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Prepping For Baby: Freezing Flautas

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Our little cupcake has been baking in my oven for over 33 weeks and we are getting more excited every day. We're also getting a little more prepared each day. From setting up the nursery to acquiring a lot of essential items through the generosity of our family and friends, we've been taking a lot of baby steps (see what I did there?) toward getting things ready for our new roommate.

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One of my big projects for this month is prepping and freezing meals that I can then easily heat up once the baby arrives. I typically spend a lot of time during the week cooking. In the first few months especially, I don't anticipate spending a lot of time in the kitchen. However, I do anticipate spending a lot of time hungry. (I've reached the hungry, hungry, HUNGRY phase of third trimester pregnancy and I know it will only increase with breast feeding.) In an attempt to make things a little easier on myself down the road, I'm freezing meals now so I can have quick, healthy options after our baby arrives. 

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The first dish I'm making and freezing is sweet corn and green chili baked flautas. This is a recipe from the original Thug Kitchen cookbook. It's a super simple recipe that only requires the ingredients shown above, so it's a great one for a project like this. It's also easy to double the recipe: one for this week and one to freeze for later. 

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I chose this dish because it's an easy way to squeeze veggies into a super portable meal. Flautas can be picked up easily and I have a feeling that will come in handy on certain days. A lot of the other meals I have planned are more casserole-based, but I needed at least one meal in there that I could easily pick up with my hands. 

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An update on pregnancy itself: Yes, I'm still incredibly tired. That seems to be the hallmark of my pregnancy. In the past few weeks I've also been quite breathless. Standing for even a few minutes can make me feel like I might pass out, but light movement like walking helps. As the little cupcake's apartment gets more cramped, things are getting more uncomfortable for me, too. I feel a lot of pressure on my organs, mostly my bladder and lungs. I like the idea of sharing this space with the baby but I have a feeling we'll both be much more comfortable when we're free to move around a little more. 

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Mike and I have been taking a birth class for the last two weeks. We were so overloaded with information after the first class that we both had trouble sleeping for the next week. Last night's class was better, though we still both woke up an hour before the alarm this morning, unable to get back to sleep. I think the birth classes are solidifying the realness of the impending labor, something I managed to not think about for most of my pregnancy. 

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The thing about childbirth is there's only so much I can actually do to prepare for it. My body will do what my body does, my baby will do what my baby does, and I will do my best to respond accordingly. Although the idea of childbirth is getting more real to me, I still feel distanced from it. I don't think it will be REAL-real until it happens. 

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Meanwhile, my baby is moving more. The issue of baby movement has been a touchy one for me because apparently my placenta is anterior and apparently this makes it more difficult for me to feel movements. It took a long time before I could feel even slight flutters. Now that baby is moving around (possibly doing laps?) in a way I can obviously feel, I am grateful.

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My emotions have surprised me. I do not get weepy over television commercials and I do not cry over nothing like the pregnant women in movies. If anything, I've felt less sensitive during pregnancy than I normally do — but more irritable and more vulnerable. I'm not a fan of strangers getting too close to me. I'm more likely to feel agoraphobic or claustrophobic while out shopping or in group events than I did before. I feel very protective of my body and my space. I feel less inclined to be polite to strangers. When I walked past a man on the sidewalk last week and he yelled out, "Boy or girl?" I just kept walking, ignoring a question I didn't feel like he knew me well enough to ask. Normally I step all over myself to be polite, even when that politeness hasn't been earned. Pregnancy has offered me many moments like this where I surprise myself. 

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Having a pregnancy that coincides nearly perfectly with a presidential election is probably THE most stressful thing to me. The idea that I could bring a baby into a world with a certain leader in charge is too stressful for me to elaborate. 

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By the way, these tin pans came from the Dollar Store and they're perfect for freezing. As an added bonus, we actually have an extra refrigerator and freezer in our garage. It's usually unplugged, but we're going to plug in for the next few months and store big batches of ready-to-go food.

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I think I've reached that point in pregnancy where despite my exhaustion, I have enough worries and emotions coursing through me that I can't easily lie down and take a nap. It feels like all the drama of life should stop and make room for my pregnancy, but that certainly is not the case. I'm still working but it's getting harder to concentrate and unfortunately my job requires nothing but concentration. I'm trying to reach out and be a good friend to people but I'm also trying to spend as much time as I can readying myself before the beautiful storm arrives. It's an overwhelming time but little things like freezing a batch of flautas help me to feel a little more in control. 

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Banza Recipe #6: Roasted Veggie Pasta

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A few months ago, I received six complimentary boxes of Banza chickpea pasta. Since then, I've put the pasta to use in a variety of ways. If you missed my earlier posts, here they are now:

Banza Recipe #1: Creamy Avocado Pasta 
Banza Recipe #2: Mediterranean Pasta
Banza Recipe #3: Vegan Macaroni and Cheese With Roasted Tomatoes and Crushed Crispy Kale Chips
From Krike's Kitchen: Banza Recipe #4, Spicy Pesto Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Nectarines
Banza Recipe #5: Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff

Today I'm using my last free box to show you a simple recipe I adapted from the Food Network. It involves roasted veggies, an easy tomato sauce, and a minimal amount of ingredients and prep work. 

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I thought you said minimal prep work?! I did, and I didn't lie. There is no way to make a pasta with veggies without spending a few minutes chopping said veggies (though I suppose if you were in a real pinch you could grab a frozen version). Years ago, a situation like this would have scared me off. Who wants to spend that much time cutting things up with a knife? At this point I've cooked so many dishes and I can say with confidence: CHOPPING VEGGIES ONLY TAKES A FEW MINUTES. I promise. Get everything chopped and prepped BEFORE you start the recipe and the recipe itself will fly by. Trust me. For this dish I chopped zucchini and asparagus as suggested in the Food Network recipe, but I also added some cherry tomatoes. I can't resist a good roasted tomato. 

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I roasted the cherry tomatoes for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. I roasted the asparagus and zucchini for 20, flipping halfway through. Olive oil, salt and pepper are all you need for flavor in a good roasted vegetable. 

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While the vegetables were roasting, I cooked my pasta. The ingredients in Banza are chickpeas, tapioca, pea protein and xantham gum. Banza is vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free and egg-free. Banza contains two times the protein, four times the fiber, and half the net carbs of regular pasta. (I'm telling you all this because they're facts. I am not paid by Banza.) To find out more, including where Banza is sold, visit eatbanza.com

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Next I sautéed onion in olive oil for about 8 minutes over medium heat. Onions start to break down and get soft when they've been cooked long enough. If you don't wait to that point, you'll get a weird raw onion flavor. Be patient and stir occasionally. When they were good to go, I added a little minced garlic. 

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Let's check in on that pasta. I say this every time I use Banza, but it really is remarkable how much it looks, feels, and tastes just like regular pasta. When done cooking, be sure to rinse off the pasta after draining to avoid gumminess. 

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I love a good homemade tomato sauce as much as anyone, but sometimes it's nice to just throw a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in with some onions and garlic and call it a day. The Food Network recipe suggested adding 1/2 cup of cooking water, but I didn't do that. I just simmered the onion, garlic and crushed tomatoes for about 15 minutes. 

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Easy as pie. 

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While the sauce was simmering, I cut up some fresh basil. I don't know if you guys have ever compared dried basil to fresh basil, but: there is no comparison. Fresh basil is always worth the few extra dollars it costs, in my opinion. 

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Optional ingredient: parmesan cheese. I don't eat dairy every day. In fact, I don't eat dairy MOST days. My body generally feels better when I keep my dairy consumption minimal. I do love cheese and eggs, though, and therefore will never become a full-blown vegan. I've found that it works well for me on a personal level to maintain a vegan diet about 75% of the time. This is just what works for me and I think everyone needs to find what works for them. For this dish, I definitely wanted to go all in, so I added parmesan. On another day if I wasn't feeling as cheesy, I could easily skip it. 

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The sauce came together beautifully after simmering. At this point all the components were finished and I just needed to combine everything. 

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Here come the veggies ...

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Here comes the pasta ...

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A little bit of cheese ...

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Some basil and voila! We have ourselves a meal that is delicious, nutritious, filling, and perfect for the changing weather. 

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It's just as yummy for lunch the next day and took 40 minutes in and out to make. Thanks for joining along for all these Banza recipes. Pasta is a beautiful thing. 

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My Favorite Summer Ingredients

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I love summer because it means eating lots of fresh food. Whether it’s produce that came from the store, farmers market, CSA or berry farm, summertime produce is full of flavor and is generally super easy to prepare. If you want to get out of the kitchen, no problem — most summertime ingredients taste great either raw or grilled. Here are a few of my favorites. 

1. Berries

My family loves to go berry picking during the summer. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries: any berry, anytime, anywhere, and I’m happy. We are lucky to live in Oregon, where there is an abundance of U-pick farms. I love to eat berries plain, add them to a Greek yogurt parfait, mix them into scone batter, or enjoy them with ice cream. 

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2. Corn

Corn on the cob is such a perfect food because it’s fresh, flavorful, and fun to eat. I love corn when it’s boiled but I LOVE corn when it’s grilled. We recently grilled ours in the husk and found that it came off pretty easily after cooking, which is great because peeling away those corn “hairs” is often the one thing that makes an otherwise easy food seem like a bit of a pain to prepare. I like corn with a little bit of olive oil or butter and salt and pepper, but I also like it with no seasoning at all. Especially when it comes to sweeter corn, I think it’s just as good naked. 

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3. Tomatoes

It’s difficult to beat a garden-fresh tomato (or a handful of garden-fresh cherry tomatoes). I love them raw or in salads and I LOVE them roasted. I think roasted tomatoes make the perfect addition to pasta, sandwiches, eggs and more. 

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4. Peaches and Nectarines

I love peaches and nectarines. I think they have the perfect amount of sweetness to seem decadent enough on their own, but they’re also delicious when combined with ice cream, cobblers, or other desserts (especially if they're grilled). Blend a peach in a blender and throw it in a popsicle mold, add a layer of coconut milk, and you have yourself an amazing peaches ‘n cream pop (I learned this trick from Fit Girls Guide). 

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5. Zucchini

Zucchini is one of those foods that everyone always seems to have an abundance of in their gardens, and I for one do not complain when asked to take on some of the overfill. I love to spiralize zucchini and use either in conjunction with or as a replacement for pasta. I also love the taste of grilled zucchini. In my mind there are few things more perfect than a big platter of grilled veggies. If for whatever reason you’re getting sick of grilling things this summer, you can always slice zucchini up thin and bake in the oven for some delicious homemade zucchini chips. 

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Worth Mentioning:

watermelon, green beans, summer squash, pineapple. Yum!

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From Krike's Kitchen: Banza Recipe #4, Spicy Pesto Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Nectarines

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Today I'm making another pasta recipe using Banza chickpea pasta. If you haven't been following my previous posts, here's a quick recap: Banza contains two times the protein, four times the fiber, and half the net carbs of traditional pasta. Banza is vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free and egg-free. Banza is made from chickpeas, tapioca, pea protein and xantham gum. Banza is not paying me to speak on their behalf, but they did send me six free boxes of pasta. I have been using this free pasta to experiment with different recipes. In all previous weeks I've followed a recipe, but this week I challenged myself to create my own. I was inspired by recipes I've tried in the past but decided to go completely off-book and create everything from scratch in the moment. The result was a dish that has a creamy pesto sauce with a slight kick mixed with perfectly roasted savory tomatoes and sweet nectarines. 

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To me this dish screams summertime. I ended up using about a third of the tomatoes pictured here, plus two of the nectarines. While the oven preheated to 325, I sliced everything up and placed on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. 

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I sprayed everything with a little spray oil and sprinkled with a touch of sea salt. I baked for 15 minutes on one side, flipped everything over, and baked for 10 more.

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While those roasted, I assembled my pesto ingredients. I used 1 cup of soaked cashews (which I started soaking a few hours prior), 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup water, a package of basil, a clove of garlic, a sliced jalapeño, and salt and pepper to taste. If you're sensitive to spice, you could make this with either a deseeded jalapeño or leave the jalapeño out entirely. If you want to kick it up even more, add another jalapeño or choose a hotter style of pepper like habanero. For me, one jalapeño with all the seeds was perfect. 

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There are few things I love more than throwing a bunch of ingredients into a food processor and ending up with something tasty. Making this thick, creamy pesto could not have been simpler.

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From there I boiled a pot of water and threw my pasta in. One thing I love about Banza is that it cooks rapidly. (Did I mention I'm not paid by Banza? I swear I'm not paid by Banza. I just love their pasta.)

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I know I mention this every time I make a recipe with Banza, but I again want to reiterate that it has the taste, texture and appearance of regular pasta. If you're nervous about a pasta made from chickpeas, rest assured there is absolutely no chickpea flavor. This just tastes like straight-up delicious noodles. 

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Look at those beautiful shells, all drained and rinsed. (Do not skip rinsing. If you do, you'll notice a real starchiness and stickiness.)

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I loved the hint of green that came out when I folded the pesto into the pasta, but I couldn't wait for the bold pop of color I knew was coming with the next step. 

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I've been obsessed with roasted tomatoes all summer, but I think the real showstopper in this dish is the nectarines. A little sweetness in each bite makes this pasta refreshing and memorable. 

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The whole recipe took about 20 minutes to make. It is packed with healthy fruits and veggies but does not taste like "health food." This dish got the seal of approval from my husband, who I don't think immediately realized that I hadn't followed a recipe to make it. For a quick, light summertime meal, I think this pasta is perfect.

FROM KRIKE'S KITCHEN: BANZA RECIPE #4, SPICY PESTO PASTA WITH ROASTED TOMATOES AND NECTARINES

INGREDIENTS:
1 box Banza pasta
1/2-1 cup cherry and grape tomatoes
2 nectarines
1 cup soaked cashews
1 handful basil
1 jalapeno
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
Sea salt
Pepper
Spray oil

DIRECTIONS:
See above.

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How to Start a Self-Love Revolution

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As I've mentioned many times in the past, I'm a big fan and follower of Fit Girls Guide, an online fitness community that promotes clean eating and self-love. For each monthly challenge with Fit Girls Guide, there is a new mantra. This month's is I Am The Revolution. I love this phrase because it encourages us to look inward for our own inspiration instead of seeking it elsewhere. 

At the same time, I know a lot of people are confused about where exactly to start when it comes to starting a revolution. Telling someone to "just love yourself" is not enough to get them going on a journey of acceptance and self-compassion. What does that actually mean and how does one practice it daily? 

I thought I would share a few concrete ways I started a self-love revolution for myself. This is a process that began four or five years ago and continues daily. I know this kind of revolution can seem daunting at first, but I think you'll see from the examples I'm providing that it can be a lot simpler than you might first realize.

1. STOP READING WOMEN'S MAGAZINES

This one pains me as a writer. When I was younger, I aspired to write for these types of publications. Also I don't want to miss out on the incredible writing I know lives in the pages of these magazines. (For the latter I have a solution: read the articles online.)

A lot of quality content can be found in women's magazines and I don't want to underscore this fact, but I also want to point out that the barrage of images — both from the magazine's photoshoots and the included advertising — are not healthy for even the healthiest woman out there. Flip through the pages of a women's magazine and the message you will find over and over again is that you are not enough. You're not thin enough or your hair isn't shiny enough or your fashion budget isn't big enough or your skin isn't clear enough or your body isn't toned enough or your nails aren't bright enough and so on and so on.

These magazines exist to sell  products. Magazines want you to believe that the pop singer with the flawless skin didn't get that way through airbrushing; she got that way because she uses X brand of makeup. That model's hair isn't the result of three hours with a hair professional; it's because she uses Y hair product. We would all be a little prettier and happier if we just bought this outfit or that eye cream or this self-tanner. 

Remove yourself from the cycle of comparison by just saying no to women's magazines. I used to read them religiously (probably at least five different magazines a month) and it's amazing what happened when I stopped several years ago. I no longer felt like I HAD to go get my hands on a certain beauty product because I was no longer aware of that beauty product's existence. I no longer looked at pictures of celebrities or models and compared them to the way I looked in my own life. Eventually, when I did pick up a magazine again, I was struck by the skewed ratio of quality content versus selling. I decided to become a person who didn't want to be sold anything. I decided to accept myself the way I already was, without X miracle beauty product or must-have outfit. Once I ditched the constant exposure to beautiful airbrushed models, I felt a lot less pressure to look a certain way and a lot more comfortable just being myself. 

2. EAT FOODS THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD

I know I'm getting into tricky territory with this one. On the one hand, I hate the way that food is moralized and we're made to believe there's such a thing as good versus bad when it comes to the way we eat. This society puts way too much pressure on everyone, specifically women, to look a certain way and be a certain size and we're often sold the message that the only way to be happy is to not be overweight. I don't buy any of that. I think people should eat what they want to eat, wear what makes them comfortable, and live their lives the way they want to live their lives.

That being said, there is no denying the fact that for me, eating healthy foods makes me feel one way and eating unhealthy foods makes me feel another. Processed foods exacerbate my fatigue. Fresh foods and veggies combined with lean proteins and whole grains give me energy. Does this mean I never consume chips or cupcakes or other so-called "bad" foods? No! It means that balance is always my goal and I strive for a diet that relies mostly on healthy foods and minimally on less healthy ones. To me this has nothing to do with wanting to look a certain way. It has nothing to do with self-punishment. It has everything to do with checking in and realizing that I simply cannot finish off a plate of greasy nachos and feel great afterward. I feel weighed down, lethargic and listless — which is fine if those greasy nachos are an occasional indulgence and those post-nacho symptoms are an occasional side effect. When junk food starts taking over my life, though, it has a huge impact on the way I feel both physically and emotionally. I am far more prone to get an upset stomach or head after polishing off a cookie than I am after eating an apple. 

On the other hand, when I feed myself food that fuels me with the nutrients and vitamins and minerals my body needs, I operate better. My thoughts feel clearer. My energy is bigger. I feel more equipped to take on life challenges that arise daily. So while I don't turn down a piece of birthday cake and don't recommend that you do either, I also make a conscious attempt to fill my life with leafy greens and quinoa and tofu and almonds and garden-fresh veggies and berries. I do this because my physical and mental health depends on it. I simply can't love myself as much when I don't even have the energy to move. 

3. CULTIVATE YOUR OWN STYLE

There are a lot of style rules out there dictating that this type of body needs to wear this type of swimsuit and that type of body should avoid that cut of dress and if you weigh X, cover yourself up and if you weigh Y, go about your days half-naked. To me it's all nonsense. When it comes to putting clothes on your body, I think it all boils down to wearing what you like, what makes you comfortable, and what makes you happy. Period.

If you're 250 pounds and want to wear short shorts, don't let anyone stop you. If you wouldn't be caught dead in a dress even at a friend's wedding, own it. If you want to wear a bikini but are worried what others will think, screw what everyone thinks and wear it with pride. If you want to wear nothing but sweats and T-shirts, go for it. If you get dressed to the nines every day and wake up extra early to do your hair and makeup because that's what makes you happy, do that. Wear what you like. Wear what makes you comfortable. Wear what makes you happy. Follow trends if you think that's fun. Avoid them if you don't. Wear jeans. Wear skirts. Wear the skimpiest swimsuit imaginable. Wear a conservative pantsuit. Show your cleavage. Cover your cleavage. Wear something tight. Wear something loose. Wear something that elicits compliments. Wear something that nobody else likes. It doesn't matter as long as you like it, you are comfortable, and you are happy.  

4. TREAT YOURSELF THE WAY YOU'D TREAT A CHILD

This one is huge because women have a tendency to say horrible things to themselves. Every time you look into the mirror and tell yourself how fat and hideous you are, turn around and picture yourself saying those exact same words to a small child. Nobody — child or adult — deserves to be treated with hatred. Nobody includes YOU. You do not deserve to be treated with hatred. If you would forgive a child for accidentally breaking a plate, forgive yourself for eating an unhealthy meal that left you feeling depleted. If you can forgive a child for saying something inappropriate, forgive yourself for whatever missteps you made today. You can skip your workout and still be a wonderful person. You can weigh more than what society tells you you're supposed to weigh and still be a wonderful person. You can try on an outfit you don't like and refuse to tell yourself you have a gross body, opting instead to realize that all outfits fit all people in all different ways and this one just didn't quite work out. Hug the child in your life, hug yourself, and move on. 

Several years ago I read this piece by Sarah Koppelkam and it became the Bible for how I treat myself and others. Now that I am pregnant, I've been thinking about this concept anew. This is a short piece of writing and I encourage everyone to read it from start to finish. If you want a revolution of self-love and body acceptance, this is the way to get there. Use this as a guide for talking to your daughters and sons. Use this as a guide for talking to yourself. Memorize the words. Tattoo them on your body. Live them. There's your revolution. 

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Banza Recipe #2: Mediterranean Pasta

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Today I made my second recipe using Banza chickpea pasta and just like last week, I tried to keep things super simple to show how easy it is to throw a few ingredients together and create a healthy pasta meal. If you missed my first post last week, here is a quick refresher: Banza does not sponsor me or pay me, but they did send me six complimentary boxes of their chickpea pasta. The ingredients in Banza are chickpeas, tapioca, pea protein and xantham gum. Banza is vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free and egg-free. Banza contains two times the protein, four times the fiber, and half the net carbs of regular pasta. To find out more, including where it's sold and how to order, visit eatbanza.com.

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This week I went for penne, which I thought would blend with the ingredients nicely. You may recall that last week I forgot to rinse the pasta after I drained it and it had some gumminess. This week I remembered and it was perfect. 

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Since getting pregnant, I've been using a lot of new resources for recipes. One of my favorite resources is the Ovuline pregnancy app, which is where I found this recipe for Healthy Mediterranean Pasta. It's a super simple recipe and easily adaptable (I used vegan butter instead of regular, kalamata olives instead of green, and I subbed in garlic powder since I ran out of garlic. I also used veggie broth instead of wine and added a little bit of the juice from the olives to up the flavor). 

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Fun fact: When I was a kid, I hated cooked mushrooms. The only way I ever ate mushrooms was raw and dipped in A-1 sauce. These days, cooked mushrooms are one of my favorite things. 

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I again cannot emphasize enough how much this chickpea pasta looks, tastes and feels like regular pasta. 

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Remembering to actually rinse the pasta this time made ALL The difference. 

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You'll notice there aren't any artichoke hearts in this picture. The artichoke heart jar turned out to be the bane of my existence. After trying to open it for what felt like hours, I finally had to throw up a white flag and wait for Mike to come home and help me. This was a low point for me as a feminist. 

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Damn you, artichoke hearts!

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All put together — rascally artichoke hearts and all — this dish is just as delicious as it is pretty. Minus the artichoke heart fiasco it took probably 20 minutes to make, tops. For a quick weeknight dinner that somehow tastes both decadent and light, this really hit the spot. 

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Cupcake in the Oven

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My darling husband Mike and I are so excited to be adding a new member to our family in November. We can't wait to meet our little cupcake and in the meantime, we've been learning a lot about pregnancy. If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that the way I envisioned my pregnancy and the way it's actually playing out are unbelievably different. If there's two things I know for sure, it's that this is okay.

I could not have anticipated how tired I would feel. I had this vision of pregnancy as this time when I would be motivated to sit down and write a book and attack my household chores and prep healthy meals and be full of endless excitement and energy all day, every day. It was like that, just like that, for a few weeks. But then the fatigue hit. Then the nausea followed. Then I realized there would be days when the single most productive thing I'd do all day was finish a writing assignment for work while reclined on the couch in between naps. I realized there would be days when I'd never change out of my robe. There would be days when I wouldn't make it out of the house. There would be days when I'd settle onto the couch to take "a 20-minute nap" only to wake up from a dead sleep five hours later. There would be days when I wouldn't write at all. There would be days when I would not work out. There would be days when I would not make it to the store or muster up the energy to fix a healthy meal. There would be days when I would eat chips and days when I would eat ice cream and days when I would go back to bed after my husband left for work and not wake up again until the afternoon. There would be days when a walk around the block was all I could handle. There would be days when I'd say, "Pizza? Absolutely. No way I'm cooking tonight." There would be days when I would throw up my breakfast and days when, no matter how exciting the prospect of our impending little one was, I simply could not work up the energy to feel joyful.

There were other days, too. Days when I did get dressed. When I did get more than just the bare minimum of work requirements done. Days when I ran half marathons. Days when I put together healthy feasts and cleaned the house and ran errands and felt like a productive member of society. I feel like what I've experienced in pregnancy is such a small preview of what's to come with my child: there are going to be such good days and such bad days and so, so many days in between. 

I'm not having a picture-perfect pregnancy, but I've seen enough turbulent and even life-threatening pregnancies to know I'm lucky. Am I enjoying every second of it? No, and anyone who says that didn't experience nausea or exhaustion. But I'm enjoying most of it. And though it's taken me awhile to get here, I'm finally to the point where I'm excited to share my experience. 

As a longtime vegetarian, one fear I had was that I'd crave meat during pregnancy. For the record, if this had happened, I would have eaten meat. I'm not depriving my baby of anything. Instead, the opposite happened. During most of my first trimester, my aversion to eggs and dairy products was so strong I had to avoid them almost entirely. This is how I found myself becoming a Mostly Vegan. On the rare days when the thought of eggs or cheese didn't make me want to throw up, I absolutely took advantage and got myself an omelette or grilled cheese. Most days, though, my body just wasn't having it. So I listened. 

The egg/dairy aversion lifted in my second trimester and I've been incorporating (small amounts of) eggs and dairy back into my diet. I've realized that I actually do like to limit my intake because the difference in how I feel when I eat a lot of it versus none is substantial. Most days I have either a small amount or none. Some days (I'm looking at you, Saturday) I have pizza AND nachos AND an ice cream sandwich. And then I wake up the next day and remember why Iife is more fun for me when I don't eat like that. In the end, it all balances out.

The first eight or so weeks of my pregnancy were somewhat breezy. I was tired but I didn't have any nausea and I had enough energy to more or less keep up with my regular workouts. Weeks 9 - 14 or so were more hellish. This was when I discovered that those cute late-night ice cream cravings pregnant women are always having in movies and commercials are B.S. A pregnancy craving is not "Oh my gosh, I just have to have some ice cream RIGHT NOW and I'll send my husband out to get some even though it's 3 a.m. because it just sounds SO GOOD!" A pregnancy craving is "There is literally one food and one food only that I can think about and not want to throw up, so I will do whatever it takes to get that food." For me that food was always something super salty like sour cream and onion chips or Wheat Thins, which was super bizarre for me because before pregnancy, I rarely used even a pinch of salt when cooking. Salt was just not my thing. In pregnancy, salt is SO my thing.

Before I was pregnant, I was running 150 miles a month, six days a week, at a sub-8-minute mile. Now I'm running about 55 miles a month, 2-3 days a week, and I'm creeping up on a 12-minute mile. I knew I'd be running slower and less, but I didn't expect things to decrease this much. What I discovered is that there were a lot of days when my energy level was simply too low to fathom going for a run. On those days I tried to walk instead, but even then there were some days I just had to skip and let myself nap instead. I've long been a proponent of listening to my body and giving it what it needs, but it is only in pregnancy that I've learned just how easy I need to go on myself sometimes. I am simply not willing to push myself for the sake of pushing myself when ever fiber of my being is telling me to rest, rest, rest. I know my body is responding to the needs of my baby — so if my baby needs me to rest, I'm going to rest.

I've been working very hard to supply my baby with an extremely nutritious and balanced diet. Once the nutrient quota for the day is hit, I allow myself treats. I do this often. Why? Because I'm HUNGRY and my baby is hungry and we already ate all the things we're supposed to eat, so now we're going to finish the day with an ice cream sandwich and not feel bad about it. Before I was pregnant, I so rarely ate the kinds of snacks I'm eating now. In the first trimester it was all about chips, crackers, toast, popcorn, and whatever salty morsels I could find. Lately I've been drifting back toward my natural sweet tooth, which means that first and foremost I've been eating a lot of fruit, and beyond that I've been having sweet treats of the ice cream and cookie variety. I try to make my own when I can and stick to cleaner brands when I can't — or occasionally I just go for it with the processed crap. I do. I thought I wouldn't get that stuff anywhere near my baby, but every once in awhile it sounds so good I incorporate a handful and move on with my life. Last night I had frosted animal cookies after eating a vegetable-heavy dinner. Balance, balance, balance.

So far the changes in my body have been both subtle and extraordinary. Pregnancy has a way of making you feel hideous by causing a slew of physical effects simultaneously. It's not just that you're gaining weight. It's that you're gaining weight at the same time your face is breaking out and the same time your hair is getting super dry and the same time your nose won't stop running and the same time your feet and legs are swelling up and the same time you have no energy to do anything, much less put on a cute outfit or do your hair or wear makeup. Huge kudos to the women who say they felt/ feel most beautiful when they're pregnant because that's been a difficult costume for me to wear. I'm not glowing; I'm sweating. My weight gain isn't going exclusively toward an adorable baby bump; my butt and legs and arms are getting bigger, too. I don't feel radiant; I feel tired.

That said, do I get what "they" say about being amazed by your body's capabilities during pregnancy? Yes. I've felt so much of my vanity float away during this process, partly because I'm too damn tired to give that much thought to how I look and partly because I recognize there's something truly magical about what's happening to my body. There is a human growing inside of me! Some nights I catch myself complaining to my husband about how big everything is getting and the fact that I keep breaking out along my jawline and the weird way a lot of clothes look on me right now. He always reminds me that underneath all that surface bullshit, our baby is living and growing inside of me. So maybe I don't feel my cutest right now, but maybe feeling cute is so beside the point anyway.

Would I trade this body for anything? No. There's a little cupcake baking in this oven and the bigger that cupcake gets, the less I care about the state of the kitchen. Let there be flour on the counters and batter on the floor. I can clean things up after this cupcake is born. Or I can not clean things up, and focus my energy elsewhere. Either way, there will be time. Right now I have more important things to worry about. 

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Banza Recipe #1: Creamy Avocado Pasta

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Over the next few weeks, I'm going to make six different pasta dishes — all using Banza chickpea pasta. Let me start by saying that I am in no way being paid by Banza. As previously discussed many times here, the only payment I receive from this blog comes from my generous patrons at Patreon. I do not receive ad revenue or sponsorship. All the money I receive comes from people like you who decided to donate $1-5 a week. In return they receive perks like access to patrons-only posts that go beyond what's here on the blog and have the opportunity to request blog content. If you're interested, please check out patreon.com/kristenforbes.

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Although Banza is not paying me, they did send me something nearly as good as payment: free samples of their product! I was more than happy to receive a case of six pastas from them. I again want to say, though, that I am not being paid and I do not feel obligated to say nice things about this pasta simply because it was provided to me free of charge. If I tried it and didn't like it, I would have quietly thanked them and said nothing about it on the blog. But here's the thing: I tried it and I really liked it. In part to say thanks for sending it to me but in bigger part to tell you all about something I thought was straight-up yummy, I'm going to share my experiences with Banza here.

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For my first foray into the world of chickpea pasta, I wanted to make a ridiculously simple dish to make sure I didn't confuse recipe frustration with pasta frustration. I turned to something I've made again and again over the years because I love the recipe's simplicity, flavor, and super short prep time. I've made this one so many times I consider it a classic. It's the 15-Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta from Oh She Glows. (By the way, I am definitely not affiliated with Oh She Glows, but I love the recipes.) This is one of those dishes that couldn't be simpler. All you need is pasta, avocado, lemon juice, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

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It turned out I had all the ingredients on hand except the basil, which I bought fresh at a Farmers Market hours before making this dish. Just to reiterate how amazingly simple this recipe is: all you do is cook the pasta and throw all the other ingredients in a food processor. That's it.

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Look how creamy that sauce turns out. So as I mentioned, I've made this recipe many times before — but always with whole wheat pasta or a few times with zucchini noodles (sorry guys, I can't bring myself to call them "zoodles" like everyone else. They are zucchini noodles. While we're at it, a best friend is a best friend and not a "bestie" and "totally" does not need to be condensed to "totes" and I think we can all manage "adorable" over "adorbs." But I digress.) My original point is this: I've made this recipe enough times to know how it's supposed to taste. If the pasta made it taste different, I would have known right away. 

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The process of cooking chickpea pasta was the same as cooking any other kind of pasta. While it was boiling in the pot, the chickpea pasta looked exactly like ...  any other pasta.

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We can all agree that as appearances go, this pasta is distinguishable from any other, am I right?

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Here's where I messed up slightly. After draining the pasta, I neglected to rinse it as instructed on the box. We all already know I thought the overall result was delicious (hence an entire blog post about it), but I will say that I'm going to be sure to rinse the pasta next time I use it because it had a slight gummy starchiness to it — not enough to turn me off the dish by any means, but slightly there. I don't think this was the pasta's fault, though. I think this one can be chalked up to user error. 

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Look how creamy and green the final product is. The next time I make this, I think I'll add some peas for an even brighter pop of green throughout. 

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A little fresh basil on top and voila: dinner is served. You guys, this was really good. I know it looks just like pasta, but guess what? It also tastes just like pasta. If I was serving this to someone without mentioning what it was, I don't think there's any chance in the world they'd ask if it was made from chickpeas. It simply tastes like pasta. With this creamy avocado sauce, it was perfection. 

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Let's get into what this pasta actually is (Again remember I'm not at all paid for this — just sharing the info). Banza ingredients are chickpeas, tapioca, pea protein and xantham gum. Banza is vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free and egg-free. A 2-ounce serving contains 14 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber (as well as 30 percent of your daily iron, which is great news for someone with anemic tendencies like me). A 3.5-ounce serving (which is in line with what most Americans eat) contains 25 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber, and 43 grams of net carbs (plus 50 percent of your daily iron, whoo hoo!). Average pasta per 3.5-ounce serving contains 13 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 71 grams of net carbs. So in the end, Banza pasta contains two times the protein, four times the fiber, and half the net carbs. This makes it a much more filling and light choice than regular pasta — and it tastes just as good.

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This would have worked perfectly well as a main dish, but we wanted to take advantage of the warm weather and do some grilling as well. We both had grilled artichokes, Mike had grilled steak, and I had grilled tofu. Combined with the avocado pasta, it ended up being an incredibly tasty and satisfying meal. I can't wait to try more recipes with my remaining five boxes of Banza. In the meantime, I'm eating the leftovers for lunch and still loving every bite. 

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From Krike's Kitchen: Avocado-Egg Salad

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Today I want to share the easiest, yummiest, healthiest egg salad recipe you could ever imagine. Egg salad has been weighing big on my brain lately because I've been craving it off and on for the last few weeks. Two weekends ago Mike and I finally made a special trip to Fred Meyer to get a grab-and-go egg salad sandwich, only to discover that our Fred Meyer doesn't make them anymore. Not only did they not have the sandwiches, they've apparently stopped making egg salad altogether. There were no tubs of egg salad to be found in the deli case. We picked up some potato salad instead. It was not the same. 

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A word about egg salad, and then a word about eggs in general: I don't crave egg salad very often. It is not a dish I could happily eat every week. But when I do get a hankering for egg salad, it is a craving so specific and so compelling, I will think about it for weeks. The worst part about egg salad is that it's a gamble. There is bad egg salad (which for me means the super mayonnaise-y kind) and good egg salad (the kind worthy of a fancy tea party). Bad or good, there is no substitution or replacement for an egg salad craving. 

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Eggs and I have developed an interesting relationship. I've discovered that I really love eggs — but only when I eat them rarely. They're not a daily treat for me. I generally feel healthier when the bulk of my meals are egg and dairy-free. However, going completely egg and dairy-free does not work for me. My body craves cheese. My body craves eggs. Certainly not every day, and sometimes not every week. But when I do crave dairy or eggs, I make sure to honor that craving. If you've followed my blog for awhile you know I'm a huge advocate of listening to your body. I am a longtime vegetarian, but I don't believe everyone was meant to be vegetarian. I'm a sometimes-vegan, and I definitely don't believe everyone was meant to be vegan. I think we're all meant to honor our bodies in whatever way that means for us as individuals. For me, eating eggs once a week or so works perfectly.

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This past weekend was hot in Portland. Temperatures reached up to 100 and the last thing either of us felt like doing was cooking. We still wanted to eat, though. I know there are people who are like, "It's so hot, I'm not even hungry!" but, uh, no. I can always eat. It was the perfect weekend to whip up some homemade egg salad. As I mentioned, I'm not a big mayonnaise fan. So we looked around the kitchen, threw a few things together and whipped up this amazingly easy and delicious avocado-egg salad. We are definitely not the first people to make egg salad using avocado, but we didn't use a recipe and just winged it. The results were delicious. 

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FROM KRIKE'S KITCHEN: AVOCADO-EGG SALAD

INGREDIENTS:
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 avocado
Lemon juice (I like things super lemon-y and used a whole lemon, but the amount is up to you)
Sprinkle of sea salt
Optional ingredients: parsley, basil, chives, dill or any other herbs (we kept things super simple and didn't use any)

DIRECTIONS: Once the eggs are cooled, peel them and smash them with a fork in a bowl. Add the avocado and smash together. Add the lemon juice and sea salt. Combine well. That's it! Serve with bread or crackers. This is probably enough for 4 servings, but we ate it all at once as a meal instead of a snack. 

The texture is creamy. The flavor is fresh. In my opinion, it tastes better than original egg salad. Using avocado instead of mayonnaise really lightens things up, so it's healthier than the original, too. The recipe is a win/win. Let me know if you try it!

 

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From Krike's Kitchen: Simple Watermelon Smoothie

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It's important to me to include some super simple recipes here because I think there are few things more annoying than looking at a recipe and realizing it requires a ton of ingredients and a lot of steps. When it comes to cooking (and life in general), I think simpler is better. A recipe with only a few ingredients costs less in both money and time. 

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My husband and I agree on many things, but I love watermelon and he is not a fan. I generally buy mini watermelons because they're small enough for me to eat on my own over the course of a week or so. I think watermelon is the quintessential summertime food but he doesn't like the flavor and texture.

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Imagine my surprise when Mike actually SUGGESTED we make watermelon smoothies for breakfast one morning. "But you don't like watermelon," I said, and he explained that a watermelon smoothie is not like eating a piece of watermelon. Excited to have him on Team Watermelon in any capacity, I didn't argue.

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We used frozen banana in the first batch of smoothies and found the banana flavor way too overpowering, so we switched it up and used strawberries the second time around. Much better.

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You know what else my husband doesn't like? Cucumbers. I'm married to a man who doesn't like watermelon OR cucumbers. But he's always full of surprises: just as he makes an exception for watermelon smoothies, he also happily tolerates cucumber-infused vodka. 

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Luckily, watermelon and cucumber nearly sums up ALL the foods Mike doesn't like. Having a partner who happily eats everything I make, no matter how kooky, is priceless. It makes it a lot more fun to experiment around the kitchen when I know he'll want to sink his teeth into whatever I end up making — and even more fun to collaborate together in the kitchen.  

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We got our Thai basil from an Asian grocer near our house, but any type of basil will work for this recipe. 

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FROM KRIKE'S KITCHEN: SIMPLE WATERMELON SMOOTHIE

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups watermelon
2 cups frozen strawberries
1/2 cup milk of your choice (I used an almond/ coconut combo)
Handful of mint
Handful of basil
Sprinkle of chili powder or cayenne

DIRECTIONS: Throw everything into a blender or food processor. Blend well. This makes enough for 2 servings. 

 

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Let's Talk About Tempeh

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I feel like I've been receiving a lot of questions about tempeh lately. Tempeh is a soy product in the same family as tofu with a firm texture and earthy, almost nutty flavor. It is a good source of both protein (31 grams per cup) and fiber (14 grams per cup) and works well as a meat replacement in vegetarian diets.

The problem with tempeh is that most people have no idea what to do with it. It's one of those foods that doesn't add a lot of flavor if you just throw it in with whatever else you're cooking. It can taste plain and feel dry when cooked and a lot of people get turned away from the weird, bumpy texture and even weirder brownish-gray color.

The first few times I made tempeh, I was not a fan. (This seems to be a very common story; I've heard it echoed in many blogs and cookbooks.) I sliced it up, cooked it in a pan with a little bit of oil and a sprinkling of spices, and thought: Oh, blah. The tempeh I made was probably the exact dish hardcore carnivores picture when wondering why anyone would ever give up meat for something so tasteless. 

Then I took a cue from Fried Green Tomatoes and realized that when it comes to tempeh, the secret is in the sauce. Tempeh that is either cooked in the right sauce or marinated in the right marinade tastes unbelievably good. I have a friend who works at a meaty BBQ joint that serves tempeh and he told me, in an almost conspiratorial whisper, "I never would have believed it, but the tempeh is REALLY good."

If you've have bad luck with tempeh or you just don't even know where to start, there is hope. Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare tempeh for the maximum amount of flavor.

 

Make tempeh bacon.

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The tempeh bacon I like most comes from the cookbook More Peas, Thank You. It's not available online, but many others are, like this one from Happy Healthy Life. Tempeh bacon is sweet, savory and crispy. Does it taste anything like "real" bacon? No. Do you really want it to? Tempeh bacon is its own thing. It's perfect as a protein-packed side for breakfast or thrown into a veggie BLT. You can also crumble it up and put it on top of salads a la bacon bits. 

Whole wheat bread + a little vegan mayo + tempeh bacon + sundried tomatoes + kale = my favorite BLT ever.

Whole wheat bread + a little vegan mayo + tempeh bacon + sundried tomatoes + kale = my favorite BLT ever.

Whole wheat English muffin + tofu + tempeh bacon + lettuce + tomato = a yummy breakfast sandwich.   

Whole wheat English muffin + tofu + tempeh bacon + lettuce + tomato = a yummy breakfast sandwich.

 

Make a tempeh marinade.

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I'm in love with the Marinated Balsamic, Maple and Garlic Tempeh recipe from the Oh She Glows cookbook. That recipe is not available online, but here is a similar Balsamic Maple Glazed Tempeh recipe from Meghan Telpher. I'm telling you guys: saucy recipes like these will make a tempeh lover out of anyone. It's delicious in the same way meat is delicious to meat lovers: it just tastes good.

 

Saute tempeh with bold flavors.

 

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The Simple Vegan Caesar Salad recipe from the cookbook Supercharged Foods: Eat Clean, Green and Vegetarian is one of my favorite things on this planet. It includes tempeh that's sauteed with olive oil, soy sauce and garlic, and it is to die for. Once again it seems that particular recipe is not available online, so instead I'll direct you to the Vegan Coach for your choice of gravy, peanut sauce or sesame sauce to saute with your tempeh. The thing about tempeh that I've discovered is that if you cook it plain, it tastes plain. If you toss it with bold flavors, it soaks them up. Tell your tempeh to go bold or go home.

 

Try these five tips for making amazing tempeh dishes. 

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Head over to One Green Planet for the step-by-step lowdown on making perfect tempeh. This includes everything you need to know about removing it from the package (trickier than you might think!), pre-steaming or simmering, choosing a shape, marinades and dry rubs, and cooking times. 

Get outside the tempeh box. 

 

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What else can you do with tempeh? You can do just about ANYTHING with tempeh. You can make tempeh lasagna with cashew cream sauce or kale avocado wraps with spicy miso-dipped tempeh or tempeh picatta. You can make barbeque tempeh sandwiches or General Tso's tempeh or tempeh tacos. You can make teriyaki tempeh or a BBQ tempeh bowl or vegan whole wheat pizza with roasted veggies and tempeh. Make a summer tempeh sammie. Make a blackened tempeh salad. Make a tempeh "bolognaise" spaghetti sauce. Make whatever your little heart desires. Just remember: no matter what you do, make it bold. 

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5 Yummy, Healthy Ingredients To Throw in Tacos or Fajitas for Cinco de Mayo

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Happy Cinco de Mayo! I've always loved Mexican food, but I've drastically changed the way I prepare and consume it in recent years. Where there were once huge piles of cheese and sour cream you'll now find handfuls of fresh veggies and beans prepared with minimal oil. Mexican food can get really heavy when it's fried and drenched in meat and cheese, but it can also be prepared in a way that's super fresh and light. Focus on fresh veggies, skip the globs of cheese and get your healthy fat fix through avocado or homemade guacamole. Opt for baking, roasting or grilling over frying. To make things even healthier, skip the salty store-bought chips and bake your own by cutting up whole wheat or corn tortillas. If you're feeling ambitious, make your own salsa. There are so many swaps you can make to turn a Cinco de Mayo fiesta into a healthy event. Here are some ideas for taco and fajita fillings to get you started.

 

1. Walnut Taco “Meat”

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Note: I’m not including any real meat in this list because I don’t eat meat and haven’t eaten meat for over 20 years. I have nothing against people who do eat meat and encourage you to use whatever fixings you love, but I it would be a little ridiculous for me to recommend meat because I don’t even remember what it tastes like at this point. With that said, this is going to be a plant-based list.

I’m a fan of soyrizo and other types of veggie crumbles, but sometimes buying fake meat makes me feel like I’m getting something more processed than actual meat. I used to be a diehard Morningstar Farms lover, but familiarizing myself with the huge ingredients list on the back of the box made me wary. These days I prefer making my own not-meat products, whether it’s black bean patties or tempeh bacon. Walnut taco “meat” is one of my favorite things to make recently. It has the texture of regular taco meat but a flavor all its own.

I was first introduced to walnut taco “meat” when I made taco fiesta potato crisps from the Oh She Glows cookbook. She doesn’t have that basic walnut taco meat recipe on her site, but she does have this lentil-walnut taco meat recipe. For something more basic, here’s a walnut taco meat recipe from Food.com. Or for a fun twist, try this walnut taco meat with sundried tomatoes recipe from The Naked Avocado.

 

2. Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

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Portobello mushrooms are a magical vegetarian ingredient because they have a meaty texture without being meat. I'm sure a lot of omnivores associate summertime with grilling burgers and steaks, but when I think of summer I think of grilling corn, peppers, and portobello mushrooms. There's something in particular about mushrooms and tortillas that seem to go really well together. Try this grilled portobello mushroom fajitas recipe from The Scramble or try this garlicky grilled portobello mushrooms with smoky tomato-chile salsa recipe from The Splendid Table. 

 

3. Cauliflower

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Wait a minute, what? Why are we combining cauliflower and Mexican food? What's next, black beans in our brownies? First of all, do not knock black bean brownies until you try them. Secondly, cauliflower is an incredibly versatile ingredient that can take on the flavors of just about anything you combine with it. This is why cauliflower is widely known among parents as a secret ingredient to throw in meals to make healthy food undetected by kids. Cauliflower is now a popular ingredient in eggs and macaroni and cheese, and it's replacing starchier carbs in cauliflower pizza crust and cauliflower rice. Here are two delicious cauliflower variations to try out: a buffalo cauliflower tacos recipe from Buzzed and a roasted beer and lime cauliflower tacos recipe from Epicurious.

 

4. Chickpeas

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Chickpeas are another one of those miracle vegetarian ingredients that can be flavored in a lot of different ways and cooked to get a really crispy texture. Spicy roasted chickpeas are great as a snack on their own and delicious when thrown into a tortilla, too. Try this roasted chickpea & broccoli burrito recipe from Thug Kitchen or this chickpea tacos with guacamole recipe from Coffee and Quinoa. 

 

5. Sweet Potatoes

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As followers of Fit Girls Guide know, sweet potato street tacos can be life-changing. Sweet potatoes are super easy to make. For a really fast variation, cut into cubes (don't worry about the skin), microwave in a bowl with a splash of water for a few minutes, and transfer to a pan to cook with a little olive oil, spices, onions and garlic until done. Try this sweet potato and black beans fajita recipe from BakeSpace, this sweet potatoes and avocado tacos recipe from Love and Lemons, or this sweet potato and pinto beans taco recipe from Thug Kitchen. 

 

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It's (Almost) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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If you had asked me a few years ago for my stance on farmers markets, I would have categorized them as one of the most overrated experiences imaginable. This is how I would have described them: You fight through crowds to stand in lines to buy some weird vegetables you don't end up using, which then rot in your fridge. Oh, and that's if you don't forget to bring cash, which you always do, which means you fight through crowds and stand in lines for NOTHING because you can't buy anything anyway. Meanwhile you are guaranteed to encounter all of the following: barking dogs, big strollers you can't maneuver around, and aimless people who constantly stop right in front of you so you have to jump out of the way to avoid crashing into them. What a hoot.  

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But then I realized I was going about farmers markets all wrong. Not only was I going at the wrong time (the middle of the day on a weekend is asking for disaster), I was going in unprepared (seriously, just bring some cash and don't forget your own bags) and with the wrong attitude. Going to a farmers market is not like going to a grocery store, where you make a beeline for the aisles you need based on the list you've made ahead of time and avoid interacting with other shoppers as much as possible. Farmers markets are another experience entirely.

 

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Farmers markets are interesting because a.) you need a bit of a game plan to keep from getting trampled or completely unfocused, but b.) you don't want TOO much of a game plan or it ruins all the magic. This is what my problem used to be: I went into farmers markets with very specific expectations that could not logistically be met and then I left disappointed. Every time. This is one of those times when it's so much better to chuck expectations and just see what happens. 

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In my opinion, it zaps away the fun if you go to a farmers market with a specific list. Inevitably that one vegetable you need is either in a less-than-desirable state or completely unavailable, and then the grand idea you had for dinner that night is ruined. If instead you walk in and let yourself be surprised by what's available, you may end up creating a dish that's completely new to you.

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It's also good to have a general idea of what's in season so you're not disappointed when craving a wintertime vegetable in the middle of summer. AboutFood.com is a great resource for this because they have all kinds of lists: regional lists, state lists, seasonal lists. Since we're starting farmers market season in spring, here are some fruits and veggies that typically do well in spring: apricots, artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, carrots, chard, cherries, fava beans, fennel, grapefruit, green onions, kiwis, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mint, morels, navel oranges, new potatoes, parsley, peas, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, spring onions, strawberries, sweet onions and turnips. 

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If your schedule prohibits you from going to farmers markets any time other than the busiest times, godspeed as you fight the crowds. If you're lucky enough to have some control over when you go, choose wisely. The best time to go: right when it's opening. This is when the selection is best and the crowd is smallest.

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Do not be afraid to improvise. I know so many people who think the only way to cook is by using a recipe. This is not true! Some of the best meals are the ones thrown together last-minute using whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. Here's an easy way to think about building a balanced meal. First, include a healthy complex carb. This could be brown rice, couscous, quinoa, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, a tortilla or a gluten-free grain. Then, include a healthy protein. This could be chicken, fish, tofu, tempeh, seitan, edamame, eggs, whatever. Make sure to include a healthy fat. This could be a dressing made with olive oil, peanut butter, hummus, cheese, nuts, or avocado. Then go to town on fresh vegetables and fruits. These can be raw, roasted, grilled, baked — however you want them. Once you fill all these categories, you have a complete, balanced meal. It's that easy. Tortilla + chicken strips + cheese + grilled veggies = balanced meal. Whole wheat pasta + shrimp or edamame + pesto made with nuts and olive oil + roasted veggies  = balanced meal. Whole wheat toast + eggs + avocado + berries = balanced meal. 

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Another way to approach a farmers market is to use the expertise of the people who work there. Nobody's going to give you a blank look if you ask for suggestions for how to prepare a certain vegetable. Many vendors will be able to suggest either general cooking approaches or specific recipes. These people are experts. Trust them when they say something will taste good.

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Another tip to remember: it's not just about the produce. Farmers markets are a great place to discover local brands of hummus, dips, nuts, cheeses and more. You're also likely to find some amazing lemonade, coffee, baked goods, and ready-to-go food cart meals for lunch or dinner. And don't forget the flowers. Compare the prices of supermarket flowers versus farmers market flowers and in most cases, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the farmers market.

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Sample the products. Even when I wasn't on Team Farmers Market, I had to admit there are few things in life better than a free sample. Sample away, but don't be a jerk about it. If you like something enough to want to sneak another sample, buy it. Don't be that person who lurks around and pretends it's the first bite of cheese you've had all day when really it's your fifth. 

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Let yourself be inspired. I think there is something so fun about going in with the idea that somewhere in that market, you will find all the ingredients you need to make your next meal. You have no idea what those ingredients are, but you'll know them when you see them. This is intuitive eating at its best: letting the fresh smells, bright colors, and crisp textures guide your choices. We've all had those days when we open our packed lunch and think, "This doesn't even sound good anymore." Today is not going to be one of those days. Today you will literally go from farm(ers market) to table, leaving you no time to change your mind about what you want. 

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Aim for simplicity. The best farmers markets meals, in my opinion, are the most thrown together. Cook up some veggies, toss them in pasta with sauce and a little cheese, and call it a day. Make a big salad. Make a simple sandwich. It goes back to my earlier advice of just combining a complex carb with a lean protein with a healthy fat with as many veggies and fruits as you want. That's truly all there is to it. You don't need a lot of steps. You don't need heavy preparation. You just need a few simple, fresh ingredients. 

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Bringing your own cloth bags will save a lot of hassle. If you purchase more than one item, you'll want a place to carry things. Carrying seven different plastic bags from vendors is not fun. Bring your own bags. 

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If you're not a person who loves crowds, farmers markets can understandably be an uncomfortable experience. I'm definitely not a fan of crowds, but I've managed to do a little damage control by avoiding peak times, staying several paces behind people so I don't get frustrated when they stop suddenly, and scouting out the quiet corners and unoccupied benches that always exist at famers markets. There is no such thing as a private farmers market, unless maybe you go in the middle of a freak snowstorm when everyone else has stayed in. You're going to encounter other people, and likely lots of them. Prepare yourself for this fact ahead of time (and prepare yourself for the fact that you'll likely need to park at least several blocks away). Don't let yourself be surprised that so many other people are interested in doing the same thing you're doing on a beautiful sunny day. 

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For me, it was all about switching my mindset. Yes, there will be crowds and noise and chaos. Yes, you will wait in line and the person in front of you will get into a never-ending conversation with the vendor about kale. Yes, you'll get sweaty and slimy and have to walk ten blocks to get to your car. But guess what else will happen? You'll get out in the sunshine. You'll see beautiful, fresh produce. You'll talk to someone who has an idea for cooking asparagus you've never heard before. You'll sample someone's homemade pesto and it will rock your world. You'll witness human kindness. You'll order a sandwich or take home a cupcake and for weeks afterward, you'll tell anyone who will listen it was the best sandwich or cupcake you've had in years. You'll see families, partners, and friends enjoying each other's company. You'll eat a strawberry on the exact day when it's the freshest it could possibly be. You'll go home with a bag filled with fresh food and make a dinner that's so much better than any of the other meals you've made recently. You'll get hooked and discover why farmers market season is the most wonderful time of the year.

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My Ideal Food Day (AKA My Birthday)

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

This was my birthday breakfast sandwich from Next Level Burger. It contains a whole grain English muffin, tempeh bacon, organic tofu, tomato and spinach.

Last year for my birthday, I gathered a group of nearly thirty people and rang in my new year at a pizza parlor and bar. I stuffed myself with pizza and beer, made homemade cupcakes, and had a great time. This year I was exhausted. After a whirlwind year that included a wedding, honeymoon, and two overseas trips, all I really wanted to do was lay low and relax. No party. No big get-together. Just a simple day. So that's what I did.

But simple or not, one thing was for sure: I wanted to eat good food. And I wanted to eat good food all day long. I wanted every piece of food that passed my lips on my 34th birthday to be something I LOVED. So I made it so. I started with a fresh tempeh and tofu breakfast sandwich that tasted so good, I didn't miss the egg or greasy cheese I typically pile on that type of sandwich. Once I got off to such a fresh, clean start, I wanted to keep the delicious food train rolling all day.

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I went to Harlow for lunch and ordered the special, which was a a sweet potato and veggie hash with tempeh, pepitas, scallions and jalapeño cashew cheese. I knew this would be a good birthday because after I ordered the cashier said, "Ooh, you're lucky, that's the last one" and immediately went to the board and erased the description of it.

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I'm all about indulging my sweet tooth on special occasions, so after lunch we went to The Maple Parlor and I loaded up on vegan soft-serve carrot cake ice cream and as many fun vegan toppings as I could fit in my bowl, including gummy bears, chocolate chips, sesame cracker bites, graham crackers, sprinkles, berries, ginger and pieces of waffle. I'm a big fan of Maple Parlor because they cater to all kinds of diets: vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, you name it. I generally stick to the vegan offerings when I'm there because they're delicious, though I've heard from good sources that the non-vegan options are great too.

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Things only got more delicious as the day went on. We went to dinner at Harvest at the Bindery and ordered a four-course small-plate meal that was honestly one of the best meals I've ever had. Between my parents, husband and I, we split cornbread, grilled chickory, pumpkin romesco (pictured), veggie chips, corn cake, sun choke gratin (pictured), lonesome whistle grits, grilled mushrooms (pictured) and mushroom trumpet BBQ. Not one dish disappointed. My non-veggie family was impressed. To me, this was plant-based eating at its finest. 

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This was followed by chocolate hazelnut pie that was delivered by our waitress with a birthday candle and a sweet speech. "Before you make your wish," she said, "here's my birthday present to you. Think about that one thing you're going to put into the world this year. It has to be something that ignites you, something that makes you come alive. It has to be something that brings you joy. It has to be something only you can do. And whatever it is, you have to commit yourself to doing it." Such a lovely moment provided by a stranger. 

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Of course there was still room for cake when we got home. My darling husband made my new clean vanilla cupcakes with macadamia-coconut frosting, which we topped with strawberries for a deliciously satisfying food finale. 

All I wanted to do this birthday was eat good food. Thanks to all I've gone through in the past year, my definition of "good food" has changed. In the past I would have wanted cheesy pizza. Heavy pasta. Cake loaded with sugar. Buttery popcorn. Fried jalapeños with cream cheese. French fries. Lots of wine. The works.

This year I still wanted "the works" but I wanted ingredients that would make me feel GOOD instead of making me feel bloated or giving me a headache or making me want to take a nap. My mission is not to be the food police. I don't ever want to tell people what they should or shouldn't eat. If eating Cheetos makes someone feel good, I think that's wonderful. But I've learned a lot about my body. I know what foods make me feel good. I know what foods make me feel terrible. And though I still think life wouldn't be life without at least a few of the terrible foods thrown in, I'd much rather spend the majority of my days eating clean food that fuels me, energizes me, doesn't weigh me down, and makes me happy to be alive. So this year on my birthday, I celebrated this awesome revolution in my relationship with food. I proved to myself that healthy and delicious can be synonymous and I enjoyed every bite.

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This Is What a Year of Clean Eating and Regular Workouts Looks Like

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

Today is my "fitversary" which means I've been sticking to a mainly clean diet and working out 4-6 days a week for a year. It all started in 2015 when I decided to start using Fit Girls Guide as a birthday present to myself. I was turning 33 and I wanted to get in the best shape possible for my wedding and hopefully a future pregnancy. My birthday was March 12th and I started the program on March 16th.

March 16, 2015

March 16, 2015

I made it a goal to always have fun. I refused to hate, shame, or torment myself. I made foods I enjoyed eating. I found workouts (mainly running) I enjoyed doing. I didn't berate myself for any missteps. I was proud of every small accomplishment. 

April 11, 2015

April 11, 2015

Clean eating made me feel so much better. I stopped popping antacids all the time. I stopped taking so many naps. I got through my days with more energy than I'd had in years.

May 31, 2015

May 31, 2015

I became addicted to the feeling of moving my body. I got in the habit of walking to the grocery store, parking far away on errands, taking the stairs, and adding little bursts of activity (10 push-ups here, 10 squats there) throughout the day. 

July 2, 2015

July 2, 2015

I drastically reduced the amount of alcohol I consumed. It became rare for me to consume more than two drinks a week. I thought that cutting down on drinking would be so much more difficult than it actually was. 

August 7, 2015

August 7, 2015

I never tried to lose weight. I focused on eating real, fresh foods and making exercise a regular part of my daily routine. 

September 13, 2015

September 13, 2015

In addition to Fit Girls Guide, I turned to Jillian Michaels videos and Kayla Itsine's Bikini Body Guide for challenging workouts. I fell in love with the feeling of pushing myself to the next level. 

October 25, 2015

October 25, 2015

I became passionate about adapting recipes to make them healthier. I especially enjoyed swapping cleaner ingredients into desserts to make them less sugary. 

November 29, 2015

November 29, 2015

The more addicted I became to the way clean eating made me feel, the more I wanted to experiment with clean living in general. I began making DIY versions of everything from dish soap and toilet bowl cleaner to face masks and shampoo.

January 3, 2016

January 3, 2016

I was more lax about food around the holidays because it was more important to me to spend time with people I love than to obsess over a few cookies.

February 7, 2016   

February 7, 2016

 

I'm proud of the changes I've made in my body even when it's not at its leanest. Some weeks I work out like mad and stick to clean eating 95% of the time and have the tight body to show for it. Other weeks my workouts are more relaxed, my eating is more relaxed, and my body is a little softer and more relaxed, too. I love both versions.

March 12, 2016

March 12, 2016

Clean eating is a way of life for me. It is my lifestyle. I eat treats here and there and don't feel guilty about it — but generally when I do, I don't feel physically great afterward. Sometimes I have to ask myself if that slice of pizza or cake is really worth the way I'll feel later.

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2016 on the right

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2016 on the right

The change in my appearance is nice but the change in my attitude, happiness, and confidence is  what I care about most. Exercise made me stronger, empowered me, and showed me that I'm capable of so much more than I thought. Eating well helped me to realize that the way I feel both physically and mentally is within my control. When I eat well, I feel well. 

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2015 on the right

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2015 on the right

I decided on a whim to give myself the gift of health last year on my birthday. It was the smartest decision I ever made and I'm proud of myself for making it. 

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33 Things That Happened in my 33rd Year

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

That picture up there if of me at my birthday party last year. A lot has changed in 364 days.

Today's my last day as a 33-year-old. For reasons I can't fully clarify, I always thought about turning 33 when I was a child. There was something this particular age that epitomized adulthood to my young brain. I always looked forward to it wistfully. When 33 arrived, I was thrilled. And now, looking back on it a year later, I can assuredly say my 33rd year did not disappoint. In honor of tomorrow's 34th birthday, here are 33 things that happened in my 33rd year. 

1.) I traded in a diet full of fake meat, lots of cheese, and tons of pasta and chips for one that focused on clean foods, whole ingredients, and lots of fresh produce, fiber, lean proteins and healthy fats.

2.) I became a person who works out regularly. In years past I've always gone through phases where I'd work out a few weeks or months here or there, but this year I got myself into the routine of legitimately working out 4-6 days a week every week. 

3.) I married the love of my life.

4.) I visited Belgium for the first time.

5.) I refocused this blog to showcase my new interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle through clean eating and fitness.

6.) I received a check from the state of Oregon for over $200 in unclaimed property refunds.

7.) I accidentally shredded said check.

8.) I went to three different bachelorette parties thrown in my honor and spent time with some of my favorite female friends.

9.) I developed a serious passion for running and completed 12 races in 2015 and two races so far in 2016.

10.) I learned how to make cleaner versions of all the foods I love, from cupcakes to cookies to ice cream to macaroni and cheese to lasagna to eggplant parmesan.

11.) I tried trampoline aerobics with my friend Megan.

12.) I tried stand-up paddle boarding with my niece Grace.

13.) I tried indoor rock climbing with my husband Mike.

14.) I spent a relaxing weekend in Bend at a lovely house with a hot tub in the company of my sweetheart thanks to the generosity of a former coworker.

15.) I went from being unable to do even one push-up to being able to bust out 20.

16.) I got legitimately good at doing burpees.

17.) I spent a lot of time writing, working on articles, and babysitting.

18.) I said no to a few invitations I knew were going to absolutely drain me and I did so without guilt.

19.) I spent two different days in two different emergency rooms with two different family members.

20.) I got into the habit of prepping all my meals for the week on Sundays. 

21.) I lost 40 pounds.

22.) I mourned the fact that none of my grandparents lived long enough to see me get married.

23.) I didn't get sick once beyond a minor sore throat or case of the sniffles here or there.

24.) I spent a few days in Paris.

25.) I reached the Purple Level on Nike Plus, which translated to 1,553 lifetime running miles.

26.) I gathered with two other families for our 31st or 32nd (we've lost track at this point) annual camping trip.

27.) I watched a lot of Netflix movies while cuddled up on the couch next to my husband.

28.) I made a raw, vegan, gluten-free cheesecake for my husband's birthday that everyone in my family raved about.

29.) I made clean gingerbread cookies for Christmas that nobody in my family really liked. 

30.) I published a lot of articles that didn't excite me but paid the bills and several articles I felt genuinely proud of, too.

31.) I'm pretty sure I didn't throw up once, which HAS to be a record for me.

32.) I rode a camel.

33.) I planned a honeymoon to Morocco with my husband and we spent a week having the adventure of a lifetime

I capped off my last day as a 33-year-old with a 16-mile run in the rain and am officially dedicating the rest of the weekend to nothing but relaxation and fun. 

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This picture is of me last week, enjoying my natural habitat of daily sweat sessions and clean eating. (As a reminder I'm all for everything in moderation, which means I also enjoyed the heck out of all kinds of food this year, including breads, pastries, and sweetened mint tea galore in Morocco. If you never allow yourself to indulge in anything, I think you're holding yourself back from fully enjoying your life.) Here's to another year that will hopefully be healthy, balanced, fun, and productive. And here's hoping I don't accidentally shred any checks next year. 

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Clean Vanilla Cupcakes and Other Updates

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

I have a lot I want to talk about on this blog in the next few weeks. First of all, I went on my honeymoon to Morocco and enjoyed the most magical week of my life. I have lots of stories and photos to share soon.

Secondly, my transition back into real life since returning from vacation has been rough. Jet lag had me in bed at 9 and up at 5 almost every day last week. Portland's weather has me down and I've felt generally unmotivated after the high of being away. I'll go into more detail about this soon too.

This week, I'm trying to get my mojo back. My 34th birthday is coming up on Saturday and I have two big wishes: 1.) to eat white cake and 2.) to use clean ingredients for this cake.

Enter ifoodreal.com, where I found this Clean Eating Vanilla Cupcake recipe. I made a few small tweaks to veganize it and cut down on sugar, but in general this recipe is ready to go as-is. It also couldn't be simpler: you just combine the wet ingredients, add and combine the dry ingredients, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. It makes 12 big cupcakes as 207.3 calories apiece or twice as many mini cupcakes. 

WET INGREDIENTS:

1/4 c coconut oil at room temperature
2 large eggs (instead I used 2 T ground flax seed mixed with 5 T water)
1/2 c maple syrup or raw honey (I used 1/4 c maple syrup and 1/4 c mashed banana)
1/3 c unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c milk (I used a coconut-almond blend)
2 t vanilla extract

DRY INGREDIENTS:

1 3/4 c + 2 T whole wheat or spelt flour (I used whole wheat)
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt (I always skip the salt when I'm baking)

Let me tell you: the batter tasted exactly like white cake. After they baked the banana flavor came out more, so it tasted a little less like a cupcake and a little more like a muffin. It was still good though. If you're not into banana, skip it and stick to the maple syrup or honey.

For the icing, I used this four-ingredient Coconut Macadamia Frosting from Minimalist Baker. This is all you need:

1 3/4 c macadamia nuts
2 1/4 c shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 t vanilla extract
4-6 T powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the macadamia nuts on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes (or just throw them in with the cupcakes for the last 10 minutes). 

Toss the baked macadamia nuts in a food processor and blend into a meal. You may recall that I broke my food processor, so I used a blender. This made things a little tricky but not undoable. Set the nut meal mixture aside.

Throw your coconut into the food processor / blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If you're using a food processor, this could take 5-10 minutes. If you're using a blender, this could take FOREVER. I added water to speed up the process.

Add vanilla and blend and then add powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time until it's as sweet as you want it. I generally like these types of things to be less sweet.

Who says you can't eat your cake and eat it too? White cake and clean baking: what a perfect marriage. This feels like a good first step to getting my mojo back.

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