Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Taco Cleanse Begins!

Y'all know I'm a big believer in cleanses. I know they're kinda silly, and I don't actually believe all that healthy food is cleaning out my liver and cleansing my aura or whatever. I definitely don't believe in those crazy maple syrup-lemonade cleanses or anything that involves depriving yourself of delicious food. Instead, my cleanses, like the Abundance Diet I just completed in January, tend to be whole foods-based and free of junk food but big on taste and portions.

But what fun is life if you can't poke fun at yourself? That's why I'm following my serious month-long January cleanse with a one-week taco cleanse, using recipes from the hilarious new satirical cookbook, The Taco Cleanse. It was written by Austin vegans/taco scientists Wes Allison, Stephanie Bogdanich, Molly R. Frisinger, and Jessica Morris, all of whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Vida Vegan Con in Austin last May.

Their book is filled with recipes for — yep, you guessed it — tacos! Breakfast tacos, vegan fish tacos, hot dog tacos, frito pie tacos, salad tacos, and so many more tacos. Plus, there are recipes for all the fixins (vegan cheese sauces, jalapeno ranch, corn gravy, guacamole) and all the fillings (tequila sausage, refried beans, cumin-onion rice, roasted butternut squash, beer-battered portabellos, etc). And you can't have tacos without margaritas, and there's a whole chapter for that too. Plus, taco yoga, taco gardening tips, and a guide to explaining the taco cleanse in social situations and raising kids on the taco cleanse, and taco-friendly tips for getting through the holidays.

My "cleanse" started today. For one week, I'll be eating tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and sometimes dessert!). I'll be using recipes from the book for most of my tacos, but I may freestyle a little and dine out occasionally. I'll also be supplementing with margaritas because tequila is a superfood, right?

This morning, I winged it with this Vegan Egg, Sausage & Hash Brown Breakfast Taco. There are several breakfast tacos in the book, and I'm trying one of those tomorrow. But I didn't have the fillings ready this morning, so I threw together a taco with what I had on-hand — Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg, Gimme Lean sausage, some shredded hash browns from the freezer, Daiya cheddar shreds, and Yellowbird Jalapeno Sauce. That was all tucked inside a homemade flour tortilla made using the recipe in The Taco Cleanse. Breakfast of champions right there. I only had one breakfast taco because I had brunch plans at 11 a.m. at Imagine Vegan Cafe, and I didn't want to be too full.

Alright, now I have a confession. It was doughnut day at Imagine. Owner Kristie rarely makes doughnuts, but she did this morning. And I ate one. It wasn't a taco. But it was delicious. Couldn't even make it to lunch without a cheat! Cheating was totally worth it though because this Vanilla Frosted Doughnut was deep-fried magic. Pam suggested that I fold the doughnut like a taco, but by that time, it was already half-devoured.

I stayed true to the cleanse with my brunch entree though. I went with Imagine's Vegan Chicken Fajitas — shredded "chicken," peppers, onions, brown rice, black beans, guacamole, sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa. The number-one rule of Taco Cleanse is "a taco only has one fold." I usually roll my fajitas up, but I followed the one-fold rule with these fajitas. It was messy, but I survived.

Most days on the Taco Cleanse, I'll be supplementing with margaritas (and a glass of sangria or two). But you can't drink margaritas during the SuperBowl! You gotta have beer for that. So I grabbed a build-your-own six-pack of Mexican beers from the Cash Saver. I poured a Tecate with salt and lime just before kick-off.

And just before halftime, I was plating up these Totcho Tacos from The Taco Cleanse. Yes, that's exactly what you think it is — tater tot nacho tacos. It's the stuff dreams are made of — tater tots, Parmela Creamery Chipotle Nut Cheese, guacamole, cashew crema (from the book), bulgur chorizo (from the book), tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, scallions, and cilantro. Totchos are pretty much my favorite food, so I knew when I first glanced through the book that I'd be making these right away.

That's all piled into a homemade flour tortilla. I made 20 flour tortillas last night to use throughout the week. I'm storing them in the freezer until I'm ready to use them. Flour tortillas keep pretty well, but homemade corn tortillas need to be eaten fresh, so I cut corners and bought some corn tortillas from the store to use in tacos later this week. Don't judge me, Taco Scientists!

Check back tomorrow for more taco fun times!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Vegan Egg Sandwich!

I've done a review of the Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg already, so this won't be a full review. But I just had to share with y'all this awesome Vegan Egg Breakfast Sandwich that I made using the Vegan Egg this week.

Just look at that awesome egg! It reminded me so much of the McDonald's egg breakfast sandwiches I used to love in my college days. I was vegetarian then, but I lived on egg & cheese biscuits from McDonald's.

In case you're not familiar with the Vegan Egg, it's a powder that you mix with water (I mix mine in the Vitamix for a fluffier "egg"). After mixing, it looks just like scrambled egg yolks. You pour it into a hot skillet, and it cooks up like scrambled eggs.

Up until now, I'd only prepared the Vegan Egg as scrambled eggs. But for this sandwich, I poured the wet mix into the skillet and left it alone so it would cook up omelet-style. When it was cooked through on one side, I flipped it and let it cook on the other side. I sprinkled the finished egg with black salt, folded it, and placed it on an English Muffin. That's topped with Gimme Lean vegan sausage, avocado, and hot sauce.

This was so good!! And the Vegan Egg was JUST LIKE AN EGG. I believe this sandwich would totally fool a non-vegan. 

On another note, I got to see Gene Baur, founder of Farm Sanctuary, speak tonight at Rhodes College in Memphis. I first saw him speak at Vida Vegan Con in Austin last May, and he just blew me away. And the same thing happened tonight. He touched on all the important vegan issues — factory farm cruelty, health benefits of a vegan diet, the environmental degradation caused by animal farming, animal welfarism vs. animal abolitionism. If you ever get a chance to see him speak, DO IT! Here's me and my friend Megan (who once interned at Farm Sanctuary) with Gene.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Salt For Life

I love salt. Too much really. I salt my food while I'm cooking. I salt my food at the table. Sometimes, I just eat salt by itself — mostly just delicious seasoning blends, not plain table salt. Paul eats salt by itself too, and in much higher quantities than me. Amazingly, we still have totally normal, healthy blood pressure.

But we're not getting any younger, so cutting back on sodium might be a good idea. That said, I'm just not willing to sacrifice taste. But Salt For Life sent me some samples of their alternative salt blend to review, and I think it just might be the answer.

Billed as "nature's alternative salt," this is a blend of sea salt (from ocean water off Brazil's coast) and potassium salt (sourced from ancient sea beds in Canada). The potassium salt has much less sodium than sea salt (or iodized for that matter), and so the blend ends up having 75 percent less sodium than table salt.

One-fourth teaspoon of Salt for Life has 140 mg of sodium, while table salt has 590 mg of sodium for that same amount. It's a huge difference.

Salt for Life is white and the granules are much larger than regular table salt, and when you sprinkle it on food, you can see the white flecks. I kind of like that because it's easier to see how much you're using.

But how does it taste? Well, that depends. Sprinkled over food, it tastes like salt. And just a little goes a long way. But sampled by itself, you get a saltiness right away, but it's followed by a weird aftertaste. I wouldn't recommend eating it by itself, but why would you do that anyway (unless you're a weirdo like Paul and I)?

For the past two weeks, I've been subbing Salt for Life in my recipes and at the table, and I can't tell a difference in taste. My food seems just as well-seasoned as always, but I know I've probably cut my sodium intake in half. Plus, I've probably boosted my potassium intake as well. I'd definitely recommend this stuff!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Spring Is Coming!

Today is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Some call it Imbolc, Saint Brigid's Day, or Candlemas, but whatever you call it, it's the time when we recognize that spring is on its way. It's also the reason we have Groundhog's Day on February 2nd, and lucky for us, Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow so maybe spring temps will come early (although he got it all wrong in 2013!).

It actually already felt like spring in Memphis today! The high was 75 degrees and we had some strong storms and tornado watches, just like a typical spring day in the South. But the weather will most certainly grow colder again before actual spring comes on March 21st. Until then, I'm just holding out hope that time passes quickly. I really hate winter and detest the cold.

Traditionally, folks eat dairy products to celebrate the Gaelic spring festival of Imbolc. Imbolc translates to "ewe's milk." Back in the day, during the last cold winter weeks, people relied heavily on dairy products because winter veggies were scarce. But this is 2016, and we know better than to contribute to factory farm cruelty by consuming dairy. So I typically always eat some sort of plant-based dairy alternatives on this day. Tonight, that meant pizza — specifically Daiya Fire-Roasted Vegetable Pizza.

I always crave pizza after a month of cleansing, and I typically go to Mellow Mushroom or Imagine Vegan Cafe and order a big ole pie for myself. But then I'm stuck with days of leftovers (not that that's a bad thing, but I'm already working on lots of other leftovers). So I got a Daiya frozen pizza, which makes two servings (the box says three, but it's a liar). It was just the right amount and so perfect for celebrating the feast of Imbolc. 

On the side, I made the Winter Greens from Cooking By the Seasons, a vegetarian cookbook with recipes for pagan holidays. I figured this dish could symbolize the coming spring since it's so green! It's wilted spinach with a dill-mustard dressing. Very yummy.

One of the great things about holidays is that they totally call for an awesome dessert. On Monday, when I arrived at work, there was a cupcake on my desk with a note that said "Happy Retox Day!" It was from my co-worker Susan, who joined me on the cleanse throughout January. She'd stopped at Muddy's Bake Shop on the way to work and picked me up a vegan Plain Jane Cupcake! I saved it for today to enjoy after my Imbolc feast of pizza and spinach.

Muddy's is a cute little bake shop/coffeehouse, and while they're not entirely vegan, they generally have a couple vegan cupcake flavors (and they make the greatest vegan peanut butter bars). Plain Jane is my fave of their cupcake flavors because, despite my eccentric exterior and strong opinions, I'm a vanilla girl at heart. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Retox Day!

The best part about doing a cleanse is the day after the cleanse. There is no greater joy than waking up knowing you can eat whatever your heart desires. Gluten, sugar, oil, processed food. I can have it all today after 28 days of (mostly) avoiding those things.

The real joy is just in that freedom. It doesn't mean I stuffed my face with Oreos and deep-fried vegan candy bars today (see last year's retox post for that!). Instead, I just took note of the feeling that I could do that if I wanted to, but in practice, I worked on a little moderation today. Sure, I had some fantastic indulgences! But I had some healthy stuff too. In fact, my morning started off really healthy. I woke up at 5 a.m. and had a Simple Truth Organic Kale Bar (with dates, berries, and vegan dark chocolate) and an Energizer Shot (coconut water mixed with food-safe peppermint and wild orange essential oils).

I'd gotten out of the habit of doing essential oil shots, but I definitely want to bring these back. Nothing wakes me up faster than a straight shot of peppermint and orange! I got the idea for these at I Love Juice Bar, a local vegan juice shop. They sell Energizer Shots, but it's more cost-effective to make them at home since I have the essential oils here. Anyway, after my snack, I ran for four miles.

And then I sat down to a Strawberry Lemon Smoothie Bowl with hemp granola, Vega One French Vanilla protein, fresh berries, and fresh banana slices. I drank smoothies every weekday on the Abundance Diet, and I never got tired of them. They really are the best thing for my body after a run. I find that, if I eat solid food too soon after running, I have digestion issues. 

I know what you're thinking — "What kind of lame retox day is this? Where's the sugar and gluten and plant meat?" Don't worry. It's coming! For starters, I was able to have creamer in my coffee after 28 days of drinking it black. I love this new Silk Caramel Almond Creamer in my Memphis-made Relevant Roasters coffee!

My daddy ordered me a box of Chocolate Doughnuts from Larsen Bakery (via Vegan Essentials) as a Valentine's Day/end-of-cleanse gift. They came in the mail last week, and I popped them in the freezer right away so I wouldn't be tempted on my last week of the cleanse. But today I could eat doughnuts! I brought two to work — one for me, one for my co-worker Susan (who also did the Abundance Diet). These were soft and fried and sweet and amazing. So glad I have nine more in the freezer (Larsen's "dozen" is 11 instead of 12).

Lunch was leftovers from Anjali's dinner party on Saturday. She sent me home with a ton of food, so I reheated some of her Mexican Casserole (tortillas, vegan cheese, black-eyed peas, corn, olives, tomatoes) and topped it with leftover Cashew Sour Cream from the Abundance Diet.

I really want to stay in the habit of eating lots of greens with my meals — either salads or sauteed greens. So I had a side salad for lunch. This had an oil-based roasted red pepper dressing, vegan whole grain bacon bits, and vegan bacon croutons — all things I couldn't have on my cleanse. But it was still a super-healthy salad.

The new downtown location of LYFE Kitchen — a Memphis-based, vegan-friendly, national, fast-casual chain — opened today, just in time for the end of my and Susan's cleanse! It's just a few blocks from our office, so we made early dinner plans there and went straight from work. You may remember that I ate at LYFE (the East Memphis location) just last week during my cleanse, and I was able to find a gluten-free Quinoa Crunch Bowl that was cleanse-safe. LYFE's menu is really healthy. But one of the vegan items I couldn't eat on the cleanse was my very favorite menu item — the LYFE Veggie Burger.

The patty is Gardein, but it's cooked to perfection. It's topped with a vegan chipotle aioli, Daiya cheddar, onion, tomato, and lettuce, and it's served on a soft, grilled ciabatta bun. It was a plant meat and gluten party in my mouth! But I balanced that with a healthy side of Broccoli & Snap Peas. And, perhaps most importantly, I ordered my first beer in 28 days. I allowed myself to have red wine on the cleanse (because antioxidants), but I avoided beer in January. This Wiseacre Brewing Co. Ananda IPA really hit the spot.

And that's it for Retox Day! I'm still craving pizza. But don't worry — I'm taking care of that tomorrow. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Abundance Diet Wrap-Up

I made it!! Today is the last day of the 28-Day Abundance Diet, a whole foods-based, sugar-free, gluten-free, low-oil meal plan from Somer McCowan's The Abundance Diet cookbook.

Okay, well technically, I have a few hours left, so I'll have to wait until tomorrow to break into my end-of-cleanse reward doughnuts. But I wanted to touch base and show y'all what I ate this weekend. There were LOTS of cheats this weekend but also plenty of healthful, wholesome meals from Somer's book.

Fridays on the meal plan are all about leftovers, so I had another mango green smoothie and more curried brown rice salad, oil-free hummus, and butternut squash soup throughout the work day. But on Friday night, Andy had a little get-together for Stephanie's birthday. It was potluck, but only a few people actually brought food. And that was fine because I tend to overdo it at potlucks. I went the cleanse-safe route and brought the Rawkin' Rainbow Kale Salad from The Abundance Diet.

This has a cashew-based chili-lime dressing, avocado, jicama, carrots, red onion, and cabbage. It's super tasty, and you can't even tell the dressing is oil-free. Of course, my friends all gave me hell for bringing a kale salad to a potluck. Except for Misti, who is also doing a cleanse. She was very grateful and made a giant plate of salad. Misti wasn't cheating on her diet, so that's all she ate.

I, on the other hand, had already planned to have a cheat night for Stephanie's birthday. That was a rule I made at the beginning of my cleanse. But rather than go crazy on the fake meat and gluten, I tried to just sample one of each thing with a generous portion of kale salad on the side. Stephanie brought Pizza Rolls (like cinnamon rolls but with vegan cheese, marinara, & vegan sausage). Andy made Pigs in Blankets with Smart Dogs. And Mike brought two kinds of Vegan Sausage Balls (some with cheddar and some with mozzarella).

Basically, it was a big ole gluten and fake meat fest! My favorite stuff! That pizza roll was my first taste of gluten in 28 days, and man was it awesome. So soft and pizza-y. But I only ate one of those, one pig in blanket, and two sausage balls. As much as I wanted more, I knew that I needed to save some space for the ultimate cheat — Stephanie's Peanut Butter Bomb birthday cake.

Stephanie is a professional baker, so she always bakes her own birthday cakes. This year, she picked my very favorite cake combo — peanut butter and chocolate. I was soooooo excited to have sugar after 28 days of only having natural stuff, like maple, agave, and stevia. But I asked Stephanie to cut me a small slice because I really wanted to be good and eat a modest amount of cake. Stephanie rolled her eyes and told me, "There will be no small slices." And then she cut me a giant slice of this triple layer cake that was probably the equivalent of three cupcakes. It was almost too much cake, if there's even such a thing. But I ate it all anyway, and it was divine. I also had two glasses of merlot that night because a party without wine just isn't a party.

I was stuffed when I finally went to bed around 2 a.m. But I awoke Saturday morning with a growling tummy. So I got back to my cleanse-friendly foods with this gluten-free Carrot Cake Waffle with Cashew Date Caramel from The Abundance Diet. It was sweetened with stevia and flecked with raisins, carrots, and walnuts. It felt pretty nice after my indulgence the night before.

I had leftover kale salad (there was a ton left after the potluck) and some more nicoise salad (leftover from Thursday) throughout the day on Saturday. But I had another cheat planned for Saturday night. Back in December, one of our new vegan friends, Anjali, asked me and a few other friends if we'd like to come over for a dinner party at her house in January. We settled on January 30th, so this was a cheat I'd been planning for since the Abundance Diet began. 

I didn't know what to expect from Anjali's menu, but I'd tried some of her dishes at a Thanksgiving potluck, and I knew she was a great cook! And it wasn't really even like cheating since Anjali is gluten-free for health reasons. She made a great spread of casseroles and some yummy (and pretty healthy) Indian desserts. 

There was a Tortilla Casserole with corn tortillas, veggies, and vegan cheese. That was my fave! And there was a gluten-free Cashew Cream Pasta with marinara and veggies and a Hash Brown Casserole with vegan cheese, tomatoes, and rosemary. So good! And other than vegan cheese, everything else in these dishes was totally allowed on the Abundance Diet. She sent me home with tons of leftovers, so I'll be enjoying this stuff all week!

For dessert, there was Mango with Tamarind Chutney and Green Cardamom and some Rose-Cardamom Kulfi. She made her kulfi (Indian ice cream) with a base of cashews and coconut cream. I love the idea of having fresh fruit for dessert. That's something I should do more often. And I love, love, love Anjali's kulfi. Rose and cardamom are the greatest combo ever. There was a little sugar in this, but it was much more modest than what I had Friday night in Stephanie's cake!

On Sunday morning, I woke up to another Abundance Diet breakfast — my last breakfast on the cleanse! It was a hearty and healthful Quinoa Banana Berry Bowl with cooked quinoa, cashew milk, cashew date caramel, fresh banana and strawberry, and hemp seeds. 

A few hours later, I met Stephanie for brunch at Imagine Vegan Cafe, but I ordered a cleanse-friendly Veggie Stir-fry over brown rice. I typically order this dish at Imagine with added vegan beef or chicken. But I kept it simple with just veggies for the last day of my cleanse. Next week, I'm sure I'll be ordering some plant meat or something fried!

Dinner was leftover grilled veggie lasagna and some more of that kale salad. And I'm about to have my last dish on the cleanse! I made the Lucious Lemon Tarts from the book for dessert. They have a gluten-free cashew crust sweetened with dried pineapple, and the filling is made from silken tofu, lemon juice and zest, and bee-free honee. I can't wait to reward myself with these babies!

Beginning tomorrow, I'm back on gluten, sugar, plant meat, and vegan cheese. And I'm very excited about it! I have some fun meals planned. But I will say that the Abundance Diet has been so rewarding, and I feel better than ever. I lost a couple pounds, which wasn't a goal, but I had put on a few over the holidays. My jeans were so tight I was having to unbutton them when I sat down. So they fit perfectly now.

But more importantly, I just felt great on the diet. I had lots of energy. My digestion was just perfect. I never felt groggy or gross after meals, like I do somethings when I'm eating not-so-healthy stuff. I plan to take some of these healthy eating practices forward and mix them in with daily dessert (whether that's just a square of chocolate or a cupcake or bowl of ice cream). I missed sugar a lot, and I don't want to cut that out. 

But I would like to try and eat more salad and whole foods-based meals going forward. I'll add oil back in, but I may try to cut it down some and go easy on fried foods. I typically only eat deep fried stuff in moderation anyway, but I've learned on this cleanse that you really don't even need much oil for sauteeing or making salad dressings. So I can definitely cut back there. As for gluten, well, that's DEFINITELY coming back. I don't have a gluten sensitivity, and I like bread a lot. But I will try to stick with whole wheat breads or sprouted grain at home and save the white stuff for dining out.

The way I ate this past weekend — a healthy mix of wholesome meals and indulgent treats — is actually a pretty good model for how I'd like to eat all the time. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Abundance Diet, Day 25

Thursdays on Somer McCowan's Abundance Diet are typically all about leftovers, which is one of the reasons I love this 28-day plan. I hate food waste, and I can't really afford (financially or time-wise) to cook brand-new meals every day.

So today, I had more of what you've already seen. My morning started with yoga, and then it was time for the Annie's Da Cherry Bomb Smoothie from The Abundance Diet cookbook. But this morning, I tried Somer's Mayan Cherry variation on that smoothie. It has added cocoa powder and cayenne. I loved this cherry-banana-spinach-flax smoothie even more with the chocolate!

Lunch was leftovers of the Green Goddess Spinach Salad and the Cheesiest Potato Soup, which you can see in this post from Day 22. My snack was more kale chips, and my dinner was leftover Chile Rellanos Casserole. I was super-excited to get to eat that chile bake again. So cashew cheesy and creamy!

I've typically been dining out on Thursdays for dinner since they're leftovers days. But I dined out last night at LYFE Kitchen, so I stayed in this evening. But I did get a special treat. I ended up making the Saturday meal plan dessert tonight! On Saturday, I'm going to a dinner party (and probably eating a few non-cleanse dishes), and though I'm not certain what's on the menu, I'm sure there will be something sweet. But I definitely wanted to try the Orange Chocolate Silk Mousse before the Abundance Diet was over. So I enjoyed it tonight in my PJs!

This is a silk tofu-based mousse with grain-sweetened carob chips, cashews, cocoa powder, orange zest, and dates. It's sooooooooo good. I actually licked the Vitamix. Probably my favorite dessert on the cleanse so far. I love creamy mousses and puddings!

Alright, well, we're heading into the last weekend on the Abundance Diet. And I'll go ahead and tell you now that I have a few cheats planned. Tomorrow night, I'm going to a birthday party for Stephanie, and there will be cupcakes and vegan cheese dip. So I'll indulge, but I'm going to try not to eat until I make myself sick, which is what I usually do at parties. And on Saturday, there's that dinner party I mentioned. But the host is gluten-free, so I think some of the dishes will fall within cleanse guidelines. And if not, I'll try everything anyway! I'll check back in on Sunday night with a recap.