Monday, January 27, 2014

A Few Pics From the Weekend

Hope you all had a great weekend!  We enjoyed the most beautiful weather I have ever seen, only to be followed today by temperatures in the teens and twenties with 50 mph wind gusts!  Some way to start the work week.

Here is a quick weekend recap in picture form.

Puppies!  Lots of naps + walks.
An amazing Ethiopian dinner.  Jay and I found a new restaurant in our area, and we cannot get enough.
A wonderful 3-mile run with a friend. 
We ran our way right into a local bar and rested up with a refreshing drink.
Followed by another drink with Jay on the back patio.  It was just too nice not to be outside!
A BBQ tempeh dinner while watching a live Google Hangout with Dr. Michael Greger (or "Nerd Man" as we call him) of
Jay and I posted three different questions, and we were so excited when he actually answered all three!  He even said my name and thanked me!!  I know, we are so cool. 
That's about all the excitement around here.  It's only Monday, but I am already getting geared up for next weekend.  Jay turns the big 3-0, and we have some super fun activities planned.  Adios!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Soy Joy: Easy Ways to Prepare Tofu & Tempeh

Since I don't eat much meat, soy products play a big role in my diet.  Soy is great because it is one of the only plant-based sources of complete protein and is full of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and isoflavones.

Soy sometimes gets a bad rap because of it's concentrated amount of isoflavones, which basically act as plant estrogens.  People worry about consuming these estrogens, when, in reality, isoflavones are 1000 times weaker than human estrogens and actually have many positive non-hormonal effects on the body.  Strong research has shown that isoflavones regulate cell growth and can help prevent many types of cancers.  People in Asia eat tons of soy, and they are some of the healthiest people with the lowest cancer rates in the world!

Here is a good video by Dr. Oz on the truth about soy.

As with all foods, it is better to eat soy in whole forms, such as edamame, tofu, and tempeh, rather than ultra-processed products (think soy hot dogs).  Each week, I usually pick up one block of organic tofu and one package of organic tempeh at the store.  I drink almond milk and don't buy too many fake meats or cheeses (aside from Daiya on occasion), so the tofu and tempeh account for most of my soy intake (around four servings per week).

Tofu is wonderful because it easily absorbs the flavor of spices and marinades (and it's cheap!).  The longer you let it sit, the stronger the flavor will be, so it is good to plan a little ahead.  I like to cook with extra-firm tofu, and I usually press it first for 30 minutes or so (although I am not entirely sure how necessary this step is??).  To press, just wrap the tofu up in a paper towel and place between two plates.  Put something heavy on top (like a giant book) and let it sit.

My favorite thing to do lately is to marinate tofu and then roll it around in some nutritional yeast before cooking.
I made a delicious pan-fried tofu the other night with only three ingredients.  First, I cut the tofu up into 1/2 inch thick strips, drizzled liquid aminos on both sides, and let it sit for 20(ish) minutes.  Then, I sprinkled nutritional yeast all over the strips and fried them in a cast-iron skillet with some olive oil over medium heat. If you let it get good and brown on each side, the nutritional yeast will turn into a crispy, cheesy crust.
Served here with some quinoa and roasted brussels sprouts.  Yum!
I loved it so much that I used the same method on Thursday night, except this time I used a mixture of liquid aminos and dijon mustard to marinate.  I then coated the strips with nutritional yeast and baked them in the oven at 425 for around 40 minutes, turning once halfway through.

I sauteed some kale and roasted up a butternut squash for the sides.  It was equally amazing!
You can eat these tofu strips on their own or add them into stir-fries, salads, "big bowls," etc.  I love to use roasted tofu in the pad thai recipe I shared a while back.

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and is much denser and nuttier tasting than tofu.  I save my tempeh for nights when I don't have as much time to cook, since it doesn't have to be pressed in advance.  My favorite way to prepare tempeh is in "bacon" form, but there are lots of other tasty ways to enjoy it.
This BBQ tempeh with brown rice and roasted veggies was a big hit at our house.  To make the tempeh, I used the following:
  • 1 8-ounce package of tempeh
  • water for simmering
  • 2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
To prepare, start by simmering the tempeh in a bit of water for 8-10 minutes.  (I read somewhere to do this, but, again, not sure if it's really necessary.)

Once drained and cooled, slice tempeh in half width-wise (like a bagel), then into fourths.

Blend the olive oil and soy sauce, pour it over the tempeh, and let it marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Line a baking pan with foil and transfer marinated tempeh to pan. Bake for 10 minutes then remove from oven.

Brush tempeh with barbecue sauce on both sides, then return tempeh to the oven for another 10-20 minutes, or until sauce has baked on.

Tempeh also crumbles well, so it can be used in place of ground beef in tons of recipes, from tacos to spaghetti.  A while back, I used crumbled up tempeh to make these super easy sloppy joes.
I just sauteed some peppers, onions, garlic, and crumbled tempeh in olive oil.  Let it all simmer in BBQ or sloppy joe sauce for a while so that the tempeh absorbs the flavor, and serve on a bun or bread of your choice.

I hope you liked these easy ideas for preparing tofu and tempeh!  Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Building a Perfect Bowl of Oatmeal

Hello there!  I hope you were all able to enjoy an extra day of weekend yesterday!  Jay and I spent most of our weekend in Kansas City.  We drove up to surprise one of my BFFs on her 30th birthday!
It was so much fun to celebrate with Eva and catch up with lots of old friends.

The weekend ended back in OKC with more friends + a tasty black bean soup courtesy of my Peas and Thank You cookbook (an excellent vegan resource!).
My two girlfriends and I were lucky enough to dine with a hot date.  Hola Juan Pablo.  : )
I also had a chance to enjoy a fantastic oatmeal breakfast yesterday morning, which brings me to the main topic of this blog post.
I love oatmeal because is tasty, healthy, and keeps me full for hours.  It can be doctored up in so many fun ways - I hardly ever eat the same bowl twice.  I do, however, follow a similar formula every time I make a batch of oats.   It is a surefire way to end up with a delicious and filling breakfast!

Step 1: For one serving of oatmeal, bring one cup of water plus a very small pinch of salt to a boil.  Stir in 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all water is absorbed.

Step 2: Add your mix-ins.  This is the fun part!  I like to include the following:
  • Nuts - Nuts are a great way to add protein and healthy fat to your breakfast.  Jay and I always buy whatever's on sale in the bulk bins at the grocery store and add them into a big jar in our pantry.  (Buyer beware - nuts are heavy, so it is easy to rack up a big tab quickly!)  We usually use a mixture of walnuts, pecans, cashews, and almonds.  
  • Seeds - We keep another jar stocked full of a chia seed/flax seed mixture.  Did you know that chia seeds absorb 10 times their weight in water?!  They expand in your stomach, helping you feel full for hours.  And chia seeds and flax seeds are both extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • Nut Butter - Another source of healthy fat and protein, nut butters add amazing favor and texture to oatmeal.  For me, this ingredient is non-negotiable! 
  • Fruit - Berries are delicious in oatmeal and pack the highest nutritional punch, although bananas and pumpkin are also some of my faves.  Dried fruits, like raisins, dried cranberries, and shredded coconut, are great additions, as well. 
  • Spices 
    • Cinnamon - I always load up my oatmeal with tons of cinnamon.  It tastes delicious and helps to control blood sugar throughout the day.
    • Turmeric - Lately, Jay has been experimenting with some other spices in his oatmeal, the weirdest one being turmeric.  Turmeric is arguably the healthiest spice on the planet, so we try to incorporate it as much as possible.  I was pretty skeptical about using it in oatmeal, but Jay insisted that it was really good.  I tried it out a couple mornings ago using a pretty generous amount, and I have to say it wasn't half bad.  I was afraid it would leave my breakfast tasting like a spicy Indian curry dish, but the flavor was actually very subtle and slightly exotic.  Since then, I have continued to add in a pinch of this powerful spice!
  • Natural sweeteners - I sweeten up my oats with a bit of local honey, pure maple syrup, or all-fruit jelly. 
  • Coconut Oil - This ingredient is definitely optional, but adding a small scoop of this healthy oil into warm oats really ups the creaminess factor! 
There you have it - the formula to making a great tasting and nutritious oatmeal breakfast!

Hooray for tomorrow already being Wednesday!  Have a great week!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Guest Post By Jay {Part II}: Water Quality

In part one of this blog post, I explained how to make lemon sparkling water from home. In this part, I will talk about why I think the water quality going into the keg (or your body) is important.
When we moved into our new house, I started doing some research on the water quality in our area. I guess I was just curious about where it came from and how it got this far out to our house. Anyway, after doing some investigating, I concluded that not all water sources are equal. The best option would be to bottle water from a natural spring nearby (  Ain't nobody got time for that!

The next option is to research the tap water at your house and make a decision as to whether or not you want to drink it. You can easily find your annual Consumer Confidence Report online by checking out the EPA website.

You can see what the Oklahoma City water quality report looks like here. After looking over this report, I decided to add an additional reverse osmosis (RO) water filtration system to our house for drinking water. I was particularly concerned about the following: 
  • Fluoride - The debate on whether or not it is harmful routinely comes up on the internet and in the news. I really don't know what to think about it. My opinion is that most things that are truly essential to the human body can be found in nature. 
  • Arsenic - Our report has a max contamination level of 10 ppb when the goal should be 0 ppb. Oklahoma is known for having naturally occurring arsenic, but that doesn't mean I want to drink it! The last time I checked, arsenic is a poison. 
  • Lead - Our report has a max contamination level of 15 ppb when the goal should be 0 ppb. There is a reason we don't use lead paint or plumbing anymore in houses. 
  • Trihalomethanes, Haloacetic acid, Bromate - All byproducts of the water disinfection and chlorination process. What are they???
  • Pharmaceuticals - I occasionally hear about this also, and it makes complete sense. There are a lot of drugs (and supplements) out there that somehow can get into the water supply. For example, when people urinate out all these things, then flush the toilet - where do you think that water goes? 
  • Chromium 6 - This is a naturally occurring mineral that is not currently on the water quality report. On part 2 of Dr. Oz's video about drinking water, he reveals that Chromium 6 is 1000 times too high in Norman, OK! Here are links to the Dr. Oz water videos:
  • Link between cancer and heavy metals - Oklahoma has a lot of naturally occurring heavy metals in the drinking water. I worry about the link between these heavy metals and estrogen sensitive cancers. 
Now a little more about the system that I purchased for about $170 on Amazon and installed: 
Our RO system removes EVERYTHING. We even have to add back ¼ tsp of Himalayan sea salt per gallon of water for taste, electrolytes, and minerals. This is the best system for removing heavy metals, and it works by using the house's water pressure to force water through a membrane. For this reason, it does waste some water in the process.  

The type of water filtration system you personally decide on is a separate issue, but just about any filter is better than nothing. It really depends on what you are trying to remove from the water. Check out what our filters looked like after 1 year:

We could have been ingesting all that junk!

Dr. Mercola is a little over the top, but here is a good article about how harmful things in your water can affect your health.

I encourage you to do some research and decide what is best for your situation. In my opinion, if you find anything questionable in your water quality report, let someone else be the guinea pig and buy a filter (It is better to buy a filter than BE a filter!).

Blogging was a lot harder than I thought it would be, so I hope that you enjoyed it! It might be awhile before I do it again!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Recent Happenings and a "SOUP"erfood Recipe

Good afternoon!  Hope you are having a great week so far...almost halfway there!  It has been a busy week around here, but luckily we were well-rested after a low-key and relaxing weekend.  I got lots of to-dos taken care of, including recovering Wendy and Oliver's pet steps in a cute chevron fabric.  (The carpet that they came with was falling off, so it just had to be done.)  Wendy is very pleased with the new look.
The weather was nicer-than-average, and on Saturday I had the best run I've had in at least 6 months.  It was a great feeling, and now I'm starting to get the itch to sign up for some kind of race in the spring.  To celebrate, I made these pomegranate mimosas:

I also bought a ton of veggies at the grocery store, only to realize that, between Jay's work schedule and a couple of social obligations, we are only both going to be at home for dinner one night this week.  In an effort to not let things go to waste, I put together a creamy, dairy-free broccoli "superfood" soup last night.  It was inspired by a recipe I saw recently in a Humane Society e-mail.  The soup was tasty and about as healthy as it gets!
Broccoli Superfood Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large leek (the white part only), chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon thyme
2-3 cups broccoli florets
4 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste

1. Finely chop the broccoli and, if you have time, wait half an hour (see video below).

2. Using a bit of olive oil, saute the leeks, onion, and garlic in a large saucepan over medium heat for approximately 2 minutes.  

3. Add in sweet potato and saute for a few more minutes.  If the ingredients begin sticking to the pan, pour in 1-2 tablespoons of water.

3. Add the thyme and cook for another minute, then add the broccoli and vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. Continue to cook the mixture, covered, until broccoli and sweet potatoes are tender (about 10-15 minutes).

4. Add nutritional yeast and carefully puree the soup using an immersion blender.

5. Season with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper.  Of course, I also added a little Sriracha to mine. 

So what makes this soup so healthy?  Check out these great resources:

Broccoli:  Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable video
Garlic, onion, and leeks: #1 Anti-cancer Vegetable video
Why the pre-chopping and half-hour waiting period? Sometimes the Enzyme Myth Is True video

Can you tell I am a big fan of  The guy is SUCH a nerd, but he provides the best research-based info on the web.  

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Guest Post by Jay {Part I} - How to Make Your Own Sparkling Water

I have been wanting to write a guest post for some time now, and since today is the last day of my winter break, it’s probably now or never! Because this may turn into a long post, I will break it up into two parts - part one being on how to make sparkling water from home, and part two on the quality of the water going into the keg.


This may sound like a lame gift, but I gave Laura her own sparkling water system for Christmas. It is kind of like a Soda Stream on steroids. I simply added another home brew kegging system to our current kegerator. You can purchase all this equipment online and convert any refrigerator or freezer.  (If you are interested in building your own kegerator, you can find instructions here.)

My kegerator resides in the garage.  Here is what it looks like:

Laura has been putting lemon-lime water in the keg, although you can use just about any fruit or vegetable to flavor the water. Not only is this habit delicious, it's also a very good way to keep your antioxidant levels up. Here is a great video by that explains why this is important:
I like to think of the recommended daily allowance for antioxidants as a steady amount flowing in the bloodstream, rather than a giant bucket that needs to be filled up just once per day.

Making lemon-lime sparkling water is simple!

Step 1: Add lemon and/or lime juice to your keg. We used roughly one cup of fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice for a 5 gallon ball lock keg. A great trick for getting more juice from the lemon or lime is to microwave it for about 15 seconds before squeezing.

You could also use other fresh fruits or juices to flavor the water.  We plan to experiment with pomegranate juice, berries, and more.

Step 2: Fill up the 5 gallon keg with water and cool it to 32 degrees (or as close to it as possible).  You can use ice or just put the keg in the kegerator for a while to cool. Leave a little bit of room at the top for carbonating and shaking purposes.
Step 3: Pressurize the keg to 30 psi and shake for about 5 minutes. This will carbonate the water. 

Step 4: Reduce the pressure to 12 psi and serve!



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Back to the Gym (Plus an Upper/Lower Body Combo Workout)

This past weekend, I went back to the gym for the first time since having surgery on December 16th.  I forgot how busy it gets after the start of the year.  Clearly I am not the only one trying to get back in the swing of things!

I was surprised at how strong I felt after taking three weeks off from any sort of exercise (aside from walking).  I didn't attempt any moves that were too overly intense, but it was still a pretty tough workout, all things considered.  I'm still feeling it after a couple of days.  It probably doesn't help that I started back to work yesterday with a brand new group of 150 seventh graders.  I am exhausted!

The workout I put together focused mainly on cardio combined with arm and leg exercises.  I didn't want to attempt too many ab moves just yet, since that area is still a bit weak.
This workout could be easily tailored to any ability level.  Just up the intensity of the cardio and increase your weights for more of a challenge, or vice versa.  Hope you enjoy!  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Some Recent Healthy Eats

I hope 2014 is off to a great start for all of you!  I'm not too big on resolutions, but after the holidays I've been eager to get back to healthy eating and exercising.  We've finally gotten back in the cooking groove around here, and it feels great.

One recipe source I have been referencing a lot lately is a book called No Meat Athlete by Matt Frazier.
It is full of great plant-based recipes that are genuinely easy and really tasty.  The ingredients are specifically chosen to provide athletes (and I use that term loosely) with the nutrition they need to live a healthy, active lifestyle without animal products.  Jay is currently reading the book and plans to try out one of the half-marathon training plans for his next race.  As of now, I have mainly just read through the recipe section, but I can't wait to read the rest of the book cover-to-cover once Jay is done with it.

We tried a couple recipes from the book this past week, and they were both fantastic.

White Bean Coconut Curry
Super Quick Red Lentils and Rice
On New Years day, I was determined to incorporate some black eyed peas into one of our meals for good luck, so I made a quick "Hoppin' John" salad for lunch. I sauteed green peppers, onions, black eyed peas, and hot sauce, and served it over a spinach salad with a lemon juice/sea salt dressing, cilantro, and some sprouts. Sort of random, but it tasted great.
Another night, we cooked up a superfood packed dinner of wild-caught salmon, risotto, sauteed kale, and sweet potato with coconut oil.  I marinated the salmon in a mixture of olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey, and minced ginger (another superfood!) and baked it for 15 minutes at 400.  So good!
I also made my favorite Eggplant Parmesan recipe on Friday and served it over spaghetti squash instead of pasta.  It was a great way to squeeze in even more veggies than usual.  
At some point I got hit with a major chocolate craving, so I tried out these Black Bean Brownies from "Chocolate Covered Katie."
I pretty much followed the recipe exactly (although I had to extend the cooking time a bit), so I will just let you refer to the link above if you want to try them out.  The only thing I did differently was add in a tablespoon of instant coffee to give the brownies a little kick.  These were SO good and did not taste anything like beans.  (Apparently I have a thing for making bean-y desserts.  I still love the Pumpkin Banana Bean Bars from Forks Over Knives.)

I hope this post inspired you to make some healthy meals in the upcoming week!  Stay warm out there!

Friday, January 3, 2014

DIY Laundry Soap Gifts

I've been loving the homemade laundry soap that I've been using, so much so that my mom and I decided to make gifts out of it for Christmas!  (I know this post is quite belated, but I didn't want to risk any of the recipients seeing their gifts ahead of time.)  We figured the soap would make unique and useful presents, since laundry is something that unfortunately we all must do.

We started off with 24 1-liter Ball jars, 5 boxes of Borax, 5 boxes of washing soda, and 10 bars of Fels Naptha soap (to which we later added two more).  It was quite the operation.  

We made two batches at a time, using a food processor to grate the soap and then shaking up all the ingredients in a big plastic bucket.  (You can see the exact recipe here.)
We then carefully transferred the soap into the jars.  It took a total of approximately 12 batches to fill them all up.

To finish up the project, we tied some cute tags (borrowed and printed out from this website) to each jar with some natural jute string and signed our names plus the batch number.
It was a long afternoon of soap making, but I was really happy with the end result.  The gifts have been a big hit with all of our family and friends.  I felt like it was a fun alternative to all the typical baked goods and candies that are so common around the holidays.

Laundry soap could make a fun gift at other times of year, too.  I think it would make a really cute housewarming present, among other things.  Anything to make this never-ending chore a bit more enjoyable!