Guest Blogger: #dairyfreetears by M. Cook

Today I am thrilled to present my very first guest blogger–my sister, Marley!
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As a young woman living with moderate to severe lactose intolerance, Marley has learned a lot in the past year and a half about what it’s like to have to read labels, ask questions, and put some real thought into what goes into her body on a daily basis (something with which vegans are very familiar!).  Below, Marley explains how her transition into dairy-free living has introduced her to a world of new foods and taught her how to deal with negativity from those who don’t share her lifestyle.  

Without further ado, please welcome Marley!

Words that I hear far too often

One thing that they don’t tell you when you decide to start reading labels is that everybody begins to read you like a label as well.

During the fall of 2012, at 21 years of age, I made the decision to cut dairy products out of my life for good.  Following a particularly terrible lactose-attack caused by nachos, I became determined to live and eat in a way that would benefit, not internally destroy, my body.

That fall was my last semester of college, a particularly difficult time to make any quick or sudden life changes.  You cannot control what goes on all around you, but you can certainly control how you fuel yourself and make yourself feel.

I have been eating dairy-free since that September, and physically, I feel wonderful. However, this kind of ruckus is constant:

“Oh, you don’t eat dairy? I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, I’m also kind of lactose-intolerant, but I just ignore the pain. Ice cream is too delicious.”

“I don’t know how I would live without cheese!”

Sometimes I wonder if people actually listen to the way they sound when they speak.

Here’s the thing: my allergy warrants no pity.  I eat well and I eat often, albeit possibly too well and too often.  Unlike many of my friends (and Ashley’s followers!) who lead a full vegan lifestyle, I dabble in veganism but still label myself as an omnivore.  I don’t tell people I’m dairy-free for pity.  It is just how my system runs.

IMG_0281Vegan gingerbread cookies from last Christmas, decorated by Dad and me

The fact that people suffer and hurt their stomachs from ingesting these kinds of ingredients, and intentionally continue to do so, just makes me sad.  What seemed like such a simple and quick change to me is more terrifying to some than the crippling bouts of indigestion and pain that come along with abusing your body with dairy.

But enough about the naysayers – Let me show you some more of the delicious vegan treats that can be found in the Greater Washington DC area, or the “DMV” as we like to say.

IMG_0310IMG_0316Frozen Yogurt from Tutti Frutti, a chain that has my heart on lockdown

IMG_0023The “Vegan Pizza” from Z-Pizza in Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland

IMG_0333Aloo Gobi, Chana Masala, and Rice from the food court in the Wheaton Mall in Wheaton-Glenmont, Maryland

IMG_0465The impossibly good Misoba Salad from SweetGreen in Downtown Silver Spring

Like I said, too much and too often.  This is the short list of pictures I’ve been compiling for this post.  My possibilities are endless and I am lucky to live in a metropolitan area where people recognize that we all have special needs for our machines, and are very accommodating when it comes to how you choose to eat.

I guess I should sign off with my favorite phrase, #dairyfreetears.   These are tears of joy, of course, for when you find something amazingly dairy free, and get to revel in its existence.  I guess life begins where the label ends.


Veganic Sprouted Maize Flakes and My Breakfast Evolution

For the first 22 years of my life (excluding, y’know, infancy), I ate cereal for breakfast every single day.  Every. Single. Day.  Always the sugary kind (Cinnamon Toast Crunch being my all-time fave, but Crunch Berries, Golden Grahams, and Cookie Crisp deserve a mention too), and never, ever a correct serving size.  I would just pour a giant bowl full to the top with the cereal, add liberal amounts of 1% milk (the thought of which now makes me gag), eat all of the cereal, then pour some more in to eat with whatever milk remained.


It scares me to think how much sugar I was consuming just in that one meal.  Add that to freshman year of high school where I also ate a jumbo pretzel slathered in honey mustard and a Chipwich every day at lunch (yeah I was clueless)…I just shudder.  How I ever got anything done in school is a mystery.

It was only in early 2007, while working in my first job out of college, that I started to become more interested in mindful and healthy eating.  At that time I began to branch out in my breakfast routine, experimenting with oatmeal, fruit (imagine that!), and whole wheat mini-bagels with natural peanut butter to start the day.  I’d sometimes still eat cereal as a snack (Barbara’s Puffins were a favorite purse snack for me back in the day) but I pretty much phased it out as a breakfast option, and I don’t think I’ve had it more than a handful of times since then.  Strawberry kiwiThese days, my weekday breakfasts consist of fruit (either whole/raw or in a smoothie) and/or a slice of whole grain bread or English muffin with peanut or almond butter and hemp seeds.  On the weekends I might get a little fancy with a tofu scramble or some sort of breakfast hash.

Don’t ask me why, but for some reason last week I started thinking about cereal again.  Of course, at this point in my life I have different ideas about what breakfast means.  If I’m going to eat cereal, it needs to have some actual nutritional value (rather than just being “enriched” by adding back in all the vitamins that were stripped out during processing), be low in sugar, and have some staying power (read: fiber and protein).

Here is what I decided on:
New Vegan Products 003
I’m not entirely sure what “veganic” means.  Obviously it’s vegan and organic, but I think what the company is also going for is sustainability and transparency, concepts I support.  On the back of the box (I should’ve taken a picture, sorry) they have photos and stories of three people in different parts of the world who supposedly contributed ingredients that went into the cereal.  It’s a little campy/hippie-dippy for me and who knows if it’s even true, but still, I appreciate their effort to show you “Hey, look at where your food actually comes from!”

Bottom line: I like it.  I like it a lot.  

I’ve been enjoying mine (in a proper 2/3 cup portion size!) topped with half a sliced banana and 1/2 tbsp. hemp seeds:
New Vegan Products 006

With 1/3 cup unsweetened almond-coconut milk:
New Vegan Products 002All told, this breakfast has 207 calories, 34 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 7 g protein, and 14 g sugar (7 from the cereal and 7 from the banana).  I’ve been eating it every day this week, and find that it keeps me full for 2-3 hours, after which I snack on some raw soaked almonds and fruit to hold me over until lunch (yup, still doing a bit of the detox thing).

It’s tough to picture the teenaged me eating this breakfast.  But the 2014 me feels pretty good about it!

How have your eating habits evolved over time?

Winter Weekend Wind-down and Wrap-up

Well, the last February weekend is behind us and we are now officially less than a month from the first day of spring!  I’ve enjoyed my quiet, indoorsy weekends but am not all that sad that they are rapidly winding down.

This past weekend was actually fairly busy though.  On Saturday morning, I got in a 5-mile run which I was actually able to do outside due to some of the first bearable temperatures in months!  All of the melting made for a bit of a squelchy course but it was an awesome run nonetheless.

When I got back, I got to work in the kitchen.  A little recipe testing for Richa, and a little baking for H’s birthday (which was Sunday).  I made Chloe Coscarelli’s Chocolate Beer Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream:Bday Weekend 013Out of respect for dessert-lovers everywhere, I will not tell you how many calories are in these (remember that thing about how vegan food is not diet food?).  I will just tell you to make them.  Immediately.

Afterwards I went into Boston for a friend’s baby shower, and then met H in Brookline for dinner to celebrate his birthday.  We went to Fugakyu, an incredible sushi restaurant in Coolidge Corner.  I didn’t take photos because the light was really dim and everything would have just looked gross, but it was really delicious!  Then we came home and ate cupcakes and watched Breaking Bad on Netflix.  It was a good day.

On Sunday, I got up fairly early and went straight to work in the kitchen again.  I made a batch of hummus and did other assorted meal prep for the week, plus a little more recipe testing:
Bday Weekend 009
Scrumptious dish with yellow split lentils and spinach.  And plenty of fresh cilantro of course.

And spent some QT with these loves:
Bday Weekend 007Bday Weekend 001

I went for a brisk walk in the afternoon to get some fresh air and a little active recovery (and also to budget a couple extra calories for dessert) before I had to get ready to go to H’s birthday dinner at his parents’ house.  I brought cupcakes to share!

Bday Weekend 002These are definitely impress-your-omnivore-in-laws cupcakes.  But then again, what recipe by Chloe C. is not?

Also (and you can kind of see this in the picture), for some reason the cupcake wrappers I have tend to peel off the sides of the cupcakes after baking.  It’s not something I relish.  Does anyone else have this problem?  Or know of a better cupcake wrapper brand that I could purchase?

Anyway, it was a nice weekend.  Babies and baking and power walking.  I’ve grown so domesticated in my old age.

Detox Delight

Earlier this week, I undertook my first ever juice cleanse.  It was a complimentary three-day cleanse that a company (who shall remain nameless) sent to me to review.  However, I am no longer going to review it, because the utter disorganization and ineptitude of the company (who messed up the order not once, not twice, but three times…including one time when I had to dump out the entire shipment of juice because it had gone bad) was so appalling that I cannot in good conscience recommend them to anyone.

BUT the cleanse itself was pretty rad, once I actually got to do it.  There was some pain involved, but only on the first day (and that was mainly because I started it the morning after a late night of drinking wine and eating peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets with H.  That’ll getcha every time.).  The rest of the time I felt pretty good, never too super-hungry or anything.

It was an interesting experience, certainly.  One big thing I took away from it was that I am way too obsessed with food and eating.  As in, constantly thinking about what I’m going to eat and when.  It was kind of nice to have everything just there, ready to go, with a schedule for when to have it.


Anyway, I finished the cleanse on Tuesday night, which meant that yesterday it was “back to normal.”  However, the cleanse came with some guidelines for the next day, which, as a total virgin cleanser, I followed pretty strictly out of fear of making my body go totally haywire.  The recommendations were:

“Start the day with a bottle of green juice or fresh fruit, followed by a small handful of raw nuts.  Have a salad for lunch and snack on raw veggies between meals. For dinner, have steamed veggies and a piece of tofu with some fruit for dessert.  Avoid processed foods, refined carbs, added sugar, and fake sugar.” [Editor’s note: this isn’t a direct quote.  I took liberties with grammar and punctuation to create whole, logical sentences.  Sorry, I edit and write for a living and I can’t just let these things go.]

Both yesterday and today (so far), I have done exactly that–started with a green juice from Whole Foods, snacked on raw soaked almonds for a morning snack, and enjoyed a delicious salad for lunch.  I suddenly feel like a total Detox maven.  First of all, check out my new toy:
Detox 005I have always wanted a mason jar with a handle and a straw top, but felt reluctant to pay the $31 plus shipping that they want to charge on Vegan Cuts for it (to be fair, their version does also include glass straws…but still). Well I found this mug for $1.99 at A.C. Moore and just cut a hole in the top with a knife and voila!  I now have my own juice/smoothie to-go mug.

I’m also feeling really good about last night’s dinner:Detox 003Grilled tofu (oil-free), steamed asparagus (with garlic) and Brussels sprouts, and a baked mashed sweet potato.  Plus lots of seasonings!

This was the largest quantity of solid food I had eaten in four days and boy did I feel full!  But also insanely nourished.  I’m planning on having a similar thing tonight.

I’ve obviously gotten a boost from all of the whole foods I’ve been eating (tofu being the most processed thing), but I realized this morning that I also have not had any caffeine or gluten for five days.  So much detox!  Basically I’m just feeling really good and really motivated.

On top of all of it, my weight loss and Ragnar training regimens are also progressing well.  As of yesterday I was down 9.2 lbs overall (although, obviously, coming off a cleanse…) and also able to pound out a 3-miler at a pace that is probably super-slow for most but very, very good for me.

It’s been an interesting week, for sure.  The key will be to see if I can keep it rolling through the weekend (which will include a baby shower as well as H’s birthday)…

Have you ever done a juice cleanse or detox?  Did you find it difficult to maintain the momentum afterwards?

Sweet Eats

Howdy!  I’m back from my long Valentine’s Day/President’s Day weekend and I have lots of wonderful eats and treats to share…

Last time I wrote, I told you that I’d be heading to a vegan “Pre-Valentine’s Day” dinner hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society on Wednesday night.  Well, I went, and had a wonderful time!

Sweet Eats 001

But…my pictures of the meal are not so bueno.  The lighting was super-dim and some of the food just didn’t present nicely.  So I’ll only share the half-decent ones.

Sweet Eats 002Beets stuffed with agave-sweetened vegan yogurt, apple & walnut melange…I loved the yogurt stuffing but wished there was more of it!

Sweet Eats 008Peanut butter cheesecake with a white chocolate drizzle.  I ate every bite.

Unfortunately that’s it for the photos that are the bare minimum of post-worthy.  But I can tell you that the seitan curry entree was a standout!  However, while trying to be calorie-conscious, I took about half of it to go…and then left my takeout box on top of the parking machine in Alewife station.  I nearly cried when I got home 20 minutes later and realized this.  My only comfort is imagining that someone hungry found it and appreciated it.

Anyway as we all know, Friday was the big V Day!  H and I are not the type of couple that needs to make big Valentine’s Day plans and give extravagant gifts each year, but we do like to do a little something to acknowledge the day.  This year, I decided to make a nice dinner for us to enjoy at home, rather than deal with trying to get a reservation somewhere for a Friday night Valentine’s Day.  No thanks.Sweet Eats 020The setup

Our meal started with a salad of organic mixed greens, strawberries, cucumbers, and toasted almonds, with a chocolate balsamic vinaigrette.Sweet Eats 018

To make the vinaigrette, warm some balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan, then add some dark chocolate and stir until it’s melted.  Season with oregano.  I didn’t take exact measurements but I’d guess it was about 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup chocolate (I used vegan chocolate chips), and 1/4 tsp. oregano.  It was so delicious, especially paired with the strawberries!Sweet Eats 014

The vegan entree (mine) was grilled marinated tofu (using this marinade):
Sweet Eats 011Check out those Chopped-worthy grill marks!

With mashed red bliss potatoes and Miso Roasted Brussels Sprouts (using this incredible, lick-your-spoon recipe from Fo Reals Life) on the side:
Sweet Eats 021

H had the same side dishes next to a non-vegan offering.  Obviously no one cares about that so here is a picture of my beautiful plate:
Sweet Eats 022
The tofu became way more brown because I actually grilled it the day before and then reheated it in the convection oven while I got the rest of the meal components ready.  

To drink, we had wine and cranberry-lime seltzer with these babies tossed in:
Sweet Eats 016
I first noticed a link for some adorable ice cube hearts on Celeste’s blog last week, so then when I saw this ice cube tray on sale for $1.99, I figured what the hell.  I used fresh cranberries instead of pomegranate seeds.  Pomegranate probably would have been cuter but why spend extra dough when I already had cranberries?  H loved it regardless.

Finally, dessert!  I went with Dreena Burton’s Raw Orange Chocolate Pudding (click for recipe) with Candied Orange Peel on top (I used this recipe from Epicurious).Sweet Eats 024The pudding was delicious, but it was also SO RICH that I could only eat half of it!  Note that I did add a generous drizzle of agave nectar while making it because I found that the recipe as written was a little too bitter/tart for my taste (even using honey bell oranges!).

The candied orange peel was an awesome touch (if I do say so myself!).  H called it “nature’s Sour Patch Kids” and while this is high praise, the 2 lbs. of sugar and intensive preparation that go into producing these is probably something best reserved for very special occasions.

Everyone was posting suggestions for V-Day eats last week, but I’m dying to know what you actually had!  Or, if you didn’t celebrate, what other fun stuff did you get up to over the long weekend?  Leave it in the comments  🙂

Vegan Food Is Not Diet Food

While I won’t get into too many lengthy and personal details about my years-long, up-and-down journey with weight loss, I will say that recently, the steady (albeit not monstrous) weight gain I’ve experienced over the past 6 years was starting to bum me out.

The thing is, I’m fine with how I look (for the most part), but I’m concerned about my long-term health.  If I continued to gain weight at the rate I’ve been going, I’d be 100 lbs. heavier than I am now by age 50.Not Diet Food 009I took the photo of this incredible sunset in Roxbury last summer.  #nofilter

Last week I decided it was time to get serious.  There was one other time in my life where I experienced a significant weight loss, and I managed it by tracking my calories (not in a crazy/obsessive way, but in a way that puts things in black and white so that I can remind myself why an extra glass of wine is probably not necessary).

So for the past 10 days I’ve been using My Fitness Pal (both the site and the iPhone app) to track my calories and exercise.  I’ve lost 6.4 lbs. in two weeks and I’m pumped!

Still, it’s pretty annoying to me that it’s so hard for me to keep weight off.  I feel like people judge me when they find out I’m vegan but see that I’m not very thin.

The fact is that vegan food is not diet food.  It is just food.  It can be low or high in calories and fat.  It can be whole and natural, or processed and sodium-laden.  And eating too much of it can cause weight gain.

Chili 001Did you know that all of these Girl Scout cookie varieties (with the exception of the Samoas Caramel deLites) are vegan?  Vegan, yes.  Diet-friendly, no.

For the past 10 days, I’ve been eating just enough, and it’s paying off (so far!).  I’ve still got a ways to go but already I feel more empowered, like I’m doing something positive for myself in both the long- and short-term.Not Diet Food 013Buffalo Jackfruit (recipe from Spabettie) snack: 89 calories [Source: acookinthemaking on Instagram–follow me por favor!]

However, tonight will present something of a test for me because I am going to a five-course vegan “Pre-Valentine’s Day” dinner hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society at Veggie Galaxy.  Check out this menu:

BEVERAGE: Pink Bellini Cocktail
Made with sparkling wine (or a non-alcoholic version of sparkling “wine”) and a mix of fresh peach and strawberry puree.

Stuffed Beets (fresh beets stuffed with an agave-sweetened vegan yogurt, apple & walnut melange)

COURSE TWO – Choose One
Maple Parsnip Soup
Peanut Apple Salad (apples, celery, raisins, peanuts, coconut, peanut butter)

Passion Fruit Sorbet

COURSE FOUR – Choose One
Vegetable-Tofu Kabobs over Italian Cous Cous with Sesame Ginger Glaze
Seitan Curry over Basmati Rice

COURSE FIVE – Choose One
The dessert course is still to be announced but we’ll choose between one chocolate and one non-chocolate dessert.

How good does that sound??  And how calorific?!  Ahhh!

Technically I will only have 589 calories left in the bank by dinner time tonight.  This is usually more than enough for dinner but for dining out it’s pretty paltry.  However, I have firmly decided not to worry too much about what I eat.  Instead, I will simply stop eating once full, and take whatever is leftover to go to enjoy another day.  Sounds like a solid plan, right?  We shall see…

Wish me luck!

Refried Bean Tortilla Pies, and Some Blog News

Another frigid winter weekend down, only 987453 5 (technically) to go!

This weekend was actually nice and relaxing.  On Saturday, H and I got up and out for a Ragnar training run, and then he surprised me with a trip to an indoor mini-golf course (located inside a greenhouse!).

Refried Bean Tortilla Pies 001After mini-golf, we headed to a golf outlet store where I got my very first set of clubs!  Taking practice swings with them was a welcome reminder that summer isn’t as far off as it sometimes feels…

H had to do some work yesterday, which meant lots of kitty cuddle time for me:
Refried Bean Tortilla Pies 005

And, of course, kitchen time!  First up was some recipe testing for Richa:Refried Bean Tortilla Pies 004I obviously can’t reveal what it is, but I can tell you it was delicious!

Then, as is typical, I was in the mood for something spicy, so I made this:Refried Bean Tortilla Pies 007

Refried Bean Tortilla Pie
Yield: Approximately 2 cups bean mixture, or 4 servings (1/2 cup beans over 2 tortillas per serving)
Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, can be oil-free

This is a cheap, simple way to jazz up ordinarily boring/bland refried beans!  I called it a “pie” because it reminded me of a little pizza 🙂

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil OR water/broth (enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan)
1 small yellow onion, finely diced (about 2/3 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 16-oz. can vegetarian refried beans
1-2 tbsp. chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced (omit for less heat)
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (omit for less heat)
1 tsp. lime juice
8 corn tortillas

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Empty beans into a medium saucepan and heat gently while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a medium skillet, heat oil or water.  Add onions and garlic and saute for 3-5 minutes, until softened and translucent.  Add chipotle, chili power, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and cayenne and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the saucepan with the beans and stir to fully incorporate.  Add lime juice and stir again.

Spread mixture onto corn tortillas (I find about 1/4 cup per tortilla to be a good amount) and bake for 5-7 minutes or until bean mixture has a light crust.

Serve warm with whatever toppings you like!  I enjoyed mine with black beans (beans on beans, I know…sue me), avocado, and cilantro.  I bet some melted Daiya pepperjack shreds would also taste swell.  Just have fun with it!

For crispier pies, you can bake the tortillas for 2-3 minutes on their own before spreading on the bean mixture.

It’s also fun to layer the tortillas for a taller pie!Refried Bean Tortilla Pies 006

Blog News
You may have noticed a few changes around the blog (well, most likely you haven’t but now you will!)…

1) After 5 years and 8 months of blogging I have FINALLY purchased the domain  I know it’s not like a huge process and it doesn’t actually mean or change anything, but to me it feels really special and exciting!

2) I have removed the Blog Cast of Characters page.  It made me sad to do it, but it just wasn’t really relevant to the blog anymore.  When I started A. Cook in the Making, I was 23 years old and living at home in NJ briefly before moving to Boston to start law school.  My life has changed drastically since then, and most of what I write about on here really only involves my husband, myself, and occasionally the cats.  Obviously my parents and siblings are still incredibly important to me and I will post about them when I see them!

2b) I’ve updated the About page accordingly to show H, Stewie, and Marty.

3) I have made serious improvements to the Categories, editing them all the way back out to my first posts in 2008, and expanding them to include seasonal-themed posts.  Check them out on the right-hand toolbar.

4) After many months of drafting, I have finally published a Recipes page!  Not that I’m suddenly some prolific recipe guru, but I’ve posted enough of them now that I thought it might be helpful to have them all listed and linked in one place.

Next up will be going back and sprucing up the [abysmal] tagging that I did back in the day.  That one’s definitely a work in progress.