Friday, April 29, 2011

Baking experiments!

So I like to experiment when I cook, which is typically why I like cooking better than baking because baking sometimes actually requires precise measurements, and where is the fun in that! When I bake instead of following recipes I tend to go off-script and improvise, make additions, changes or substitutions of healthier ingredients. I tried this a couple of times in the past two days and as experiments go, I had one failure and one great success! And the failure was not exactly a major fail, it just didn't turn out as I knew it should, but I tried and learned!

The failure first: black bean brownies. Well a bunch of recipes kept cropping up on my radar (and my facebook wall) and so I kind of combined a few different recipes. had a recipe that I thought had far too much sugar, a different website substituted bananas for sugar but I don't eat bananas right now because of bad memories that the taste draws up (that's all you need to know if you don't know the full reason.) I decided I could maybe substitute the same amount of bananas with apple sauce and baked sweet potatoes - because they add natural sweetness and a similar amount of wet ingredients. It didn't work as well as I'd hoped, the applesauce taste came through in the results and I think there was too much wet ingredient versus the dry ingredients - but I will experiment again and make it work because vegan black bean brownies I've heard can be excellent and I would love to turn my experiment into excellence!

And now for the success: Coconut oil almond poundcake! Basically a twist on olive oil pound cake this is a recipe I modified from the New York Times when they did an article debunking the myth about coconut oil. Coconut oil got a bad rap because it was partially hydrogenated to make that evil fat called trans fat! But virgin coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, is a great way to avoid using butter or other animal fat and is actually a kind of fat that is good for you! (well it still shouldn't be eaten by the spoonful or anything) It is made up of lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid chain that is claimed (but not proven) to have a lot of health benefits like anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. And it works really well in this recipe! This recipe is dairy free but not vegan because it does use eggs!

1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 tablespoon agave nectar
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
1/2 cup almond milk (if unsweetened almond milk use 1 cup sugar, if regular use 3/4 cup sugar)
1/4 cup water
3 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon lime juice or the zest of one lime
1 cup unbleached or whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown rice flour
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan.
Melt the coconut oil in a small pan, once melted whisk in a bowl with sugar, almond milk, water, eggs and lime juice/zest. Fold in the dry ingredients- flours, baking powder, salt and nutmeg - until combined. Pour into the loaf pan and level it out.
In a small bowl mix the agave nectar with a little water (1-2 teaspoons) and the sliced almonds. Then sprinkle almonds over the top of the loaf.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until a knife comes out of the center clean and it is golden brown on top. Let it cool completely before serving!
Toast a slice of it and spread some almond butter on top and it is wonderful! It's seriously really good!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ten minutes a day to a healthier life, seriously. And cookies :)

Brendan Brazier has written books about how diet and performance are interrelated, but luckily you don't have to go out and buy his book in order to hear what he has to say about performance and nutrition. He has provided a free 30 day set of lessons sent via email with text and video that you can find here: It will take you all of ten minutes every few days to learn about what nutrients your body truly needs and how to use food to combat stress and weight-gain, the benefits of superfoods, alkalines versus acids, physical activity and so much more. Seriously check him out, he's got some amazing stuff and you don't have to be vegan/vegetarian to learn from him.

In other news... cookies! We had a bake sale on 4/20 to feed some hungry stoned kids on campus and simultaneously raise money for charity - win-win - and so I did lots of baking! With lots of helpers who came over I made normal meringue coconut macaroons and matzoh caramel chocolate crunch for all my kosher for Passover friends, then I made these amazing Gluten free vegan carrot coconut macaroons found on my favorite blog - photo below:

And I also made my "Healthier" Oatmeal cookies - one batch with dried cranberries and walnuts and one with semi-sweet chocolate chips. I say "healthier" because they still have some butter in them and brown and white sugar, but I have cut half of the butter and replaced it with applesauce and I use whole wheat flour along with the oats.

Ingredients: (makes 18-24 cookies depending on size)
1 1/2 cup oats
four ounces butter at room temperature (1/2 of a stick)
1/8 to 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 egg or 2 egg whites
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
optional: 1/4- 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
or 1/4 cup walnuts and dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the sugars and butter together until creamy, then add the applesauce, egg(s) and vanilla until all is well incorporated. Then add the dry ingredients (cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and flour.) Fold in the oats and either walnuts and cranberries or chocolate chips. Spoon tablespoon sized rounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, if they are really round, wet your fingertips and flatten out the tops a little bit to make a flatter cookie. Bake for 18-22 minutes until golden brown on the edges. Let them cool a little then enjoy!!!!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A little Saturday Tex-Mex: Black bean sweet potato enchiladas

Yes, those are two of my favorite nutrient dense foods encased in delicious salsa and tortillas that remind me of my Texas roots!

It has super nutrient rich sweet potatoes (which everyone knows I love from my previous blog entry all about sweet potatoes) and protein rich black beans and lots more veggies- tomatoes, onions, jalapeño, garlic and cilantro and whole wheat or corn tortillas (I would probably have used corn but the store I went to was out so I grabbed the whole wheat ones.) I also made a fresh picante salsa to use on the side to have a cold contrast to the warm enchiladas. Unless you want to add some cheese on top this recipe is vegan!

I found this recipe thanks to who linked me to the recipe, which I of course changed a little from the original recipe here My sous-chef in this endeavor today was my sorority little sister Charlotte! We had as much fun cooking it as eating it, (although eating it took considerably less time than the cooking,) but we did not enjoy the 5-6 minutes it took us to open the jar of whole foods salsa that I used!

Enchilada Ingredients: (probably makes around 6-8 enchiladas depending on whether they are smaller corn or larger whole wheat tortillas, but I made three and saved the rest of the cooked ingredients for later)
- one can of black beans rinsed
- two medium sweet potatoes diced
- 2 tbs olive oil, salt and pepper as needed
- 1/4 cup white or yellow onion
- one garlic clove minced
- 1/2 jalapeño minced
- 1/2 - 1 cup non chunky salsa 
- 1 tsp chili powder (spiciness can be adjusted by leaving this or the jalapeño out or adding more)
- fresh cilantro for garnish

In a 400 degree F oven roast the diced sweet potato tossed with 1 tbs olive oil, salt and pepper for 15 to 20 minutes, shake the pan once while cooking so it gets evenly cooked.

In large saute pan or sauce pan heat olive oil then add onions, cooking till they are translucent (not brown), add garlic, rinsed and drained black beans, jalapeño pepper, and chili powder. Heat the beans through then keep at low heat till potatoes are done. When potatoes are done, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.

Warm tortillas so they are more pliable for 10 seconds in the microwave or I just used them as a lid over the sauce pan and let the steam warm them. In a baking dish put a little bit of salsa on the bottom (like one tbs.) Fill tortillas with some bean mixture and some sweet potato then roll them up and put the seam side down on the bottom of the baking dish, repeat with the desired amount of tortillas. Then pour some of the remaining black beans and sweet potatoes over the top with the salsa, make sure all of the tortilla gets some of the salsa on it so the edges don't burn in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. 
Remove from the oven and sprinkle fresh cilantro over the top, side it with some fresh picante sauce and enjoy!

Picante ingredients:
- three medium sized or two large tomatoes diced, seeds removed
- juice from 1/2 a lime
- two garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 jalapeño minced
- 1/4 cup white or yellow onion diced
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
- salt and pepper to taste

Super easy to make: Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for a few hours before using, gets better the longer you let all the flavors meld together!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pre-workout superfood smoothie!

I hope everyone enjoyed the great outdoors in Boston yesterday as it was a gorgeous day! I got a great run outside then indoor strength training to help build up the endurance of my legs! One of the steps in my triathlon training is block training so my muscles get used to having to work at various activities for two hours straight. Well here is the recipe for an awesome for you smoothie and if you don't have all the ingredients you don't have to go out and buy them but its full of great antioxidants and vitamins and minerals that will aid you in your workout or just give you a lift to the start of your day.

Pre-workout berry chocolate smoothie!

one cup fresh or frozen berries (I use frozen strawberries and raspberries and sometimes add blackberries or cherries)
a handful of walnuts
two tablespoons of raw cacao
one tablespoon of goji berries
one tablespoon raw maca powder
one large kale leaf without the hard stem
one cup Rice or almond milk
raw agave nectar to taste like one tablespoon
water as needed for consistency

Put all the ingredients in a blender, make sure the kale gets pushed toward the bottom so it gets shredded. Then blend until the kale becomes little green flecks and the walnuts and goji berries are ground up. And there you have a fantastic for you and delicious pre-workout superfood smoothie. I'm off to spin class!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To drink or not to drink...

College students nowadays are given workshops or have to do online programs like mystudentbody and can name off facts of why binge drinking is bad for you, but knowing those facts hasn't stopped it from happening. It has been a part of the college culture since before John Belushi drained a bottle of Jack Daniels in Animal House. I used to drink a fair amount, especially for big events on campus like our big outdoor music event and big parties. Even for smaller parties on the weekends I would get drunk, sometimes to the point of not remembering clearly the events of the night, or making some rather unfortunate choices that luckily didn't have any lasting effects.

For the past seven years I have been vegetarian/pescatarian and always worked out or played sports and had generally really healthy habits, but drinking was my major unhealthy habit. I'm not talking about alcohol being full of sugar and empty calories or beer bellies, I am talking about an all-around unhealthy habit. Drinking like that didn't make sense with the kind of life I wanted to live. I want to live a long time with wonderful memories that I can actually remember and reflect on, I don't want all of my stories of college to start with "this one time I was so trashed that..." I used to laugh at a bumper sticker with the graphic of a row of shots that said "enjoy it now because after college this is called alcoholism," but now I have encountered people in college who I would probably consider alcoholics. You can't escape addiction just because you live on a college campus. 

I don't want this post to sound preachy, I won't go into facts and figures, this is about my personal decision to cut back on the amount of alcohol I consume and the types of alcohol I consume. I no longer drink often. If I do drink, I choose micro-crafted beer, a nice glass of wine, or if it is a truly special occasion a cocktail made with high quality liquor and other high quality ingredients. Micro-brewed beer is usually better tasting, made with quality ingredients, and benefits the actual creator. Red wine is rich in anti-oxidants and some believe a glass a day can be beneficial, and some cocktail creations are crafted like an art form to be appreciated but not overindulged. Shots of smirnoff vodka or mixed with cranberry cocktail juice doesn't taste good and isn't good for me, so I just won't put it in my body. This is my body and if I take such good care of what I put in it food-wise then I am going to take good care of what I put in it in drink form as well.

The tagline of my blog also addresses a healthy mind, and a clear mind is a healthier mind. Drinking is often to cover up depression or can lead to depression. It can lead to stupid mistakes (as anyone who has gotten drunk before can attest to) and clouded judgement can have unforeseen consequences. I want a clear mind so I can go forth and reach my goals. I can have fun without alcohol or with only one or two drinks, I'm not trying to "have a stick up my ass" as my brother would probably say. Not drinking or drinking less means I can get home responsibly if I am driving and I can get my friends home safely. It means I sleep better. It means that when I get into the last weeks of triathlon training I won't have extra toxins to flush out. It means my body feels clean and my mind feels clear and healthy.

My point is really this: drinking is a personal decision (unless you endanger yourself or people around you) and not drinking is a personal decision. Why do you drink? Is it because you enjoy the taste? Or is it because you feel you need to drink to be accepted in your fraternity, sorority, sports team, club/group on campus, by friends? Or you don't feel comfortable being yourself sans-alcohol around people? Ask yourself why you partake in this college experience, and if you think your answer is valid and has some kind of meaning to you then more power to you. But if you ask yourself this and you don't really know the answer or your answer doesn't seem legitimate, then maybe its time to take a step back and ponder "to drink or not to drink..."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Swimming and biking and running oh my!

As many of my friends know, I have signed up for my first triathlon for this summer... and my second, in June and August. I want to keep track of my progress on this blog so when I hit significant milestones I will write about them. For this training I will need a lot of self discipline, I will need to be feeding myself the right kinds of nutrients, training the right way in the swim, bike and run, and will need support from friends and family. I am registered for two sprint triathlons each with around a .8 K open water swim, 20K bike and 6.7K run. That will require a lot of endurance training that I haven't done in a long time.

My actual training schedule is about 9 weeks long but for the next few weeks I need to prep myself, making sure I have all the right gear for training, the nutritional supplements to support the rigors of training, and regularized workout habits to get me through it. Hydration, endurance fuel, and smart injury free training will be key. I came across a great link the other day for a website for vegetarian endurance athletes called and am finding it a great resource especially when looking at the best foods for pre and post workouts and the benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet in endurance training.

I will have to balance training with my end of the year exams and research papers for school, and then my summer internship, requiring tons of self-discipline and regulated training. I am really excited about this endeavor and to have these goals set up to try to achieve!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Homemade energy bars!

I started making my own granola/energy bars this semester and I am still perfecting my favorite one, but you'll never believe how easy it actually is to make them. You need a few basic ingredients consisting of some kind of grain like oats, nuts and or seeds, almond/peanut butter, agave nectar or honey, dried fruit, a baking pan lined with wax/parchment paper (I use a bread pan for these recipes which turn out about 6 bars,) and a freezer (these are raw bars, not baked.) I have some other supplementary add-ins that I already own, although I pretty much owned all of these ingredients already :) 

My first batch were almond apricot oat bars (This makes about 6 bars in a bread pan)
One cup of rolled oats
2 tablespoons peanut/almond butter
1/2 to 1 tablespoon agave/honey
1/4 cup roughly chopped almonds
1/4 cup roughly chopped dried apricots

Just combine together in a bowl with a spoon or hands if you don't mind getting a little sticky (add more almond/peanut butter if it doesn't stick together that well.) When all the wet and dry ingredients are combined, press into the shallow dish lined with parchment paper and make sure its packed pretty tightly, then put it into the freezer for a couple of hours. Then pull out the parchment paper and using a fairly sharp knife, cut out bars and wrap them individually in cellophane. Then refrigerate until you are ready to eat one, then grab and go!

Next batch were crunchy Buckwheat oat bars
1/4 cup Toasted buckwheat (also called kasha which gives this bar its crunch)
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons peanut/almond butter
1/2 to 1 tablespoon agave/honey
1/4 cup roughly chopped almonds
1/2 tablespoon maca powder if you have it
1/4 cup hemp protein powder if you have it

The same process as above except these fall apart a little more easily so after I cut them I am keeping them in the freezer until I need them! Buckwheat is super super filling so these bars can be cut a little bit smaller! 

Seriously, once you have all the ingredients you can experiment, add more ingredients like pumpkin or sunflower seeds, raisins and dates, other whole grains, etc. You'll save money not buying them at a store and you'll get to customize it to your taste!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Back in the U.S. and back in shape!

Yesterday I registered for my first triathlon for this summer! I am super psyched about the race itself and the training that goes into it!

I spent my fall semester at the University of Ghana and came back from Ghana for winter break completely out of shape! While in Ghana I had gotten really sick and never fully let my body recover, so I lost a lot of stamina and muscle mass and since my diet had changed to mainly rice, I had gained a few pounds as well. Other than spending my winter break getting over my post-abroad depression, I spent it trying to gain back my running form, spent time at the gym, and getting in all the nutrients I missed on a West African diet (which was carb and fruit heavy, with few vegetables.)

I had been taking a multivitamin while abroad once a day, to make sure that I got most of the vitamins and minerals I needed, so when I got back I decided to continue taking them and look for the best multivitamin for women out there. Nature's Way Alive! Women's Energy was the best one I found. Its filled with vitamins and minerals through natural fruits and vegetables like kale, spinach, beet, garlic, pomegranate, acai, blueberry, etc. It definitely has my vote for the most nutrient dense multivitamin you can get in one pill.

Another thing for me since I've been back in sprouted grain bread: ezekiel brand is my favorite and I usually keep a loaf of more normal bread in my freezer and the cinnamon raisin english muffins which are perfect with some agave and almond/peanut butter! I have also been trying to keep with buying local produce by going to smaller market places like Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square ( Or picking from the local foods at Whole Foods. Also, now that I have a full kitchen at school in my apartment, I can experiment and cook a lot! Last night I made quinoa risotto with shallots, shitake mushrooms and kale, and a roasted beet salad on arugula with vermont goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. It was an experiment that turned out to be wonderful!