Archive | August, 2010

Challenge ends on a somewhat disappointing note.

31 Aug

In the August 2010 issue of Eating Well magazine, the editor offered up a challenge to cook 10 new recipes from that issue and blog about the results. The first 7 recipes that I made for this challenge were fabulous, family-pleasing and easy to make. I have raved about them in my previous blogs. The last 3 recipes…well…not so much.

I don’t want to say anything bad about Eating Well magazine. I love the magazine and have always enjoyed the recipes and articles in each issue. But the last 3 recipes that I chose for this challenge were not quite as successful as the others. Not that they were bad in any way. They were all quite good. They were just not as successful as the others.

This past Sunday was one of those hot, muggy days where you walk outside and begin to sweat before you even step off your porch. After a crazy, busy summer of jam-packed weekends, not one of us had any desire to be outside. We stayed inside our cool, air-conditioned house watching movies, playing the Wii, and enjoying some “down” time. Since we were pretty much oblivious to the fact that it was 100 degrees outside, I decided to make the magazine’s Roasted Tomato-Bread Soup with grape tomatoes and yellow pear tomatoes from my garden. I also made the Rosemary-Pine Nut Biscotti to dunk in the soup since I didn’t have any country bread per the recipe.

Let’s talk about the soup first. This is nothing like what you would imagine for a tomato soup. It’s loaded with onions, fresh tomatoes and garlic, which are roasted in the oven and then simmered in vegetable broth. You serve it topped with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil. It’s almost like a light version of French onion soup. It’s not tomato-y. Jason, Madison and I really liked it. The boys did not. All in all a very tasty soup.

But, here’s the problem with it. It’s a lot of prep work. You have to thinly slice 4 cups of onions, cut in half 4 cups of grape tomatoes, and peel and thinly slice 1/2 cup of fresh garlic. Half a cup of garlic! It took forever and by the time I was done, the kids (who were playing the Wii in another room) were whining because their eyes were burning! In addition, if you decide to make this soup, the directions tell you to add the roasted vegetables to the broth, bring it to a simmer and then shut it off. If you have roasted the vegetables per the time in the recipe, you will have onions that are still slightly crisp. Jason and I both thought they needed to simmer for a while in the broth to soften completely like they do in French onion soup.

So, not a bad recipe. Just one I’m not sure I’ll make again unless I can buy half a cup of sliced garlic cloves! By the way, this soup is vegan if you leave off the cheese, which is what I did.

Now, about this biscotti. Wonderful flavor. Almost like a sweet, dense cornbread with rosemary in them. Worked well with the soup. I probably will not make them again.

I’ve made a lot of biscotti. A lot. This recipe needs some help. I usually put all of my ingredients in the food processor and pulse it until it forms a dough. The directions for this one were to simply mix it in a large bowl until the dough formed so that’s what I did. But the dough didn’t want to cooperate. It was a little too dry and didn’t want to hold together. After working it for a while on the countertop, I managed to form it into a nice looking loaf and placed it on the baking sheet and into the oven. When I pulled it out 30 minutes later, the whole top had cracked and pulled apart — big time. I moved it to the cooling rack, waited 20 minutes and then attempted to slice it so it could go back in the oven for round two. What a mess. It crumbled as I cut into it and some of the slices fell apart as I moved them back to the baking sheet. The picture above has the best looking ones in it — and they are nowhere near as nice looking as the magazine’s picture shows.

In addition, the recipe calls for 2/3 cup of pine nuts. Unless you can find somewhere that sells them in bulk, you’re looking at a rather pricy recipe. I bought a 1/2-cup bag for $5 at Kroger and that’s what I used because I didn’t want to spend another $5 for another bag! Luckily, I have rosemary growing in my herb container outside. Otherwise, I would have had to buy one of those little packages of fresh herbs at Kroger and they run about $4 each.

End result? Yummy, but too crumbly and too expensive to make again.

The final recipe for this challenge is Eating Well’s Roasted Corn & Shiitake Mushrooms. I made this tonight as a side dish with dinner. The recipe worked very well and, again, Jason, Madison and I thought it was okay. The boys didn’t like it. It was extremely easy to make since I used frozen corn instead of cutting it off the ears of fresh sweet corn. I didn’t read the recipe before I went to the store, so I only had enough shiitake mushrooms for 2 cups. The recipe calls for 4 cups so I used baby portobellos that I had in the fridge for the other 2 cups. I would say the only downfall to this recipe is the expense of buying that many shiitake mushrooms. They aren’t cheap. Also, it’s not the most attractive-looking dish. Good flavor, but I’m not sure I would serve it to guests.

Anyway, I have to say it’s been a fun summer of blogging about the recipes in my issue of Eating Well. (I call it my issue because it’s the one I’m featured in!) Thank you, Eating Well, for this challenge. It’s been a summer of good eats!

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It’s time to get serious.

24 Aug

I said I’d give this natural approach one year. I’m 8 months in right now and I do not have normal blood pressure. Yet.

It’s time to get serious about this problem. Even more serious than I’ve been so far. I’ve been kind of in limbo for the summer. Though there have been days when I get a reading like 146/93, most days I’m still hovering right around 150/100. And that’s not cool. I’ve got to get under 140/90 so I’m no longer classified as “hypertensive.”

So I’ve read a bazillion books, articles, reports, etc. on all the things that may lower blood pressure. And there are a lot, let me tell you. I’m doing or have done just about all of them. Except for 3 big ones.

And now I must get serious about them.

No. 1: Water, Water and More Water
So I have to say I’m kind of proud of myself right now. I actually did pretty well with the “water” drinking over the last 7 days! I drank 6 to 8 glasses each day. That’s an enormous improvement over my normal fluid consumption.

I have to attribute part of it to this totally sweet insulated cup my sister bought me for my birthday. It’s from Starbucks and holds 16 ounces. With the straw in there, the drinks seem to go down faster.

I should be honest and mention that not all of my drinks were plain water. Most of them contained lemon slices and a couple of times I had hot tea or iced tea (home brewed and sweetened with stevia). Still, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

Like Doc Sutherland said: The solution to pollution is dilution.

No. 2: The Dreaded “E” Word
Exercise. It’s one of the things proven to lower blood pressure that I’m not doing whole-heartedly. Thirty minutes a day, five days a week is what I’m told I should be doing. Last week, I got 4 days in, so I’m getting closer to that goal. But, I got up this morning completely determined to get on a schedule. I got straight out of bed, dressed, drank a glass of OJ, and headed out the door. I walked about 40 minutes and was back in the house in time to make my kids breakfast. Whew! Now I just need to keep at it. I want to be so accustomed to this schedule that when my kids go back to school, I’m already in a routine — drop them at school at 8 and then do my walk before getting busy with work for the day.

No. 3: Lose 15 lbs.
I thought ditching meat and all animal products would lead to effortless weight loss. It hasn’t. I weigh exactly the same as I did in January. I removed the meat and dairy and replaced it with healthy foods like beans, rice and pasta, but I must be consuming the same number of calories as I was before. I haven’t gained weight and I haven’t lost weight. So, it’s time to do something about it. Drinking more water and exercising are steering me in the right direction, but I’m going even further. No more evening snacks. None. Hot tea will have to hold me over until breakfast. By cutting out the evening snack, I should save about 200 calories. Hopefully, that will be enough to see some results.

There is a 4th “biggie” that I’m not doing yet to lower my BP — reducing my stress. I have actually said “no” recently to some requests for donating my time, but I’m secretly hoping that my stress level will automatically go down once my kids go back to school!  ;–)  We’ll see…

On a kind of unrelated note, it’s been a busy summer filled with family and friends, which hasn’t left me much time for creating new recipes. Over the weekend, I finally had some time to experiment with something I’ve been wanting to make.

A couple months ago, I was at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor and they had this fantastic chilled couscous salad with cranberries and pecans and a citrusy dressing. Oh, my gosh, it was SO good. I wanted to try to create a dish with similar combinations of flavor. I think I came pretty close. Serve this alongside any grilled meat or meat substitute — even burgers. It’s light and refreshing. I used whole wheat Israeli couscous, but Whole Foods used regular Israeli couscous in their version. Choose whichever you prefer, although I think the whole wheat is a little bit nuttier tasting. If you’re not familiar with couscous, it’s basically a small round ball of pasta. It comes in two sizes — one about the size of breadcrumbs and the other about the size of lentils, which is what I used in this recipe.

serves 6-8

9 ounce package plain Israeli couscous (about 1-3/4 cups uncooked)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Cook couscous per package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water until couscous is no longer hot. Place in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Drizzle over couscous. Stir in cranberries, pecans and green onions until the dressing is well distributed. Gently stir in parsley. Chill for at least 2 hours. The flavors are more developed (and even tastier) if chilled overnight. Serve and enjoy!

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I’m front-page news

20 Aug

…in my local paper! I went out to the mailbox and was quite surprised to see my face on the cover of the Bedford Now newspaper. I was interviewed a couple weeks ago, but was under the impression my story would be somewhere within the paper like any other piece of local news. Crazy!

I’m excited because my main purpose in blogging my journey was to help someone else learn something new, make smarter food choices, or encourage them to seek out other options for health issues. On the other hand, I’m a little freaked out. It’s a weird sort of feeling knowing that every person in my township will be reading this. I hope people are inspired by it or even just interested in what others are doing to heal themselves. And, I hope they aren’t frightened by the word “vegan.”

Sadly, telling someone you’re vegan often leads them to think you’re really weird — like you sit around eating tofu all day or something! That’s so not true. Vegan simply means that you eat everything but animals. It’s really not that hard. I think it’s just a misunderstood word. If you read through my blog, you’ll see that I cook all kinds of tasty dishes. Yes, there are some ingredients that come from the health food store but, for the most part, these are meals anyone can cook with ingredients from their local supermarket. Plus, I only post the ones that my kids really loved.

Speaking of kids, mine are awesome! They have 100% supported me in this transition. They still eat meat and cheese and all their favorites, but they taste and critique every vegan thing I make. By choice, Madison puts So Delicious coconut milk on her cereal. If there’s vegan ice cream in the freezer, they beg for it. Oh, and just ask them about the vegan cupcakes I’ve made.

I guess the one thing I want readers to know is that what you put in your body is important. Chemicals are for cleaning toilets…not for fueling your body. So read your food labels. Your body will thank you!

Note: If you want to learn more about the food industry in America, check out the movie “Food, Inc.” It does have a segment on the problems with the meat industry, but it has many more segments covering all kinds of grocery store items. I promise you will learn something new.

Also, read my blog post on June 29 for my philosophy on eating meat.

One last note: I just re-read the newspaper article and it states that we don’t buy any meat substitutes or processed foods. Though I try to limit these products because of the sodium content, we do still buy them on occasion. Right now, I especially like the Gardein vegan chik’n products. I buy them when they go on clearance and keep them in my freezer for me to have when the rest of the family is having chicken. As for processed foods, well…I’m not one to pass up sweet potato chips, Triscuits, or vegan granola bars! Everything in moderation, right? 🙂

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I did it!

17 Aug

I actually drank 8 glasses of “water” yesterday.

I know that doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment to some of you, but here’s the thing. I hate water. Did you hear that? I hate water. Yuck. It tastes like metal.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Try bottled. Add lemon. I’ve heard them all before.

Here’s the other thing: I’m not much of a drinker. I’ll have a cup of tea or coffee at breakfast, something to drink with lunch and another cup of something at dinner. Sometimes I’ll make a vegan hot chocolate at bedtime. Other than that, I don’t really drink much. I’ve never been one of those people who sips water all day long.

But, yesterday, I did it. I’m hoping it’s the key to knocking this blood pressure right back to normal. My chiropractor told me the other day, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” It totally makes sense. So I said, “does it have to be plain old water?” Nope. Tea is fine and so is water with lemon and stevia.

I got up yesterday and had a cup of tea with breakfast. One cup down. Then I took a 16 oz. bottled water and added one tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon of liquid stevia. It was gone before lunch! Two more down. I refilled the bottle with cold tap water and mixed in the lemon juice and stevia. I drank some with lunch and took the rest with me in the car for afternoon errands. Two more down. When I got home, I forced myself to just chug a cup of water. Then I had a glass of lemonade (made with stevia) for dinner and another cup of tea at bedtime. DONE! Eight glasses. Whew.

On to the challenge again today. So far, I’m still sipping my morning cup of tea. Sigh.

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Cedar Point…fun and challenging

16 Aug

On Saturday, Jason’s parents took the entire family to Cedar Point (in Sandusky, Ohio) for the day. Though the day started out hot, turned rainy in the afternoon and then cleared for the evening, a great time was had by all — roller coasters, thrill rides, and some serious people-watching! Since I’m still dealing with a messed-up neck from the car accident, I spent most of my time with Logan and anyone else who was too small to ride whatever coaster everyone else was going on. It was Logan’s first trip there and he had a blast (other than the extreme disappointment and tears that followed when he found out he was not big enough to drive the antique cars).

The most challenging part of Cedar Point, and probably any other amusement park, is the food choices. The place is loaded with food stands and restaurants that serve sugar-laden, cheese-covered, fatty foods. After my experiences with the meals at Girl Scout and Cub Scout camp, I wanted to be prepared. I got online before we went and studied what was available for a person who doesn’t eat meat or dairy. The plan was to pack lunches and then get a nice dinner in the park. I read the descriptions for all the sit-down, air-conditioned restaurants and found three that would work. Johnny Rockets offers a salad bar, but other family members said the food there isn’t that great. Next on the list was Chuck Wagon which listed Montgomery Inn BBQ ribs and organic salads in its description. Since some of the family had eaten ribs the night before, I suggested The Red Garter Saloon. Its description said they offered sandwiches, salads and more. Plus, they had a live show every hour. So that’s where we headed for dinner.

Let me just say it was not at all what I expected. The tables were tiny little rounds. We had 10 people in our group so we pulled 3 tables together and grabbed every chair we could find. Sadly, this left some of us without a space to set food on the table. After a few minutes, the show started. It was a fun, upbeat performance of island music such as Jimmy Buffet and the Beach Boys. I think everyone enjoyed the show — I know the kids had their eyes glued to the performers. But, the menus arrived in the middle of the show and it was so dark in there that you could barely read what was offered. In addition, the show was so loud you had to yell to try to talk to anyone.

Here’s what was on the menu:
Hotdog or Chili Dog
Loaded Nachos
Chicken Caesar Salad
Taco Salad
Ham & Cheese Sub Sandwich

That was basically it. The kids couldn’t find anything they really wanted. And my choices were the Chicken Caesar Salad minus chicken and parmesan cheese and the dressing — basically lettuce. Or I could go with the Taco Salad minus cheese, beef, sour cream. Basically lettuce, tomatoes and salsa. Ugh. And I couldn’t even imagine yelling to the waiter all my deletions and the kitchen trying to get it right.

We watched the rest of the show and then left and headed toward the Chuck Wagon with the “ribs and organic salads.” The place was empty, air-conditioned and the food smelled great. But — no organic salads. They had a big bowl of iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, cheese and croutons. They made up large and small salads and set them out for you to grab on your way through the line. I had them make me a large one with no cheese. We made our way down the line with everyone finding something tasty to eat. I was looking for anything with protein. At this point, I was just hoping to find something without meat even if it had some butter in it. I ordered a side of baked beans knowing it probably had been flavored with bacon. It arrived with whole strips of soggy bacon in it. I didn’t eat it. I should have ordered an ear of corn on the cob. Jason gave me his biscuit and that was dinner, with the iceberg salad.

But the day didn’t end on a bad note…

It was 9 p.m. by the time we finished dinner so we decided to head home. On the way to the exit, we passed a coffee shop serving Starbucks coffee. YAY! I asked if they had soy milk to make a latte with. He checked the fridge and said they had just enough left for a small one. DOUBLE YAY! I had an iced soy latte for the ride home.

When we got in the car, I dug through my glove box and found a small bag of roasted edamame. I ate that and a granola bar.

All-in-all a great day of fun with the family. Lesson learned (again!): pack my own food or find a salad bar.

Are you in a pickle?

10 Aug

You might want to be after you taste these pickles!

Last week, the kids and I tackled our own homemade pickles using the recipe and guide in the August issue of Eating Well magazine. I’ve never made pickles before, and I’m so excited to report that these were fantastic! We made them in about 2 hours last Tuesday afternoon and left them chillin’ in the camper fridge until dinner on Saturday, while camping in Kentucky.

We had a little pickle tasting party right before dinner. Everyone thought they were delicious. The flavors were vibrant and they came out very cool and crunchy. We made both the sweet brine and the sour brine and then mixed and matched seasonings and vegetables into all kinds of combinations. Most contain the smaller pickling cucumbers, sliced in various ways. I should mention that we used half-pint canning jars instead of pint jars as listed in the magazine.

Here is a picture and list of our concoctions:

Top row, left to right:
Southwestern Slices = 1 garlic clove + 1/4 teaspoon cumin + 1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder + 75% sour brine + 25% sweet brine
Chunky Sweets = sweet brine
Madison’s Dill Spears = 1/4 teaspoon pickling spice + 1 clove garlic + 1/4 teaspoon dried dill + sour brine
Logan’s Sweets = 1/4 teaspoon pickling spice + sweet brine (includes wedges of lemon cucumber)
Brady’s Dillies = 1/4 teaspoon pickling spice + 1 clove garlic + 1/4 teaspoon dried dill + sour brine

Bottom row, left to right:
Italian Giardiniera = mixed vegetables + 1 bay leaf + black pepper + sour brine
My Hubby is Sweet+Hot = 1 clove garlic + crushed red pepper flakes + 1 slice jalapeno + sweet red pepper slices + 50% sweet brine + 50% sour brine
Hot & Spicy = 1 cherry pepper + 1/4 teaspoon pickling spice + 1 jalapeno + crushed red pepper flakes + sour brine
Sandwich Slices = 1 clove garlic + 1 sprig fresh rosemary + 1/4 teaspoon pickling spice + sour brine
Bread & Butter = 1/4 teaspoon turmeric + 1/4 teaspoon pickling spice + sweet brine
Onions = I had leftover sweet brine, so I sliced an onion and dropped it into the brine (yummy on a sandwich!)

We didn’t find any that we didn’t like, but there were a few that really stood out from the rest — the dill pickles, the sandwich slices with rosemary and garlic, the bread and butter, and the sweets. Actually, the sandwich slices with rosemary and garlic were so phenomenal I could have eaten the entire jar in one sitting.

After I shot the above picture, I decided to whip up some quick labels for them so we could identify them more easily. Also, I wanted a record of what we made for future batches.

Thank you, Eating Well, for a successful challenge recipe #7!

My Garden!

5 Aug

I’ve never been what you might call a Green Thumb. I’m actually quite successful at killing houseplants and pretty much anything I plant in my yard. Have been my whole life. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of a joke in my family…how I couldn’t keep a houseplant alive if my life depended on it.

But when it comes to my vegetable garden, I’m pretty dog-gone proud of myself! My vegetables are growing beautifully and I’m harvesting something every day. Actually, my garden has sort of gone crazy. I’ve already harvested all of my peas, green beans, yellow wax beans and lettuces. I’m currently picking zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, little cherry peppers and a couple of small beets.
I’m also starting to harvest these interesting little items I planted — Lemon Cucumbers. They’re an heirloom variety and they are quite unusual. They’re the color of lemons, about the size of a tennis ball, yet they taste like a cucumber. Very juicy, too. We’ve enjoyed them in salads, mostly. But the other day we made 10 jars of homemade pickles (to be blogged after we’ve taste-tested them!), and one of the jars includes wedges of the Lemon Cucumber.
One of the funny things about this garden is that the squash, watermelon, cucumbers, gourds and pumpkins are taking over. I have vines going everywhere and every day I’m out there shifting them around, trying to keep them from getting all tangled with one another! In one of my raised beds, I have my 4 tomato cages with tall plants. But the other day I went to check on them and here was this baby crookneck squash hanging up in the tomato cages. I thought, what on earth is that all about?! I started digging through it and found that one of the vines of the ornamental gourds I planted had wound its way across the bed and up into the tomato cages. I tried to direct it out of there, but it was holding on tight and I didn’t want to break it off.

The other thing going absolutely nuts in my garden is the watermelon. I’ve never planted it before so I didn’t know what to expect. The vines are very long and I swear they grow a foot a day! On the day this picture was taken, I had 14 watermelons growing on the three plants. I told my mom about it and she said the nutrients in the vine can’t possibly feed all of those watermelons and I may not get any of them to grow big enough to ripen. She said I needed to pick some of them and toss them.

Okay, I tried. I really did. I picked three of them that had just started growing and put them in my compost pile. I couldn’t bring myself to throw out any of the bigger ones. They’re my babies! I felt horrible just tossing them away! Sigh. A few days later, I did end up picking the biggest one to see if it was ripe. It wasn’t.

All in all, we are loving this size garden. It’s just right for a family of five. The kids enjoy helping out (especially Brady, who goes out there first thing every morning to see what’s changed from the day before). And there’s nothing better than enjoying fresh foods right from your own backyard. Awesome.