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...