rice stuffed summer squash with vegetarian gravy

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Every week, I get a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box that is filled with delicious, local, non-GMO veggies, sustainably grown only 15 minutes from my house.  We get loads of kale, collard greens, tomatoes, garlic, summer squash, and, sometimes, fruit, like cherries, peaches, and strawberries.  I love that my family supports this program that is good for the community, the environment, and the health of those who are able to partake in eating the beautiful produce.

This summer, I have received some particularly interesting squash, one of which was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth: Tromboncino squash.  It has a wonderful, almost buttery flavor, and I would highly recommend trying it if you get the chance, even if it looks a little funny (like giant green sausage).

Today’s recipe, however, focuses around more common summer squash.  I have used both large zucchini (shown above) and patty pan squash (shown below) for this recipe.  It is the perfect end-of-summer, beginning-of-fall dish, topped with my favorite vegetarian (vegan) gravy.  This gravy is especially delicious if made with homemade mushroom broth.

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Wild or Brown Rice Stuffed Summer Squash:

  • 2 cups uncooked wild or brown riceIMG_2848
  • 1 very large or 2 medium summer squash
  • 1 onion
  • handful fresh thyme
  • handful fresh rosemary
  • 2 heaping cups mushrooms
  • pepper
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  1. Cook the rice according to package directions.
  2. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Cut the squash as is most appropriate for filling (see pictures below and above), and IMG_3065scoop out the seedy flesh and set aside.  Leave about 1/4-1/2″ of squash under the skin on all sides.
  4. Bake the squash for 20 minutes until about half-cooked.
  5. Chop the onion, mushrooms, and herbs separately.
  6. Saute the onion until soft, then add the thyme, rosemary, and mushrooms.
  7. When the mushrooms begin to release their juices, add the dried cranberries, a pinch of pepper, and the squash insides (chopped to smaller pieces if necessary).  Cook until the squash pieces are done.
  8. Mix in 2-3 cups of cooked rice.
  9. When the squash in the oven is half-cooked, fill it with the rice mixture.  Make sure to really press the mixture down to fit in as much filling as possible.  Any that does not fit in the squash can go on the tray around the squash to get crisp in the oven.  If making gravy, leave the pan that the mixture was cooked in, and don’t worry about scraping out every last bit.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes until the squash is fully cooked.  I prepare the gravy during this time.
  11. Serve with vegetarian gravy.  I also like to eat this with potatoes and a green vegetable.

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Vegetarian Gravy:

  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • small handful rosemary
  • 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
  • 1/2-1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite (optional)
  • pepper
  1. Chop the onion and cook it in the used pan of what it will be served with, in this case, the pan of the squash filling.
  2. Mince the garlic and rosemary, and add it to the onion.  Add a little vegetable broth to the pan to prevent sticking.
  3. Whisk in the flour or cornstarch, adding more vegetable broth as needed.
  4. When the mixture is smooth (no cornstarch chunks), whisk in the rest of the 3 cups vegetable broth (at this point it will be about 2 cups), soy sauce, and Marmite, if using.  Season with pepper to taste.
  5. Let the mixture simmer on low for about 5 minutes.
  6. Puree the gravy with a blender, food processor, or immersion blender.  If a thicker consistency is desired, return gravy to pan and continue to cook on the stove, mixing frequently.  For a thinner gravy, add more vegetable broth or water.
  7. Enjoy on stuffed squash, mashed potatoes, or literally anything your heart desires.

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I started a YouTube channel!!

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Hey there!  I have been working hard lately on starting up my new YouTube channel.  My YouTube is littleplantperson, and my first two videos are called “What I Eat in a Day as a HCLF Vegan Teen” and “My Vegan 18th Birthday Vlog.”  Watch me eat, make smoothie bowls, bike while vlogging, and so much more!  If you check it out, please let me know in the comments here or on YouTube, and stay tuned for the seasonal summer recipes to come!IMG_2819

cherished gem smoothie bowl

 

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I must be going through a smoothie phase right now because they have honestly been the only thing I have felt like eating and blogging about for the past couple months.  The smoothie bowl I am sharing with you today is my absolute favorite right now.  It is visually beautiful, very diverse in texture and flavor, and relatively healthy.  Ripe fruit makes it sweet, oats make it filling, and walnuts give it that satisfying crunch.  Let’s get into it!

Cherished Gem Smoothie Bowl:

Smoothie:

  • 5 fresh dates (optional)
  • 2 cups frozen mango
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries
  • water

Topping:

  • 2-3 fresh dates
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup raw oats
  • 2 tablespoons dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  1. Pit and blend dates, if using, with a little water in the blender.
  2. Add frozen mango and berries and blend, adding water as needed to reach a smooth consistency.
  3. Pour (or scoop depending on how much water you used) the smoothie into a large bowl and set aside.
  4. In a food processor or small bullet blender (this may also work in a regular blender), process 2 dates and 1/4 cup raw oats.  Add another date or more oats as needed to achieve a granola-like consistency.
  5. Top smoothie with oat/date mixture, dried cherries/cranberries, and walnuts.
  6. Enjoy!

Some other fun things to try with this smoothie bowl:

  • Add vegan chocolate chips to the oat/date mix
  • Put fresh or frozen cherries in the smoothie
  • Add banana to the smoothie
  • Skip the nuts or replace them with dried coconut

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3 ingredient smoothies!!!!!

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orange juice, frozen mango, and banana

I have been working on this post for a long time.  I drink a smoothie almost everyday, but actually following my recipes to make sure all of them are in fact delicious has been a challenge.  I like to create something new everyday, and I often use a lot more than just 3 ingredients.

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dates, pineapple, frozen mixed berries

Here are my favorite 3 ingredient smoothies!  Most of them are winter-friendly, relying heavily on frozen fruits.  The smoothies I love the most are listed first, and then are some other good ones.

Tips before making these smoothies:

  1. If dates are included, use them sparingly, especially if you have never tried them.  I recommend using between 2 and 5, depending on the size of your smoothie.  They are also very calorie dense for being so small.  I love them, but many others do not.  If only a couple are used for a large smoothie, the taste is not easily detected.
  2. Use about 1 or 2 handfuls of greens when needed.
  3. Unless you have a really, really good blender, blend dates and/or greens first with a little water to get them totally blended before adding other ingredients.
  4. Fruits like mango, banana, and/or pineapple should account for the bulk of the smoothie in these recipes.
  5. Use ripe, spotty bananas with no green left for best taste and digestion!
  6. If you like bananas on their own but not in smoothies, try adding them after all the other ingredients have been blended.  Blend for only a short time.  This really helped me.  Freezing them ahead of time also makes a big difference in taste after blending
  7. I use water (and sometimes a little coconut water) to liquify my smoothies, but plant milks can be used as well.
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spinach, frozen mango, and banana

my top 4 combos:

spinach, frozen mango, and banana

coconut water, dates, and banana

frozen mango, spinach, and dates

frozen mixed berries, fresh orange juice, and banana

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coconut water, dates, and banana

more favorites:

dates, frozen pineapple, frozen mixed berries

strawberries (fresh or frozen), spinach, and banana

kale, coconut water, and banana

fresh orange juice, frozen mango, and banana

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frozen mixed berries, orange juice, and banana

other ideas:

pineapple, frozen mango, and kale

blueberries (fresh or frozen), spinach, and frozen mango

banana, frozen mixed berries, and pineapple (fresh or frozen)

 

 

I hope these smoothie ideas will inspire you to drink smoothies, try new things, and create your own combinations.  If you make any of these or have a 3 ingredient smoothie recipe to share, please let me know in the comments!  Thanks 🙂

vegan macaroni-tomato casserole

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Betty Crocker’s 1950 Picture Cook Book has been a favorite of mine for years.  I love the old-style cover, recipe thoroughness, and history snippets about various classic American dishes.  The way the recipes are organized is so simple and clear, and it is amazing how many of them will fit on a single page.  I have read the entire book over and over again, even though the nutrition information is outdated and some of the ‘common ingredients’ of the past are hard to come by today.  I truly love this book.

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Unsurprisingly, hardly anything in the book is vegan.  However, one of my favorite things about vegan cooking is converting old favorites (aka meat and dairy recipes) into vegan ones, preferably without the use of fake meats and cheeses that are specifically for this purpose.

I have never converted much more than a cookie recipe from Betty Crocker’s book, but last night I felt inspired to tackle something a little more difficult: macaroni-tomato casserole.  Betty’s recipe uses butter and over a cup of extra sharp cheese.  I, instead, created a sharp, mustardy cheesy sauce that took the place of both of these ingredients.  I also doubled the recipe to make it a little more substantial for vegans.  Other than that, I mostly followed the recipe.

IT WAS DELICIOUS!  I was not even planning on posting this recipe, but it was so good that I am now OBSESSED and need to share my happiness with the world (rather than my family who has already heard “Oh my gosh that thing I made last night was so good” way too many times).

I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but I had almost all of them on hand, and it only took about a half hour to make (minus cooking time).

If you try this recipe, please let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram @littleplantperson!  Enjoy!

Vegan Macaroni Tomato Casserole:

  • 16 oz macaroni
  • 12 oz silken tofu
  • heaping 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (plus more for topping)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 5 cups cooked tomatoes (I used a mix of stewed, canned diced, and fresh cooked)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • black pepper
  • bell pepper rings (optional topping)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parley (optional topping)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and boil water for macaroni.
  2. Cook macaroni according to package directions or a little less (it will absorb more liquid in the oven).
  3. Blend tofu, nutritional yeast, mustard, garlic powder, paprika, and soy sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth.  It should be thick but pourable, so add a little water if necessary.
  4. If using only fresh tomatoes, cook them in a small pot.  If using canned and fresh, heat/cook them together.  If using only canned, pour them in a medium bowl.  Use all the liquid of canned tomatoes.
  5. Mix the onion powder, basil, and dried parsley into the tomatoes.  Add some black pepper more garlic powder or salt if desired.
  6. In a baking dish, layer half the tomatoes, half the cooked macaroni, a little more than half the cheesy sauce, and black pepper in that order.
  7. Repeat step 6, spreading the cheesy sauce thinly and evenly.
  8. Top the dish with more pepper, paprika, thinly sliced bell pepper rings (see photo), and/or chopped fresh parsley.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes until liquid is absorbed.
  10. Let the dish cool before eating and serve with a vegetable such as steamed green beans if desired.

acne on a high-carb, low-fat diet and face mask recipes

I have been extremely busy with school this past month and a half.  April consisted of contsant studying for AP tests, and May has been filled with events.  Not one week has gone by without an AP test or some sort of ceremony, concert, or convocation, and the hecticness continues with a banquet and a luncheon, two more concerts, another ceremony or two, finals, and, finally, graduation.  After that my life will be overrun with parties, travel, and college preparation.

While all this craziness can be fun and exciting, it is also, at times, very stressful.  For me, with stress comes acne.  I recently posted about all of the health problems I cured on a vegan diet, and acne is one of the few problems that did not get better as a vegan.  In fact, my acne got worse when I first became vegan, especially when I ditched the prescription acne cream and became high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) vegan.

From what I have observed, my biggest acne triggers in the past year since transition to HCLF have been detox, stress, and pool chemicals (I teach swimming).  In my experience, the best way to treat acne is to find the cause and treat that, rather than the acne itself.  Detox was something I just waited out, stress is dealt with by taking as much time for myself as possible by getting enough sleep, exercising, and relaxing, and I avoid the pool as much as possible (without actually quitting my job).

A few months ago, I also started experimenting with face masks.  Much to my surprise, they have really helped!  Below are two very simple recipes for face masks, as well as a list of other useful vegan face mask ingredients to try.  Experiment and enjoy!

Face mask for acne:

Green tea is extremely anti-inflamitory, and rice flour is great for exfoliating.  It feels nice to use the face mask while the green tea is still warm, and it is more likely to do its job on your skin, but cold green tea will work too.

  • warm green tea
  • white rice flour
  1. Mix a couple tablespoons of each in a bowl to form a thick paste.  You will probably want more flour than liquid.
  2. Coat face with mixture (it will be very thick) and rest for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Rinse face with a scrubbing motion to exfoliate.
  4. Moisturize.

After pool face mask:

Pools are generally filled with harmful chemicals that leach healthy oils from skin and hair, causing them to dry out.  This face mask replenishes vitamins E and C with avocado and lemon juice, which will bring dry skin back to life.  It also works well as a hair mask!

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1-3 teaspoons lemon juice
  1. Mash avocado.
  2. Mix with lemon juice, using less if cuts or open pimples are present.
  3. Spread onto face and rinse off after about 10 minutes.

Other face mask ingredients:

Try coming up with your own combinations to find a mix that works well for you.  However, be careful about using any ingredients, especially essential oils, that you are unsure of or may be allergic to.  I have made this mistake before, and your face is not the place to take risks.

  • any citrus juice
  • banana
  • oats/oat flour
  • mashed kiwi
  • mashed strawberry
  • pureed cucumber
  • essential oils

In case you were wondering about the acne I have dealt with, here are some pictures of me before being vegan, during my acne’s worst, and now:

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I have never really had a clear face, but it’s getting better!

early spring market finds and easy potato recipe!

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One of my goals when starting this blog was to provide seasonal vegan recipes for those living in the northern US climate.  While I have put some recipes up since then, I am hoping to make recipes the main focus of this blog as we get more into spring and especially summer and fall.

Here in Michigan, we have gotten some unseasonably warm weather, which probably explains some of the amazing foods I found yesterday! To begin, I went to the farmers market in Detroit.  While there is always plenty of non-local produce to buy there, and some things preserved from the fall, I came across these beautiful, local purple wintergreen onions and a small mixed basket of new Michigan potatoes.  I also made it there in time for spinach grown inside (it pays to go early!), which I was absolutely thrilled about.  Unfortunately, in my excitement, I only bought a tiny bit of these things (especially the potatoes) and am now wishing I had purchased more to last.  When I got home, I found another thing that really surprised me.  Rosemary was growing in our garden outside!  I brought a little inside to cook with my potatoes.

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These plates of food were made with entirely local ingredients.  While they were good as they were, you know (from this post) how Patrick feels about sauce, so I made this ketchup-type sauce to go with it.  Not local or fresh but still tasty and definitely better for our bodies than regular ketchup.

This is how I made the potatoes:

  1. IMG_2635wash and cut potatoes
  2. steam potatoes until mostly cooked
  3. chop white/purple part of several onions
  4. cook chopped onion in pan (I used a nonstick wok)
  5. chop a little fresh rosemary
  6. add potatoes and rosemary to pan
  7. cook until potatoes are starting to brown
  8. chop green part of onions
  9. add amount of desired additional onion
  10. cook everything a little longer
  11. add pepper (optional but recommended)
  12. place hot potatoes on a bed of spinach and enjoy!

This is what I mixed together for the ketchup sauce (which I am planning on tweaking and perfecting and measuring over time):

  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • spoonful of sugar (I used local sugar!!)
  • splash of apple cider vinegar
  • sprinkle each of garlic and onion powder
  • dash of ground mustard
  • tiny pinch of ground cloves
  • black pepper
  • water to thin

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Let me know in the comments how you feel about informal recipes like this one versus the more official and measured ones that I have written for other recipe posts.  Have fun!

health problems cured on a vegetarian and vegan diet

This is a post listing and discussing some of the problems I have cured or improved as a vegan or lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

Eczema.  For most of my childhood, as I can remember, I was plagued with eczema, especially on my feet, ankles, and knees.  I still have faint scars from itching and bleeding.  When going vegetarian and focusing on eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and properly hydrating, my eczema quickly vanished.  I would occasionally feel it start to come back, especially when not properly hydrating, but eczema has not returned since giving up dairy.  Drinking lots of water is very important for eliminating eczema, and, in the winter, putting oils (I like jojoba) on my feet and ankles every week or two makes my skin less dry.

Mental fogginess.  As described in my post about how I got to where I am as a vegan, going vegetarian was like seeing light for the first time.  My grades went from normal to stellar, I found positive friendships for the first time, and I started to get a sense of my place in this world.  In high school, however, things started getting worse consciousness wise because my positive friends had all gone to different schools, I got so much homework that I did not have time to do the things I most enjoyed, and, most significantly, I really started under eating.  During this time was when I went vegan.  Things temporarily got worse because I did not realize how low in calories vegan foods are and how much more I needed to eat.  As soon as I started really trying to eat enough, things got better.  Mental clarity is back!  For me, food and sleep are the most important ingredients for a functional mind (and body).

Tendency to break bones.  I am not really sure if this is a health problem I actually had, or if it was just coincidence, but I was in a cast a lot as a kid.  While I have only broken bones twice, I was in a cast for six months for a broken foot, which took twice the expected healing time and for three months for a broken wrist, and I had a growth plate issue that caused my foot to be in a cast an additional three or four months.  This might not seem like that much, but it all happened within 2 years, the two years before going vegetarian.  While I am still fairly clumsy and injure myself in minor ways all the time, I have not gotten any cast-requiring, bone-breaking injuries since going vegetarian.  Whether or not a vegetarian diet has actually fixed this problem for me is uncertain.  However, acidic foods like meat and dairy have the potential to leach calcium from bones, so I would bet that my bone health is a lot better since changing my diet.

Being overweight.  I was fairly overweight when I was younger.  I was only sort of chubby for most of my life, but when the injuries started coming one after another, my weight became a real problem.  I could not participate in gym class, play sports, or even, in some cases, go for walks outside.  The complete lack of exercise, along with the Standard American Diet, caused me to become quite overweight.  When I went vegetarian, I did not even have to try to lose weight.  Despite having the biggest growth spurt of my life, I was dropping pounds like crazy, and weight loss continued for a solid two years.  My weight has kind of fluctuated since then, but, as you can guess, I am not overweight anymore.

Acid reflux.  A lot of people in my family have issues with acid reflux.  If you do not know what this is, it is an awful burning in the esophagus, usually caused directly by something that was eaten.  Dairy never seemed to be the cause my acid reflux.  I would eat ice cream, cereal with milk, and cheese without any acid reflux problem.  Things like dried fruit and especially orange juice really brought it on.  To my surprise, giving up dairy made acid reflux go away completely.  I now can drink up to four glasses of orange juice, eat as much dried fruit as I want, and enjoy several sour grapefruits without any issues.  Since being vegan, acid reflux has only reappeared thrice, once when accidentally consuming something containing chicken broth, another time from eating too many underripe bananas, and lastly from a multi-vitamin designed for vegan teenagers that I stopped taking.

Easy bruising.  Even while I was vegetarian, friends used to say, “Abby, you bruise like a peach.”  This was totally truthful.  I often had ten bruises on my two legs alone, with new ones perpetually arriving as old ones went away.  My hips were black and blue.  My arms and wrists had bruises too.  I was probably deficient in something.  Well, over the years, especially since transitioning to veganism, my bruising seems to be normal.  Rather than being dark, black, blue, and purple, my bruises now are usually light pink, and I have between zero and three at any given time.  Thanks veganism!

Dry and rash-prone skin.  I already touched on this in describing how I cured eczema, but I want to mention how the vegan diet and lifestyle has made my skin even better.  Even while I was vegetarian, I would use expensive lotion all the time to keep my skin under control.  I have very, very sensitive skin, and I have gotten rashes as a result of clothing, soaps and lotions, allergies, the cold, dry air, chlorine, and other things.  Switching to a vegan diet, discontinuing my use of non-vegan lotions and soaps, and choosing sustainable vegan clothing has improved my skin tremendously.  Chlorine (I work at a pool) still causes me problems, but the vegan lifestyle really has fixed almost all of my skin problems.

Poor digestion.  When I was lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I had really, really bad digestion.  Having one bowel movement a week was totally normal for me, and it was awful.  Now that I don’t have dairy and eggs blocking my colon, my digestion is great!  Other than that and eating a whole lot of fruit, I have found that drinking enough water, getting good sleep, exercising, and limiting my intake of things I know cause me issues also helps with my digestion.

Headaches.  Headaches have been an on and off issue for me.  I got a concussion in ninth grade, which was when I started having significant headaches and motion sickness for the first time.  In tenth and eleventh grade, I had headaches all the time, even though I was vegetarian and vegan.  I eventually realized that my headaches, even now, are caused by two primary things: lack of food and lack of sleep.  The headache even concentrates in two different areas of my head for these two causes.  All I have to do is sleep and eat (especially carbs), and my headache will usually get better or go away completely.  Surprisingly, eating even helps me with motion sickness.  I know these things will not fix everyone’s headaches, but being hungry and especially tired is never good for a headache.

Depressive symptoms.  The period of my life during which symptoms of depression were a significant issue ended with my discovery of high-carb, low-fat veganism.  What do people crave when they are feeling low?  Carbs.  Carbohydrates make people happy, and they have the potential to be healthy, as long as they aren’t coated in chemicals, hormones, and unnatural amounts of fat.  Eating lots of low-fat carbohydrates such as fruit, rice, and potatoes really did make my life better.

Allergies.  This is a big one.  Allergies started to affect me when I was a little kid.  I missed so much school, thinking I was sick, that I got behind in math and reading, and I often felt too ill to play outside.  In fourth grade, I missed at least one day of school each week.  I began taking allergy medicine in fifth grade, and it helped a lot, but after a while, over-the-counter drugs did not work anymore, so I started getting prescription medicine.  I am allergic to lots of things, such as flowers and grass and trees and dust and cats and dogs, and they usually cause me to have itchy eyes, a stuffy nose, rashes, and/or a sore throat.  I used prescription allergy medicine for six years.  Last year, right around the time I started looking into high-carb veganism, I decided to stop using it.  At first, I felt a lot better.  I noticed that i was a lot less tired, and I did well on 8.5 hours of sleep, unlike the 10 or so I needed before.  Mental clarity also seemed to improve a little.  Going through the seasons and spending time with friends who have pets has shown me that my allergies are not cured, but they are better.  I do not miss any school due to allergies, and I only notice a sore throat in the morning when I did not properly hydrate the day before.  I can usually spend about 20 minutes around pets themselves before having problems, but this really depends on the pet.  This might still sound bad to some people, but it is an unimaginable improvement.  It also makes me happy that I do not have to rely on pills anymore to feel healthy.

These are the problems that have been fixed or improved through the vegan and vegetarian diet and lifestyle.  While I know not all problems can be cured this way, diet has a huge impact on health, and vegan testimonials regarding all sorts of problems can be found throughout the Internet.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section!

last minute vegan school lunch ideas

IMG_2537I am a person who likes to plan ahead.  I try to know my schedule the day before, right down to what I will be eating for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner.  However, I, like just about everyone, find myself in unplanned, pinched-for-time situations in which I need to put a meal together fast.  This happens especially at 7:45 AM, right before school.

The recipes here are some of my best quick school lunches.  I talk about a variety of foods, and I hope that at least some of them are standard kitchen staples for those of you reading this.  The times for preparation of these meals range from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.  And, while some are only ideas for the extraordinarily desperate last minute lunch packer, many are legitimate recipes that are both delicious and wholesome.

I hope you enjoy these food tips and recipes.  Good luck with your last minute lunch!

Bunch of bananas (30 sec):  Bananas are actually really healthy and IMG_2556okay to eat in large quantities.  They contain almost every nutrient the human body needs, including a bit of protein.  For this lunch, just grab a bunch of bananas, and bring it with you to school, work, etc.  If there is time, you can also take some nut, seed, or peanut butter to eat with your bananas.

While I am sure most people reading this have seen bananas before or at least know what they look like, I have included the image of them for a reason.  The bananas here are fully yellow, covered in spots, and relatively soft, which means that they are ripe and ready to eat.  Unripe bananas, which have green areas and no brown spots, are much harder for the body to digest than ripe, spotty bananas.  This makes it more difficult and less likely for the body to absorb all of the good nutrients bananas contain.  Unripe bananas can also cause stomach aches, acid reflux, and constipation.  You certainly should not eat a whole bunch of underripe bananas.  Save your bananas for when they are ripe, and your body will thank you.

Melon (1 min):  Cut a melon (or two if they’re small) in half, and pack a spoon to eat it with.  Done!

IMG_2539Bag of fruit and/or vegetables (1 min):  Fill a grocery bag or several smaller bags or containers with whatever random fruits and vegetables you can find.  Clementines, oranges, baby carrots, and small bits of leftover vegetables are typical at my house, but the possibilities here are, clearly, endless.  If you go with this meal, just make sure you bring a lot because fruits and vegetables are low in calories and will not get you as far as you think.

Dried fruit and/or nuts (1 min):  This is something I bring all the time. Just grab whatever dried fruit or nuts you have, and throw them in a container.  I like dried mango, raisins, dried cherries, and almonds.

Cereal (2 min):  While I personally have never brought dry cereal for lunch at school, I do know people who bring it regularly.  Ensure the vegan-friendliness of your cereal, and pack along some plant milk or yogurt to eat it with.  If you are super low on time, you can just grab the box and go.

Juice (2 min):  In most situations, I would not recommend juice as a meal.  However, something is better than nothing, especially at school, so bring a big container of juice (100% juice is best), and sip it throughout the day to get you through as a last resort.  Because pulpy orange juice contains most of the nutrients and fiber of a whole orange, it works well as a meal replacement.  If there is the option, choose orange juice for a last minute lunch.

Now onto some simple recipes…IMG_2530

 

Hummus and vegetable sandwich (5 min):  Take two pieces of bread or a wrap (ensure vegan-friendliness) and smear lots of hummus or other hearty dip (ensure vegan-friendliness) on both pieces.  Fill sandwich with whatever vegetables you have.  Here I used baby carrots, cucumber, red bell pepper, and sunflower sprouts.IMG_2525  I also like spinach, other types of sprouts, tomato, avocado, lettuce, cooked potatoes, and banana peppers.  I recommend using whole wheat or gluten free bread for optimal nutritional value.  Also, because my bread is small, I will eat about two or three of these sandwiches for a meal.

Can of beans (5 min):  While you could just eat a can of plain beans, you could also turn those beans into something a little more exciting.IMG_2532  Make a dressing for your beans using apple cider vinegar and mustard, Sriracha and soy sauce, or salsa and mashed avocado, then add in some vegetables.  The very easiest thing to do is to add frozen vegetables, especially peas or corn.  The vegetables can thaw throughout the morning, ready to eat around lunchtime.  Here I took black beans, frozen corn, and chopped bell pepper with no dressing.  I only used about half a can of beans here because I ate this along with a microwaved sweet potato, described below and shown above.

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Leftover grains (5 min):  Leftover grains are probably my favorite
lunch food.  You can eat them plain, with raw vegetables, cooked vegetables, frozen vegetables, other grains, and/or with some kind of sauce.  Here I took barley, raw spinach ripped into pieces, frozen mixed vegetables, and a little apple cider vinegar and dijon mustard.  There are so many possibilities with this kind of meal.  The next time you cook grains, make a little extra for quick lunches like this.

Microwaved potatoes (10 min):  I normally stay away from the microwave.  Even though I know (roughly) how it works and that it is safe, the microwave still kind of freaks me out by cooking food so very fast.  However, I do recommend trying a microwaved potato at least once because it is a huge time saver in those moments when there is nothing else to eat.  Wet a paper towel, and wrap it around a clean white or sweet potato.  Microwave the potato on high for 5-8 minutes until soft.  My medium-sized sweet potato took 6 minutes.  Enjoy the potato as is or pair it with my quick bean recipe described above!

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If you try any of these tips or recipes, let me know in the comments, especially if it saved you time, was good as a school lunch, or was eaten at another time of day and/or place.  I love to read feedback!

top 5 sweet potato sauce

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Whenever I make a meal for my friend Patrick, I demand a solid opinion out of him about the food because I genuinely want to improve my cooking.  Usually when I follow recipes (or attempt to follow recipes), he says the food is good, but there is never enough sauce for his liking.  Well, one day I decided to throw a bunch of stuff in a pan and turn it into the thick, flavorful sauce he had been looking for.  I had not intended it to be particularly amazing, but we both loved it.  Although this recipe for “top 5 sweet potato sauce” has been altered slightly from my original creation, Patrick still considers this sauce to be one of the top 5 best things I have made.  In fact, he said he may even like this version better.

Eat this on wheat pasta (we used fettuccine), with bread, mixed with rice or barley, with gluten-free pasta (brown rice quinoa spaghetti would be my recommendation), on greens, or however you want!  I can even see this being turned into a soup or a potato mash.  Let me know in the comments if you tried it, what you thought, and how you ate it/what you ate it with!

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Top 5 Sweet Potato Sauce:

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 big onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce (optional)
  • 2 large fresh tomatoes or 1  14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • 1 cup water (plus a little more)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees, and roast whole sweet potatoes with skins for 45 min to 1 hour until soft.
  2. Chop onion, mince garlic, and dice tomatoes separately.
  3. Cook onions and garlic at medium heat in a very large pan or medium pot.  A little water should be added to prevent sticking and for easy combining in the next step.
  4. Add tomato paste, chili garlic sauce, and more water if necessary.  Mix until no clumps of tomato paste remain.
  5. When sweet potatoes are cool enough to touch, cut them into pieces and add them to the pan, leaving skins on if your blender or food processor will be able to pulverize them.
  6. Add tomatoes, herbs, cup of water, and pepper.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes (until tomatoes are cooked if using fresh).
  7. Turn off the heat, and, if necessary, allow sauce to cool before pureeing it with a standing blender or food processor or immersion blender.  Blend the sauce until it is smooth, creamy, and homogenous in texture.  Adding more water at this point may be necessary.
  8. Taste the sauce, and add more pepper if desired.  For a creamier sauce, almond milk can also be added here.
  9. Enjoy this sauce with pasta and greens or however you wish!
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We ate ours with fettuccine pasta and raw spinach. Kale and collard greens are also great here.