A Complete Failure

What worked well last week in your meal planning?  Be sure to make time to incorporate that again this week and don’t beat yourself up if the plan wasn’t implemented as well as you would have liked.  Significant dietary modifications are like an ultra marathon – forward progress is still progress, even if it only feels like baby steps.

I was traveling again this week, so meal prep (not just planning) was essential.  I cut myself some slack and built in one night for the family to eat out while I was gone.  Although this did not save time or money, the kids enjoyed the treat, and the hubby appreciated one less night of solo kitchen duty.  I also had one recipe near-failure and another new recipe that I’m excited about that’s not quite ready for prime time (and keep in mind, I’m not holding myself to high standards for prime time).  So it will get another tweak or two before sharing.  A near-failure is when the recipe is not quite right, but the family eats it anyway.  Whether it tastes okay or they’re just scared to complain, it’s hard to know.

I think we’ve only had 3 complete failures in recent years, with a complete failure being a meal that cannot be salvaged in any way.  Only 1 of the 3 is remembered by the family, and they remind me of it regularly.  In the early smoothie days when we were still working out the basic smoothie recipes, I was experimenting with different ways to add protein to the smoothie without using whey (a milk derivative), non-dairy yogurt (pricey), or vegan protein powders (downright expensive).  One of the proteins I tried was chickpeas.  This is where theory and reality diverge as pea powder is a common ingredient in vegan protein powders.  However, some brands of canned chickpeas have a definite tuna-like smell when you first open the can.  I should have known with the first waft that no amount of fruit and greens would cover up that smell, but I forged on, determined to inexpensively bulk up our smoothies.

It was gross.  I tried to finish my glass just to prove that it wasn’t THAT bad, but I couldn’t.  The smell was just too bitter_potionmuch.  And once you start thinking about tuna smoothies, it’s really hard to stop thinking about tuna smoothies.

So whenever my family chides me about the chickpea smoothie, I think of the hundreds of plant based recipes that we’ve tried over the last 6 years, and I remember that there have been way more successes than failures.  The biggest success has been the evolution my family has taken to entirely plant based, and that’s what I’m most proud of.  It hasn’t been easy, but almost nothing worthwhile is.

The next time you make a complete failure recipe, remind yourself of all the successes along the way.  Til then, maybe some of the meals we enjoyed this week will inspire you–

Three Bean Salad

~ 6 cups or 3-4 cans of beans, rinsed and drained (I used black beans, white beans, and chickpeas this time)

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

1-2 avocados, peeled and diced

1/4 c cilantro, leaves torn into bits

1/4 c apple cider vinegar

2 T sugar

1.5 t salt

1 t freshly ground pepper

Whisk the apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl with a lid.  If you have an over ripe avocado, stir it into the vinegar mixture to make the dressing creamy.  Add the remainder of the ingredients and stir to mix.  Serve immediately or allow flavors to develop while refrigerated.

Sloppy Lennys adapted from the Post Punk Kitchen

Serves 6

1 c uncooked lentils

4 c water

1 yellow onion, diced small

3/4 c frozen stoplight peppers (or fresh equivalent), diced small

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T chili powder

2 t oregano

1 t salt

8 oz tomato sauce

6 oz tomato paste

3 T maple syrup

1 T yellow mustard

In a saucepan, bring the lentils in the water to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.  Drain the lentils.

While the lentils are cooking, saute the onion and peppers in a little water in a cast iron pan until softened.  Add the garlic and more water as needed to prevent sticking.  Once the garlic has lightly browned, add the chili powder, oregano, salt, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and the cooked lentils.  Stir well and cook over low heat for ~10 min.  Add the maple syrup and yellow mustard (Isa’s ingenious additions) and stir to incorporate.  Remove from heat and if time permits, allow dish to sit, covered, to allow flavors to fruther develop.

Serve over brown rice or in whole grain buns.

Pineapple “Fried” Rice

Serves 6

3 c cooked brown rice

4 c vegetables, chopped (I used stoplight peppers, onions, broccoli, and mixed peas and carrots)

3/4 c diced fresh pineapple

3 T tamari or low sodium soy sauce

1 heaping T minced garlic

1 T minced ginger

1/2 t red pepper flakes, optional

This recipe comes together very quickly, especially if the rice is fresh from the rice cooker.  In a wok or pan, sautee the ginger and garlic in water or pineapple juice, add the chopped vegetables and sautee until veggies are desired texture.  Add the rice, soy sauce, and pineapple.  Continue to cook and stir until heated through.

If the cooked rice is cold from refrigeration, cover the wok or pan and add a few tablespoons of water if needed to soften the rice by steaming.

Fickin Noodle Soup

Serves 4

3/4 c diced chicken substitute (affectionately referred to as “fickin” in my house, as in fake chicken) or white beans (or both)

2 quarts Imagine No Chicken Broth

8 oz whole grain spaghetti, broken into smaller pieces and cooked

1 c diced veggies (I used peas, carrots, celery, and onions)

Add all the ingredients to a soup pot, cover, and heat through.  It is also easy to do Make Your Own soup night where each person puts their ingredients in a bowl or mug and adds hot broth to each serving.  Easy dinner in less than 15 minutes!



Picture Credit:

A Bitter Potion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Adriaen_Brouwer_004.jpg

Berry Deliciousness

QUICK!!  While you can, stock up on all the fresh berries you can- these antioxidant powerhouses are the healthiest of all blackberriesfruits.www.nutritionfacts.org  If you’re stuck in the produce aisle or only have a couple of hours at your local pick-your-own farm, check out the graph created by Michael Greger based on work by Carlsen et al (2010) illustrating the antioxidant power of berries and common fruits.  In descending order of antioxidants, here are common fruits:  blackberries > cranberries > raspberries > blueberries > strawberries > mangoes > apples > bananas.  Whenever possible, choose higher antioxidants.

If you’re not aware of the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, you may want to check out the Dirty Dozen Plus: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines (imported), peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, kale/collard greens, and summer squash.  While originally referred to as the Dirty Dozen, the Plus highlights two crops- domestically grown summer squash and leafy greens (specifically kale and collards) that did not meet the traditional Dirty Dozen criteria but were commonly contaminated with pesticides especially toxic to the nervous system.

The EWG strongly advocates that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables far outweighs the risks of pesticide exposure.  This is one way I implement my Good-Better-Best approach.  It’s really good to eat fresh fruits and vegetables (lots of them!!).  For those on the Dirty Dozen list, buying frozen and organic is even better, and the best option would be to buy fresh, organic, and local – but unfortunately that’s not realistic for most of us most of the time.  So we do the best we can.  So if you’re trying to decide whether to buy a fruit or not, buy it, and if it’s on the Dirty Dozen list AND it’s not significantly more to buy organic, then do so.  Keep an eye on sales of the Dirty Dozen organic produce and stock up whenever possible.

The EWG also maintains a Clean Fifteen list of the fruits and veggies with the lowest pesticide residue once the item has been washed: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet peas (frozen), and sweet potatoes.

blueberriesIf you’re able to stock up on berries, you may eventually get bored with eating them raw, with grain cereals such as oatmeal, or in non-dairy parfaits.  In that case, check out the recipes below for Berry Delicious Smoothie, Strawberry Milk Smoothie, Berry Cobbler, and Berry Pops.


Berry Delicious Smoothie

Makes 2 two cup servings

¼ c oats

2 T flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or a combination

2 bananas, sliced and frozen

1 c frozen berries

2 c orange juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  This recipe is extremely versatile, so don’t worry about the exact measurements or all of the ingredients.  This is a great starter smoothie for berry lovers and can be made as a milkshake with more bananas and less orange juice.  Leftover smoothie makes delicious popsicles.


Strawberry Milk Smoothie

Makes 4 two cup servings

1/3 c oats

3 T flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or a combination

3 bananas, sliced and frozen

¾ c strawberries, frozen

2 to 3 c cold non-dairy milk, ideally unsweetened

1 to 2 c cold water

Add all ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth.  The amount of liquid needed depends on the desired thickness of the smoothie.  This recipe is extremely versatile, so don’t worry about the exact measurements or all of the ingredients.  This is a great starter smoothie for novices and can be made as a milkshake with more bananas, less non-dairy milk, and no water.  Of course the more strawberries, the better, but seeing as how they are the most expensive ingredient, we use them judiciously.  Leftover smoothie makes delicious popsicles.


Rip’s Blueberry Cobbler [http://engine2diet.com/]

Serves 4

2/3 c whole wheat pastry flour

1.5 t baking powder

1 T vanilla extract

2/3 c non-dairy milk

3 T agave nectar or maple syrup

2 c blueberries

Rip says to mix the dry and the wet ingredients separately, then combine.  I say mix it all together until smooth.  (The batter will be runny.)  If using frozen blueberries, use just under 2/3 c non-dairy milk.  Pour the batter into a non-stick 8” square pan and sprinkle the blueberries over the batter.  Bake for about 45 min at 350˚.

This is such an easy recipe to pull together as it’s quick and uses basic ingredients you’re likely to have on hand.  It works well with cherries, strawberries, peaches, apples- any fruit you’d make cobbler with.


Berry Pops

To entice my niece to eat blueberries one day, I went the gimmicky route, stuck them on pretzel sticks, and called them “Blueberry Pops”.  The first plate of Blueberry Pops disappeared so quickly that I turned the ingredients over to my girls to make the second and third batches.  Since then we have also enjoyed Blackberry Pops and Raspberry Pops- antioxidants with a salty crunch!




Carlsen MH et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.  Nutrition Journal 2010 9:3.


Spring Cleaning

If warmer weather has roused your desire to spring clean or declutter, turn some of that energy to your diet.  Not needing to be warmed by food as the temperature increases, I find it easier in spring and summer to increase my consumption of raw veggies and salads.  My favorite approach is to focus on what I should be eating instead of what I should not be eating.  It turns out that this is one of the recommended approaches in Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct.  The ability to turn your “I won’t” into an “I will” diverts your focus from prohibiting your bad habit by replacing it with a new, healthier habit.

Joel Fuhrman must have been aware of this strategy when he issued his holiday challenge for 2012, encouraging participants to each day eat:

  • At least one large salad
  • Generous amounts of cooked green vegetables, beans, onions, and mushrooms
  • At least 3 fresh fruits, especially berries, to satisfy your sweet tooth
  • 1-2 ounces of raw nuts and seeds

For me, this checklist mentality works well as a reminder of what foods to focus on and is also helpful as a meal and snack planner.  Don’t know what to shop for?  Look at the list and fill your fridge and pantry with Fuhrman’s G-BOMBS (greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds), an acronym to remember the most nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods.  We’ll focus on the G for greens today, and more specifically on kale.

Back to the checklist mentality for a second – if I’ve hit the ‘required’ foods and am still hungry, I can incorporate something less desirable.  When I haven’t eaten through the checklist, I try to plan better for the next day- all the while my taste buds have adjusted to another day without white flour, sugars and sweeteners, excess oil, and animal products.

Kale is quite the sexy health food, having gained popularity recently as a super food.  In each 1 cup cooked serving, kale contains 111 mg absorbable calcium, which is equivalent to that in 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice and more than the absorbable calcium contained in 1 cup of milk.  Kale also contains significant amounts of beta-carotene, Kaleselenium, and vitamins C and E.  In addition to being an outstanding antioxidant, kale is part of the family of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and collard greens.  People who eat generous amounts of cruciferous vegetables have remarkably low cancer rates.Barnard and Reilly

Cruciferous vegetables affect the hormones that influence the progression of hormone-dependent cancers by changing the way estrogens are broken down and eliminated.  Normally, estradiol (a potent estrogen in women) is converted to 16 α-hydroxyestrone, a hormone that encourages the growth of cancer cells.  However the cruciferous extract indole-3-carbinol causes the body to convert more estrogen to a different estrogen called 2-hydroxyestrone, which has anticancer actions.Bell et al

Two common types of kale that you should be able to find at your farmers’ market or grocery store are lacinato or dino kale, which has flat firmer leaves, and curly kale.  Most kale recipes can be used with either type, I usually choose based on availability and desired texture.  To strip or destem the kale, hold a leaf by the stem upside down in your hand.  Cup the thumb and index finger of your opposite hand at the top of the stem and pull downward in a quick, smooth motion.


Monster Green Smoothie

½ c pineapple chunks, frozen

1 c seedless grapes or sliced apple

1 banana, sliced and frozen

2-4 leaves of destemmed kale, depending on size

1 c water

Blend all ingredients together, adding more water if needed to thin consistency.  Serve immediately.  Makes 2 one cup servings.

This is a very sweet smoothie, which is great for green smoothie novices.  Spinach has a more neutral taste and can be substituted for the kale.  This recipe is very versatile and should be played with to find your favorite combinations, eventually increasing the ratio of greens to fruit.

Kale Chips

Once kale has been washed, dried, and destemmed, tear the leaves into chip-sized pieces.

Oven:  Preheat oven to 300’.  Arrange kale on wire rack in a baking sheet, on parchment paper, or directly on a lightly sprayed baking sheet.  Spray the kale with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 15-20 min, turning the chips over once, until the chips are crispy.  Remove from oven and let cool as the chips will continue to crisp.

Dehydrator:  Arrange kale on trays.  Spray the leaves with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.  Dehydrate at 145’ for 2-3 hours, rotating the trays at least once and turning the chips over if necessary, until chips are crispy.

There are many variations of kale chips, so like the smoothie recipe, this one is very versatile.  Add in ideas: nutritional yeast, BBQ seasoning, chipotle, oil and vinegar, garlic, chili and lime.


Massaged Kale Salad

1 bunch of kale, destemmed and torn into pieces

1 lemon, juiced

1 can of beans, rinsed and drained (white beans or garbanzos recommended)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 avocado, diced

1 tomato, diced

Salt to taste

In a medium bowl, add half of the lemon juice to the kale and massage it with your hands until the kale has reduced in size by half.  Add rest of ingredients.  Can be eaten immediately or refrigerated to allow flavors to further develop.


Sauteed Kale with Raisins and Pine Nuts

1 bunch kale, destemmed and torn into bite sized pieces

1 can of white beans or garbanzos

¼ c pine nuts

4 cloves garlic, minced

¼ c golden raisins

1T olive oil

Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat with pine nuts and garlic.  As they begin to brown, add kale and raisins, stirring often.  Once kale has wilted (5 min or so), add beans.  If additional liquid is needed, add ¼ c water or dry white wine.  Once kale is desired texture, remove from heat and serve.



McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct : How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. 2012

Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Bell MC, Crowley-Nowick P, Bradlow HL, et al. Placebo-controlled trial of indole-3-carbinol in the treatment of CIN.  Gynecol Oncol. 2000; 78:123-129.

Kale Picture: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Boerenkool.jpg