Simple Pleasures

Tonight was one of those nights that makes me happy to be alive.

Today was hot, in the mid-nineties. So this evening, when it cooled off, it was the perfect night for a walk. I had some treats for my friend’s dog that I wanted to drop off anyway, and it was the perfect excuse. I like to walk in the evenings, but walking with a purpose is even better.

Not only did I want to deliver the treats, but I found an app that allows me to raise money for my favorite local animal charity while I do it. I highly recommend downloading the app, Walk For a Dog.  It tracks your walking distance and as long as you walk at least once a week, you raise money for your chosen charity. 

Now, let me tell you about my lovely walk:The air smelled like warm eucalyptus trees, gradually cooling from the afternoon sun that was setting behind them. It is such a distinctive smell that reminds me of being a kid, outside on my grandparent’s front porch in the cool of the evening. Pure happiness. 

I smiled a lot tonight. 

The simple pleasure of listening to “Hotel California” fading into the distance as the man in the truck drives past me, windows down. The fat pug, with his hilariously stiff-legged run, barking hoarsely from behind a two foot fence that is more than adequate to keep him behind it.  Stopping to chat with old friends as I pass their house. The street lights that begin to blink on as I approach home. 

I didn’t used to love to walk. In fact, it used to exhaust me and make me achy. Now, I look forward to it. Oh, I still get a little sore from walking.  My back is still recovering from my road trip, and my hips still let me know that I am no longer a teenager, but I am not miserable anymore. 

What a beautiful night. I am so thankful that I am alive. I am so thankful that I am getting well.  

Trial and Error

Trial and Error

Today I am hungry. Actually, no, let me rephrase that. I want food. Hunger is the physical sensation our body gives us when we need nutrition and sustenance. I have those covered. Today I am struggling with the need to eat because it’s cathartic. *sigh*

This journey I am on is full of Trial and Error. Two steps forward, one step back. Whenever I add something back into my diet, I do it slowly and methodically to see how my body reacts. Last week, I decided to add Tempeh (fermented soy) into my diet. Please, don’t lecture! I know soy can be a problem for many and while it’s health benefits are sung by some, it is decried by others. I just wanted to see. 

I made a lucious pot of Minestrone soup and pan seared chunks of Tempeh before adding it into the soup pot. It was delicious. Then, the symptoms began.  So far I have had increased random food cravings, hot flashes, crankiness and tiredness. Basically, it kicked me in the hormones. This sucks. 

I didn’t even put it together. It was my husband.

Him: “You seem a little off today. You ok?”

Me: “No, I feel like crap!”

Him: “What did you eat that was different?”

How I love that man of mine. He can read me like a book. He helped me go back through what we had eaten and helped me put two and two together. It hadn’t even dawned on me. 

Not all my add backs have been failures. Eggplant, corn and red wine vinegar are all fine. I get discouraged, though, when it doesn’t go well. I don’t like these symptoms. Taking a step back in my progress reminds me why I am doing this in the first place. I am so glad I am. 

I am going to share my Minestrone recipe because it really is the most delicious soup. Although I am leaving out the Tempeh. I hope you understand. 

Minestrone – Makes 10-12 servings

(Adapted from “So You Want To Cook Italian” by Rocco J. Constanzo) 

Once again, please excuse my disgusting cook book! What can I say, I cook with enthusiasm, not neatness!

I used water instead of olive oil to sauté the leeks, onions and garlic.  I also used eggplant instead of potatoes because I had one that needed to be used. This is one of those perfect “use everything left over in the fridge” soups that I talked about before. Kidney beans were used in place of the pasta, since I am gluten free.  I used 8 cups of veggie broth (of course) instead of the 4 cups called for so that I could add more veggies and LOTS of spinach.I found that sprinkling the soup with fennel seeds gives it the taste of sausage without the animal products! Also, I added a good handful of fresh chopped basil leaves and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. 
Delicious and satisfying. 

Until next time, my friends. 

The Death of Emotional Eating

IMG_20150829_211749141When I think of emotional eating, I automatically associate it with stress, sadness, frustration or anger. Most often, I think we as a society think of it as burying our negative feelings with food. What I hadn’t put together until just recently is that you can be a happy emotional eater, too! Parties, celebrations, hanging out with friends or loved ones, all these things seem to give us carte blanche to eat how we want because it is “special.”

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I cannot tell you how many times my resolve has crumbled in the past when I am at a party or family gathering and there is cake (or cookies, or NACHOS OR PIZZA OR…wait, I’m getting distracted….)  “Well, maybe just a little” turns into NOM, NOM, NOM, a mindless shoveling of poor choices into my mouth as I laugh and talk. It is almost as if, by not participating in the decadent eating we are somehow rejecting the celebration itself. Not true.

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This is deep rooted in my southern family. We eat to celebrate, we eat to mourn, we eat whenever we gather. It just doesn’t seem proper to have someone over and not bake a cake and serve coffee. Even at church, it seems that is is rare when a gathering doesn’t involve food.

My paradigm shift has just become something I am ok with. I have learned that I can bring my own food, with extra to share of course, whenever I am headed somewhere I know will not have appropriate food choices for me. I am ok with sitting with friends who are eating cookies and sipping sweetened coffee while I merely enjoy the conversation and company.


I will have to reassure whoever I am with, constantly, that I am ok with not having what they are having and it, in fact, makes me happy that they aren’t denying themselves what they want.  It doesn’t make me sad anymore because I know how far my body has come in the last 3 months and I LOVE that my pain is now just occasional nagging aches instead of mind numbing pain.  I love that naps are a delicious occasional indulgence instead of a necessity to make it through the day. I love that I don’t have to say no to people or activities because I have to ration my energy.

So far I have made it through Easter, St. Patrick’s Day (corned beef, mmmmm), Mother’ Day, a handful of Disney visits, the death of two beloved pets, my daughter graduating high school and a road trip, all without succumbing to emotional eating. I have learned that depending on my faith in Jesus instead of empty calories is healing in more ways than one.

I know everyone always says “If I can do it, you can do it,” but seriously, it’s true.

Keep going, don’t give up, you are stronger than you know. ❤️

 

Chop Chop

Chop Chop

By now you have probably realized that being vegan involves a lot of chopping. Yes, you can sometimes buy pre-chopped veggies and fruits, but they are usually not as fresh, and a lot more expensive. I usually buy organic, so the price really skyrockets.  I suppose it is a necessary evil of a truly healthy life style.

I use a lot of chopped veggies in my dishes for flavor, since I try to keep my salt intake to a minimum, but I NEED flavor in my life!

Over Mother’s Day weekend, my sister and I took the kids to visit my Grandma who lives in the Central Valley here in California. I managed to maintain my healthy eating despite the fact that road trips make me crave caramel iced coffee and Doritos. I packed almonds for myself in case I got hungry and we stopped at a sandwich shop where I got a salad with balsamic vinegar for lunch. Not the finest road trip fare but it kept me feeling good, and that is all that matters. 

I will chronicle my saga of making through a visit to Grandma’s house without binging on cookies, coffee and Shrimp Francesca, but another time. For now, I want to tell you about something fun! 

While we were there my grandma introduced me to Zydeco Chop Chop. Zydeco Chop Chop is a blend of Dehydrated Onion, Dehydrated Garlic, Dehydrated Red and Green Bell Pepper, Dehydrated Celery, Dehydrated Green Onion and Dehydrated Parsley flakes. THIS STUFF IS AMAZING!!! 

My grandma insisted we take some home with us, (and by some I mean a ton. You know how grandma’s are! ❤️), since we didn’t have a chance to try it while we were there. This is something I will no longer live without. 

I loved the smell of it when I first opened it up, pungent and savory. It is Cajun, but has nothing spicy in it, so it’s perfect for my spice wimps. It has a nice, coarse consistency so it adds color to the dishes youbadd it to.


The day after we got home, I had to drop my sister off at the airport on my way to work and then put in a full day at the office before heading home.  I didn’t exactly feel like making a big dinner, but darn it, we needed something warm and comforting! I popped open some beans (a can of pintos, a can of garbanzos and a can of lima beans) and, after draining, threw them in a saucepan with a small can of tomato sauce and a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. I added about 3 tablespoons of Chop Chop and a sprinkle of paprika and chili powder and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. I made a pot of brown rice to accompany it and served it with fresh diced tomatoes and guacamole to top it off. My husband loved it  so much he took the leftovers to work to eat later!

Granted, it would have been MUCH better if it had time to simmer and the flavors would have been able to soak into the beans more, but it was the perfect fast and easy dinner for a chilly evening.  Utterly delicious! 

I HIGHLY recommend Zydeco Chop Chop. I can’t wait to add it to my vegan Sour Cream recipe to make a dip. Mmmmm, my mouth is watering!

They are on social media, too. They are a small company, so show them some love!

Fail Level…EPIC!

Fail Level…EPIC!

Oh my goodness, I am still wiping away tears. Not of sadness, though.  Oh no, I was (am) rolling with laughter.

Remember in the beginning I said I would share triumphs as well as failures? Well, here we go…

In my pre-vegan, gluten-filled days, I was an amazing baker.  My cakes were moist, light and delicious.  People would ask me to bake for them, and I would happily oblige. I liked being creative with flavor and trying new things.

Since I have been missing baked goodies, I though I would give this cake a try:

img_3546I wasn’t expecting something too incredible, but I also wasn’t expecting what I got, either.

Since I am gluten free, I went with almond flour instead of wheat flour. I looked it up and Pinterest said to use 1:1 ratio when substituting, so I did.  Yes, I added xantham gum. I mixed my dry ingredients and set aside.

I  blended up the dates, applesauce, banana and pineapple. This unappetizing looking slurry was actually surprisingly delicious.IMG_3533I grated all my fresh vegetables and mixed them in.IMG_3539It was actually starting to look really good! Even a mess is pretty when you cook with rainbow food.IMG_3541I added the dry ingredients and the chopped walnuts and raisins (since I didn’t have currants on hand.)IMG_3543I had decided to half the recipe and go with cupcakes to reduce the baking time.  I used two scoops of batter per cup.IMG_3548My house smelled like chocolate cake while it was baking. It was heavenly.  At the 20 minute mark, I opened the oven and checked them with a toothpick.  They began to deflate one by one! IMG_3552At 25 minutes they were still very wet and continues to hollow out on the middle.  I had begun to giggle. 😁 “Well,” I thought, “I guess I can use the dips in the middle to hold the frosting?”

By the 30 minute mark the tops that had puffed over were getting dry and hard. The middles were still wet and doughy. I called it good and took them out.

IMG_3556Um, no.  Just no. 😂

They actually taste pretty good. I didn’t even bother making the frosting.  This hot mess didn’t need anything else added to it.   I see some tweaking in my future.

Since this was my first gluten free baking experience, any input would be helpful. What do you think I did wrong?

Also, it wasn’t THEIR fault the cupcakes failed, so I thought I would plate one up, just for fun.  Please enjoy this work of art!  😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂IMG_3555My husband suggested maybe a sprig of mint to dress it up. Oh my goodness, I am dying!!!

A losing battle, in the best possible sense.

A losing battle, in the best possible sense.

The beginning is always the hardest.  Breaking old habits, creating new ones, changing mind sets. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Does it still suck? Yep.

The last three months have been rough. I’m not going to sugar coat it…Mmmm, sugar…. In truth, the first two months made me want to quit entirely.  Fatigue, brain fog and mad food cravings all worked against me to make me feel like throwing in the towel.  I may have given up if not for the fact that I really didn’t have a choice.  The pain I was  experiencing was a direct result of what I was  eating and I knew I couldn’t go back. 

For the first month or so my nights were plagued by crazy dreams. In them, I was always binging on something that I wasn’t allowed to have in real life.  Three nights in a row I dreamed I was eating cheese quesadillas. I had more than a few dreams about hamburgers. It was glorious and awful all at the same time! I remember waking up feeling like I had ruined everything, only to realize it was just a dream. It was equal parts hope and despair.

Three months in and my brain fog is finally lifting, my fatigue is gone and my cravings are gone, too.  I actually sniffed pizza the other day and it wasn’t even tempting, just greasy smelling! I am dangerously close to having lost 30 pounds and my pain is almost completely gone. 

The longer I stick with it, the easier it becomes.  Shopping is faster and easier because I am familiar with what I can and can’t eat.  I don’t spend my time pouring over labels anymore.  If it has a label, I usually can’t eat it! Ok, while that might be a slight exaggeration, it’s not that far off!

I still do a lot of experimenting, trying to turn my limited options into taste sensations. I am having moderate success. I am also having fun…usually.  The clean up stinks.

This weekend was wet and chilly, so I cranked up the oven and spent most of it trying out new recipes. Here is my favorite by far: Vegetable Fritters.  Basically, savory chickpea flour pancakes packed with vegetables.

I served them with Vegan Ranch Dip, which is just Vegan Sour Cream mixed with a tablespoon or so of Home Made Ranch Seasoning. (Don’t add the salt called for in the Seasoning, though, leave it out entirely.  The sour cream is salty enough.)

To begin making the fritters, I made my own chickpea flour.  Just pulse dry chickpeas (found with the other dried beans at most markets) in the blender until it is a fine flour.  Make plenty! (I love to use it as “breading” on cauliflower, but that’s another post for another day.)

Season the flour and add the veggies of your choice. My first batch was riced (AKA finely minced) sweet potato and cauliflower, diced yellow squash and fresh parsley.

I added almond milk (instead of water) and mixed gently to form a sticky batter.  I placed on a hot griddle and cooked until golden brown, just a couple of minutes per side.
While that batch was cooking, I whipped up second batch, this time adding chopped red onion and yellow bell pepper in addition to the other ingredients. 


I didn’t oil the griddle, but I didn’t have a problem with sticking.  So long as I waited until they were browned, they flipped nicely.  Rushing them does not make for pretty fritters. 

My family gave them the thumbs up (my son a little less enthusiastically than the rest, but what else do I expect? Haha)

I love that I was able to add a quick, easy and delicious week night meal to my rotation. 

I also wanted to say thank you to those of you who have commented or shared with me about your own inspiring journeys to good health.  You are so encouraging! We all have our own paths, our own choices, our own perfect fit.

So whether you are Vegan, Vegetarian, Paleo, “just trying to get rid of some of the junk” or working up the courage to make a change, you can do it! We are all in this together. ❤️

Warm Custard for a Chilly Day

Warm Custard for a Chilly Day

Ah, Southern California, your fickle spring weather makes me laugh.  A couple of days ago we were in the 90’s and now I’m snuggled up under a blanket, a fire in the fire place, watching last night’s rain drying on the leaves out my window.

I was in the mood for something warm and comforting this morning for breakfast, so I gave a new recipe a try.  Louisiana Bride’s Breakfast Pumpkin Custard.

img_3492-e1494194730625.pngSince it is made with *mostly* legal ingredients, I thought I would give it a shot.

The recipe calls for 4 eggs, but since those are off limits for me, I ground chia seeds in my coffee grinder and made chia flour. I used 1/4 cup (1 Tbsp. for each egg I replaced.) IMG_3478I also used 2 very ripe bananas, 1 can of whole (full fat) coconut milk, 3 Tbsp. almond butter and spices. Since the recipe doesn’t specify quantities,  I used the following:

1/4 tsp. allspice

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

2 tsp. cinnamon

a pinch salt

I placed all the ingredients in my blender and blended until thoroughly mixed.  I poured it in a 9×13 pan…IMG_3486…and topped with pecans.  Then, into the oven it went for 1/2 an hour at 350 degrees.IMG_3490The consistency was light, fluffy and decidedly custard-like.

We sampled it, but even though the ripe bananas added sweetness, it didn’t balance the almost astringent flavor of the pumpkin purée, so I got creative.

I made a date syrup to drizzle over the top.

4 small or 2 large dates

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1-2 Tbsp. water

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1-2 Tbsp. orange juice

Blend all ingredients, adding more water or orange juice until desired consistency and flavor is achieved.  Pour over warm custard.IMG_3491

It was better with the syrup, but for next time, I would add dates and vanilla into the custard itself as well as using  the syrup on top.

I might even up the spices and add a little grated orange zest into the batter.

Still, it was good.  I can’t wait to keep experimenting!