Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Plant-Based Kitchen Essentials

In honor of Earth Day tomorrow I wanted to share the top ten kitchen essentials that help to make plant-based living as enjoyable, efficient, and eco-friendly as possible in my home. These items save time, help cut back on plastic waste, and allow me to try fun, flavorful new recipes every day!

You certainly don't need a kitchen full of gadgets to incorporate more whole foods into your lifestyle-- but the more you can simplify preparing and cooking your food, the more likely you are to enjoy the process... and the final result!
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 A Sharp Knife
If you're eating a lot of plants, that means you'll be slicing and dicing more often. I cannot express the importance of a decent knife for these tasks. When I removed meat from my diet, my knife needs changed. That sounds weird, but it's true! I don't need a big block set of utensils and steak knives. I use one good quality knife every single day, and that's truly all I need. I also have a bread knife on hand, but I rarely use it. I use Calphalon because I've been gifted with many of their items over the years from relatives who work for the company, but any brand will do if it slices through your food with ease.

Dual Citrus Squeezer
There are a lot of citrus juicing tools out there, but this kind is easy to use and easy to clean, and the slits allow the juice to escape while also catching stray seeds. Lemon juice is often used to enhance the flavor of veggie dishes and vegan "cheese" recipes, so I'm pulling this out constantly. Fresh lemon juice has anti-viral and immune-boosting powers, so do yourself a favor and juice them as you need them instead of buying bottled lemon juice. You'll be using less plastic and gaining countless nutrients! I use this one, but I see other versions at the grocery store all the time.
Garlic Press
Some might turn up their nose at the idea of using a garlic press, but I'm not trying to win Top Chef over here so they can take their noses elsewhere. If a gadget can save me time, energy, and help me avoid garlic fingers, then I'm sold. Garlic is a great source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties-- but only when it's FRESH. Ditch that tub of minced garlic if you're hoping to reap the nutritional benefits and incredible flavor of the real thing. A garlic press will help keep your hands clean and your nutrient intake high, and that's one less container you have to throw away or recycle!



Steamer Basket
Steaming is one of my favorite ways to prepare veggies and greens because it helps to retain the nutrients of the plants. Boiling, on the other hand can rob your food of its nutrients. This inexpensive vegetable steamer is versatile and easy to use. I bring an inch or two of water to a boil and set this inside of or on top of the pot. In just a few minutes, your veggies are ready to go! This is the one in my kitchen, but there are several other types out there to choose from.

Herb Keeper
When I first saw an herb keeper, I assumed it was one of those frivolous items that retailers make you think you need, but oh was I wrong. If herbs aren't watered, they'll wilt rapidly in the fridge. I don't know about you, but I rarely use the entire bunch when I buy herbs for a recipe, and this little guy does an incredible job of keeping them fresh. I've tried storing herbs in cups or mason jars with a plastic baggie covering the top, but the results were definitely not the same. I have the older plastic version of this one, which is now made with glass! 





High-Powered Blender
I have the Ninja Ultima, which is sort of like the cheaper little brother to the Vitamix, and I absolutely love it. I use it to make soups, smoothies, cashew "cheese" sauces, salad dressings, banana "milkshakes," and so much more. A high powered blender is the one appliance that I'd encourage plant-curious peeps to invest in because it is so versatile and powerful. I love that the Ninja came with individual size travel cups and a smaller blade, which I use even more often than the large pitcher these days.

Food Processor
I debated leaving this one off the list, since a good quality blender can perform many of the same tasks, but there's still a special place in my heart for my food processor. I use this bad boy to chop and shred vegetables (in seconds!), to puree beans, to knead doughs and mixes, and to make nut butters and banana ice cream. If you have the ability to add this small appliance to your kitchen, you will definitely save yourself time that would otherwise have been spent at the cutting board.


Mason Jars
Oh, mason jars. What aren't they good for, really? I bought a pack of the quart sized jars last year, thinking I'd mostly use them to store dry goods in the pantry. Since then I've also started using them to hold my salads for the week, and I even use them as drinking glasses because I'm cheap and hey, why not? It's easy to track how many ounces you're taking in throughout the day as the measurements are listed right on the jar! They're cheap (less than $20 for a dozen), and are usually BPA free and made in the U.S.!


Glass Storage Containers with Lids
We all know not to microwave our food in plastic anymore, right? Right. I love having various sizes of glass storage containers on hand for easy-to-grab leftovers and homemade dips and nut butter. Brands like Pyrex are freezer and oven-safe too, so you can bake or re-heat without having to dirty another dish. Win! I can't get enough of these. In fact, I need to add another set to my collection soon...


Glass Straws
My brother gave me these straws for Christmas last year, and while they don't necessarily save me time in the kitchen, they certainly have helped me cut down on waste and the annoyance of plastic straws that bend and crack. The Hummingbird brand is made in the United States and is sturdy and easy to clean. I love how solid these straws are! I recommend rinsing them out immediately after use or cleaning can become more difficult.


So there you have it! My favorites. If you're hoping to add more to your kitchen lineup, don't feel like it needs to happen all at once. Remember these items at holidays, or when you have a retail gift card burning a hole in your wallet. Start to accumulate them slowly over time, and before you know it your kitchen will be stocked with items that will make your life easy breezy.

What are YOUR favorite kitchen gadgets?!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Meatout: Eat Vegan for a Day!

My goal is not to tell people how to eat or to guilt anyone into shifting toward this lifestyle. I truly believe that better health can be achieved for all by simply incorporating more whole plant-based foods into our daily diets- plain and simple. And the benefits don't stop with our health! Cutting back on meat and dairy has an incredible impact on our environment and on the welfare of the animals we farm. 

It's so easy to get lost in the crowd and feel discouraged. There have been many times that I've struggled and questioned whether my choices would ever be enough to make a difference, but I always come back to the "big three" that motivates me every single day: Our health, our planet, and the treatment of creatures that have no voice. Truly, everything I value in life fits into that list.

On March 20th, Meatout is challenging people across the globe to cut out animal products for just one day. One day. Three meals. That's it! Do you think you could do it? I know you can!

The Meatout website is filled with recipes and advice to help everyone succeed in this challenge. They have meal suggestions for cooks of all skill levels, as well as a listing of plant-based menu options at popular restaurants. Check it out!


When discouragement sets in, sometimes numbers speak louder than words! According to meatout.org, giving up animal products has an incredible impact on that big three:

Eating plant-based for one day: Saves 3,400 gallons of water and 148 square feet of rain forest per year

1-2 days per week: Saves 44 animals, 11,550 square feet of rain forest, and 288,600 gallons of water each year

3-4 days per week: Saves 102 animals, 26,950 square feet of rain forest, and 673,400 gallons of water each year

Every day: Saves 204 animals, 53,900 square feet of rain forest, and more than 1.3 MILLION gallons of water each year.


I've been plant-based for almost two years now, which means that I've saved more than two million gallons of water. Holy cows!

If you're up for this EASY and IMPACTFUL challenge and are looking for fun new recipes to try, some of my favorite resources are Forks Over Knives, Engine 2, and Vega. Are you on Pinterest? Search for any recipe and add the word "vegan" to the end of it. You wont be disappointed!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

On Monday evening I threw a small post-class party for my good friend and fellow Zumba instructor Liz, who is getting married in Mexico this weekend. I was in charge of the dessert for our little gathering, and that morning I challenged myself to find a recipe that I could whip together without making another trip to the store. Our gym is right next to a Kroger, and I'm there way too often.


The final product was a ridiculously-easy-to-make batch of peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They were moist and rich without being too sweet, and I definitely ate three of them right after they came out of the oven. I just can't resist desserts in the morning! It's a problem.

In addition to being delicious, these cookies are oil-free, dairy-free, and very low in sugar. They can easily be made gluten free as well if you use GF flour and oats!


Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes approximately one dozen cookies

Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the applesauce, peanut butter and coconut sugar until combined. Add the vanilla extract. Gradually add the remaining dry ingredients except for the chocolate chips. The dough will be very sticky. Fold in the chocolate chips.

To avoid getting the dough stuck to your fingers, I recommend spraying your hands with coconut oil or using two spoons to form the cookies. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place them on your cookie sheet. Gently flatten them into discs. You don't need to worry about spacing with this dough, because the cookies will not spread as they bake!

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until firm and slightly golden on the edges. Enjoy!


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sunshine Smoothie

This weekend was filled with friends and food and fun, which means we're needing a little "detox" on this Sunday morning. I'm calling this the Sunshine Smoothie because light is currently pouring in my windows and because the pineapple and banana really "shine" through and hide any tartness you might expect from the greens in this recipe.


Sunshine Smoothie
makes approximately 20 oz - serves two

In a powerful blender, combine:
  • 1 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1.5 frozen bananas
  • 4 kale leaves (stalks removed)
  • 5" piece of cucumber
  • 1 small organic apple (seeds and stem removed)
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 2 tbsp hemp seeds

Toss them all together and blend until there are no visible pieces of the fruits and veggies. If your cucumber and apple are organic, feel free to leave the skin on. You'll be gifting yourself with more nutrients and fiber! With no added sweeteners, this smoothie is packed with vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and plant-based proteins.

Use regular water if you don't have coconut water, or you can add an unsweetened nut milk to bump up the protein, calcium, and creaminess of this smoothie. Chia seeds can be used in addition to or in place of the hemp!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Calcium and Bone Health

It's common knowledge that we should all be consuming significant sources of calcium each day, but what many don't realize is that it's even more important to eat foods that prevent calcium loss. Not all calcium sources are created equal!

We store more than 90% of calcium in our skeletal system, where it's used to strengthen and rebuild our bones while maintaining adequate bone density. The rest hangs out in our bloodstream, helping to regulate our heartbeat, aid in muscle contraction, transmit nerve impulses, and more. Pretty important stuff, right?

Whether or not calcium stays locked away where it belongs has a great deal to do with the pH balance of our bodies. Kris Carr wrote an amazing post about it here, if you'd like a refresher on the subject. Essentially, our bodies are constantly seeking balance between alkaline ("good") and acidic ("bad"). There are certain foods and beverages that promote acidity in the body, and others that have an alkalizing effect. Everything we eat and drink will affect our pH balance.



The dairy industry tells us that milk, cheese, and yogurt are the best sources of calcium to be had. It's true that these products contain calcium, but what's left unsaid is that they're also on the acidic side of the scale. The Standard American Diet is filled with animal proteins, white breads, refined sugars, sodium, alcohol and caffeine, all of which promote acidity in the body.

Guess what mineral does most of the dirty work neutralizing that acidity? CALCIUM!

Our bodies are brilliantly efficient machines that utilize what they have on hand in order to restore that ideal pH balance. Calcium will actually be leached out of our bones to neutralize our overly acidic state. Although the United States consumes more dairy than most of the world, we have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis and bone fracture. This trend is true across the globe.


Simply because a food contains calcium does not mean that it does the body good.

It's unrealistic to completely avoid acidic foods- how boring would life be if we did? But consider how many people eat these foods day in and day out while also living a sedentary lifestyle. The effects can be disastrous for our bone health.

The good news is that there are a few simple steps that you can take to promote bone health and calcium retention! Try incorporating these tips into your daily routine:

  • Exercise Against Resistance: I can't express the importance of this one enough! After about the third decade of life, our bones have a tendency to break down. Weight bearing exercise causes new bone tissue to form, which improves our overall strength. Try to work against gravity every chance you get- walk up and down stairs, bend down to pick things up, lift objects (safely), or simply go for a walk or hike. If possible, lift weights! Your bones will thank you.
  • Get Your Vitamin DVitamin D helps our bodies absorb the calcium we take in. You'll find that it's fortified into some foods, but the best way to obtain it is to spend about fifteen minutes in the sun each day. If you live in an area where this is not possible, have your levels checked and talk to your doctor about other options.
  • Eat More PlantsSignificant sources of calcium include leafy greens, legumes, and seeds. Next time you're at the store, consider adding some spinach, broccoli, northern beans, and unhulled sesame seeds to your cart! Need more ideas? Here are even more plant-based sources of calcium...

Now that's what I call plant STRONG!