Monday, September 24, 2012

Week 1: Smoothies, Chili, and Chana - Oh, My!

Week 1 of the Whole Life Challenge has come and gone, and I must say: I am so happy to be back in my kitchen, cooking up a storm! Sunday afternoons feel so nice when I can kick back and soak in the 3-5 dishes I've made for the week.

With the dietary stipulations of the challenge it has been a journey finding recipes that not only are compliant with the game's rules but are also satisfying and nutrient-dense. The first dish I made is my favorite hearty soup recipe: Sweet Potato Chili. With kidney and black beans to lend protein-packed staying power this chili is a filling and satisfying lunch or dinner. 

And what's that dollop? Why, lemon cashew cream, thankyouverymuch. A suitable stand-in for sour cream.

Part of the challenge required us to call three different restaurants to find out which dishes were compliant with the game's dietary rules. One of the restaurants I called was Saffron Patch, the local, upscale Indian eatery in the valley. I was hope-hope-hoping their chana masala and maharaja dal were a-okay and they were! I ordered some that night - sans basmati rice - and subbed some homemade quinoa on the side. I could eat chana masala all day, every day.

No pasta?! Well, luckily spaghetti squash is a grain-free alternative and mighty tasty. I prepared this squash aglio e olio style, with plenty of fresh cracked black pepper. Also, a power greens side salad with creamy garlic dressing (cashew based).

My love affair with my Vita-Mix  has been reunited and I created a Peanut Butter Cup smoothie this morning (and devoured it in under 90 seconds). It tastes exactly like a friggin' milkshake. Here's the magic I created:

Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie

1 ripe banana (frozen is ideal, but room temp works fine)
4 ice cubes
1 cup almond milk
1 heaping tbs peanut butter
1 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp stevia

  • Blend all ingredients in high-speed blender until creamy. Enjoy!
Stay tuned for more recipes and recaps - especially as we gear up for Vegan Mofo VI!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Whole Life Challenge

Good evening, bloggers. Tonight I shall inform you of what is ahead of me for the next 56 days: the Whole Life Challenge, which starts on 9/15. I am a member of my local CrossFit chapter, a fitness center which operates using a blended model of personal training and group classes. The work outs of the day (WODs) are high-intensity and focus on strength training, endurance, cardio, and flexibility. In other words: we pick up concrete stones, dead lift heavy shit, run/row/sprint, climb ropes, get all chalky, and generally fuck shit up. GRUNT.

My local affiliate, along with many others, is participating in the Whole Life Challenge - a social contest/game which involves participants keeping track of their "score" in maintaining different lifestyle areas. We can subtract points for "cheat" moments when we eat or drink a no-no item or slack on our daily physical activity. There is a scoreboard for the entire challenge and within my fitness group, so there's a definite competitive edge.

How did I become involved in such a challenge? Um, I'm still asking myself that, actually. If you're not familiar with CrossFit, they are huge proponents of the paleo diet, or - as some lovingly refer to it - the "caveman" diet. Lots of meat, eggs, fresh fruits & veggies - that's it. Oh, and some clarified butter (wtf?). So, obv's, my veganity often doesn't fit with the accepted model of nutrient choice. When the WLC was first advertised I thought "Hmm, a paleo challenge. Nope." and went skipping along. It wasn't until last week that a fellow veg*n athlete told me to check out the challenge's website information for vegetarians and vegans. So I did - and my curiosity grew from a spark into... well, a much larger spark.

Here is the general lowdown on the challenge:

  • 8 weeks of daily recording of "points" earned.
  • Points are earned in different areas: 3 for diet, 1 for physical activity, 1 for stretching/mobilization, and 1 for an omega-3 supplement. Total of 6 points possible per day.
  • Diet:
    • No grains or starches. Legumes and sweet potatoes are acceptable and veg*ns are permitted pseudograins: quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and wild rice.
    • No corn or soy. Veg*ns are permitted fermented soy products: tempeh, miso, natto.
    • No sugar or natural/artificial sweeteners. Stevia is permitted.
    • No dairy (check!). Except butter is permitted... sigh.
    • No alcohol, soda, or juice. Lemon and lime juice accepted.
    • No artificial or processed ingredients or foods.
  • Workout:
    • At least 10 minutes of anything that gets your heart pumpin'.
  • Mobilization:
    • At least 10 minutes of stretching, yoga, or soft tissue work with rollers/balls.
  • Omega-3's: EPA & DHA:
    • Daily dose of these nutrients. The challenge recommends fish oil, yet recognizes veg*ns' option of algae-based omega-3's (which is where the fish get theirs, anyway, duh!). I'm using Ovega-3.
  • Weekly chances to win bonus points by participating in weekly challenges or recording brief daily reflections.
  • Pre- and post-recording of a predetermined baseline workout plus body measurements.
Whew! Pretty intense, huh? Also, there are prizes for "winners", but it will definitely be more about the experience.

Some may be wondering: "So... just what the H are you supposed to eat?", but let's remember that this is the very question posed to vegans by many omnis. Of course, though, this was my first question to myself. No grains - at ALL? No soy?! My interest in this challenge can be best summarized by this quote from Danette Rivera, the vegan contributor on the website (follow WLC link at top of post for entire article):

"I also asked myself why I was so set on the notion that I could not survive without soy or grains. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the isoflavones panic nor am I convinced by the hard pitch against brown rice, but if there are some reported cases where grains and soy causes inflammation or digestive irritation, why would I not use the challenge to explore this personally?"

My style of eating in the last few weeks can be summarized in two words: comfort and convenience. Due to stress and fatigue brought on by work and an increasingly demanding semester in my graduate program my diet has taken many hits lately. I have been seeking/craving creamy, carby, heavy comfort foods and have spent hardly any time in the kitchen preparing dishes with fresh fruits and vegetables. My growing interest in the challenge quickly transformed into excitement as I perused gf/sf vegan blogs, old, dusty cookbooks, and learned what the hell amaranth is. There's LOTS I can eat!

For starters, I'm going to dust off my Vita-Mix and put that bad boy to good use: fruit smoothies, green smoothies, veggie juices, dressings, sauces, soups, dips, hummus... 

Is there anything healthier than a giant, nutrient-packed salad? The possibilities are endless with salad: toppings, dressings, protein add-ins, colors, textures, sweet/salty/tangy flavors...

The mighty avocado. Nature's answer to all cravings creamy and rich. Not only will these be enjoyed with salt & pepper (YUM), but also experimented with as chocolate mousse, dressings, and other possibilities.

And did I mention hummus? This will be an opportunity to perfect the homemade garbanzo dip.

My days will also include plenty of downward dog. And whatever this is called.

I can't end this blog post without mentioning the potentially triggering nature of this challenge for individuals who have dealt with disordered eating, like myself. The very nature of the challenge may mimic the obsessive and/or competitive (albeit mostly internally so) thoughts and behaviors of someone with disordered patterns and I would caution anyone who would consider participating in this challenge or any other like it deeply evaluate his or her motivation to do so. Personally, the notion that this experience could negatively affect my progress in this regard came as an afterthought. While evaluating my own motivation and excitement I took note of some recurring themes: My excitement was about the process, the challenge to experiment with new foods and old favorites in the kitchen, to see my cholesterol levels in the end, and to transform my mind. I am eager to see how much more healthy I can become - mind and body - as evidenced by the speed with which I can perform the baseline work out in the end, how many good habits I can retain, and how my energy and confidence will improve.

I hope you will follow me on this journey. There will be some experimental recipes & some returning favorites to showcase, as well as some new products to review. Also, the WLC will be taking place through the month of October - Vegan MoFo, bitches! So that means a potential for giveaways! It's going to be a great couple of months - how are YOU going to challenge yourself?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Vegan Gelato?!

I thought that would get your attention. Bloggers, a few weeks ago my bestest ladies and I visited Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland with a lot of interesting neighborhoods, restaurants, and hipster destinations. We landed at Szechwan Garden, a Chinese restaurant with an extensive, separate, all-vegan menu with "meats" of all kinds. Included were chicken, beef, pork, duck, shrimp, crab, and scallops. My mind was a little scattered while perusing the selections - having to keep checking the front of the menu to ensure everything was indeed veg-based. And they had a lot to peruse!

The other vegan in the party and I ordered an appetizer of "fried chicken". We lol-ed when these arrived. Pretty much just packaged chick'n nuggets, but they weren't bad.

My friend ordered the Zen Triple Delight Hot Pot, including veggie chicken, beef, and shrimp. I don't think she cared for any of the faux meats very much. I sampled and found that the chicken seemed to be a form of tofu and the beef, perhaps, a tender gluten product (which wasn't bad).

My dish was the garlic shrimp with vegetables. The sauce was fantastic and the veggies were perfectly crisp. The shrimp was the usual fare you would find in select grocer's freezers and wasn't that bad - although eating a whole dish of it did cause my taste buds to protest a little bit. It's just a strange texture and strange taste. But I'm glad I tried it!

All in all, I wouldn't go rushing back to Szechwan Garden for another meal, but I'm happy that I gave these products a try and that they're available for veg*ns.

Isn't this the most splendiforous thing you ever could wish to see? Located outside Sweet Spot, a Lakewood gelateria, this place boasts a selection of vegan options! This was our main draw for our lady-date. And they delivered!

A scoop of chocolate and a scoop of vanilla. I may or may not have gone back for seconds (psst, I did). Sadly, their snickerdoodle flavor was not available. They also had a variety of interesting sorbet flavors available, yet I am one to stick to the classics. I would highly recommend visiting this place if you live in or are passing through the area! Yum.