Quinoa Crazy

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Call me crazy but I am currently obsessed with quinoa. I think it has something to do with the fact that in Ecuador, they put quinoa in everything. Yogurt, cake, soups, breads, it’s so versatile, and so healthy. :)

For my first week back in the States, on the processed-free diet, I figured there was no better choice than quinoa. First recipe–stuffed peppers.

This was so easy (and fun) to make. I got to use the new le creuset pan that Michela got me for my birthday, so that in itself was a good enough reason for me to cook.

On to the recipe:

Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 2 large yellow bell peppers
  • 1 cup spinach
  • Garlic, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • celery salt
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare quinoa according to package instructions. While quinoa is cooking, peel and chop your veggies. In a skillet, add olive oil and over medium heat, sautée onions, garlic, and carrots. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the spinach in and cook until wilted.

2. Slice tops off of the peppers and scoop out the seeds.

3. When quinoa is finished, combine the quinoa with the veggies and mix well. Add celery salt to taste.

4. Fill the peppers with the mixture and place them in a baking dish. Add a couple tablespoons of water to coat the bottom of the pan.

5. Bake peppers for 20 minutes with the tops on, or until heated throughout.

I was too hungry to get out my camera, so an iPhone shot will have to do. This doesn’t quite do the dish justice: 

Stay tuned for my next quinoa recipe coming later this week: Quinoa Fried Rice.

Eating out and other dilemmas..

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Lent seems to be going pretty smoothly around here. It’s weird because I thought I would be dying for a piece of cheese, but really I haven’t even thought about it.  Not craving cheese makes me happy because I’m not ready to enter the world of vegan cheese product.  Something about soy cheese kinda weirds me out.

The hardest part has been making sure what I’m eating has not been cooked in an animal product.  When I’m cooking for myself, I know I’m safe because I can see what I’m putting into my foods and I know that butter is not sneaking its way into my stir-fry.  Going out to eat is a whole different animal.

Last weekend, I used one of my “cheat” weekends because I went home to see my family.  I stuck to my Lent rules by packing dinner for the drive home to avoid fast food, and I even said no to my dad’s omelets, which are the best omelets in the world.  The only mystery meal was when we went out for dinner.  We went to a tiny “mom and pop” Lebanese restaurant, which was AMAZING.  Because of the large Catholic Lebanese population, many dishes are vegetarian or can be made vegetarian.  We order Tabbouleh,  Hommos, Baba Ghannouj, Moudardara (lentils and rice with caramelized onions..my fave), and grape leaves.  (My parents and brother ordered some delicious looking meat dishes, which still make my mouth water.) All of these dishes were vegetarian, but who knows if they were vegan or not.  (This meal has inspired me to make a vegan Lebanese meal, which will be coming later).

So this all led me to wonder what kinds of resources are out there for vegans who like to dine out.  Lucky for me, there is an awesome website: VegDC, which provides a listing of vegetarian/vegan restaurants, groceries, bakeries, catering services, and other resources in the DC metro area.  Another consideration that I didn’t think about what Vegan alcohol.  Luckily Melissa, whom you may recall from the juice cleanse, pointed me toward Barnivore.com, which is a search engine to identify Vegan-friendly wines, beers, and liquors.  It’s also easy to use on a mobile device, so now I can rest assured that I am ordering a Vegan-friendly drink when I’m out on the town.

Recipe of the week:  Mango-Ginger Granola

This recipe is adapted from my friend Sara’s granola recipe, and is a sweet and spicy treat for the morning.  It goes very well with vanilla almond milk.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup vegetable/canola oil (you can sub this for unsweetened apple sauce for a lower fat version)
  • ¼ cup agave nectar
  • ½ cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • ½ cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ cup dried mango, chopped into little pieces
  • 1/3 cup uncrystalized candied ginger, cut into very little pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, cover baking pan with parchment or a Silpat.

2. Combine the oil, agave nectar, brown sugar, and cinnamon mixing until smooth.

3. Combine oats, nuts, wheat germ, coconut, mango, and ginger in large bowl.  Toss to mix well.  Pour sugar/oil mixture over the oat mixture and stir until well mixed.  Spread onto pan.

4. Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and stir.  Rotate and return to oven to bake for 8-10 minutes more, taking care to not let the granola get too brown.

5. Cool granola in the pans until room temperature.  Stir well to mix.  Store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Enjoy!!

Day 2 – Coffee Dilemma..

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Coffee is something that I drink every day.  Usually, I’ll have about 2-3 cups of coffee at work each morning.  (Don’t worry, we have a half-caff policy at work.)  Along with my love of coffee, is my love of half and half, which unfortunately for me, comes from a cow.

About a week ago, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my morning brew in the same way that I’m used to.  So the search for a substitute for half and half began.  I’ve tried soy milk in the past and have found that it leaves an unpleasant, fuzzy feeling in my mouth.  Luckily, Whole Foods provides several milk/cream alternatives beyond soy.   I settled on “So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer” in the French Vanilla flavor.  At first, I thought it had a funky floral after-taste, but I must have gotten used to it, because I kind of enjoy it now.  Aside from adding it to my coffee, I’ve even started adding a splash into my morning oatmeal for an added kick.  (Wild, right?)

Over all, I give it a 6.5.  I’m going to keep my eyes out for new creamers, but will most likely go back to this baby.

In addition to the So Delicious creamer, I also tried a vegan yogurt for dessert.  Amande brand makes yogurt from cultured almondmilk.  Whole Foods had the coconut flavor on sale, so I grabbed one to try.  Not surprisingly, the consistency of this yogurt was as weird as “cultured almondmilk” would imply. It reminded me of what happens when you eat the old school Dannon Fruit-On-The-Bottom yogurt and forget to mix it until you’ve eaten too much of the yogurt.  Hopefully that description resonates with you, (if it doesn’t, think of a cross between too watery, too thick, and too chunky at the same time).   The actual flavor itself wasn’t bad, and I kind of started to like the weird consistency by the end.  Overall, I give it a 5.

For lunches this week, I made a “Super Foods” salad with wheat berries.  I hope you like it! (Please excuse the awful picture!)

Wheat Berry Super Foods Salad

For the Salad:

  • 1 cup of wheat berries, rinsed and soaked in water over night
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup frozen kale (you can also use fresh, steamed kale)
  • 1/2 cup -2/3 cup of mixed dried fruit such as cranberries, blueberries, or cherries
  • 1/2 cup – 2/3 cup of walnuts (I used soynuts, and regretted it.)

For the vinaigrette:

  • juice from 1 blood orange (or regular orange)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (I used an agave/maple syrup blend from Trader Joe’s)
  • 3ish tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Place wheat berries in a sauce pan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 40-50 minutes.  They should still be crunchy and should “pop” when you bite into them.  Drain any excess water.

2. Boil sweet potato cubes for about 7-8 minutes, until tender.  Drain and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, add the frozen kale, wheat berries, sweet potatoes, and dried fruit.  Stir until kale has defrosted.

4. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the vinaigrette.  Mix together thoroughly.

5. Add the vinaigrette to the salad, mixing well.  Add nuts last, then serve!

 

Day 1 – Learning to say no

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I said no to my first dessert today. It was a tricky situation, because I had to do it in Spanish, and in return I received a disappointed look from Edouardo, who seemed a bit offended that I didn’t want the dessert that came included with my 3-course dinner here in Cotacachi, Ecuador.

“No quiero un postre esta noche, gracias.”

I was proud of my ability to say no, and my ability to say no in Spanish—thanks to the Super Learning Spanish classes I’ve been taking all week.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m spending this week in Ecuador (for work technically) for a Travel Writing and Spanish Immersion Expedition. Although I must say it hardly feels like work here. The lifestyle and pace is very laid back compared to the United States. You’re greeted with a smile wherever you go, and no one will ever brush you off or be too busy to help out or answer a question—and they are oh so patient with my broken Spanish.

I couldn’t ask for a better location to kick off my 40 days of non-processed foods. Everything here is fresh, fresh, fresh. From the juices, to the fish, vegetables, grains, and sauces you know that nothing is from a package.


At roughly 7 am each morning, I wake up to a whirring sound, and I know there are dozens of fresh picked berries going straight into the blender. This is probably the only sound that could wake me up, and not make me upset or want to throw something.  I think it’s because I know that before long, a frothy, bright red glass of jugo de mora (blackberry juice, and my favorite) will be on the breakfast table waiting for me.

Just three more days here, to take advantage of the readily available and delicious non-processed foods. I’m hoping it will give me ideas that I can take home with me and carry into my diet for the coming weeks. I’m looking forward to incorporating quinoa into a lot of recipes, since it is such a great source of protein. They even have cake here that is made from quinoa! Who knew you could do that? Although I guess even quinoa cake counts as a dessert…


Time for LENT.

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Ah yes, it’s that time of year again…Lent is upon us.  Whether or not you are practicing Lent for religious reasons, Lent is a perfect time to learn more about yourself through sacrifice, self-discipline, and reflection.      

The past several years, Christina and I have observed Lent through different types of fasting.  Last year, I decided to give up meat as part of Lent, and found that meat was no longer a necessary part of my diet, hence why I continue to be a vegetarian.  I also gave up chocolate, which I found isa necessary part of my diet, thus continue to gorge myself on chocolate on a daily basis.

After giving up chocolate and meat last year, I realized that this year I had to do something to step up my game.  So this year for Lent, I’m going vegan.  This means no animal bi-products, thus no meat, dairy, eggs, or fish for forty days. (Please note: I’m giving myself no more than two “cheat” weekends in case of emergency.)  It’s going to be extremely difficult, but lucky for you all, you get to learn about my journey into the world of all things vegan.  I’ve decided to keep you all updated as I try out new recipes, vegan items, and complain about things like nutritional yeast and egg replacements.  Hopefully it will be a positive learning experience for everyone!   

Christina is also observing Lent this year, and will be giving up processed foods, cheese, and desserts.  She’ll be giving us updates on her progress, as well as her favorite recipes and always beautiful photography.

 This is an extremely difficult feat, which will require a ton of homecooked meals, so we hope you all stay tuned to hear about our experiences.  We will be alternating days so you can get the full scoop on our Lenten festivities. 

No, no. See you in 40 days!

Also, we’d love to get your feedback about what you’re most looking forward to reading during our Lenten blogging.  We would love if you could take 2 seconds to answer the poll below!

The truth behind the juice: Exclusive interview with Melissa Dolan

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Hi Melissa! Congratulations on finishing your first juice cleanse! How do you feel today?

I feel great – the juice cleanse really accomplished my goal of feeling less full / over-fed after the holidays. When I walked in to Organic Avenue this morning, I felt very accomplished and gave the man at the front counter a peace sign as I walked out. I had Chobani yogurt for breakfast and skipped my usual morning coffee that I have now gone four days without. I get really hungry pretty frequently, but I also get really full really fast. At lunch I decided to forgo my usual Coke Zero and had water instead. So far, I have really been making better decisions post-cleanse.

What were you most nervous about when you started the juice cleanse?

I was really nervous about the hours I work and being able to do that without any real food or caffeine. As I mentioned in my blog, I left on average around 11PM each night, so it wasn’t a terrible week (sometimes I work much later). I did find it hard to concentrate at certain times (such as on day one when my stomach hurt and on day two when I was really hungry) but all in all I had enough energy each day.

How did you decide on Organic Ave? Were you happy with the quality of the juices?

I had been going to Organic Avenue for several months before starting the cleanse and love their juices. One of my coworkers did an Organic Avenue cleanse and felt really great afterwards, so I also had that as a point of reference. Also, Organic Avenue is only a few blocks from my work, so I could pick up my juices rather than having them delivered (I don’t have a doorman and the delivery fee is $20 per day, or $100 per day if you live in Greenwich, CT – is anyone else appalled that people up in Greenwich are willing to pay $100 / day in delivery fees?).

I really loved the juices (except Green LOVE, as you all know I hated that one) and miss them now that my cleanse is over. One of my roommates is starting an Organic Avenue cleanse on Sunday and I will likely be jealous of all of her juices. I’m thinking about stopping by O.A. next week to pick up some of my favorites. Actually, our catering was cancelled at work next week, so perhaps I’ll use my meal allowance to buy a delicious juice lunch.

How well did OA communicate with you about what to expect during your cleanse. Did they have any literature or resources for you?

Organic Avenue communicates through email. They sent emails before telling me what to expect and how to prepare, during to communicate the next day’s menu, and after to congratulate me.  The emails were great and contained inspirational messages as well as nutritional information. As I mentioned previously in my blog, I really looked forward to receiving O.A.’s emails each night. The staff at Organic Avenue was also really helpful and would check in with me for about five minutes every day when I went to the store to drop off my bottles and pick up my juices for the day.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the last three days?

There were two – working really late (but I already talked about that one) and resisting the food in the kitchen at work. We have all three meals catered as well as special catering for different meetings occurring in our office. At all three meal times there is a big spread of food in our kitchen as well as goodies like cupcakes left over from meetings throughout the day. We also have giant jars filled with sweet and savory snacks, two refrigerators, and two pantries filled with snacks. As you can see, I am surrounded by good food at work. Generally when I walk into the kitchen to refill my water, I swipe a snack off the counter. So it was a big challenge to resist all that food, especially on day two when I was really hungry.

Did you feel that your friends and co-workers were supportive, or wary?

Everyone was extremely supportive, so thanks! Since so many of my co-workers had done juice cleanses, they were really supportive and would offer tips and advice, as well as ask me how things were going throughout the whole thing. Which brings me to my next point – if you try a juice cleanse, don’t be one of those people that hides the cooler at your desk and doesn’t tell anyone about your cleanse. I put all of my juices in our main fridge and would sit and talk with people while I had my first juice during breakfast time. However, if your office is like mine and loves food, do put your name on your juices, or someone will swipe one. My friends and family were also very supportive – even more so because of this blog!

Did you notice a big change in your energy levels/the way you felt during the 3 days?

I was definitely very in tune with my energy levels since I was working so much. I felt a bit of a lag the second day and wanted a caffeinated drink pretty bad, but overall I had a decent amount of energy. Low points were late afternoon on day two as well as my one mile run on day two. I can generally run a mile without thinking twice about it, but I definitely felt tired and ran a bit slower when I ran on the cleanse. As a side note, Organic Avenue does not recommend heavy exercise, but being a pretty intense person, I ignored that. O.A. recommends light stretching and yoga (not thermal) followed by a relaxed session in a steam room. Oh well.

By day three and when I woke up following the cleanse, I felt awesome. My cleanse definitely got rid of the sluggish and overly full feeling I had after the holidays.

Do you think you’ll do another cleanse in the future? If so, will you choose OA again?

Quite honestly, probably not. I was contemplating doing another one before I spend a week in a bikini on a yacht in Greece this summer, but I really struggled eating normal foods again / drinking after the cleanse. Christina and I are finishing this interview up on Monday given I had to switch my attention to work on Friday right up until my pasta dinner, and let me tell you, the weekend did not go well. First of all, I couldn’t eat a lot. This is to be expected, but when I am in Greece, I want plenty of room for lamb gyros and stuffed grape leaves. Second, I haven’t been as hungover as I was on Sunday in years. The four years in college I spent conditioning my stomach to handle a hefty intake of alcohol went out the window with this juice cleanse. Lesson learned: do not do a juice cleanse and then have 3 margaritas two days later.

What advice would you give to someone interested in doing a cleanse whose not sure they could handle it?

If this food lover can handle it, you can too. Beyond that, really research the juices and get recommendations from other people. I knew I would be able to handle Organic Avenue’s cleanse because I had already had their juices and knew I really enjoyed them. The other piece of advice I gave my roommate (who didn’t exactly follow it to a T) was don’t drink alcohol the night before you start a cleanse. Everyone knows grease is the only thing that cures hangovers, and juices don’t contain grease.

Do you think this has changed the way you feel about eating/your feelings towards food?

Well, I still love food, but I have found in the few days since that I have been hesitant to make completely terrible food choices. I had my morning coffee today (Monday), but I skipped my afternoon Coke Zero. I definitely think I am on track to making healthier choices.

What are you most excited to eat today?

My pasta dinner with my roommates! As an after note, I followed that pasta dinner up with a Pop Tart, which I haven’t had since my srat house days.

Philly Cheesesteak and Pasta Dreams: Day 3 of the Juice Cleanse

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Day Three

My roommate and I always joke about how we gain weight in the winter because we eat more in order to insulate ourselves from the cold. Phrases such as ‘I need this Philly cheesesteak because I’m colddddd’ can often be heard in our apartment. Laura – it’s not a joke. Food really does keep you warm. I have been absolutely freezing for the past two days and today is no exception.

I think this will be my biggest challenge today. I don’t feel hungry, I just feel like an ice cube. Even though the weather in NYC is unseasonably warm (I think it was 50-something on Tuesday), I am wearing my winter coat around the office and sitting on my hands until I absolutely have to take them out to type. I also have my heat in my room eight degrees warmer than usual, which is a lot for gas heat. So, don’t think you are kidding yourself when you start packing on the pounds in the winter months – I envy you right now if you are eating soup, or for that matter, a cheesesteak.

Anyways, today I woke up excited for my last day on the cleanse. My menu today includes wheatgrass, which is a true throwback to my Colorado days when I would stop daily at Wild Oats (which I think was bought out by Whole Foods or some other giant chain and is now corrupted and no longer a local health food store) for a wheatgrass shot. This habit continued through my high school years until I got to college and realized that if you take a wheatgrass shot after drinking copious amounts of alcohol the night before, you WILL barf. I am feeling a lot of support from all of the people around me, so I’m excited to finish my cleanse out strong.

Today a man on the subway saw my bright orange Organic Avenue bag and approached me to chat about his O.A. cleanse. He sheepishly admitted that he immediately returned to his carnivorous lifestyle following his cleanse…little does he know I have been blogging about pasta dinners and cheesesteaks.

I have also told everyone at work about my cleanse, and today as I was putting my juice in the fridge, my coworker asked how my cleanse was going. ‘Today is my last day!’ I exclaimed, but then something odd happened. As I was going to open the fridge, I couldn’t open it despite using two hands and taking an athletic stance. My coworker burst out laughing and said it appeared that I was losing my strength on this cleanse. In reality, our fridge locks for a few seconds after someone closes it, and another coworker had just replaced the milk. Don’t worry, my strength is intact and I feel quite energetic this morning.

Well it is lunch time and since work is a bit slow this morning, I would normally use this time to sit down at lunch for an hour and get second helpings. Today, I am wondering what to do to pass the time. My lunch consists of grapefruit juice, which is fantastic. Farm Share the Love’s own Christina actually got me hooked on grapefruit juice when she bought a juicer senior year of college. In the words of Audrey, I generally believe grapefruit juice > orange juice, but Organic Avenue’s orange juice is so fantastic that it is a tough call today.

It’s 3:02PM and I haven’t felt hungry at all today. I think my stomach has finally adjusted to the lower calorie intake. I will say that I was a little jealous of the dessert platter left over from some meeting in our offices. My coworker stood in my cube while staffing me (if you work in finance, you know that “being staffed” sucks every time) AND simultaneously eating a cookie and a brownie. I thought about yelling at him, but I have also been working on being less caustic in the workplace, in addition to healthy eating.

My admin just lent me her space heater, so the cold problem is finally solved. All in all, today is looking up. I feel really great and have been able to concentrate on work because I’m not starving or freezing. My headache was gone when I woke up and has not returned. My next juice is Green LOVE. This is the last time I have to drink horse drool and then it is downhill from there. I am really looking forward to my cashew hemp mylk tonight because a) it is my favorite juice and b) that means my cleanse is over!

Approximately six people have asked me for gum today, and as many of you know, I love gum and generally have it on hand. I actually had to remove all gum from my cube in advance of this cleanse, because Organic Avenue told me that no gum is allowed on the juice cleanse. I generally chew ~15 pieces per day, so this cleanse is probably a good break for my jaw too. Anyways, I’m annoyed with all six of the aforementioned people.

At 8:37PM I was still waiting on comments from my VP, so I went to the gym for a bit. I ran a mile and biked eight miles and felt pretty good until the end when I was starving. I normally have my last juice at 8PM, but since I had meetings through 6:30PM, I was a juice behind. I cracked open my last and favorite juice, cashew hemp mylk, at 9:45PM and sat down to finish this blog. I’m feeling great and simultaneously looking forward to returning to solid food tomorrow.

Thanks to my awesome VP, I didn’t end up working as late as I thought this week (average departure of 11PM), so I’ll be out of here in 30 minutes. Thank goodness, since the counter in the kitchen here is covered in about 23 of my favorite foods – now you know what I am faced with on a daily basis…Ares is never lacking in delicious food.

My last juice is done and so ends my cleanse. Tomorrow I will start gradually with some Chobani Greek yogurt and build my way up a steep curve to my pasta dinner with my roommates. Organic Avenue recommends only eating vegetables and fruit tomorrow, but I don’t think I’ll stick to that. I took a deep dive into the LOVE Deep cleanse from my former lifestyle, so I think I can handle some good ole’ animal meat on day one. I’m definitely committed to making healthier choices and I think I will go back to old habits such as wheatgrass, but I miss being a carnivore.

If you have been wondering what all the hype surrounding juice cleanses is about, I encourage you to try one. If this food lover can give up food for three days, you can too.

New Juice #1 – Wheatgrass: Wheatgrass is a health miracle and I highly recommend that if you have read this far, try taking wheatgrass on a regular basis. The taste is potent (tangy, fresh cut grass), but I recommend chasing it with a shot of apple juice. You can get wheatgrass at any juice shop, Whole Foods or Jamba Juice. Wheatgrass contains a chlorophyll molecule that is almost identical to the hemoglobin molecule in the blood. Due to the similarity to the human body, wheatgrass can increase the red blood cell count as well as the blood’s capacity to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the body’s cells. Wheatgrass improves blood flow, digestion and general detoxification of the body. As I noted above, DO NOT drink wheatgrass the day after consuming alcohol. I’m no scientist, but something about the way it rapidly detoxifies your body will make you barf. Seriously.

New Juice #2 – Grapefruit Juice: In addition to being delicious, grapefruit produces an alkaline reaction during digestion that reduces the acidity of the digestive system. Like orange juice, my other favorite fruit juice, grapefruit juice is a great source of vitamin C as well as lycopene, phytochemicals, vitamin A, potassium, folate and vitamin B5. A diet high in grapefruit is also known to lower cholesterol. My dad drinks tons of grapefruit juice, perhaps this is why.

**Stay tuned tomorrow for a final interview with Melissa**