you can purchase a one pound box of pasta for pennies and prepare it at home in minutes. However, it was one of only three options to choose from on the menu. My husband's salad and my pasta order made up two of those three choices.

The plate of pasta was so poor, however, that I actually started to wonder if, because my husband had mentioned to the waitress that we wanted the vegetarian options, the chef had decided to plot against us and punish us by serving such a wimpy plate of food. I actually began to wonder what the plate would look like if we hadn't mentioned our dietary preferences at all. Would it be the same or would I have been alloted ten pieces of spinach? How could any "fine" restaurant ever feel good about serving this plate of food to any of their dining guests? And for $12.49?

"You didn't get enough, did you." He stated.

"Neither did you." I replied.

Four days previous I had made Angela Liddon's Thick and Chunky Tomato Sauce, tossed in a large vat of brown rice pasta, served with baked acorn squash, and a large loaf of whole wheat zucchini herb bread for our family of five. The zucchini herb bread resembled the tasty complimentary bread at the fine Cucina, but the pasta and squash had been far superior in quantity and quality. I had left that meal full and happy.

In other circumstances I have called out the restaurant's attention to their poor food, and requested that they fix it. But my husband had purchased this meal and gone to great effort to take me out on a nice date. Sometimes requesting recompense is painful. And in this situation, too painful.

If I, as a normal human being with a normal appetite (albeit eight months pregnant, so maybe not so average appetite) had been introduced to the "vegan" lifestyle by the Italian meal served at last night's restaurant, I would have rightly refused to maintain such a lifestyle.

I left that restaurant with my husband, hungry, and inwardly shaking my head. It's tough. If I was too busy to cook due to my life's circumstances (if I had to work full time, etc) and had to rely on the business world to feed me a plant based diet, I would never make it. Most restaurants simply don't know how to do vegan, let alone plant based whole foods. But I told myself, "I'm not hungry. I am going to be just fine."

We window shopped, and walked in and out of the local clothing venues around the area. Very soon, however, I realized I wanted dessert. Trader Joe's was conveniently located nearby, and we made our way through the store searching for a treat. We purchased dark chocolate-covered almonds and vegan trail mix cookies. We also bought some Pure bars and Lara Bars. After devouring the food bars, and heading home for the evening, I could not deny it any longer. I was starving. I had wanted dessert for the first time in a while because I was so hungry, but didn't realize it until after chowing down two trail mix cookies, and a bunch of chocolate-covered almonds.

I have been asked before, from someone unfamiliar with our dietary preferences, "How do you get full?" A bit taken aback, and not understanding the basis of their question initially, I had to think about it from their perspective. If you try to get food out in the world that does not contain animal products, you may only receive the plateful of loaded empty calories that I had received last night. And, after eating it all, simply left with an empty stomach loaded with calories.





Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sun-Dried Tomato, Mushroom, and Spinach Tofu Quiche from Angela Liddon

I found a spare moment that I could try to slip in a short post. Well, not really. I am sure there are at least ten other things I should be doing right now. But moms are usually famous for thinking/feeling that way all of the time!

Experimenting or trying new recipes has been failing for me recently, and more and more I am having to stick with the tried and true so that my family has a good dinner to come home to. But I saw this recipe on www.ohsheglows.com on Monday and I couldn't resist trying it out. Honestly, Tofu Quiche does not sound like it would turn out.

But it was fabulous. My children even loved it, mushrooms and all.

I am still struggling with a lot of food aversions through this pregnancy, and now that I only have six weeks left until the baby is born, there isn't a lot of room left in my tummy for food...so eating isn't a lot of fun. So while my cravings are few and far between, I truly crave this dish.

I wish I had doubled the recipe, and next time I make it (next week maybe?) I probably will double it.

The only thing I changed and would change further, is the moisture in the crust. I added more olive oil and should have added more water, because the crust was a tad dry and too crumbly, although it really was still very delicious. I used olive oil and it gave the crust such a lovely Italian flavor.

Oh, and P.S. I am no longer a staunch oil free cook. I have found it too inhibiting and I figure that adding a tad of olive or coconut oil to certain dishes that would otherwise completely not turn out, is better than quitting being a whole foodist altogether. In other words, I found 100% oil free cooking for a family with small children to be unrealistic long term.

I did not take a picture before we happily ate it all, but if you go to Angela's site she has some lovely pictures that she took. Part of the reason for this blog is not to just try to create original recipes, but also to share with you some recipes that have worked well for us that are created by other chefs that inspire me. This is one of those meals!

Angela mentions on her blog that this quiche would be good for any meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I found the crust to be especially dry as leftovers, but I did not reheat it the way she suggests in her note.

I hope you get a chance to try it, and I hope it works out for you as well as it did for me and my family!

Sun-dried Tomato, Mushroom, and Spinach Tofu Quiche
Directly from Angela Liddon's Website: www.ohsheglows.com (click the link for a printable version from Angela)

Vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free
By Angela Liddon

Sun dried Tomato, Mushroom, and Spinach Tofu Quiche

Note from Angela: This delicious, nutrient-packed tofu quiche is adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook. Thanks to Ashley for reminding me to make it! It was my first time making a tofu quiche and it really surprised us with how amazing it turned out! Even Eric went crazy for this quiche, often enjoying leftovers twice a day until it was finished. Enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. I've made this a few different ways simply by changing up the vegetables used. One version used asparagus (1 cup diced) and broccoli (1.5 cups diced), which was also very nice. The only thing I would advise against is using a high-water vegetable, like fresh tomatoes as it might result in a water-logged quiche. Best of all, it reheats well. Simply place leftover quiche on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 350F.

YIELD 8
PREP TIME 30 MINUTES
COOK TIME 50 MINUTES

Ingredients:

FOR THE CRUST:


1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons water, mixed together
1 cup whole almonds, ground into flour
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats or buckwheat groats, ground into flour
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil (I had to add 2 tablespoons, and I used olive oil)
1-1.5 tbsp water, as needed (I would probably add 2-3 tablespoons of water)

FOR THE QUICHE:

1 block (14-oz) firm tofu
1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
1 leek or yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
3 cups (8-oz) sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
1 cup baby spinach
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4-1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease a round 10-inch tart pan. Alternatively, you can use a 9-inch glass pie dish if desired.

Wrap rinsed tofu in a few tea towels. Place a few books on top of it to lightly press out the water while you prepare the crust.

For the crust: Whisk together flax and water mixture in a small bowl and set aside so it can gel up.
In a large bowl, stir together the almond meal, oat flour (or buckwheat flour), parsley, oregano, and salt.

Add in the flax mixture and oil. Stir until mostly combined, adding the remaining water until the dough is sticky (about the consistency of cookie dough). The dough should stick together when you press it between your fingers.

Crumble the dough evenly over the base of the tart pan (or pie dish). Starting from the centre of the pan, press the mixture evenly into the pan, working your way outward and up the sides of the pan. Poke a few fork holes in the dough so air can escape.

Bake the crust at 350F for 13-16 minutes, or until lightly golden and firm to touch. Set aside to cool while you finish preparing the filling. Increase oven temperature to 375F.

For the filling: Break apart the tofu block into 4 pieces and add into food processor. Process the tofu until smooth and creamy. If it doesn't get creamy, add a tiny splash of almond milk to help it along.
In a skillet, add oil and saute the leek (or onion) and garlic over medium heat for a few minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, season with salt, and cook on medium-high heat until most of the water cooks off the mushrooms, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, nutritional yeast, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes until combined. Cook until the spinach is wilted.

Finally, remove from heat and stir in the processed tofu until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasoning to taste if desired. Spoon mixture into baked crust and smooth out with a spoon until even.

Bake quiche, uncovered, at 375F for 33-37 minutes, until the quiche is firm to the touch. For best results, cool the quiche for 15-20 minutes on a cooling rack before attempting to slice. The crust may crumble slightly when sliced warm, but not to worry.

Wrap up leftovers and refrigerate for 3-4 days. Leftover quiche can be reheated in the oven on a baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes at 350F.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Random Thoughts at 5:00 a.m.


Every morning at 5 a.m. a bird right outside my bedroom window tweets one lovely, long and musical tweet. Then it stops in eery silence and doesn’t make a sound. One tweet. Silence. Does a random burst of song just happen to overcome this bird at 5 a.m., she gets it out, and then she is done?

I am so glad the universe is bigger than me. A few days ago I was having one of those *perfectionist* moments that I have a tendency for. I was trying to get the whole house perfectly cleaned in one day, all the dishes done, all the laundry done, our van cleaned out and vacuumed, and the kids’ piano practice and homework all done. The kids couldn't quite keep up with my harried pace and despite the fact that they had just cleaned their rooms, practiced their piano, and cleaned out the entire van, I was frustrated with them. Work, children, work! Mostly, I was frustrated with myself – my physical body that is slowed by the pregnancy.

I stepped outside of my kitchen. Outside those four little walls and onto the deck which leads to the woods behind our house. Seeing the tall Ponderosa pine trees, vast blue skies and deep woods, the thought came to me. I am so glad the universe is bigger than me.


Bigger than my petty woes. Bigger than myself. There is so much more to life than just me and what I want and what I think. Thank heaven! I am convinced that a large part of the reason that we are here on this earth is to overcome ourselves, even in our most difficult times -- To reach inside ourselves and somehow find the ability to look outward at others and ease their suffering even if we are struggling, too. This is what the Savior would do. This is what we are challenged to become. Unselfish. Looking outward. Finding someone else who is suffering or struggling and for a moment, think about them instead of myself. Even, or perhaps especially, if that person is one of my children or my husband. In my darkest hours, this concept has brought relief and joy. The world is not all about me, and God is teaching me that. One day at a time.

Remember when I talked about struggling with weight gain during pregnancy? Yesterday I spoke with a friend, Christy*, who pointed out to me that I had recently lost a lot of weight, and that at my pre-pregnancy lowest I weighed almost 20 pounds less than I did in high school. I might gain "more" than the cookie cut-out doctor charts recommend because my body is starting at an all-time low.

She also related a story about her pregnant sister-in-law who appears to have a severe eating disorder. While pregnant. With two other small girls in tow.

Christy spoke of how this beautiful young woman (both inside and out) drank nothing but caffeine to sustain her and spent most of her time on the couch, in exhaustion, from the lack of energy and nutrients that eating provides. Her oldest daughter, only five years of age, seems to be picking up some of these strange eating habits (or un-eating habits?) and had apparent guilt related to eating. Christy even found it difficult to not feel guilty for eating in front of her. She felt like a pig for enjoying her lunch while her sister-in-law sipped on her Red Bull energy drink, and had to keep reminding herself, I am a nursing mother and my baby and I need these healthful nutrients.

As Christy talked to me about other troubling problems related to her sister-in-law’s eating disorder, it reinforced something that Paul has been trying to tell me for years. This weight gain has a reason. A really good reason. A reason to celebrate, to rejoice in, to be happy for. I would so much rather gain five pounds “too much” in my pregnancy through exercise and eating healthfully, than to waste away on the couch from lack of energy, giving my unborn child a constant caffeine buzz in order to sustain my small shape.



2005, nine months pregnant with Essie, and weighing what my doctor claimed to be 5 lbs "too much."



I am sorry for this young woman who is so terribly lost in the world’s obsession with appearance that she cannot glory in one of the most beautiful things that God has given to us -- the ability to create life and bring it forth into the world. And I am reminded not to fall into that same tragic trap.



(*Name and Identity have been changed in order to protect and keep anonymous the identity of the woman with the eating disorder)

My first Random post.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Am Alive!

My dear friends.

It has been so long since I have written. My morning sickness was something awful. Gone are all of my crazy notions or ideas that a healthier diet would wipe out morning sickness. Ha. And anyone who says that morning sickness comes from a nutritionally inadequate diet does NOT know what they are talking about. I had one wicked healthy diet, and that morning sickness felt worse than ever.

But…the good news is! I am feeling so much better now. Although I wish I had written more during the last month or so, I really just have to be kind to myself. I was half-dead, people. Day after day of terrible nausea, fatigue, and very strange symptoms like extreme sensitivities to hot or cold, to water (weird!), or certain kinds of clothing. Just thinking about wearing a long sleeve shirt and the cloth touching my arms would send shivers down my spine and make me even more nauseous. My entire body felt like it was an itchy block of ice. But the itch and ice were inside of me. The room could be 75 or even 80 degrees; I could be bundled in my warmest clothes and wrapped in a blanket. And still be shivering from the cold. I still struggle with being cold and I cannot wait until summer and sun and heat and warm. It’s been an unusually cold spring here, so when I read other blogs that talk about ice cream and swimming, I get jealous.

As for food? We ate out every day. Paul did everything. I mean everything. Laundry, dishes, homework with kids, food prep, grocery shopping, cleaning, and on top of all that, he took care of me. And I am one high maintenance pregnant lady. No, I can’t sleep in that bed because it reminds me of being sick. No I can’t eat that food, or use that blanket, I need another blanket, I want different food...and on and on. And he never lost his patience. Blessed man.

I started feeling better around the end of April, just in time to celebrate my 29th birthday. I didn’t care that it was my birthday, for the first time in years. I was just so happy to be ALIVE! Since that time, it seems like every moment of my life has been needed in order to catch up from two months of neglecting my family. Everyone needed haircuts, new clothes, piles and piles of laundry needed done, (Paul can only do so much, he had to work full time, and serve in the bishopric at church, too!) the house needed re-vamped, and reorganized, and of course I have started cooking for my family. Boy, are they ever hungry for homemade meals around the table.

Human again. Day after day of depressing and all-consuming illness made me think of what it would be like to be chronically ill or even terminally ill. How hard it is to try to overcome the darkness that can overtake your mind when it feels like there will be no end to the misery. The feeling that the sun will never shine again.

Paul made a very big deal about my birthday, though. He bought me large gifts and took me out to eat at a high-end Mexican restaurant where we ate the best veggie fajitas loaded with guacamole and shredded lettuce. I felt so good after eating it. Food at last! He helped me make a Raw Strawberry Pie from Dreena Burton’s LTEV and must have sung Happy Birthday to me twenty times. I think he was really happy to see me feeling better, too. Happy that I wasn’t lost to the darkness and gloom forever.

I had some food cravings during my morning sickness, bust mostly food aversions. I craved eggs and cheese like no other. Looking back, I wish I had just let myself eat those things. Being on a whole foods diet doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, especially when a difficult season of life comes and maybe your body is craving certain foods for a reason. Being too strict during times of such great distress can backfire.

I especially wished I hadn’t been so strict with myself after reading this post by one of my favorite bloggers, Janae. Here is a short excerpt from one of her pregnancy posts, where she explains why she still feels good about calling herself vegan even though she ate some animal foods during her morning sickness. The post is titled, “What Does it Mean to be Vegan,” and I particularly liked this part:

I think people are turned off from embracing vegetarianism or veganism because there seems to be an element of perfectionism to it. Like if you decide you’re vegetarian, and you happen to eat meat once or twice does this no longer make you vegetarian?

This problem doesn’t just exist for vegetarians or vegans. What if you’re Democrat and vote for several Republican candidates over a period of time? What if you’re Catholic but you never attend Mass? Do you still call yourself Catholic?

This has been something I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve been intensely nauseated and all of the old foods I used to eat have been unpalatable (an understatement!). The other morning, for example, determined to finally eat something healthy, I ate two bites of watermelon and felt like I was going to throw up (which was on top of the usual nausea). I can’t eat more than a few bites of oatmeal. I find it revolting. And the mere thought of any vegetables (except for tomatoes, which luckily, I actually can tolerate) and most all fruits (except for berries…interesting, huh?) makes me want to vomit. A Krispy Kreme donut and a diet Pepsi, on the other hand, one day, seemed to do the trick and soothed my stomach like nothing else. I have to say though that this was just one moment in time. There’s never much predictability in the foods that I can tolerate and the foods that actually make me feel temporarily better. But the pattern remains the basically same–processed, refined foods tend to be much more approachable than foods that are unrefined & whole. Sadly, pretty much anything healthy.

Unless you’ve gone through this yourself, you can’t understand what it’s like to wake up day after day and have to deal with this gut-wrenching nausea that doesn’t let up. Out of what I’ve deemed is necessity, I’ve made the choice to eat some non-vegan foods. I haven’t enjoyed it, or liked the that I have eaten these foods. In fact I hate the way that I’m eating right now (it’s safe to say I pretty much don’t enjoy any food right now), and wish I could tolerate a big salad or nice bean soup. So, does this mean I am no longer vegan? Should I rename my blog? I feel comfortable still calling myself vegan because in a week or two, if the stars align, I will be past all of this morning sickness and nausea and be back to my old vegan self. Because I miss cooking. I miss eating the colorful, vibrant foods I used to eat....I’m sorry if I’ve let any of you down. I’m sorry if you don’t think I’m vegan enough to call myself vegan. But in my mind, being vegan isn’t about perfectionism or abiding by a number of do’s and don’ts, a list of rules that if always abide by, you’re cool enough to be in the vegan club. This exclusiveness is part of the reason why veganism has in the past, struggled gaining much traction.

Being vegan, to me, means doing and living the best you can in a healthful, compassionate, and aware fashion. I say let’s do away with the judgement and criticism and embrace being compassionately optimistic.

And she gives a perfect list of pretty much exactly how I ate, and how I wish I had let myself eat, in her post titled, "How To Gain 15 Pounds in Two Months.":

How DO you gain 13 pounds in about 6 weeks (the time I was uber-sick)? I’ve created a short summary for your convenience:
Don’t eat any vegetables.
Ditto for fruit.
Eat whenever and whatever you want, including right before you go to sleep.
Focus on refined/processed/and fast foods.
Eat lots of white flour, oils, and cheese.
Make cold cereal your go-to snack of choice-a calorie dense food, especially if it’s Captain Crunch you can easily consume 5 bowls in one sitting without feeling like you made a dent in your hunger at all!
Did I mention eat lots of white bread.
Never spend more than 3 minutes preparing anything that you eat.
Eat out daily.
Avoid moving. Lounge/lay around and sleep as much as possible.

I have gained about ten pounds and am now 16 weeks along. All the pregnancy websites say I should only have gained three to five pounds at this point in my pregnancy. Yeah, right. Where do they get these numbers? I say they must have gotten them from the ladies who declare, “I never felt better (being pregnant, even in the first trimester) in my life! I feel great and healthy! I love being pregnant!”

Oh, on my due date/how many weeks along I am. I was wrong about my due date. I went to see the doctor on Monday and after a brief ultrasound the tech let me know that I was NOT 21 weeks along as I had previously thought. I was only 16 weeks. After going through what felt like outer darkness with Satan, being told that I am “one month behind” was extremely depressing. I had a pity party for a day or so, and then told Paul, “It’s like being in prison, and looking forward to my release. Only to be told that I was confused about my release date and that it is actually a month later.” I know. Drama, Ashlee! It’s really not all that bad. It just took me some time to let it soak in.

Gaining weight in pregnancy is always hard for me. I have to be honest. Paul asked me last night, “Why? Why is it hard when you know that it is for a good reason? A wonderful reason?” and I responded, “I know. It doesn’t make any sense. But like Rachel (a very good friend) says, every pound you gain you know you’ll have to beat it off with a stick once the pregnancy is over!” I always gain five or ten pounds too much and the doctors usually give me a lecture about it which my mind grossly exaggerates and then I go home and cry. Well, I am just going to have to stop caring so much about weight gain. I am going to have to grow some thicker skin and push it aside. Now that the hardest part (or what I consider the hardest part!) is over I want to find ways to enjoy pregnancy and care more about regaining my strength and eating for health. Someday my childbearing days will be over, and I will have fond memories of what will never happen again. I want to enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

Two months. Watching star trek episodes for seven hours at a time and other Netflix streaming endlessly. Eating chips and cheeseless Dominos pizza. Way too many Subway sandwiches that I will probably never be able to eat again.

After seeing all that I went through, my eight year old daughter Essie said to me, “Mom, sometimes I wish I wasn't a girl. Girls have to go through so much and it seems really hard.” And I just said to her, “Yes. Girls have to be tough. (And walking in the mall right past the porn posters hanging in Victoria’s Secret display windows) The world tries to make girls feel like they should look like that. But we have to be really tough and not listen. Girls have to be tougher than anyone else because they go through a lot. But God always helps us, and we make it through, and we find happiness in wonderful things. Like beautiful new babies and laughing with our families. Sometimes it will be hard. But mostly it will bring more joy than we ever thought possible.”

Alisa commented (I didn't have the strength to reply at the time, sorry!), "I'm in such a dinner rut!!! Ashleeeeee, heeeelllllpppp! I have not visited any blogs lately but I am coming to yours for rescue."

I have found some new fab dinners and other meals my family loves. I would love to share them. I have to tell you I hate taking pictures of food. Loathe, detest, begrudge, do. not. like. Taking pictures of food is what keeps me from being able to post recipes. It is a lot of work and my dinky little camera never fully captures the yummyness. Frustrating. BUT. When I get the courage. When I make those meals again. I will try to snap a few pics and post the recipes. Thanks for reading, I know this is long! You all are great!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Soy-Glazed Soba with Crispy Tofu & Vegetables



Thank you for all of the lovely comments about experiences with morning sickness and my crazy theories. You all had some very interesting insights and different perspectives that are quite thought-provoking. I love a "good think." I also appreciate the kind way in which you welcomed my news. I was actually quite nervous to share because the world is getting to be less and less friendly to "large" families, or women who choose to have more than two children. Some of my friends who have 5-6 children get a lot of negative feedback from onlookers. On one occasion, a good friend of mine and I were out eating lunch together with all six of our kids combined, and we got asked if we ran a daycare. Ha! In a way, I guess we do!...So, thank you for your kindness.

Yesterday I felt like I got hit by a bus. My eyes were glued shut from some kind of bug I got, and I basically just slept all day. I was worried that after sleeping all day that I wouldn't be able to sleep last night. Wrong. I zonked out at about 9:00 p.m. and faintly remember Paul asking me if I was now going to sleep.

I am so glad that yesterday is over. I told Paul that it felt like I was in a nightmare from the Twilight Zone. Some sort of cold or bug, affecting my eyes and dropping my energy levels to below zero on top of morning sickness was just that. A nightmare.

Anywho. I am sure you didn't come here to hear a sob story about moi. That's not why I am writing today, either. Today I feel like a super-star...relatively...and I really wanted to share a good recipe with you. I don't have a ton of time, because any day that I feel like a super-star I think I should be cleaning my house and doing laundry. Not cooking...yet.

Actually, I did make this French Toast from my site.



Oh, wow. If you haven't tried it yet, with maple syrup...if you were ever a French Toast lover as a kid, I recommend this stuff. My family has to double the recipe! All other vegan french toast recipes I have tried are soggy and gross. To me and my little buddy Samuel, this french toast is perfection.

This is the recipe I really want to share today. Total winner with the whole family.

It reminded me of one of those big, giant "panda bowls" you can get at Asian restaurants.



A few weeks ago, I was short on time for dinner and I didn't want a labor-intensive recipe...I think that's how some of my best recipes usually start...It took less than 30 minutes to prepare, including the marinating time for the tofu. Which means it qualifies for our VEGAN FAST FOOD series. Yay!

Whenever I make a new dish I always wait for that one magical, approving line from Paul, "It's a keeper!" And this dish most lovingly received that stamp of approval from him. If I don't hear that line, the meal is kicked. Once and for all. He's a pretty good judge on food, so I never take his feedback lightly, and he always tells the truth to me -- straight.

While preparing dinner, I was nervous about adding asparagus. Essie was nervous about unusually "brown noodles." But as soon as Essie took a big bite, she started chowing down her entire bowl.

Soba noodles add a different and enjoyable texture that I have not experienced before in a noodle dish. They soak up flavors and help the whole dish, vegetables and tofu included, just kind of meld together.

There were no screamingly predominant flavors; just a nice, mellow, Asian noodle dish with rich undertones from the soy sauce that my whole family loved. Kids don't like predominant flavors, I have discovered, and so this meal was so perfectly meant for kids and adults.

As I mentioned before, everything melds together very well, and Essie even ate the asparagus.

There are 4 main components, that all come together quickly.

1) Soba noodles
2) Lightly steamed vegetables
3) Marinated and crisped tofu
4) A great Soy-based sauce thickened and seasoned well



I know it looks super vegetable-y...but you really don't need to be scared of that. This was actually my bowl, and Essie loved the pasta so much that I had taken some of my pasta out and given it to her.

Because...the entire pot of pasta had been completely consumed! So my bowl was predominantly vegetables. Feel free to reduce the amount of vegetables included the first time around if you are not sure your kids will eat it. Or you could increase the amount of soba noodles added (you may need to make more sauce if you do that). But you may be surprised. You may be very happily surprised that you have a dish in which your children will eat green things!

I found Soba noodles at Whole Foods Market, but I have also seen them at Sprouts.


SOY-GLAZED SOBA WITH CRISPY TOFU AND VEGETABLES
From Mary McDougall's Recipes in, "The Starch Solution."

Use whatever seasonal vegetables you enjoy with these flavorful buckwheat noodles paired with marinated tofu that has been sautéed until crispy and tossed with a flavorful Asian-style sauce. I replaced the snow peas with two small zucchini, cut in half, then coined and cooked in the same pot as the asparagus.

PREP: 30 MINUTES | COOK: 20 MINUTES • SERVES 3 TO 4

Ingredients:

¼ cup regular or reduced-sodium soy sauce, plus more for coating noodles
1½ tablespoons agave nectar
Dash of sesame oil
1 package (10 ounces) extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into ½″ cubes
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
1½ cups snow peas, trimmed (or two small zucchini, or other favorite vegetable, cut in half and coined)
1 package (about 9.5 ounces) soba (buckwheat noodles)
Dash of soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (I just used additional rice wine vinegar...I don't cook with alcohols)
½ tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Dash of sesame oil or chili oil (optional)
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional, I added 1-2 teaspoons of red chili paste instead, Sambal Oelek)
Sriracha hot sauce (optional)

Directions:

In a medium bowl, stir together the soy sauce, agave nectar, and sesame oil. Add the tofu and stir gently to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tofu cubes to the skillet and sauté, turning occasionally with a spatula, until the tofu browns on all sides. Reserve the marinade. Remove the skillet from the heat and set it aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the asparagus and snow peas (or zucchini) and cook for 4-6 minutes, depending on how soft you want your vegetables. Drain the vegetables in a colander, and transfer the vegetables to the pan of tofu. Bring a second pot of water to a boil and add the soba noodles. Cook until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and transfer the noodles to a large bowl and add the tofu and vegetables to the bowl.

Splash noodles and vegetables with a dash of soy sauce and toss to mix. Transfer the remaining tofu marinade to a saucepan and stir in the mirin, vinegar, and garlic, and optional sambal oelek. In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of cold water until smooth, then add to the saucepan. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the oil and crushed red pepper (omit crushed red pepper if you used sambal oelek, otherwise it will get too spicy) , if you are using them. Pour the sauce over the noodles and stir gently to mix and coat everything evenly. Serve warm or at room temperature, with Sriracha hot sauce and Soy sauce on the side, if desired.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Stork Flies In



I think I owe it to you to tell you that I am expecting. As in, "the stork is coming," or, "there is a bun in the oven." I am almost 12 weeks along and only just recently discovered this. I apologize to all my dear friends or family who are finding out about this on a blog. For me, it's just easier to say here than to blab it out in the middle of church, over the phone, at exercise class, or picking up my kids from school. I hope you can understand that.

You see, at first I just thought I was sick. Getting sick over and over. Sinus congestion, indigestion, nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, hot and cold flashes. Paul kept telling me, "You're pregnant." And I just responded, "No, I'm not. It'll never happen. I'm broken." Well, Paul was right, and I was most definitely wrong. I am so very used to having to seek out doctor's help and medications for fertility treatments. So to be expecting without jumping through all those medical "hoops" is something very new to me.

I was very excited when I first found out. Woo hoo! Right?...morning sickness kinda' dampens excitement. If you've read this post (actually one of my #1 read posts, surprisingly), then you understand my difficulties with hormone imbalances. I almost wanted to shout out, "I'm cured! Whole foods has helped me cure my ailments!" But of course I can't scientifically prove that. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Although I do think it is strongly related, there are other factors like the fact that I took Vitex (a natural women's hormone supplement containing a mixture of Chaste Berry, Red Raspeberry Root, and other herbs), and have had 3 children previously (albeit with the aid of fertility treatments).

Let me just take a moment to say that I know many, many women with fertility problems, including the popular health food "nut," Robyn Openshaw, who suffered infertility for a while until she changed her eating patterns to reflect a whole foods, plant-based diet, and lost weight. Maybe that solved her infertility, and maybe it solved mine. But maybe it won't solve everyone's, and that is not their fault.

I mention this because it is such a sensitive topic. No one should be pointed at and accused of causing there own infertility because of what they do or don't eat. While transitioning to a whole foods, plant based diet has solved so many of my health and physical concerns, I believe this issue is one to be handled with so much care. Many beautiful women that I love and care about cannot have children, or additional children, for any number of reasons. I just have to believe that God is in charge, and loves each of His daughters. I don't know the reasons for all trials, but I know that God cherishes His daughters and that all things wrong on this earth will eventually be made right through Him.

For now, I can't stand the thought of cooking. All things food related make me sick. Which I am very sorry about because I kept promising posts of fantastic recipes that my family had recently enjoyed. I think even blogging about food would be nauseating for me. All recipes in this house are currently compliments of Mr. Sub Way, Mr. Jason's Deli, Dr. Bell, and other various chefs. I avoid my kitchen and the grocery store like the plague. Poor Paul. Doing all the grocery shopping, and picking up takeout every night to feed the family. And he does all the laundry because the smell of laundry detergent is just repulsive to me right now.

Carbs are the foundation of my diet, but I have to say I am doing better with this morning sickness than I have with the three previous. I am actually able to eat raw salads and plenty of cooked vegetables (as long as I didn't have to prepare it). That has never been the case before, usually all things veg are absolutely untouchable. My morning sickness with my second pregnancy was actually so bad that I remember living completely on corn chips and ginger ale for weeks and weeks, and I was only able to keep those foods down because I was taking nausea medications given to me by my doctor.

I am very much wondering if the severity of morning sickness is also because of eating plant based or not eating plant based. This is my first plant-based pregnancy, and so far, although still quite challenging, it has been the easiest. And I am the healthiest -- I can actually exercise and eat vegetables.

I have a theory on that. I ran across a newsletter by Dr. McDougall where he discusses studies done on morning sickness, and how it actually may be the bodies' defense mechanisms to prevent the expecting mother from eating meat. Here is an excerpt from that newsletter:

Morning Sickness Protects Babies from Meat

Drs. Samuel M. Flaxman and Paul W. Sherman in their classic article “Morning Sickness: A Mechanism for Protecting Mother and Embryo,” explained how nausea and vomiting during the first trimester of pregnancy cause pregnant women to physically expel and subsequently avoid foods that cause harm to mother and infant.7 Approximately two-thirds of women experience nausea or vomiting during early pregnancy. Women who develop morning sickness have less risk of miscarriages and a better chance for survival of their infants. Their research revealed that aversions were greatest to meats, fish, poultry, and eggs. In an analysis of 20 traditional societies in which morning sickness has been observed and seven in which it has never been observed, they found the latter were significantly less likely to have animal products as a dietary staple and significantly more likely to have only plants (primarily corn) as staples. Reducing the intake of toxic chemicals found in high concentrations in animal products would be one of the greatest benefits from morning sickness.

The vast majority (89 to 99 percent) of synthetic chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides, building materials, and industrial wastes that are known to cause an increase in infertility, spontaneous abortions, recurrent miscarriages, and birth defects gain access to the body through food. More specifically, the foods with the highest levels of chemical contamination are those that are high on the food chain: meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products.8-12 The reason that these animal foods are the primary source of pollution is because their fatty tissues attract and concentrate chemicals—a process known as “bioaccumulation.” Consuming organic foods would be another big step to having a cleaner body.

My theory is that since the offender (meat, and in my case, also cheese and dairy) are not present in my current diet, my body does not need to build up such high defenses, or have such severe morning sickness in order to prevent me from eating the above mentioned "offensive" foods. Much of my online reading from mainstream websites (not vegan websites) concludes that low fat, high carbohydrate foods are the least offensive foods for the expectant mother. I have experimented with this and found it to be true for me. On my good days I have made banana bread and applesauce muffins with no added fats. I was able to easily digest these foods. Juicing has also worked very well for me because the nutrients are so readily available for my body with little digesting involved.

I have clear memories of only wanting mashed potatoes and fries during many of my previous pregnancies. Sometimes chips and soda. Foods with easy access to sugars, or simple carbs because they are so easy to digest. I also remember a well-meaning friend recommending that I have cheese on toast to help with morning sickness. I tried it, and promptly my body expelled that food. Cheese was by far the number one offender during previous pregnancies with things like yogurt or dairy based cream sauces right behind.

And so I have actually been very curious. Do other women who switch from the SAD diet to whole foods, plant based diets in between pregnancies experience similar results? Have you had or heard of easier morning sickness experiences on "vegan" diets as compared to previous pregnancies on the SAD? How sound is my theory?





Monday, February 4, 2013

Beans from Scratch; Lessons From A Kitchen Expert


More and more I am convinced that learning how to cook the "staples" (beans, grains, legumes, etc) is key to being able to feed families inexpensively, without having to depend on recipes for every meal.

My Mom has been cooking beans for children and families for the last 30-40 years, and has perfected the art. A few years ago I asked her how she did it. She emailed me written directions, including approximate measurements. I would like to share her art with you, here.

How to Cook Beans From Scratch: years of experience, right here:

Hi Ashlee! I changed my bean recipe after talking to Kari (my aunt) and reading some books about cooking beans. I have an aluminum pressure cooker which I have found out is very bad for heavy metal contamination. Your pressure cooker is stainless steel so you should be fine.

First off, it is really best to wash thoroughly, then soak the beans overnight, change the water in the morning, and then cook them in a pressure cooker during the day some time. They can be cooked more gently and for only about 23 minutes in the pressure cooker, and they will be very soft. After soaking, you can alternatively cook your beans in a crock pot on low, for about 8-10 hours. If you run out of time, you can always put them into the fridge and then cook them whenever. You can take unsoaked beans and cook them directly in a pressure cooker, but make sure they are covered with a couple inches of water or the top layer will be crunchy. Dry beans can be cooked in the pressure cooker directly, for 45-60 minutes.

Second, pressure cook them in water and kombu (seaweed that aids in digestion of beans) and nothing else, not even salt. This was hard for me to do, because I am so used to seasoning and flavoring. The books I have read say to season and add fat after the beans have been cooked. Then season, add fat, and cook for a half hour or so longer very very gently not using pressure but while the beans are still in the pressure cooker. Ashlee, these measures are for 2 1/2 cups of dry beans that have been cooked.



Third, use about 1 T celtic sea salt

1 T paprika

2 t. cumin

20 turns or so of the pepper mill

1 -3 t. chile powder or more, depending on the intensity of the heat.



Fourth, put the following in the food processor so you won't have to chop, chop, chop:

3 - 5 garlic cloves

1 large onion, quartered

2-6 carrots - broken into smaller pieces

2-4 stalks of celery - broken up

Any other veggie you like

Because the beans already have the water they were cooked in, in order not to get them too watery from adding the chopped vegetables, you can drain some of the water off and discard some of the bean water.

Next, you need fat in order for the beans to taste good. I found that if I tried to cook fat free, little children just wouldn't eat the food. You can use olive oil, coconut oil, bacon and bacon grease, butter, or a combination. I like the taste of coconut oil along with either a little butter or olive oil. Everyone will scarf that down. 2 - 3 Tablespoons.

Cook this mixture for 20 - 30 minutes on very low heat.

Now is a good time to add a green pepper or two. That way, it will still be a little crunchy when you serve it, if you like crunchy.

Well, that was a looong explanation. I hope you have time to read it! I also hope I remembered it right. You can modify the seasonings to suit your taste. Once, I juiced carrots and added the juice after the beans were cooked, so it would still be raw and have all the enzymes in it that help our digestion function at a more premium level. I also added the pulp. It was yummy.

For me, this is comfort food. I was horrified to read that if you use floridated water in an aluminum cooking pot, the contamination is dramatically increased. I have a hard time cooking beans now, although I really enjoy them. So, be glad your water isn't floridated.

With Love, Mom


**********

Speaking of my water not being floridated.

That's because we live in the mountains and have our own well. Pretty awesome most of the time. But last week (hence no posts) the pump on our well decided to give out, and DIE!

Pretty dramatic, I know.

A full day's work, and $1,200 later, we have a new pump. And blessed running water. Aaaawwwww water. But there goes the rest of Paul's bonus money from work for the year, because we also had to purchase the fridge. Boo.

Oh, and we got an aesthetically damaged fridge for half the price. The dings/dents are on the side, where we can't see them so we don't care. Half price!


The inside. LED lights!


Oooohhhhh, who knew a discounted fridge could be so exciting!

So the next time you have to go buy a fridge or any appliance, (which I hope is never, they are so pricey!) just ask the employees at the appliance stores if they have any discounted, slightly damaged options to look at. You could make it outta' there like a bandit! Gettin' awesome discounts!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pizza Foccacia and The Story of How My Fridge Died


My dear friends. I have wanted to write all week.

Rewind to Monday.

I peeked in the fridge, as we are all apt to do, and found that everything in my freezer was melting. Ice was turning into water, my frozen bananas were no longer white and pretty, but brown and mushy. Something was not right.

The temperature in the fridge was 50 degrees F (supposed to be 38 F) and the temp in the freezer was 38 degrees F (supposed to be 0 degrees F). Everything was much too hot, hot, hot.

Seeing the abnormal temperature, I called our repair-woman to have a look at it, thinking that simply the refrigerator needed to be reset. After an hour or so of working with, taking apart, hot-wiring, and looking at my fridge, the diagnosis was in.

My fridge was dead.

I was shocked. I did not expect a five year old fridge to die. My parents' fridges have all lasted what seemed like 20 years!


My beautiful, $1,800 dream fridge that Paul saved and saved to buy me as a gift five years ago when we first moved into this house. He had been saving that money for other important things...like our future, or our children's future... Instead, he plopped down a lot of money to get me new appliances.

He saw me struggle. No dishwasher. The worst stove on the planet that was 20 years old and had only two settings: simmer, and scorch. A broken trash compactor, and a 20 year old, tiny fridge.

It didn't really sink in at first. Until Paul and I went fridge shopping and saw that the same type of fridge now cost $2,400, plus tax and delivery. Ouch.

Major ouch.

We went home feeling sick. Woke up feeling even worse. How can we possibly feel good about spending that much money on a fridge? Paul pointed out that the amount is the same as the cost of a car! When we bought the fridge in the first place, we thought we would have it for a very long time and therefore had justified the purchase.

And it didn't help that we were now having to throw everything in the fridge away.

It felt like we were camping in our house. Only worse.

My kitchen became dysfunctional.


Fridge food all over the counters, fridge parts strewn everywhere.

It doesn't seem like something as simple as not having a fridge would bring life to a screeching halt. But when you are eating mostly plants? When you thrive on a lot of raw food, and cooked veg?

I boxed up all of our food.


Something I am really grateful for is the cold. Outside. Right now. I am so glad that it is winter time and that our great outdoors can act as a pseudo-fridge until we can figure out what to do.

Paul put it outside.


We went fridge shopping again yesterday and came home hungry and tired. It's been well over a week since I have done any grocery shopping, and so our options seamed meager under the circumstances.

I needed something easy.

At first, I was convinced I would make my easy Calzones that my kids love. Despite how easy the filling is to make (as fast as a green smoothie in the blender) I couldn't bring myself to do it. Not to mention I couldn't find all the ingredients in my messy kitchen.

And so I dreamed. Of something even easier.

Pizza Focaccia.

My bread machine did all the work. I broke all the rules. And used Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

This is the kind of recipe you make if your kitchen is all torn apart.


The kind of recipe you prepare when you can't think straight, and you really don't want to hear any complaints from your kids about food.


The kind of food you eat when you are low on produce and you just need some comfort.


The rosemary, basil, and olive oil took me to The Olive Garden.

Right where I needed to be.



Pizza Focaccia (with a Gluten Free option)
Inspired by, and Adapted from, Eat, Drink and Be Vegan

Makes 4-5 servings as a side bread for a meal.

Note from Dreena: Fresh rosemary really gives this pizza a wonderful taste and aroma. If fresh rosemary is not available, you can substitute with 3/4-1 tsp dried rosemary, coarsely chopped, or crushed between your fingers.

Note from Ashlee: Many fellow moms have mentioned to me that when going plant-based, pizza becomes difficult for kids. I really recommend this easy, tasty option.

You can make whole grain, homemade pizza dough, or purchase it pre-made from the store to make this meal even easier. I was able to serve this with marinara for dipping, (which I did not use with my bread because I savored the taste without it!) with a large salad, oil free dressing, and a lot of cut fruit and pomegranate juice for my kids. They loved the bread. Toppings can easily be tailored to whatever you or your children prefer to eat. Chopped bell peppers, fresh pineapple chunks, black beans, green chile, olives, red onion, spinach, basil, etc.

Just make sure you add the rosemary, basil, salt, pepper and olive oil because that is where the flavor really pops. Be careful not to overload the bread with too much veg, or it will become soggy and the rosemary will taste less pronounced. I recommend you keep it simple the first time around you make it, and really focus on the fresh herbs and seasonings.

TO MAKE THIS GF: Bob's Red Mill brand carries a gluten free pizza crust flour mix that is easy to make by following the directions. Also, I have seen pre-made Gluten Free pizza dough in the freezer section at Whole Foods Market and Sprouts.


Ingredients:

1 whole wheat pizza dough (I used the dough recipe from my Calzones, see below)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary (or use 3/4 to 1 tsp. dried rosemary, coarsely chopped)
1/3-1/4 teaspoon sea salt, to taste (I used 1/3 tsp)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I used fresh ground Rainbow Peppercorns)
1/2-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, julienned, or chopped
Optional additional toppings we enjoyed:
Black olives, chopped, about 1/3 cup
Red onions, chopped, about 1/3 cup

Chopped green chile, or roasted red pepper flakes sprinkled on top could really add some heat if that's what you like! I have not yet tried the green chile, and it may compete with rosemary too much for flavor, or be soggy. But it is an idea. See my note above for other topping ideas.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, spread 1 tbsp oil over top of shell, then sprinkle on rosemary, salt, and pepper, and lightly sprinkle with any additional toppings of your choice. Bake for 9-13 minutes (mine baked in about 13 minutes), until edges are golden. (If using a frozen pizza shell, you will need to bake for another 3-5 minutes.) Remove from oven and drizzle 1/2-1 tbsp oil over the hot bread, then sprinkle on basil. Cut into slices or wedges.

Serve with a large salad and fresh cut fruit. I also made additional toppings available for my son who loves olives.


Pizza Dough for Bread Makers
(makes 2 lb size)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp. salt
1 and 3/4 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour, or sprouted whole wheat flour (found mine at Whole Foods Market)
3 tsp. sugar
1 tablespoon gluten flour (optional, helps the dough to rise and be fluffier)
2 tsp. yeast

Combine all ingredients in your bread-maker, in the order listed. Set the bread-maker to the "Pizza Dough" setting (about 55 minutes) and push start.




**********

Robyn Openshaw of Green Smoothie Girl mentions in her healthy book that Foccacia served with a large salad is one of her and her children's favorite meals to have for dinner. Somehow this makes me feel a whole lot more confident in serving this meal.

Other foods we've been enjoying that are easy in this time of chaos:

Rice Pudding
Bok Choy Saute (yes, again!)
Light and Tender Waffles (none of the ingredients need refrigerated!)
Seasoned Quinoa, a modified version that I need to update

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lately, We've Enjoyed...

Often, I make recipes from other blogs online that I either alter very little, or not at all. Rather than blogging each individual recipe, I thought I would share a picture and brief summary about it, and any changes I made to it.

Blogs are such a great way to find other recipes quickly, and, over the last year I think I've gotten better at being able to look at a recipe's details, and determine quickly whether or not it will turn out well. Or, I will brainstorm ways to modify it to ensure that it will turn out well. I want to share what I have found, what we have thoroughly enjoyed, with you!

For those who are transitioning, or new to whole foods, this post might give you a good idea as to the types of foods we are eating on a daily basis. Especially at the bottom where I post foods from my own blog, or mention meals that we are eating that have not yet been posted.

Here we go!

The title of each recipe is linked to the recipe page.

Gingerbread Cookies By Dreena Burton

My kids beg...I mean beg to make these, practically every day. I am sure these could be made into slabs for gingerbread houses, too. Real winner with the whole fam. (I know, it's no longer Holiday time...still, we really love these!)


Tips: roll them out kinda thick (at least 1/4 inch), and be careful not to over-bake them. Because they are made with coconut oil, you may have to refrigerate the dough before cutting it into shapes because it will get too flexible when warm.

It didn't help that my kitchen was very warm when I made these: now that it's winter time, there's most often a fire blazing in the fireplace and my kitchen is really cookin' hot. The dough is easiest to manage when very cold....I actually put the uncooked, rolled dough in my freezer for a few minutes at a time cuz I am really impatient, and I wanted cold dough, right now.

Speaking of gingerbread...


Gingerbread Granola by Dreena Burton


I realize the Holidays are over. Way over. But I really like granola made this way.

Me. Moi. I could eat this every day. When Essie had her first bite, she said, "Mmm, it's like a gingerbread cookie bursting in my mouth!"

Except this version is oil free.

Tips: The pecans in this recipe are fantastic. So good! I recommend measuring out over-flowing amounts of them into the granola. Also, I really don't enjoy the taste of cashew butter sometimes. I like it in ice cream, etc, but here, I really recommend using almond butter. Yum.

Honey Mustard, Broccoli and Apple Salad By Joy the Baker

I had no idea that slightly steamed broccoli could taste so good in a salad.


Paul and I both thoroughly enjoyed it, chilled. I doubled it, and we consumed the entire thing yesterday. Paul declared, "Best salad I've had all winter!" With a declaration like that, I will probably be making it again sometime soon.

Tips: I made the salad dressing oil free. How? Simply by replacing the Extra Virgin Olive Oil with twice the amount of raw cashews, and blending it together very thoroughly until it became creamy and smooth. So, if the recipe called for 2 tbsp oil, I added 4 tbsp raw cashews (or eyeball a little more in to attain the texture you want).

If you don't have whole grain mustard, use prepared mustard, not dried mustard, otherwise it will be too spicy. Cut the amount of mustard in half if it is prepared, and not the whole grain.

I used half apple cider vinegar, and half red wine vinegar.


Also by Joy the Baker

On Juicing
, a fantastic post all about juicing.


As I mentioned previously, I finally broke down and bought a juicer. I was going to blog about juicing, but Joy did such a good job, I really can't compete.

My favorite juicing combinations?

*Ginger Apple: 10 large apples // 1-2 inch piece of ginger...sweet and spicy!
*Carrot Celery: 6-10 large organic carrots // 1 large bunch of celery
*Green Lemonade

I sometimes use juicing as my breakfast. It makes me feel fantastic.

However, despite my most earnest efforts...maybe...I really can't seem to go a full day only juicing. I love...love...love chewing my food.

Speaking of chewing my food.

Maple Baked Lentils with Sweet Potato by Angela Liddon


Angela has made me fall in love with lentils. Oh dear. They are so satisfying and hearty. I served this easy recipe on toast. And I really didn't even try to make my kids eat it.

Blanket Stew in a Gravy Broth By Angela Liddon


I'd be lying if I said I made this lately. However, it is something we so thoroughly enjoyed (and even served to dinner guests) that I wanted to mention it.

Tips: Simply omit the oil in the gravy. Doesn't really alter the taste of it at all. And, you really could add any vegetables to this that you have on hand. I would serve this with mashed potatoes. Whole family loves...

And finally.

From my own blog:

Thai Style Noodles

Winner. Ding, ding, ding!


My kids love this stuff. Never any whining when I serve it. Always empty bowls. Happy me.

Happy you if you try it!

Tips: VEGAN FAST FOOD! If you are short on time, simply boil some spaghetti or fettuccine noodles according to their package directions. Shred carrots, green cabbage, and chop scallions. Saute them in a nonstick skillet while you whip together the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Add sauce to the sauteing vegetables, along with some mung bean sprouts if you have them on hand. Add pasta, some teriyaki tofu (optional), toss to combine, heat through, let simmer five or so minutes, and serve. Takes less than 30 minutes! The carrots and cabbage just kind of melt into the background of the sauce, and the kids have no idea they are eating so many vegetables.

Bok Choy Saute with Peanuts and Scallions

I may not be the best food photographer, but I have to say I am a pretty good chef. (Yes, I just tooted my own horn!)


This meal is, by far, Paul's and my favorite right now. Satisfying, well-rounded, delicious, loads of flavor and texture, fast. Very fast.

It may not be the prettiest, but it's a keeper.


And, some recipes we've enjoyed that I haven't posted yet, but I hope to post soon. All of which are oil free.

Sweet Potato Corn Chowder
Tuscan White Bean and Kale Soup
Whole Grain & High Protein Crepes
Cashew Apple Balsamic Dressing with Cabbage Salad
Black Bean Burgers with Red Onion Guacamole
Raw Ceasar Salad Dressing Over Romaine, Kalamata, and Red Onion
Mochi, baked and stuffed


Working on my camera situation...thanks all for reading!

And, thank you, especially for your votes on Circle of Moms!!



I told Paul that even If I don't make it to top 25 (I am competing with some really awesome women!), being nominated has totally made my day/month/year!

You can vote every day...once a day.

Thank you again, so much!






Friday, January 18, 2013

Circle of Moms -- Vote for Me!

I am so excited! I have been nominated for the top 25 Vegan and Vegetarian Mom blogs of 2013. I try not to get too excited...


If you have enjoyed any of the recipes here, or have found any of my posts to be helpful, it would be awesome if you could vote for me.



Just click on the above link. You can vote, every day, once a day, until February 7th.

Thanks a bunch! I hope you have a great weekend!



More coming soon... I've somehow managed to lose my camera charge cord, and my camera batteries are dead. Puts my blogging life to a screeching halt. It's killin' me.

I wanna' talk about Mochi, about juicing, Tuscan White Bean and Kale Soup, Cabbage salad with Balsamic Cashew dressing...

*Love and Hugs!*

-- Ash




Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bok Choy Saute with Scallions and Roasted Peanuts


Yeah, I've sorta' fallen in love with Bok Choy.

Paul has a coworker at his office who has actually named his computer, "Bok Choy." I'm jealous. I wish my computer was named Bok Choy. Th'stuff is so good. (I guess I'm too lazy to type the 'e' in the word, "the?")

I like this sauce much better than my stir fry sauce...it's safe to say it's totally been improved.

Like. Totally.

Paul loves it. I ate it for breakfast the first time I invented it. And felt awesome afterwards.

But, you don't have to eat it for breakfast if that totally wigs you out.

Totally.

We're always looking for stuff that's fast. Easy. Ready in less than 30 minutes. This fits the bill. Totally. I'll stop saying that.

If you make this recipe.

You won't regret it.

Over brown rice. To die for. Well, not really. It's not really death-worthy (does that exist, truly, in food world?). But. I like it. And I hope you do, too.

This saute is super-satiating; the combination of chewiness from the rice and mushrooms, and the crunch of peanuts and bok choy. The flavors come together with the sauce to create deep satisfaction.


People have sometimes asked me. What should they eat for lunch if they don't like eating leftovers from dinner, and they need something quick and healthy?

Ahem.

Make this.


Speaking of quick.

Some quick tips:

* I love buying mushrooms pre-sliced, and pre-washed. Saves me so much time and increases the possibility that I will actually use my mushrooms.

* Peanuts? Buy them already roasted, but with no salt.

* Bok choy?

Ah. Bok choy. A tip? Eat it every day. Yum.

* Flavors are enhanced when you use a cast iron skillet.

* Optionally, you could add some fresh mung bean sprouts. I just didn't have any at the time I made this.


* To make it more kid-friendly using pasta, simply follow the kid instructions (and pictures) found on my stir fry recipe page.

* Oh, and a tip on that, too. After cooking the noodles, rinse them with cold water until they are completely cold. You can even refrigerate them. The trick with sauteing noodles is to have them chilled/cold. It works much better to prevent them from getting gooey or slimy. Once the noodles start sticking to the pan, you know they are done.

Boy Choy Saute with Scallions and Roasted Peanuts
By Ashlee Crozier

Ingredients:

6 cups baby bok choy, sliced (including all the greens on the top!)
1.5 cups cremini mushrooms, washed, and sliced fairly thick
4 large cloves of garlic
1/2 cup scallions, or green onions, sliced, including white parts.
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, no salt
1/3 cup soy sauce, or tamari
1/3 cup brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 -2 teaspoons sambal oelek, or other garlic chili paste (less if serving to kids, more if you like heat)
1-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil (really enhances flavor, but 1 tsp will do the trick)
Optionally, you could add 1 cup of fresh mung bean sprouts (I buy mine from Whole Foods Market)


Instructions:

For optimal flavor, use a large cast iron skillet.

Preheat skillet (cast iron or nonstick) on high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and spread them evenly over the bottom of the pan. Let them saute for at least five minutes while you prepare/chop the other ingredients. Mushrooms contain quite a bit of water so you don't need to cook them in oil; once you see that they are starting to release their water (they will appear wet), stir the mushrooms occasionally, and let them cook an additional 5-10 minutes, but watch them carefully so they don't burn. If at any point the pan is starting to smoke, and the mushrooms are sticking to the pan, you can add water in small amounts (1/4 cup or less) so that the mushrooms continue to saute in water. You don't want the mushrooms to be soggy or water-logged, so take it real easy on adding the water.

When the mushrooms have released all their water and are starting to stick to the pan, add the soy sauce, wait about 30 seconds, and then stir. This will caramelize the mushrooms in the soy sauce to give them flavor, and the soy sauce acts as a nonstick agent. Add the rice vinegar, chopped garlic, agave nectar, red chili paste, and scallions, including white parts. Stir, let saute for about 1 minute, and then add roasted peanuts.

Reduce heat to medium, or medium low. Add chopped bok choy, including the green leafy tops. Saute for an additional 1-2 minutes, but you want the bok choy to remain slightly crisp, so don't overcook it. Remove pan from heat, and stir in the 1-2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil. Toss to incorporate, and serve over warm brown rice.

For kid friendly, see my post on Asian vegetable pasta methods, using the same sauce as above and a fourth of the remaining vegetables.

Oh, and a tip on that, too. After cooking the noodles for your kids, rinse them with cold water until they are completely cold. You can even refrigerate them. The trick with sauteing noodles is to have them chilled/cold. It works much better to prevent them from getting gooey or slimy and sticking to the pan. Once the noodles start sticking to the pan, you know they are done. Remove from heat and serve.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Perfect Pear; The Perfect Cleanse


I'm pretty sure I've had this green smoothie every day possible over the last two months.

Perhaps you have heard of Natalia Rose?

She is very famous for her raw, juiced green drink, called "Green Lemonade." A few of Paul's and my extended family members are currently doing a 100% raw juicing diet with green lemonade to successfully lose unwanted weight in a short period of time.

While I have also just discovered a new love for juicing lately; grapefruit orange juice, apple juice, carrot celery juice, etc. I have also discovered that kale does not juice very well, and most of it seems wasted.

As kale plays a major role in green lemonade, it seems tragic to see such small yeild of juice from such a power-packed nutrient, and almost heart-breaking to see so much kale thrown away into the trash after it has been juiced. (Even using the very popular and high quality Breville juicer; my personal fave).

I prefer to blend my greens, whole, to enjoy the whole plant, and this green smoothie is the closest "mime" to green lemonade that I have come across (thanks to my sister!).

Over Christmas break, it seemed that Paul, the kids and I were able to dodge a lot of "illness bullets." We had a wonderful time visiting family and friends, but it seemed like everyone was getting hit really hard with some kind of bug. Through it all, we somehow avoided getting the stomach flu, Norovirus, the cold, and other such ailments.

We thought we were out of the woods.

Until I got a sinus infection, which I have been prone to getting since I was little.

Did you suffer illness during the holidays? Or perhaps, you interacted with one too many sweets, and are ready for a cleanse. Maybe your Resolutions for 2013 include weight loss.

This Perfect Pear really is the perfect cleanse.


Because:

*It packs in a lot of greens
*It packs in a lot of cruciferous vegetables...
*...and cruciferous vegetables are known for their high nutrient density

According to Joel Fuhrman, and his book, "Super Immunity," if you want to avoid illness, or do everything you can to speed your recovery, you will consume a lot of cruciferous vegetables.

Examples of Commonly Found Cruciferous Vegetables:

* Kale
* Bok Choy
* Broccoli
* Cauliflower
* Collards
* Cabbage

Joel Fuhrman also says that in order to get the maximum benefit from cruciferous vegetables, it is best to have them lightly steamed, or raw, but pureed or finely chopped so that your body has easy access to the nutrients.

The Perfect Pear Smoothie has both kale, and bok choy, in their raw form! All blended up for a quick infusion of power-packed nutrients.


It's not super-sweet, but packed with greens. Cleansing is the idea, or good for weight loss or for just wanting to feel great. So don't expect it to taste like candy...However, despite the fact that it's not overpoweringly sweet, it is just about the juiciest green smoothie I have ever tasted. Pleasant, energizing, and very satisfying.

You can adjust the sweetness levels easily to your taste by adding more pear, or banana, or both.


The Perfect Pear
Adapted from Diana Stobo

Note from Ashlee: I found the most beautiful and delicious red Bartlett pears at Costco, that I have ever had. They were very large, and very sweet. I can't find them at Costco anymore, and seeing as how pear is the main sweetener/taste in this smoothie, I recommend you use either very ripe Bartlett or very ripe D'anjou pears. If they are small use two pears.

Ingredients

1½ cups water
1 large Bartlett pear, cored and stemmed (or 2 smaller pears, D'anjou pears work well!)
1 baby bok choy
3 celery stalks
3 large romaine lettuce leaves
3 large kale leaves (I add more like 6-8 leaves because I love greens)
1 banana
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of ice (optional, but I think smoothies taste much better when cold, and ice helps blenders like Blendtec blend more efficiently.)

Directions

Add to your blender in the order shown, starting with water and ending with ice. Blend in high-speed blender for 60 seconds. Serve immediately.


**********

What I do to get a good picture sometimes!

While I was carrying the cutting board back into the house (through the snow) after this smoothie's photo shoot, the lemon started rolling off the board. I used my elbow to catch the lemon, and down went the green smoothie.


Luckily, I was able to use my torso as a lid for the top of the green smoothie and able to salvage most of it, but not without suffering some loss.

I was trying to get ready for our trip to Utah, so I just quickly wiped down my shirt and pants, and wore them during packing. Seeing a green, round stain, Essie and Paul both asked, "What did you get on your shirt?!"


Friday, January 11, 2013

Family Friendly Calzones...Or Pizza Pockets?


Cheesy. Creamy. Popping with flavor and pizza zang (my new word). Stuffed with healthy ingredients. The flavors meld together with warm pizza crust and marinara sauce.


It's been over three months, I am sure, since you asked me to make perfect these.

I've been thinking of your request, on and off, the whole time.

At first, it didn't seem like a difficult task. I had a basic recipe on hand that I had used for Calzones before.

But then.

I got to work on it.

And I realized I needed to rethink the recipe. The one I had on hand was good, but I felt that it was really not good enough. I wanted my kids to love it. Your kids to love it.

I basically, really, just wanna' see it gobbled up.

You've waited a long time. Never complained. Many times your comments, compliments, and encouragement have kept me going. You are a wonderful friend.

I know the challenges you face with trying to get your kids and hubby to really love eating plant based. Ah. Don't we all face some level of this challenge? Trying to get our families to enjoy eating healthier foods?

So I didn't take your request lightly. These Calzones needed to meet some high standards. I poured over books, brainstormed, consulted with other cooks.

Then I made a list of standards that these little Pizza Pockets had to live up to.

* Made with everyday, recognizable ingredients
* Kid-approved (and LOVED!)
* Nutrient dense (chock-full of healthy stuff)
* And still taste good
* No tofu (really? Tofu in my pizza? No thanks)
* Suitable for guests
* Easy (not an all day experience...or so-called, "labor of love")
* Only 2 or 3 main steps
* Variation-friendly (I provide a list of sauteed veg that would taste great as an add-in, or variation for toppings for the filling)

The standard of "No tofu" turned out to be a big deal. Most of my favorite cookbooks had recipes for Calzones, but inevitably, all of them used tofu as the main ingredient; throwing in a bit of spinach here and there for variety.

I just can't imagine handing an omnivore a tofu stuffed calzone, or even putting one in front of myself, and expecting myself or my lovely omnivore guest to want to eat said calzone. I like variations on tofu...but in my pizza???

And so. I have not forgotten you.

In fact, as soon as the right idea finally came to me yesterday, I was so excited I had all kinds of butterflies in my stomach. I was finally going to deliver what I had promised. I cannot tell you how badly I have wanted this moment to come.

Easy, home-made, pizza pocket goodness.


Have I told you lately? How much I care?

Because you and your friendship are SO. SO. WORTH IT!

The crust can be homemade, made in a bread maker, or store-bought. The marinara, or pizza sauce, likewise can also be homemade or store-bought. I use store-bought for ease and simplicity.

The filling takes as little time as it takes to put together a green smoothie.


With similar steps, and a short baking time. It contains 2 cups of artichoke hearts, and 2 cups of spinach. 3/4 cup of cashews, blended with lemon juice and seasonings make up the cheesy part of the recipe.


I will first show pictures, with detailed instructions and tips, and then show the posted recipe with the same detailed instructions below, for ease of keeping the information all together so that it can be copied, pasted, and printed. (I wish I had printable recipes option!)

The three main steps?

1.) Make pizza dough
2.) Make Creamy Artichoke Spinach Filling/Dip
3.) Put it all together and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, at 500 degrees.

Let's get started!

Assembling your Plant Infused Calzone:

When pizza dough is complete/ready, divide in half evenly. Rolling out only half of it at a time. Make sure to flour the surface so the dough doesn't stick.

After rolling/spreading it out into a smooth circle, I cut mine with a knife, on a smooth surface (my cutting board), into four equal parts.


Spread with marinara (or pizza sauce). I use Prego brand; use your favorite, or home-made.

Keep the sauce toward the center of the crust. You want dry edges so that they will fold and pinch together to seal the pockets/calzones.


Then, put about 3-4 tablespoons of pre-baked spinach artichoke filling on each calzone, again keeping it toward the center so that you have dry edges.


At this point, I would recommend adding in extra vegetables on top of the filling for the veg loving people in your life!

Some VEG Toppings that I think would work well:

* Sauteed, sliced mushrooms
* Sauteed, thinly sliced red onions
* Sauteed, thinly sliced red bell peppers
* Samuel loves black Olives, chopped or sliced
* Essie loves black beans in her pizza
* Roasted Green Chile...maybe? Sprinkled on top?
* Additional steamed, or sauteed, chopped spinach

Fold each calzone in half, bringing the two, straight matching edges together.

Then fold the matched edges; the bottom edge over the top edge, pinching the edges together at the same time, so it looks like this.


Just a tip: pinch really hard. That way it stays together. It's actually okay if it splits open a bit during cooking.

After the pocket is sealed, press gently down on the filling so that it fills up all spaces inside the pocket; evenly distributing the filling for savory, cheesy goodness in every bite.

With a spatula, and your hands, carefully transfer the folded, sealed calzones to a lightly oiled or nonstick baking sheet. You could probably also use parchment paper as a nonstick surface.


Repeat with the other half of the pizza dough.

Bake in a 500 degree pre-heated oven, for 12-15 minutes, until golden in color. Remove from oven, and optionally brush the tops with nondairy butter. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

SERVE, WITH A SIDE OF extra MARINARA SAUCE FOR DIPPING/DUNKING!


Spinach Artichoke Calzones
Modifications by Ashlee Crozier

Don't be frightened by the detailed instructions!

These are really, really easy, and quick to make. Especially if you have pre-made pizza dough, which, I do not frown upon.

Hey, make life easier.

Nor do I frown upon the use of store-bought marinara sauce. (I don't provide a recipe for marinara sauce, but you will need some for this recipe).


Pizza Dough for Bread Makers
(makes 2 lb size)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp. salt
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
2 cups, scantly measured, white whole wheat flour
3 tsp. sugar
1 tablespoon gluten flour (optional, helps the dough to rise and be fluffier)
2 tsp. yeast

Combine all ingredients in your bread-maker, in the order listed. Set the bread-maker to the "Pizza Dough" setting (about 55 minutes) and push start.


Creamy Artichoke Spinach Dip
By Dreena Burton

A delicious, dairy-free artichoke and spinach dip made without any cream or cheese substitutes, and also without any oil.

Note from Ashlee: My kids love this as their filling for calzones, or as a dip. Either way, they gobble it up.

Ingredients

(serves 5-6)

3/4 cup raw cashews (unsoaked)
3/4 cup plain unsweetened non-dairy milk (I like almond or soy, but your choice)
2 1/2 - 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 medium-large cloves garlic (use less/more to taste)
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp dry (ground) mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups frozen artichoke hearts, partially thawed (helps for pulsing in blender)
2 cups (loosely packed) spinach leaves (I used frozen, heaping 2 cups, to get in more spinach)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425. In a blender, first add cashews, milk, lemon juice (I like the full 3 tbsp for tanginess), garlic, salt, dry mustard, and pepper. Blend until very smooth. (If using Blendtec (purrrrr) or other high-powered blender, this will only take a minute or so. If using a standard blender, keep blending until very smooth. Add artichokes and spinach and just PULSE through. Do not fully blend, keep some chunky texture! Transfer to an oven-proof baking dish, and bake for 17-20 minutes.

Remove and say ‘ahhhh’.

Assembling your Calzones:

Make Pizza Dough. While the dough is rising, prepare and bake Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Filling/Dip.

When dough is complete, divide in half evenly. Rolling out only half of it at a time, be sure to flour the surface so the dough doesn't stick.

I cut mine with a knife, on a smooth surface (my cutting board), into four equal parts. Spread with marinara (or pizza sauce); about 2-3 tablespoons of sauce for each calzone. I use Prego brand; use your favorite, or home-made. Keep the sauce toward the center of the crust. You want dry edges so that they will fold and pinch together to seal the pockets/calzones.

Then, put about 3-4 tablespoons (you can experiment with different amounts, to find what works for you) of pre-baked spinach artichoke filling on each calzone, again keeping it toward the center so that you have dry edges.

At this point, I would recommend adding in extra vegetables on top of the filling for the veg loving people in your life!

Some VEG Toppings that I think would work well:

* Sauteed, sliced mushrooms
* Sauteed, thinly sliced red onions
* Sauteed, thinly sliced red bell peppers
* Samuel loves black Olives, chopped or sliced
* Essie loves black beans in her pizza
* Roasted Green Chile...maybe? Sprinkled on top?
* Additional steamed, or sauteed, chopped spinach

Fold each Calzone in half, bringing the two, straight matching edges together. Then fold the matched edges; the bottom edge over the top edge, pinching the edges together at the same time, kind of how you would seal a double pie crust.

Just a tip: pinch really hard. That way it stays together. It's actually okay if it splits open a bit during cooking.

After the pocket is sealed, press gently down on the filling so that it fills up all spaces inside the pocket; evenly distributing the filling for savory, cheesy goodness in every bite.

With a spatula, and your hands, carefully transfer the folded, sealed calzones to a lightly oiled or nonstick baking sheet. You could probably also use parchment paper as a nonstick surface.

Repeat with the other half of the pizza dough.

Bake in a 500 degree pre-heated oven, for 12-15 minutes, or until golden in color. Remove from oven, and optionally brush the tops with nondairy butter. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

SERVE, WITH A SIDE OF extra MARINARA SAUCE FOR DIPPING/DUNKING!