June 9, 2017

Tribute to Professor Fred A. Kummerow

Taking a moment here to wonder… how on earth has half of this year gone by already?! Just had this conversation with one of my managers the other day, and she said, “Yes, before you know it, Christmas is going to be here soon!”, to which I laughed (but considering how quickly these first six months have flown by, maybe it really won’t be long before we start hanging up ornaments and seeing those Starbucks holiday cups in the hands of every millennial around...). Considering the stretch of time, a lot has happened since the last post on Valentine’s Day dates (that’s right, no sugary milk chocolates here!), including my big life decision to commit to grad school! I’ve been interested in nutrition for a while and earlier this year, I finally found a program that is a great fit 😄 Unfortunately, the life passion that I have now in the health field didn’t occur to me in my budding undergraduate years, which led to my graduating with a BA in political science. Now, although it has the word “science” in it, political science has absolutely nothing to do with any hard sciences, a background that I lack and is required for higher education in nutrition at the masters level.

That being the case, I am now taking a prerequisite introductory course to nutrition that covers the foundational knowledge in biology, chemistry, human physiology-- and I’ve never loved studying more!! *inner nerd hops around with joy* It’s so fascinating to learn about how the human body is ingeniously constructed to absorb what we eat, heal on its own, fend off infections, and also alert us with symptoms when something is off with our health. The funny thing is, all this stuff happens inside without us voluntarily telling our body what to do! The only role we have to play is to put good fuel into our body for all the tiny cells, organs, and systems to carry out their operations to keep us alive and functioning-- that is probably as easy as it gets.

The aspect of nutrition that appeals to me the most, however, is that it is the core of such an easy and available prevention method that we can use to avoid getting sick! I work in a health-related agency and it’s a little sad to see people taking multiple medications for different chronic health conditions, and it’s a known fact that the great majority of the health conditions that we fight against here in the United States are autoimmune ones. While a good part of autoimmune diseases can be genetic, the other half is also contingent on diet and lifestyle. Meaning, nutrition plays a huge part in dictating your health and happiness! At the same time, nobody really thinks much of this nowadays-- food-wise, in a world where instant gratification is king, anything that’s fast, portable, tasty, and cheap wins the hearts of many Americans. Only over a period of time as signs of aging come about, do people realize that all these health complications don’t bode well for them, and all that junk they’ve been eating might be at least partially to blame...

Speaking of junk, last week’s readings covered the topic of lipids/fats, specifically TRANS FAT and how it is in so many food products out there-- yet people don’t really know how detrimental it is for our health! You might ask, What is it, and why is it so bad? Essentially, it is an artificially created fat that is produced by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil to make them solid (hence the common name for trans fat being “hydrogenated oil”). It’s bad because once it’s inside your body, trans fat raises your LDL bad cholesterol and lowers the good HDL cholesterol (there's a whole chemical explanation behind this, but I won't bore you with that). Over time, as more and more of these food products with trans fats are consumed, arteries get clogged due to the trans fats and that’s simply the brewing of a disaster: HEART DISEASE.

So then why are trans fat still widely used in food production? Because it’s cheaper than saturated fats like butter (many restaurants use hydrogenated oil to make fried foods because it’s cheaper), and hydrogenated oil also does the job of preserving foods for long periods of time.

Right, so everything has a back-story: How long has hydrogenated oil been used in food products, and what is its origin? The use of trans fats first came about during World War II, when food sources were scarce, and rare commodities like butter were rationed out at the time. They needed something that would satiate and taste as good as butter but produced at a cheaper cost, and thus the production and incorporation of hydrogenated oil in foods came about. Of course, at the time, no one really knew about the health effects-- more people were coping with malnutrition at the time and any source of fat would have been welcomed.

Ok, so now we know what trans fats are, why they’re bad, and even their history. So the next question is, what foods have trans fat? How will I know what foods to watch out for? Trans fats are found in margarine, fried foods, and processed/packaged foods like chips, crackers, snack cakes like Twinkies, packaged baked goods, even those containers of cake frosting-- basically anything that you know to be processed food! Unfortunately, this might include some vegan meatless products too; all those faux meat/mock meat products like meatless meatballs, sausages, veggie burgers (UGH WHY) vegan "cheese" and even vegan ice cream could have trans fat and other processed fillers in them. So the next time you’re getting groceries, double check the ingredients list of packaged foods to see whether “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” or anything hydrogenated is listed as an ingredient. Not only that, but if the percentage of trans fat is also high, put that box or bag right back on the shelf! This isn't to say that there's nothing left in the world to eat; obviously the occasional ice cream treat or a side of fries isn't going to kill you, but the key is to stick to whole foods as much as possible.

You might think at this point that this is just way too much work. Making trips to the market to get food is already such a chore, and now we have to meticulously check the back of everything before we chuck it in our cart?

Well, fear not, because...

Luckily, we have good ol’ Professor Fred A. Kummerow to thank for the FDA ban placed on these artificial trans fats that will go into effect starting 2018, which is next year! Meaning pretty soon, we won’t have to worry and fret over checking for trans fats because it won’t be allowed in the U.S. food supply. This is a huge change and a shake-up of the powerful food industry, and all of this was done by one man, Professor Kummerow, and his six decades’ worth of research, countless journal articles, advocacy, and dedication to work tirelessly for the health and welfare of the American people. In trying to create awareness and voice an early warning about the negative health implications of trans fat/processed foods, he fought a lonely battle for the longest time; no one else believed him back in the 1950s and the food industry did not pay heed either. When you are right, however, justice does its job: over the years, many other researchers who were coming around to uncover similar findings published their studies, and once the common knowledge about trans fats could no longer be ignored, Professor Kummerow decided enough was enough and he sued the FDA in 2013 for not taking action any sooner (this eventually led to the FDA’s announcement of the trans fat ban in 2015, giving food production companies 3 years to shape up and eliminate trans fats from food products by 2018). Talk about determination! Just goes to show, if you firmly believe in something and push for it all the way, nothing can stop you from achieving!

That’s why this post is actually a tribute to Professor Kummerow, who just passed away last Wednesday on May 31, 2017 at the age of 102 after having achieved these life accomplishments. Knowing what he knows about nutrition, he must have taken really good care of his health to have lived that long! Professor Kummerow was also the world’s oldest working scientist: even at the age of 101, he was still working hard at his lab to find a link between diet and Alzheimer’s disease. Needless to say, retirement was definitely not in his later life plans! He was truly a visionary and a pioneer as a scientist and nutritionist, and for a newbie like myself with my toe not even barely dipped into this amazing field, Professor Kummerow is probably my greatest inspiration at the moment. May he rest in peace.

Here are articles from the New York Times and Chicago Tribune that pay homage to the man:

February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sending many hearts to all you lovebirds out there (that includes you single pringles too, of course)! Valentine's Day always seems to be one of those occasions that are either embraced with all shades of reds and pinks that you can imagine OR, detested with all the inner annoyance and disgust that one could possibly muster (that is, if you don't have a special cuddle buddy to spend it with). I suppose men who aren't particularly keen on buying into this commercialized holiday might share that latter sentiment as well.

In any case! Out of curiosity, I looked up the history of this day and it actually traces to way back in the 1400s when the Roman priest/physician, St. Valentine, was beheaded by emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed during the time when Christians were widely persecuted in Rome. It's also said that St. Valentine refused to deny Christ before the emperor, which led to his martyrdom as a result. There's some amount of Roman tradition mixed in there too, but for the most part, February 14th was set as a day in memory of this saint. 

Well that's nice to know a bit of the back story behind this day that's generally associated with dozens of roses, boxes of chocolate hearts, and other random things that gals and guys gift each other. Who knew that a saint's death from 600 years ago would eventually somehow turn into this kind of holiday for us today?

Anyway, that's enough background information, on with the highlight of this post! This year, I didn't want flowers, chocolates, or anything of the kind. I asked for one thing and one thing only, and the bf really outdid himself (much to my pleasant surprise): DATES! 

He knows me so well... thanks bf 💗
Now we're not talking about the dinner-and-a-movie kind of dates, but the dates that are basically like nature's candy from date palm trees. It's not processed in any way and has just the right amount of sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth! It's also a great source of different vitamins (A, K, riboflavin, thiamin, folate), minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc to name a few), and fiber. 

What dates are good for: broad range from aiding digestion, reducing risk of heart disease, anemia, bone health and strength, energy booster, sexual wellness, diarrhea, and relief from constipation. Talk about a well-rounded and nutritious treat!

These natural goodies come in different kinds, but the ones that we usually see in grocery stores and have available to us are the Medjool and Deglet Noor (there is a difference in firmness, texture, and sweetness with each type of dates).

Not only is it a great snack by itself (mmmm the ooey gooey sweet nuggets), but dates are also great sweeteners that can be used in a variety of ways-- stuff them with nuts for a heartier snack, blend them into smoothies, make them into date chutney or date syrup, add them into fruit salads, and dates are often used to make caramel too! (Store-bought caramel is usually not vegan because they have butter and milk products in them, always check the ingredients).

If you're not sharing my enthusiasm for the pizzazz of dates just yet, check out this list of things you can do with them, Buzzfeed to the rescue: 
To speak a little bit about what we have up there, the bf got me a bag of organic dates from Date Lady, and boy, does this lady have quite the line of date products (see link to website). Everything from these plain dried gems, to bottles of date syrup, caramel sauce, and balsamic vinegar, chocolate spread, date sugar, and caramel sticks (great candy alternative)! These products are on the pricier end, and you can certainly make all of these things at home for much cheaper. *hint: all you need are dates* A little bit of time and patience can take you a long way (both for your wallet and for your health).

Then, as if that wasn't enough, the bf spoiled me with a 1 lb. box of dates, dried Turkish apricots, pears, and Angelino plums 😍💖 I would take these over a box of nauseating milk chocolates any day! 

If you want to know why, here is this video that does a good job of backtracking the process of how milk chocolates are made:

...because guess what's in them? Milk. The milk that comes from dairy cows that suffer in stalls that don't allow them any movement, with their infected udders that expand way beyond their normal size and leak with pus, blood, and even their own feces that they end up sitting in because of such limited space that they're given. These dairy cows are the products of artificial insemination (which is basically rape, no matter how you try to justify it), and regardless of their health condition, they are whipped, beaten, shot with injections of antibiotics, and abused in ways that we could not imagine. Not too long upon birth, the baby calves are ripped away from their mothers to either serve as veal meat (boys) or be taken away to be raised as yet another dairy cow (girls). How ironic is it that on a day that celebrates love, millions of these milk chocolates are sold all across our country, and so many of these poor cows suffer the consequences to meet the demands. Let alone love and care, these guys don't even have fitting living quarters, or the proper means of socialization that they are meant to have...

We, as consumers, are so far removed from this production process, and people like the undercover investigators from the Mercy for Animals (MFA) organization put so much of themselves at risk-- mentally, emotionally, physically-- to reveal these horrible truths within factory farms. They also work hard in the areas of legal advocacy, corporate outreach, and education for the public. This isn't just a silly "let's save the animals" approach, and all that we ask for is humane treatment, because really: no living being should ever be treated this way. Also, I find it quite repulsive and gross that so many people enjoy eating food that comes from this kind of industry. You like enjoying that piece of chocolate, that block of cheese with your wine, or that glass of milk that the USDA claims to be good for you? Might want to think again and reevaluate where these dairy products are sourced from.

Not to end on such a negative note... but this is just to say that I feel very passionately for this area and it is one of many reasons why I went vegan. As you can see, there are so many other natural treats out there that are not only good for just you, but also for the environment in the long run, and I also like to think that as one more person joins the plant-based movement, the crowd grows bigger, the voice becomes louder, and the demand for non-meat/non-dairy alternatives becomes greater. Such a presence cannot be ignored and it continues to pique curiosity among even those who do not care for the cause initially. 

All that aside, can't wait to enjoy these sweet treats! All in moderation of course, otherwise I'd be on a serious sugar high 😆 Happy Valentine's Day to you all (or Happy Galentine's Day, as Leslie Knope would say)! 

January 11, 2017

Daniel Fast and Cheers to 2017!

I never understood those writers who abandon their blogs for months on end, and I'm realizing now just how easy it is to fall into that lapse of negligence. Admittedly, the past month and a half since Thanksgiving has been quite a blur with Christmas break with the fambam, New Year's celebrations, friends visiting, furniture shopping trips and various other pit-stops here and there to make my new apartment both livable and presentable. With only one box left waiting to be unpacked and put away, I can finally tend to things here. Happy New Year to me, to you, and to the rest of the world!

That being said, it's that time of year in January for the Daniel Fast to take place-- a great way to start off 2017! Our church is partaking in this together, and a few people have asked whether I could share what I know of plant-based eating, since the physical part of this fast involves refraining from any meat, dairy, and processed food.

Below are some things we can keep in mind for when we cook and eat out the next three weeks-- hopefully it will help us stay full and still enjoy what we eat throughout this time. As is with all fasts and as Pastor M. has reiterated, the principle is to focus more on God, be reminded of our dependency on Him, and also to give ourselves a bigger opportunity to focus on the word, so why not enjoy it from all angles!

That being said, here are some recipes along with little blurbs on cooking and nutrition:

Tofu Steak

*For any true meat lovers out there, I'm sure you wouldn't ever consider this a real steak, but they do say tofu is "meat of the gardens", and for good reason too-- it's a chockablock (yes, I used this word because it's fun to say out loud!) of protein that helps lower bad cholesterol, iron, calcium, along with all the other amino acids and micronutrients that your body needs, and it has less fat than you'd find in meat. 

Firm tofu can be used for a variety of savory dishes, and the softer silken tofu is not only for Korean soondubu, but can also be a base for desserts like chocolate pudding, mousse, smoothies, custard, etc. It might sound gross, but it's actually pretty good! As such, tofu is a very versatile ingredient in many dishes since it absorbs a variety of flavors easily due to it's bland nature. 

Photo credits to Tofu Cartoon Gallery

Now, this versatility factor of tofu is both a good thing and bad thing-- bad thing if you don't know how to prepare it properly because then it will always taste blah and flavorless (for this reason many people give up on tofu 😢). So especially for the savory recipes, it does help to marinate tofu in advance, about 30 min to an hour prior to cooking with whatever sauce or seasoning you choose. I usually drain from the container before cutting it up, press down gently on the tofu slices/cubes with paper towels to eliminate excess water, then throw them into a Ziploc baggie after patting in the seasoning and have it sit in the fridge while I'm prepping other things. Normally, I add in a dash of soy sauce and a sprinkle of coconut sugar to make it tasty, but for this fast it's probably best to stick with sea salt and dry spices and herbs (read here).

Yields 1-2 servings.

  • A package of tofu 
  • Sea salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Garlic Powder
  • Quality oil (vegetable oil, olive oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, peanut, sesame, etc.)
*Not going to put specific measurements because everyone's preferences are different-- season to your taste! Experimenting is all part of the fun ;)

Spread oil onto pan and bring to medium-high heat. Give a minute or two for it to warm up, then transfer tofu from Ziploc baggie to pan. As the tofu cooks, you should here a pleasant sizzle and an equally pleasant aroma (yum!). Flip each piece to the other side to cook completely. When I make tofu this way, I like to let it cook a little longer until it's crisp and chewy, but if you like the softer texture, then remove from heat once it's lightly browned on both sides. Add stir-fried veggies with rice, quinoa, farro, or the carb of your choice, and you have yourself a delicious and filling meal! 

Also, for those who might miss having scrambled eggs for breakfast, here's a great one as an alternative! Minimalist Baker has a whole encyclopedia of meat/dairy-free recipes based on each meal category (sweet and savory breakfast ideas, entrees, snacks, drinks ranging from smoothies to milkshakes to cocktails, desserts and baked goods, it's all there-- definitely check it out!):

Mushroom Farro Risotto

Obviously this is not a real risotto either, that has to have cheese in it... BUT, this is just as good! I don't want this to be too long of a read, so I'll share about the nutritional benefits of farro another time.

Yields about 4-5 servings.

  • About a tablespoon of Quality oil
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 cups of Mushroom
  • 1.5 cups of Farro 
  • A generous fistful of kale (carrots or celery are good too, whatever veggie that you like!)
  • Thyme (either the dry herbs in a shaker or the fresh leaves, whichever is available to you)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Sea salt
  • Black Pepper
  • 3 cups of water
Prep: Clean and chop up the onion, mushroom, carrot, and mince the garlic.
Then, in a roomy pot, coat the bottom with olive oil and add in the onion and carrots once the oil starts to crackle (these take longer to cook). After about 5 min, add in the mushroom, minced garlic, and farro, stir for another 2 minutes or so. Sprinkle in the sea salt, black pepper, and thyme to your desired taste, then pour in 3 cups of water. Cover pot with lid halfway and let the stove do it's magic for the next half hour - 45 minutes. Once the farro is tender and it has absorbed all the veggie juices, it's done! Transfer to a bowl, add an extra drizzle of olive oil and thyme if you like. This is easier than making bokkeumbap in my opinion, and definitely a satisfying meal :)

Mushrooms are good, but you can honestly sub in anything here: black beans, pinto beans, edamame, green peas, black eyed peas, chickpeas, artichokes, sweet potatoes, lentils, tempeh, so many options! I like to get a bunch of different things while grocery shopping and play around with different combinations-- the results are quite rewarding because they all have their own flavors and textures that make it hearty and oh-so-delicioussss.

Nice Cream

We can't forget about sweets! I've put up a post on Chocolate Nice Cream before, but since that involved some non-Daniel Fast friendly ingredients, here's a modified version with just two groups of food items:


5 Frozen Bananas
2 generous fistfuls of Raisins (check to see that they're free of preservatives, etc.)

Drop everything into your trusty blender and let it mix away! If the frozen bananas get stuck, add in a teensy bit of soy or almond milk (or rice milk, whatever non-dairy drink you prefer). If you want to get more creative, feel free to add in other fruits like strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, peaches, pineapple chunks, dates, and more. Top with chopped nuts and or seeds (i.e. pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds), and you have yourself an all-natural fruit-based nice cream sundae!

Photo credit to Nature's Path
There's obviously a ton of different ways to cook with the plant-based non-dairy foods, it just takes some patience and a sense of adventure to try out new recipes! More than anything, I think a fast such as this really helps to remind us to be thankful for what we have, and for being able to nourish our bodies even while abstaining from the "king's food". 

So here's to the next few weeks together, this fast coupled with our time devoted to praying, reflecting, and sharing with one another! :)

Other Resources:

Caring Carrot

Ultimate Daniel Fast

Spelhouse Love

November 25, 2016

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is such a wonderful time for us to reflect on all that we're grateful for, and it's also a point in time towards the end of the year when you can't help but look back on all that's happened so far in the past 11 months. I know I, for one, am grateful for having a family that loves me (despite all the spats we have from time to time, but hey, that's what family's for), a BF who I consider to be my better half in most things, Teddy (a.k.a. the other love of my life), a church to go to and the liberty to follow my faith freely, my close friends, a new job, a roof over my head, clean water to drink and cook with, and the privilege of ethical eating.

The latter is one that I've come to learn more about in the past year since I've transitioned to the vegan lifestyle. In my conversations with others (both vegans and non-vegans), I came to understand one of the biggest reasons why there is such a stigma attached to being vegan: it is seen as being classist and ignorant of the fact that ethical eating is only permissible to those who can afford it. I won't deny that I myself did not think of this aspect, that those from lower income communities most likely aren't able to spend too much of their budget on groceries consisting of fresh produce, or find the time to prep and cook them either. If anything, it's probably a lot easier and cheaper to just pick up Hamburger Helper, or worse, some other microwaveable junk to make a filling meal. So in that sense, I am very grateful for the fact that I can go to Trader Joe's whenever I want and pick out groceries without having to think too much about it. In realizing this truth, I've decided that my aspiration to become a holistic nutritionist in the next few years is now taken to new heights: eventually, I would like to be able to not only provide clinical services, but also educational ones as well-- the key is to spread awareness of the importance of nutrition, make cooking an enjoyable hobby more than a chore, and to help people understand that healthy and clean eating can be possible within a budget.

Short list of what I'm grateful for got extended, all I wanted to say is that I am thankful for being vegan! It's defined who I am in so many ways, sparked many interesting discussions with different people, and inspired me to look beyond just what I eat on a daily basis.

But speaking of Thanksgiving and vegan, put two and two together, what do you get? Vegan Thanksgiving!

So this is actually leftovers from the day of, and I'm still working on it (more in the fridge for another day or two), but I don't mind, because it's SO GOOD! Apparently, 2016 really is the year of vegan after all, because up until even last year, these meatless "roasts" weren't all that popular and even long-time vegans wrinkled their nose at these products. This year, though, Trader Joe's came out with their own version, and there's also other brands that have their own line to boast (Tofurky, Field Roast, Quorn, Vegetarian Plus, to name a few)-- this list from One Green Planet includes them all:

The Best Meatless Turkey Alternatives for Thanksgiving

Of course my first go-to would have been the roast from Joe's, but because it was highly rated and it sold out, I had to resort to seeing if Whole Foods had anything. Now, I've been avoiding this place for sometime because A) most products there are pretty pricey, and B) for that reason, most of those who shop there are snooty people who can shell out $100 for just a few days' worth of food... still, Whole Foods is pretty vegan-friendly (*note: other grocery stores like Wegmans, Harris Teeter, Safeway, and even Giant, are now carrying vegan products too-- I just don't have a car to get to any of those places), so I go to Whole Foods occasionally to get specific items like nutritional yeast or specialty products like this:

I got the big full size roast for a potluck and this smaller package to save for myself later, and I'm so glad I did! Not that I'm a calorie counter, but it's nice to know that one of these guys weighs at 290 calories, 23 grams of protein (that's our recommended daily count, ladies!), and a good percentage of iron too. The one not-so-healthy part would be the sodium count, but hey, if we still want to be vegan and enjoy Thanksgiving meal too, then you gotta give somewhere ;) As is with all meatless products, you might ask what it's made out of, so if you look at the ingredients, you will see that it's essentially a variation of seitan (also known as vital wheat gluten). This ain't no mystery meat, so don't you worry!

Taste-wise, you could basically fool any non-vegan if you told them this was turkey. The texture and taste are so close to the real thing, it almost freaked me out when I first took a bite! These food scientists are getting real good out there (keep up the great work!). This turk'y is stuffed with breadcrumbs, onions, celery, and cranberries-- with the plant-based gravy poured over the entire thing (and over the mashed potatoes), it's basically a delicious roll of Thanksgiving wrapped into meatless deliciousness!! If you've ever had Chicken Cordon Bleu, then I would say that's the closest thing to this Gardein product in concept.

Here's a full plate with the sides (also leftovers): 

Roasted Veggies - 
brussels sprouts, red onion, zucchini, yellow squash, and red bell pepper seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, garlic, oregano, thyme, and rosemary

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes - 
sweet potatoes roasted with cranberries and pecans seasoned with maple syrup, butter (Earth Balance), sea salt, black pepper, and ground cinnamon

Mashed Potatoes - 
no cheating with the instant kind here! mashed and whipped with the same Earth Balance butter and a dash of almond milk, with sprinkles of sea salt, black pepper, and garlic powder

Close-up of the Gardein Turk'y!!! I would treat myself to this every once in a while :P
Needless to say, not only was the potluck I went to a complete success with all of us feeling full and happy (which is a rare occasion, as the rest of my vegan buddies might agree; we're too often presented with sad salads as our only options at most potlucks unless we bring something ourselves), but I'm also enjoying these leftovers! Another added plus about having a plant-based Thanksgiving meal like this is that you won't fall prey to food coma or have to undo your pants afterward because this is nowhere nearly as heavy, gross, or fatty as the actual turkey meal.

Food aside, it's truly amazing how this vegan movement has spread and moved forward so quickly, and I say this with regards to not only the expanding food options for vegans, but also the influence that the movement has on so many people. It is helping people grasp the fact that healthy eating can be tasty, one does not have to be compromised for the other. Healthy eating also does not have to be expensive, but that's something we need to continue to prove for people to believe it! With this year having brought about so many positive changes, I can only be even more excited for what the next year and the coming years after that may bring, as we continue to spread awareness and education. 

With that, here's to many more things to be thankful for in the future! :)

November 1, 2016

Stuffed Acorn Squash, the best dinner everrr

...and it truly was, the title is no exaggeration.

Gotta give it to trusty good ol' TJ for providing in-season products, and I picked up an acorn squash not too long ago. I'm pretty adventurous to begin with, so I would've gotten this even if I didn't have a recipe in mind, but this time, the moment I saw these globes of autumn harvest, I immediately thought of the recent video from Hot for Food of their recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash (they also have the full recipe on their blog, check it out!). The couple who runs this Youtube channel and blog are from Canada (apparently Thanksgiving is in early October over there, which was the theme of this recipe), and they post a lot of yummy vegan recipes and cook-off challenges that are fun to watch... and I usually just leave it at that-- just watch their videos on my phone in bed after flipping through some more things on social media that I really shouldn't be doing right before bedtime. I'm usually not big on following recipes verbatim, but this time I actually wanted to try it out (although, even with this, I kind of tweaked it a bit to suit my taste better).

So below is a picture of my marvelous creation in the kitchen (and yes, this deserved pictures taken from three different angles):

Mmmmmm, just looking at these is making my hungry again! A bonus to making this dish is that after you're done baking/putting everything together, your room will be filled with a warm, savory aroma that will remind you once again of why you like this wonderful season of sweater weather.

In terms of how I made it, I pretty much followed the same instructions from Hot for Food on how to bake the acorn squash (one thing that I would adjust next time is extend the baking time in the oven-- it might be because my oven is old and not the best, but 40 min at 400 F didn't quite make it as soft and browned as I would have liked). 

Also, I forgot to get maple syrup during my last groceries run, so I subbed with agave nectar instead. So the basting for the acorn squash was basically melted vegan butter (I used Earth Balance) mixed with agave nectar... I think I might just use this for everything from now on, because it is SO good! You spread that on the fleshy parts of both halves of the acorn squash. The seeds and stringy parts of the squash that I pulled out earlier were also baked all nice and crunchy-- I used some to top the dish like the recipe suggested, and I saved that rest for snacking later.

The filling is what I tweaked for my own taste. Rather than using brown rice as the base of the stuffing, I opted to use quinoa instead (it's fluffier and lighter than rice, so I figured this would leave more room for veggies). I also included diced sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and string beans cut into small pieces. Along with the flesh scooped out from the squash earlier, I cook all of these veggies and quinoa together in the same vegan butter + agave nectar mixture, with sprinkles of salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, ginger, and thyme. The finished stuffing was so good by itself already, I didn't feel the need to include the red wine cranberry sauce that the original recipe calls for... the idea of mixing something sweet like cranberry sauce with savory food never really appealed to me. I know most people like it though, and it is a very big part of Thanksgiving, so whatever floats your boat! *shrugs*

Assembly is easy: after taking out the baked acorn squash from the oven, fill each half with the stuffing and top with the toasted seeds. One half was dinner, the other half is tomorrow's dinner, and the leftover stuffing made just enough to pack for lunch tomorrow as well. See how many meals you can make out of one veggie dish?! Not to mention it's super filling-- I felt like I turned into the stuffed acorn squash after finishing the one half :P But not to worry, it isn't fattening by all means! Since it's not made with anything heavy, you digest it within the standard 3-4 hours it takes to digest most food in general.

Since the main character of this dish is acorn squash, below are some nutritional facts and benefits of eating this nutrient-dense fruit (that's right, like tomatoes and avocados, this is also technically classified as a fruit):

Another thing I'd like to note before closing this post is that this one thing of acorn squash at TJ's was only $2.99. This dish yielded 3 full meals, and it is tasty just as much as it is healthy. The reason why I put emphasis on the cost of the main ingredient is because I had a conversation with someone recently about how one of the reasons she never considered going vegan is because she thought it would be expensive. I have no idea where she got that notion from, because meat actually costs a whole lot more than any other non-meat food product I know of. Unless you're getting cheap ground meat, hot dogs, or processed deli meats (which are full of nitrates and terrible for you), each pack of packaged chicken, pork, or beef is almost always priced in the $6-$12 range for an amount that will only yield a meal or two for you. Egg prices have also gone up and it's very rare to find a carton under $3 nowadays (of course, I'm speaking for my area, this may not necessarily apply to other places). 

Also, most people don't realize it due to lack of education in the area of food source and knowing where/how your food gets to your table, but it actually costs a TON more to produce meat in general. The amount of feed and water that is given to cows, pigs, chickens, lambs, goats (list all other animals raised and killed for meat here) is such an absurd amount compared to the amount of meat that these animals actually yield. The parts that butchers cut out for meat from slaughtered animals is really only about a fourth of the whole animal-- the rest of the body parts are discarded with no other use. Also, you may not want to know it, but there has been proven evidence in more than one meat production farm where these discarded meat by-products are fed back to the other farm animals, mixed into their feed to reduce the cost of feeding them with grains. Gross, don't you think? There has to be a negative chain effect from these animals that consume the garbage bits of meat, and people who then consume these animals in the form of meat. It's also kind of disturbing to think that animals like chickens, cows, lambs, and other natural herbivores that are supposed to have a plant-based diet are being fed meat products.

Not to mention, from the perspective of pure calculations, why are we investing with so much input, when the output does not amount to as much as we put in? We could be saving all those grains for a better use: perhaps those grains could be made into food for people in many parts of the world to save them from death by starvation. Instead, we use it to force feed farm animals locked in tight-fitting crates filled with their own excrement, only so that we can eat these sources of "protein" that we don't necessarily need to sustain ourselves.

Just another food for thought... stemming from what was supposed to be a simple post about a new recipe that I tried. Regardless, give the acorn squash a try! Let the autumn food themes (and increased awareness on conscious living) continue onward... 

October 26, 2016

Snowpeas, Hummus, and Fruit Snacks


We all snack at some point during the day in between meals (yes, even the health freaks out there snack too, but on good nutritional foods, of course), and if you're like me where your meals are not usually that big, snacking is essential to staying satiated throughout the day.

Bear with me here, but I'm going to go off on another spiel about unhealthy eating before I get to the good part on healthy eating and the wide array of tasty options to stick to it.

Now, snacking gives oftentimes a more negative picture than a positive one because people usually associate it with grabbing a bag of chips, a handful of cookies, or a packet of Pop Tarts. Of course, snacking in that form is a lot more convenient, as in all you have to do is rip open some kind of packaged food... but there's a reason why it's packaged, guys. Stuff like that is usually heavily saturated in loads of sugar, salt, preservatives, and food chemicals that are meant to keep the food edible for longer than what is natural. Sure, you may think "you eat it, it tastes good going down, you poop it out. End of story." Sorry to say, that is not quite the way it works. I mean, you've probably already heard similar bits and pieces of this coming from different sources-- a diet that consists of these junk foods on a consistent basis eventually attributes to bigger health issues like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, nutrient deficiency, maybe even cancer, as well as symptoms that come with these like memory loss, diminished vision, brittle hair, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues (i.e. bloating, stomach ulcers, heartburn, constipation), oh goodness... the list could go on forever, and a lot of dietitians and doctors are all too familiar with this long line of health problems that are unfortunately very common among too many people here in the U.S. 

So why is this so hard to address? Much of it is due to the society that we live in where we, as consumers, are inundated with an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to food choice. 
Some people also indicate that having low income is another factor that influences the quality of food that people eat, but honestly, I think education plays a bigger role in determining that-- I say that because I know for fact that it is possible to still eat healthy on a budget that doesn't break the bank, but more on that later. What's worse is that lack of education on proper nutrition (which includes knowing what to look for on labels of foods), lack of time and energy for most overworked Americans to cook food at home, and the flashy sales/marketing in grocery stores are all big contributors to the prevalence of unhealthy eating. 

But here is the catch: it doesn't have to be that way. Changing your diet and adjusting your palate to appreciate whole foods that are better for your body is just like anything else in life: it takes time, it takes baby steps, and even a few hiccups along the way. Want to give "Meatless Mondays" a try? Start there. Swap out soda or soft drinks for seltzer water? Do it. Maybe you're aiming to have at least one piece of fruit a day? Go for it. Then perhaps in the middle of a long week, you have an intense craving for something naughty, like Mickie D's. While I do have very severe reservations against fast food, especially McD (grrrrrr), to such a craving, I say... ok fine, but this should really REALLY be every once in a while.. like once every other month. Frankly, I think such an occasional break is actually needed in order to not lapse into a period of full-on binging, so feel free to treat yo' self when you feel that you deserve it. All in moderation, obviously. 

Ultimately, as long as you put in the effort to try and be more conscious of what you feed yourself, I think the change isn't too hard. To get back on the subject of snacking, here are some examples that you can easily prepare that require zero cooking, have full nutritional benefits, and will definitely prove to provide long-term satisfaction (i.e. feeling full and not get tired or crash afterward).

Savory Snack: Snow Peas and Hummus

You know what hummus is (or at least I hope you do), but if you're not in the camp of veggie lovers, you might wrinkle your nose at snow peas and wonder what it is or what it tastes like. Don't judge just yet! These thin, flat pea pods are an great source of fiber, Vitamin C, iron, and manganese (this is the mineral that helps our body form connective tissues and bones, help our blood clot when you gets cuts, maintain fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and keep those sex hormones in check-- you might laugh at the last one, but it's pretty important for many reasons, especially for women in keeping regular menstrual cycles, production of breast milk after giving birth, etc.).

*Fun fact: These guys are also known as Chinese pea pods, you may have seen them and eaten them before unknowingly, since they are commonly used in Chinese stir fry dishes!

Anyway, below is a picture of a simple snack of snow peas that I paired with creamy hummus for dip. You could blanch the snow peas lightly if you do not like eating things raw, but I was fine with eating just as is after giving them a rinse. Taste-wise, they are very crisp with a slight sweet after-taste. If texture if important to you and you like crunchy things, then you will like this too!

Sweet Snack: Fruit Snacks

Umm, no, I'm not referring to those gummy Welch's fruit snacks, but to actual, juicy whole fruit. I know there's a lot of interesting ways to incorporate fruit into your diet out there (i.e. juicing, fruit infused water, fruit blended into smoothies, dried fruit, etc.), but nothing will give you the full benefits as much as just eating the fruit whole and raw. You're not only getting all the vitamins, antioxidants, and other goodies, but the flesh of the fruit itself has a lot of dietary fiber

There are two groups of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble (most veggies and fruit have a good mix of both). Soluble fiber is what helps to lower cholesterol and keep blood glucose levels in line. Insoluble fiber helps to push bowel movements.

*So if you have trouble with "dropping the kids off at the pool", this is all the more important for you!

That's right, you need to have enough of this stuff in your diet to keep them poopies moving along out of your system. Another name for dietary fiber is bulk or roughage, and this is basically parts of vegetables, fruit, and legumes (let's just call these plant foods to keep it short) that our bodies can't completely break down and absorb. That means that most of the plant foods that we eat passes through our digestive system in its whole form, and this is exactly why a high-veggie diet also keeps you at a healthy weight! Essentially, our bodies suck up all the nutrients that the plant foods have, then the hardier/fibery parts are discarded through our daily toilet breaks. No fats or grease left behind to linger in your arteries or sit in your gut! Also, plant foods are high in water content, which naturally fills us up to make us feel full and thereby prevent overeating. How great it that?

Now, onto the fruit snacks! Below is a bowl of ripe raspberries... they are basically nature's candy! The burst of the refreshing juices in your mouth, the slight crunch of the seeds, the sweet and tart flavor are better than any candy bar, in my opinion.

Teddy was eyeing me in the kitchen as I was rinsing these (he associates the running of water with food, since I usually wash his lettuce right before giving it to him), and I tested whether he would be interested by waggling two in front of him... needless to say, he enjoyed the raspberries and bopped me with his nose to ask for more! 

Raspberries are definitely more of an occasional treat for bunnies like Teddy (they have their own individual diet and can't have too much sugar), but for people, these berries are a potent source of nutrients. Among the many nutritional benefits, raspberries are known for having a certain antioxidant that is good for eye health. Most people are more familiar with red ones like those pictured above, but they also come in black, purple, yellow, and gold! Each color of raspberries have their own unique set of nutrients and vary in flavor/sweetness. Right about this time of year is probably the last month or two when these berries are in season (see this chart that lists when certain fruits and nuts are in season during the year), so if you see them in the grocery store anytime soon, be sure to pick up a carton!

Onto the next fruit snacks, strawberries and kiwis!

I don't know of anyone who doesn't like either of these fruits, not only do they taste good, these guys are an abundant source of Vitamin C, minerals, and antioxidants! Specifically, strawberries are known for having phytonutrients and flavanoids that makes it rosy red and visually appealing. Those phytonutrients and flavanoids have anti-inflammatory properties that are good for cardiovascular health and maintaining great skin. Ladies, instead of relying too much on anti-wrinkle creams for your face, load up on the strawberries ;)

Kiwis have very similar healthy properties as well, but I only just learned through my research that they are actually a superfood for growing children as well as for pregnant women and breastfeeding women. For kiddies, the copper in kiwis provide aid in brain development, bone growth, red blood cell production, and overall support for the immune system. 

For pregnant women and healthy fetuses, the high amount of Vitamin B6 (also known as Pyrodoxine) that kiwis have play a vital role in building the fetus' brain and nervous system. Interestingly, another side-benefit of Vitamin B6 in kiwis (as well as other foods like whole grain cereals, beans, bananas, and papayas that also have Vitamin B6) is that it helps relieve morning sickness in the early stages of pregnancy. Rather than taking medication that may not be good for both the mother and the fetus, it might be better to reap the natural benefits from whole foods like those mentioned.

As the Father of Modern Medicine, Hippocrates, once stated and his words still ring true today:
"Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food."

October 18, 2016

Chocolate Nicecream!

You scream. I scream. We all scream for ice cream.

Summer, fall, winter, spring, it doesn't matter what time of year-- we will always have a craving for it.

So why does it have to be a treat? Because it has too much fat, cholesterol, sugar, and calories that aren't helpful to our bodies (yes, boys and girls, even the non-dairy ones aren't that great for us in terms of nutrition).

But it tastes SO good... then why not eat a healthier version of it?

Behold, my vegan friends and non-vegan friends alike, the greatness of the oh-so-yummy...


What is Nicecream and what makes it nice?

Well for starters, it basically tastes like soft serve ice cream, and who doesn't love that. It's made out of all natural ingredients and zero preservatives, and you have the convenient option of making it under 5 minutes in the comfort of your pj's at home! It gets better: you can customize it with whatever toppings and flavorings you want to recreate any ice cream flavor out there... you're basically setting up your own ice cream shop without the need for an ice cream maker. You do require a decent blender or food processor, though, so it might be a good idea to go out and get one if you don't have one in your kitchen already! Trust me, you'll put it to many other good uses, so it's a worthy investment. 

 Another "nice" part of it is that it is a guilt-free dessert that satisfies your sweet tooth (by guilt-free, I'm saying you won't have to sit there all bloated and reach for sweatpants afterward), and this is all thanks to the amazing power of... *shhhhh, wait for it* 

Frozen bananas! Tada!! But it can't just be any old frozen bananas, only the ripe ones that are frozen will do. At this stage of ripeness, the bananas have converted much of their starches to natural simple sugars, so the banana itself is already sweet-- meaning no additional sweetener is necessary to add. It also blends to a smooth and creamy consistency; green or yellow bananas that are frozen in their unripe stages will not yield this same result.

Another important tip: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT freeze the bananas whole with their peels still on. That is the dumbest mistake anyone could make, but I will admit to having done it before. Those peels will be glued to the banana for life if you freeze it whole, and it will be impossible to remove (I swear, I almost got frostbite from trying to pry the peel off with my fingers). Result? One little angry vegan pacing around in the kitchen and a waste of a ripe banana, womp womp. Lesson learned the hard way that you should always remove the peel prior to freezing.

So the next time your last few bananas of the bunch get spotty or brown, don't you DARE toss them out! Those guys are gems in the making, all you have to do is cut them up into a few chunks, put them in a container, and throw them into the freezer for overnight.

Ok, enough nana talk! Here's the Chocolate Nicecream that I made earlier this evening for dessert after a veggie and falafel medley for dinner:

Chocolate Nicecream
Serves 1 
(duh, why would you ever share this with anyone else-- if you're gonna share, make sure you make more!)
  • 2 frozen ripe bananas 
  • 1-2 Tbsp of non-dairy milk of your choice (I used almond milk)
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Nestle Toll House 100% Pure Cocoa)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Any toppings of your choice (chocolate sprinkles for me!-- no worries, no animal ingredients listed in these)
How to make:
  1. First, break up the frozen banana chunks (let it thaw for a bit if you need it to be softened; if your freezer works super well and turns everything into an ice sculpture like mine does, then you may need to do this too).
  2. Once the bananas have softened up a bit, dump them into your blender.
  3. Add in whatever flavorings you want to use; in this recipe, I added about 1 tablespoon of the cocoa powder, and I also snuck in a drizzle of agave nectar to balance out the bitterness of the cocoa. Don't forget to also add the pinch of salt!
  4. Cover your blender and blend away!
  5. If your blender struggles, add in about a tablespoon of the non-dairy milk (a little at a time, you don't want to put in too much at once and end up having a soupy consistency-- you might as well just make a smoothie at that point).
  6. Blend until you no longer hear the blade hitting chunks of bananas; appearance-wise, your content will be noticeably creamier!
  7. Take out and serve in an icecream bowl or cup
  8. Throw whatever toppings you want on there, I went with chocolate sprinkles because they make me happy.
  9. Enjoy!
I would say the most important part to watch out for in this making process is direction #5: be sparing with adding in the non-dairy milk! If you have a strong blender/food processor that does a good job of beating up the frozen bananas, then you might not even need to add in the liquid, but if you have a smaller thing of a Nutribullet like me, the liquid definitely helps moves things around in the blender. Just don't over-pour, and you should end up with a perfect soft serve!

The amazing thing about Nicecream is that you can make whatever you want with what you have. Here are some ideas that you can get fancy with:

- Peanut butter (or any other nut butter)
- Pineapple (tastes like Disney Dole Whip!)
- Apple Spice (blend with cinnamon)
- Pumpkin Spice (this is so fitting for the current season)
- Strawberry
- Blueberry
- Mango
- Peach
- Cherry (add chocolate chunks, will be similar to Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia!)
- Coconut cream (for a more decadent treat)
- Mint Chocolate Chip (mint blended with bananas first, chocolate chips mixed in after)
- Coffee or Java Chip

There's so many possible combinations and flavors you can make... if you're a serious health nut and feel the urge to throw in greens in there, blend in spinach or avocado (it's not as terrible as it might sound-- gives a nice green color but you don't really taste the veggie, I promise!). If you're a gym junkie and you're all about the protein, add in a tablespoon or two of your favorite protein powder, just make sure you blend really well.

Toppings have no limits either-- chopped nuts, granola, sprinkles, chocolate chips, Oreo crumble, coconut flakes, raisins, fresh fruit, CocoWhip, I've even seen some people add crushed potato chips or pretzels for that sweet 'n salty taste! 

Sauce-wise, we're not really in luck with finding vegan fudge, syrups, or caramel drizzles in most grocery stores... so what, you can always make your own! Check out this site that lays out the details on how you can make homemade chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, and more here.

In case the mouthwatering visual of my Chocolate Nicecream above is not enough to inspire you, here are more ideas that BuzzFeed lists out: 29 Amazing Vegan Ice Cream Recipes!

Go ahead and indulge yourselves, there's no reason to hold back! ;)