Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rice Noodles with Vegetables and Adzuki Beans

Thanks to my recent purchase of coconut aminos, I'm having lots and lots of fun with Asian inspired cooking.  Tonight, I decided to do a vegan stir-fry with adzuki beans and lots of fresh vegetables, including red onion, shitake mushrooms, yellow bell pepper, baby carrots, garlic, bok choy and fresh cilantro.

The adzuki bean is small in size and reddish/purplish in color.  According to wikipedia, they have been used in Asian cooking for centuries, with fossilized beans found in ruins dated to 4,000 BC!  The beans are a good source of protein, iron, magnesium, potassium and folic acid. While they're often used in sweet preparations, I enjoy them in savory dishes like tonight's concoction.

I finely diced 1/4 of a large red onion and half a yellow pepper.  I then thinly sliced a large handful of shitake mushroom caps (I find the stems to be too tough), as well as eight baby carrots (if you're using a whole carrot, 1-2 peeled should be sufficient). 

Once this selection of the veg was cooking, I heated a 3/4 full kettle of water on the stove and began sauteing the onions, mushrooms and peppers in oil, seasoning with black pepper.  When the kettle was hot, I put the rice noodles in a metal mixing bowl, poured over the hot water, and let the noodles soak for 10 minutes.

As the noodles soaked, I added the carrots and 3/4 of the can of adzuki beans.  I then minced three cloves of garlic in my chopper, sliced the bok choy and chopped the cilantro.  I then added these last three ingredients, and, when the garlic was fragrant, added some coconut aminos and sesame oil.

When the 10 minutes of soaking was up, I drained the noodles and stir-fried them with the vegetable bean mixture for two minutes, allowing them to absorb the flavors of the sauce and finish cooking. I then put the noodles in a bowl and garnished them with sesame seeds.

The result was very flavorful and filling.  If I made it again and wanted to add a spicy element, I would add a bit of Sriracha or some red pepper flakes. 

Vegetarian Travel Dispatches

The early part of the year is always quite hectic for me travel wise, so, having just returned from a trip to San Diego, I thought now would be a good time for me to revisit some tips that help me with maintaining a vegetarian travel lifestyle on the road.

Spicy Bowtie Pasta Salad from Starbucks, San Diego Airport
If you're checking luggage, consider packing some individual servings of shelf stable, non-dairy milk.  (If you're not checking and have access to a local market that carries them, that's also an option.)  Before I left on my latest trip, I bought two three packs of Enriched Rice Dream and stashed them in my suitcase.  I had a mini-fridge in my room, so I was able to chill them when I got to my hotel.  In the mornings, I brought them down to the buffet and poured some on cold cereal and drank the rest.  Granted, some establishments may frown upon you bringing your own food into their place.  In my case, the buffet manager was not only understanding of me bringing my own milk, but she also wrote down the brand name for her lactose intolerant daughter.   The cereal and rice milk, along with a slice of whole wheat bread and peanut butter and a bowl of fresh fruit, made for a nice breakfast that kept me going the whole day.

I also packed some individual cereal bowls I picked up at CVS for $1 a piece (Cheerios and Raisin Bran Crunch), as well as some Enjoy Life Very Berry Bars and Barbara's Multigrain Cereal Bars, both of which were handy snacks.

The last time I flew, I was still eating dairy products regularly, so I knew I could always pick up a cheese sandwich or a slice of pizza.  But, this time, I found some nice, healthy vegan options to share with you.

Veg Friendly Rice Bowl, Urban Taco, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport
On my way out and back to San Diego, I had layovers in Dallas.  On my way out, I grabbed a Mediterranean Wrap from Au Bon Pain.  By omitting the feta, I had a nice, filling and vegan friendly lunch.  Au Bon Pain also sells fresh fruit cups, which are a great vegan friendly option for any meal or snack.

When I was heading home, at the Starbucks in the San Diego airport, I picked up a Spicy Bowtie Pasta Salad and Pita, Hummus & Veggies and a fruit cup, all of which made for a nice lunch on the plane.  While the bowtie pasta portion was smaller than I would have liked, the flavors were quite good.

Finally, for dinner in the Dallas airport, I stopped at Urban Taco.  They can turn any of their tacos or sandwiches into a rice bowl, and I had a delicious roasted poblano, black bean and corn mixture.

Next week, I head to Berlin, Germany, where I'll continue my vegetarian travel adventures.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cauliflower Steaks with Chile Corn Salsa

I've been seeing a lot of recipes for cauliflower steaks lately, so I decided to give them a try tonight.

Roasting cauliflower gives this healthy vegetable a creamy texture and a buttery flavor.  I didn't let mine get as brown as some of the other recipes (I was HUNGRY), but I did pan saute it and then roast it enough to give it some color.  Some of my "steaks" broke apart, likely because I cut them too thin.  But, the thicker you cut them, the longer they will take to cook.

For the salsa topping, I did a saute of red onions, corn, anaheim chiles and tomatoes.  Anaheim chiles are low on the scoville scale, but still gave this dish a nice amount of heat.  If you want to punch up the heat more, you can substitute jalapenos or serranos, or even habaneros (beware - those suckers are HOT!).

If you were up for a big meal (as yours truly was after a fun, athletic yoga class), you could probably take out two "steaks" topped with salsa.  But, one would likely also be satisfying, or make for a nice side dish or light lunch.

Cauliflower Steaks with Chile Corn Salsa
Serves two as a (hearty) main dish, four as a side or light lunch

One head of cauliflower, sliced into thick "steaks" 
2 Tbsp+ olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 Anaheim chile, minced
1 cup of corn kernels (defrost first if using frozen)
6-8 cherry tomatoes, diced
1 cup arugula
Salt, black pepper, cumin and oregano

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat oil in large saute pan.  Brown the cauliflower "steaks" 3 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned.  Season with black pepper.  Put on baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, or until desired brownness.

While cauliflower is roasting, saute onions and chiles in olive oil on high heat until the onion is translucent and the chiles are softened, about five minutes.  Stir in the corn kernels and tomatoes.  Season generously with cumin and oregano, as well as with salt and pepper to taste.  When the pan liquids begin to bubble, reduce heat to medium and allow the salsa to thicken for five or so minutes.  Keep warm.

When the cauliflower steaks are nearly done, raise heat on the salsa and stir in arugula until slightly wilted.  Top steaks with salsa and serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spicy Rainbow Stir-Fry

One of the biggest things I missed when I started dealing with my soy allergy was Asian inspired cooking.  I thought I had come to accept that I wouldn't be able to enjoy these types of dishes again.

Fortunately, my fellow yogini and food blogger Valerie came to the rescue.  Valerie blogs at City Life Eats.  She follows a vegan and gluten-free diet.  Since she can't have soy sauce either (in her case, wheat is the culprit), she also needed to find an alternative.  Her discovery?  Coconut aminos.

Coconut aminos are made from the sap of coconuts.   According to the product website, coconut aminos are a great source of amino acids, which help with rebuilding muscle tissue, enhancing the nervous, immune and digestive systems.  They also taste remarkably like soy sauce.

I decided to do a colorful stir-fry with a variety of veggies, including shitake mushrooms and bok choy (which is a great source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C!).  I used  the coconut aminos to make the sauce, and served the vegetables over brown rice.

This had all the amazing flavors I've been missing without the unpleasantness of an allergic reaction.  Thanks for the great recommendation, Valerie!

Spicy Rainbow Stir-Fry
Serves 3-4

1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
8 shitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 large yellow pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup of shredded carrots
1 head of bok choy, green and white parts, sliced
2 tbsp cooking oil of choice (I used olive because that's what we had in the house)
2 tsp sesame seed oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
Sea salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes to taste
2-3 Tbsp of Coconut Aminos (or use soy sauce if you don't have allergy issues)
4 cups of cooked brown rice
Sesame seeds

In a wok or large pan, heat olive oil and sesame seed oil.  Toss onions and mushrooms and season with salt and black pepper.  Saute until softened, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in carrots, peppers and bok choy and cook until heated through, another 3-4 minutes. 

Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Add coconut aminos, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you stir.  Season with red pepper flakes (a little goes a long way!)

Serve over brown rice and garnish with sesame seeds.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vegan Kickstart Check-In

Source: via Miriam on Pinterest

Well, I've finished the first two weeks of my version of PCRM's Vegan Kickstart.  While I've been eating almost entirely vegan since December, it was nice to take 21 days to really focus on what I've been eating. This was, I can see what's working well for me and areas that I might want to focus on changing.  Additionally, I wanted to challenge the concept that eating vegan on a regular basis is "too hard," and that it can be done with a busy lifestyle like mine.

You can see the recap of everything I've eaten so far on my personal kickstart page.  Here's what I've learned:

I eat a lot of toast.  Yep, I have little or no variety in the morning when it comes to breakfast.  To be fair though, with my seasonal issues, it's a miracle that I make it out the door in the morning, much less get up in time to make breakfast.  I used to dash out the door in the morning and grab a bagel and cream cheese, so this is a definite improvement.  But, as I start waking up better in the morning (aka, after the clocks go forward in the Spring), I'll explore more variety for breakfast

I eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Looking back at the past two weeks, I've noticed that I eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal.  Between the food I prepared myself and the food I ate at other people's homes or at restaurants, I had over 30 different kinds of fresh fruits or vegetables since January 2.  Let me list them for you!  I ate artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocado, blueberries, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, cucumber, eggplant, green onion, honeydew, kale, kiwi, lettuce, mesculun mix, mango, mushrooms, pear, pineapple, radishes, red cabbage, red onion, raspberries, spinach, sprouts, strawberries, tomatoes, yellow pepper and watermelon.  And that doesn't include the fresh herbs I enjoyed as well.  That's a cornucopia if I ever saw one!  If you focus on eating "real food," versus meat substitutes, you will have no issues with variety on a vegan diet.

Eating out is not a problem.  I went out to eat in DC, suburban Maryland and Southern New Jersey.  Nowhere I went had any issues putting together a vegan meal for me.  At sit down restaurants like Seasons 52 and Founding Farmers, our servers were wonderful about helping me find vegan options on their menus, and the kitchens were happy to customize dishes to make them vegan friendly.  It never hurts to ask a restaurant if there are vegan options - chances are, the restaurant will be happy to oblige.  On the "fast food" side, it helps to choose places that you know have vegan selections on the existing menu - I knew Cava Mezze Grill, Elevation Burger, Roti, Chop't and Sweetgreen would have options that worked for me.  So between a little advanced research and asking questions, you should be fine.

But, I need to be prepared and patient.  Sometimes, you may be in a situation where a vegan option isn't obvious.  When my husband and I were on the way back from visiting my parents, we stopped at a rest stop on I-95.  I was frustrated at the lack of apparent vegan options and ended up getting a plain bagel with fixins from the Roy Rogers station.  Had I taken the time to look harder (aka, been patient), I could have gotten a pita, veggies and hummus from Starbucks.  Even better, I should have packed a sandwich from the various vegan-friendly delights my mother had for us at home.  Granted, one less than satisfying meal in 15 days is really nothing to complain about.

I need to adjust my portions.  My husband gets credit for noticing this before I did - I am eating less food now that I'm not eating cheese or any dairy products.  Not sure if it's because I'm eating higher fiber dishes or if my body is less "confused" without dairy (I found it very easy to overeat when cheese was involved), but I've had tons more leftovers than I usually do.  So, I'll adjust my meal planning accordingly in the coming weeks.  I tend to get bored with eating the same thing three days in a row, so, now that I know I need less food to keep me satisfied, I'll make less to begin with to ensure I get more variety throughout the week.

I'm grateful for a supportive family.  I've heard a lot of people say that their families wouldn't support a vegan lifestyle, but mine have been fantastic about it.  They've also been supportive of my various food allergy issues.  From my husband taking me out for my favorite vegan burger and trying my various concoctions (even the green frankenburger), to my Mom making a vegan version of a favorite childhood soup and stocking her fridge with daiya, hummus and other veg friendly treats, to my husband's grandmother buying a veritable buffet of vegan prepared foods at Whole Foods, I'm downright spoiled. Talk to your friends and family about why you are making the choices you are and how your eating might change from what they're used to.  You may get questions - answer them politely, offer to bring a dish to the next family gathering, etc. 

What questions do you have about eating a vegan diet?  What excites you?  What are you hesitant about?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lavash with Mushrooms, Tomato and Arugula

While it is never a good idea to go to the grocery store when you are tired and hungry, sometimes good things can happen in such a situation.

After a long week at work and a weekend trip ahead, I was looking forward to a lazy Friday night at home with minimal cooking.  Our local market has a decent selection of to go stuff, as well as a number of vegan friendly frozen foods, so I figured it would be easy to find something quick.

Well, I don't know if the selection was off tonight or I was just feeling feisty after a long week of commuting and metro red line woe, but I wasn't feeling anything.  I found myself wandering around the aisles, checking ingredients and muttering to myself.  At one point, I stood in front of the decently large selection of frozen pizzas and said (hopefully to myself, though it might have been out loud) "Why are none of you vegan?"

At which point it dawned on me - make your own damn vegan pizza!  I realize that this isn't exactly a huge triumph of modern thought, but it was better than me staring dumbly at the freezer case wondering "But, where is the me food for the eatings?"

Ah, but where to begin?  We had already explored the premade pizza crusts on sale at the market, and they were off limits to me allergywise because they included soy ingredients.  Although I'm more than capable, I had no desire to make my own pizza dough.

The answer?  Lavash!  If you're not familiar with it, lavash is a soft, chewy flat bread.  It's more substantial than a pita, and thus makes a nice base for a flatbread or pizza.  The ones I bought tonight were whole wheat and made at a Beltsville company called Middle East Bakery, Inc.  The lavash was vegan and, more importantly for me, didn't contain soy.

To prepare the lavash, I used our pizza crisper, which helps the bottom cook as evenly as the top.  Then, I topped the lavash with red onion, mushrooms, garlic, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella daiya and arugula, but feel free to mix and match the toppings!  Broccoli, kale, peppers and/or eggplant might all be fun toppings to try.

Re-energized by this super easy and satisfying dinner, I actually wrote a recipe out for you:

 Lavash with Mushrooms, Tomato and Arugula
 Serves One (easily doubled or tripled)

One slice of whole wheat lavash
1/3 of a red onion, sliced into crescents (cut rings, then cut rings in half)
3 button mushrooms, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil (feel free to use more or less, but keep in mind that more adds some nice moistness to the crust) plus more for brushing & drizzling
3-4 large cherry tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup Daiya mozzarella cheese (add more to make it "cheesier," - feel free to use soy cheese or regular cheese if you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian)
1 cup of arugula
Sea salt
Black pepper
Italian seasoning blend

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place lavash on a pizza crisper and set aside.

While oven is warming, saute onions and mushrooms in olive oil on high heat.  Season with salt and black pepper to taste.  Cook for five minutes, until mushrooms soften and onions become translucent.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, one to two minutes.  Season to taste with Italian Seasoning. 

Spread the mushroom and onion mixture on the lavash, leaving a "crust" around the sides.  Layer on sliced tomatoes and sprinkle Daiya on top.

Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Remove from oven and top with arugula.  Drizzle arugula with olive oil and return to oven for 3-4 minutes, until arugula is slightly wilted.

Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Green Frankenburger

Burger more green in person than in picture.  :)
There are food bloggers out there with fail safe recipes and gorgeous photography.  And then there's me - someone who loves cooking, isn't afraid to experiment and sometimes turns out something slightly bizarre and isn't afraid to admit it.  Tonight was definitely more Lucille Ball than Julia Child.

Some of my more fun posts to write are when I have a kitchen debacle, such as my Passover cake drama.  Tonight, I decided to try and wing my own black bean burgers.  Now, I have made black bean burgers before using Tosca Reno's Eat Clean Cookbook recipe several times, so I thought I'd be ok winging it.

As many of you know, I love kale and have been enjoying making kale chips. I usually put a bit of kale in my version of Tosca's recipe.  Tonight, I thought it would be a good idea to put in, oh, five giant leaves.

It all started off well and good - I put the kale, some red onion and two garlic gloves in my food processor.  A lovely green juice aroma came out.  A pesto like substance emerged.  So far, not so bad. 

I added oats, sunflower seeds and carrots, measuring as I went, thinking to myself, "This will be a great recipe!  I will put it on my blog with actual measurements!"  And then I noticed the mixture was bright green.

"I just need to add the beans," said I.  So I did.  The mixture, at that point, became greenish gray.

"Screw the measuring," I sad, and I added in more oats, more beans and some nutritional yeast until the burgers became . . . somewhat less greenish gray.  At that point, I decided I had put so much food into them that I had to eat them, no matter what awful color they were.  So, I seasoned the mess with salt, pepper and cumin, formed them into six patties and popped the thing in the oven for 25 minutes and hoped for the best.

My intention was to serve this with a baked sweet potato.  However, when I went to prepare my sweet potato, it was . . . slightly mutated and looking dangerously inedible.  While I was willing to try the Green Frankenburger, I wasn't sure I was willing to risk this sweet potato.  So, I rummaged through the fridge for side replacement and ended up with some leftover corn kernels and scallions.  So, I heated them up in a pan with some olive oil, tomato paste concentrate and salt and pepper.  

With five minutes to go with the frankenburgers, I decided to take pity on myself and cover them with cheddar daiya, hoping it would make them more attractive.

The result of the actual food - not that bad.  They could have been a little firmer.  And while the color was definitely weird, I didn't mind the flavor.  I may try and disguise the leftover patties in something else this week.

The result of the cooking itself - I had a good laugh.  Life isn't perfect - why should your kitchen be?  I had fun, I tried something new and nothing caught fire.

While I may not make the Frankenburger again, I'm glad I made it.  Not only did I get my green veggies for the day (and perhaps the week), but I got a reminder of what cooking for me really is, and that's fun.

So, if you want to try cooking, but are intimidated, let this blog be an inspiration to you.  Sometimes even good cooks (and I consider myself a good cook, and so does my mother) have strange things happen in the kitchen.  Cooking is an art, but it's also a learning process, a way to enjoy time with family and friends and a way to discover what you need to nourish yourself.  Most of all, it should be fun

What fun have you had in the kitchen lately?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kim's Red Radish Tabbouleh from The Kind Life

I have a yoga retreat tomorrow, so I wanted to make sure I prepared a healthy lunch I could eat at some point in the afternoon.  I decided on this tabbouleh dish, which was featured in Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet.

The Kind Diet is a great resource if you're curious about a healthy vegan diet, as well as if you're interested in exploring some more macrobiotic type dishes (aka, what Silverstone describes as "superhero" foods).   The book includes tons of recipes, as well as information about the health benefits of a vegan diet and some information about ethical veganism.

The recipe I chose to make is from the "superhero" section of the book.   It calls for bulgur, radishes, green onions, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt.  My minor changes were cooking the bulgur to the package directions, using cilantro in lieu of parsley (had a lot in the fridge to use up!) and adding black pepper.  I also made sure to mix in the lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning while the barley was hot so that the salad would absorb its flavors better.  We'll see how it tastes tomorrow!

I also made a big batch of kale chips to share with some of my fellow retreaters.  This time, I went easier on the olive oil and let the kale chips cook on paper towels.  It seemed to help make them less greasy this time.  I also used my salad spinner to get the kale nice and dry before coating and seasoning it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Vegan Black Bean Quesadillas and Kale Chips

Yesterday, I cooked up a large batch of black beans to use for this week's meals.  Tonight, I used some in my vegan quesadillas.

To make the filling, I cut 1/2 a red onion and one yellow pepper into strips.  I sauteed them on high heat until they were soft and slightly browned, a little over five minutes.  I then stirred in the black beans and some minced garlic, and generously seasoned the mix with cumin, salt, pepper and fresh cilantro.  Once the mix was heated through, I removed it from the heat and stirred in a few handfuls of baby spinach.

To cook the quesadillas, I used my griddler.  The griddler is essentially a combination of an electric grill pan and an electric griddle.  Using the panini setting on high gave me grill marks on both sides.  Before I put the top layer of tortilla on, I added cheddar and mozzarella daiya.  I then let the quesadilla cook until brown grill marks appeared on top and the quesadilla was flat.

While the quesadillas were cooking, I made a quick salsa with heirloom grape tomatoes, minced red onion, fresh cilantro and lime juice.

I  also made my own kale chips, using this recipe as a guide for prep and cooking time (300 degrees, 20 minutes).  I decided to amp up the seasoning by adding minced onion instead of salt and pepper.  I think I added a little too much olive oil, but the seasoning mix was spot on.

The quesadillas were very filling.  Granted I overstuffed the second batch, which is what I had for dinner tonight.  I ended up eating three of the four slices.  The first one was a little flatter, and that's likely what I'll eat for lunch tomorrow.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pasta with Kale, White Beans and "Cheese" Sauce

I had a bunch of random things in my pantry and fridge to use up, so I decided to do an easy pasta dinner tonight.

For the pasta, I used the remaining Quinoa pasta shells I bought awhile ago.  You can use any type of pasta for this dish, but I would recommend something on the smaller side - small shells, orichette, macaroni or orzo, mini fuslili, etc. - as I think it will hold the sauce better.

While I was bringing the water up for the pasta, I sauteed some red onion, kale and garlic in olive oil.  When the veg started to stick to the bottom of the pan, I added some vegetable stock.  I also stirred in the last of the navy beans from earlier this week and seasoned the mix with black pepper.

Meanwhile, I made the "cheese" sauce, which I got from Happy Healthy Life's Spinach Alfredo recipe.  Since I was only making enough for my own lunch and dinner, I scaled the recipe down a bit.  I used the nutritional yeast that I picked up from the bulk aisle, soy-free veganaise, dijon mustard, some of the pasta water and the seasonings the blog recipe recommended - garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper.

After I drained the pasta, I put it in the pan with the veg and then stirred in the "cheese" sauce.  The creamy texture was spot on, but I think I'd cut back on the mustard next time, as it dominated the other flavors in the dish.  I also wish I had had more beans leftover, as the small amount I had got lost in the dish.

This also might be a good time to mention that I am going to be posting my on 2012 Vegan Kickstart Page in conjunction with PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.  The page will include both meals I prepare and meals I eat out.  At the end of the 21 Days, I'll have a customized vegan meal plan that hopefully anyone can follow!  PCRM also provides a sample menu you can use to follow along as well.  While the kickstart technically started today, I encourage you to try going vegan for any 21 day period and see how the experience goes for you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 New Year Aspirations

Source: via Miriam on Pinterest

I’m not a big resolution maker.  I feel like resolution equals “thing I will stop doing by mid-February, if not sooner.”  But, I can get down with the idea of aspirations and reaching for a higher plane – exploring things I enjoy, taking all that I have accomplished this year from an eating and health standpoint to an even higher level.

As a quick recap of 2011, I decided to stop eating fish in February and found myself gradually and essentially unconsciously, phasing dairy products and eggs out of my diet this Fall.  At this point, the only animal products I eat in are in my occasional indulgence of Orville Redenbacher salt and pepper popcorn (milk in the ingredients – I’ll be trying air popped and nutritional yeast soon!) and the occasional quorn product (egg in the ingredients, though the company is working on some vegan options).  I honestly can’t call myself a vegan as much as “someone who eats a vegan diet,” especially given my shopping habits.  To paraphrase Gene Baur, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” and to paraphrase many of my yoga teachers, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

I didn’t start 2011 intending to pursue a vegan diet.  I never thought it was something I would do, given my lifelong obsession with all things cheese.  But, I’ve found it easier to do than I anticipated, and I’m eating an even more enriching variety of foods as a result.  When I told my friend Jenn that I was “off of cheese,” she, being very familiar with my soy allergy, said “I feel bad that you can’t eat anything.” But, I have found that the opposite is true!  When your lunch fallbacks aren’t spinach & mushroom pizza or a cheese sub, you try and enjoy so many more things!

I also became more conscious about avoiding soy products. Since soy is so pervasive, it is extremely challenging to keep it out of my diet.  While I avoided big trigger foods like commercial salad dressings, most meat substitutes and tofu, I found myself “tolerating” products that contained soy for a variety of reasons – convenience sake, my fear of seeming difficult, and frankly, pure laziness.  The result?  Constant sneezing and congestion, severe and unpleasant gastrointestinal reactions, wheezing and a hoarse voice, constant headaches and general malaise.  But, this month, since I have been meticulous about avoiding soy in any form, all of the above symptoms have disappeared.  I also stopped the constant flow of diet coke and sugar substitutes I was partaking in, which have also had a positive effect on my headaches.

On the yoga front, I was going strong until I severely pulled my hamstring doing a full split at the cheer competition at my office’s summer fun day in late July.  Yes, you heard that correctly.  After two months off from my regular 4-5 studio & home practices a week schedule, I’m getting close to building back the strength and flexibility I had pre-injury.  I was able to get back into a headstand this week, and my crow is coming back as well.

On the personal front, I got married, became an aunt and started regular light therapy to help with my seasonal affective disorder.  I knit a boatload of toy animals for the babies of friends and family.  I did a lot of cooking, read a bunch of cool books and traveled enough for work to hit Hilton Gold status.  And, with all of the above going on, I got to stretch my long buried writing muscle by starting this blog.

So, what do I aspire to in 2012?

Continue to explore a vegan diet.  To be more specific, I hope to continue to cook scratch meals with lots of fresh vegetables and beans, and continue to back away from the fake meats.  I just remarked to husband that “We’re going to be eating a lot more beans in 2012.” His response, “2012 - the year of the bean!” I take this to mean he is on board.

Make friends with the bulk aisle.  I look forward to exploring the bulk aisle at Whole Foods this year – heirloom beans, nutritious whole grains and other finds await!  I look forward to trying cranberry beans, kamut, nutritional yeast, amaranth and more.  This will also give me good fodder for 2012 blog posts.

Enjoy the occasional indulgence.  This could mean the every once in awhile homemade vegan mac and cheese, and especially trying more vegan desserts.

Be more conscious about what I buy.  The animal welfare concerns that have had an effect on my diet are also starting to have an effect on other things I purchase.  I hope to be more conscious about the personal care products I buy, supporting companies that do not test their products on animals and use natural ingredients.  My Beauty Bunny has a great app to help discover these types of companies.  I also look forward to exploring more products by companies I’m currently supporting, such as Lush, EO, JASON and Tom’s of Maine.

Continue to explore yoga.  My regular yoga practice and the warm community of tranquil space have had an extremely positive impact on my life.  Yoga and the Tranquil Space community have been a huge, if not the biggest factor, with helping me overcome years of disordered eating and body dysmorphia.  I look forward to my regular practice, as well as continuing to explore my home practice and partaking in workshops and retreats, including January’s Urban Women’s Retreat and an April art and yoga weekend retreat in West Virginia.

Have More Crafty Fun: I’ve always enjoyed making things – photo collages, jewelry, pottery and especially knitting.  This year, I’ve done a lot of knitting and hosted a knitting salon at my apartment.   I’ve also dabbled in some papercrafting and bowmaking. I look forward to trying more projects and hosting more crafty get-togethers in 2012!

Take Moments Out of My Day to Find Tranquility.  I’m a Type A person in a Type A job in Washington D.C., aka, the definition of a Type A city.  It can be hard to take a deep breath and live in the moment, and it can be even harder for me not to constantly measure myself against others.  I need to remember that life isn’t a competition, and to find enjoyment in every day.  I look forward to participating this year in Kimberly Wilson’s year-long Tranquilologie e-course, which I think will encourage me to relax and reflect.  

So, in addition to my regular cooking blogs, I hope to check in on these aspirations regularly and reflect on how I’m incorporating them into my daily life.  So, this might mean the occasional blog sidebar into yoga, crafts and just stuff in general. But, given how much I love food and cooking, you can still expect that to be the majority of my content, with perhaps a monthly round-up of non-food type things.  Also, yesterday, I got started on Pinterest, which I hope to use as inspiration for all of my 2012 aspirations. 

What are your 2012 aspirations?