Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hot and Chunky Date Night Spaghetti

My husband and I love spaghetti.  Maybe it's part nostalgia… you know when you're a kid and you just totally load up your fork and take a great big bite of saucy noodles without a care in the world as to how much sauce you just got all over your shirt, not to mention, your face.  Whatever the reason, spaghetti is one of our faves, so for date night this week, I decided to turn up the heat, and the chunky factor, on this delish dish.

Shopping List:
25 oz. jar, pre-made tomato basil pasta sauce
16 oz. box, spinach spaghetti noodles*
1/2 med. red onion
4-6 med. white mushrooms
1 1/2 med. tomatoes

From the Pantry:
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. garlic salt

large sauce pan
large pot
cutting board
chopping knife

Preparation:  Fill pot about 3/4 full with water and set heat on high, bringing water to boil.  Empty contents of red sauce into  sauce pan.  Set on medium-low heat and allow to warm up.  Rinse vegetables.  Slice red onion and mushrooms and chop up tomato.  Stir vegetables into sauce, and turn the heat up just so your mixture is simmering.  Add red pepper flakes and garlic salt.  Stir and allow to simmer while you cook the spaghetti. By this time, your water should be boiling.  Place spaghetti in pot and cook until tender - about 10 minutes.  Once spaghetti is cooked, drain it, transfer to serving dish and top with your delightfully spicy, extra chunky tomato sauce.  I like to serve mine with a side of garlic toast and a glass of red wine.

Light a few candles and enjoy a night of good pasta, good people, and a  guaranteed good time.

*We happen to love a whole wheat, whole grain, spinach spaghetti stocked at our local grocery store.  But, use whatever you love most.  If you've never tried it, the texture is the same and the taste is terrific.  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer Salads - Part One: Four Bean Salad

So, supposedly Summer is winding down.  I'm starting to see just the slightest hints of orange tinge the edges of a few leaves and the smell of Fall is definitely starting to creep into the morning air.  But, before we officially bid adieu to my favorite season, I want to share some of my favorite salads as an edible Ode to Summer.

The first is the hearty, Four Bean Salad.

Shopping List:
15 oz. can black beans
15 oz. can red kidney beans
15 oz. can great northern beans
15 oz. can black eyed peas
1 c. cherry tomatoes
3/4 medium cucumber
1/4 medium red onion
1 pckg. good seasonings, italian dressing mix

cutting board
chopping knife
large bowl for salad

Preparation:  Drain and rinse beans.  Quarter each cherry tomato.  Slice cucumber.  Dice red onion into teeny tiny pieces.  Prepare dressing according to package instructions.*  Combine all ingredients in large bowl.

Chill for 30 minutes to one hour to allow flavors to mingle then bon appetit!  This makes roughly 15 servings at about 127 calories each.

I really hope you'll try this salad.  It's a salad you can really sink your teeth into and who doesn't love that!  Check back soon for the second of my Summer Salads.

*To cut a few calories, I substitute 1/4 c. oil and 1/4 c. water for the 1/2 c. oil the package directions call for.  It tastes just as good and you save yourself nearly 500 calories!  127 cal./serv. is based off of the prepared dish made with this substitution.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I was struck this morning by the idea of preparation.  When it comes to doing a post about a new recipe I've created, I spend a great deal of time preparing for the final product.  Then, the post itself can sometimes take me a day or two to get everything just the way I want it.  My point is, preparation is an undeniably essential element in pulling off an amazing dish.  

The idea of preparation as a building block of life just wouldn't leave my mind.  I started thinking, really the key to success in the kitchen is also a foundational principle of life.  Whether you realize it or not, you are in preparation for something today.  Maybe you're in school.  Whether you're conscious of it or not, you are getting together the "ingredients" necessary to succeed in a future career.  Now, you may be haphazardly going through the motions.  Or, you may just be on autopilot all together but, whether you realize it or not, you are in preparation for something.

Even as small children at play, we are preparing ourselves for future roles… Two girls playing Barbies -  One always comes up  with extremely imaginative story lines and never seems to run out of adventures for Barbie to play while the other is content to just dress, redress, and style Barbie, her friends, and her dream house all day long.  Two different girls.  Two different ideas of play.  Two potential life talents being ever so slightly grown, groomed, and prepped through simple play.

So here's my question - What exactly are you purposefully, or, inadvertently preparing yourself for today?  

Mind you, we don't have a choice as to whether or not we're preparing for something or not.  The actions you take today, the relationships you choose to cultivate, the way you spend your time, that's all a part of your preparation.  The final "dish" so to speak, is not always easy to see but, today, you are preparing for who you will be tomorrow.  Don't you think it's worth while to be intentional about that?  I know I do…

For a lot of my life, I was on autopilot.  I made decisions that affected the course of my life but, not always with the final product in mind.  I was short sited, just making decisions that seemed to satisfy or effect the here and now without much consideration for what I was really preparing myself for in the future.  So, I'll ask the question again, "What are you preparing yourself for?"  Maybe, I'm the only one who needed to hear this but, I for one am tired of believing that I don't have much say in how my "piece of the pie" shapes up.  I for one want to make conscious decisions about what ingredients I choose to blend into the story of my life.  My story does not have to be the result of an accidental mixture of events designed and delivered randomly by fate.  Fate is a fake.  Fate doesn't exist.  Faith does though.  

I have faith that I can purposefully fold into the batter of my life the experiences, people, knowledge, and skills that will ultimately produce the wonderful, fully developed Me, I'm meant to be.

But, I can't be lazy.  I can't deny that if I choose to waste time or continue to ignore that every day, in some way, can be preparation with a purpose, then, I'll miss out on becoming the me I want to be.  I'm not really 100% sure what all that looks like just yet but, I'm happy just to start trying.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Tough Pill to Swallow

Soooo, you may have noticed that I've been M.I.A. for a little while.  I want to share with you a little tale of lethargy, fatigue, and confusion and how I'm getting back into the blog groove.

About three or four weeks ago, I started feeling really tired.  It was an unexplained tiredness though.  Eating didn't help.  Sleeping wasn't renewing my energy, and I really couldn't pinpoint anything specific that would have caused me to be as tired, no, exhausted as I was feeling.

Fast forward a week, I forced myself to go to dinner with a couple of my girlfriends.  I didn't feel like going because I was still so exhausted.  On top of that, I was feeling really depressed and starting to wonder if I was going crazy.  Like, seriously, there was nothing going on in my life that would contribute to me being depressed and I had been taking it really easy trying to get my energy up because the following week we were going to have family staying with us.  I wanted to be the "Hostess with the Mostest" but I just couldn't imagine myself being my energetic, gregarious self ( yeah, I'm gregarious - fond of company; sociable) while still feeling so emotionally and physically zapped.  

While at dinner with the girls, we kicked around a couple of ideas.  I knew that I wasn't preggers (took two tests just to be doubly sure), I knew there wasn't any unresolved, looming stressor going on in my life, and I knew that I had been eating regularly and hadn't seen a decrease in my appetite.  Actually, I felt like I was eating ALL THE TIME!

My friends started talking to me about friends or siblings they had that were anemic.  Up until that point, I hadn't considered the fact that the cause of the physical and emotional way I was feeling could be a nutrient deficiency.

I scheduled an appointment with my doctor right away because I wanted to get blood work done to determine if I was in fact deficient in some way.

The doctors appointment was set and that was all well and good but, that was over a week away and I had family coming to stay for five days in the mean time…

So, I got Googling.  I knew from all my reading that the two major things you have to be thoughtful of when adopting a vegan diet were a possible Vitamin D and/or Vitamin B12 deficiency.  Now, I already know that I am someone who feeds off sunlight.  We've had an uncharacteristically sunny summer where I live in the north east and I have been enjoying it to the fullest.  I love taking walks, getting outside and rollerblading, and just sitting on my front porch reading a good book, soaking up the late afternoon, early evening rays.  So, I felt confident that I was good on Vitamin D.

B 12 however, that was another story.  I knew that B 12 came from a bacteria and therefore, in the olden days, when our food, heck, everything wasn't as sterilized and sanitized as it is today ( I'm so not complaining by the way), historically, we were able to derive the Vitamin B 12 we needed from plant sources.  Nowadays, that's generally not the case.  I also new that many foods, for instance, the soy milk that I use to drink before switching to almond, was fortified with this vitamin.  But, in the five months I had been eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, I had not purposefully, through means of diet or supplement, been consciously getting any B 12.

I found this web page on symptoms of B 12 deficiency.

I was shocked to find a list of practically every single thing I had been experiencing:
shortness of breath - check
fatigue - check
cold hands and feet - check
heart palpitations, chest pain, numbness and tingling in hands and feet - check, check, check
confusion, depression, memory loss - check, check, check

I KNOW.  Scary stuff right?!

So, I didn't wait for the doctor's visit to confirm.  I ran to the nearest drug store, scooped up the highest dose of B12 I could find, and immediately took the first dose.  In a matter of hours, I was already beginning to feel more like myself and, within a weeks time, I was feeling right as rain.

By the time I got to the doctor's office, I felt fine.  We did the blood test just to confirm that everything looked good and the results confirmed that all my stats were very, very good.

I was embarrassed to say the least when I discovered that this was the cause of my symptoms.  But, the lesson I learned in all this?  When books or magazines say, "Consult your physician before beginning a new diet or exercise program," they're not just directed at old people.  I know that may sound harsh or naive… and maybe I am a little harsh or naive but, as I'm not a doctor and I don't know everything there is to know about the complexities of the miraculous human body, it behooves me to follow through on that often heard but probably seldom heeded, healthful advice.

I'm now feeling better than ever.  I'm taking a few supplements, which I wasn't doing before, I'm still eating a predominantly whole foods, plant-based diet but trying to incorporate at least one meal a week that might include fish.  The fact of the matter still remains though, eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains with very little meat and dairy consumption is still the healthiest way to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.

But, honestly, don't take my word for it.  Ask your doctor.  Mine told me that, "[They] were not a proponent of eliminate anything entirely from [their] diet."  Because of my interests and reading about nutrition, I choose not to eat meat or dairy other than what could be characterized as extremely sparingly.  I've lost my taste and appetite for meat.  Dairy no longer appeals to me.  But, in 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul writes, " 'Everything is permissible for me' - but not everything is beneficial."  1 Timothy 4:4-5 states, "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer."

So, what is my point?  I am not going to go around telling people they should never eat meat or dairy.  But, what I will say is, in order to be healthy, we do have to be proactive in learning what is best for our bodies.  The crazy thing is that, if you just look at food, you can probably determine fairly accurately if it's going to help fuel your body or not.  A Twinkie doesn't really look like it's going to do anything for you.  Food that doesn't expire for 2 years, probably isn't a living, life promoting food.  Food that will spoil in a week?  That's probably closer to what nature intended.  

Lovingly and benevolently, "everything God created is good," and can and should be, "received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer."  I find that to be a beautiful thing.

My pride was a little bruised through this whole situation as it is more than a little humbling to have to admit something like a self-inflicted, nutrient deficiency but, through the help of my wonderful friends, the advice of my doctor, and my good friend Google, I'm back on track.  I'm feeling better than ever.  And, while there's still time, I'm just soaking in the sunshine and flavors of summertime.