Musings of a Maybe-Vegan

Well hello!  I realize that it has been quite a while now since my last post.

I really miss blogging and still frequently find myself composing posts in my head, but when it comes time to actually post something, I skid to a stop.  This is in large part because I’ve been struggling a lot with balancing/reconciling my new identity as a mother (a new mother, a working mother, a breastfeeding mother, etc.) with the identity of the blog and whether I even want to continue to write about “vegan” recipes.

You see, not long ago I stumbled across this post on one of my favorite blogs, Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows, in which Angela explained the decision she and her husband had reached with regard to their infant daughter’s diet.  The comments on the post are exactly what you’d expect, and I don’t suggest reading them if you don’t want to get sucked down a black hole of holier-than-thou vitriole pitted against can’t-we-all-get-along sanctimony.

I bring it up only to explain the impact that this post had on me, particularly after years and years of trying so hard to ignore all of the hate the Internet has to offer, and instead focus on my own goal of bringing some positivity and light-heartedness into the mix.  I think I have for the most part succeeded, inasmuch as my blog has never in the 7 years of its existence sparked a giant comment war or controversy.  But it doesn’t mean that I don’t notice and react when these things blow up in other corners of the Internet that I frequent.

I know that I shouldn’t care what others think–and to a large extent I guess I don’t–but I am a diplomatic person by nature and I strive to please as many people as possible at all times, to be mindful of how my words and actions might make people feel, and not to step on too many toes.

However, I have come to realize how truly insurmountable these goals are, especially on a public blog!

What the above-mentioned blog post made me realize is that I will never be “vegan” enough for the vegans and I will never be “plant-based” enough for the healthnuts.  Even after all these years, it made me feel defeated and less-than.  Maybe that’s stupid but that’s how I felt.  This kind of all-or-nothing and you-can’t-sit-with-us attitude can turn people off entirely from even dabbling in different lifestyles or ways of thinking, because why even bother?

I have resolved to remove labels from my life.  I think it will have the effect of making me feel more comfortable posting about my life on this very public blog.

There will always be those who troll the internet looking for a fight or things to criticize.  But I hope that by removing my labels some of those people will move along because they will realize that I truly don’t care what other people do or what they call themselves.  All I can be is me.

And “me” is someone who right now is finding the utmost pleasure in taking her almost 7-month-old (!!) out to farms and farmstands to see the beautiful produce that grows all around us.  Baby H is so curious about and aware of his surroundings now and it’s a joy to watch him taking in all of the different colors and shapes!

farmstand

I’m also really enjoying making the little guy’s food now that he is eating solids twice a day.  He is a huge fan of all foods so far, and I’m having a blast mixing up different flavors and textures for him to try.  His most recent favorite has been zucchini that I steamed and pureed with garlic and a few basil leaves.

zucchini

There might be some who will see this and be shocked that I am feeding my baby purees instead of doing baby-led weaning, or tell me that zucchini isn’t an appropriate early food because of x, y, or z study and zooomg SIDS!!1! or some other such nonsense.  But let this post be exhibit A of me not caring.  I’m going to post what I want going forward–no more labels!

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Simple Lentil Pilaf

Even though a good deal of my last post talked about lentils, I’m talking about them again today because I actually found the time to create and cook a recipe, albeit a very simple one.  But sometimes simplicity is all you need.

Andplusalso, yay for MOAR LENTILS!!!!!1!!1!  [I am very sleep deprived.]

Simple Lentil Pilaf
This pilaf tastes great hot or cold and makes a really nice side to almost any entree.
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Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoonolive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups cooked lentils
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt (or just use garlic powder and add salt to taste)
1/8 teaspoon thyme

Directions
In a large saucepan, saute shallot and garlic in olive oil for 5-8 minutes over medium-high heat until soft and slightly browned. Add lentils, garlic salt, and thyme, and stir well. Lower heat and add rice. Stir to warm through. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

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In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I used the pre-cooked lentils from Trader Joe’s in this dish. But really, lentils are so easy and quick to cook from dry that you won’t be ceding any of your laziness cred if you cook your own to use in this dish.

Enjoy!

Cocozia Coconut Water Review and 3-Ingredient Pina Colada Smoothie

Recently the nice people at Cocozia offered to send me some of their original organic coconut water to try, and of course I said yes!  
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Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary case of Cocozia for review purposes, I was not compensated in any other way for writing this.  All opinions are my own, and as always, I only publish reviews of products that I think my readers will actually enjoy!

To be honest, in the past I have not been a huge fan of coconut water.  The first time I tried it was after one of my half marathons, and despite knowing how super-healthy it was and how much it would help in my recovery, I was put off by the sickly-sweet flavor and watery consistency.

Turns out I still do not love the taste of coconut water straight up.  However, I came up with many other fun and delicious uses for my Cocozia!

The first, best, and most obvious use is in smoothies!  You get all of the hydrating benefits of coconut water plus a boost of sweet coconut flavor.  My favorite is this 3-Ingredient Pina Colada Smoothie.
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Ingredients
1 cup Cocozia original organic coconut water
1 frozen banana
3/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks

Directions
Blend and serve!

Remember that when creating smoothies, you can add coconut water as-is (like in the recipe above), or you can freeze it in ice cube trays (a la Kathy Patalsky) so that it’ll be ready for you to drop in to any smoothie at any time.

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I have also had fantastic success replacing plain water with Cocozia in recipes!

For example, I tried out Isa’s Banana Flapjacks (from Vegan Brunch) using Cocozia and ended up with the fluffiest, most delicious batch of pancakes I’ve probably ever made.
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H and I were amazed by how awesome these came out. If we really tried, we could detect the slightest hint of coconut flavor, but the main thing about these was the texture. I may never make them with regular water again!

I also subbed Cocozia for regular water in a batch of muffins I made out of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread mix (which I have veganized many a time), also with fantastic, moist, fluffy results!
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To this particular batch I also chose to add some fun stuff (dark chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and chopped walnuts) to boost their nutritional and caloric value a bit (because, you know, breastfeeding). [And as a side note, these are very special muffins! They are the first thing (at 15 days post-partum) I have been in the kitchen to bake or cook since Baby H was born. It made me feel a bit like myself again.]

I definitely recommend Cocozia as a way to boost the nutrition and flavor of smoothies and baked goods, or just to enjoy as a post-workout or anytime drink (if, of course, you are someone who enjoys the taste of plain coconut water)!

Lemony Red Lentil Vegetable Soup

Happy New Year everyone!!!

A few days ago I got a hankering for lentil soup and decided that my very favorite Easiest Lentil Soup would be on the menu for dinner.

It had been a while since I made the recipe so I pulled up the blog post on my laptop for reference (kind of a cool feeling cooking from your own recipe!).  Then I went to gather my ingredients and realized that somehow, some way, I was fresh out of brown lentils.

I’m pretty sure this has never happened before.  What to do??

Rather than nix my lentil soup plan, I decided to make one with red lentils.  If you’ve ever cooked with red lentils you know they have a slightly different flavor and a much different texture than brown or green lentils, so I also adjusted the flavor profile of the original recipe.  Here is what I came up with (and it’s really good!):

Lemony Red Lentil Vegetable Soup
Serves 8-10
Vegan, dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free
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Ingredients
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
4 cups vegetable broth (check to ensure it is soy-free and/or gluten-free if these are concerns)
4 cups water
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. sea salt  (or to taste)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
3-4 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (from about half of a lemon)
Optional: additional veggies! (see Note)

Directions
Line the bottom of a large stockpot with water and begin to warm it over medium-high heat.  When the water begins to steam slightly, add garlic and onions and saute until onions soften, about 5 minutes.

Add carrots and celery and saute another 2-3 minutes, until softened.  (If anything is sticking, add a few splashes of water or broth to unstick it.)

Add the remaining ingredients (except for the lemon juice), stir to combine, and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, stir, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Note: Additional vegetables such as fresh tomatoes, zucchini, or spinach would also be delicious in here.  For tomatoes or squash, I’d go for about 1 1/2 cups and add them about halfway through the simmering time (otherwise they’ll turn to mush).  If using spinach, add 1-2 cups at the same time as the lemon juice and stir until wilted.

This makes a ton of soup which is great for leftovers!  I also froze a couple of portions to have on hand for after Baby H makes his or her debut.  Not long now…

That Festive Feeling

It’s Christmas Eve!

I decided to be extra festive by pairing a red cardigan with a bright green smoothie (orange-peach-mango juice, frozen banana, frozen strawberries, and spinach).  The 38-week bump makes it extra sassy, no?
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Now it’s almost time to get ready for Mass followed by dinner with H’s family. It’ll be a really nice night, although I’m a little bummed to have to spend the holidays away from my family this year. Traveling 5+ hours to New Jersey just really isn’t wise this close to the end of my pregnancy.

I made myself feel better by baking some Chai Spice Snickerdoodles from Isa Does It, which made my house smell extra wonderful and Christmasy!
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I cannot wait to eat these. I guess in the spirit of the season I will share *some* of them.

Wishing a very merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

Virtual Vegan Potluck: Spiced Maple Butternut Crisp

Welcome!  I hope you’re enjoying the December 2014 Virtual Vegan Potluck so far.  Thanks for stopping by A. Cook in the Making!
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For the dessert course of this year’s VVP, I’m bringing a Spiced Maple Butternut Crisp.
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Featuring tastes and aromas that evoke late autumn and the holidays, this not-too-sweet dessert is warm and familiar but still a little unique.  Plus, you can feel good about eating it because it’s technically made from a vegetable 🙂  Leftovers heat up very well and make a terrific breakfast too!

Spiced Maple Butternut Crisp
Vegan, dairy-free, soy-free; gluten-free option
Serves 8-12

Ingredients
For squash:
1 medium butternut squash, peeled well and sliced into thin half moons (think apple slices)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablepoons Earth Balance buttery spread (optional…use soy-free blend if necessary)

For topping:
1/3 cup flour (all-purpose or gluten-free)
1 cup rolled oats (certified gluten-free if needed)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil or Earth Balance

For serving:
Non-dairy vanilla ice cream (I use So Delicious Vanilla Bean coconut ice cream and it is divine)

Directions
Preheat oven to 375.  Grease a 9 x 11 baking dish and set aside.

Place butternut squash slices in a large bowl.  Add cornstarch, orange zest, orange juice, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and stir until well coated.  Add mixture to prepared baking dish.  At this point, if you wish, add Earth Balance on top, like so:
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To make the topping, combine all ingredients and stir until well incorporated.  Spread evenly over squash mixture.  Cover baking dish with tin foil, poke a few holes in the top with a fork, then place in the oven and bake for 40-60 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.

To serve: I recommend stirring this before serving, because a lot of the sweet gooey stuff tends to collect around the bottom.  Once stirred, place in a bowl, top with vanilla ice cream, and enjoy!

If you would like a sweeter crisp: sprinkle an additional 1/4 cup of granulated sugar over the crisp while still warm and stir to incorporate.
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To move on in the potluck and see what dessert Apsara has brought, follow this link to Eating Well Diary.

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To go back and revisit Koren and Alana’s submission, follow this link to She Makes Magic.

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Easy Weeknight Meal: Potato Mash Bowls

Now that it’s December, this baby thing is suddenly starting to feel really, really real. With my due date less than 5 weeks away, I’m experiencing a real struggle between my insane, compulsive desire to get everything ready on one hand, and various aches, pains, and (at times overwhelming) exhaustion on the other.

I haven’t been doing a whole lot of what I would consider to be “real” cooking, but I have been making strides toward my goal of cleaning out our freezer, fridge, and pantry to clear out some stuff that’s been hanging around a bit too long, and make room for some easy, convenient items and pre-prepared meals that H and I can turn to in the first few weeks after Baby H comes home.

One thing that has been really working for me as a dinner option has been what I call Potato Mash Bowls, and it’s really as simple as baking a potato in the microwave, mashing it up, and putting some veggies and protein on top. These bowls are really quick to prepare, easy to adapt to whatever ingredients (or leftovers) you have lying around that need using, and importantly are really, really tasty and satisfying to eat.

The base:
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Here, I mashed up the potato with some Earth Balance and Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning.

Then, I added steamed broccoli (from the freezer!) and black beans:
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I also did one topped with veggie chili (also from the freezer! I feel so accomplished!) and a heap of nutritional yeast:
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I love these bowls!!

I will have more freezer meals to share with you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any ideas you have for stuff I can make and freeze to have on hand when baby comes home. I am thinking about chili and soups, but would love suggestions for more casserole-type entrees if anyone has any. Thanks in advance 🙂