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Prepping For Baby: Freezing Vegan Mac 'n Cheese

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Today I am 35 weeks pregnant. This means I can reasonably expect to no longer be pregnant and have a baby in my arms within 3-7 weeks. Three to seven weeks! It's crunch time. 

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Luckily, I'm feeling more prepared than ever. This is thanks in huge part to the shower my mom and sister threw for me this weekend. We had such a lovely weekend — my parents-in-law flew in from California, my sister and her family came in from Phoenix, and a sweet group of friends gathered at my parents' house. I like the term "shower" because I truly felt like I was being showered with love and generosity. Our baby is starting life with so many nice things thanks to the incredible people we know. 

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This week I decided to prep and freeze a big batch of vegan macaroni and cheese from the cookbook Hearty Vegan Meals For Monster Appetites. A monster appetite is exactly what I'm expecting to have when I start breastfeeding. 

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Symptoms I've been experiencing a lot lately: back pain, overheating, breathlessness. I still wake up every morning with Mike because I like the ritual of sitting down to eat breakfast with him before he leaves for work, but I often go back to bed for a few hours once he's gone in an attempt to quell some of the fatigue that's clung to me throughout pregnancy. 

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As my body grows, I feel increasingly vulnerable each time I step outside my front door. Vulnerable is a word I've frequently used to describe my pregnancy. My belly has become a magnet. People openly comment on it and stare at it. I'm carrying the thing I'm most protective of on the front of my body and I don't trust people not to crash into me or invade my space. I want to walk around with a bubble surrounding me at all times. I imagine this instinct will only grow once there's a baby in the flesh. I rarely thought twice about walking down a street alone before I was pregnant. Now this precious thing I'm carrying is prominent and visible. My physical abilities have slowed. My defenses are up. Walking through the aisles of a store feels like a battle.

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The bigger and rounder my belly gets, the more I like my pregnant body. I don't know how I'll feel after birth, but in my pregnancy I've noticed that the desire or pressure to look a certain way has decreased dramatically. I do not feel weird about the weight I've gained. I do not care that I don't wear makeup or style my hair most days. I do not care that there are only a limited number of outfits in my closet that work for me at this point in my pregnancy. There are people who find the physical changes of pregnancy incredibly stressful and I thought I might be one of them, but I'm just not. I'm tired. I'm excited. I'm hopeful. I love thinking about the future life of my little one. I love taking naps and eating good food and taking care of myself during pregnancy, which I know translates to taking care of the baby, too. I see my big belly and I don't know how to be anything but amazed. A little person is living inside that belly. If my thighs and butt have grown bigger in the process of pregnancy, so be it. I can't find the energy to begin to care. 

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I know I say this often, but I'll repeat it once more: having a pregnancy that coincides with a presidential election is stressful. I'm making a big effort to take care of myself and stay calm and keep my energy level positive because I think my baby is absorbing all of it. With so much negativity and toxicity surrounding the election in general and a certain candidate in particular, it can be difficult to not get pulled down with frustration and unease. I'm hopeful about the outcome of all of this and hopeful that I'll bring my baby into a more positive world, but in the meantime there's a lot of negativity and grossness that I'm trying to be informed about while absorbing as little as possible. I know a lot of the frustration and fear has crept in despite my best efforts, and I just hope my baby isn't picking up on too much of it. 

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We missed this week's birth class because we attended a wedding on Sunday and I'll be honest: there's a little less stress in our lives this week. It's not that they don't do their best to comfort and reassure us in the class. It's just that despite the comfort and reassurance, the fact remains that this body and mind of mine will be giving birth to a child soon and I can't really think of anything more vulnerable. There's that word again: Vulnerable. 

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The tofu in this recipe contributes to the creamy texture. This recipe may seem complicated, but from start to finish I don't think it took any more than 30 minutes to prepare.

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For several months now, I've more or less been waking up every hour to pee. It's an annoyance I'm grateful for, since I know it is training me for all those times I'll be waking up with my baby. Having our first child is such a strange experience because I can imagine all the things that are about to happen, but until the baby's actually here it's just a faraway vision.

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Is there anything more comforting than a creamy pasta dish? 

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Last night I went to a reading at Powell's with a small group of my friends. The reading was great but oh man: I was so hot and breathless. I don't know how much longer I can keep up normal activities as I delve further into the depths of a third trimester pregnancy. It may seem simple to sit in a chair for an hour, but when the pool of sweat and feeling of "Am I about to pass out?" hits, the idea of being propped up on pillows on my couch at home grows more enticing. 

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Creamy goodness!

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It feels like there is still a lot to accomplish before our baby arrives, but nothing at this point seems insurmountable. Thanks to an incredible support network of family and friends, we went from having NOTHING to an entire house filled with baby things. What does one even do with that much love? 

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I don't know exactly when this baby will arrive, but regardless of the exact date this is for sure our Thanksgiving baby. I've never been more thankful for anything in my life. For all my fears and worries, I'm mostly excited to meet the person I've been carrying inside me all these months. I know this person will become an individual entity completely separate from me, but right now the connection between us in undeniable. We are inhabiting the same skin. The baby is me is the baby, for now. 

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We're getting ready for you, Little Cupcake. We hope you like our home and our family. We hope you like the smell of a pasta casserole baking and the feeling of our arms wrapped around you. We absolutely cannot wait to meet you. 

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This world is kind of a crazy place, but there's so much love waiting for you when you get here. 

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New Cookbook Day: RUN FAST. EAT SLOW.

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I love cookbooks. New recipes, crisp pictures, fun ingredient ideas: a new cookbook opens up a new world. I get excited for cookbooks the way others get excited for clothes or shoes — I see a new one on the market and I simply HAVE TO HAVE IT. For many months I've been getting increasingly excited about the release of a cookbook written by four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan and chef/food writer/nutrition educator/runner/mother Elyse Kopecky called RUN FAST. EAT SLOW. After all my anticipation, the book was released in August and I finally got my hands on a copy last night during a talk the authors gave at Powell's at Cedar Hill Crossing. 

I'm excited to get cracking on some of the recipes, but before I do I already know I love this book. How do I know this? Shalane and Elyse have a food philosophy that aligns perfectly with my own. They may eat a lot more meat (they are particularly big fans of bison) and their athletic training may be way more elite than mine, but we still share some very similar ideas about food.

Particularly in this country and especially as women, so much of what we're taught about nutrition is bonkers. By focusing so much on avoiding fat, counting calories, and restricting ourselves, food is stripped of both flavor and fun. Restrictive eating leads to hunger which leads to binging which leads to restrictive eating which leads to hunger which leads to binging. Nowhere in that cycle is there room for enjoyment or adequate nutrition. For many years now I've believed — and KNOWN! — that there's a better way. In reading their book, I can see that Shalane and Elyse believe this too.

Their food philosophy is all about "indulgent noursishment." They believe that eating real food and not obsessing over calorie counts or micronutrients leads to optimal body function and satisfaction. We all have the ability to tune into the needs of our own bodies, but some of us have been conditioned for years to participate in diets and other restrictive styles of eating. We've lost sight of the power of our own bodies and minds.

I try hard never to turn food into a moral argument but the fact always remains that I DON'T FEEL GOOD when I eat processed foods or when I skip meals or when I let myself get so hungry that I'm willing to eat whatever is set in front of me. I feel good when I eat whole, real food. I feel nourished. I feel happy. Eating a real meal does not make me want to turn around and eat a bag of potato chips. Eating a bag of potato chips makes me want to turn around and eat a bag of potato chips. Eating real food — the kind that is prepared with fresh ingredients, contains substantial calories, and actually tastes good — is the bridge for everything for me. It's the bridge to a good mood. It's the bridge to a good run. It's the bridge to less stress and higher contentment. There is simply nothing in this world that can or will make me feel better than a healthy, home-cooked meal shared with someone I love. 

In this cookbook, Shalane and Elyse are not messing around. They do not shy away from healthy fats, which are both flavor and nutrient carriers. We've been so conditioned to be so scared of certain types of foods (like foods with real fat) while encouraged to flock to the very foods that will leave us less satisfied and more unhealthy (like low-fat foods pumped with extra sugar). These elite athletes are here to put a stop to this madness and I could not be any more on board.

I'll be trying recipes in the coming weeks and letting you know what I think, but for now I'm just pleased that a book like this even exists. At their talk they said this is the first book geared toward runners that doesn't contain calorie counts, which I find astounding. As someone who refuses to count calories and/or weigh myself* I think this is such a positive step toward establishing healthier food habits for so many people. In my opinion food is meant to be lovingly prepared and happily devoured. When a food relationship is all about trying to look a certain way or be a certain weight, life can get pretty miserable. I have no interest in a miserable life and every interest in loving the food I eat and the body I'm in.

*You don't weigh yourself?! How do you know how much you've gained in your pregnancy? I don't! And I also don't think it's important that I do know. I get weighed at every single doctor's appointment and I know they'll let me know if there's ever an issue. Otherwise, what difference does it make? Keeping active and eating healthfully have been my main goals throughout this pregnancy and as long as I'm sticking to that, I think that's all that matters.

But what about losing the weight after the baby is born?! Before I was pregnant, I thought this would be a concern. The more pregnant I get, the less I care. I want my baby to be healthy and I want to keep myself healthy and the rest just doesn't seem that significant to me. My body will look the way it looks. I will continue to focus on being active and eating healthy and my body can either follow suit or not. I'm much more interested in providing a healthy life for my child. I think the best place for me to start is to introduce healthy food habits early. I don't anticipate my kid caring about how soft my stomach is. I do anticipate my kid caring about whether or not the food I'm serving is delicious and satisfying. 

With Elyse Kopecky and Shalane Flanagan at Powell's in Beaverton

With Elyse Kopecky and Shalane Flanagan at Powell's in Beaverton

Life is crazy enough without making ourselves crazy about food, too. I say: eat real, good food and enjoy every bite. Then get outside for a run (or walk or whatever your preferred mode of activity is) and enjoy that, too. We're humans. We're alive. We're allowed to enjoy ourselves and it's totally possible to do just that while living a healthy life at the same time. 

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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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Banza Recipe #3: Vegan Macaroni And Cheese With Roasted Tomatoes and Crushed Crispy Kale Chips

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This week I tried my third recipe using Banza chickpea pasta, which contains two times the protein, four times the fiber, and half the net carbs of traditional pasta. Banza is also vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free and egg-free. It is made from chickpeas, tapioca, pea protein and xantham gum. 

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Want to learn more about Banza chickpea pasta? Go here: eatbanza.com. Want to see the first recipe I tried? Go here: Banza Recipe #1: Creamy Avocado Pasta. Want to see the second recipe I tried? Go here: Banza Recipe #2: Mediterranean Pasta.  Also, in case you missed my original discussion about it, I wanted to again make it clear that I am not being paid by Banza by they did send me six sample boxes to try. If I didn't like this pasta, I wouldn't share these recipes with you. I'm sharing them because I think this is a delicious product and a great alternative to regular pasta when you're looking for a protein or fiber boost. 

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I knew I wanted to make macaroni and cheese with the elbow pasta, but I decided to mix things up and use a vegan recipe instead of traditional cheese. I thought a healthy pasta like this deserves a healthy pasta sauce. This sauce is loaded with veggies, nuts and spices. There's a lot of nutrition packed into this meal. For the mac and cheese I used this recipe from Vegan Yumminess. I followed the recipe closely and was happy with the results, though I would make a few changes if I make it again. 

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For this recipe you'll need  yellow or russet potatoes, carrots, onion, water from cooking, soaked raw cashews, coconut milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, garlic powder, optional cayenne pepper and paprika. I loved the flavor at the end, but if I were making this again I'd sub in sweet potatoes to give a little extra sweetness and creaminess. I'd also up the flavor intensity a bit by adding crushed red pepper or chili powder. Just a few tiny changes to fit my personal preferences. I love the simplicity of this recipe though: after cooking the potatoes, carrots and onion, I threw them and and everything else into a food processor, ran it for a few minutes, and voila: the perfect creamy sauce was done.  

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While all that was going on, I cooked my Banza pasta. To reiterate from every other time I've talked about this, Banza pasta looks, feels and tastes like regular pasta. Neglect to tell your dinner guests it's made from chickpeas and I guarantee they'll never know. 

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I love tomatoes in summertime and I especially love the combination of roasted tomatoes with pasta, so I knew I wanted to add some roasted cherry tomatoes to this dish. I took a container of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, placed them on a cookie sheet covered in tin foil (easier clean-up), drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, and baked for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. I started the tomatoes first and then put together all the macaroni ingredients. 

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Before I was pregnant, I watched a few Food Network shows a handful of times. Since being pregnant, I have watched shows on the Food Network every single day. I am now obsessed with everything from Chopped to Master Chef to Next Food Network Star to Guy's Grocery Games to Cutthroat Kitchen to Cupcake Wars to Cake Wars and everything in between. I'll even watch the junior versions of these shows despite highly questioning whether it's really appropriate for children to be facing that amount of pressure on national television. I am now truly obsessed with the Food Network and my only explanation is pregnancy. People ask me about food cravings all the time and at this point in my pregnancy, I think food cravings are a myth. Food Network cravings, on the hand, are very real. I think I got started with it because I needed to take so many naps during the day to combat my pregnancy exhaustion. It was nice to have a show that wasn't too intrusive on in the background when I was napping on the couch. But then it became a whole thing. I like to watch Food Network while I'm doing my own cooking. I like to watch Food Network while I'm cleaning. I liked to watch Food Network whenever I need a few minutes to regroup, get energized, or wind down. There is no time, really, when I don't like to watch it.

My Food Network obsession plays into this dish because I knew I didn't want to just stick to a plain macaroni and cheese recipe. I asked myself: What would the Food Network judges want? I know they'd want a pop of color (the tomatoes were perfect for this) and a variance in textures. Since the pasta and sauce on their own are so creamy, I wanted to add something crunchy on the top to mix things up. An obvious example of this for most macaroni and cheeses is breadcrumbs, but I had already committed myself to making a super-healthy version of mac and cheese. In keeping with this goal, I decided to make crushed kale chips for my crunchy topping. To do this I laid de-stemmed kale out on a baking sheet covered with tin foil and drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and nutritional yeast (for a cheesy flavor that's not cheese), baked for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, flipped and baked for 10 more. When they were all done I chopped them into little pieces. 

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After draining and rinsing the pasta, I added the creamy sauce. Can you believe this was made from potatoes, carrots and onions? I've also seen vegan macaroni and cheese recipes made with butternut squash, which I think would be a nice addition. 

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Once the sauce was mixed in, I added the roasted tomatoes. Those Food Network chefs are right: adding a pop of color elevated this dish to a new level. 

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Next up, I mixed in the kale to give the dish even more color and also a satisfying crunch. Combining creamy and crispy textures is a beautiful thing. 

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Creamy. "Cheesy." Crunchy. Colorful. Savory. Rich. Packed with veggies, protein and fiber, this dish is a win/win for any day when you're craving something decadent but don't want to load yourself down with cheese and butter. 

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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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5 Grilled Veggie Recipes for a Yummy Summer

Grilled portobellos and corn on the cob made in Krike's Kitchen.

Grilled portobellos and corn on the cob made in Krike's Kitchen.

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I'm keeping things simple today. The weather is warming up and I am so excited for summer, which is by far by favorite season. One of my favorite parts about summer is grilling and eating meals outside. I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years, so I've been asked ALL the "But what do you eat?" and "Where do you get your protein?" and "What can you grill besides meat?" questions. The basic gist of what I've learned from two decades of these questions is that a lot of people lack creativity and imagination. There are SO many options for yummy vegetarian grilling.

Below I put together a list of five options that I think will appeal to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Two of the recipes are vegan and the other three can easily be made vegan. Or hey, if you don't want to give up your meat (I'm not the boss of you; do what sounds good!) simply use these recipes as a base and add whatever meat you like. Add steak to your sandwich. Add shrimp to your pasta. Pair your corn with a burger or chicken. The possibilities here are endless.

Pink-Parsley

Pink-Parsley

Chipotle Portobello Burgers from Pink-Parsley are bliss: peppers, onion, pepperjack, and avocado with "meaty" portobello patties for those days when you're looking for a spicy kick.

Healthy Seasonal Recipes

Healthy Seasonal Recipes

Grilled Summer Squash Boats from Healthy Seasonal Recipes take freshness to a new level by topping grilled squash with veggies, herbs and cheese.

Closet Cooking

Closet Cooking

This Grilled Eggplant and Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich with Halloumi from Closest Cooking goes to anyone who still thinks that skipping meat on a sandwich means dainty salad on bread. The combination of eggplant, roasted peppers and cheese proves that vegetarian food can be hearty, too. 

Food and Wine

Food and Wine

Spinach Fettuccine with Tangy Grilled Summer Squash from Food and Wine pairs yummy squash with an ingredient that's not always the first to come to mind when you think of grilling: pasta.  

Minimalist Baker

Minimalist Baker

Grilled Corn with Sriracha Aioli from Minimalist Baker puts a yummy vegan twist on a dish that traditionally includes cotija cheese. 

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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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Cupcakes & Cocktails

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Berries

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Berries

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Mike and I hosted a Cupcakes & Cocktails party for Memorial Day and not surprisingly, he was in charge of the cocktails and I was in charge of the cupcakes. For his part, he infused vodkas (and gins, I think? I dunno — this wasn't my area) with ingredients like mint, black pepper, dill, cucumbers, basil and jalapeños. I personally haven't had a drink in 2016 but the crowd drank up his concoctions and seemed to love every sip.  

S'mores Cupcakes and Banana Split Cupcakes

S'mores Cupcakes and Banana Split Cupcakes

There was nothing "healthy" about this party, and I for one think there's some value in that. We're in another cycle where a lot of news sources are picking up stories about "the dangers of clean eating"  that suggest a rigid adherence to healthy eating leads to orthoexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating right. I've written in the past about the problems I have with these types of articles, which I think unfairly link clean eating with eating disorders when in fact the disorders are a result of overzealous rigidity and not the clean, healthy lifestyle I know and love. The lifestyle I know promotes balance and moderation, not severity. 

Apricot-Glazed Almond Cupcakes

Apricot-Glazed Almond Cupcakes

I think the best way to counter this popular view of clean eating as something dark, dirty and dangerous is to live a balanced life in which food is never the enemy. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet, we empty our kitchen compost daily. I am the queen of whole grains and there's nothing I love more than a good tempeh or tofu. Nine times out of ten, I'll choose salad over fries. I'll choose water over soda. These daily choices make it so much sweeter on those days when I do go for the fries or the brownie or the root beer float or the nachos. I have those days too. They're infrequent and therefore they're special. I enjoy them without guilt or shame, which is how I think life should always be enjoyed. 

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

So maybe I fight back by making cupcakes. This is my way of showing the world: here's something I love. It's not particularly healthy, but I made it with my own hands and it tastes good and it brings me joy to share it. And I know my husband gets joy from sharing his fun cocktails, which also have no nutritional value but have the effect of bringing people together and offering refreshment on a hot, sunny day. And I know we'll eat salad for lunch today and everything balances out. 

Blueberry Lemon Creme Cupcakes

Blueberry Lemon Creme Cupcakes

I am obsessed with food in the sense that I spend a lot of time thinking about it, shopping for it, preparing it, and eating. I love finding delicious recipes. I love playing around with seasonal produce. I love discovering the flavors and textures my tastebuds respond to most. And though I spent my younger years being obsessed with food in a less healthy way, I now refuse to play the game that requires me to feel bad or guilty for eating a certain type of food or equate my self-worth with the items on my plate. There are times in life when you just want to eat a cookie and I refuse to believe there's anything wrong with that.  

Pineapple Right-Side-Up Cupcakes

Pineapple Right-Side-Up Cupcakes

So I make cupcakes. Sometimes I make really healthy cupcakes, the kind where I swap sugar for mashed banana and oil for avocado or unsweetened applesauce. Other times I make the full-sugar, full-fat, fully loaded versions. I think there's value in both. More than anything, I think there's value in gathering with friends on the patio on a warm day to enjoy food, drinks, and company. In fact, I think experiences like that are the most valuable thing in life. 

Eat cupcakes. Eat kale. Ride your bike all morning and sleep all afternoon. Order the salad instead of the fries. But every once in awhile, order the fries instead of the salad. Ditto for dessert: satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit at the end of your meals. Then one day, go for the ice cream sundae. Enjoy every bite. This summer, enjoy the heck out of corn on the cob and fresh watermelon and big fruit salads and spinach and artichokes. Equally enjoy an ice cream cone or salt water taffy or s'mores here and there. 

Look around. Notice the people with you. Notice the environment you're in. Notice your mood. Notice your comfort level. Are you with people you love? Are you enjoying the scenery? Are you happy? Are you content? This is what matters. Whether you had a "perfect eating day" or you scarfed down cupcakes at a party, this is always what matters.  

P.S. Even those these weren't particularly "healthy" cupcakes, they were all vegan and six out of seven of them were gluten-free. I hate excluding friends with food restrictions from enjoying the foods I make and I love experimenting with ingredients to try and make dishes that work for everybody. 

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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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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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My Ideal Food Day (AKA My Birthday)

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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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