Friday, May 31, 2013

Macklemore's Minimalism Inspiration in Wings

Kendan introduced me to Macklemore's music right before I had my financial awakening in November 2012. One of the first songs he showed me was "Wings", and it centers around Macklemore's lifelong journey into consumerism. As a little boy, he cherishes his Nike shoes and reflects now on how it consumed him after time. I listened to this song multiple times within hours and was hit in the face with the amount of truth in the lyrics. 
We want what we can't have, commodity makes us want it
So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it
Got to show 'em, so exclusive, this that new shit
A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in
I'm an individual, yea, but I'm part of a movement
My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
After listening to this, I started to think about a few things. At this point, I hadn't been buying expensive items for years, but it still stuck a chord with me. So many people (kids and adults) grow up thinking that they need the latest and greatest of everything. They are just material items. I guess the problem I have with them is that once you give an item that much power over who you are as a person, then it will begin to consume you. I'm all about wearing something that makes you feel great. For me, that could mean an $8 dress from Goodwill or a $2 shirt. Dropping $100 on some shoes is something unheard of for me, but the message is all the same. He was at a point where he didn't even take the shoes out of the box!
Look at what that swoosh did
See it consumed my thoughts
Are you stupid, don't crease 'em, just leave 'em in that box
Strangled by these laces, laces I can barely talk
That's my air bubble and I'm lost, if it pops

After hearing this song, I knew immediately that I was making the right choice by embracing minimalism. Check it out below and see if it rings true in any aspect of your life. You may not be into shoes, but  I'll bet this could apply to another situation or object that's taking hold of your life in a way you probably didn't even notice.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Black Refried Beans & Corn Quesadillas

I recently found myself hungry at 8:45 p.m. and didn't really have any food laying around for dinner. My husband and I ran to the grocery store to pick up some quick items for dinner. We wanted two completely different meals, but I grabbed some whole wheat tortillas, a can of refried beans and an avocado for some quesadillas. Without further ado, here's the recipe that took less than ten minutes to make!

Black Refried Beans & Corn Quesadillas
yields four quasadilla quarters

2 whole wheat tortillas
1 small avocado
1 tsp. garlic
1 tsp. onion
1/8 c. refried beans
1/4 c. frozen corn
sprinkle of vegan cheddar cheese (Daiya)

1. Warm up frozen corn in microwave.
2. Mash avocado in a small bowl and add spices.
3. Spread the avocado mix and refried beans onto both tortillas.
4. Add corn and cheese on the tortillas and sandwich together.
5. Cook the quesadilla in a Teflon skillet for a few minutes on each side until lightly brown.
6. Cut into quarters and serve with a side of salsa or vegan sour cream.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My New Tattoo with a Double Meaning

I never thought I would ever see myself with a tattoo, let alone three. Although I walked into the tattoo parlor on Friday night with two designs in mind, my amazing artist talked with me for a bit and drew something even more beautiful than what I had imagined. I had been tossing the idea around for a long time and knew I wanted to commemorate The Little Red Journal and a quote that stuck a chord with me last year.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing will get better. It's not.
The bird is a play on the design of my blog, and we focused on red with a touch of blue. I hadn't really thought of combining the two separate ideas that I had into one, but it turned out so beautiful, that I didn't mind at all! As a blogger, I of course documented the whole thing, between me gritting my teeth, holding my breath, and even apparently placing my hand over my heart with a look of pain and agony! Luckily I took my husband along to grab the best picture.

If you're in the Austin area and looking for a great tattoo artist, check out Royce at Southside Tattoo. He also did my herbivore tattoo (and upon showing him he said, "Damn, that looks really good!", to which I responded with, "Thanks--you did it!")

Friday, May 24, 2013

Two New Tats: What They Are & Why They Are In My Budget

So I've been thinking for several months about getting another tattoo. After six months of being vegan, I celebrated my veganniversary with an herbivore tattoo, and now it's been another nine months since my last inking. I felt like the time was right to get another and it's been long enough for me to forget the pain. I've booked the same artist that did my elephant, and instead of one, I'm going to get two new tattoos tonight: the word "Unless!" and the birds on a wire as an homage to The Little Red Journal. First, let me explain a few things.

The word "Unless!" is from The Lorax movie. I know what you're thinking. A Dr. Seuss quote?! The actual quote is, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing will get better. It's not." I feel like I'm always the outsider in the things I've been doing lately. The whole veganism thing was a little left-field for me, but it's turned out to be a great change. We're also focusing on our debt like never before. Most people don't understand that and the choice we've made to hold off on starting our little vegan family. I'm proud to say that we're focused on our goals and have been making great progress. Don't even get me started on the minimalism... That's not quite the norm, either.

I created this blog as a way to escape my daily work life in July 2010, which included zero writing. Since that job, I've had a couple more, and luckily now I am writing much more than I ever have before professionally. The original Little Red Journal kept me sane in high school, and even now into my late 20s, the digital version has been a saving grace. I've also evolved over the last few years and this blog has, too. It's been great to write and know that people are reading it, enjoying it, discussing it, and that I'm truly having an impact, no matter how big or small. That's my goal here, and I am proud of what this blog has been and is becoming.

With our strict budget, I obviously was worried about scheduling two tattoos in one sitting. The cost for these tattoos will be roughly $150. One of the first posts of the months for May discussed a chair that almost blew our budget for the same price. So why tattoos and not the cute new chair that would match my couch? I have shifted my focus away from material possessions and onto more life experiences. Getting a third and fourth tattoo are definitely one of those life experiences for me. While adorable living room chairs make me drool, tattoos last a lifetime and are more than worth it.

These tattoos are not technically in the budget, but I am excited to have this done tonight.  I never thought I would ever see myself having a tattoo, let alone four, or let's be honest, a dozen by the time I get through. I've continually surprised myself in the person that I'm becoming and I don't think that's a bad thing. These tattoos all represent a part of my bigger story, and I am definitely one for documenting everything, either through the written word or in another form, and this is just another way to tell my story.

Wish me luck. I'm going under the needle tonight at 9 p.m. And yes, I'll be instragramming the whole thing and blogging about it later.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Life-Giving Pursuit of Minimalism

Joshua Becker has been a great inspiration to me as I ventured into the world of minimalism. He's a father who found himself cleaning out the garage and having an epiphany as he realized he was wasting time with things he didn't even need. Here he gives a quick talk about owning less and living more, which is what minimalism means to me. I personally have found myself more calm and relaxed with our clean little apartment rather than stressed out worrying about, well, cleaning it. He has a blog, Becoming Minimalist, where he discusses all of these things and what minimalism means to him. Check it out and let me know what you think about owning less!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Eating Plant-Based to Reverse Obesity Worldwide

It's no secret that we, as in most countries, have a problem with weight. Heck, even I was carrying around some extra pounds, and I didn't even realize it until a doctor's appointment. I used to tell myself that their scale was off by 10 lbs., but after weighing myself at home that night, it was quite a blow to my self-esteem. Call it "letting yourself go" or just not caring anymore, but if you took a look at your plate, you may find the answer to this crisis. It's quite a big problem (no pun intended), but there's a solution.

Eating plant-based is a great way to shed some weight, and I'm proud to be living proof of that. Several of my friends have dropped a few pounds, and you can, too. I know there are people out there who say "everything in moderation" and to just cut portion sizes, but plant-based eating requires no extra work other than cooking up some healthy meals. It's not difficult, although it may be mentally challenging, and it's great for you waistline, cholesterol, blood pressure, and many other chronic illnesses that no doubt are paired with obesity. Check out my Vegan Resources page to start on a path to better health to either prevent or reverse weight gain.

Friday, May 17, 2013

An Omnivore's Guide to Eating Plant-Based

While talking with my dad a while back, he mentioned that my mom wasn't really ready to go full-vegan. I'd been trying for months to get her to eat more plant-based as a way to reverse her diabetes. A friend of mine also said that she was thinking of eating more plant-based meals recently, and that really had me thinking. I know many people aren't interested in going full plant-based and still want to eat animal products. I have accepted that as a fact, and no longer expect everyone I know to go vegan overnight. With all of this in mind, I thought I would write up a few tips for those omnivores to dabble with meatless dishes without fully committing to veganism.

1. Add a meatless dish into your weekly meal plan. Meatless Mondays are a great way to ease into eating more plant-based, and it's not too tough to remember which day you'll give veganism a try, even just for on meal. Starting with one meal a week is not too daunting and you may even begin to look forward to planning that one meal a week or day. If you need some ideas, check out my Recipes page or my Pinterest board with over 500 recipes.

2. Make a smoothie in the morning as you run out the door. We bought a Nutribullet (a glorified blender) and it's super easy to make a quick smoothie before I head to work. Buy some fruit in the frozen section of the grocery store instead of stocking lots of fresh fruit that may go bad before you use them. I like to buy strawberries and bananas, a berry mix, a melon mix or pineapple. Then I toss in a cup of frozen fruit, almond milk, ground flax seeds, a handful of spinach, vanilla extract, almond extract, and blend until smooth. This healthy smoothie can keep your hunger at bay while you work through the morning and is probably better than not eating anything like I used to do!

3. Veganize your favorite dish for your next family dinner. When I went fully vegan cold turkey, the toughest part was missing my old favorites. Then I realized that you can pretty much Google your old favorites with the word "vegan" in front of it. We've figured out to make kale mac & cheeze, a meatless lasagna, ice cream, and even pudding. Before you say, "It can't be as good as the 'real thing'," try out a recipe. And if it's not a good recipe, find another one! I'm still on the hunt for the "World's Best Vegan Macaroni & Cheeze", and I've tried a few different recipes that totally sucked. I haven't given up just yet!

4. Purchase a carton of almond, soy, rice, or coconut milk. I'm not a big fan of soy milk (it's almost too thin for me), but I did finally find a brand of original almond milk that I love. I've never tried rice milk, but coconut milk is perfect for baking. Cutting out cow's milk and adding a plant-based milk is a great idea for those who aren't ready to make the full switch just yet. You'll start to getting used to using it for all kind of things (did I mention smoothies?!), and hopefully it can become a staple on your weekly grocery list.

5. Cook a grain to pair with your dishes for the week. If you have a rice cooker, this one is super easy. Early on in our adventures into plant-based cooking, we found that making a grain (such as brown rice, barley or quinoa) was an easy way to make the meals stretch a little further. Not only is it more filling, but it's a good foundation to almost any meal that you're making. We would cook a few cups and use it throughout the week during our lunch breaks to help us stave off hunger before dinnertime.

How are you working more plant-based meals into your diet?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Chair That Almost Blew Our Budget For The Month

A couple of weeks ago, my mom told me about this super cute chair that she found in Kirkland's. She knew I would love it and texted me immediately with a couple of photos. The price was $149, and it did match my couch perfectly with its colorful fabric in a mustard yellow tone. She called the store in San Marcos, which was the closest one to me, and they confirmed they had two in stock. I did think is was incredibly cute and I really wanted it. The problem was that I really didn't need it. I told mom, "That's not really in our budget for the month!"

I spent all weekend thinking about that chair. I had baked over 150 cookies and brownies for an Austin Bakes for West fundraiser that Friday night, and didn't have time to go to the Kirkland's in San Marcos. I kept busy all day Saturday working on The Little Red Journal site, and I worked some more the next morning. I  really didn't want to crack, because this is kind of my weakness. Before we had a budget, I would buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. This isn't that easy anymore. We're paying $1,000 a month on my husband's student loans, and a $150 purchase can definitely toss a tight budget off kilter. 

After meeting up with some friends for lunch, I was headed to the bookstore to pick up a copy of Happy Herbivore Abroad for a friend who's interested in eating more vegan meals. Before I arrived at the bookstore, I made a last-minute decision and turned into the parking lot for HomeGoods. I sighed heavily, and grabbed my purse to head in to the store. I knew I shouldn't be there. I hate to compare this to a serious addiction like drugs or alcohol, but I definitely felt jittery walking in there. I knew this wouldn't fit in to the budget and I had worked so hard to get rid of so many things lately while embracing minimalism. 

I took a look around, checked out the furniture, but didn't see anything that I loved as much as I did that chair mom had told me about. I shrugged my shoulders and hauled ass out of the there. If I hadn't left immediately, I would have found some small thing to look at and convince myself that I needed it. Once I had my first "real job" about five years ago, this would be a frequent event for me. Even growing up, I still remember piling into the car with my mom and grandma and heading for the mall. We didn't really need anything, but it was something that I learned to do to pass the time. (Bored? Go shopping!) So even though I didn't purchase anything that day, it is still very much something that I battle with. 

For now, our budget was safe. I'm sharing this with all of you because even though it is easy for me to donate, it's tough for me to stop spending. Don't get me wrong -- I haven't purchased anything like that in a long, long time, but I almost cracked and did. Walking out of that store felt amazing and I headed to the bookstore next. After picking up the book, I headed to my friend's house and noticed she was cleaning out her garage. I left her house and realized that I also should be cleaning out a few more things from our apartment. 

I've been so happy letting things go, and need to remind myself why I'm doing this. It's not a contest to see how little I can live with, but a true restructuring of our finances to work towards the goals we have in mind. That's why I found myself searching for "minimalist parenting" blogs when I arrived back at our apartment, even though we don't have a kid yet. I'm doing this now so that we can become parents sooner rather than later. And it's all a part of our bigger plan to pay off the debt and start living the life we really want. Don't use the "I deserve it," phrase, because what I deserve more than a chair is some peace of mind in our finances and think about growing our family.

The Infamous Chair

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rip Esselstyn's My Beef With Meat + Recipes

Rip Esselstyn's new book, My Beef With Meat, is hitting the shelves tomorrow, and I couldn't be more excited to share some information about it! I first saw Rip at the end of the Forks Over Knives movie, and I knew I would be hooked. The Engine 2 Diet was a great way to kick off my own plant-based journey, and I've even had my copy signed by Rip himself during an Engine 2 Potluck at his home here in Austin, Texas. When I heard he was coming out with his new book, I was more than happy to spread the word.

I'm giving away one free copy of the book, as well as receiving my very own copy for hosting this great giveaway (thank you, Engine 2 Diet team)! Want a chance to win? Comment on this post below and tell me what your beef with meat is! The winner will be picked on Friday, May 17th after 7 p.m.

My [Own] Beef With Meat: Throughout my plant-based journey, I learned so much more about nutrition that I ever thought was possible. All of the things I thought I knew about food and eating animals was turned upside down when I started to research the rates of disease and chronic illnesses so many people I know and love are facing right now. After following the principles in The Engine 2 Diet, I lost 30 lbs. within six months, my cholesterol dropped by 80 points, and I regained my health. I'd love for more people to realize the benefits of eating this way, and really learn the truth behind eating animal products, and how it affects your health.

About the book:
For the millions who are following a plant-based diet, as well as those meat-eaters who are considering it, My Beef With Meat is the definitive guide to convincing all that it's truly the best way to eat! New York Times Bestelling author of The Engine 2 Diet and nutrition lecturer Rip Esselstyn, is back and ready to arm readers with the knowledge they need to win any argument with those who doubt the health benefits of a plant-based diet.

Esselstyn reveals information on the foods that most people believe are healthy, yet that scientific research shows are not. Some foods, in fact, he deems so destructive they deserve a warning label. Want to prevent heart attacks, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer's? Then learn the facts and gain the knowledge to convince those skeptics that they are misinformed about plant-base diets, for instance:

• You don't need meat and dairy to have
strong bones or get enough protein
• You get enough calcium and iron in plants
• The myth of the Mediterranean diet
• There is a serious problem with the Paleo diet
• If you eat plants, you lose weight and feel great

My Beef With Meat proves the Engine 2 way of eating can optimize health and ultimately save lives
and includes more than 145 delicious recipes to help readers reach that goal.

You can order the book on Amazon

Why did you write this book?
I’ve discovered that there is a HUGE disconnect between what people think is healthy and what medical science knows to be healthy; for example, people have been bamboozled into believing that olive oil, Greek yogurt, chicken, and fish are healthy. Many people think the diet of the day is salmon, low fat dairy, and olive oil, washed down with a glass of red wine and a Lipitor pill for good measure. This is how confused, distracted, and off-course we have gotten--because this is NOT a good diet!

This book explains to plant eaters and meat eaters alike why a whole food, plant-strong diet rocks on a jillion different levels, hence the subtitle: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet. The primary driving force behind the book was to delve deeper into the major myths that keep surfacing about eating plants, such as: “You won’t get enough protein”, “You won’t get enough calcium”, “Eating plants is too expensive”, “Real men (and women) eat meat”, “Olive oil is heart-healthy”, and “Moderation in everything.”

The book shows how wrong each of these myths is. It gives the reader real science, not fad-diet talk. One of the titles we thought about was “How to Win an Argument with a Meat-eater” and believe me, after reading this book, you will never lose another argument with a carnivore again.

By the way, once you’ve won the argument, you can start cooking up any one of the 140 lipsmacking, rib-sticking outrageously good recipes to prove your point with food as well as with words.

There are some controversial things you tackle in this book, like The Paleo Diet. Why did you decide to address that specific diet?

The two big dueling diets right now are paleo and planteo. I believe that the paleo diet is just a good gimmick. The paleo people have taken the South Beach/Atkins diets and put a little spin on it. There are some positives with paleo, such as no refined or processed foods, and no dairy products. But any diet that promotes animal products with saturated fats, and animal protein isn’t promoting health. The consensus among the researchers who have studied the diets of humans in paleo times have said that at least 80 percent of their food was plant-based. Yes, they ate some animals, but we've evolved since then, we're smarter; we do not need, want, or get healthy from animal products. Back in the day, you would do anything you could to get calories into your body--it was a matter of survival. But in this day and age, you can go down the street to any grocery store and get all that you need without resorting to animal flesh.

An interesting article in US News & World Report in 2011 reviewed many different popular diets and decided that the one people should avoid is the paleo diet.

What about the people who say that they get results from a paleo diet? That’s because the Standard American Diet (SAD) is such an abomination you will get good results when switching to any diet that is even remotely healthier. If you want to get to the next step, cut out the meat!

There are a couple of chapters that talk about how plant-strong can make you stronger in the bedroom. Why do plants help in that department?

Plants help in a number of ways. When you are eating meat/dairy/processed foods, your arteries clog up. Believe it or not, the smallest artery men have is the artery to the penis, so it's not surprising that one of the first signs of heart disease is erectile dysfunction (ED). When you start eating a plant-strong diet, you begin to metabolize away some of the fat/cholesterol that you've built up, and you start to restore your endothelial lining. As my dad (Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn) likes to say, “Endothelial cells are the life jacket of your vascular system.” They are the inner lining of our 65,000 miles of vessels. When you bring them back to life, they produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide allows those vessels to open up. When that happens, it allows for more blood flow, which is key to a great erection.

Interestingly, the one area that we have more endothelial cells per unit volume is the male penis. It’s amazing how many guys e-mail us and tell us about their ED going away.

Likewise, women experience similar success. When they cut out the animal products and processed junk foods, they have increased blood flow to the clitoris and surrounding tissues, which creates lubrication. We’ve also received hundreds of e-mails from women telling us about their new, healthier sex life as a result of going plant-strong.

So remember guys and gals plant-strong makes you pant-strong!

Do your kids like eating this way?

My kids, Kole and Sophie, do not like eating this way--they LOVE eating this way! They have no interest in eating anything from animals. If they find out that cake and ice-cream offered to them has things like eggs, butter or milk they politely decline. Kole and Sophie love mangoes, grapefruit, brown rice, baked tofu, peanut butter on whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, cheese-less whole grain pizza and banana ice-cream. Kole was hungry, and I told him I'd give him anything he wanted. Guess what he asked for.... he asked for broccoli!

What about athletes--can they be plant-strong?

Yes, they can and should be plant-strong. It is the absolute dope when it comes to taking your athletic performance to the next level. When I was a full time triathlete, I was guilty of taking performance enhancing…… foods. They are nature’s legal performance enhancing drugs! Plants give you an abundance of protein, water, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that support your body after training. Plants are loaded with clean, unprocessed carbs that will replace depleted glycogen stores in your muscle and liver--allowing you to train harder, adapt faster, and improve quicker.

Plants give you a dose of alkaline, and anti-inflammatory substances that protect you from the stresses of long training days. Plants give you a clear head that will allow you to focus like a laser beam. Plants give you youthful arteries that will improve blood flow to all of your working muscles for maximal oxygen uptake. Plants strengthen your immune system and keep you healthy and free from illness. Plants give you a lean and muscular body that doesn't carry excessive weight.

When you are eating plant-strong, you are getting unprocessed carbs, healthy fats, plant-proteins, fiber and anti oxidants -- all of the things that your body relishes and craves and takes your performance to the next level.

What else do you have a beef with?

The huge disconnect with what people think is healthy and what we actually know to be healthy.
This creates confusion and distraction. The answer is so incredibly simple. Eat more whole plant-based

I have a beef with dairy.
I have a beef with processed/refined foods.
I have a beef with the Mediterranean diet.
I have a beef with drinking your calories.
I have a beef with olive oil and ALL other extracted oils.
I have a beef with supplements.
I have a beef with the belief that carbs are the devil.
I have a beef with the myth that soy is evil.
I have a beef with “everything in moderation.”
But -- I have no beef with plants!

To give you a little taste for what's in the book, here are a couple of recipes that are sure to be hits in your home!

Banana Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tablespoon vanilla
¾ cup natural chunky peanut butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups old fashioned oats
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
½ cup non-dairy chocolate chips or raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper
3. Mix bananas, vanilla, peanut butter and maple syrup into a creamy consistency in a large bowl
4. In another bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder and salt
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until they are well combined--the batter
should be slightly sticky
6. Fold in the chocolate chips or raisins
7. Place rounded, heaping tablespoon-sized balls of the batter onto an ungreased baking sheet
8. Bake for 15-18 minutes
9. Gobble these up while they are still warm


Spicy Southern Grits

1 small yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
¼ cup green chilies, diced
1 chipotle pepper, chopped
2 cups veggie stock
½ cup grits, yellow
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
½ lime, juiced
½ tsp salt (optional)
1 teaspoon black pepper (optional)

1. Sautee the onions, garlic, green chilies and chipotle pepper with 2 tablespoons veggie stock for 5
to 7 minutes
2. Add the rest of the stock and bring to a boil
3. Wisk in grits and cook on low heat for 5 to7 minutes
4. Stir in nutritional yeast and lime
5. Adjust seasoning to your liking and serve


Friday, May 10, 2013

Virtual Vegan Potluck May 2013: Guacamole Dip

When I was thinking of what to bring to the virtual table for this potluck, I immediately thought of guacamole. Then I realized I had posted a Spicy Tomatillo Guacamole Dip recipe on my blog back in October 2012. This recipe is different for two reasons: 1) my husband made it and 2) his tastes completely different than my other recipe. So the good news is, he's kicked it up a notch by adding in some cumin (which I hadn't thought of before) and this is the perfect quick party appetizer you can whip up in minutes.

Guacamole Dip
serves 6
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large Hass avocados
1/2 c. diced roasted garlic tomatoes
1/2 tsp. garlic
1 tsp. cumin (or 2 tsp. if you love it)
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. lime juice
dash salt

1. Put chopped onion, avocados, and diced tomatoes into mixing bowl and mash until well blended.
2. Stir in spices, lime juice and salt.
3. Serve chilled with tortilla chips.

Go forward to Delicious Knowledge's Spanish Romesco Sauce

Go backward to see 88 Lemons' Sweet Potato Asparagus Cakes with Lemon Basil Cream recipe

Start at the beginning of the Virtual Vegan Potluck

Herbivore Herbivore Abroad Cookbook Review

I'm sure many of you know by now that I 'm a huge Happy Herbivore fan. I found her after doing some searches on the internet for plant-based lifestyle research, and it's been so great to have a resource with quick and easy recipes. I've even been featured on her blog as an Herbie of the Week near my one year veganniversary! She's continued to be a source of inspiration for my plant-based lifestyle, as well as introduced me to the idea of minimalism. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook, as her posts always put a smile on my face.

Happy Herbivore Abroad is the third cookbook that Lindsay S. Nixon (The Happy Herbiviore) has created, and she's now working on her fifth, with the fourth due out in December 2013. We're excited to purchase the next two books, and I highly recommend her recipes to everyone who shows an interest in eating a plant-based meal. My dad used to say that I couldn't even boil a pot of water, so to find some cookbooks that were 30 minutes or less to make a meal and didn't use crazy ingredients was a huge relief for me. Not only did this make going plant-based super easy, but it also helped me feel comfortable in the kitchen.

When we received this cookbook in the mail, I waited until my husband arrived home so that he could open it. We were pretty excited to try out these new recipes since we loved her first two, and were not disappointed in the least. After we get home from a long day at work, we can usually pull out this cookbook (or any of her others) and quickly whip up a meal. I like the no-fuss instructions, common ingredient lists (no searching the supermarket for a vegetable I've never heard of!), and they always turn out delicious. You can find this cookbook on Amazon for less than $12, and I've found that it's paid for itself time and time again!

Here's a few of our favorites from the cookbook:
Cuban Black Bean Soup (p. 17)
Thai Noodle Soup (p. 20)
Lentil Taco "Meat" (p. 43)
Taquito's (p. 53
German Potato Salad (p. 63)
Champ (p. 64)
Thai Mango Curry (p. 93)
Thai Pineapple Curry (p. 94)
Stuffed Poblanos (p. 96)
Roasted Tomato Pilaf (p. 124)
Crepes (p. 158)
Curry Ketchup (p .191)
Enchilada Sauce (p. 201)
Bacon Bits (p. 246)
Sunshine Muffins (p. 250)
Carolina Casserole (p. 265)
Ninny's Fruit Spring Rolls (p. 276)
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (p. 280)

Our dog, Taffy, posing with my Happy Herbivore Abroad cookbook
Lentil Taco "Meat"
Making enchiladas with the Lentil Taco "Meat"
Enchiladas with Lentil Taco "Meat"
Ninny's Fruit Spring Rolls with peanut dipping sauce
Carolina Casserole (a hit with our omnivorous family members!)
Pineapple Upside-down Cake
Cuban Black Bean Soup with rice
Taquitos with vegan sour cream
Roasted Tomato Pilaf

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Eight Stages of Veganism

There are many stages to becoming vegan, and I've personally discovered at least eight of those in my own journey to better health. Whether you're screaming about animal rights at the top of your lungs or disgusted by the state of animal slaughterhouses in the U.S., there are plenty of phases throughout your personal path to veganism. I embraced some of the stages and completely fumbled my way through a few, as well. Learn from your own experiences, and feel free to nod your head in solidarity at some of the things we probably had in common.

Stage One: Denial
After the first time that I watched Forks Over Knives, there was definitely some skepticism in my mind. How could eating animals be bad for your health?! It started to make sense when I realized that many of the people I knew growing up were now sick and dealing with some health issues including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and weight gain. With more research, you begin to realize that the decision to pass up animal products could be a great thing for you, your family, your environment, and for the overall improvement of your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Stage Two: Utter disgust with animal products
Once you make the decision to go plant-based or vegan, you then want to rid your entire life of all forms of animal products, including the strips of bacon in your refrigerator, the tub of butter, the carton of eggs, and every other processed animal products that is lurking in your pantry. In one fell swoop, I cleared out my pantry completely and had to retrain myself for how to shop. Luckily, it's now easier than ever to run into the store since I'm skipping most of the aisles I used to frequent.

Stage Three: Becoming the annoying evangelical vegan
With the new information I then had, it was only natural to inform everyone I came in contact with during those first few months of how horrible their diet was and why everyone should become vegan. While I tried to sit by quietly as people ate their food, many were curious and asked for my opinion on several animal products. I learned that being abrasive and forward about the food choices in front of others wasn't really the best route to try when discussing why I'm vegan. Hint: lead by example!

Stage Four: Researching animal rights and evolving into an ethical vegan
Early on in my journey, I picked up Skinny Bitch and was horrified by the chapter that described interviews with the workers from slaughterhouses. What we can't see can't hurt us, but it's turning the blind eye that really takes the guilt out of the equation. Even I couldn't get more than halfway through Earthlings before I almost cried and was nauseous all at the same time. Waking up to this was truly great for me to bring more peace into my life with my own decisions and beliefs.

Stage Five: Accepting that not everyone will go vegan
While omnivores offer to eat my share of meat for me during dinner, I have come to a conclusion that I can't convert everyone. There are other vegans out there who will say something anytime there is an opportunity to voice their opinion on someone else's dinner choice, but I am not one of those people. I am doing this for me, but know that I can't force change on anyone. Heck, I've even tried to change my mother's eating habits to help her reverse her diabetes, but that is just not going to work unless the other person is open to change and ready to make those decisions for themselves. My energy is better used elsewhere.

Stage Six: Settling in to what veganism means to you
After you've accepted that things will be the way they are, you start to realize that your journey may have had some unexpected twists and turns. In the beginning, people would ask me if I cared about animal rights and I bluntly said, "No!" I would say, "I don't care about the cows or chickens; I'm doing this for my health!" Then, I started to do the research and found that yes, I did care about the animals. And that's okay! You don't have to know where your journey will take you, and some will end up on different paths, but each journey will happen on its own, without being forced upon you by others.

Stage Seven: Sharing only when asked
I've found great success in bringing in some yummy baked goods or treats to co-workers, family, and friends rather than trying to scream about animal rights to anyone who will listen. Many people are genuinely curious, and it's my duty to give honest, full answers and not skirt around the issues. I plainly state why I went vegan (dropped 80 points in my cholesterol, lost 30+ lbs. in six months, and gained back some self-confidence). What I'm doing is personally challenging because it's not the mainstream way of thinking (yet!). 

Stage Eight: Becoming your own person
I'm finally settling in to the final stage of veganism, which is finding myself as a person. This month I turned 26, and with that bump into the late 20's age bracket, I realized that I'm starting to grow up. I'm not who I was ten years ago and I finally feel like I've found myself, no matter how cliché that may sound. There are so many things that I've learned throughout this journey, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Things can't be unlearned, and I won't revert back to my old diet. Being surrounded by people who accept you is key, so be sure to find those people to help you stay strong in this lifestyle!

Which stage are you in? Let me hear about it below, and tell me which stage you've found the most difficult.

Monday, May 6, 2013

New Focus on The Blog & Why It's Changed

A few months ago, I had been taking a couple of extended breaks from The Little Red Journal. I've been quite busy moving, switching jobs, and trying to settle in to these adjustments. That's not my excuse, though. I was getting a little burned out on writing about veganism. I turned to my husband and said, "You know, I feel like I know everything I could possibly want to know about being vegan." I think there was a slight sigh of relief from him, and he probably knew that I wouldn't be asking him to watch yet another vegan documentary.

I wrote a blog post where I expressed this burned out feeling and tossed together all 45 posts up to the point that dealt with my journey into veganism. After writing that, I felt better, and realized that although being vegan is now a huge part of my life, it's definitely led me into another direction that I never really expected it to. After nine months as a vegan, I started to think about about other ways I could improve my life. I watched Adam Baker's TED talk and decided that we should pay off the remaining student loan debt that we have.

Despite having no experience at all with budgeting, I set to work creating one with the help of This was something that I was really staring to care deeply about. Instead of shrugging off a purchase as an "I deserve it" impulse buy, I began to really stop and think, "Do I need this?!" I found a love for minimalism and donated even more than usual to help purge some unnecessary items from our live. Then I really started getting serious about the finances. We've paid $1,000 every month since January on the student loans and are on track to be out of debt in June 2014.

If you're a regular reader (and I thank you for that!), then you're probably thinking, "I knew all of this!" If you're new, welcome, and I'd like to let you know that this has all impacted me, as well as this blog, heavily. The Little Red Journal began as a place where I could write freely and serve as a virtual diary of sorts about my life. I used it whenever I had the time, and in the beginning, I was posting sporadically. Once I went vegan, it was a place for me to seek refuge when many people were not supportive of what I was doing. There were plenty who were behind me since day one, and if you're reading this, you're probably one of them.

My focus has since shifted, and I want to talk about a few topics seriously, and without reservation. Obviously, I will still talk about veganism, as I am passionate about this and know that this is a great place to share all of my info here. I'd also like to talk about my financial goals and minimalism efforts here. An important thing that I've learned over the last year or two is that I don't have to live by anyone else's script, and it's time to create my own. I have no interest in living the life I had always dreamed about and now realize that I'm heading onto another path. I hope you all will continue to take interest in this new direction of The Little Red Journal, and I'm more than excited to share all of these new adventures with you.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Conquering Veganism One Weak Moment At a Time

While we were walking through the grocery store one evening, my eyes began to wander down aisles that we hardly visit anymore. There was a whole section of frozen pizzas, pizza bites, and every other frozen food that I used to eat before switching to my plant-based diet. I used to eat all of that without even really thinking about how bad it was for my health, or how much weight I would gain by eating all it (30+ lbs., which I've completely lost in 6 months). 

The funny thing is, I had just bragged to my husband that I had "conquered" veganism. And by conquered, I meant that it was "so easy" for me to eat plant-based. I'll tell you that it is easy to eat this way physically and financially. Conquering your eating habits mentally is another thing altogether. As we walked through the store, he saw me gaze at the forbidden foods, and I said, "Oh man, this is hard to walk by all of this food..." He jokingly said, "I thought you had conquered that whole veganism thing."

The truth is, I haven't. I'm not about to tell you that I'm not longer vegan—I totally am. What I mean to say: It is tough to walk by all of the things I used to eat. I don't really have the urge to tear open the packaging and eat it, I just have some serious memories of eating as an omnivore. And I should, as I lived as an omnivore for 24 years of my life. However, I will tell you that I have never been more happier, healthier, and more content with my life as I am right now. I feel so lucky to have regained my health at my age. Even at 23, I was battling high cholesterol, and that's downright terrifying. 

I'm here to tell you that it's totally normal and fine to have that weak moment where you look at that item of food and think about when you used to eat it. I don't intend to ever eat that way again and plan to be a vegan  until the day I die. And it's fine if you mess up! Get right back on track the next meal, not the next week or month. Don't ever let anyone else make you feel bad about what you are doing or why you are doing it. If you're eating healthier and are working towards a plant-based lifestyle, congrats! I'm here for you if you ever need any guidance or just need a friend to support you in this. 

We're creatures of habit, and while it can be tough to look at that [insert name of omnivorous food item here], don't forget why you're doing this, and what the end goal is (better health)! Keep in mind that this will probably be a lifelong battle, and figure out what is more important to you: your health or your cravings. We're not perfect. Heck, we had a Tofurkey pizza the other night. (Don't judge me!) We're eating healthy, plant-based foods 90% of the time and more importantly, we're doing what we feel is right for our bodies, the environment, and all of the animals we share this earth with. You'll conquer your veganism too, one weak moment at a time! Hang in there and stay strong.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Making Goodies for Austin Bakes for West

We've recently seen two major tragedies in our nation: the Boston Marathon bombing and then the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Just 20 miles outside of Waco, this small town has been severely impacted and over 300 families have visited a relief center since the explosion. About 200 people were hurt and 14 were killed on April 17th.

When the president of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance reached out to me for the Austin Bakes for West fundraiser that she's helping to coordinate, I was more than happy to help out. I immediately asked my husband for his help with this, and we ran out the door to grab some supplies to help spruce up the packaging. We decided to make three different treats: my favorite Spiced Pumpkin Oat Cookies, Happy Herbivore's Oatmeal Chews, and Happy Herbivore's Black Bean Brownies.

If you're in the Austin area are are looking to help, please consider signing up to bake.

The bake sale is Saturday, May 4th, 10 AM - 2 PM at eight locations in Austin, Round Rock, and Bee Cave.

Bee Cave: Whole Foods Market Bee Cave, 12601 Hill Country Blvd, Bee Cave, TX 78738
Central Austin: Foreign & Domestic, 306 E. 53rd Street, 78751
Central Austin: Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, 6610 N Lamar Blvd, 78757
Downtown Austin: Whole Foods Market Lamar, 525 North Lamar Boulevard, 78703
East Austin: Springdale Farm, 755 Springdale Road, 78702
Northwest Austin: Whole Foods Market Gateway, 9607 Research Boulevard, #300, 78759
Round Rock: Round Rock Market Days 221 E. Main St., Round Rock, TX 78664
South Austin: Crema Bakery & Cafe, 9001 Brodie Lane, Suite B, 78748