Cheese Sauce?

It’s hard to believe but it’s been about six months since a vegan friend encouraged me to try his way of eating for thirty days

This plant based journey has taught me a lot but one of the most valuable lessons is that it’s important to make the right choices for yourself in the kitchen.

Many vegan cooks manipulate ingredients in attempts to recreate familiar dishes in new, plant based and healthier ways. For example, there are scores of recipes on the internet to help you create a “cheese” sauce, ideal for nachos, mac and cheese and scores of comfort food dishes that you may remember from your past life consuming dairy.

I’ve tried a few of these imaginative recipes. Many use cashews and nutritional yeast. Some add a host of seasonings or use roasted red peppers. Nearly all create a neon orange sauce that resembles melted Velveeta. Well, resembles it in appearance at least.

In taste, perhaps not so much.

I have finally learned to cut the recipes in half so that I don’t feel as bad throwing away nearly all the completed product. After the last batch, I stood in the kitchen for a long time, contemplating whether to throw it away right then or stash the concoction in the fridge with hopes I would think of some way to salvage the two cups of mediocrity.

In other words, should I throw it away now or wait till later? This is the inner dialogue sometimes.

I’ve met plenty of people who think these recipes are great. Lots of bloggers, online reviewers and even some real life friends rave about how tasty, how authentically cheesy their favorite recipe is.

I’m happy for them but it’s not for me.

From now on, if I want mac and cheese, I’ll go to a restaurant and enjoy the real thing. It can be a treat, something to be savored and enjoyed occasionally.

For me, plant based eating should be about eating clean and eating well. There’s little more delicious than sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers and zucchini heaped on top of a baked potato. No sauces, just some pepper and sea salt to taste. In-season blueberries are so delicious they’re hard to resist and homemade soup packed with veggies makes for a tasty dinner.

All of these things can be enjoyed in the simplest form possible. Torturing ingredients into forms they weren’t mean to take on isn’t necessary or worthwhile when you have such tasty meals and snacks at your disposal.

I’ll save my cashews for snacks and occasionally treat myself to the authentic cheesy dish.

After all, food is meant to nourish the body but I think it’s also meant to enjoy. It’s ok to take a break, especially if you’re doing it infrequently. At least, that’s the right choice for me.

Healthy Eating On The Go

Eating healthy on the go is tough. Eating healthy and plant based on the go is nearly impossible.

A lot of times I just need something to grab and go, preferably to eat in the car. These choices are deplorable. Yet, when there’s time to sit down for a meal, the choices are almost as bad.

Everything is double meat, loaded down with cheese, packed with sodium and deep fried. It’s all bread and pasta and sad little iceberg lettuce salads that are also smothered in cheese and croutons.

Yuck.

I’ve come to accept that true plant based healthy eating isn’t easy and often impossible in the outside world. A packed lunch can remedy the problem some days but isn’t always feasible.

I have figured out that Meijer is a great source for healthful food. They offer a nice selection of fresh salads and cups of cut up fruits. Some salads have meat while others like their Mediterranean, garden salad or nuts and berry salad are meat free. And yeah, it’s a lot of fruit if the salad contains fruit but it’s better than going hungry!

About $5 for a salad and $2-3 for a cup of fresh fruit and it’s more nutritious than the Impossible Whopper at BK which is the usual alternative.

The above picture shows a salad I had for dinner in Michigan last month and a container of fruit I had bought for breakfast.

When I do have the opportunity to eat in a restaurant at a table with a knife and fork like a real human, it’s fun to enjoy a treat that I normally don’t have. Pizza comes to mind. So does diner grub like grilled cheese or pancakes. I have adopted a sort of go big or go home mentality when it comes to these dining experiences – enjoy the grilled cheese and fries in the great old diner atmosphere but go back to normal eating the next meal.

It’s not a great plan but it works.

So I’m dying to know- what are your healthy eating on the go tips? Bonus points if you have vegan ideas!

No Spend January Is Here!

January is a No Spend Month for me. It’s a fun little game I’ve played for the last few years where I pay for what is needed but there’s no frivolous spending (unless pre-planned), no impulse buying and no shopping for entertainment. Goodbye, antique malls!

So bills are paid and groceries are purchased but I work on using some things from the freezer and pantry. Yesterday, I stopped at the store for about $10 worth of produce needed to create meals for the week using things I already have. If I stop for gas, my reusable water bottle had better be full because I’m not running inside for a drink. Not even for just a dollar.

There’s a gift to buy this month and a planned dinner and movie with a friend that was postponed from the holidays. That’s all the extracurricular spending that should happen.

This month, I will spend a lot of time at home, using what I own, looking for creative ways to entertain myself for free and simply appreciating the life that I have built and all that I already have. The Depression era mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” comes to mind.

After all the excess and gluttony of the holidays, a spending fast is a welcome relief to the bank account but it’s also a welcome break from commercialism.

We spend a lot of time making money to survive and on spending money on stuff to fill our homes but we don’t always go home and just enjoy the life we have.

It’s is an exercise in gratitude as much as anything else.

I wrote a Winter Survival Guide last fall and it’s here in January that these techniques are truly put to work.

Here’s what’s happening in my world right now:

Books are a priority this year and I’m finding that the more I read, the more I want to read. The problem is that there’s a new one that I’m dying to tear into. I usually have three or four going at once but want to focus on one at a time this year. It can be next.

Cooking is more fun. I always enjoy playing in the kitchen but winter is a great time to experiment with new recipes. This year is especially fun as I’m looking for plant based recipes for my new lifestyle. This week I made a potato corn chowder that was divine and the lunch leftovers were a welcome treat! I also made a pumpkin cookie that was disgusting but we’ll just call that an experiment gone awry and move on.

Organization and purging are another priority. I have a list of areas to hit – from the pantry to the sock drawer to the nightstand and all points in between. It’s shocking how much stuff accumulates over time even when you try to be tidy. The goal is to do one thing from the list every day. The purging extends into intangible areas too. One evening was spent purging emails while watching the Closer on TV. Brenda Lee Johnson caught the bad guys and I unsubscribed and deleted thousands of old marketing emails. The above picture represents a new set of Christmas dishes that need to be put away after some rearranging in the china cabinet.

Movie time! I can’t go to the movies but that doesn’t matter because there’s a stack of movies waiting for my viewing pleasure. One day I’ll make some homemade potato chips and hit the couch for a little movie marathon.

Self care is a priority. Outdoor activity is less common because it’s dark at quitting time but I am trying to prioritize some kind of exercise every day. Rest is also important. My philosophy for most of the year is that you can sleep when you’re dead. During winter, these cold, dark nights call for a warm blanket and an earlier bedtime.

Being happy with the Now is a common theme and resisting the urge to adventure plan involves daily internal negotiations. It’s much harder than it should be. However, the theme of this stage of the year is being satisfied with the abundance of everyday life. Adventure planning can wait a bit. I have started a list of day trip ideas based on suggestions from friends but that’s more about being forgetful than about planning. Being present in this moment rather than dream of the next adventure is a real challenge.

For me, a No Spend Month is an opportunity to get myself together for another year, to set new goals and intentions, to stop buying stuff I don’t need, to nourish my mind and body, and to practice gratitude for what I have.

It gets easier every year and, this will sound sound nuts, but I’ve been looking forward to January for weeks.

Want to do your own no spend challenge? You can set your own rules and make it what you want it to be! You might be surprised at how much money and time you save!

Cultivating a Better Life

I like to take vacation around the holidays. This period is perfect for a forced slow down, to transition from three seasons of busy into my season of quiet.

The rest of the year is occupied by a lot of running around but our unpredictable winter weather often makes it hard to get out. I look forward to this time of year- soft blankets and books, inside chores and quiet walks through the snow take the place of road trips, weekend adventures and breakfasts on the porch.

January is typically a no spend month for me. This organized spending fast means bills are paid and necessities purchased but making do is the common theme and there are no frivolous purchases. Recreational shopping is not allowed but that’s ok because there are many free ways to stay happily occupied.

I’m more apt to do puzzles, to go to bed early and to spin records while cleaning something on a Saturday afternoon.

Relaxation is key and I turn my attention inward, write more, focus on self improvement and on building a better life.

It’s a good time of year.

This vacation is about transitioning into that period. I spent a couple of days running around but today will bake Christmas cookies for my folks. From now until the New Year the plan is to be mostly domestic.

Although, if the weather is good, there may be one last little road trip for the year, a Christmas gift to myself. After Natalie died, I realized that life is too short to not live as we wish.

This week is also about refocusing on plant based eating, exercise and rest. The last couple of months have brought spurts of stress and busyness that have messed with my sleep and left me in a position that I’m glad to just eat vegetarian while away from home rather than the plant based food that makes me feel so good.

In other words, friends, I’m making this break exactly what I need it to be. My wish for all of you is that you get a few days each year to do that for yourself. Remember, today is a great time to start.

Eating Well Doesn’t Mean Eating Boring

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about healthy eaters, especially plant based eaters, is that their food is dull or that they just eat salads and big bowls of broccoli.

Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

I went plant based just a little over three months ago and think of myself as an imperfect vegan. That means that all the food I prepare is plant based but that healthy eating in the real world is hard. So when I’m out, I just do my best. Sometimes that means an Impossible Burger with a side of fries and broccoli. Sometimes it means a grilled pimento cheese sandwich and chips at a fabulous old soda fountain.

I aim to eat plant based 90 percent of the time. However, I want to eat good food all the time.

Yesterday I made some delicious pancakes to freeze for a rainy day. These wheat pancakes with plump blueberries are as delicious as any restaurant pancakes I’ve ever tasted, especially when paired with pure maple syrup.

I also made some hot chocolate with cocoa, a little stevia, almond milk and vanilla. There was a companion recipe for homemade marshmallow that I was too lazy to make despite how easy it sounded. Nonetheless, it was a tasty cup of hot chocolate to finish off a day of Christmas wrapping.

While it was good, it was missing something- maybe the homemade marshmallow? Maybe just a little more sweetener? I’m not sure but will work to improve it until I’m happy.

Then there was the pot of homemade bean soup – three kinds of beans, vegetable broth, onions and carrots simmered to create a mouth watering soup for work lunches this week.

The point is that I’m not deprived and am as happy as a clam with most of the food I make.

It’s actually a lot of fun to play in the kitchen, trying new things and learning from the occasional mistake. The mistakes are ok because I typically learn a valuable lesson and rarely make the same mistake twice. Also, it’s a sign that I’m trying new things and that my diet is no longer limited to the same five things I used to make all the time.

This is a good thing!

Thinking about reducing your meat and dairy or maybe just trying to eat a little healthier? Try choosing one dish that you enjoy and seek out a healthier recipe for that dish. Pancakes or soups are a great place to start. Try healthifying just one dish a week and you might be surprised how much you enjoy the changes.

Self Care Sunday

I protect my free time on Sundays the same way a mama bear protects her cubs. If I agree to do something on a Sunday, it must be really important or I must really like the person who invited me.

The phrase “self care” sounds self indulgent but I’m not lazing around in a bubble bath all day. Instead, this day is reserved for certain household chores, laundry and preparing for the week as well as for more traditional self care efforts.

I respond well to structure and planning. I also respond well to rest and relaxation and to the sense of accomplishment that comes with a well spent Sunday.

This is what I seek on an average Sunday:

Wake up naturally. The is the only day out of seven that I am not ripped from my sleep by an alarm and then forced to leave the house. This simple act feels decadent.

Eat well. Breakfast is normally a really good smoothie with peanut butter on toast. This is my normal daily breakfast but on Sunday there’s time to actually enjoy it. I aim for healthful foods on this day because there are no excuses when there’s time to cook.

Be enlightened. I typically watch CBS Sunday Morning, a magazine show that covers lifestyle, history, current affairs, entertainers and almost anything else the folks at CBS can dream up. Sometimes I kick up my feet and watch but some weeks just listen while doing chores. Much of what they cover doesn’t sound at all interesting in advance but I nearly always enjoy the stories and learn something.

Do laundry. Starting the week with an empty hamper ensures that whatever I want to wear is clean and there are plenty of clean towels. I typically put together some outfits to choose from including scarves and other accessories to save time on work mornings. Also, the bed sheets are always changed on Sunday because there is nothing more decadent than clean sheets.

Meal prep. Grocery shopping usually happens on Saturday or maybe Friday after work. On Sunday, I cook a few things to make weekday meals easier. This is the ideal day to experiment with new recipes or to make things that require more time. Soups that need time to simmer or beans that take hours to cook are good candidates. Homemade granola always happens on Sunday too.

Sweat. At some point, I like to break a sweat. This typically happens on the treadmill or maybe with an exercise dvd. This is followed by a hot shower and clean pjs. That’s right, I wear pajamas all day. Judge me all you like but it makes me happy.

Work the brain. This means that I kick up my feet and curl up with Scout to read, journal, do crosswords or catch up on other things that give my brain opportunity to stretch.

Embrace the quiet. Soft music, smart stuff on tv and plain old silence are important to this introvert. It allows me opportunity to calm my mind and mentally prepare for the week ahead.

Whatever I please. Real work always comes first so that the last half of the day can be devoted to whatever I feel like doing. Sometimes this means decluttering a drawer because this makes me happy. Sometimes I process pictures, write a blog post or watch a movie. If I’ve been too busy to keep up with housekeeping it often makes me happy to do some chores. It really just depends on what I’m in the mood to do.

Rest. Going to bed early on Sunday sets a good tone for the rest of the week. I love to take a book to bed early and then wake up feeling good on Monday.

In short, everything I do on Sunday is aimed toward improving quality of life during the work week and making myself healthy and well.

It’s not a bad way to live.

Do I feel like I’m missing out on something by basically hibernating one day a week? Not on your life. I feel stronger and happier for it.

The weeks when I skip my routine are harder weeks. The simple acts of staying fed and clothed take longer and eat up valuable time that could be used for fun, rest, exercise or basically anything else.

It’s not that I can’t function without my Sunday routine, it simply makes life more pleasant and easier.

Clearly, this wouldn’t work so well for someone with kids or a significant other. This is one benefit of being on my own and I am milking it for all it’s worth.

When Your Body Asks For A Break

There are some lessons that bear repeating.

1. The emotionally unavailable man will never change, not even for you.

2. It is impossible to open a package of Oreos and eat just one. You have to do an entire row or none at all.

3. Your body deserves better than you likely give it in an average day.

There are more but these are the big three.

I seem to swing between being ultra aware and responsive to what my body needs or I tune it out altogether. For the last couple of weeks, I have ignored my body as it has screamed for more rest, less stress, better food and much needed quiet.

I have this inner voice that’s constantly pushing me to keep going when I don’t want to, that tricks me into not hopping on the treadmill when I know exercise would be invigorating, and that tells me to eat the fries because that’s what I really want even though I know I’ll be sluggish tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my body is asking for a break, begging for good nutrition, movement and rest. And I ignore it.

I rely on my body to get me through the day. It takes me everywhere I need to go even when I’m mean to it. It has never failed me but I fail it all the time.

How to do better? That’s the $64,000 question.

This week has been stressful and tiring. Healthy eating, exercise and stress management are really just a pipe dream, something to be put off until the weekend when I undoubtedly will crash.

We all go through times like this and the best we can do is the best we can do. I’m trying hard to remember that good choices breed more good choices and that what I do to my body today will effect how I feel tomorrow.

I know that I’m approaching a breaking point when I simultaneously want to run away on a trip and also hide in my quiet house with a package of cookies.

A trip may be in my future but the cookies will not.

For today, I’ll just keep pushing forward and make the best decisions possible. And then tomorrow, I’ll wake up and do it again.

Things will be better soon.