The Fatigue Continues…

Even my bones feel exhausted this week. Is it just the caffeine withdrawal, I wonder, or am I missing some essential energy-boosting nutrients? My protein intake has been lower than usual, so today I’m going to eat plenty of egg whites, lentils and beans, and see if that makes a difference. Hooo boy, am I looking forward to my cup of Reward Coffee on Friday morning!

Death by Coffee Deprivation

I have to be honest: I was not expecting a week of no caffeine to be so horribly miserable. I began my cleanse on Sunday morning, with a long day ahead of me. Getting through the morning was the easy part; I felt like I was on sedatives. It wasn’t until late afternoon that the caffeine withdrawal headache began, and I felt icky all evening. I mentally repeated my mantra: “this headache is the toxins leaving my body.” When I finally got home, I melted into bed. After almost ten hours of sleep, I was still so exhausted from caffeine withdrawal that I could barely haul myself out of bed on Monday morning! Willpower is not my forte, so I am giving myself mad props on my third day of coffee deprivation. It’s becoming easier, ever so slowly, but I still feel exhausted. Kombucha, while an expensive splurge, has been a delicious and natural aid for my fatigue. If you’ve never tried this delish tea fermented from a mushroom-type organism, you should give it a try; the health claims, which date back to early Chinese dynasties, include digestive, metabolic, and cleansing properties. Though it is caffeine-free, I feel a gentle kick in my step after I drink a bottle!

Cleanse Your Bod with Healthy Girl!

The whirlwind that has been my life over the past two months has not been kind to my body; I’ve been taking advantage of my free shift meals at work (which generally involve an abundance of meat and cheese, with hardly a vegetable in sight,) hardly finding time to exercise and sleeping restlessly. I need to get back on track, and the best way to do so is to give my body a break from the insanity I’ve been putting it through. This means avoiding everything that takes hard work to process: wheat, dairy, soy, meat, caffeine, alcohol, and preservatives and other chemicals. What does that leave, you ask? Fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, eggs and quinoa. You’d be surprised how much variety you can squeeze out of this list!

Make no mistake: the Beyonce lemonade-and-cayenne-pepper “cleanse” is not my style. This regimen has gained a lot of popularity lately, much to my dismay. Supposedly, drinking nothing but water with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne can flush out toxins; I know people who have done it for a week or longer and swear by it. I can’t get beyond the scientific fact that when you don’t consume enough calories, your body goes into emergency mode to conserve its resources. How is telling your body that you’re dying a cleanse?? No, no, I can’t get behind that at all; it looks far too much like anorexia to me. My cleanse is about achieving satiety from the highest-quality, easiest-to-digest foods. Consuming organic, locally-produced food is always best, of course.

This week I’ll be sharing my notes as I collect ideas for cleansing recipes and meal ideas. Next week, I’ll create a week-long meal plan and shopping list that you can follow if you want to do your own cleanse. I’d love to hear all your thoughts and questions about cleansing!

Two-Minute Berry Banana Smoothie

If I was a lady who embroiders, I would make a plaque to hang in my kitchen that says “Smoothies are made from angel’s kisses and god’s love.”There are plenty of imposters out there masquerading as your best smoothie friend; if you read between the lines at any smoothie joint, you’ll realize that the primary ingredient in these jokers is sugar, and synthetic ingredients often make a guest appearance. Making your own smoothie at home is so simple, and you can control exactly what goes into the mix. This is one of my favourite combos. It’s great with fresh berries, but I like to use frozen because they’re so easy to keep around and they make my smoothie nice and cold.

This is my go-to breakfast or post-workout snack when I’m in a hurry. I’m always running late no matter how much time I leave myself, so having this smoothie ready to go is a big help. I like to fill the blender with the ingredients and leave it in the fridge-you can even do this the night before-that way, all I need to do is give it a whirl, and I have something sustaining to sip on while I get ready!

Protein powders have become a popular smoothie addition since I was a kid, but I’m wary of them; the ingredient list is too long and complicated for my comfort level. Besides, unless you’re training to be Miss Muscles USA, you don’t need to eat 100 grams of protein a day; 50-60 is just fine for most people (check with your doctor to confirm your personal nutritional needs.) One of these giant smoothies, which packs two servings of fruit, also contains about 20 grams of protein from the yogurt and milk-natural sources that I feel confident feeding my body!

One final note: when choosing yogurt, always check the sugar content. An unassuming, single serving container can pack as many as 30 GRAMS! I always use fat-free plain or Greek yogurt, which contain the lowest amount of sugar; if these are too bitter for you, try adding a squeeze of honey!

Ingredients (one giant smoothie):
1 banana
3/4 cup fresh or frozen berries*
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
1/2 cup skim milk

*If you’re using fresh berries, you may want to start off this recipe by crushing some ice cubes in the blender to make your smoothie nice and cold!

Combine all ingredients and blend. Voila!

Baked Halibut with Pineapple-Black Bean Salsa

I have a fish-crush on halibut. Its lower-mercury content and potatssiumy goodness on top of its versatility makes me <3 it. I had hoped to use halibut in my dad-inspired recipe for Pomegranate Almond-Encrusted Flounder, but alas, the fish counters were bare. When I stumbled upon some steaks in the frozen food aisle of Trader Joe’s last week, you can only imagine my delight! (I later learned that “steak” means “you will have to pick bones out of me,” so I suggest you use fillets if possible!) This dish is not only yummy and super easy to make, components also make it absolutely fantastic for you! Black beans add to the very lean protein in the halibut and provide a solid dose of your heart’s best friend, fiber. An extra exciting nutritional tidbit: a cup of this salsa contains about half of your daily allowance of manganese, a mineral in pineapple that is essential for healthy skin.

This salsa is very easy to make. Feel free to make adjustments; I used some ingredients from my pantry and fridge that were handy. Avocado would make an interesting and heart-healthy substitute for black beans, and mango could easily replace (or add to?) the pineapple component. If you don’t have any shallots, you can use red onion for a more pungent kick. And finally, a fresh jalepeno would work just fine (if not better!) as a substitute for the canned green chilis I grabbed from the pantry.

I served my halibut absolutely smothered in salsa; I couldn’t get enough! A side salad rounded out the meal nicely, but a little brown rice would make a nice addition too!

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 halibut steaks, or about 2/3 lb. filets
1/2 a fresh pineapple, or an 8-oz. can
1 cup black beans
1 red or orange bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2-3 TBSP canned green chilis or minced jalepenos
juice of one lime
1-2 tsp olive oil & lemon slices for baking
salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Place fish on a baking sheet and dot with olive oil. Place a lemon slice on top of each piece, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The baking time will depend on the thickness of your fish; 20 minutes worked well for my steaks, but you’ll need 15 or so for fillets.
2. While the fish bakes, mix pineapple, black beans, shallot, pepper, and jalepenos. Squeeze lime over your salsa and mix well.
3. Top fish with a big ol’ serving of salsa and enjoy! If you have leftover salsa, cover the bowl and refrigerate-the flavors will be even better tomorrow, and you can add it to a salad or turkey sandwich!

Avocado Toast with Nutritional Yeast

If you don’t have a stash of nutritional yeast in your pantry, run to your local health food store and stock up on these flakes of gold. Nutritional yeast is a vegan’s dream, but non-vegans should know about its all-around loveliness too. It’s packed with protein- and has an interesting, slightly nutty flavour that goes a long way. When I was little, we’d sprinkle a couple of tablespoons on popcorn for a healthy alternative to butter.

For a yummy snack that’s high in protein, fiber and heart-healthy fats (healthy girl’s secret recipe for satiation,) sprinkle a tablespoon of yeast on whole-grain toast and add slices of 1/3 of an avocado. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and kosher salt. You’ll be in heaven!

Mushroom Meatballs: The Eternal Project

Lord, y’all. I have been trying to make vegetarian “meatballs” outta mushrooms for quite some time, and dangit if those ’shrooms don’t want NOTHIN to do with no balls. My recent third and fourth attempts at mastering the concept yielded some interesting results-the third batch came out looking like sausage patties, while the final batch, the closest in shape to real meatballs as of yet, tasted too bready-nothing I’d bring to a social event, that’s for sure.

The base for these meatballs has remained the same: tons of baby bellas and a healthy dose of walnuts. There’s generally wheat germ involved to up the texture quotient, and sometimes a little egg and parmesan. A few other ingredients have made guest appearances-whole wheat flour, fresh herbs, some skim milk.

My goal has been to create a soy-free, veggie-based meatball-preferably a vegan one-that could stand front and center in an Italiany meal or class it up on an hors d’oeuvres platter (they’re pictured atop thinly-sliced steamed zucchini and squash, with a little tomato sauce and mozzarella.) My experiment will continue, gosh darnit, until I figure out the texture/flavour conundrum! Suggestions are welcome…

Scrambled Tofu with Portabellas

This recipe comes from my lovely mom, who conceived of and photographed the dish. When I decided to become a vegetarian at age 11, both my parents were very obliging, and the whole family started eating a lot more tofu and veggie-centered dishes. My ever-inventive mom came up with a million different ways to nourish me. Scrambled tofu was my Sunday brunch favourite, but it’s great for dinner too! I’m a big fan of portabellas, which are really the star of this dish. A little sesame tahini goes a long way in giving this scramble its unique flavour, though can make this dish sans tahini if you wish; it will still work.

Last summer, I decided to get to the bottom of the decade of mysterious stomach problems I’d been dealing with. Having known a few people with an intolerance to dairy and/or wheat, I was worried that I’d discover that the same problem was at the root of my troubles. After an extensive project that involved removing possible offenders from my diet and documenting the experiment in a food journal, I discovered that neither dairy nor wheat was giving me my stomach aches; it was tofu! I now manage to stay away from anything that includes soy protein, but I often crave my fave tofu dishes, so you’ll have to enjoy this one for me!

3 tsp olive oil, divided
½ c chopped onion (or more, to taste)
½ c chopped red & green bell pepper (or more, to taste)
1 clove garlic
½ lb sliced portabella mushrooms
1/3 c sesame tahini
2½ to 3 tsp low-sodium tamari to taste (sub soy sauce if you don’t have it)
1 lb light silken or firm tofu
Salt & fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat ½ tsp oil in non-stick frying pan. Add pepper & chopped onion and sauté, adding garlic after a few minutes, until the vegetables just begin to get tender. (Don’t overcook; they should still have a slight crunch.)Remove to bowl & set aside.

2. Heat 2 tsp oil in same pan without washing, add mushrooms. Sprinkle lightly with salt and fresh-ground pepper. Sautée until tender, drizzling with a small amount of oil if necessary to keep them moist. Remove from heat & add to cooked vegetables.

3. Drain tofu, place between several layers of paper towel, and press to remove extra water.

4. Pour tahini into same pan without washing, stir in tamari. Add tofu and over medium heat, mix into tahini & tamari, chopping tofu into small pieces without mashing.

5. Add vegetables and mushrooms, turn gently with spatula until heated through. Serve at once with crusty whole grain bread and a favorite green vegetable.

Variations: try adding any lightly-cooked vegetables, chopped nuts or pine nuts- but portabellas are the key ingredient, adding a full, deep flavor that can’t be beat.

Breakfast for Superwoman

I’ve always been a big oatmeal person; I love how it “sticks to my ribs,” as my mother would say, keeping me satiated til lunch. Experimenting with toppings is fun, but lately I’ve found a combo that I love so much, I eat it every single morning. Redundant, perhaps, but hey. I’m a woman who knows what she likes. I wanted to share my current breakfast obsession with you because besides being delicious, it is a nutritionally perfect way to start the day. Packing tons of fiber, protein, and calcium, as well as a healthy dose of omega-3’s and two servings of fruit, this dolled-up oatmeal kicks ass and takes names. I rarely take the time to include nutrition facts in my recipe posts because computing them is time-consuming, but I’ve calculated them for this recipe (to the best of my knowledge) because I want you to see just how great this oatmeal is for your bod! The fat comes almost entirely from the walnuts, so don’t be put off-a reasonable dose of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fat like that in walnuts is great for your heart!

P.S. When it comes to choosing oatmeal, always buy a canister rather than individual packets. Steel-cut, plain oats and multigrain hot cereal are all great choices; just make sure that grains are the only ingredients. Flavoured oatmeals are the equivilant of a bowl of lucky charms or a cinnamon roll-the abundance of sugar and chemicals means that the bad outweighs the good. The sugar in this recipe, on the other hand, comes entirely from the fruit and yogurt (plain yogurt contains less sugar than flavoured, which can be outrageously sugary.)

Ingredients (one serving):
1/2 cup oats (dry)
1/2 cup fat-free yogurt, plain or greek
1 banana
1 small apple, chopped
2 TBSP walnut pieces
cinnamon to taste
optional: a drizzle of honey or agave if you have a sweet tooth

1. I like to cook a banana into my oatmeal to make it creamy and sweet. To do so, mix small pieces of banana with 1/2 cup oats and 1 cup of water. Heat in the microwave or over low heat on the stove until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.
2. Top oatmeal with 1/2 cup of yogurt, apple and walnut pieces. Dust with cinnamon, and add a drop of honey if you wish!

Nutrition facts
calories 485; fat 11g; cholesterol 5mg; potassium 270mg; carbs 88g (30%); fiber 12g (47%); sugars 35g; protein 16g; vitamin A 3%; vitamin C 28%; calcium 27%; iron 16%

Chili Chicken Salad

Scrounging for salad ingredients in my pantry and fridge (and sometimes freezer!) always makes for a fun experiment. This salad, with its avocado, roasted corn and spicy chicken, is Mexican-inspired. Take advantage of the warm weather and try grilling your chicken! Or, if you’re cooking it on the stove, steal my boyfriend’s trick of mixing a little olive oil with a plentiful dose of your favourite hot sauce (we like Trader Joe’s chili sauce-it’s smoky and tangy without being over-the-top hot) and cook the chicken in this delish mixture. This salad would be delicious with black beans for some extra protein or as a substitute for the chicken if you don’t eat meat. I added sunflower sprouts, which make a great addition to any salad-they’re crunchy and full of minerals like calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium.

Ingredients (makes 2 salads):
1 package salad greens
1 package sunflower sprouts
2/3 avocado, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 small or medium tomatoes
2/3 lb. chicken breast
hot sauce and dressing of your choice to taste (I like Annie’s Organic Cowgirl Ranch)

1. Preheat oven to 400º. Wash and dry veggies. Slice tomatoes and avocado.
2. Spread corn onto a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes. You can heat it in the microwave instead to save time, but roasting gives the corn a wonderful flavour.
3. Slice chicken into bite-size pieces and cook. Top greens with corn, chicken, tomato and avocado. Top with a little dressing and enjoy!