Wednesday, January 28, 2015

If Ya Got It, Deep-Fry It

Today was my friend Stephanie's (a.k.a. Poopie Bitch) birthday. And a few weeks back, when Pam and I were still very much on a cleanse, deep in the world of salads and juicing and raw zucchini noodles, we planned a little party. Maybe it was all that health food talking, but we thought it'd be a great idea to have deep-fry party for Stephanie's birthday.

The original plan was to have it at Stephanie's house. I'd bring over my little deep-fryer, and we'd just chunk stuff in it. But then Kristie, co-owner of Imagine Vegan Cafe, offered to let us have it at the restaurant! And we could use her awesome restaurant fryer. Um, yea! Let's just say it was a big ole deep-fried success.

Here's the birthday girl.

Omg, y'all. WE DEEP-FRIED EVERYTHING! Kristie started us off with samples of Imagine's new formula for Vegan Fried Chicken (the big pic). It's not on offer at the restaurant yet, but we were willing testers. Then she made us Imagine's amazing homemade Vegan Cheesesticks. And then somebody got the bright idea to fry Broccoli. I brought stuff to make Celine and Joni's Crispy Mac & Cheese Balls from Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites (shown here covered in Imagine's vegan ranch). And Stephanie made Vegan Corn Dogs.

Oh, but we didn't stop there. Stephanie also made Fried Pickles with ranch. Do you know how long it's been since I've had a fried pickle? I'm ashamed to say.

It wouldn't be a birthday party without dessert! We deep-fried Go Max Go Buccaneer (like 3 Muskateers) and Jokerz (like Snickers) bars! And we deep-fried Oreos! Those were my personal fave. I wanted to deep-fry the birthday cupcakes Cassi made Stephanie, but Cassi said no. Party pooper.

Speaking of that cupcake, Cassi made Stephanie these Peach Bellini Cupcakes for her birthday. It's a new recipe she's testing for Pink Diva Cupcakery. These have lots of peach vodka in them! And there's more in the little squirt thing so you can really infuse the cake.

We had so much fun! And since I ate one of everything, you can only imagine how ridiculous gross I feel right now. But it's a good kind of gross. A very satisfied gross.

Here's Savannah (Adam & Kristie's daughter), Kristie, and Butler, who masterfully womanned the fryer all night! Oh, and there's Kristie's other daughter, Maddie, under Butler's batter bowl.

And here's Cassi and Megan. Adam's (the other Imagine co-owner) is documenting the whole thing in the background.

And here's the birthday girl on corndog duty.

Whew. I think I'm done with fried food for a long time!! But damn, that was good. Hell, I may need to go on another cleanse to undo the damage.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Vega One!

I never thought I'd say this, but I sorta think smoothies are now my favorite food. I mean, pizza and cupcakes and fries and vegan mac & cheese and ramen noodles are still way, way up there. And if you asked my favorite junk food, I'd have a hard time picking one of those. But for my all-time fave —including the healthy stuff — I'm gonna go with smoothies.

But not just any smoothies. Specifically Vega One protein smoothies. A smoothie without Vega One is just icy fruit in a glass, but a smoothie made with Vega's all-in-one nutritional shake powder is a meal. I drink these smoothies at least four times a week, after my morning runs, for quick muscle recovery. And in the process, I'm getting vitamins, minerals, probiotics, greens, omega-3s, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium.

My love affair with Vega One dates back a few years, and I didn't see a thing wrong with their old product. But those perfectionists at Vega went and made their vegan protein powder even better! A couple months ago, I got a big ole shipment of their new formula to sample and review!

Yea, that was basically the greatest review package ever!

So here's what's new: 33% more protein (from multiple plant-based sources but mostly peas!), two times more greens, and it's now made with only real whole food ingredients. So for example, the old chocolate powder had 16 grams of protein per scoop, but the new one has 20 grams. The old one had three servings of greens (broccoli, kale, spirulina, and chlorella), but the new one has six! Each scoop still has 50% of your RDA for vitamins and minerals, 27% of your fiber, 1.5 grams of omega-3s, antioxidants equivalent to 2.7 cups of blueberries, and one billion probiotics.

As for the taste, honestly, I think the new stuff tastes about the same. It does have a slightly higher calorie content, probably due to the higher protein. A scoop of chocolate used to be 150 calories. Now it's 170. No biggie. It's stevia-sweetened and so flavorful! Like dessert but good for you. I've tried lots of other vegan protein powders, and nothing can hold a candle to Vega.

I used the four flavors Vega sent me to create four new smoothie recipes! Here ya go!

Green Elvis Protein Smoothie
As a Memphian, I couldn't resist a cliche Elvis reference. The King loved his peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and the combo of lightly flavored Natural Vega One and rolled oats give the drink a bread-like taste so it's like a sandwich in a cup! And there's kale in there for added goodness.

1 1/2 cup plant milk
1 frozen banana
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
Handful of kale leaves
2 Tbsp. rolled oats
1 scoop Natural Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake
Ice cubes

Add everything to your blender and let it rip until smoothy and creamy.

Wild Berry Banana Smoothie
It's like a berry explosion in your mouth! This smoothie also contains protein-packed spirulina for an extra superfood boost.

1 cup plant milk
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen blackberries
1 tsp. spirulina
1 scoop Berry Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake

Toss everything in the blender and blend until creamy. Garnish with extra frozen blueberries, if desired.

Cherry Chai Protein Smoothie
Cherries and chai might seem like a strange combo at first, but after one sip, you'll wish you'd thought of this sooner.

1 cup plant milk
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen cherries
1 handful baby spinach
1 scoop Vanilla Chai Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake

Blend everything together until creamy.

Mocha Carob Chip Protein Smoothie
Who says you can't have carob and chocolate in the same meal? The two pair perfectly with the coffee in this smoothie for a much healthier java chip-style drink. Feel free to sub out chocolate chips for the carob though if you can't find any.

1 cup plant milk
1/2 cup cold coffee
1 frozen banana
1 scoop Chocolate Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake
Ice cubes
1 Tbsp. carob chips

Put everything except carob chips into a blender and blend until creamy. Then add carob chips and pulse until they're chopped into teensy bits that will fit through a straw.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Munk Packs!

Y'all know I have a squirrel companion, right? In case you haven't followed the story of Herman, he was an orphaned newborn baby squirrel back in late July, when he presumably fell from his nest and into my backyard. We bottle-fed him and raised him in the house for a couple months, and then, in October, he was ready for release.

We set Herman free out of the bathroom window. But he came back. For a few nights, he opted to sleep inside, but one day, he finally claimed a spot in my backyard tree. Yet he still comes by for nuts every morning while I'm getting ready for work. We just crack the window at his usual time, and he comes in while I'm putting on my makeup. Like this.

Anyway, all that is to say that I have a newfound love for squirrels. And the next best thing to squirrels are chipmonks. Kind of the same thing, right? Anyway, I was super in love with the packaging (and name!) for these Munk Packs that I was sent to review awhile back.

These are oatmeal fruit squeeze packs, which was totally a new concept to me. I've seen squeeze packs of applesauce and stuff in the baby food aisle, which I only pass through on my way to the dog food aisle. But these are snacks for adults and kids! And they're made with non-GMO, gluten-free, whole grain oats and real fruit.

Each one ranges from 80 to 100 calories, making them perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up. I first tried the Apple Quinoa Cinnamon one before a 5:30 p.m. board meeting since I knew dinner would be a couple hours away. Notice Maynard's photo bomb. He's always doing that!

The first ingredients in this are apples, water, and oats. And there's flax, quinoa, and cinnamon. There's a slight oatmeal texture, but it's mushier than eating a bowl of oats. I enjoyed the way the oats felt in my mouth. Sorta chewy, sorta not chewy. Hard to explain. But delicious. And it tided me over until dinner.

I tried the Raspberry Coconut squeeze on the way to another meeting a few weeks later. This one was tangier because of the raspberries, and it had little chewy bits of coconut. Nice. Love how these packs are so easy to eat in the car!

Tonight, I had the Blueberry Acai Flax squeeze before teaching an Engine 2 class at Whole Foods. Dinner wasn't going to happen for a few hours, and this hit the spot.

Each one has the same chewy oat texture, but I think apple cinnamon was my fave. I just love apples and cinnamon together! I'd definitely buy these to keep around as grab-and-go snacks!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Retox Weekend!!

After 21 days of eating nothing but wholesome, unprocessed food (much of which was raw) on the Choosing Raw Challenge, I was ready for some bread, pizza, sugar, vegan meat, and beer! Of course, I didn't want to undo all the good I did eating healthily in January. But I knew that a couple days of splurging wouldn't hurt me. Here's what I ate on my retox weekend!

Friday morning actually started off really healthily! I made this Green Juice with kale, apple, celery, ginger, and cucumber before my morning workout. Maynard wished he had green juice too!

After my workout, I had bread and fake meat! This is an Ozery Bakery Muesli Morning Round with Go Veggie Strawberry Cream Cheese Alternative, a Simple Truth Organic Meatless Breakfast Patty, and Orange Slices.

My morning snack was Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Crackers! God, how I missed vegan cheez-its!

Lunch was a Grilled Chao Cheese with Spinach on sprouted grain and leftover Vegan Pumpkin Soup from Choosing Raw. I'd really been missing Field Roast Chao cheese too. I have a few packages in the fridge that I couldn't touch on my raw diet.

For Christmas, Stephanie brought me back a bag of vegan candy and treats from the U.K., where she spent her holiday. One of those treats were Vegan Starbursts!! For some reason, Starbursts are vegan in the U.K. even though they're not here. And they have different flavors, like Lemon & Lime and Blackcurrant. Had some on Friday afternoon.

I had a meeting at Muddy's Grind House, a newish cupcake & coffee shop, in the afternoon, so I ordered this Soy Hazelnut Latte, and omg, omg, omg. I swear this was the best latte I've ever had in my life. The coffee was just perfect, and that hazelnut syrup gave it a creamy, nutty, toasty flavor.

Muddy's sometimes has vegan cupcakes, and they always have their awesome vegan peanut butter bars. But I knew there was cake in my future, so I resisted. You see, Cassi baked me a Vanilla Pumpkin Mini Cake! Vanilla cake, pumpkin buttercream. Isn't it cute?

Cassi has morphed her Vegan Pink Noodle restaurant concept into a cupcake bakery concept, mostly because she found herself getting a lot of cupcake orders after she started baking cupcakes for Imagine Vegan Cafe. The new name is Pink Diva Cupcakery. She mostly does cupcakes, but she's working on her mini-cake decorating skills, and I'm a willing tester!! Also, just FYI for Memphis friends, Cassi is taking orders now for Valentine's Day cakes!

Friday was my friend Greg's birthday, so we went to Imagine Vegan Cafe for dinner. And guess what I ordered? A whole Vegan Cheese Pizza with pepperoni, black olives, and mushrooms! Yum! Hit the spot.

And if that wasn't enough cheese, I also ordered some Vegan Cheese Sticks for Greg and I to share.

Of course, I washed it all down with a delicious beer — Schlafly Coffee Stout. Mmmmmm.

After dinner, we went to our favorite lesbian karaoke bar, Dru's Place. Cassi showed up with birthday cake for Greg. She baked him Vanilla Whiskey Cupcakes! And she also made a mini cake with the same flavor. The little squirter thing is filled with whiskey, and you just squeeze into the cake before eating.

Whew. That was a lot of food, y'all. Needless to say, I was way over my daily calorie limit on Friday. Oh well! It was all worth it. Besides, I ran nine miles on Saturday morning, so I think that balances out.

On Saturday, I mostly had leftovers — pizza, cheesesticks, cake. And I had a big ole bowl of popcorn Saturday night while watching Hachi. You know, the movie about the sweet pup who met his human companion at the train station every day? Awwwww.

Sunday morning started out with a bowl of Koyo Ramen and an episode of Homeland. And then I headed to Imagine for brunch with Stephanie, Cassi, and Pam. One brunch day a few weeks ago, while on my cleanse, Stephanie made Banoffe Pie (banana-toffee), and I was so sad that I couldn't have it. So she made it again this week! I started my brunch with a slice of pie and a coffee. This was so creamy and delicious. I'm such a fan of vegan whipped cream-based desserts.

After my first dessert course, I ordered a savory Bloody Mary.

And a slice of Vegan Sausage & Cheese Quiche and Salad with Vegan Ranch. Stephanie also bakes the quiche for Imagine, by the way.

Later on Sunday, I drove to my parents house in Jonesboro because my mom went on a bit of vegan snack shopping spree for me. Just because she loves me. She scored all these snacks at T.J. Maxx (and yes, that's Vega One powder — at T.J. Maxx for just $20!!!), and I needed to pick them up.

And since I was in town, I asked if my mom would cook something yummy for dinner. She came up with a Taco Salad Bar, and we loaded our bowls with lettuce, black beans, vegan taco meat, vegan cheese, vegan sour cream, corn, black olives, tomatoes, green onions, jalapenos, salsa, Fritos, and catalina dressing. Perfect ending to a retox weekend. Hey, it's salad, right?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Choosing Raw, Done!

I'm done! For 21 days, I've been eating high-raw style, using Gena Hamshaw's recipes from her Choosing Raw cookbook. I'd say about 70 to 80 percent of what I ate from January 2nd to the 22nd was raw, and the rest of my diet was made up of cooked whole grains, beans, and starchy veggies. I had very little refined sugar (only a few cookies at a party, a mini cupcake, and some sugar in my coffee creamer), no beer (until yesterday), and no processed food.

Today, on the last day of the cleanse, I just had leftovers or repeats of meals I've already had. But here's a picture collage of what I ate. There's a mint chocolate protein smoothie, a no-bake sunflower oat bar, raw spaghetti with quinoa meatless balls, apples with coconut caramel dip, coconut curry kelp noodles with tempeh, and steamed kale.

I do a cleanse like this every year, and some years are so very hard. I've done the Crazy Sexy Diet three times now, and I struggle with it every time. But I've learned that the key to a successful January diet is not setting insane restrictions. I let myself have coffee this time, and I let myself have a few cheat days. I also allowed red wine, so I never felt socially deprived. And you know what? It was easy this time! It definitely helped that Gena's cooked meets raw approach was sensible and delicious!

And I feel great! I'm hoping to continue eating as healthily as possible moving forward. I mean, I'm totally gonna order some vegan pizza this weekend, and I plan to have more beer. And bread! Omg, bread. I'm gonna have some of that. But I'd like to do a good job of balancing my regular splurges with healthy meals.

But out of this whole experience, you wanna know what my biggest takeaway was? Snacks. I need more snacking in my life. Before this diet, I typically had a small morning snack each day at my desk — a few nuts, a few cracker. But rarely more than 100 calories. And I rarely ever snacked in the afternoon. But I've found that slightly smaller meals and larger snacks throughout the day make me feel better.

Plus, I need more dessert in my life. I had healthy raw dessert almost every day on the Choosing Raw Challenge. I plan to continue that. Some days, like tomorrow, I'll have a not-so-healthy cupcake. But most days, I'd like to enjoy some sort of healthy dessert.

So that's it! I'll be back after the weekend with a recap of my relapse. I'm sure it will be delicious!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Choosing Raw, Day 20!

So close, y'all! Only one more day to go on the 21-day Choosing Raw Challenge, where I've been cooking (and un-cooking) my way through Gena Hamshaw's cookbook of healthy, whole foods-based raw and cooked recipes.

Today started with an easy leg strengthening workout and some ab stuff using the medicine ball. And then I had this yummy parfait with Cashew Banana Yogurt, fresh blueberries, and raw cashews.

My morning snack was more Cheesy Kale Chips, which I snacked on in the car while running a work errand. And then it was lunchtime! I made a new recipe for lunch today — Easiest Vegan Pumpkin Soup. This really is the easiest soup! You just throw everything (pumpkin, cashews, spices) into the Vitamix. You can then heat it on the stove, but I opted to use the Hot Soups setting on my Vitamix, so I didn't even have to dirty up a pot. A co-worker pointed out that it looked like a bowl full of mustard. And it does. But it tasted divine. Those cashews make it extra creamy and thick.

On the side, I had a salad with steamed beets, eggplant bacon, cannellini beans, mushrooms, red cabbage and herbs de provence vinaigrette.

I skipped my afternoon snack because I knew I had a special treat coming soon (more on that in a few). Dinner was another fun new dish — Coconut Curry Kelp Noodles.

Have we talked about how much I love kelp noodles? I'm sort of a rice noodle addict, and these are the raw answer to rice noodles. I love the weirdly crunchy texture, and I love how they soaked up this creamy coconut curry sauce in this dish. I'm glad I get to have leftovers of this tomorrow on the last day of the diet!

On the side, I had some Steamed Kale with Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

Now about that special treat. Throughout these 20 days, I've banned myself from having beer, refined sugar (except for a couple cookie/cupcake splurges and some sugar in my soy creamer), bread (except for sprouted grain), and processed food. Even though I have one more day left on the cleanse, I decided to break the beer rule tonight! The Memphis Flyer, the newspaper I write for, was having its annual 20>30 party, where we honor 20-somethings who are doing awesome things, at High Cotton Brewing Co. No way was I going to a party at a local craft brewery without grabbing a beer! My High Cotton Scottish Ale was soooooo good.

But I just had one, and then Cassi and I went to a Memphis Grizzlies game. We had awesome seats (I won tickets at work), and we beat the Toronto Raptors! Go Grizz! Oh, and I smuggled in a couple of Coconutty for Chocolate Chip Cookies as a snack. Those hit the spot in the second quarter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Choosing Raw, Day 19

Only two more days to go! And this high-raw meal plan just seems to be getting easier and easier. If it weren't for bread, cupcakes, and beer, I could probably eat like this 90 percent of the time. Just check out what I ate today!

I started my day with a quick run followed by a Vanilla Cherry Chai Protein Smoothie. This is another recipe I've developed for Vega using the new Vega One formula. And I'll be posting a bunch of smoothie recipes in a review of the new formula next week. But basically, it's cherries, banana, greens (I used spinach), plant milk, and Vega One Vanilla Chai.

The rest of my meals were from Gena Hamshaw's Choosing Raw cookbook, which I'm using to guide me through this high-raw reset diet. My morning snack was more Ginger Almond Carrot Pate (leftover from Sunday's nori rolls) with raw carrots and celery. And lunch was another Raw Mushroom & Spinach Burger, but this time, I had it sans bread with a big ole side salad, avocado, Trader Joe's Whole Grain Dijon Mustard (love this stuff!), and pickles.

For some reason, that meal really filled me up. Like, I wasn't even hungry for my afternoon snack, but I'm glad I packed one because there was a big time gap between lunch and dinner. And my snack was DELICIOUS. I made these No-Bake Sunflower Oat Bars from Choosing Raw. Definitely in my top ten best recipes I've made so far from the book. These are made with sunflower seed butter, oats, raisins, agave, and carob chips. Gena calls for nibs, but I didn't have any so I substituted carob. God, I love a good bar.

Dinner was late because I was missing ingredients. I had to go to the store twice while I was cooking (and un-cooking)! Thankfully, I'm just two blocks from a grocery store. Anyway, all those trips were worth it because this meal of Zucchini Spaghetti with Raw Marinara and Quinoa Meatless Balls was fantastic.

This recipe really embodies the spirit of Gena's food philosophy. The "pasta" is raw spiralized zucchini, and the sauce is raw. But she suggest using a jarred sauce if you don't have time or want to make a raw sauce. The balls — a mix of cooked quinoa, sauteed onions and mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and spices — are baked in the oven. It's a perfect fusion of raw meets cooked!

I skipped dessert in favor of a glass of red wine with dinner. One simply cannot eat spaghetti without a glass of red wine, right?