Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spiced Pumpkin Oat Cookies

I've been spoiling my coworkers by bringing in lots of vegan goodies lately. I wanted to try a new recipe out, and another vegan coworker overheard me. She sent me a super easy recipe by The Burlap Bag (a blog and store based here in Austin, as well!). I was so excited to try this recipe out for myself and decided to amp it up with some spices and add-ins. So here's the result!

Spiced Pumpkin Oat Cookies
yields 4 dozen

2 cans of whole pumpkin
2 tsp. cinnamon
dash ground cloves
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. all spice
2/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 bag dairy free chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups rolled oats

1. Preheat oven to 350 and combine pumpkin and spices in a large bowl.
2. Stir in the sugar and chocolate chips.
3. Add in the rolled oats.
4. Drop small round balls of the dough onto a 9x13 with parchment paper.
5. Press down balls with a spoon.
6. Bake for 15 minutes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

DIY Headlight Cleaner: From Grime to Shine

For over a year now, I've been complaining about my "high" beams in my car being my "low" beams and my "low" beams being utterly useless. Try driving down a dark street at night and not be terrified that something with jump out in front your car! I kept putting off using one of the kits that you can buy in the store, and I again complained one night while a friend of mine was in the car.

A few days later, he sent me an instructible on how to fix this problem with three things that I already own. The process was super simple and I was highly skeptical that this would not work. However, I am frugal and I had the tools necessary to try this out.

DIY Headlight Cleaner

one old washcloth
one tube of toothpaste

1. Apply a generous amount of toothpaste to the washcloth.
2. Scrub your headlight completely for a minute.
3. Rinse with water.
4. Repeat until the desired result has been achieved.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cutting the Clutter: Closet Crackdown

I have quite an obsession with giving things away, and after I lost some weight this obsession worsened (for the better). There are often objects all over my house that I look at and begin to ask myself, "Do I really need this?!" If someone else could use it and I haven't in the last six months, then it's time to let it go. My family even says, "You better not donate this!"

 You know that saying, less is more? Apply it to your closet and use my tips below to cut the clutter.

1. Grab a bag and label it as Goodwill. When I was working at my first couple of jobs out of college, my husband and I were making our money stretch. I loved to shop (and still do), but I had a little secret: I shopped at Goodwill and thrift stores. I knew that I would get more bang for my buck there and truly appreciated that this type of store existed. If anything in my home no longer serves a purpose, I bag it up and drop it off at my local Goodwill store. The prices are low, the variety can't be matched in a big box store and everything I donate helps to provide jobs and training for many people in my community. It's a win-win!

2. Pick a night and have a mini fashion show. Yes, I know it takes some time to go through your closet, but it's well worth it to know exactly how everything fits. If you find yourself tugging at a baggy piece of clothing or pulling something down that just isn't long enough, then donate it. You want to keep things that fit you amazingly and not just keep it because you liked it at one time.

3. If you don't love it, toss it. Taking the time to truly evaluate what you love and what you don't anymore is worth the time! There were some items that were just gorgeous on the hanger but then not so much when it came to putting it on. After my weight loss, I really started to get serious about what I loved on the hanger (toss it!) and what I loved on me (keep it!). If something just doesn't resonate with you anymore, it's time to let it go.

4. Pare down large quantities to a few faves. I recently noticed that I owned several pairs of pajama pants. Who needs more than just a couple of pairs? It seemed to be the default gift during the holidays, and while I love comfy clothes, I also love to not cram them into an already full drawer. If the problem in your closet is t-shirts, do the same! Look at each shirt that you're having doubts about and remember that if you don't love it, someone else will.

5. If you bring home three items, donate two. My family used to think I was joking about this. But after all of your hard work, why ruin it by letting it all build up again? The key is to watch what you are bringing in the door and make sure things are leaving it, too. After a trip to Goodwill, I quickly scan my closet for a couple of items that no longer hold a place in my heart. It's simple. If you get into a habit of making a quick sweep of the items you have, you'll avoid another closet crackdown later.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Top 5 Reasons Why I'm A Plant-Based Vegan

As with any journey, mine has slowly evolved into something much more. I began my lifestyle change in February 2012 after I gained nearly 30 lbs. in less than 7 years and a month after my mom finally told me she had Type 2 diabetes (just like my grandma). When people initially asked me why I was doing this, I said for "health reasons", but now it's not so clear cut. Although I have many more reasons why I'm plant-based, here are my top five!

1. I don't want to be diagnosed with diabetes (or any other lifestyle disease). What did I just say?! Yes, lifestyle disease. For years, I almost felt slightly doomed after finding out my grandma had Type 2 diabetes. I really dislike needles and testing my blood sugar multiple times a day was the last thing I wanted to do. When my mom told me she was also diagnosed, that was it! I also had an insanely high cholesterol for a 23 year old. I'm proud to say that because of the changes I have made, I'm no longer in danger with my cholesterol, triglicerides or my liver.

2. I began to make a connection between the food on my plate and the animals I was eating. You know that person who says, "I don't care where my food came from. Please don't talk about it!" Yeah, that was totally me. I really didn't care about considering the animals in all of this. They are here for us to eat, right? I have had to retrain my thought process on much more than just this, but it was all starting to make more sense to me now. I had even picked eggs from the chicken coop we had while growing up. I can now say I have a much deeper respect for animals and understand that they too can feel pain just as our domestic animals can. (Ever accidentally stepped on a dog's tail? Try imagining what the meat on your plate endured.)

3. I spend less time and money at the grocery store. I'm still getting used to stuffing my grocery cart with produce and healthy items, and I usually slightly am scared to wheel my cart to the checkout line. I have no idea why I have this terror (maybe it's from all those people who think eating healthy is expensive!), but I'm always pleasantly surprised when it rings up as much less than I always expect. By avoiding most of the inner aisles in the grocery store and sticking to just the produce, non-dairy milk, whole wheat bread and spice section, I find trips to the store much more enjoyable.

4. My weight was steadily increasing and I needed to take action. When I stepped on the scale in February, I knew something wasn't right. Although I do not believe that skinny equals healthy, I do know that excess weight is usually the first visible sign of a problem. I had gained mine simply by going through too many fast food drive thrus, irresponsible and unhealthy snacking and lack of cooking skills. I was pretty much one of those people who just thought I could eat whatever and it wouldn't stick. Until it did. I'm proud to say after six months of dedication to my plant-based diet the results were astounding.

5. The research supporting a plant-based diet as the healthiest is massive. Critics of plant-based diets can say whatever they want! I did my own little experiment with my heatlh, and found that by following a plant-based diet, my total cholesterol dropped by 80 points. Forks Over Knives inspired me and the continuous research that I conduct on a daily basis has further impacted my view on the subject. I've amassed a large collection of vegan cookbooks, research, documentaries and a little bit of everything else out there on the subject. Check out my plant-based resources here!

If you've recently felt like it's all caught up with you like I did, then maybe it's time to start looking for a better solution. I took this approach and jumped in with both feet. I've never done anything like this in my life ever before, but I've really noticed that I'm feeling like myself now. Before, I was just kind of going along with what I knew and struggled with the idea that nutrition could cause or cure health problems. No matter what your reasons are for choosing or even contemplating this lifestyle choice, be sure to really stand for what you believe in.

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

Where to Begin
Kitchen Overhaul
5 Tips for a Healthy Vegan Diet
Pinterest Plant-Strong Board
Top 5 Reactions to "I'm Vegan"
Protein in a Vegan Diet
5 Tips for Eating a Plant-Based Diet (Anywhere)
Veganism in a Nutshell (video)
5 Things I've Learned Through Veganism
Foods That Kill

Monday, October 22, 2012

DIY Peanut Butter & Seed Bird Feeder

When we were looking for an apartment earlier this year, a stunning view from my balcony was not even on my list. My husband and I lucked out to find a great deal on our apartment on the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, Texas. Our balcony is huge and we are lucky to have a wall of windows and two sliding doors that offer views from the bedroom, kitchen and living room.

I've always enjoyed seeing birds on our balcony and I slowly started adding more bird seed outside to attract a larger variety. I was excited to see more and remembered a little project I had made as I child. I don't remember what we spread the peanut butter on, but this seemed to do the trick! Within a couple of hours, I had about six red birds outside and a few other variety flying around and checking out their new treats. Here's a quick little tutorial below on how to make your own!

DIY Peanut Butter & Seed Bird Feeder

toilet paper rolls
bird seed
peanut butter

1. Cut toilet paper roll down the side if attaching to a rail or leave intact to hang from a branch.
2. Cover with peanut butter.
3. Coat in birdseed.
4. Attach to balcony rail or slip onto a branch.
5. Enjoy the sights and sounds from the variety of birds your new feeder will attract!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Interview with Chef AJ, author of Unprocessed

I recently reviewed Chef AJ's book, Unprocessed, and followed up with her to ask some questions. Her book consists of two parts: a cookbook with 100 recipes and the story of her own journey to veganism. The enthusiasm she exudes is encouraging and the support she provides in the book is amazing. Chef AJ's past experiences have uniquely positioned her to lead others to success by proving that no matter what, anyone is capable of make a lifestyle change.

LRJ: Your story really struck me as inspiring with all that you've been through. I'm a big believer in experiencing certain situations that bring you to a fork in the road. Once you embraced a plant-based diet, how did it affect your life?

Chef AJ: Well, in the area of my physical health, it did not improve until I switched from a junk food vegan diet to an SOS-free (Sugar/Oil/Salt-free) whole food, pant-based diet. But my spiritual and emotional health improved instantly when I stopped consuming dead, decaying rotten animal flesh and their secretions. I never felt it was right, or even necessary, to wear or eat animals and I just felt so much better that no living creature had to suffer or die so I could satisfy my addictions. And meat and dairy are highly addictive.

LRJ: I'm always interested in why people have changed their diets. You and I both made the switch to a plant-based diet for health reasons. You also referenced in your book that some people may not be ready to make the switch until a serious problem occurs. What do you say to the people that are curious and may have a looming issue that is lurking in the shadows?

Chef AJ: I can't do anything until they are ready and they come to me. I can only lead by example.

LRJ: I know you mentioned your parents were severely ill, specifically your dad and his daily slice of kosher salami. What do you say to people who aren't seeing the connection between food and illnesses?

Chef AJ: There are none so blind as he who will not see. You really can't say anything to people who are in denial about the impact their food choices have on their health. Doctors are not taught nutrition in medical school and most people put doctors on pedestals when they should be putting their health destiny in their own hands. You can suggest they read The China Study or watch Forks Over Knives but you can't stop them from digging their own graves with their knives and forks. In my 36 years as a vegan, I have led many horses to the water. Very few are willing to drink.

LRJ: The adoption of plant-based diets are starting to spread around the country. You've packed some major points about the way most people eat and how to change our habits in a no-fuss guide and cookbook. What do you hope the readers will take away from Unprocessed?

Chef AJ: That whether or not they continue to eat animal products, they still need to eat fruits and vegetables. Americans eat less than 10% of their calories from fruits and vegetables and over 50% of Americans eat NO VEGETABLES! (Unless you count french fires and ketchup as a vegetable!). The other take home message is that processed food is not food and we should not be eating it and certainly not feeding to our children, period!

LRJ: I consider myself lucky to have discovered eating plant-based while in my 20s. It's tough to stay on track, but well worth it. Do you hope to reach a younger audience (my generation) as a means of preventing the diseases that our parents are facing?

Chef AJ: As Linda Creed said in her song The Greatest Love of All, "I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way". These food addictions to sugar, fat, salt, dairy and animal products start very early in life. I need to reach people before they have kids. It is so much easier to avoid these food addictions and diseases of lifestyle than treat them once they occur.

LRJ: Your recipes are simple and easy. What was the goal behind these recipes and who did you have in mind when writing them?

Chef AJ: Blind people! I was a volunteer culinary instructor at the Braille Institute for three years and all the recipes in my book were made by my blind students. I figured if a blind person could make them they would be a cinch for someone who could see. With just a few exceptions, I try to use very few ingredients that can be put together in minutes.

LRJ: You mentioned that Darren La Croix, Ed Tate and Craig Valentine taught you the six words that you needed to hear to finally write Unprocessed. What were those words and what prompted you to sit down and pen this book?

Chef AJ:  DONE IS MORE PROFITABLE THAN PERFECT. One of my students said she couldn't eat healthfully because she had mental problems. It got me thinking about all of the excuses people give as to why they can't possibly do this. I truly believe it all comes down to one thing: food addiction.

LRJ: I love how you end Chapter 5 of the book with a lending hand. You've invited your readers to contact you for support and I admire that! I've noticed that when people go plant-based they either have tons of support or face harsh criticism. What sort of support do you offer to your fellow readers?

Chef AJ: I kid you not that I get a minimum of 200 emails per day. Some days, double that. Many people have recipe or cooking questions. Some want support or coaching. Next year I will be bringing my program, The UNPROCESSED 30 day challenge, online so I can help more people at once.

LRJ: Any upcoming projects, cookbooks, etc.?

Chef AJ: Yes! Healthy Taste of LA, an annual event I co-produce, is coming up on November 4th. Dr. [Caldwell] Esselstyn is our keynote speaker this year. Tickets can be purchased at If the event sells out again this year, we will live stream it for free. I will be teaching a class on October 23rd at 7:00 pm Pacific Time that you can watch for free at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Food Trailer Review: The Vegan Yacht

As I prepared to celebrate my one-year anniversary with my current company, I knew I wanted to try out a new vegan spot! My coworkers and I have been scouting out places and trying out new things in the last few months and once I heard about The Vegan Yacht, I knew this was the place to celebrate. We had liked their Facebook page a couple of months back and were teased on a daily basis by the amazing photos of the food they offer there. We marked the calendar and set the date for our first visit.

Immediately after we walked up to the trailer, I fell in love with the charm that it has! Mike Wood (co-owner with his wife Danielle), popped his head out of the window and cheerfully took our order. After seeing many yummy pictures of the freeto burrito, I had to order one. There was absolutely ZERO disappointment in my meal. This was amazing and it was awesome to taste one of my all-time favorite foods guilt-free! I haven't eaten much of anything that I wouldn't be smothering in cheese because I fear of a relapse, but this tasted too good without even a thought of it.

I highly recommend checking out this awesome establishment and trying the food for yourself. They have an extensive menu for all tastes and the environment is super casual with it's location in East Austin. We'll be visiting them again soon and I can't wait to try out more!

The Vegan Yacht on Urbanspoon
The Vegan Yacht on Foodio54

Monday, October 15, 2012

Infographic: Get Moving or Die (Sooner)

I absolutely love infographics and this one really caught my attention. We hear this all the time, yet we fail to literally get up and get moving. Some of the stats on this graphic are kind of mind blowing when you think about it! I had no idea that inactivity caused more deaths than tobacco. Since I (and many other Americans) work in an office where I'm sitting for nearly eight hours a day, this information should not be taken lightly.

Aside from adults that have a large inactivity problem, I'm also concerned about the kiddos out there. In combination with the health crisis that we face due to the food we consume, more physical activity can stave off the extra lbs. and encourage better health habits. Many people use the excuse of time for inactivity, but it truly is easy to squeeze in just little bursts of exercise through movement (and even some spontaneous dancing while cooking in the kitchen)! 

If you've been an avid reader of my blog, you should know by now that I am a severely frugal person. I had no idea of the enormous savings we could have as a county if we just started to exercise! With savings in the billions, we really have no excuse to take some time and walk outside (for free!) to cut the costs. In addition to living a vegan, plant-based lifestyle, exercise is truly important and must not be taken lightly. The next time you do some housework, consider turning some music to full blast and lower your health risks by dancing away to Abba!

Inactivity Infographic
Graphic created by Allison Morris/

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vegan Diet 101: Where to Begin

A couple of weeks into my lifestyle change, I met up with a close friend who was shocked by my surge of energy and healthy glow. She was looking for a change and asked me what it was that I had been doing. I had previously refrained from revealing my new change to anyone, but I blurted out my secret: I was now plant-based!

Intrigued and eager to learn more, she seemed open to the idea of trying this out for herself. With her enthusiasm, I quickly wrote up some tips for her and accompanied her to the store for a grocery shopping overhaul. Below is what I sent her and what I like to call a "starter" list for beginners. Don't make it hard! Buy what you're used to to and be creative. Love pasta? Buy whole grain! Think you'll miss a dip? Buy hummus! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via the buttons on the right. I'd love to hear from you and can't wait to help you out!

Plant-Based Shopping List
Red tipped lettuce
Flaxseed ground
Roma tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
Red onion
Bell pepper
Minced garlic bottle or garlic cloves
100% whole wheat tortillas
100% whole wheat pizza crusts
Nutritional yeast
Pizza sauce
Spaghetti sauce (low sodium) - Eden Organic makes the best, or try Pomi
Brown rice
Black or Brown beans
Almond milk
Steel-cut Oats & Rolled Oats
Whole wheat lasagna
And anything else in the produce section!

Have a bowl of cooked steel-cut or raw rolled oats with almond milk and top with 2 tbsp. ground flaxseed and 4 sliced strawberries or add a side bowl of fruit (canteloupe/honeydew/peaches/bananas, etc.)

Lunch Options:
Stir fry veggies with layer of avocado and red tipped lettuce & side of beans or rice on whole wheat tortillas
Chickpea salad spread on tortilla with red tipped lettuce and cherry tomatoes on whole wheat tortillas
Bowl of stir fry veggies on top of bed of lettuce or with beans/rice in bowl
Leftovers from the Dinner Options below!

Dinner Options:
Veggie stir fry with rice, barley or quinoa
Veggie Pizza
Sweet Potato Lasagna
Potato & Mushroom Soup
Healthy & Easy Lentil Soup
Tasty Carrot Soup
Kale Mac N' Cheeze

Snacks & Sides:
Hummus with fresh veggies
Bowl of fruit
Small bowl of raw oats, strawberries and almond milk
Spicy Tomatillo Guacamole Dip
Baked Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes
Healthy Vegan Spring Rolls
Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Dessert Options:
Fruit Ice Cream
Chocolate Tofu Pudding
Almond Blueberry Cobbler

Check out my collection of plant-based recipes I have pinned on Pinterest or see more recipes on my site here. This starter list is just a starting point. Anything in the produce section is completely fine and you'll discover your shopping trips are less expensive and quicker since you're avoiding most of the inside aisles and sticking to the walls.

Remember: you are not alone in this journey and I'd love to offer any support.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Spicy Tomatillo Guacamole Dip

My husband and I love salsas and guacamole dips. It's a quick and easy snack with lots of fresh ingredients and we just can't get enough. As I type, I'm devouring a similar guacamole recipe with some lentil chips. It's just that good! Below I have a simple recipe for a guacamole dip that is great with some thin corn chips. Take this to your next party and watch the guests come back for more!

I like to spice mine with Good Shit (yes, this is a real thing!), but my husband prefers to add in cayenne or chili powder. Play around with the spicing and see what you like. Other uses for the dip: spread onto a veggie burger as a replacement for mayo or mustard or toss with a salad!

Spicy Tomatillo Guacamole Dip
yields 2 cups

4 tomatillos
1/2 red onion
1 hatch chili pepper
2 cloves of garlic
1 jalapeno pepper
3 avocados
1/2 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tbsp. Good Shit, cayanne or chili pepper

1. Add chopped tomatillos, hatch chili pepper, garlic, jalapeno and avacados to food processor.
2. Add lime juice and spice of your choice.
3. Blend until smooth and serve with chips.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Visit to the Austin Zoo

I had been browsing Groupon for deals in the Austin area for a while when I finally stumbled upon something I'd been meaning to do since moving to Austin: visit the zoo. As a vegan, this had a whole new meaning for me. The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary, which started out as a goat ranch, has grown to over 300 animals from over 100 different species and serves as a sanctuary to assist animals in rehabilitation and rescue. I quickly purchased this deal and went with a friend soon after.

Upon arriving, we stepped out to find many peacocks roaming the ground freely. These gorgeous creatures were strutting around and as soon as I turned my back, I heard one of them burst open into full bloom. After staring in awe for at least five minutes, we moved on to the other animals including monkeys, big cats (lions, tigers, jaguars and more!), reptiles, birds, domestics and amphibians. 

I enjoyed petting the goats was even handed some feed by a passerby to give them. These animals were loving the petting and attention and it made me even more confident in my decision to give up animal products for good several months ago. I was blown away at the intelligence of these animals and left the zoo with a calm feeling that my decision to go vegan was not only healthy, but ethically the right choice for me.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Potato & Mushroom Soup

I love to find an easy recipe that is simple yet delicious. Well, I didn't have time to look for one during a busy week and I had some potatoes and mushrooms that I needed to use up before it was too late. Ever since I went plant-based, I have become more brave in the kitchen. I just waltzed right into the kitchen and started to grab some ingredients and the result was marvelous.

The inspiration for this recipe was spawned by my purchase of an immersion blender that I just snagged from Bed, Bath and Beyond. I am so thrilled to have this blender now and you can rest assured knowing that I will most likely be adding many more variations of soups in the future to my recipe section!

As a new cook, I was extremely pleased and proud when my husband nodded in approval after trying this soup. He suggested that you have a few chunks of potatoes in your bowl and then pour my soup over it. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Potato & Mushroom Soup
yields 6 bowls of soup

3 cups water
4 small red potatoes, diced
10 mushrooms, destemmed and cut
4 stalks green onions, chopped
1/2 red onion
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. parsley
1 cup almond or other non-dairy milk

1. Pour water into large pot and bring to a boil.
2. Chop potatoes, mushrooms, green onions and red onions. If more water is needed, add to cover veggies.
3. Add chopped veggies to the boiling water and add in thyme, basil, ginger and parsley.
4. Cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes.
5. If desired, take a few diced pieces of potato and place in your soup bowls.
6. Blend the ingredients in the pot with an immersion blender.
7. Add almond or non-dairy milk and continue to blend until smooth.
8. Pour over the diced potatoes (optional) and serve with cracked pepper.

*We also made a batch of cornbread by Happy Herbivore. Absolutely amazing paired together!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Vegan Almond Blueberry Cobbler

When I began my journey, one of the first things I did was "like" the Engine 2 Diet page on Facebook. They are constantly posting amazing recipes, inspirational stories and the latest research on plant-based diets. After a week-long Whole Foods immersion they held in Marble Falls, Texas, a recipe for blueberry dumpster cobbler popped up in my news feed. This looked amazing and I knew I had the ingredients necessary to make this delectable dessert. 

As I whipped up the recipe, I realized that I should probably double it, and why not add in some almond extract instead of vanilla? As soon as I slid the pan into the oven, I knew I had made the right creative modification to this and was pleased with the outcome. You could substitute the blueberries with raspberries or even blackberries, but either way, the almond extract made the recipe stand out from other desserts I've had recently. Try this out and let me know what your modifications are!

Almond Blueberry Cobbler
yields nine square servings

1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. almond extract
1 1/3 cup unsweetened almond or non-dairy milk 
4 tbsp maple syrup
2 cups blueberries (or raspberries/blackberries)

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
2. Combine flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the almond extract, milk, and maple syrup.
4. Pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well.
5. Pour the batter into an 8x8 square non-stick pan.
6. Sprinkle the berries over the batter evenly. 
7. Bake for 45 minutes.