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Thursday, January 30, 2014

10 Tips for Living a Healthy & Kind Vegan Lifestyle

The hardest part of anything is getting started. Gaining momentum. Staying motivated. Trust me, I get it. I am only able to say that because I've been through it. Let's face it, it is mighty difficult to change your ways, the things you've grown accustom to and have done for most of your life because that's what society has dictated we must do. On today's post, I am going to share my 10 very best and most practical tips to get you going on your journey to optimal health so that you can begin living the life of your dreams without the burden of debilitating health problems. These are lessons I have learned along the way and wish I would've known from the start. I also thought I'd include a personal touch and post (silly) pictures with each tip. I hope you enjoy them and a few cameos of 2 of my favorite beings in the whole wide world. :-D 

10 of my most practical & easily-integrated tips for living a healthy & kind vegan lifestyle:

1. Make slow, gradual changes.

This is first and foremost. Taking one small step, daily or weekly, toward a lifestyle change is tons more effective than undergoing a large overhaul overnight. The latter will likely send you on a frustrating and seemingly never-ending vicious cycle going something like this: excitement, contentment, temptation, deprivation, resentment, giving in, disappointment, depression, hopefulness, excitement, contentment and around and around it goes. I know this first hand. At the very beginning of my journey in January 2012, I did a one-week detox and it seriously wreaked havoc on my body. I cut out a lot of foods in such a short period of time and as a result, I experienced serious fatigue, constant cravings, breakouts, depression, indigestion, stomach aches, discomfort, you name it.

Once I learned to integrate 1-2 small changes a week into my diet, my body was able to ease into the transition without all of the detox symptoms. Being kind to myself and taking my time enabled me to organically experience the positive changes that were happening physically, mentally and emotionally. I began to appreciate my body more, realizing that it knows what it needs. I am just here essentially to read the signs and do my best to interpret them so that I can nourish my body properly. Over time, my taste buds have changed dramatically. You'll experience this, too. I now enjoy more subtle flavors and simpler dishes. I no longer desire or crave an overwhelming amount of sugar or salt. This alone has allowed me to enjoy real food and its natural flavors in its natural form without harmful additives. Your body will adjust & it will thank you in the process for taking care of it. Think of how long you've been eating unhealthfully. You cannot reverse the damage done overnight. It is going to take years. But always remember: it's a lifestyle change, not a one-week-detox-go-back-to-old-habits-after-detox deal.

My sweet angel, Coco. :-)
2. Do not be a junk food vegan.

There are a scary amount of processed vegan foods out there, namely in the frozen/refrigerated food section and chip/cracker aisle of the grocery store. Honestly, I have never fallen into the trap of processed vegan foods and that's because the first person who inspired me to get healthy, Kimberly Snyder, is adamant about concentrating your shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh, whole, unadulterated foods found in nature. When certain ingredients like milk, cheese, and meat are taken out (and therefore fat, which provides flavor), often other health-depleting ingredients are added in such as salt, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavorings and colors, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. 

Sure, I buy some canned/packaged items like almond milk, beans, nut butters, tomato sauce, kale chips, olives, etc. but I am an ingredient detective and look at every single ingredient on the list. If one ingredient is unfamiliar to me or I have trouble pronouncing it, I don't buy it. I also make sure to buy mostly organic or buy products with the GMO-free project label if non-organic, products with BPA-free packaging, and products with a maximum of 10 ingredients (though they must all be quality ingredients). Many junk-food vegans are more unhealthy than people who are non-vegan because many non-vegans do balance their animal foods with plants. To ensure you're getting all of the nutrients you need, eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds and rotate them around in your diet. Another good tip: the longer the shelf life, the shorter yours. Click here for an awesome guide to smarter grocery shopping. 

4 of my favorite green smoothie ingredients: spinach, pear, apple, banana.
3. Eat foods you like and leave the rest, but do experiment.

When you're first starting out, introduce 1-2 new foods a week into your diet. Think of it as an experiment because it is. When you begin to eat more of a plant-based diet, you'll find that a whole new world of foods is available to you, foods you wouldn't have ever known about or tried otherwise. I compare it to Christmas morning. Most of the time, you don't know what to expect but you're excited to add something new to your life. There are many foods I LOVE that I used to HATE and so many foods that I had no idea existed that I would have really missed out on had I never changed my way of eating.

Among many other negatives, eating a mostly processed, junky diet is boring *yawn*. It is the same thing over and over. With plant-based eating, there are endless combinations of flavors and the best part is, it's a win-win. Healthy fare is tasty AND nutritious. Junky fare is tasty (if that's all you know) AND disease-causing. That's a win-lose. We want to win across the board. Trying new foods and falling in love with many of them has been one of my most favorite things about eating an abundance of plant-based, nutrient-dense foods. On the flip side, you certainly won't love everything, so don't force yourself to eat something just because it's the hot thing to do. If you do, you're likely to travel back to your past and eat something comforting and unhealthy. For example, I do not fancy kale but everyone else is obsessed. Therefore, I put it in my green smoothies to hide the taste and avoid it otherwise. You will not stay on track if you do not enjoy what you're eating.

I swapped artery-clogging fast-food fries for homemade
 sweet potato fries!
4. Recreate your old favorite dishes.

I have done this quite a bit on my blog. It has definitely been one of the most exciting and rewarding things I have done throughout my journey. At first, I hated the thought that I'd have to give up my favorite foods that were "win-lose." Quite honestly, that thought kept me from committing 100% to a plant-based vegan diet. Once I started to experiment in the kitchen with healthy vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and refined-sugar free recipes, I found that though it may take a little more patience and an open-mind, I could absolutely enjoy healthier versions of my favorite dishes and be completely satisfied without any tinge of a craving for the unhealthier version, because I made it taste just as good. Find alternatives to your favorite dishes - I promise they're out there!

5. Cook once, eat two or three times.

This tip will make all the difference for all of you super busy folks out there. Make a big batch of your meals so you have enough for leftovers. You can freeze most things or keep most meals in the refrigerator for up to a week. This is a major time-saver and stress-reducer. The other important part of this is to plan ahead. Pick one hour out of a day once a week and write out the meals you want to make over the next week and use it as a rough blueprint. Be flexible. It can be changed throughout the week - don't over think it. Then, create your grocery list. I typically cook one meal big enough to yield leftovers on Sunday so that I have one meal down for Monday and usually Tuesday. I wholeheartedly believe in meal prep! It'll make your life much easier. Choose a free day and a few hours to pre-chop veggies, cook a big batch of whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet) and/or beans and legumes (lentils), then store them in the fridge so that you can pull them out whenever you need them throughout the week.

I now understand why they say to never be an animal photographer...
6. Come prepared to social gatherings.

Food is a huge part of our lives. Most things we do revolve around it, especially social gatherings. If you know you're going to be tempted by the food spread at a party, a breakfast/lunch/dinner date, or family gatherings/holidays, eat something beforehand to reduce your chances of bingeing on junk food. Another great idea is to bring something to the gathering. That way you'll have something to eat but you can also feel good knowing you're sharing healthy food with others. Not to mention, it's the perfect conversation-starter, too. By the way, most restaurants will accommodate your dietary needs. Just speak up. Or, do a quick search on Google for healthy (and vegan if you can find them) restaurants in your area. Also, take a look at the menu online before you go to a restaurant so you know what to expect.

7. Make friends with vegans and health-conscious individuals/groups.

If you do not surround yourself with people who have similar interests, the chances that you'll fall off the wagon are much higher. Plus, it is so much more enjoyable and worthwhile to spend your time with like-minded individuals anyway. They will accept you for you and uplift you. I am incredibly lucky that my 2 very best friends are vegans. Because our values are aligned, we understand each other on a deeper level and it has brought us closer. We do not have to worry about explaining ourselves to one another or putting up a facade trying to be someone we're not to appease or impress the other. Trying to be someone other than who you really are is exhausting and a waste of time. Our friendship is just easy-going and free. Following blogs that provide healthy vegan recipes has been incredibly beneficial in my journey, too. It's comforting to know you're not alone and the recipes shared make you excited in that you can still enjoy nutritious food that is also delicious and cruelty-free. Other than mine of course ;-), some of my very favorites are: Oh She Glows, DetoxinistaAlmonds and Avocados, Plant Powered KitchenLive Pure, and The Blonde Vegan.

Precious can't be bothered, guys.
8. Do not push your beliefs onto people. Rather, be an example.

When you first discover something new and shiny, something life-changing, you want to shout it from the rooftops for everyone to hear. You're well-intended, but it can come off as being pushy, which in turn, turns people off. They will often run off in the other direction more opposed to your argument than they were before. Educate people respectfully. Remain calm, non-judgmental but impassioned when speaking about your new lifestyle. Let your actions do the majority of the talking. Of course, we all naturally want to share what we're up to and people WILL ask questions about your new lifestyle. People are more fascinated by people who don't eat or use animals for clothing or entertainment more than anything else. Seriously. You will be defending yourself (and the voiceless i.e. the planet and animals) for as long as it takes to get the word out about how imperative a plant-based, cruelty-free way of eating and living is for the sake of our health, animal welfare and for the future of our planet. It is a big but truly rewarding responsibility to have.

For example, instead of telling people condescendingly that they're killing themselves, the planet and animals because of the food they're buying and putting into their bodies and the clothes they're wearing, give them facts in a kind, but straight-forward manner, like this: "the reason I am so passionate about living a healthy vegan lifestyle is that I feel great knowing I am helping to save the lives of enslaved innocent animals, many of whom are tortured and beaten throughout their demanding lives, and even while conscious during slaughter. There are also numerous environmental and human health consequences that are preventable and reversible with a diet and lifestyle change. Did you know research has shown that eating a diet consisting of animal products is directly linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, food allergies, and countless other illnesses?" That response is heartfelt, factual and informative. Holding back the truth will not propel us forward in changing our world so stand strong in your beliefs but be kind and understanding in the process. Also, recommend a documentary like Food Inc., Food Matters, and/or Earthlings.

We call her Ms. Ted. She looks like the girl version of Ted, right?!
9. Reframe the words "I can't" to "I don't" when you feel deprived.

Instead of saying "I can't" have this or that, use the words "I don't." "I can't" is a restriction. It makes you feel like you're limited in your choices. It makes you feel like you're missing out. "I don't" is a declaration. Instead, it makes you feel empowered in your choices. It demonstrates that you care about yourself enough to eat foods filled with disease-fighting and health-promoting nutrients. It shows that you care about the environment, the lives of innocent animals and our future. It also shows that you're forward-thinking. These 3 words alone will either make you or break you depending on which combination you use. Choose to feel empowered. Others will naturally latch on to your high vibrations, too, as a lovely little side effect. That's the goal, to create a ripple effect.

10. Write down your intentions for making these changes and constantly review them.

The one sure-fire way to have sustainable success with anything in life is to get really get clear 
about why you're doing what you're doing. It gives you direction. You can't get where you want to go without purpose or direction. Write these intentions down and display them in a spot you look at daily. Because if ever you get off track or take a few steps back, you always have those core intentions to go back to to remind you of why you're staying so disciplined in making all of these powerful, positive changes in your life. Are you doing it for your own health? Your family's health? Environmental health? Animal welfare? The future of our planet? To expose the unethical practices of agribusiness and the government in order to take back control of our own health? All of the above? Whatever it may be, refer back to these intentions as much as possible.

Wishing you true whole health, joy, clarity, empowerment, and the courage to express your authentic self freely without apologies. Don't hesitate to reach out to let me know of anything I can do to support you or assist you with. One love. ♡

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chickpea Vegetable "Omelette" (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)

I am a breakfast person, through and through. I could eat breakfast foods for every meal. As a matter of fact, I'm having leftover steel-cut oatmeal this afternoon as part of my lunch! Someone asked me once if I miss eggs and what I use as a substitute as a vegan. The first question was easy to answer because I don't miss eggs at all taste wise, nor do I crave them. What gets tricky is finding egg substitutes for baking but luckily, I've found some good ones. The second question stumped me. I didn't have an answer at that time. You'd think because I don't miss eggs that I wouldn't find it necessary to search for an alternative for an egg-containing breakfast such as scrambled eggs, quiche or an omelette. The truth is, I'd be fine without an alternative. However, I found something better! And I'm all for that.

Whether it's similar to an egg omelette or not, this chickpea vegetable "omelette" is undeniably tasty, nutritious and most importantly, cruelty-free. The combination of flavors is to die for!

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

• Garbanzo beans/chickpeas - Chickpeas are a wonderful legume for many reasons. They are naturally low in fat, high in soluble and insoluble fiber, protein, manganese, folate, iron, and magnesium. Fiber is essential for optimal colon health. It rids the body of bile (which contains cholesterol), important for heart health, and prevents constipation, which is crucial for preventing colon cancer and other digestive disorders. 1 cup of chickpeas contains 12.5 grams of fiber! To put that into perspective, it's recommended that women consume 25 grams of fiber per day and 38 grams for men per day, though if you're eating lots of vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, you're getting much more than that (yay!). Fiber also helps to prevent diabetes by slowing digestion, which helps to stabilize blood sugar levels resulting in slow-burning energy and appetite control, ideal for weight loss. In addition, 1 cup of chickpeas contains 15 grams of protein. Needless to say, they are an awesome source of plant-based protein for vegans. 

Chickpeas have a nutty flavor and a creamy texture. They can be used in a variety of ways such as in soups when pureed, in salads, veggie burgers, hummus, Indian dishes like curries, and more. Chickpea flour is so great because it lends a creamy, smooth texture to the dish at hand.

Chickpea Vegetable "Omelette"
YIELD: 1 large serving or 2 small servings

• 2/3 cup garbanzo bean/chickpea flour 
• 3 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
• 1/4 tsp unrefined coconut oil
• 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp garlic powder
• 1/2 tsp onion powder
• 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
• A pinch of black pepper
• 2/3 cup + 2 Tbs water
• 1/3 cup red bell pepper, chopped
• 2 Tbs basil, chopped
• 2 Tbs oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
• 2 Tbs kalmatta olives (green or black would be fine too. I just find that Kalmatta olives have the best flavor!)
• Recommended toppings: salsa, avocado/guacamole, cilantro or basil, Daiya cheddar "cheese", hummus

1. Pre-heat a 10" non-stick pan/skillet over medium heat. Add 1/4 tsp coconut oil to the pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the chickpea flour, baking powder, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, and black pepper and whisk well. Then, add in the water and whisk again until there are no clumps.
3. Add in the red bell pepper, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives and stir gently.
4. Pour the chickpea vegetable mixture into the pan and quickly spread evenly around the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, or until a spatula/wooden spoon can easily flip it (when it's ready, you'll see bubbles form in the batter shown in the picture above). Then, carefully flip it over (I usually use both a spatula and a wooden spoon to pick it up and flip it so it doesn't fall apart) and cook for another 5 minutes.

• Feel free to make any substitutions or add more of another ingredient if you don't like one of the ingredients I've included above. Other good options would be: green/orange/yellow bell pepper, red onion, sweet or white onion, spinach, asparagus, mushroom, fresh tomatoes. Just be sure to chop up all ingredients finely and keep the same measurements and number of add-ins as in the recipe so it's not overloaded.
• I found all ingredients at Whole Foods. I couldn't find chickpea flour in the bulk aisle at the Whole Foods I went to so I bought the Bob's Red Mill chickpea flour in the bag but I have seen it at other locations in bulk. I usually always find nutritional yeast in the bulk aisle.

"Logic will get you from A to Z. Imagination will get you everywhere." Albert Einstein

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Cheesy" Brown Rice & Roasted Butternut Squash (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)

This entree is up there with my spaghetti recipe I shared on the blog a few weeks back. They are my two favorites. My pride and joy. There. I said it. I play favorites. Now what?

In this recipe, the contrast of the Daiya cheddar "cheese" and sweet roasted butternut squash is heaven to the taste buds. Add in the various spices, vegetables and toppings, and you will experience pure bliss when chowing down. I can't get enough of this stuff. My dad, a.k.a taste tester extraordinaire, told me to make double next time. He was licking the spoon afterwards. That's a first. It takes a bit longer to make because of the prep time - chopping the vegetables, roasting the squash, cooking the brown rice - but if you chop the vegetables ahead of time, maybe on a Sunday, and even cook the brown rice ahead of time (extra bonus points for you), it will be a breeze to whip up on the day you put it all together.

While transitioning to full-fledged veganism, I held on to cheese for awhile before making the full commitment because I loved the taste and grew up eating it on a daily basis. But alas, I let it go from my grasp forever because I wasn't going to allow my own unimportant selfish desires to take precedence over the cruel, unethical treatment of cows (and all other animals) on factory farms. Turning a blind eye wasn't an option for me. There are plenty of other animal-free (thus, cruelty-free) tasty food options out there, much healthier, too. With my new knowledge and awareness, I refused to further contribute to their suffering and to industries abusing and killing animals for profit. Non-human animals deserve and desire to live happily with their families just like humans do. So, enter the superhero by the name of Daiya, that comes in to save vegans with its orange cape and a "V" on its chest and "cruelty-free" plastered across the back... Woosh! Cheesy? I know. (Pun intended, by the way.) But seriously, Daiya "cheese" tastes delicious. Sure, it doesn't taste like real cheese, but it's not supposed to. It certainly melts and stretches like real cheese, though, and has great flavor.

Since we're on the topic of cheese, I want to provide some insight into what goes into producing cheese. Yes, there are different methods to making cheese. It's true, organic raw cheese that has not been pasteurized and comes from the milk of grass-fed animals without the use of hormones or antibiotics is ideal for someone who eats animal products. Unfortunately, 90% of cheese in standard grocery stores come from the milk of cows raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). CAFOs are agricultural operations where animals are raised in crowded, filthy, and abusive conditions with no access to their natural pasture and are typically grain-fed and soy-fed. And though organic raw cheese is produced with a"kinder method" it doesn't change the fact that the male calves are taken away from their mothers at birth, placed in confinement for the rest of their lives, often abused, and then slaughtered to be used for veal and that the female cow will eventually be slaughtered as well after she is thought to be useless.

Once the female cow has given all the milk she can give over 3-4 years, she is oftentimes abused to "keep production moving" (for profit) as she heads to the slaughterhouse to be made into ground beef. For the purpose of mass production, female cows produce about 10 times the amount of milk, with the help of hormones and production technologies, that they would otherwise produce naturally.

The treatment of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses is the most horrendous, heart-wrenching truth I have ever witnessed. Mercy for Animals conducted an undercover investigation in 2013 at a dairy factory farm in Wisconsin and this is what they found: "Workers viciously kicking, beating and whipping cows in the face and body, sick and injured cows suffering from open wounds and infections, and workers dragging cows by their fragile legs and necks using chains attached to a tractor—these are just some of the routine abuses documented by an MFA investigator at a DiGiorno cheese supplier in Wisconsin." I can only say so much, though. Watching the actual act happen is more life-changing than any words could ever be. I recommend the powerful documentary called Earthlings that brings the truth to light. It is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, which I think is pretty cool.

We're in the midst of a major transformation. You're part of it. I'm part of it. We're experiencing an awakening, a return to consciousness. I sincerely hope you'll participate in this change and consider cutting back on or cutting out animal products. Even having one meal a week without dairy products would save approximately 1 billion cows. Contrary to popular belief, it is much more fun, easier, healthier (if eating a well-balanced nutrient-dense vegan diet), and kinder to eat an animal-free plant-based diet. Doris Lin said something so striking: "It may seem counterintuitive that milk, which is so connected to birth and life, is also so connected to slaughter and death. However, the animal agriculture industry is not in the business of feeding and housing animals who are not profitable."

I'll end this on a positive note. A few days ago, I tweeted a link to this video that shows 25 cows being released into their natural pasture after almost being slaughtered. It'll make your day.

"Cheesy" Brown Rice & Roasted Butternut Squash
Adapted from this recipe

YIELD: 4 servings

• 1 cup uncooked short-grain brown rice (yields 3 cups cooked), soaked overnight or for 2 hours (optional but recommended)
• 2 1/2 cups water
• 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, cubed and roasted (approx. 4-5 cups)
• 2-3 tsp extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil or water (to water sauté w/o any oil)
• 2 cups sweet onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 red bell peppers, chopped
• 1 Tbs cumin
• 2 tsp fine sea salt
• 1/2 tsp chili powder
• 1 1/4 cups Daiya cheddar cheese
• A few pinches of cayenne pepper, or to taste
• A few pinches of smoked paprika, or to taste (optional)
• Top with: cilantro, olives (kalmatta, black or green), and 1/2 avocado per serving


1. Roast the butternut squash. See here for step-by-step directions with pictures on how to peel, chop and roast the squash.
2. In a strainer, rinse off the soak water from the brown rice until the water runs clear. In a large pot, combine the water and brown rice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add a few pinches of sea salt, cover, and let simmer for 40-50 minutes. Check it at the 30 minute mark, stir and make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan. If so, add more water. It's done when tender and all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
3. In a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, add oil or water, onion and minced garlic. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent. Now, add in the sea salt, cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika (if using) and mix well.
4. Mix in the cooked brown rice and red bell pepper and cook for another 10 minutes on low heat.
5. Once the butternut squash is done and slightly cooled, add to the pan and mash up some of the squash pieces. Mix in the Daiya cheese and cook for another few minutes until melted.
6. Serve and top with chopped cilantro, chopped olives and avocado. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

“May our daily choices be a reflection of our deepest values, and may we use our voices to speak for those who need us most, those who have no voice, those who have no choice.” Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My 6 Favorite Non-Toxic Kitchen Essentials

Truth be told, I am still a rookie at this whole healthy cooking thing, cooking in general really, but like everything, the more I cook, the easier it gets. As I go along, I learn about different tools that make life much easier in the kitchen, products that I wish I would have known about when I first started cooking and baking. I wanted to share a few of my favorite kitchen essentials that have made all the difference for me. Collectively, these gems have saved me time, energy, money, and have even improved the quality of my food.  I know I will be adding to this list over time! This is just the beginning.

I present to you my 6 current favorite kitchen essentials, in no particular order (because they're all winners in my mind)...

This was a present I bought for myself this past Christmas. I was using the old juicing tool where you had to really put your back into it and manually twist the citrus fruit around the top to get the juice out and by the end of it you felt like you had just finished a hardcore arm and hand workout. That is not what we want to happen for something that should be a simple and quick task. I usually juice lemons every 2 weeks so that I have freshly squeezed lemon juice ready to go when a recipe calls for it. This tool has saved me so much time. Now, I don't dread juicing citrus fruits anymore. Yay!

Ozeri 10" Stainless-Steel Non-Stick Pan $42.95 (It is on sale now! Its original price is $79.95. Run, don't walk!)
I had been looking for a non-stick pan for a long time but I wasn't going to settle for a pan that contained all of those toxins that have been around for years in traditional non-stick pans. Those harmful chemicals are: PTFE, PFOA, cadmium, lead, and others, and they are released into the environment and into our bodies and lead to serious health problems later in life. PFOA has been under investigation by the EPA. When I finally found a non-toxic non-stick pan that fit the bill, I was ecstatic! Although I have only used this eco-friendly pan a few times since purchasing it in December, I can happily say that it delivers on its promise of being a high performance frying pan with chemical-free non-stick perfection. Now, its ability to endure its non-stick coating can only be determined with time. I'll get back to you on that one.

I use this super nifty (do people still use that word?) electric tea kettle daily, either for tea or for any recipes that call for warm or boiling water. The Adagio Teas utiliTEA electric kettle quickly heats water to what ever temperature you desire. It couldn't be more user-friendly. It is also BPA-free.

Vitamix 5200 Blender $449 (Buy from Sunshine Juicers with this $50 off coupon code: 5200X for the Turboblend VS model - same as mine except I paid a little more for the platinum color)
Big surprise here, eh? I have talked extensively about the Vitamix blender on my blog and I don't get paid a cent to do it. It is easily one of the best investments I have ever made. I use it daily for smoothies but I also use it for soups, dips, desserts, dry chopping vegetables, you name it. It processes everything quickly and produces the silkiest, smoothest texture. It is also easy to clean. I can't say enough great things about this high-quality high-speed blender and how drastically it has changed the way I eat and my willingness to want to eat healthfully because of it. 

Apple Slicer and Corer $10 (The one pictured above is from Target for $8.99)
This is an old faithful product. My mom had an apple slicer and corer around ever since I can remember. I have never sliced and cored an apple without one so when people talk about manually coring and slicing apples, it confuses me because I assume everyone has one in their kitchen but clearly it's a well-kept secret that I want everyone to be in on. This is another kitchen essential that saves time and energy. Hassle-free is the way to be.

This is another one of those old faithfuls that my mom always used. I have never used parchment paper or aluminum foil to bake anything in the oven. It has always been a Silpat baking mat. They are made of woven glass coated with food-standard silicone and are heat-resistant up to 480° F. What I love most about Silpat baking mats is that they're reusable so they last for years (my Silpat above has been around for over 10 years) and they're non-stick so no need to grease. Just clean with dish soap and warm water. Hassle-free is the way to .... you got it. It's pretty cool that they're made in France, too, and they're a staple item for professionals. Money-saver, time-saver and energy-saver. You're welcome.

I'd love to know what your kitchen essentials are and also which of the products above would you find most beneficial? Happy healthy cooking! :-)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Peppermint Hot Chocolate + Peppermint Whipped Coconut Cream (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Refined Sugar-Free with Sugar-Free Option)

I am a big proponent of chocolate. I saw a quote on Instagram the other day that read: "Chocolate comes from cocoa which is a tree. That makes it a plant. Chocolate is salad." Oh, the things we try to justify. But really, organic cacao, the raw form of the cacao bean, has many health benefits. It has more antioxidants than green tea, black tea and red wine, according to a study conducted by Cornell University food scientists, which was published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry [source]. It also contains theobromine in small amounts, which is a mild stimulant shown to boost mood (interesting tidbit: chocolate is unhealthy for dogs because they cannot break down and eliminate theobromine like humans can). Raw cacao has also been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. None of this applies to the cocoa that you typically find in grocery stores. That stuff has been highly processed, sprayed with chemicals and pesticides and thus its nutritional value is diminished greatly. As with anything, consume raw cacao in moderation as it does contain a small amount of caffeine and is not a whole food.

I have dabbled in the vegan hot chocolate realm for a few months now. I was never happy with the outcome, until now. I tried to get too complex with it when I should have stuck with my instincts and kept it simple. This hot chocolate is downright delectable by itself but in my humble opinion, it is incomplete without the peppermint whipped coconut cream on top. It's like floating on fluffy, peppermint clouds in your own little dreamland cruising across the sky as it rains chocolate (raw, vegan chocolate of course) with no cares. How was that visual? It seems I can't go a blog post without corny comparisons. I can't be tamed... *Miley Cyrus voice?* No. How do I even know that song? Embarrassing. Reel it in, Claire. Reeel it in.

Anyway, though the hot chocolate is obviously tasty with the unrefined raw coconut nectar, I know many people are trying to stay away from sugar altogether. I tried this with just liquid stevia and it was great, too. Not as sweet, more subtle. I also tried a mix of liquid stevia and raw coconut nectar combined, which was just as good. Basically, you can't go wrong with any of the sweeteners although the unrefined coconut nectar option is my favorite. I am actually going the whole month of January without sugar of all kind, even unrefined sugar, with the exception of fruit sugar. How did I know that this recipe tasted good if I'm not eating sugar you ask? Well, I gave myself 2 cheats this month. Have I used them both up already? Yep. Pray for me.

*Prepare the peppermint whipped coconut cream the night before making the peppermint hot chocolate by putting a can of the classic full-fat coconut milk in the refrigerator so it's ready the next day. Find the recipe for the peppermint whipped coconut cream here.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate
YIELD: 1 serving

• 1 1/4 cups unsweetened original almond milk
• 3 tsp raw cacao powder
• 2 - 3 tsp raw coconut nectar (pure maple syrup is fine if that's all you have but it is refined)
• 10 drops liquid stevia, or to taste (for sugar-free version, use 25 - 30 drops)
• 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
• Pinch of fine sea salt
• Peppermint whipped coconut cream, to top *Click here for recipe
• Cinnamon, to sprinkle on top (optional)

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat and whisk well. Do not bring it to a boil. Adjust ingredients to taste.
2. Make the whipped coconut cream while the hot chocolate is heating up. Scoop a dollop on top of the peppermint hot chocolate. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.

Enjoy, loves! I hope this yummy beverage warms your sweet heart. I also hope the start of the new year is treating you well so far and that you're taking care of yourself in every way - mind, body and soul.

"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot." Unknown

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Tastiest & Healthiest Sweet Potato Fries

Today, I bring back my forever food crush, sweet potatoes. I gushed about my sweet lover in this post so I'll refrain from going on and on about my deep love affair with them and how wonderful, nutritious and delicious they are. I will say, in short, that they are very high in vitamin A and vitamin C and a good source of manganese, calcium, potassium, copper, and fiber.

I've experimented with sweet potato fries for so long. I was never pleased with the result. They were either too bland, overly seasoned, or too mushy and not crispy enough. So, I would try to make them better each time I had them with a meal instead of stressing myself out for 1 week experimenting and getting food drunk on sweet potatoes and swearing I'd never eat them again after turning orange from eating them all week (side note: I have actually turned orange from eating too many carrots and guess what vegetable appeals least to me now? Yep, carrots). I just couldn't risk losing such a beautiful love affair! Anyway, I finally got it right. These sweet potato fries are perfectly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. The roasting process brings out the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes and the spices enhance the flavor even more. Truth be told, these would be just as delicious without the spices, but I like the addition of them. The arrowroot starch is key to this recipe. It's what makes them crispy.

I took a bit of a break over the holidays from blogging and from technology in general. I reflected back on 2013, which was by far the hardest year of my life since I lost my mom, but also a year of awakening and courage. I had to pick up the pieces, figure out what I needed to leave behind to uncover my true self, my true purpose, and to have the courage to jump into the unknown. I now live my life with this prayer to the Universe, "use me to serve others and the world in the way that I was meant to" as opposed to living my life with the goal of self-fulfillment.

I also narrowed down, tweaked and finalized my goals for 2014. I'll be honest, I've always dreaded goal-setting. It's a lengthy and tedious process. They should be challenging enough but attainable, measurable and actionable. Goal-setting is tough because it requires reflection and planning ahead simultaneously. This year, I tried to change my thinking around setting goals.

Danielle LaPorte, best-selling author, blogger and motivational speaker, created a revolutionary concept around setting goals called The Desire Map. She suggests that your desired feelings should inform how you plan your day, week, month, year. In other words, it's not about the goal itself, but how you want to FEEL when you reach that goal. Your goals, the things outside of yourself that you want to obtain or accomplish, should be centered around how you want to feel inside. She calls them your core-desired feelings. Danielle suggests to avoid the common ones like "confidence" and "success." Go deeper. What does it feel like to have confidence? Is it freeing? What makes you feel free? Acceptance of yourself? Love for yourself? Then, maybe your core-desired feeling is love. If you're curious, my core-desired feelings are: freedom, joy, connection, love, peace, bravery. All of my goals have at least one of these core-desired feelings next to them so that I always keep the true intention of my goals in my mind and in my heart.

The beautiful thing about this concept is that we cannot control our circumstances, only how we feel about them. So, it is much more empowering and effective to chase feelings instead of goals because we can change how we feel in any given moment. And if we don't achieve our goals, we can change how we feel about that fact and grow in that realization instead of deeming ourselves a failure. Life-changing! Bravo, Danielle, bravo.

Sweet Potato Fries

YIELD: 2 servings

• 2 medium-large sweet potatoes
• 2 Tbs unrefined coconut oil, melted
• 2 tsp arrowroot starch
• 1/2 tsp chili powder
• 1/4 tsp cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with a Silpat, parchment paper or grease sheets with coconut oil.

2. (Directions in conjunction with picture above: top left to bottom right) Peel the sweet potatoes then cut them in half crosswise (4 pieces). *You do not have to peel them. I have been leaving the skin on & they still taste great! The skin holds lots of nutrients, too. Then, cut each sweet potato quarter in half again lengthwise (8 pieces). Lay each piece flat side down. Working with one sweet potato piece at a time, starting from the left or right, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Turn the slices on their side and cut lengthwise again in 1/2-inch slices to create fries.

3. Place the sweet potato fries in a large bowl and add in the coconut oil, arrowroot starch, chili powder, cinnamon, and sea salt. Mix well, until the arrowroot starch is no longer visible. You can use your hands or a large spoon. Just be sure to coat fries evenly.

4. Place the fries on the 2 baking sheets. Make sure they don't touch so that they cook evenly. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes then flip the fries and bake for another 15 minutes, or until they're crispy and golden brown on the outside and soft on the inside. 

Happy New Year, y'all! I truly look forward to creating more blog posts, developing more healthy vegan and gluten-free recipes and helping to spread the knowledge of holistic health to improve your lives and the lives of those you love as well as bringing awareness to serious issues we as consumers are kept in the dark about. If there are any recipes you'd like me to create a vegan gluten-free version of, please leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail. Cheers! ♡

"Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?" Danielle LaPorte
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