From Flab to Fab

So I fished out my exercise ball from the closet this morning (it was folded up and and deflated of course, stuffed in a corner, dust-covered). I was on a mission to pump the thing back up and do something new for myself. So here goes: unfolded the ball, inserted the hand pump and started pumping. Gosh, this is work. My arm’s getting tired and I don’t see much else happening besides hearing some air flow and a flabby pile on the floor.
So I kept going, since it won’t get filled with air without me putting it in there. Kind of reminds me of where I’m at right now lately. I’ve had a rotator cuff injury in my left shoulder for at least a month now and it all came about from lifting weights likely with the wrong posture and most likely too much weight. I’ve been dealing with a slow recovery over this month or so. Right about now I’m feeling a bit like this crumbled up form of a ball on the floor. I keep working at it, will it ever get better? It sure doesn’t look too much different! This is what I’m thinking about as I sit on the couch and continue to push and pull the hand pump to fill the ball with air. This is taking a while . . .
Kind of like the healing of my shoulder – this is taking a while. But I suppose this is also true for any worthwhile goal. Work, work, work, effort, effort, effort . . . Well look at that, some time has passed and there seems to be a better shape taking form. It’s still not the most ideal shape (yet) but it’s getting there…and if I were to quit now what would I have? A partial effort and flabby results. Oh, it’s so tempting though, to give in (too hard, too much work, etc). Gotta see the forest through the trees really if we want anything worthwhile. It takes focus, consistency and effort and it’s not always going to be pretty.

But it can be pretty. Well look at that! Isn’t that fabulous! The work and focus did pay off. What am I taking away from this? You just gotta pump through, whatever it is (exercise, eating better, finding your life purpose), use good form and focus and make it fun, gosh darn it. Be the ball.

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The journey continues

So here I am – a couple months later and still meatless. I’m actually pretty amazed just how easy it’s been for me to not even desire eating meat – while at the same time filling that spot with plant-based protein dishes. I continue to expand my horizons for learning and cooking up some new things. Heck, even my son is enjoying some new dishes at home with me.  This has been a surprise benefit for me too! Recently tried a vegan restaurant and it was tasty to try some samples of things there. One of my friends recently said, “you still doing that vegetarian thing?”  to which I chuckled to myself. It’s all good.   So next on my list: finding and trying some new ingredients that I see pop up in recipes here and there.  Items like miso paste (yellow in particular), kelp flakes, nutritional yeast, tofu that’s silken, and some others; well they all sounds a bit foreign, and I’m guessing many of my friends would think the same!  Yet one of my main goals too is to test out some new recipes (tasty and broad appeal a must and vegan) and decide which ones are keepers. And why am I doing this?  I’m seeing that it’s possible to eat well this way while supporting the environment, animal welfare and the health of ourselves while expanding my learning. Sounds good to me.

My Custom Creation!

I wanted to come up with my own creative twist for dinner, considering my meatless adventures, desire to use good quality plant protein and also getting ideas and inspirations from various recipes I’ve looked through. Here’s what I created, and not only is it very tasty, it’s vegan. Here’s what I did to create it.
I started by cooking a spaghetti squash, first by poking it a couple good times with a knife to get it ready for steam cooking. The last time I cooked one I had used the oven at 375 degrees and put the punctured squash in a baking dish with about an inch of water and covered with foil. I found another recipe that suggested using the microwave on high for about 10 minutes. I tried that but the outside flesh wasn’t quite softened yet, so I went back to the original idea and put it in a pre-heated oven to finish cooking while I made the sauce.

Spaghetti squash done steaming

Some recipes I had researched feature diced tomatoes and various spices to make a sauce so I started with this in mind and enhanced with a couple more ideas (thanks to the great things I’ve learned in my Food Fundamentals course and cooking lab I’ve been taking this semester at the university – thanks Chef Guyette)! I first started with chopping and dicing a variety of veggies (mise en place – “everything in its place”) and got the cast iron pan heated up.

Then goes in the mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) and also fresh chopped garlic. I let that saute for a while with a bit of olive oil. Then I tossed in some diced tofu to get browned on all sides (tofu is a good source of plant protein, one of the few plant sources that contain all the essential amino acids needed by the body). Next comes the quinoa:
About 1/4 cup dry quinoa seed was tossed in to join in on the browning (toasted quinoa seeds can add a nutty flavor, and quinoa is yet another plant source that contains all the essential amino acids) while the veggies and tofu also continued to take on a browning flavor boost.
Once everything was browning up good I was ready to add some liquidy ingredients, starting with diced tomatoes and a bit of water . . .
Then some beans (more protein!) and some spices like basil, oregano, sea salt and pepper. This simmered for about 20 or so minutes to blend flavor and let the quinoa cook.
While that was simmering I was able to cut open the spaghetti squash (with an oven mitt – that baby was hot!). Once you gently scrape out the seeds the squash flesh is so easy to scrape out in strands by using a fork.
 The spaghetti squash looks so much like pasta and is a nice (and nutritious) substitute as well. This was plated and then topped with the veggie/quinoa/tofu/bean/tasty sauce and then garnished with fresh chopped basil. It was really tasty and easy to make. Take-away for today: keep exploring, keep trying new culinary creations, tofu isn’t so bad (LOL) and there are ways to eat meatless meals that are protein-rich too.  I’m glad I tried – this is a keeper!

Peanut Brittle?

Today’s cooking class focused around grilling and using a spice rub – in this class we created a Jerk Spice Mixture to use as a marinade for our protein and vegetables. Most of the class used chicken while my lab partner and I got to work with tempeh (another first).

Tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans, and the one we used also contained organic brown rice.When I opened the package it sure looked a bit funny to me – – and actually looked more like peanut brittle.

Upon further review of the nutrition label I see that half of the portion here (4 ounces) contains a good amount of protein (22gm) which is equivalent to what you’d get for a 3 ounce portion of meat. The portion also had a good source of iron (20% of the Daily Value), lots of fiber (12gm) and 15% calcium.

The spice mixture was another first for me. Here’s what was included: allspice, thyme, black pepper, salt, fresh ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, along with some fresh chopped hot chiles, garlic, scallions, chopped onion, brown sugar, fresh lime juice, a touch of vegetable oil and soy sauce. This was all blenderized in the food processor and then we mixed with our sliced tempeh and long sliced zucchini and summer squash and let marinate for a while.

Then the grill was fired up. We learned how proper cross placement on the grill created good sear marks too.  It was actually an easy way to cook but because of the brown sugar content of the spice rub we had to watch the heat of the grill since the sugar can burn easier.

We also cooked up a quick batch of rice and we were good to go. My take? Well I was surprised at the spice heat from the mixture despite the sweetness essence of the other spices. And the tempeh?  Well . . .  for this first round of trying it I was not too impressed as it seemed a bit dry and textured; I think a good sauce with it would help for another attempt down the road.

As a side note about the chicken: another part of this class was learning how to fabricate or cut up a whole chicken. While I didn’t actually eat the chicken I did participate in the cutting steps of breaking down a whole chicken as a part of the course. Some of the students in my class had never done such a thing before and many were hesitant after realizing this whole chicken body had been a former live animal, but now here it was in front of us, gravity holding it ready for the blade once again. Even the meat eaters took a second take . . .  That’s what I love about this course – we get to see ALL the steps of what is involved in getting all types of food ready for consumption – and not just picking up a package from the store. The course really helps  practice  mindfulness skills for sure! (No photos of chicken cutting process; the experience was enough)! Hmmm, peanut brittle right now sounds pretty good.

Adding Protein

Tonight I had some fun trying some new things and it all involved some beans. But beans with pizza? Beans with mashed potatoes? Yes, believe it or not, and it all started with my desire to add some protein to some items in a way that may not be too noticeable.

Gotta love the healthy disclaimer!

So tonight I started with these “Great Northern Beans”.  Beans are a pretty good source of plant protein – – 7gm per 1/2 cup serving – –  and along with that they are pretty much fat-free, pack just as much fiber (7gm/serving) and give 8% iron, 4% calcium, and a couple other nutrients – while being void of saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar. While this canned variety did have some sodium in them I drained and rinsed them so that reduced the sodium but still left some flavor.

Then I put the rinsed beans in my food processor along with a couple good dashes of garlic powder and pureed the heck out of them. I also added a touch of olive oil to add a bit of moisture. These awaited my potatoes to boil and my pizza crust to pre-bake (this too I whipped up in my food processor).

Beans have now been pureed.

Once the potatoes were cooked and drained I added about 3/4 of the bean-garlic puree along with some butter, a splash of milk and a bunch of chopped fresh cilantro. They tasted great, and my son approved of the flavor too!  He knew I had pureed up the beans but didn’t really know I added them to the potatoes.  I don’t think he minded since he was liking the flavor. Usually he’s not a big fan of any bean but these were mixed in well. The result – good tasting with a protein bonus!

Yummy protein potatoes!

Now on to pizza – I par-baked the dough for 6 minutes then took it out and added the remaining garlic-bean puree to the top of the crust. If you look closely at the picture below you can see it on the crust – it blended in quite nicely and added a nice garlic flavor.

Look again, there's beans here!

Then on top of that came all the veggie toppings and cheese – yum.

The pizza was quite tasty and there really was no indication there were beans on this pizza except for the garlic taste that was added when I pureed them. I’m glad I tried these ideas out!

Tofu: A First

Today in cooking lab for the course I’m taking we applied the concepts of sauteing, making a slurry (thin mix of liquid and starch) and deglazing by route of the lovely stir fry.  The class made a chicken stir fry but our fabulous instructor Julie brought in tofu for those of us who wanted to cook meatless.  I’ve never cooked with tofu so I was glad to be given the opportunity.  It’s a great plant-based protein source which also includes many other healthful nutrients.

Working with tofu - a first!

We got to pick lots of vegetables: red pepper, scallions, fresh garlic, green beans, pea pods and something new for me: bok choy (I figured, why not try it while I have an opportunity in this class). It’s like celery in the stalk, romaine for the leaves.  Upon further research I found that it’s a great source of Vitamins A, C, K and folate along with other nutrients. As with fresh vegetables: more color, more nutrients.

Bok Choy - another first!

We also got to grate fresh ginger – another first for me. Some tips I learned: peel with the back of your knife or a spoon and then cover the grater with a piece of plastic to ease the gathering and cleanup of ginger. Smelled great!

Grating fresh ginger

We got our ingredients all ready and the sauté was ready to get started. The key is to start with a very hot pan. Add a bit of oil and toss in the protein, letting it set for a moment before stirring to get that caramelization browning started. Then toss in the peanuts, ginger and cayenne pepper followed by the vegetables. We had made some rice too – easy with a 2:1 ratio of water to rice and a simmer of about 20 minutes.

The saute begins

The last step was to add the soy sauce slurry for flavor and thickening. Since there was some browning on the bottom of the pan we added a small bit of water to the pan to deglaze the bottom which let us scrape up the brown flavoring to add to the dish. The stir fry was served on top of the rice and I must say

Final tofu stir fry over rice

the tofu was tasty (as opposed to trying a bit of it plain when I opened the package – – plain!). The seasoned tofu actually had a nice brown coloring and flavor and really did look a lot like chicken stir fry. The whole dish tasted great and I’m grateful for the opportunity to apply these concepts to a meatless dish and know how easy and healthy it can be once you have some key ingredients on hand. I’m so glad I’m taking this course. Thanks, Chef Julie!

Resistance 1

Today I shared with a certain family member my journey into eating foods that don’t include animal meat. The response I got was less than supportive . . . “oh what are you doing that for? you eat healthy enough, you don’t need to do that too. I don’t think you should/need to do that.”

My gut feeling was to defend myself, but I resisted . . . and just let this person have their podium, so to speak…. since I realized I didn’t need to defend, nor did I really want to when someone is being quite defensive…. I realized for me that the only one who really matters with this is me. I’m ok with this journey I’m exploring .  But it sure can take you back when a response like this comes at you.

I suppose like anything new there will be some kinks to work out as you go along – situations faced in order to handle in a new way.

But I must say it rattled me a bit – and I then start to question myself, etc. My reason for doing so was to sort of “prep” for some upcoming family time together. Funny how some from my family can be a bit condescending (perhaps knowing it or not knowing it)! Anyhow, it’s good to get that out . . .

And I realize once again the concept of  “the mirror” – – and even projection.  Perhaps something I do or say results in a “twinge” in someone else – it’s like you are their mirror and we get to see the face of something they can’t seem to see for themselves.

So when I spoke with yet another family member tonight on the same topic, part of me sort of expected a similar response, yet I was pleasantly surprised that not only was it not negative, it was incredibly supportive. This family member offered some ideas for recipes they’ve tried and also some sample combos that worked for them. Really, I sighed a breath of relief . . . this reflection was much nicer! Which leads me to another point, the same statement can lead to very different responses from different people!

So I must continue to remind myself: beware of taking certain negative reactions of others on as my fault/responsibility,  or an indication I’m flawed in some way. I’ve been tempted and have responded that way too often in other situations and it’s not necessary. For me, I’m finding the best way to find that healthy separation and boundary is to be curious, be calm,  be open to considerations yet confident in my choices and that I can manage, allow others their own opinions (with no need on my part to freak out loud – LOL) and be a support for myself. Well, this was a great practice ground for me to do just that, so for this I am grateful.  Funny that something that wasn’t even there (meat) allowed me this opportunity to grow.

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