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mac n cheese

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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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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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