Island Inspiration

A few weeks ago I was spending some time scrolling through Instagram and I stumbled upon a Caribbean chef’s delicious food creations.  The flavors seemed to permeate through my phone screen, as I could almost taste the delicious dishes pictured in his photos.  I was also reminded of my childhood trips to Jamaica and how much I loved trying new things and exploring with my tastebuds.  I felt inspired to recreate some plant-based versions of what I saw on my screen and remembered from my past travels.  I headed to the closest ethnic market and picked up a bunch of exotic fruit and vegetables.  It was time to get cooking!

At the ethnic market, I bought up some yuca (a starchy root vegetable), plantains (similar to bananas but higher in starch and not as sweet), some brown rice, pinto beans, canned peas, green tomatillos (similar to tomatoes), and pre-seasoned barbecued jackfruit (jackfruit is a delicious, bubblegum-tasting fruit).

To cook the yuca, I first peeled it, cut it in half, and then boiled it for about 15 minutes-20 minutes.  Then I let it sauté with some onions and tomatillos in a skillet.  In a separate skillet, I sautéed the plantain with a tiny bit of vegetable oil.  The rice and beans were super easy to make (I cooked the rice according to the package but used vegetable broth instead of water for extra flavor, and then added canned pinto beans and canned peas).  The jackfruit came already seasoned so I just heated it up for a minute or two.

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Although this meal is very high in carbohydrates, it’s also high in fiber.  This meal was so tasty and it was so fun to work with new flavors.  I’m looking forward to my next cooking inspiration, so if you have a delicious, unique meal or cuisine you’d like to share, leave a comment of connect with me via Facebook or Instagram @vitaminvalentine 🙂

-Jess

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A perfect plant based pizza

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Is there any food more perfect than pizza?  Pizza is without a doubt my favorite food.  Growing up, I think I ate pizza for at least 60% of my meals.  Nowadays, I still love pizza, but my diet has changed for the better.  I follow a vegan diet for many personal reasons, so when I do eat pizza, it’s without cheese, but I make sure it’s just as delicious as the slices I grew up on.

Although I’ve tried vegan pizzas at restaurants, I prefer to make my own at home.  I like making my own pizza because I can determine the size of the pie and it’s so much healthier than restaurant and frozen versions.  Pizza is surprisingly easy to make.  You can buy the dough at most supermarkets (I usually buy mine at Trader Joe’s).  I like using Trader Joe’s pizza dough because it comes in a whole wheat variety which is tasty and full of fiber.  If fresh pizza dough is not available at your closest supermarket, you can try buying dough at your local pizzeria.  If you’re feeling extra adventurous and want your pizza to be authentically Italian, you can try making your own dough (but this can take some time and skill to master).

For sauce, I once again take the easy route and use jarred tomato sauce.  My favorite tomato sauce to use for pizza is also from Trader Joe’s (see the picture below).  The sauce really matters to me because that’s where the bulk of the flavor comes from.  You can use sauces labeled “pasta sauce” or “pizza sauce”, but I’ve found pasta sauces to be a bit more flavorful and complex.  Try different sauces based on what you like, and don’t be afraid to make your own sauce (I use jarred sauce because it’s just easier for me).  If you’re following a low-sodium diet and want to cut down on sodium, you may want to make your own sauce because canned/jarred/prepackaged food tends to have more sodium than homemade.

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My favorite quick and easy tomato sauce

The second most important part of my vegan pizza are the veggies.  I’ve found that bell peppers, onions, and artichokes taste amazing on pizza, but use whatever veggies you like.  Some other veggies that taste great as toppings are spinach, arugala, olives, mushrooms, and eggplant.  Adding veggies to your pizza increases the nutrient content without adding a ton of calories.

The recipe I’m sharing serves two, so feel free to share with a fellow pizza-enthusiast or save the leftovers for a quick and easy meal.

A perfect plant-based pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 of a package of Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough (this is about 5-6 oz. worth of dough)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup tomato sauce of your choice
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • a tiny bit of flour (for rolling out the dough)
  • oregano
  • basil (fresh or dried)
  • black and/or red pepper
  • garlic and/or garlic powder
  • veggies of your choice

Directions:

  • Remove the pizza dough from the fridge and leave out for 20-30 minutes (or up to an hour).  This will help the dough stretch
  • Preheat the oven to 370°F
  • Once the time has passed, stretch out the dough with your hands and use a rolling pin (or a sturdy, smooth cup) and a little flour to flatten the dough
  • Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled pizza stone or nonstick surface
  • Brush the pizza with a small layer of olive oil
  • Add the sauce and some herbs and seasonings (oregano, garlic powder, etc.)- you can also repeat this step after adding the veggies
  • Add the veggies
  • Bake for 25-27 minutes at 370°F
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes
  • Cut into small slices using a pizza knife or a regular knife
  • Enjoy!

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For 1/2 of the pizza pictured above, there are 238 calories, 4.6 grams of fat, 49 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fiber, and 9.1 grams of protein.  It has 890 mg of sodium, which is high, but comparable to most slices of pizza (also see my tips above to cut down on sodium).  It contains 75% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and 248% of the RDI for vitamin C.  Skip the takeout and enjoy a lower calorie pizza with this recipe.

-Jess

Busy yet balanced

February has been a busy month for me, but one of my goals is to write more on Vitamin Valentine.  This month has been filled with school assignments (I’m working on my master’s thesis) and some very exciting (yet nerve-racking) professional developments.  I submitted my dietetic internship applications this month and I’m hoping to get accepted into an internship.  If you’re new to my blog, I’ve been working on a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition for the past four years in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  It’s extremely competitive to get into a dietetic internship (DI) and completing the DI is a requirement of the education and training to become an RD, so I’m hoping I match.  Nutrition is my passion and I hope to get into an internship in order to gain the knowledge necessary to help people.  Registered Dietitians are truly the experts in the nutrition field because of the training and education they receive.  I’ve dreamt of becoming an RD for so long, so wish me luck!

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve been finding ways to save time when it comes to preparing healthy food.  Sometimes I make a big batch of food and eat the same thing for lunch for a few days during the week, and other times I try to mix it up.  Either way, I try to stick with the same formula for making my meals as balanced and colorful as possible.  I try to include at least two veggies, a source of protein, and a healthy fat.  Sometimes I’ll also add some whole grains, but today I skipped that component.  For a “side dish” or snack, I usually stick to fruit or a protein bar.  Lunch today was so colorful and delicious.  It consisted of a purple potato on top of collard greens, 1/2 a medium avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and a serving of hummus.  For my snacks, I had a fruit salad (sliced papaya, kiwi, and pineapple) and a gomacro bar (a vegan protein bar).  I also took an apple with me but I decided to save it for another time.

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Delicious, colorful, and easy!

It took me about 10 minutes in total to prepare this.  Instead of baking the potato, I put it in the microwave, which saves a lot of time.  I love preparing my meals ahead of time like this, especially because when I’m hungry at work it’s so tempting to go out and buy something.  Do you have any ways to save time or money while staying healthy?  Feel free to share below, or connect with me via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Creamy Tofu and Veggie Soup

A few weeks ago, I made a delicious creamy soup using whatever vegetables I had in my kitchen.  What I love about this soup is that although it tastes creamy, it has less fat than a cream-based soup and contains plant-based protein, fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin A.  I’ve been perfecting the recipe, and I think I’ve finally found the perfect combination of ingredients.  Feel free to try this out on a cold day, and feel free to add or omit any veggies depending on what’s available to you.

Creamy Tofu and Veggie Soup

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Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 2 cups vegetable broth (I use store-bought broth. Check ingredients if you’re following a vegan diet because some can contain animal products).
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened, plain soymilk, or unsweetened plain ricemilk
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. safflower or almond oil
  • 1/2 a standard block of firm tofu, cut into small cube shapes
  • 1.5 cups of fresh or frozen broccoli
  • 1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen corn
  • 1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen carrots
  • 1 medium potato, cut into smaller pieces (purple-skinned potatoes and yukon potatoes work great in this recipe)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of garlic powder
  • a pinch of dried rosemary (omit if you don’t care for this herb)

Directions:

  • Measure all ingredients
  • On low-medium heat, use oil to grease a non-stick large pan or pot and lightly brown garlic and tofu cubes
  • When tofu has browned slightly, add vegetable broth, soy milk, and potatoes to the pan or pot, simmer for about 5-10 minutes
  • Add other veggies (broccoli, corn, carrots) along with garlic powder and dried rosemary. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you’d like
  • Simmer on low heat until potatoes are soft. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and serve. Refrigerate the extra or share with a friend!

-Jess

Authenticity, Compassion, and Omega 3’s

Have you ever felt morally conflicted?  I have, and today I’m sharing why.  If you’ve been following my blog or instagram page for a while, you may have noticed that I try to follow a plant-based/vegan lifestyle.  I say “try” because I’m human and I’m not perfect.  As you’ll read below, I’ve had moments when I’m not 100% vegan.  I still wear my old leather shoes and belts, but I no longer buy these items.  I do this because I personally do not want to contribute to violence and pain in this world, but I understand people may have other beliefs when it comes to what they do.

A few months ago, I started having intense cravings for meat, poultry, and fish.  This is not a new occurrence for me.  I became a vegan at age 15, and honestly, I’ve taken a few short breaks in the 12 years since then due to health issues and intense cravings that were related to anemia and B-vitamin deficiencies (pro-tip: take your vitamins).  The most recent series of cravings motivated me to pay closer attention to my diet.  Even as someone who (almost) has their Master’s in Nutrition, I still have to remind myself what balanced eating looks like.

I tried adding more protein to each meal, but the cravings persisted.  I tried going outside more too, because I tend to get low in vitamin D during the winter, but I still craved salmon constantly.  Every time I really wanted a piece of chicken or fish, I reminded myself of the torture animals face, so instead I would buy beans, tofu, veggies, and some form of carb…followed by another carb because I wasn’t really satisfied and I found myself overeating on desserts (vegan muffins, vegan cookies, etc.).

Finally, sometime in the past two weeks, I decided to just eat a piece of chicken.  It tasted delicious, I felt satisfied, but I did not sit right with my morals.  I brushed it off, and tried to convince myself to listen to my body.  This worked, and a few days later, I ate a wrap containing meat and cheese at Whole Foods Market.  However, this time something felt so different.  In all my years of being a vegan, it was really mostly for my own health.  I felt it was easier to not overeat on a vegan diet, especially because all my “trigger foods” used to be dairy-based (ice cream, froyo, cheese, and baked goods, the latter of which you can find all sorts of vegan versions).  Over the past year or so, I’ve become more aware of how eating affects the environment and the animals I love.

This most recent fall-off-the-wagon made me realize some important things.  First of all, it’s important to eat a balanced diet.  If something feels off, it probably is.  If you’re constantly craving something, it may be a sign that you’re deficient in a nutrient.  I realized I’m really lacking in omega 3’s (an essential fatty acid found in fish, but also found in plant sources such as flax oil and chia seeds).  I’m also sensitive to some of the proteins I was eating, especially large amounts of legumes eaten in one sitting.  I realized that it’s important not to judge yourself, and to not judge others.  I felt an immense sense of guilt when I was eating chicken, and I felt equally guilty after I overate on vegan junk-food when I couldn’t seem to satisfy my hunger and cravings.  No one is perfect.  We do enough self-criticizing that I would hope I don’t face criticism from vegans and animal-rights activists.  I learned from this recent experience what is important to me and that is my health, the planet, and living in accordance with my values. Because of this, I’m making it my mission to plan out my meals more carefully, supplement my diet with a vitamin/mineral supplement, take an omega-3 supplement, and try to eliminate foods that don’t agree with me.  I don’t plan on ending my veganism, in contrast, I’m really interested and excited to develop a more nutrient-dense, plant-based way of eating using the knowledge I’ve gained from my nutrition classes.

I hope to help people who have struggled with similar issues.  I also hope to spread a message that even adding more plant-based foods and eating less meat is great and something to be proud of.  Have you gone through a similar experience when it comes to veganism or any issue related to how you eat and how you feel?  Feel free to comment, email me, or connect on facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine.

-Jess

Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

My 100th Post

This is the 100th blog post on Vitamin Valentine!  I’ve been wanting to post a recipe recently but October and November were super busy due to school and work so for my 100th post I’ll be sharing some personal updates.

These past few months have been busy because I’m taking a pretty intense research class which is preparing me for writing my master’s thesis next semester.  I’m also planning something that could lead to career advancement (but I’m keeping the details of that a secret, for now).  If you haven’t been reading my blog for long, I’m currently completing my master’s in nutrition and I work full-time as a community nutritionist working with women, infants, and children (WIC).

One of the perks of my job is that most my coworkers are interested in nutrition.  Today my coworker asked me for insight because she wants to go vegan.  I was so excited to help her because I love sharing the benefits of eating a vegan diet.  I also think this coworker is becoming a vegan for the right reasons and not just because it’s “trendy” at the moment. Veganism is becoming more and more popular, but in order to adopt a vegan diet and stay on it, the motivation must be intrinsic and there has to be a reason why you want to dedicate yourself to this cause, whether its purely for health reasons, ethical reasons, or a mix of both.  I created several easy vegan recipes  for my coworker during my lunch break and a food-shopping list which I love making (is it weird that I absolutely love food shopping?)  What is your motivation for your current way of eating?  Do you feel like you make the best choices for your health? Feel free to share your opinion through comments or connecting via Facebook or instagram 🙂

Hopefully I’ll have some more time in mid-december and january to post some delicious, vegan recipes in blog post #101!

-Jess