Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ways to sneak extra nutrition into your diet

If you read any magazine or newspaper today you are likely to come across the idea of "superfoods", i.e. foods so nutritious that their addition will suddenly improve your entire diet, even if you eat McDonald's for the other meals of your day. It seems like new lists are coming out every day but the vegan lists typically include vegetables, fruits, a source of omega 3's and a specific whole grain.

I am not sure that I buy into the whole idea that you must eat these exact foods (in prescribed "doses") daily or else your arm will fall off but I do believe that little changes in your eating habits can reap big nutritional rewards. Based on this idea I am always looking for little nutritional tweaks to improve my meals and increase my actual nourishment from many of my favorite foods. Here are a few easy "tweaks".

  • Oatmeal: This is one of the healthiest breakfasts you can eat IF you don't pack it full of sugar... So skip the liberal doses of sugar and go for a bowl of traditional (PLAIN) oatmeal jazzed up with really fresh fruit, some walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you must have some sweetner opt for a less processed natural sweetener like maple syrup or agave syrup and then use it sparingly! I have found that when I use truly fresh fruit (think like nearly brown bananas) I don't need sugar at all. Besides helping to drastically cutting back on processed sugar, the fruit provides additional fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. The walnuts also provide Omega 3's and more antioxidants than even blueberries.

  • Toast: A breakfast staple, make sure that it is whole grain. I mean truly whole grain. The first ingredient should be "Whole wheat (or spelt or rye....) flour" anything else (enriched wheat flour etc...) and it isn't any better for you than a muffin that has been tinted brown. Next top it with something that ups your nutritional content like a natural (non-hydrogenated) peanut butter, hummus or even smashed avocados. While these savory toppings may have a nearly as many calories as your vegan margarine, they also provide fiber, healthy fats, protein and lots of other good things!

  • Smoothie: A good homemade smoothie can be a great breakfast. Some fruit, some water and a blender and you are good to go. To increase the goodness consider making it a green smoothie by adding spinach or collard leaves or throwing in a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, a valuable source of Omega 3 fatty acids!

  • Coffee: I love coffee as much as nearly anyone... To improve my morning cup of joe, I always have it lightened with a little fortified soy milk. By choosing my coffee this way, I am making sure that I am getting extra vitamins and minerals (especially the much needed B12!!!) as well as a little protein boost in the morning, which can help me feel full until lunch.

  • Sandwiches: Always make them on whole grain bread! Also I tend to eat a salad on top of my sandwhich. This is one of the few things that I think subway got right... A sandwich is great with red peppers, cucumber and even thin carrot slices in addition to that lettuce.

  • Pastas: If possible, I substitute whole grain pasta. Also you can sneak baby spinach in while the pasta is draining. The heat from the pasta wilts it a bit before you add the sauce and you hardly notice it... but your body WILL notice the nutritional kick!

  • Soups & Salads: These are my best frieds at lunch! I always overload them with fresh veggies and then fill up!

  • Dessert: If you want something sweet during the day, go for fruit. It is both delicious and nutritious! Many varieties such as persimmons, clementines and bananas are naturally sweet and can satisfy any sweet tooth!

  • Snack time: Eat a small handful (like 1/8 cup) of raisins or nuts. Although these foods are higher in calories they also provide helthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals!

How do you sneak extra nutrition into your diet?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some food porn for you....

Just thought I'd share my lunch with you: Vegetable risotto (mushrooms, carrots, pumpkin and spinach) from the Vegetarian Time's Thanksgiving Cookbook. Yum!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Organic Ziti+Wedding Sauce+Tofu Ricotta=Yum

Tonight for dinner we finally finished the "wedding sauce"!

To explain: My husband and I got married in 2008 and had our reception catered by a local Italian Market. We goofed and ordered too much food so we we had to figure out what to do with it. Much of it was donated, returned if possible, or sent home with friends but we were particularly fond of the sauce which came in these HUGE restaurant sized cans. I believe we had around 24 cans leftover....

Tonight we used the last can. I am not sure if I should celebrate the achievement or mourn the loss. At least it went to a good cause: Baked Ziti.

I used to love going to the mall food court as a child only because it meant I could order Baked Ziti from Sabarro's. (If you have never been to one, don't worry you are not missing out...) As a kid baked ziti was something that was both foreign and fun to me. It was like Mac & Cheese and Spaghetti with sauce combined. What kid doesn't like those things? And for whatever reason, I was convinced I could only get it at the mall food court. Go figure.

Now as a much more logical adult, I realize I can get it here in my own kitchen. Where not only will it be vegan, but much tastier. The sauce as you know was the "wedding sauce" which we can never get again.... (probably I am being a little too dramatic about this). The cheese is detailed below. And believe it or not, Whole Foods actually had a reasonably priced line of organic pasta!

Once I had all of the components assembled I just popped it in the oven and watched public TV's salute to Luciano Pavarotti. Very Italian indeed!

Cheese Sauce for the Baked Ziti
  • 2 TBS margarine
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • red pepper flakes
  • black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 2 TBS dried oregano (frankly... they were out of fresh)
  • 1 block silken tofu drained and smooshed
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • vegan cheese (optional... I couldn't find the brands I liked this week so I skipped it)

  1. Melt margarine on low in a saucepan and stir in garlic, basil and both peppers.
  2. When garlic softens, stir in tofu and additional spices, stirring constantly until combined.
  3. Taste mixture and add salt if necessary.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in optional vegan cheese.
  5. Allow to cool prior to using.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

only the best vegan wrap ever...

Today I enjoyed the best lunch I have ever packed for myself. I had a Southwestern Seitan Wrap with chipotle dressing. Can I say DE-LI-CI-OUS!! The fact that it was easy only makes it better. If you have seen one wrap you have seen them all. So instead, here is a picture of the filling:

I chose a whole wheat wrap for "nutrition" and portability, but this would probably be good also with crackers or on toast. (I often find wraps to be of dubious nutritious value... even though they are touted as the healthy alternative to regular bread. Plus it is harder to find vegan ones around here than it is to find vegan bread)

The filling consisted of (this is enough to make two) :

  • lettuce (3-4 leaves)
  • chopped spinach (1/4 cup or so)
  • chicken style seitan (say 3-4 ounces)
  • avocado (to taste... I used about 1/4 cup)
  • scallions
  • chopped bell peppers
  • black beans (say 1/4 cup)
  • corn (another 1/4 cup)
  • chopped tomatoes (1/4 cup)
  • vegan mayonaise (a few tablespoons)
  • the adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers (to taste... I like it spicy)
  • a few squirts lime juice
  • vegan cheese shreds, if desired... (i didn't use these)
I mixed the mayo, chipotle sauce and tomatoes together SEPARATE from the other stuff and then combined them. That way the liquid from the tomatoes helped thin out the dressing a bit.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A vegan on a hike

One of my hobbies is hiking and winter is one of my favorite times to do it too! Despite my recent complaining about the cold, there really is no better time to hike (in my humble opinion) than when the mercury drops.... the world is beautiful, the air is crisp and as you can see above, visibility is for miles!

In addition to what to wear, what gear to pack and making sure you don't forget your rain stuff, hikers need fuel, i.e. food. What should a vegan hiker pack? Typically I focus on hydration, quick energy, and some protein. Here is a list of what has worked well for me:

Water spiked with juice- This is my favorite way to stay hydrated, as well as keep my sugars up throughout a hike. I vary between a 25/75 mix up to a 50/50 mix for more strenuous hikes. My personal favorites are water with grape juice or water with cranberry. The little bit of flavor keeps me sipping and the tiny amount of sugar helps my energy levels.

PB&J on wheat- This is easy to eat, easy to pack and has both protein and sugars. A word of caution, in hot weather the natural peanut butters become unbearably runny. This is a better food for fall or winter.

Hummus with crackers/chips- Another good protein/ carb combo. I learned the hard way to pack the crackers or chips in a fairly sturdy container or they often end up crushed at the bottom of my backpack!

Pre-made veggie burger on wheat- Although I don't love pre-made food, this was an easy (and clean) item to eat while still wearing my gloves on a cold hike. It was cold though, which could be a turn off for some.

Dark Chocolate- I usually throw some in my pack "for emergencies".... but then I have a chocolate emergency near the end of every hike. Seriously though, it doesn't melt that easily and is high in sugar so in a real emergency it could be good to have. Plus who doesn't like a dark chocolate treat after several miles!

GORP or other trail mix- Although I am not a big trail mix person, these have served their purpose on various occasions and are easy to make or buy at store like trader Joe's.

LUNA bars/ LARA bars - Also good to carry in case of an emergency.

Baked tofu- This actually travelled well and was quite tasty. Just make sure to bake it FIRM or else it may crumble.

Fruits and Veggies- In general the more prep work I do the better luck I have with fruits and veggies. For example... Ever tried peeling an orange in 20 degree weather? With gloves? Chop up your fruits and veggies so you can just eat them out of hand. Carrot sticks have always worked, so have apples. Tomatoes seem to always get watery and squashed!

Coffee- The reason I was so smiley in the picture, is that I had just finished coffee out of my trusty Stanley thermos and in 24 degree weather it was steaming hot! Man was everyone else jealous! Get a good Thermos or food jar and you can take coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate to warm yourself up on cold hikes.

Warm soups/chilies- See my note above about a good food jar. You can get portable silverware to go with it at hiking & camping stores. My personal favorite is the bamboo flatware from to-go ware. Bamboo is a very sustainable resource and by buying bamboo you are avoiding the manufacture of more plastics.

A final note of food and waste in the woods. Many hikers are very environmentally conscious these days. It is possible to use lightweight reusable containers (I often take my bento boxes), cloth napkins and bamboo flatware without weighing down your pack. Also remember not to throw your food waste onto the ground. The rule is: If you hike in with it, hike out with it. This includes your banana peel!

For further explanation on why you shouldn't leave your food waste behind and other tips, check out these sites:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nothing beats the cold like a good soup!

I hope it is not as cold where you are, faithful readers as it is here! It seems like the cold is following me. When we left Baltimore, there had just been a blizzard, once we arrived in Connecticut they were having a cold snap (running in 12 degrees?! really??!!) and now that we are back home it is cold and windy again (Now I am running in the 20's with extreme winds...). Luckily I am becoming used to the cold and beginning to develop techniques for handling it better. In addition to clothing tricks (layers, layers, and more layers) and common sense stuff (don't go out with wet hair!), I have discovered just how much I love a good hot soup! In fact nothing seems to warm me up like a good soup.

Luckily vegan soups abound. They are easy, tasty, nutritious and warming. In the few days since our return I have already made two! The oyster mushroom stew was my first attempt at using oyster mushrooms in anything. In fact, I bought them without really being sure what I was going to do with them. Then I found this recipe on the site Let me tell you.... I was not disappointed... this stew was reminiscent of the chowders my mother used to serve in the winters, but without dairy, meat or seafood! It was delicious! The mushrooms were slightly chewy, meaty and with the faint flavor of shellfish (like an oyster or clam) without being overwhelming. The broth was creamy, rich and flavorful as well. As I was eating, it occured to me that I hadn't had a good cream soup in years!

Oyster Mushroom Stew


  • ¼ tbsp. olive oil
  • Small onion, diced
  • Stick of celery, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 3½ cups (28 fl oz, 840 ml) vegetable broth
  • ½ cup (4 oz, 110 g) silken tofu
  • 2 small potatoes, diced
  • 4 large (11 oz, 330 g) oyster mushrooms, diced
  • liberal amounts of red pepper!
  • 3 tbsp. dried parsley


  1. First in a pot of salted water boil the potatoes. Drain and set aside.

  2. In as little olive oil as possible (or to make it truly fat free- use wine) saute the onions celery and garlic.

  3. Once onions are translucent add the oyster mushrooms and saute for a few minutes before adding the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then stir in the potatoes, parsley, red pepper and (if desired) salt.

  4. Return to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer.

  5. In a blender or food processor, puree the tofu until creamy and then stir into pot. Heat through, taste adjust seasoning if necessary and then serve with your favorite little tiny oyster crackers!

This next soup is an Italian favorite that my husband and I love! By turning it into a crock pot recipe, it it now both delicious and simple! If you have never had it, Escarole is a bitter Italian green that looks similar to leaf lettuce.

Erin's Escarole Soup


  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 Stalk celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 can white kidney (canellini) beans
  • 2 small heads of escarole
  • 1 cup white wine
  • water
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bryanna's Homemade Chicken Bouillon Powder
  • Optional: rice, cous cous or small pasta


  1. Peel, wash and dice all veggies and put in crock pot.
  2. Season with Salt, red pepper and pepper.
  3. Add wine and stir well.
  4. Add enough water to cover veggies (be sure to pay attention to how much you add!!) and the corresponding amount of bouillon powder.
  5. Cook on low all day and enjoy.
  6. Optional pasta directions: I like to add the rice or small pasta already cooked so that it doesn't soak up to much broth. If you don't please pay attention to the amount of water you add to be sure you have provided enough!

Note: Since Bryanna's broth powder is so tasty and well seasoned (I always add extra garlic and thyme to mine....) I didn't add any additional spices. If you use a commercial bouillon or vegetable broth this will probably need some additional spices. May I recommend: Parsley, sage and thyme.

Well there you have it: Not one but TWO easy and delicious soups for a cold winter's day!

Friday, January 1, 2010

How's this for a New Year's resolution... Go Vegan in 2010!

Good morning and welcome to 2010! Yes I realize that is is nearly noon and I am saying "good morning" but even vegans can suffer from excessive consumption and New Year's Eve seems like the perfect night to do just that..... until the morning after. Last night was a blast; there was great food, good champagne.... I was in such high spirits I even enjoyed losing two rounds of cards! However this morning I must pay the piper....I am a little sleepy and more than a little slow.

Mornings after aside, did you know that, in general, vegans are one of the more healthy segments of society? In general vegans have healthier BMI's, cholesterol levels and blood pressures. There are many books available by REAL doctors (as opposed to non-accredited internet bloggers such as myself) that show how a low fat vegan diet can prevent or even reverse various ailments such as heart disease or Type II diabetes. For more information about this check out books and websites by Dr. Fuhrman or Dr. Esselstyn.

Speaking from personal experience, I have always been fairly healthy. However, since becoming a vegan my BMI has dropped into a much healthier range (resulting in a gradual drop of 3 pants sizes!), my blood pressure is 90/60 and my cholesterol is equally great. My doctor has been very happy and I have experienced greater energy and health. I honestly can say I feel better than I ever have in the past, including when I was eating a low fat, healthy omnivorous diet.

However, I must stress that when I went vegan I made the decision by myself and was not forced into the decision by a spouse or some pushy website. I took the time to really think it through and be sure of what I was doing. Major dietary changes are an intensely personal decision and should not be made without thought. Don't fool yourself, becoming a vegan will effect those around you even if you never sit down to eat with them. By being a vegan you will cause people to question their own eating habits, which in turn will cause them to question yours. Becoming a vegan was a great and positive decision for me and actually was good for my family too, even though none of them have become vegans. It is my personal belief that it would be a great decision for most people, but only you can decide what is best for you.

If you are considering going vegan, it is not as simple as pushing the meat and dairy off your plate and eating what's left (Does rice, broccoli and a parsley garnish really sound good?). In fact, that is a definite way to not succeed as a vegan. Transitioning to a vegan diet requires some initial support and I have that for you. The Physician's Commitee for Responsible Medicine is right here to hold your hand with their 21-day Vegan kickstart Program.

On their website you can find a meal plan, nutritional support, tips from famous celebrities and even a forum for finding support with other people doing the same journey. If you have ever considered going vegan, go for it! Since this is the new year, there is no better time to make a commitment to a new and healthier you. Good luck on your journey!

(NOTE: I am not a doctor, this information is not designed to cure, diagnose or treat any disease. Please see your doctor before beginning any new medical plans or treatments)