Sunday, September 30, 2012

Easy & Healthy Lentil Soup Recipe

I used this recipe when I attended my first Engine 2 Potluck at Rip Esselstyn's house in Austin, Texas. That was a crazy busy week and I needed something quick and easy to toss together. I looked around and found a really easy soup and headed over to Whole Foods to purchase the ingredients that I needed. The potluck was a success, and I made a double batch of soup that week with plenty to share. Below I have halved the recipe and slightly modified the ingredients since mine yielded a bit too much, even for a family of four.

Lentil Soup
yields 8 bowls of soup

2 bay leaves
6 cups of vegetable stock or water
2 cups lentils, rinsed
1 yellow onion, diced
2 potatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, diced
4 carrots, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Add water or vegetable broth in a large pot to boil over high heat and add bay leaves.
2. Cut onions, potatoes, garlic, carrots and celery.
3. Toss cut veggies with basil and parsley in a large bowl.
4. Add lentil and seasoned veggies to the large pot of boiling broth or water.
5. Reduce to low heat and simmer for an hour. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vegan Book Review: Chef AJ's Unprocessed

Even though I'm in my mid-20s, I am still learning my way around my kitchen. When I started my plant-based journey, I gathered up all of the books, documentaries and research that I could find to educate myself on my new lifestyle. One of the books Dr. Linda Carney recommended was Chef AJ's Unprocessed. Since then it was on my must-read list and I was delighted to be contacted by Chef AJ personally to review the copy she sent me.

Upon reading her life story and what drew her to a plant-based lifestyle, I immediately felt connected to the information she presented. I've been researching the benefits of plant-based diets for months, but Chef AJ brought some new perspectives to the subject that I hadn't previously considered before. While we all have different inspirations and journeys that bring us to this lifestyle, I feel that her proposed method of implementing these changes will resonate with many people! 

The book is broken into two main acts: part one, which details Chef AJ's own journey, why readers should eat unprocessed and how to follow-through, and part two, which includes 100 easy and nutritious plant-based recipes. The insight into Chef AJ's life provides a sense of hope and encouragement that I admire. She is open and honest about her journey which gives the reader a sense of motivation to take charge of their own health. 

The first act of the book features a down-to-earth approach to going plant-based, avoiding processed foods, taking charge of your health, a comparison of processed and unprocessed foods and how to transition. The second act is broken into eight categories of recipes, including desserts, appetizers, beverages, entrees, salads and dressings, soups, sides and truffles. 

I've bookmarked many recipes (Perfect Pesto Stuffed Mushrooms, Sweet Potato and Blue Corn Enchiladas and Easy, Cheesy, Peasies to name a few!) and I can't wait to try them out. This book has motivated my husband and I to cut sugars out of our diets and incorporate even more variety of plant-based foods. 

Check back for an exclusive interview with Chef AJ, which will be posted soon! For more information on Chef AJ or Unprocessed, please check out her site.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Food Trailer Review: Conscious Cravings

I'm fortunate to live in the culturally, ethnically and tastefully diverse city of Austin, Texas. Being a vegan here is so easy, not only because I have access to some great resources such as a Whole Foods and a weekend Farmer's Market, but also because there are several vegan eateries around town. I've been taking some long lunches lately to visit some new vegan places, and I recently have tried the Conscious Cravings food truck.

I'm addicted to portabella mushrooms and luckily, they have The Bella wrap that was perfectly designed with me in mind (or so it seems)! The wrap includes onions and olives with a vegan herbed mayo dressing and a touch of Daiya cheese. I was in heaven. The wrap is huge and it is paired well with a Mango Healthy Quencher. Since I've discovered them less than two months ago, I've visited them more than just a few times. My husband is a fan of their Spicy Chickpea Wrap and doesn't need much convincing to head on over with me when I have a craving.

Their menu includes eight different wraps starting at only $5 each, three salads and two healthy quenchers to choose from and more. There are three different locations around town and I've already visited two. Check them out if you're in the Austin area and looking to support a great local food truck! I highly recommend them and can't wait to visit again.

Conscious Cravings (Trailer) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Results for Vegan Diet to Improve Bloodwork

I've recently received my results from my third set of bloodwork tests in the last two years. My only regret when I started this lifestyle change was that I did not draw blood for all of these tests to see where I actually started. So, how did I do? Well, my liver is no longer in any danger, and is in fact well beyond optimal. Check out my numbers below and see how a vegan diet can help lower all of your bloodwork numbers!

Date Sugar Cholesterol HDL "Good" Cholesterol LDL "Bad" Cholesterol Triglicerides ALT Liver Function
1/6/2011 98 219 57 142 102 89
6/5/2012 94 140 40 84 80 25
9/14/2012 83 140 44 78 91 17
TOTAL -15 -79 -13 -64 -11 -72

I'd like to point out that I was concerned with my first set of numbers but set aside all worry and ate terribly for another 13 months before making my lifestyle change. The one number that worried me in January 2011 was my ALT Liver Function. Normal range is 11-43 and mine was a horrendous 89. There has been a huge improvement since then and I consider myself lucky that I made this change before it was too late. 

My cholesterol dropped by nearly 80 points, which is quite an accomplishment. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn considers a cholesterol under 150 as "heart-attack proof". There was also an improvement in my LDL "Bad" Cholesterol, with a total drop of 64 points. Overall, I'm pleased with my results not only physically, but obviously internally, as well. These numbers gave me even more confidence in what I'm doing and I hope that you all can see that it is possible to restore your health with a plant-based diet. 

What started as a motivation after stepping on the scale has ended with a satisfaction of lowering numbers and reaping the benefits. I've lost over 27 lbs., successfully corrected my cholesterol levels and reversed any further damage to my liver. I hope to serve as an inspiration for others and want anyone else to know that being young does not mean that you are bullet proof. Even in my mid-20s, I never expected to encounter such scary results in the beginning.

I am thankful to have found the invaluable information presented in Forks Over Knives to open my eyes to the dangers of eating the way that I used to. Thanks to Dr. Linda Carney for her guidance and support during my change and to all of the support I have received from my family, friends and coworkers.

Looking to go vegan? Check out these related posts below!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Celebrating My Veganniversary With a Tattoo

After my first tattoo, I swore off ever having another. The pain was horrendous and I'm a big baby with a low tolerance. My first tattoo was a k&k that I had designed myself and been mulling over for months. Should I or shouldn't I? Many people were against the idea since the K's stood for Kelsey & Kendan (my husband). One problem: we weren't even engaged at the time. We had been together for nearly five years at that point, and living together for three. He proposed a month later and we are about to celebrate our second wedding anniversary next month.

When I made my lifestyle change and actually stuck with it (yay!), I knew I wanted to find a way to celebrate my results and accomplishments. It had been long enough that I had nearly forgotten how painful a tattoo was and I had been thinking about getting an another. I didn't want to tattoo the word "vegan" anywhere on me, but I did want a permanent reminder of my journey.

This transition has been long and tough, but I knew it was for the best. I started to think about herbivores that would really encompass all of this. I loved Happy Herbivore's "Herbie" tattoo and considered an elephant. This was a large animal that was strong and plant-powered. Not only did this symbolize my lifestyle change, but I had also grown as a person in the last year, as well. During the last seven months I nailed down some dreams and aspirations as I took charge of my health.

I called and booked my appointment around my sixth month veganniversary. I settled on an elephant and the artist, Royce at Southside Tattoos in Austin did a beautiful job on the design. This time around, I was calm and slightly nervous, and yes it hurt. I welcomed the sting of the tattoo gun and knew I had made many right decisions over the last year. I'm pleased with this new tattoo and am open to another in the future!

Looking to go vegan? Check out these related posts below!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Top 5 Reactions to "I'm vegan!"

The last thing you expect when you take charge of your own health and take the path of a plant-based journey is to receive harsh criticism. I know I've mentioned in passing that I've had to deal with some negativity and other reactions, but I haven't fully explained this phenomenon. Here are some of the things that I have encountered when people discovered I had gone plant-based.

1. "You're taking this too seriously." Yes, I now take my health more seriously than ever before. Here's why: my grandma was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a decade ago and my mom received the same diagnosis in January 2012. See the pattern? I'm trying to break it. I thought by being young, I was essentially bullet-proof. The real story: my health had been on the decline since college. Now, my health has significantly improved and I'm nearly at "optimal" levels for all of my bloodwork, which is impressive compared to my results in January 2011.

2. "Where will you get your protein?"I've answered this question already in another post, but I'd like to take this moment and ask anyone who's thinking that, "Why do you think I need meat to obtain my protein?" I don't remember hearing this information ever in my life, but there are many other foods that provide the right amount of protein. Too much animal-based protein in a diet can actually contribute to severe problems like osteoporosis, cancer, impaired kidney function and heart disease.

3. "I'll have to eat enough meat for you and I both!" I was shocked when people said this, albeit jokingly. The reasons why I have cut animal products out of my life can easily be explained in the Forks Over Knives documentary, which is on my blog to watch for free. If you're feeling blah and don't know why, consider checking out the documentary and see what it's all about. Whatever you do, don't double up on your meat intake just because of me!

4. "[Insert illness or health-related problem] runs in my family!" I understand the link between genes and illnesses, but I also have researched and discovered the benefits of a plant-based diet in relation to illnesses—both as a means to prevent and reverse problems. When my mom called and told me that she had type 2 diabetes, I selfishly thought, "Well, I must be next. It's inevitable!" as I tossed my hands into the air. However, one month later at a fateful appointment, my weight inspired me to take action, and since February 2012, my health has reflected my change in numerous ways.

5. "This is dangerous for your health!" I pretty much started to freak out when people told me that what I was doing was dangerous. What did I do about it? I promptly found a plant-based doctor and remembered that I was eating nothing but fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds—healthy food. No one thought it was dangerous when I ate myself into this mess through fast-food drive-thrus, unhealthy eating habits and a general disconnect with my health.

I really don't want to come out of this post as seeming negative, but when you're battling cravings, reversing 20+ years of eating habits and trying to hold it all together while people that are close to you are not being supportive, well it just sucks! So that's what this blog is about. I'm here to support YOU in YOUR journey! It's inevitable to run into these responses early on, but once people start to see your results, they will start to ask questions and will want to learn more. Be patient and be kind—these people care for you. Don't let it affect your progress. Your health is too important!

Looking to go vegan? Check out these related posts below!

Friday, September 14, 2012

5 Tips for Eating a Plant-Based Diet (Anywhere!)

I'm lucky to call the super vegan-friendly city of Austin, Texas my home. I wasn't born here (and I only became a vegan in February 2012), but my transition was smooth in a town of this size and with so many options. I consider myself lucky to have vast resources everywhere I turn, but that doesn't mean that being plant-based is only possible in a large town!

Here are five tips for transitioning to a plant-based diet in a small town (or anywhere else!):

1. Don't rule out frozen foods. Skip the frozen TV dinners, but be sure to check out the grocery store's variety of frozen fruits and vegetables! Frozen veggies and fruits are believed to have more nutrients that even fresh produce. Why? They are frozen at the peak of harvest to preserve these nutrients rather than sitting on a truck for days to reach your store and then sitting a while longer waiting for you to purchase them.

2. Buy local when possible. When people think local and organic, they instantly believe it means more money. In some cases, depending on what you're buying, that may be partially true. However, I take comfort in knowing that the food I purchase there has been freshly plucked from the fields before the sun came up that morning. Even in my hometown of Wharton, Texas they have a farmer's market one day a week. Support your local farmers by visiting them at the market and you'll be more at ease once you've built that relationship.

3. Have the staples ready to go. When I went plant-based, I tried to make sure that I always had something quick to toss together. Especially in the last couple of months, I've been super busy balancing several projects and it's great to know I always have a dish I can whip up easily. Here are some staples we keep around our house: brown rice, lentils, beans (canned and dry), frozen stir-fry veggies, frozen mixed veggies, frozen whole wheat tortillas and a variety of frozen fruits. I can quickly make a stir-fry, veggie tacos, soups and even fruit ice cream or a smoothie for dessert.

4. Buy in season and be creative. I know this one sounds like a no-brainer, but I have two confessions to make: I started out my lifestyle change as a terrible cook in February 2012 and I remember standing in the produce section feeling completely clueless. My first few meals were not super creative (veggie tacos!) but over time, I learned to buy what's in season not only for cost, but for quality. When I'm cooking, I just start tossing in vegetables and experimenting with spices. For some ideas, check out my pinterest board full of plant-based recipes! Or, check out my recipes here.

5. Don't be discouraged—by anyone. Even in the big ole' town of Austin, I received at least a little teasing from people I knew. In a small town, I have found this to be especially painful. My family and friends were not super supportive with my decision to go plant-based. Among many of their concerns were my need for protein, the thought that I would be deficient in nutrients and that this lifestyle was dangerous for me. What did I do? Studied many hours of research, watched several documentaries, surrounded myself with a support system and found a plant-based doctor. You're in charge of your own health, and no one else will suffer the repercussions (or extreme benefits) of your diet other than you. You'll also be inspiring others without even knowing it! If you need any support, give me a shout.

Looking to go vegan? Check out these related posts below!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DIY Dry Erase Weekly Meal Planner

After a few weeks of unorganized cooking in the kitchen, I realized that I needed a different strategy. I'm usually pretty good at organizing my life, but for some reason, I could not plan in advance for my vegan meals. I was adjusting to cooking way more at home, and was usually just tossing some veggies in a pan for a stir-fry. The idea of having an idea of what meals I would make a week in advance was appealing.

I was browsing Pinterest one night and stumbled upon a really quick and easy project for a meal planner. This could be used to track your family's schedule or even notes to remember for the week. This can be an effective way to make sure you're using up any perishable food, as well! I soon found myself in the picture frame aisle at my local craft store and also picked up a few sheets of colorful scrapbook paper to finish off the project.

DIY Dry Erase Weekly Meal Planner

One collage of picture frames
3 sheets of scrapbook paper
dry erase marker

1. Remove the stock images inside each frame.
2. Trace the glass or back of the frame onto the scrapbook paper for sizing.
3. Cut the scrapbook paper and insert into each frame.
4. Write down anything you wish with your marker!
5. Erase at the end of each week and repeat.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Plant-Based Physician: Dr. Linda Carney

Dr. Linda Carney has been a great influence in my current lifestyle. I originally began my journey to veganism with the Engine 2 Diet and was stunned to find a plant-based physician who was so close to my home in Austin, Texas. I immediately booked an appointment to see her and she visited with me in depth for nearly 45 minutes.

During that initial appointment, she answered any questions I had, asked if I had any concerns about my current diet and spent the time to show me a few great resources that she has available to her patients. This includes a treadmill on-site, a large DVD collection of information nutritional information and several different copies of great books on plant-based research.

Once I had my bloodwork results back, she sat with me again for another 30 or so minutes to discuss all of my numbers, how we can improve them and asked if I was struggling with anything (as far as cravings go!). After addressing a few of my questions, I was happy to hear her enthusiasm and excitement over my progress I had made under her care.

Dr. Linda Carney is a true dedicated doctor that only wants you to be the healthiest you can possibly be. She is a great supporter in reaching whatever goals you may have and can truly inspire and encourage you to reach those goals the right way. I've recommended her to several close friends and even family.

Looking to go vegan? Check out these related posts below!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant

My coworkers have been amazing during my transition into veganism. When they hear of my journey, they often are interested in going out to lunch to some pretty awesome places that I wouldn't have found without their suggestions or help. I've discovered so many vegan dishes and restaurants by word of mouth, and it's been fun to try out new places.

When my fellow coworker suggested Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant in Austin, Texas, I was thrilled. I've never tasted anything worldly, only the traditional offerings in Texas. After checking out their website, it was obvious that they had some vegan options (although they are labeled as "vegetarian" in the menu). I can't say with 100% certainty that it was absent of all animal products, as one dish tasted buttery (but that may be because I've never ever tasted Ethiopian food before).

Regardless, we headed over during our lunch break and ordered the buffet for $9.99. There were several dishes to choose from, including collard greens, lentils and eggplant. Of course it's not easy to describe tastes through words, but I will say that everything was deliciously spiced. I've never tasted something like this before—spicy dishes and mild alike all flavored with ginger, unlisted spices and a "special Ethiopian seasoning". I can only guess all the spices, but they created a beautiful symphony with the food.

I highly suggest checking out Ethiopian food if you have a restaurant near you. I am lucky to live in such a diverse city with many options out there for dining on exquisite cuisine. You'll be surprised by the spices and you'll be making another trip before you know it.

Aster's Ethiopian on Urbanspoon
Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant on Foodio54

Monday, September 3, 2012

DIY Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

I've been trying to find ways to be more eco-friendly around the house. This goal has resulted in some small changes with a big impact. For example, I noticed I was going through way too many paper towels in the kitchen. A spill on the counter usually had me reaching for a paper towel. Did I mention I am a messy cook? I blame it on my novice skills in the kitchen, but I knew I was going through too many.

In an effort to lighten my carbon footprint (besides going vegan, which is also super eco-friendly!), I switched to Method hand soap and dish soap, made my own batch of laundry detergent and even starting using washcloths to wipe up spills before tossing them into the laundry.

While washing dishes one day soon after, I realized my dishwasher detergent bottle was almost empty and hopped on to the good ole' internet to find an eco-friendly alternative that I could make myself. I quickly found one and was delighted at how easy it was to make. Luckily, I had the ingredients on hand since I had recently made my own laundry detergent. Add a few drops of essential oil to give an awesome scent. I used lemongrass and it smells like candy every time I do dishes!

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
yields 64 loads of dishes

2 cups 20 Mule Borax
2 cups Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
6 drops of an essential oil (optional)

1. Place contents into a storage container and blend well with wooden spoon.
2. Use 1 tbsp. or a per load of dishes. (Pro tip: I use half of a shot glass!)
3. Enjoy clean dishes.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Baked Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes

Early on in my journey, I watched the Engine 2 Diet Kitchen Rescue which features Rip Esselstyn helping out two families as they transition to a plant-strong lifestyle. There are several awesome recipes that are in the movie, but one caught my eye: the roasted potatoes. It sounds so simple, right? I like simple—I was not an amazing cook at first and I didn't want to complicate things!

I soon bought a bag of baby Dutch yellow potatoes and made up my own recipe. Since I cut out oils from my diet, there was no reason to slather on olive oil as I might have before my lifestyle change. Instead, I went ahead and used vegetable broth to toss these potatoes with the seasonings. The results were fabulous. Did I mention that this is super easy and takes less than 10 minutes to prep? If I'm ever stuck on what to make for a side dish one night, this is an easy fix.

Baked Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes
Yields 6 cups

1/2 of small bag of baby Dutch yellow potatoes
1/2 cup vegetable broth to toss, plus 1/4 cup after baked
1tsp. Italian seasoning

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cut potatoes into bite-size pieces.
2. Combine all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and gently toss the potatoes until covered completely in seasoning.
3. Bake the seasoned potatoes for 20 minutes, turning the pieces over after ten minutes.
4. Place the baked potatoes into a ceramic dish, add the 1/4 cup of vegetable broth and return to oven for another 5 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.