Archive for February, 2010

Simple: A Big Bowl of Pasta on a Cold Winter Night

Sometimes there’s nothing better than the simplest of things.  I was so busy today and the weather has been so cold that nothing sounded better to me than a big bowl of pasta.

With a little Joni Mitchell playing and two pots on the stove, I sipped beer and cooked.

In one pot I boiled water for whole wheat penne pasta.  In the other, I sauteed garlic with basil, oregano, thyme and a tiny bit of fennel and red pepper flakes.  With the pasta cooking, I threw a quart of grape tomatoes in with the garlic and herbs and listened to them sizzle and pop until they were cooked soft enough to press them with the back of my big wooden spoon.  Topped with some kosher salt and fresh pepper, they were ready toss together with my pasta and a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach.  I had some bread left from the day before that helped to soak up all the saucy, juicy goodness.

Totally simple.  Totally good.  Reminds me of how lucky I am.  Makes me appreciate simple things.


Eating Out Vegan

Becoming vegan has been surprisingly easy and fun.  I’ve enjoyed the new food experimentation and I’ve absolutely felt the benefits.

One area that’s been more of a challenge than I anticipated is eating out.  I never realized how limited the options can be and how surprised and put out people can seem when you ask questions or make special requests (i.e. “no butter,” “what are the ingredients in the sauce?”).  I feel guilty to say anything.  Claiming to be a vegan can be as offensive or alarming to some people as claiming to be a feminist. *gasp!*  Funny how natural it is in our culture to eat meat, and how deviant or radical it is to be a person who doesn’t eat meat.  People pin all sorts of labels on vegans–like we’re part of a strange, subversive fringe group.

I really like to think that being vegan is just a choice about how I want to live my life.  Only a vegan for about 10 months, I can’t imagine eating some of the things I used to eat.  Why is that so hard for people to understand?  I’m not trying to be difficult.  I hope so much that people simply respect my choice.  Cut the disdain, please.

I’m so grateful to places that offer vegan options.  There aren’t many here in central PA, but the ones that are here are fabulous.

So for now, I’m glad I like to cook and have hopes that with time, being a vegan in public will get easier.

Getting Older – Muscle Mass Matters

It’s the craziest thing.  I know I’m about to turn 42, but I don’t see myself the way I know I saw the 40-somethings that inhabited my childhood.  And when I look at my friends–all the people I went to high school and college with–I don’t see the years that have passed.  I see what they were when we were kids.

The truth of the matter, though, is that we have changed.  And as we age, we will continue to change in ways that are visually unapparent but completely undeniable.

One of those ways that can cause more problems than we might think is muscle loss.  Our muscles are the calorie burners of our bodies.  People often put their weight loss effort into cardio.  Cardio’s great.  I’m a big advocate.  But to really get the pounds off, one has to build muscle.  Therefore, as we age and our muscles deteriorate, we can get hit with a double whammy:  weight gain and loss of strength.

NPR ran a story on the science muscle loss in the elderly  this morning (  It was a good reminder that what we do now can make a big difference in the long run.

As a middle-aged woman, I’m trying to plan ahead.  Working out is as much for how I feel today as it is for how I’ll feel 30 years from now.  A regular workout routine that contains a serious weight training component can mean the difference between greater or lesser muscle loss and the corresponding benefits or detriments.

Another tremendous benefit of weight training is an increase in bone density.  Women, in particular, can suffer from bone loss resulting in serious breaks as we age.  We can work to preclude that by starting as soon as possible and maintaining a consistent routine.  And it’s never too late.  Weight training can rebuild bone density, even for seniors.

I’m a long-term, big picture thinker.  The view from the proverbial 10,000 feet has been a good tool for keeping things in perspective and making decisions that I find worthy of commitment.  Spending even just 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a week doing weight training will pay exponential dividends in terms of quality of life.  This is something that is totally worth my investment–no matter how old my friends and I look to one another.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

These are easy, delicious, and have great texture!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

Whisk together:

1 1/2 c. soy or almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)

1/2 c. canned pumpkin

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/8 tsp. ground ginger

1 tbsp. canola oil

Stir in:

1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour

3 Tbsp. maple syrup or agave

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Heat griddle or frying pan, spray with cooking spray.  Make pancakes!!!

Sweet Potato Fries

These are so good with the Black Bean Vegan Burger.

Sweet potato fries

Slice 3 sweet potatoes into “french fry” shape, toss with:

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp ground coriander

2 tbsp olive oil.

Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.  Gently flip and bake for additional 15 minutes.

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

Beware…. My kids don’t want any other salad now that they’ve eaten this.

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp. maple syrup

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/8 tsp. ground pepper

Whisk or shake all ingredients together.  Toss into spring greens loaded with sliced apples, craisins, walnuts, and red onion.  Crazy good.  My daughter Emily is addicted.

This dressing is also good on a grilled vegetable salad–think summer!!!!

Black Bean Vegan Burger

I’ve tried and tried to make a burger that my kids like.  My latest effort was a hit!

Black Bean Vegan Burger

8 oz. seitan

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 c. corn

3 Tbsp. soy milk

2 Tbsp all purpose flour

3/4 c. Panko or whole grain bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. vegan Worceshire sauce

1 Tbsp. soy sauce/tamari

1 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Pulse the seitan and black beans in food processor until chopped semi-fine, semi-chunky.  In a large bowl, mix seitan/bean mixture with rest of ingredients.  It should feel moist, but not wet.  It should hold a nice shape fairly easily. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, measure out enough for a patty.  Press with hands and shape.  I use wax paper to keep them separated.

Heat enough canola oil in pan or on griddle to just coat the surface.  When you put the burger on, it should sizzle, but not splatter.  Cook well on both sides.  My kids like them best when they’re good and brown, almost cripsy on the outside.

Serve on whole wheat rolls with lots of gooey goodness–vegan mayo, ketchup, mustard, onion… you get the idea.  Serve with Sweet Potato Fries.