Monday, June 1, 2020

"Race" Recap: Social Distancing Half-Marathon

Before I start tonight's post, I just want to send all the love and support to those protesting the murder of Black Americans by racist law enforcement officers and civilians. If you're looking for a tangible way to show your support, please do what you can to donate. For Memphis friends, I'd recommend the Black Lives Matter Community Bail Fund. I made my donation this weekend and am trying to share the link as often as I can. 

Back in March, when this global pandemic started in the U.S., I was crushed when my 50K — the Big Buffalo 50 — was postponed. It was scheduled for March 21, and at the time, Memphis only had two COVID cases. We couldn't quite see the gravity of what was coming, so while I understood, the timing just felt so unfortunate. I ended up running 50K on March 21 by myself, on the race course. I never imaged my first 50K would be a self-supported adventure!

After training for half a year for that race, I needed something to make me feel better about that cancellation. That's when I learned about the Social Distancing Race from Marathon Training Academy, one of my favorite running podcasts. They organized this virtual, any-distance race to honor our "un-run races" of 2020. Paul and I signed up right away, and we decided to make the race a half-marathon. Participants in this virtual race choose their own distance and date, and a medal is shipped to your house. This past Saturday, we did it!

As always, I started race morning with a locally made Dave's Bagel. I usually spread them with hummus or nut butter, but I was out of hummus (and only had garlic/onion bagels, so nut butter was not an option!). I made a quick cashew cream cheese using a recipe in the No Meat Athlete Cookbook.

I planned a 13.1-mile course that took us on a tour of Memphis. We went from Crosstown to Downtown, past the Pyramid and Harbor Town.

We ran down Riverside drive through Tom Lee Park, along the Bluff Walk.

And we even worked Beale Street into the course since almost every downtown race includes a stroll down Beale.

It was a HOT day, and we got started pretty late (around 10:30 am). The last few miles were pretty rough. I took us down a very long stretch of non-shaded road along Madison Avenue, and we got a little sunburned. But we made it! I drew a finish line in our driveway.

After the run, we got to put on our medals! Aren't these awesome? There's a virus chasing the runners, and they're holding hand sanitizer, beer, toilet paper, and cash!

After our run, I made us some giant protein smoothies. But one must always celebrate a race with post-race pizza. So a few hours later, we went to our friends Jen and Simon's house for a very socially distanced outdoor grilled pizza party. The crowd was small (three couples and two singles), and we spaced our chairs at least six feet apart. Jen cooked us vegan pizza on her grill (with her homemade cashew cheese!!), and we enjoyed some BYOB beers.

This pizza was phenomenal! And it felt so nice to safely be around people (and not just Paul!) again.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Recipe: Polenta Cakes with Chickpeas, Swiss Chard, Roasted Radish, and Lemon-Tahini Sauce

This is my final recipe post in the Bring It Food Hub recipe series! Last Friday, Bring It Food Hub — a Memphis CSA hub that sources produce from local farmers — gave me a CSA share to play with. I've been sharing recipes over the last few days, all using local foods. And tonight, I give you the finale — Polenta Cakes with Chickpeas, Swiss Chard, Roasted Radish, and Lemon-Tahini Sauce!

This looks impressive, but it's super easy to throw together, especially if you make the polenta and sauce the night before. Polenta cakes are just a fancy way of saying "fried polenta slices." You can actually buy pre-made polenta in a tube, but it's so easy to make from scratch with dry grain. For this, I used organic Braggadocio Polenta from the McKaskle Family Farm in Braggadocio, Missouri (about an hour and a half drive from Memphis). This polenta, as well as the chard and radishes in this recipe, was included in my Bring It CSA share!

If you are making the polenta cakes from scratch, you'll need to make the polenta several hours ahead of time. Overnight isn't necessary, but you'll need at least 3 hours to allow the polenta to completely cool and firm up into a sliceable cake.

For the greens, I used local Swiss chard, but any greens would work here — kale, collards, turnip greens, whatever. I actually even threw in some radish greens from the CSA for this, but I'm not including in the recipe because they're not necessary to make this. But if you're using radishes with tops for this recipe, why not throw in the greens? If you're doing that, just add them when you add the chard.

Okay, without further ado, here's the recipe!

Polenta Cakes with Chickpeas, Swiss Chard, Roasted Radish, and Lemon-Tahini Sauce
Yields 2 servings

For the polenta cakes:
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup dry polenta
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt (depending on how salty your broth is)
Black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast

For the radishes:
1 bunch radishes
2 tsp. olive oil

For the saute:
1/2 onion, diced
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

For the sauce:
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of half lemon
1/4 cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. cumin

To make the polenta, bring the broth to a boil, stir in the polenta, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and whisk until incorporated. Lower heat and cook for 30-40 minutes. Stir in the nutritional yeast and remove from heat. Transfer to a Tupperware bowl that's the same shape as how you'd like your cakes to look. I prefer a rectangle-sized bowl for this (a little smaller than a loaf pan). Place in the fridge for at least 3 hours and allow to cool completely. When it's cool, it will have firmed up into a sliceable brick.

To make the radishes, preheat the oven to 400. Quarter the large radishes and halve the smaller ones. Toss with oil and spread onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and easily pierced with a fork.

To make the saute, add the onion to a non-stick skillet and saute for 2-3 minutes or until onion begins to brown. No need to add oil or liquid at this point! Once the onion is browned a bit, add greens and a splash of water (just enough to prevent sticking). Saute for another 5-7 minutes or until greens wilt. Add the chickpeas, soy sauce, and garlic powder, and heat for another 5 minutes or so until everything is heated through. Stir in the vinegar and remove from heat.

To make the sauce, whisk all sauce ingredients together. This also makes a great salad dressing if you have leftovers!

Now it's time to fry your polenta (you can also do this as your veggies are cooking). Heat a large non-stick skillet (this is important!!) over medium heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray. Slice your polenta into thick slices and carefully place in the pan. Allow to brown on one side for 5-7 minutes, and then very carefully flip the slices and brown on the other side. Although the polenta is firm, it will fall apart easily, so be careful. And if you break a cake, just put it back together on your plate and cover with veggies. No one will know!

To plate, put 3-4 polenta cakes on your plate. Top with half of the veggies and add half of the radishes on top. Drizzle with lemon-tahini sauce. EAT!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Recipe: Vegan White Bean & Veggie Quesadillas!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Bring It Food Hub — a Memphis-based CSA hub that sources produce and goods from regional farmers — gave me a CSA share last week so I could create a few fun recipes using local foods!

I've been looking for new lunch ideas for those days when there aren't enough leftovers from the night before. And last Thursday, I got inspiration from a No Meat Athlete podcast on quick vegan lunches. They listed off a bunch of easy ideas that I'd never thought of as lunches (like avocado toast! FOR LUNCH! WHAT?!), and there was a mention of vegan quesadillas. Of course, I've made quesadillas before, but it's been awhile, and I'd kind of forgotten about them. So on Monday, I whipped up a White Bean & Veggie Quesadilla for lunch.

In the past, my quesadillas were usually just beans or plant meats with vegan cheese, but why not up the health factor and pack it with veggies? I used some spinach from the CSA, as well as a jar of local salsa verde from Winchester Farm (also in the CSA). I love that Bring It includes some dry goods and preserves in their bags. What fun surprises!

I'm sharing my quick recipe, but these quesadillas are very versatile, so you could swap out any of the veggies. Or you could use regular salsa instead of salsa verde. Or you could leave out the vegan cheese if you'd rather. It's your quesadilla! Own it!

Vegan White Bean & Veggie Quesadillas
Yields one serving

1/2 cup red bell pepper
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup baby spinach
2 tsp. taco seasoning
1/2 cup white beans (Great Northern or cannellini)
1 whole wheat burrito-sized tortilla
1/4 cup vegan cheese
2 Tbsp. salsa verde
Lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa for serving

Place the red bell pepper, corn, and garlic in a non-stick skillet, and saute on medium heat for about 2 minutes. No oil needed! After a couple minutes, add a couple splashes of water to prevent the veggies from sticking and cook another 5 minutes or so, or until the veggies are tender. Add 1 tsp. of the taco seasoning, and stir to combine. Stir in the spinach until wilted. Remove from heat.

While the veggies are cooking, heat the white beans in a small saucepan. Mash with a fork and add the remaining tsp. of taco seasoning. Cook until heated through. You can also cook these in the microwave if you have no shame like me. :-)

Heat a large skillet (you can use the same one from your veggies; just wipe it out), and spray with a little non-stick cooking spray. Place your tortilla in the skillet and spread one half with white beans. Top with veggies, and then top with cheese and salsa. Fold the other half of the tortilla on top. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the bottom is lightly browned. Flip and cook on the other side until lightly browned. 

Serve with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and salsa. I added some oil-free, air-fried corn chips on the side!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Recipes: Grilled Asparagus + Fried Green Tomatoes

On Friday, Bring It Food Hub — a Memphis CSA hub that sources produce and goods from regional farmers — gave me a free bag of food to create new some recipes to share! In these pandemic times, nothing makes me happier than a bag of fresh produce! They have a pick-up location at Crosstown Concourse, where I work, so I walked over and picked up my bag on Friday afternoon (since I'm working from home for now). By the way, Bring It is now taking subscribers for their Summer 2020 season!

Look at this local food! There was kale, chard, radishes, asparagus, tomatoes (including some green ones!), spinach, polenta, salsa verde, and even dog treats from Beale Street Bluescuits (made with spent beer grain from my friend Kelvin's new brewery, Beale Street Brewing Co.).

Over the next few days, I'll be sharing recipes using all this delicious produce! But tonight, I've got a Grilled Asparagus recipe and a Fried Green Tomato Recipe for ya! On Saturday, Paul and I grilled out for Memorial Day Weekend, and we threw the asparagus on the grill. We also prepared fried green tomatoes inside on the stove to go with our outdoor meal.

When grilling asparagus, you can certainly place the spears directly onto the grill, but if your grill isn't lined with foil, you run the risk of losing spears in the grill grates. And if you do line your grill with foil (as we do), you still risk burning your asparagus with that direct heat. I prefer making a foil pack so your asparagus can take its time cooking along with your veggie burgers or Beyond Brats or whatever else you're cooking. Here's some spears getting ready for the grill!

Here's the recipe!

Grilled Lemon-Garlic Asparagus
Yields 2-4 servings

1 bunch asparagus
1 Tbsp. vegan margarine
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss the asparagus with softened margarine, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, and salt/pepper and place in a large square of aluminum foil. Wrap tightly, and then double-wrap that bundle with another square of foil, making sure all edges are sealed. 

Place on the grill for 15 minutes or until spears are crisp-tender. 


I wish there was a way to make fried green tomatoes on the grill! But then they wouldn't be fried. So I'd recommend you stick to making your fried green tomatoes indoors this summer. 

Now you can air-fry these or bake them, and they'll be okay. I'm normally a low-oil/no-oil cook these days, but there's one food that I do not hesitate to fry, and that's a green tomato. A fresh, tangy, breaded, crispy green tomato is a Southern delicacy that I only enjoy a couple times each summer, so I feel a-okay about consuming some oil when I eat these.

The following Fried Green Tomato recipe is from my cookbook, Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South (available on Amazon or wherever fun books are sold!).

Fried Green Tomatoes
Yields 4 helpins

2 large green tomatoes
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup unsweetened plant milk
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 cup canola oil

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices and sprinkle with salt.

Put the cornstarch in one bowl, the plant milk in a second bowl, and in a third bowl, combine the cornmeal, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and ground pepper. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat. The oil should generously coat the skillet. If it doesn't, add more! Heat until a pinch of flour sizzles when dropped into the hot oil. When that happens, you're ready to fry!

Take one slice of tomato and dip it into the cornstarch, pressing into both sides. Next, dip the slice into the plant milk, wetting both sides. And finally, dip into the breadcrumb bowl, pressing down on both sides until the crumbs stick. Place the slice into the hot oil, and repeat with the remaining slices. You may need to cook these in batches, as they should not overlap in the skillet.

Fry on one side for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Flip the slices, and fry until golden on the other side. When the slices are done, remove and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain the oil. Season with more salt if needed. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Vegan Grillin' for Memorial Day!

Paul and I got a head start on Memorial Day grilling on Saturday since he had to work in Nashville today. We have a rusty, old charcoal grill that we drag out a couple times a year, cover liberally in foil, and load up with as much food as we can. I love eating grilled leftovers for days! That's the taste of summer.

I already had some Field Roast burgers in the fridge, but when we got to the grocery store to stock up, Paul picked up a packet of meat brats for himself. When he tossed them into the cart, I said, "What if we got Beyond Brats instead?" Of course, the Beyond Brats were more expensive, but he agreed. Yay! Vegan win!

Bring It Food Hub — a local CSA hub — gave me a giant bag of local produce last Friday so I could cook with a few things and share recipes on the blog. We decided to use the asparagus and green tomatoes from that CSA share, plus we bought some corn on the cob and stuff for potato salad.

Voila! Look at all that food! Field Roast Burgers, Grilled Corn, Grilled Garlic-Lemon Asparagus, Smoky Potato Salad, Grilled Foil Pack Mushrooms, and Corn on the Cob. We grilled the brats too, but we saved those for Sunday's supper.

I put some Miyoko Cheddar Shreds on my burger, no cheese at all for Paul. So he had a totally vegan meal!

The Smoky Potato Salad is from the No Meat Athlete Cookbook. It's made with olive oil and vinegar rather than mayo, and it's flecked with slivered almonds for a nice crunch. There's a little smoked paprika and liquid smoke for a bacony flavor.

I'll be sharing my recipes for the grilled asparagus and fried green tomatoes in tomorrow's post!

The next night, on Sunday, we had our grilled brats, plus leftover asparagus and corn from the grill. I made some more fried green tomatoes, and I made some mashed potatoes with gravy (using the leftover grilled mushrooms). Both of these meals mean Paul had another totally meat-free weekend! He did have some cheese and non-vegan chips, so it wasn't a vegan weekend. But close!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Engine 2 Meals!

My partner Paul recently discovered he has high blood pressure, and that was enough to scare him straight. At least for now! I told him he could lower his blood pressure and improve his overall health with a plant-based diet. Paul eats vegan food sometimes, but he's not vegan most of the time. I haven't convinced him to go fully vegan (YET!), but last weekend, I did get him to commit to eating super healthy meals from the Engine 2 Seven Day Rescue Diet.

The Seven Day Rescue is Engine 2's super-strict, oil-free, low-salt, whole foods-based meal plan. I've done the plan myself years ago as a reset, and it's hardcore. I had him pick out a couple recipes for the weekend. He chose (no surprise!) the Mighty Green Pasta Bowl, which has whole wheat spaghetti, homemade oil-free red sauce, and lots of greens. Paul doesn't typically eat kale or spinach, but both were mixed into the pasta. And he ate them! We also sauteed some mushrooms without oil, and I added nooch to mine. I made cashew parsley ranch for our salads.

The fact that Paul ate a salad was nothing short of a miracle. He does eat "salad" in real life, but it consists of iceberg lettuce with a lot of shredded cheese and ham, and it's always drowning in dairy ranch. But he ate his veggie salad with cashew ranch, and I was proud.

The next day, he chose the Triple Pepper Chipotle Chili, which we had with brown rice and avocado. The chili has kidney and black beans, lots of bell pepper, chipotle pepper, mushrooms, and even zucchini! It's sweetened with a little BBQ sauce, which is different, but we liked it!

He'd also picked out the Hummus & Avocado Flats for a Sunday lunch, but we ended up snacking on oil-popped popcorn (not Engine 2 approved) for lunch (because we were binge-watching You on Netflix). So the next day, I had the flats (open-faced sandwiches) for lunch on my own. These have hummus, avocado, cucumber, tomato, balsamic, and romaine on sprouted grain bread. I made some corn chips in the air fryer with corn tortillas and enjoyed with some homemade salsa (from my dad!). 

And finally, here's last night's leftovers. I had some red sauce left from our spaghetti night, so I had more pasta. But I added broccoli (instead of kale) and topped with chickpeas and nooch!

At the end of the weekend, Paul's blood pressure was back to a normal rate! All it took was cutting down on salt (he consumes WAY too much) and eating a healthy vegan diet. Since then, he's had fish a few times, but he's stuck to a mostly vegetarian diet so far. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Chips & Dip! Stir-fry! Yogurt Parfait!

After a two-week break from takeout while self-isolating, I was sooooo ready to eat at Imagine Vegan Cafe again! I've been trying to eat there weekly during the pandemic to show my support for Memphis' only full-service vegan restaurant. I thought I'd get takeout from there over the weekend, but Paul is on a health kick (yay!) so we cooked at home. But he went back to Nashville for work on Sunday night, so Monday was junk food party time! After work, I called Imagine for a takeout order of Spinach Artichoke Dip & Chips!

Imagine has the BEST spinach dip, and I usually just snack on this as an appetizer (shared with others). But in quarantine times, there is no sharing. So I ate the whole thing as my dinner.

Last night, I made a yummy Mandarin Orange Chick'n Stir-fry with Trader Joe's frozen chicken-less mandarin orange morsels, fresh cabbage (that had been in my fridge for a month, maybe more!), zucchini, and mushrooms. Served over brown rice. This was my first time trying the TJ's morsels, and they're really good. Very similar to the Gardein mandarin chicken.

I'm still doing 14:10 intermittent fasting most days, which has resulted in a serious sparkling water addiction. I was already a big fan of fizzy water, but now that I don't eat anything after 6 pm, I depend on my nightly La Croix to keep me entertained. I just like to consume things all the time! I found this new Limoncello La Croix this week, and WOW!!!!! It has a certain razzle dazzle that I cannot explain, but it's very similar to the Key Lime flavor (my fave before I discovered limoncello). I have some homemade limoncello liqueur that I made awhile back, and I'm gonna try spiking my water for a refreshing cocktail! Homemade White Claw!

Speaking of snacks (is water a snack?), I really enjoyed this blueberry IQ protein bar! This came in a Vegan Cuts box, and I had it after a morning virtual workout class. My gym has been killin' it during the pandemic with super-hard virtual classes, and I'm taking three classes a week. I like to have a protein-y snack afterward, and this was nice. It's made with whole foods and was only lightly sweetened.

Finally, here's my breakfast from this morning! My mom gave me a leftover container of Vanilla Silk Almond Yogurt that she bought for our lemon pie the other day (but didn't use). I enjoyed the yogurt with some Love Crunch chocolate berry granola, fresh strawberries, ground flax, and walnuts. I love the Love Crunch granola because it has chunks of dark chocolate mixed in.