An Imperfect Rockstar

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about an amazing contest that was being run by Tuja Wellness with the prize of a scholarship to Meghan Telpner’s School of Culinary Nutrition. They were looking for a “Nutrition Rockstar” – and I am thrilled and humbled to announce that I am the very lucky winner. I am beyond excited to dive headfirst into the learning that is jam-packed into this incredible course.

Actually, “Rockstar” is quite a fitting moniker for a gal like me given that I already like to think of myself as a young, fun-loving, cool, plant-eating vegetarian hipster. Something of a “green smoothie goddess” if you will. A veritable whiz kid in the kitchen – my family gobbling up my kale and quinoa-laden dishes just like they were candy.

Ok yes – the reality might not be quite so rosy. Actually, I’m just a 40-something mom- neither as young or cool as I used to pretend to be who’s mostly just trying to keep my family healthy and well-fed. And by “healthy” I mean getting them to ingest their green smoothies without gagging or complaining bitterly. And by “fed” I mean with as much humour, taste and nutrient-rich plant foods that I can reasonably achieve and afford.

Funnily enough, our first assignment in this course is to craft our very own food philosophy. Something along the lines of the brilliant Michael Pollan who wrote:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

In Defense of Food

So I started wondering about  my own personal credo and I’m thinking that maybe something simple like my lofty goal of keeping myself and my family healthy and well-fed might be a good place to start.:

“Feeding a family of meat-free, animal-loving, plant-munching, green-drink guzzling hipsters.”

Lori Wilson

That sounds pretty darn  good! I’ll start with my own clan and then branch out and hopefully my honest approach to cooking and eating will inspire a few others along the way. My goal is that in addition to my own growth and learning, I will also share the ups and downs of this educational journey with all of you.

Yep – I’m going to pick up that “Rockstar” title and run with it goddamit! Thank you to Tuja Wellness and Meghan Telpner for taking a chance on me – a decidedly imperfect rockstar. I am dancing around my kitchen, belting out a tune and strumming my wooden spoon air guitar as I get set to cook up some culinary magic. Let the fun and learning begin!

 

 

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

It’s not easy when a member of your family announces that they are radically changing the way they eat. I was in my mid-30’s when I embarked on a plant-based diet and this threw a real curveball at my meat-and-potato loving parents. Although I had long since moved away from home and started my own family – it still meant that every holiday and visit became a head-scratcher when trying to prepare a menu that would appeal to everyone. Thanksgiving and Christmas with no turkey?! Easter with no ham?! A BBQ with no burgers?! Holy crap!

veggie cartoon 2

I must admit that we’ve had more than a few heated “discussions” over the years about being flexible and open to trying new things. And there was also the inevitable questioning of the health benefits of a diet with no animal products. “You mean you aren’t giving your kids milk? How will they get strong bones?” “How will your family get enough protein?” “What the hell is quinoa?” and “Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass Lori?” All valid questions.

In the beginning I stood up on my soapbox and was overly eager to share all of the wonderful information I was learning about my new diet. I told them about the fact that there is actually more digestible protein in leafy greens and legumes than in meat (not to mention the animal cruelty associated with the meat industry). And that chickpeas and sesame seeds are much richer sources of protein than dairy. And that milk has been definitively linked to cancer. AND I made my entire family watch Forks Over Knives over one Christmas holiday (yes I was insufferable).

Nowadays, I’ve learned to shut my mouth more often and to be appreciative of how far we’ve come in incorporating more plant-based foods into all of our diets. But I’ve gotta give credit especially to my mom for really giving vegetarian cooking a college try. My family recently spent a few days at my parent’s home and I was totally delighted when she announced that she would be making Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Wraps for dinner. She’s come a very long way from the woman who once told me she would never eat a vegetarian diet because there just wasn’t enough variety.

This recipe evolved from that wrap – which was delicious by the way (my son even turned down cheese pizza to gobble up a second helping). It’s simple to prepare and packed with protein, fresh veggies, herbs and spices. It just might be the best salad I’ve ever made! And as a special bonus, I turned the leftovers into a grilled wrap the next day that rivals the gourmet quinoa wrap sold by a very well-known coffee chain.

So if someone in your life announces that they are suddenly going to eat a different way – be it gluten-free or paleo or vegan or flexitarian…..be patient with them. When they come down off of their high horse – they just might make you something yummy to eat.

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

mexican quinoa 1

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pepper (any colour) diced
2 ears of corn- cooked, cooled and cut off of the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro and avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over top. Pour on the olive oil and toss to coat. Add red pepper flakes, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper and toss again. Enjoy!

*Bonus Wrap*

mexican quinoa 2

2 whole wheat or gluten-free wraps of choice
1/2 cup grated regular or vegan cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups Mexican Quinoa Salad (above)

Heat a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat. Lay wraps on a flat surface and put a line of quinoa salad down the middle of each. Top with cheese. Fold in both ends of the wraps and roll together. Place the wrap in the frying pan and grill on both sides. Remove from heat after both sides are gold brown (approx. 3 minutes per side) and let cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve. (You could also use a Panini maker in place of the frying pan to make life easier).

Ruby Red Smoothie

I make a smoothie pretty much every single morning. Greens, banana, pineapple, superfood add-ins, frozen berries- blend and repeat. And although I know the ingredients are colourful and healthy – more often than not the resulting drink has more of a greeny-brownish hue. Not the most visually appealing (in fact the other day my youngest told me that his smoothie looked like diarrhea…..sigh)

My friend Lisa always says that the experience of eating (or drinking) begins with your eyes. And if that’s the case then perhaps a cup of poop coloured smoothie isn’t how my family wants to start their day. Fair enough. So I started tinkering with my smoothies to make them more eye catching.

I recently enjoyed a weekend away with a good pal and she gave me an awesome suggestion for a wonderful bright red vegetable that I’ve been overlooking in my smoothie recipes. This particular veggie has been proven to lower blood pressure, alleviate depression, boost stamina, fight inflammation, detox the body and is rich in vitamins and minerals. What magical ingredient did I find that not only makes my smoothie look beautifully ruby-red but also ups the health factor? Beets! These gorgeous and often unappreciated gems of the vegetable kingdom add brilliant redness and a subtle sweetness to a smoothie that is not at all overpowering.

beets

So kick those brown drinks to the curb and add a burst of colour to your next smoothie! And if you want to get extra fancy – try slicing a strawberry to pop on the side of the glass. Voila – beautiful and nutritious.

Ruby Red Smoothie

beet smoothie

4-6 cups packed spinach
1 banana
1 small beet (or 1/2 a medium beet)
1 2-inch ring of pineapple
1 -2 cups frozen strawberries (or raspberries)
Superfood add-ins (optional)

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and whir for 1 minute. Drink up the goodness!

Oh and one thing to keep in mind if you decide to add beets – you need to brace yourself because they will actually turn your poop just as red as your smoothie (believe it or not – this is actually a pretty effective selling feature for kids ; )

Asian Noodle Salad with Seared Tofu

I was busy grilling the tofu for this recipe when a friend popped by to pick up his daughter from a play date. “Mmmmm…something smells good Lori – what are you cooking?” he asked. “Marinated tofu steaks!” I proudly replied. “Oh gross – that’s nasty!” he quickly shot back. Guess I won’t be inviting him to dinner anytime soon ; )

Tofu (and soy products in general) might just be one of the most controversial foods out there. Depending on which research paper or magazine article you are reading- it’s either touted as a wonderful superfood or a hormone disrupting poison. And frankly there appear to be good arguments on both sides of the fence.

I have done quite a bit of research on my own and came across a great article on the Harvard School of Public Health website that gave a comprehensive overview of “smart approaches to choosing protein for your diet.” This particular quote came from the end of the “Straight Talk about Soy” section:

Eat soy in moderation. Soybeans, tofu, and other soy-based foods are an excellent alternative to red meat. In some cultures, tofu and soy foods are a protein staple, and we don’t suggest any change. But if you haven’t grown up eating lots of soy, there’s no reason to go overboard: Two to 4 servings a week is a good target; eating more than that likely won’t offer any health benefits and we can’t be sure that there is no harm.

One thing to also keep in mind when buying tofu is that over 90% of soy bean production in the US is genetically modified and the crops are heavily sprayed with toxic herbicides. So be sure to read the labels and choose a tofu brand that is non-GMO and organic.

And now there is the matter of taste – most people assume that it will either taste bland or disgusting. But believe it or not I actually like it and so do my kids. With the right marinade and seasonings, it can be really delicious. We eat it approximately once a week just cut up and sautéed in a stir fry, marinated and breaded in crispy tofu wraps or seared into steaks.

So – to tofu or not to tofu – that is the question? At the end of the day there is no magic bullet, one-size-fits all approach to healthy eating. Do your own research, read labels, listen to your own body and do what’s best for you. This salad would be tasty with our without the tofu but if you are a tofu fan or would like to try it for the first time then go for it! This salad will make you a tofu-lover for sure.

Asian Noodle Salad with Seared Tofu Steaks

tofu salad 3

1 package of organic non-GMO firm tofu, drained
1 cup of tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. agave nectar
2 tbsp. pure sesame oil
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 package of soba noodles (buckwheat)
1 head of broccoli, chopped small
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup shelled peanuts

To marinate tofu: cut the block of tofu into 1 inch slices and place in a shallow dish with a lid. Cover with tamari and sprinkle with garlic powder and shake it around to marinate the slices. Place in the fridge for an hour, shaking occasionally.

tofu salad 1

To make the dressing: combine vinegar, agave, sesame oil, ginger, salt and pepper in a jar with a lid. Cover tightly and shake vigorously.

Cook soba noodles according to package directions – adding broccoli florets into the boiling water at the same time as the noodles. Drain noodles and broccoli and set aside.

tofu salad 2

The tofu can either be seared on a hot frying pan on the stove or on the barbecue. For stovetop: Heat olive oil in a large skilled over medium-high heat. Add tofu slices and cook approximately 5 minutes per side until lightly browned. For BBQ: Heat to medium high and place marinated tofu slices directly on the grill. Cook 2-4 minutes per side. Cut each slice in half lengthwise for serving.

Arrange lettuce on 4 large dinner plates or 6 smaller plates. Top with a portion of noodles/broccoli and tofu slices. Drizzle with dressing. Garnish with fresh cilantro and peanuts.

Enjoy!

The Musical Fruit….In a Chip!

You often hear people say that they either crave salty or sweet foods – “I’m a total chocolate person” or “I don’t care much for desserts – I’m more of  a chips and dip person” or “Give me a bag of candy any day over a plate of nachos!”

Well – truth be told- I’m both. I love a rich and gooey chocolate dessert just as much as the crispy goodness of a potato chip. I honestly don’t think I could choose which I like better… although as the days get warmer, nothing beats a salty snack alongside a cocktail on a hot day.

I often (partly) joke that chips are my kryptonite – I only need to hear the “pop” of a fresh bag and I’ll go running like Pavlov’s dog. But though they taste yummy, I always feel the sting of guilt after I indulge in a treat that contains a scary combination of artificial ingredients and flavourings (seriously – how do they get cheezies to look that bright orange?!)

blackbean

 

I recently raved about Unreal Candy as a chemical-free alternative to traditional store-bought chocolates and now I’ve got an awesome replacement for my beloved chips – BeanitosI honestly could hug and kiss the 2 brothers (Doug and Dave Foreman) who created this incredible and delicious product. These chips are rave-worthy both for the things they don’t contain and for the things they do:

Beanitos Have NO:

– Preservatives
– Corn
– MSG
– Gluten
– Cholesterol
– Trans Fats

And they DO Contain:

– Fiber (up to 11 grams in a serving!)
– Protein
– All-Natural Ingredients (including whole grain rice, whole beans and sea salt)
– Calcium, Iron & Potassium
– Plus all Beanitos chips are “produced using strict GMP’s – Good Manufacturing Practices

But really- it all comes down to taste and these chips are freakin’ delicious! They are hearty enough to scoop up hummus, salsa and guacamole and they’re yummy enough to eat plain straight out of the bag. You can choose from a variety of flavours including: black bean, white bean, pinto bean and cheese flavored… and I love them all.

So as the summer settles in and thoughts turn to pool parties, family get togethers and cold beer, grab a bag of Beanitos and see for yourself just how delicious guilt-free snacking can really be. And if you need a little extra leverage to get your kids to try them – introduce them to the song my dad taught me many years ago:

Beans, beans, the musical fruit,
The more you eat the more you toot.
The more you toot the better you feel,
So eat your beans at every meal!

Tofu Sloppy Joes

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s with 2 working parents, I ate my fair share of packaged foods. Yes we had many home-cooked meals, but we also regularly indulged in Hamburger Helper, TV Dinners, Frozen Pizza, Kraft Dinner and Chef Boyardee products (I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I loved all of these things although the beef ravioli was my absolute favourite).

And do you remember Sloppy Joes? My mom would fry up some ground beef, add in a packet of Sloppy Joe mix and some tomato sauce and we’d dollop it on top of big crusty buns. Messy, kid-friendly and delicious!

As a health conscious person and non-meat eater, I mostly try to stay away from those foods today- but every once in a while I get a craving for a good old-fashioned throw-back meal. That’s why when I saw a recipe for Tofu Sloppy Joe’s in the Moosewood Cookbook I just had to give it a try.

sloppy joes 1

These babies were delicious! Runny tomatoey goodness on top of Kaiser rolls with wedge potatoes and a salad on the side made for a tasty, protein-rich and somewhat decadent meal that everyone tucked into (as an alternative – you could also serve the mixture on top of rice, quinoa or noodles).

So stock up on the napkins and try this new take on an old classic. You might also want to set the scene by pumping up some New Kids On The Block music, teasing your bangs and slipping into a jacket with shoulder pads, hoop earrings and neon leg warmers ; )

Tofu Sloppy Joes (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)

sloppy joes 2

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 cake extra firm tofu, squeezed to remove excess water and crumbled (look for an organic non-GMO brand)
1/2 of a large can of diced tomatoes (I like Eden Organic brand)
1 can of sliced organic mushrooms
2/3 cup pasta sauce (I like Eden Organic brand)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
6-8 large buns
Grated vegan or regular cheese (optional)

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté onion and garlic for approximately 5 minutes until softened. Add red pepper and carrot and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the crumbled tofu, tomatoes, mushrooms, sauce, basil, coriander, brown sugar and salt and simmer together for 10-15 minutes. Add additional salt and black pepper to taste.

Slice the rolls and fill with desired amount of Sloppy Joe mixture. Add grated cheese if desired.

Enjoy!

 

 

Judgement & Food Choices

As a result of the choices I make when it comes to eating, I sometimes find myself in the company of friends and family who feel the need to apologize to me about their own food choices. Recently, a good friend sheepishly asked if I would be okay if she ordered a steak while we were out dining together and another pal ardently defended her love of bacon at an early morning breakfast date.

veggie cartoon 4

Let me just get this out in the open – there is no need to apologize! I choose not to eat meat – that is true – but I promise to make no judgements about your selections. I will keep my own personal lifestyle choices private (unless you ask) and I will absolutely not jump to any conclusions about your character based on what you eat in front of me. Heck, I am certainly no purist. I ate meat until well into my 30’s, I will literally shove you out of the way to get at a fresh bag of potato chips and a glass of red wine and a gooey chocolate dessert are two of my very favourite things in the world. (Of course all of this is null and void if you are my husband – in which case I will freely offer my unbridled opinion….sorry Mark!)

I recently found myself browsing the housewares department at Anthropologie while my mom and sister tried on clothes (this likely explains why they always look fashionably dressed and I can most often be found wearing my track pants ; ) and I stumbled upon a beautiful book called Pure Vegan by Joseph Shuldiner that I just had to buy.

pure vegan

The recipes look amazing and the photographs are downright mouth-watering but what really hooked me was the introduction to the book. The author says:

“My intentions in writing this book are not to debate the virtues of one belief system over another, nor to promote the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. Aside from having little interest in these debates, I’m not qualified to take up a pair of boxing gloves in their defense. Making my own day-to-day choices about what to eat and what not to eat is complicated enough without trying to tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat. And that, my friend, is what this book is about: making choices that feel natural and right to you; to sow a few seeds in the back of your mind and help you cultivate your own plant-based culinary repertoire.”

Well said! I felt an immediate kinship with Joseph Shuldiner and his lovely and non-judgemental philosophy towards eating. We all have to walk our own culinary path and it is often one fraught with allergies, preferences, mixed messages from food producers and the media, childhood eating experiences, guilt, weight-struggles and financial issues (not to mention the complications thrown in if you are trying to feed a picky family).

So order what you will and enjoy every mouthful. I won’t judge you….. and I trust you will look the other way as I wipe chip crumbs onto my jogging pants.