Friday, August 10, 2012

I Adopted a Greyhound! (and stopped blogging)

Meet retired racing greyhound Iruska Promiser, now known as Django. My husband and I adopted him in May, after 13 years of living with cats (our own, strays I rescued, ferals I socialized, kittens and sick cats I fostered for the local shelter) and nearly that many years of my begging my husband for a dog.

I'm an equal-opportunity animal lover, but I'm a crazy cat lady at heart. So during the years my husband refused to let us get a dog, I wasn't too heartbroken because I had my cats.

While at a Petco this past February, I saw greyhounds there for a meet-and-greet and went over to donate some cash. A half-hour later, after petting the sweet, gentle, calm dogs that stood there like little deer, I was convinced they're the perfect dog for us. They don't bark! They don't shed! Most are good with cats, they're intelligent and easily adapt to retirement after racing, are usually naturally well-behaved, and have very low exercise needs (contrary to what I thought and most people think, they are sprinters and not built for endurance, so they're mostly couch potatoes).

It took a few months of dragging my husband to greyhound meet-and-greets and nagging him before I finally wore him down. And so on a Saturday in late May, Three Rivers Greyhounds brought not-quite-two-year-old Django to his new home with us.

He came from Wheeling, West Virginia, where he'd flunked out of racing school and retired early. From there he went to a kennel that boards greyhounds until they find their forever home. He'd lived his entire life in a crate and had never been in a house, so everything was new and terrifying to him. He wouldn't go into the kitchen because he was afraid of slipping on the laminate floors. He was astounded the first time we turned on the TV. We had to teach him how to walk up stairs.

As we patiently introduced him to his new world, he started to feel comfortable. And when his personality started to come out, I realized I did not have one of those calm, sweet, gentle greyhounds I fell in love with at Petco. Instead, I had a two-year-old (he turned two on June 12) teenage dog who could be as goofy, willful, and crazy as any other young dog. Oh, and he barks--a lot! And we learned that he will "lose his kennel coat," which he's doing now, and that basically means crazy shedding. But most of the time, he is calm, well-behaved, and very much a big, lazy couch potato--so much so that I called my rescue group to ask if the amount of sleeping he did was normal or whether I should take him to the vet (it's normal--greyhounds sleep around 18 hours a day).

So for the past few months, my husband and I have been helping Django adapt to his new life, learning how to speak dog, and, with the help of a dog trainer who focuses on positive reinforcement, learning how to handle him when his puppyness comes out and he goes crazy.

So that's why I haven't been blogging--Django has taken over my life! We're all settling into our new lives with each other, and I love him to pieces. He's a big goofball, but he's my goofball. :-)

During this transition period, I didn't cook big, elaborate meals. Instead, I prepared very quick meals from my favorite cookbooks: Happy Herbivore, Appetite for Reduction, and The Food Matters Cookbook. As things continue to settle, I'll be cooking and blogging more. Until then, here are some more pictures of our handsome hound.

PS: The introduction with my cats is a work-in-progress. He tested cat-safe (he has a very low prey drive, which may be why he flunked out of racing school), but my cats refuse to meet him, so I need to keep them separated for now. Just this week, one of my cats and Django touched noses, so at least we're making progress.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Coconut Lime Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream

Last month, our friends Maya and Ryder hosted a dessert potluck. I love the idea of a get-together featuring yummy drinks (they served Hot Toddys and sparkling wine with a pomegranate syrup) and desserts. Hello, sugar!

I made Coconut Lime Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. They were very good, but not one of my favorites from the book. But they looked pretty and fancy, here featured on a beautiful and funky ceramic plate my friend Kate made me. 

Maya made vegan truffles using this recipe. They were awesome! She added almond extract to some and orange extract to others; I liked those best. I will definitely make these truffles.

Meghan made a raw vegan cheesecake that was great, but I don't have the recipe. It was smooth and creamy, with a sweet crust. It had cardamom in it, which was a really interesting and different taste. I'd like to try my hand at a raw vegan cheesecake sometime.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Skinny Margaritas

My husband and I grilled out last night to make fajitas for Cinco de Mayo. I grilled portobello mushrooms and onions for my fajitas. I also made amazingly fresh and delicious guacamole for the fajitas (recipe below). I lightly grilled the corn tortillas too. The fajitas were amazing!

I also made the best margaritas ever! I searched skinny margarita recipes online and combined what I thought were the best of each I found. They were so fresh and delicious--definitely one of the best drinks I've ever had. (See recipe below.) Of course they were great with chips, salsa, and guacamole, but I think I'm going to serve these margaritas up for my next get-together with friends, too.

We ate dinner on our patio then headed up to the roof off of our third floor, where we have a great view of Downtown Pittsburgh and the fireworks for the Pirates game. And there was a super moon, too! 

Skinny Margaritas
Makes 1 drink
  • 1 whole lime
  • 1/3 orange
  • 1/2 packet of Stevia, or your favorite sweetener (optional)
  • 1 shot of tequila
  • 1/4 cup Sprite Zero

  1. Squeeze the juice from 1 whole lime and 1/3 of an orange into a glass.
  2. Add some sweetener if you'd like. I tend to like things very sweet, but a packet of Stevia was way too much. A half packet was okay, but they were just as good without any sweetener.
  3. Add the tequila, ice, and stir well.
  4. If you want a strong drink, skip the diet Sprite. I don't like strong drinks, so I added a bit of Sprite Zero.
  5. Enjoy!
Guacamole (from Veganomicon)
Guac is so simple to make, but I'd never made it before I'd bought Veganomicon. If you're looking for a good, basic recipe, this is great.
  • 1 very ripe avocado (the riper and softer, the better)
  • 1/2 to 1 lime
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

  1. Slice the avocado in half, then again in quarters. Throw out the pit (or keep it if you're not going to eat all the guac immediately). Peel off the skin and put the quartered pieces in a bowl.
  2. Add the minced red onion, and squeeze the juice of a half a lime on top.
  3. Mash everything up with a fork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix again.
  4. If you want it more lime-y, add more juice. The original recipe called for 1 lime, but I thought a half was perfect.
  5. To store it, put the pit in the guac and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the guac so no air can get through and cause the guac to go brown.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

California Chipotle Chopped Salad

With the summer weather we've had the past two weeks, I've been in the mood for summer veggies. Of course, by the time I bought the stuff to make this California Chipotle Chopped Salad, the weather turned cooler. Still...this salad is amazing! I'm usually not one to gush over salads, but this one is a winner.

The chipotle-seasoned black beans, cilantro, and avocado complement each other perfectly; the dressing is lime-y, tangy, sweet, and refreshing; the romaine, tomatoes, and red onion round are a good base; and super-nutritious quinoa is always a welcome addition. I predict this will be my go-to summer salad that I'll bring to potlucks and serve to guests on lazy summer evenings on my patio.

California Chipotle Chopped Salad
Recipe from April 2012 Fitness Magazine
Servings: 4

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large tomato chopped or cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 avocado, pitted and diced
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  1. To make dressing: Puree 3 tablespoons oil, vinegar, agave nectar, and lime juice in a blender.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Saute black beans, garlic, chile powder, and salt for 5 minutes. Let cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, quinoa, black bean mixture, and cilantro. Toss gently with dressing to coat.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cashew Cheese & Tomato Pizza & Other Good Stuff

Happy Summer! Oh wait--it's not even Spring yet. These sunny, 70-degree days have me fooled.

I'm finished recipe testing for the third Happy Herbivore cookbook. You know when you try a recipe that's so delicious, healthy, quick and easy to make, and has such simple, wholesome ingredients that you want to exclaim, "Wow!" That's how all these recipes are. Buy this book when it comes out! I know I will.

Here's what I've been cooking in addition to testing recipes:

Tomato and Cashew Cheese Pizza on Homemade Whole Wheat Dough
I've posted a version of this before that used a sweet basil tapenade. This time I was hungry for regular old tomato and cheese pizza. I made the Cashew Cheese from Veganomicon. I love this cheese! It's supposed to be a ricotta, but I like it both in place of regular cheese, as a spread, and on sandwiches. And it's pretty easy to make. For the tomato sauce, I sauteed some garlic and onion then added some canned, diced tomatoes (I'd use fresh in the summer), basil, and oregano, and stirred everything until it was thick. I made a whole wheat pizza dough that had brown sugar in it so it was a bit sweet. I gushed over this pizza for days and savored the leftovers.

Chocolate Raspberry Cookies
My holiday cookie supply in the freezer was getting low. I waited two months after all my holiday baking before I put on my apron again and baked Chewy Chocolate Raspberry Cookies from Veganomicon. Delicious!
Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes
I made two separate batches of Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for friends. Tasting my first spoonful of cake batter after months of not making cupcakes was heavenly. The bliss was so overwhelming I almost fainted. I think the buttercream frosting is too sweet (it makes my teeth hurt), so this time I reduced the powdered sugar. Perfect!

I also witnessed two tragedies recently.

First, the second of my 1M decorating tips, which are crucial to creating those swirling, fluffy mounds of frosting, got into a tussle with the garbage disposal. I tried to fix it, but my swirls came out wonky. I feel bad giving cupcakes with wonky swirls of frosting to friends tomorrow; I hope they'll forgive me. I'll need to make a trip to the restaurant supply store in the Strip District soon to get some replacement tips!

Second, while grocery shopping, I saw a little boy go up to the section of blueberries and eagerly reach for a container before his mother yelled at him, "Put those back! We ain't buying no blueberries!" I looked on in horror. How could a mother deny her child something so healthy? She should give him all the blueberries he wants! I debated about saying something or offering to buy him some containers of blueberries but decided against it. I think if I did, she'd have tried to kick my ass.

Monday, February 27, 2012

(Not So Great) Vegan Eating in Palm Springs, CA

Last week I was in Palm Springs, CA for a work conference. Palm Springs is in the desert with palm trees, cacti, cloudless blue skies, golf courses galore, and intense sun and heat that were way too much for me. I'm not a hot weather fan, and I withered in the 88 degrees and blinding sun. Because it's still winter, though, I slathered on four different SPF products for a total of 105 SPF protection every time I left my hotel and tried not to complain.

Unfortunately, the conference organizers either didn't care about my request for vegan food when they asked about dietary restrictions or for some reason weren't able to accommodate me. There wasn't a thing I could eat at the conference except fruit when they had it. Nor was Palm Springs a mecca for vegan eating. It was a struggle, but here's how I made it through the week.

Breakfast at Starbucks
I've gotten bagels and peanut butter before from Starbucks, but the Palm Springs Starbucks had neither peanut butter nor fruit spread. The only options were cream cheese or butter (same at the conference). But I found something better than bagels: Perfect Oatmeal. It's mixed with hot water and comes with little packets of brown sugar, nuts, and dried fruit. It was yummy and kept me full until lunch.

And because I was desperate for soymilk, I didn't feel as guilty spending a ridiculous $4 for a soy latte (expensive, but soooo good).

Lunch at Cafe Jasmin
I survived on their hummus and pita, salads, and lentil soup. They also have a bunch of different wraps and sandwiches that can easily be made vegan.

Dinner at Maracas
The veggie fajitas at Maracas featured broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. How unexpected! The refried beans were veg, and the salsa was amazing.

Lunch and Dinner at Thai House
I think Thai food can rarely be bad, so when I was underwhelmed by the mixed veggies entree I got for a lunch special, I went back for dinner. I ordered the spicy basil noodles, and it was just short of awful. The noodles were swimming in oil (but no fish sauce; I made sure to specify) and there were barely any veggies, tofu, or basil. There were other Thai restaurants, but this was the closest to my hotel. I wouldn't recommend it.

Snacks at the Circle K
At a tiny, run-down Circle K I got a little bag of nuts and dried cranberries and raisins I had throughout the week. They also had other little snack mixes, all of which seemed to be locally made.

That's the food recap. Here are some more pictures, the first of the sunset from the balcony of my hotel.
Last week was also Modernism Week, and a new modern prefab house from Home Depot was set up to tour. I went on the tour...and felt like I was walking through Dwell Magazine. I loved it!
The prefab house was set up in Palm Spring's Design District, which had cute shops and very cool art galleries. I spent forever at the Desert Art Center, where I fawned over some amazing pottery. The art was much better than the vegan eating options!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A (Failed) Taste of Summer Sandwich

Winter finally came to the Burgh last week. Last weekend was the first time all winter I didn't run because it was so cold and snowing. And it was the first time I started craving summer's fresh fruits and veggies.

I've been mostly making Happy Herbivore test recipes, but in between those I've been making mostly soup. I'm a little sick of soup so thought I'd make a Vegan Yum Yum sandwich I made last year a lot and loved: Pan-Seared Tomato and Rosemary Artichoke Sandwich. The recipe warned to use only ripe, in-season tomatoes or else just make another sandwich. But I was craving a summer sandwich so much that I bought an expensive but generally unappetizing looking organic tomato and made it anyway. This mess was the result:
I made it open-faced, so you can't even see the baguette, and dowsed the whole thing in balsamic reduction. What was I thinking?! The baguette (my blessed, beloved baguette bread I bought as a rare treat) got soggy, the tomatoes were mealy, and the balsamic reduction was way too much. Sigh. I guess I'll just have to wait for summer for good tomatoes and summer sandwiches.

But on a quest to make something new (that is, not soup), I decided to buy organic red kale instead of my usual green. I used it in an HH test recipe, and the dish was not only delicious but also gorgeous. I think I'll try to grow some red kale this summer.
One of the recent HH test recipes I made was a baked good. It was so amazing! I'm baking another loaf tonight to take to work tomorrow. It's one of those recipes that's so good, no one would guess it's not only vegan but also fat-free with no added oils.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekend Challenge: Hip Raises

It's time for the Women's Health Magazine Weekend Challenge! (Here's why I love these.) This weekend it's doing three sets of eight hip raises on each leg, which works the glutes, hamstrings, and core. I'm in!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fake Meat: A Bridge, Not a Crutch

While it's good that there are so many meatless options these days (soy dogs, veggie burgers, hot dogs, sausage, etc.), they're highly processed and can't be healthy, right?

Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine weighs in on this topic in the January/February 2012 issue of Vegetarian Times:

"Analogues made from soy, wheat, or pea protein are much better than the foods they replace. Meats contribute cholesterol and animal fat, along with traces of carcinogens that form during cooking. Also, hot dogs and other processed meat products are linked to colorectal cancer.

Even so, analogues tend to be heavily processed, which often means removing fiber and some nutrients, concentrating protein, and adding salt, flavorings, and other things we do not need. So, think of veggie dogs and other analogues as a bridge leading us from the meaty diets we grew up with toward beans, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, which are the most healthful foods of all."

When I first went veg, fake meats were a godsend. Now I make my own fake meats from whole foods...though I occasionally I still buy soy sausage to make Happy Herbivore Breakfast Sausage Patties. Dr. Barnard's note reminded me that I should really cut the cord and make my own sausage. Any good recipe suggestions?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kale, White Bean & Rice Stew with Sweet Potato Biscuits

I made the Kale, White Bean, and Rice Stew from Appetite for Reduction this weekend. The original version called for quinoa, but my local grocery didn't have any. I had some cooked brown rice in the fridge so just threw it in at the end. This "stew" was just okay. (Its broth was very thin, so I'd call it a soup.) The spice blend--crushed fennel, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary--gave just a hint of flavor. The soup bordered on bland, so I added some balsamic vinegar for a bit more flavor. The kale, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes didn't add much on their own. Even cannellini beans, which I usually think are pretty tasty with just a bit of oil and some salt and pepper, didn't come through and save this soup. This soup just didn't do it for me!

What redeemed the soup, however, are the Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits also from Appetite for Reduction I made to go with the soup. These slightly sweet and savory biscuits are wonderful. And they were so quick and easy to make! You just take a cup of mashed sweet potato, mix it with canola oil, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and salt, and sift in flour, baking powder, and nutmeg. Then you drop them onto a baking sheet, and in about 15 minutes you have really awesome biscuits. They went great with the soup, but I'd make these again to eat by themselves. Someone posted the recipe on this blog.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Weekend Challenge: Burpees

When 5 p.m. comes around on Fridays, my mind screams, "Weekend!" I give in to the party-it-up weekend vibe and indulge in things I never would on weekdays: drinks, dinners out, not tracking WeightWatchers points, and thawing vegan cookies from my freezer. WeightWatchers defines maintenance as five pounds above or below your goal weight. While I'm still within that range, my weight is now at the high end. I blame weekends.

So I love the weekend challenges Women's Health Magazine puts out. I did pushups and lunges as part of last weekend's challenge and ate healthfully, with control, all weekend (and lost two pounds too). The challenge is do to some physical activity before you eat every meal. I think why this is successful is that it makes eating an event--something you have to work for a little--rather than a continuous, mindless activity. So, I'm in for this weekend's challenge: to do three sets of eight burpees before every meal. Women's Health says, "This movement, besides activating your muscles, improves flexibility, mobility, and posture--all critical factors for keeping your body young and injury-free." I'm doing the extra challenge of doing a pushup between moves C and D. Not only is it good exercise, but it's nice to start a Monday feeling good about completing a challenge. Why not do it with me this weekend?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rosemary Pureed Artichokes & Other Slim, Calm Sexy Foods

The January/February 2012 issue of Women's Health Magazine has an excerpt from the book by Keri Glassman, Slim Calm Sexy Diet: 365 Proven Food Strategies for Mind/Body Bliss. The author cites stress as the reason her clients struggle with weight. She offers these food suggestions to "escape the vicious cycle of stress, weight gain, and low libido."

Slim Foods
These foods "are nutrient dense and have been scientifically proven to fill you up, shrink your appetite, or help you drop pounds."
  • One artichoke has just 60 calories and a ton of fiber; eat it as a snack before a meal to help fill you up. I tried the suggestion of pureeing canned artichokes with a little olive oil and rosemary (photo above). I used 1 teaspoon olive oil and about 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary and sprinkled it with pepper. It was delicious and filling! 
  • Chili Peppers contain the antioxidant capsaicin, which doubles calorie burn, pushes the body to use more fat as fuel, and reduces appetite.
  • In one study, many of the people who ate half a grapefruit with each meal lost more than 10 pounds without making any other changes to the diet. I'm not a grapefruit fan, but I'll try the suggestion to add a tiny bit of maple syrup, sprinkle with cardamom, and broil for a few minutes.
  • Pears have high levels of a fiber called pectin, which is known to help weight loss. 
  • Tomatoes fill you up with fiber and a high volume of water for few calories. One thing I didn't know: cooked tomatoes are nutritionally better!

Calm Foods
"Studies have found that these options can help contribute to a healthy mental state, buffer against the harmful physical effects of stress, and dial up your serenity level."
  • Asparagus's folate helps ward off stress.
  • Avocados also contain folate (more than any other fruit), and they're rich in gluthathione, which blocks intestinal absorption of certain fats that create free radicals, the harmful compounds responsible for aging.
  • All berries, including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are rich in vitamin C, which has been proven to beat stress.
  • Oranges are also high in vitamin C.
  • The omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts keep the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in check. 

Sexy Foods (Note of warning: Women's Health is like the Cosmo of fitness magazines!)
Research shows these are aphrodisiacs.
  • Research shows that chocolate gets us in the mood because it triggers feel-good serotonin and endorphins.
  • Coffee stimulates the part of the brain that regulates arousal.
  • Peaches' high vitamin C is something of a fertility drug for guys. (Note to self: do not buy peaches for husband! We're happy being child-free.)
  • Saffron...improves sexual performance. Seriously, that's what the magazine says.
  • Watermelon has been linked to "healthier erections" and increased libido in women. Yep...there have been research studies to prove this!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Herbivore Recipe Testing Bliss

Since the beginning of January, I've been testing recipes for the next Happy Herbivore cookbook. So while I've been posting about indulgences like Dulce de Leche Cheerios and Cream of Mushroom Soup, most of my meals have been healthy and delicious Happy Herbivore recipes. These recipes use whole, nutritious foods, most of which are already in my pantry, and they're quick, easy, and inexpensive to make. And because they contain no added fats, they've been perfect for helping me maintain my weight loss. But best of all--they're delicious! I haven't yet tested a recipe I didn't like, and most of my reviews say either, "I love this!" or "I think this is my favorite recipe so far!" Here's my review of the most recently published cookbook, Everyday Happy Herbivore. From the recipes I've tried so far, this new cookbook promises to be just as good! A few photos of the recipes I've tested...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cream of Mushroom Soup

If I were having the British royal family over for dinner, I'd serve them this amazing vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup as a first course. It's so rich, so decadent, so bursting with mushroom and cream flavors, it's fit for royalty...or for a windy, cold day like this past Saturday when I made it. Its lusciousness is not without a calorie cost, though: vegan sour cream and margarine help make this soup spectacular.

Yes, vegan sour cream and margarine are processed foods that come in packages--evil things I usually swear off. But I had fond memories of this soup when I first made it last year, so I splurged this weekend. Really though, the soup is pretty good before you add the soymilk and soy sour cream, so I'd make it without the non-dairy for a healthier version.

Last year when I made it, an omni coworker tried it and loved it, so I don't think omnivores would miss the dairy.

Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup
recipe from
  • 3/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp vegan margarine
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup vegan non-dairy sour cream substitute
  • 1 cup soymilk
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large soup or stock pot, saute the mushrooms, onion and garlic in vegan margarine for 3 - 5 minutes, until onions are soft.
2. Reduce heat to medium low and add the vegetable broth. Cover and allow to simmer for at least 45 minutes. (Note: stop here for a non-cream but still good mushroom soup!)

3. Add the flour, non-dairy sour cream and soymilk, stirring well to combine. Allow to simmer another 20 - 30 minutes, or until soup has thickened. Season generously with salt and pepper before serving.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Weekend Challenge: Pushups & Lunges

I love the Weekend Challenge idea from Women's Health Magazine for those who eat right and exercise Monday through Friday but let the happy hours and dinners out on weekends wreck their eating and fitness routines. Before every weekend, the Women's Health Facebook page posts a new challenge to do a set of exercise before you eat every meal.

I'm guilty of thawing out the vegan cookies in the freezer and eating more on weekends, so I'm excited to give this challenge a try. When I first saw the challenge, I must have looked at an old one to do three sets of 10 pushups before every meal, so I planned to do that this weekend. Last night before going out for dinner to Mad Mex, I did all the pushups.

But today I saw that this weekend's challenge is actually three sets of lunges on each leg before each meal.
So this weekend I'm planning on doing both pushups and lunges before every meal. Are you in? I am!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Accidentally Vegan, Guilty Pleasure Find

Like Meghan, who recently posted a top 10 accidentally vegan junk foods list, I usually turn my nose up at processed junk foods. But on a recent grocery store visit, I entered an aisle I rarely go down: the packaged cereal aisle. Sugary and artificially flavored, these cereals aren't good for you. I know this. But one cereal caught my eye, and when I looked at the ingredients, I found that it's accidentally vegan. Dulce de Leche Cheerios! So I pushed aside my inner voice screaming, "Put it back! It's no good for you! It's high in WeightWatchers points! And it's $4!!!" and bought it.

It's about as good an accidentally vegan junk food as you can get. With vanilla soymilk, it's good. But eaten plain with some vegan chocolate chips, it's almost as sinfully good as a vegan cupcake.

And now back to my regularly scheduled healthy eating broadcast...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spicy Tomato Chickpea Soup

Tomato soup in winter sounds good. Spicy tomato soup sounds better. And spicy tomato soup made with pureed chickpeas? Awesome! This recipe from Vegan Yum Yum is a winner.

Spicy Tomato Chickpea Soup
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil (I omitted the oil and used vegetable broth)
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 (15 oz) can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained (I used about 1.5 cups of chickpeas I cooked)
  • 1 (28oz) can of diced tomatoes (or fresh plum tomatoes if in season)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • black pepper to taste

1. Sautee the diced onion in a large pot until soft, about three minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes and stir another minute.

2. Add the chickpeas, mustard seeds, and turmeric, and saute until the chickpeas turn golden. Note that if using veg broth in place of oil, keep adding enough broth so things don't stick to the pan.
3. Add tomatoes and salt and simmer 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes are cooked through.

4. Add the nutritional yeast if using and the hot water. Either transfer the soup to a blender to puree, or use an immersion blender. This was my first chance to use the immersion blender I got for Christmas. It was exciting and messy at the same time. Bits of pureed chickpeas and tomatoes were everywhere by the time I was done.
But the finished soup was amazing. Hearty and hot, it's a perfect winter comfort food. Plus, it's nutritious, light, and filling.
I liked it so much, I'm thinking of giving out jars of soup for holiday gifts this year instead of my usual vegan cookies. Wouldn't these jars look cute with some festive ribbon?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dr. Vonda Wright on Aging with Vitality

Dr. Vonda Wright
(image from
When I first saw Dr. Vonda Wright before the talk she gave at Carnegie Mellon University last week as part of the university's Fitness Challenge for staff and faculty, I exclaimed out loud, "Wow, she's young!" With her impressive bio as an orthopedic surgeon, author of multiple books, and a national expert who has given more than 200 media interviews in the past two years, I expected her to look, well, older. Turns out that Dr. Wright is the poster child for the subject she's passionate about: healthy aging. 

Specializing in fitness over 40, Dr. Wright herself is fit, vibrant, and radiant--and she's 45 (or will be soon, I think she said). Some of the highlights from her inspiring talk are:
  • We can die from not being physically active! Sedentary death syndrome accounts for some 33 diseases that can kill people, like heart disease and diabetes. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can decrease the risk of many of these diseases.
  • When polled, 70% of people said that physical activity is important; only 30% of people exercise regularly, though.
  • 70% of what determines how we age is due to our lifestyle. Only 30% is genetic.
  • Research shows that a 60-year-old man is equally as strong as an 85-year-old man who does resistance training.
  • A good indicator of how healthy your weight is (better than BMI) is your waist-to-hip ratio. Divide your hip measurement (around the biggest part of your butt) by your waist measurement (right below the belly button). You should be under .8. If you're over 1, you're "a disaster!"
  • One 30-minute exercise session can provide feel-good feelings for up to 12 hours.
  • Strive for an intense physical exercise (high-impact exercise like running and plyometrics that "bash your bones") every other day.
Dr. Wright explained that previous research on how people age (think of a frail, shuffling old man using a walker) is based on those people being sedentary. Her research proves that physically active people can look and feel youthful as they age. She gave many examples of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s who are living with vitality because they incorporate fitness into their lives. One amazing photo showed a 92-year-old patient she works with--who regularly windsurfs!

Her message was clear. It's our choice: we can choose to be frail, weak, and unhealthy as we grow older, or we be can be strong, fit, and healthy and live our golden years to the fullest. I choose fitness. I choose vitality!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Restaurant Review: North Country Brewing Company

This weekend my husband and I celebrated our 13th when-we-met anniversary. On Saturday we headed north to visit small towns, play in the snow, and have dinner at the North Country Brewing Company in Slippery Rock.

First we stopped at McConnell's Mill State Park. Pittsburgh got about four inches of snow Friday night--our biggest snowfall of winter so far--and this area up north got about eight inches. I nearly had a heart attack from the terror of driving down the winding, narrow, slushy/slippery road to get to the mill in my nine-year-old VW Golf, but we made it safely.

It was a winter wonderland! Everything looked so pretty with all the snow. We stopped at the old mill and the covered bridge first.

 Then we went on a little hike through a forested trail along the river.

We realized that we'd never gone hiking in winter before. It was a lot of fun and so pretty. I loved the frozen  waterfalls, though a little hard to see in the following picture.
We left the park and drove up to Volant, a tiny town north of New Castle with a few cute shops. We stopped at Volant Mills, a restored old mill, and got hand-made pickles and candy and visited with Mabel, a friendly black-and-white kitty who lives there.

Then we headed to Slippery Rock for dinner at North Country Brewing Company. They had a number of veggie selections, including Hummus Pita, Falafel Pita, Black Bean Burger, Portobello Reuben, and Breaded Zucchini Sub. We got the Pub Pretzels as an appetizer, served with a spicy mustard. The pretzels were deep-fried and crispy--definitely not light and healthy--but absolutely delicious. I got the Artichoke Sub with marinated, grilled artichokes, tomatoes, and red onions (I ordered it without cheese). It was also delicious! I never drink beer, but in the spirit of being at the brewery, I got a Raspberry Beret beer. Yum! It was fruity without being overly fruity, light, and refreshing.

I also liked the brew pub's environmentally friendly focus. The owners have their own farm and raise their own cattle for beef that's served in the restaurant. They also grow vegetables for the restaurant. They use the spent grains from the brewing process to feed their cattle, and the majority of the restaurant waste is composted. They also contribute some proceeds to the local fire department and lead a community clean-up initiative. Here's a recent Pittsburgh City Paper article about their environmental initiatives.

We thought we would be eating OPD style (that is, Old People Dinner style) when we got there at 5, but it was packed and lively. According to our waiter, it's usually busy. No wonder--great food, good veggie options, good beer, and an environmentally friendly focus. Two thumbs up!