Monday, January 30, 2012

Something New for Breakfast: Smoothies

Oof!  This is the longest I've gone since I started this blog without updating.  I have a reason; I've been out of town for the past two weekends on business.  (It will have its own post, because it was a foodfail of epic proportions.)  But I'm back now and trying to get back on track, starting with the "most important meal of the day," breakfast.  I had posted about how Cheerios were all I ever ate for breakfast, but I wanted to give it up for something more nutrient-rich and less processed, and actually, I haven't bought another box since that one ran out a few days later.

And believe it or not, I've been doing really, really well.  One of the cookbooks we got for Christmas has a whole breakfast section.  First up in the book is smoothies--seriously the most simple thing you could ever imagine.  Erica used to make mixed fruit smoothies, and based on the fact that she used a ton of different fruits, I didn't really consider that a cost- or time-effective solution for daily consumption.  But the recipes in this book use banana as the base of most of the recipes instead of avocado, and usually only have 1 or 2 other ingredients.  So, much less expensive, and incredibly easy!

The first one I tried was called "Cinnamon Bun:" Simply milk, a banana, cinnamon, and vanilla extract blended together:  and yes, it tasted incredibly like a cinnamon bun.
Cinnamon Bun in a Glass!

We tried a few recipes from the book--Erica made an incredible vegetable-and-mint based one that tasted like a Mojito--and after I got the hang of it, I started making my own.  That's how I came up with a chocolate-cinnamon one, and my favorite so far, a blueberry-banana one.
I'm thinking of calling it Blueberry-Banana Blast,
what do you think?

Right now, smoothies seem to be working out perfectly.  I have a lot of energy, I'm not getting too hungry before lunch, leftovers seem to keep okay in the fridge for a day or so. And I love that I'm eating more fruit.  It's very hard for me to just sit down and chow on an apple or whatever, so this is good.  I'm experimenting almost every day with new combinations, but when I have a list of faves, I'll be sure to share some recipes!

***(Also, thanks to everyone that offered suggestions for ways to deal with my breakfast conundrum. I'm still taking all of that into consideration, and I'll be trying some of that as well!)***

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Biggest Processed Food Holdout

When it comes to striving for "clean eating,"  I've had to change a lot of my food habits.  Winter Sundays used to mean baked potatoes for dinner, ice cream was my #1 comfort food, and coffee (loaded with International Delight) and Mountain Dew were what kept the blood running through my veins.  I've always "known" how to make healthier choices, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I actually started making them.

Part of the reason I chose veganism as my first self-imposed challenge was because I knew that taking away foods I loved would make me crazy, unless I replaced them with new things to love.  So, while I was pining for cheese-soaked chicken and pasta, I learned to love a whole bunch of new things.  During those 60 days, I also cut out the worst offenders, not necessarily just nonvegan foods.  Soda, potato chips, ice cream, some of my biggest food vices, were gone cold turkey.  I don't want them back.

But as I learn more about what goes into processed food and strive to keep away from it,  I'm drawn back to my biggest problem: breakfast.  Historically, I never ate breakfast, opting instead for a cup (or two, or three) of coffee with calorie-loaded artificial creamer.  Sometimes (frequently), I'd get home from work at 6:30pm never having had any solid food all day.  But my problem with breakfast usually wasn't time.  It was simply that I didn't like breakfast foods.  Cereal was boring and cold,  and my stomach could never handle something heavy like eggs or sweet like French toast early in the morning.

When I started the vegan thing, I figured I'd turn over a new leaf on all accounts and force myself to get into the habit of eating breakfast.  Still not keen on eating a lot that early, I opted to make a bowl of Cheerios with soy milk my AM tradition.  And now, five months later, I'm sticking to it with decent regularity.

So now that I've eliminated most processed food from my diet, I face a Cheerios conundrum:  should I give them up and try to find something more healthy and nutrient-rich to take their place, or should I keep eating them and consider this an exception that proves the rule?  And are Cheerios really that bad for you anyway?

The answer to the latter is rough: it really, really depends on who you ask.  It also depends on what you mean by "healthy."  Is feeding a kid a bowl of Cheerios better than feeding them a bowl of Froot Loops?  Yes.  Does a serving of Cheerios have less cholesterol than a plate of eggs and hash-browns?  Well, of course.  There are tons of breakfast options that are less healthy than Cheerios--including my former option of nothing at all.

But at the end of the day, it's still an extremely highly processed food, and really, most of the "whole grain" benefit you think you're getting is processed out or chemically altered.  People who claim it's healthy are quick to remind you that the most prevalent ingredient is "whole grain oats" while leaving out that second and third most prevalent are "modified corn starch" and "sugar."  (Refined sugar, by the way, is near the top of the clean eating blacklist.)

Ideally, I'd like to rid this from my diet.  But I'm at a loss for how to replace it.  Erica has been making her own oatmeal from scratch now, and as lovely as that is, I can't seem to get on board with the texture of the stuff.  We also, since the water-only thing has finished, have started making smoothies again, but I'm afraid a smoothie alone will leave me too hungry before lunchtime.  I'm thinking of making a challenge for myself where I branch out and try new things for breakfast.  I'm open to suggestions!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hectic Week, and the End of Water-Only

It's been a quiet week on this blog, but it's actually been  a pretty wild week in the house.  Erica's car needs replaced well, now, as it turns out, so it's been a week of shopping for loans and looking up car values and getting our ears bent with both solicited and unsolicited advice--it makes both of us just want to retreat.  If ever there was a week where disappearing into the TV would be a welcome distraction, this was the one.

But we stuck to our guns, and hopefully by Saturday afternoon, we'll have a new (to us) car.  I'm happy with all we've gotten accomplished this week.  Even in the midst of all the car craziness, we managed to get wedding stuff done as well!  The honeymoon is pretty much totally booked, and invitations are on the way to us.  I've gotten some reading done, but no writing so far.  Next week, maybe. And tomorrow night, we'll be having a much-needed night out with friends, seeing Beauty and the Beast in 3D.

Tomorrow is also a big day because it's the last official day of my 60-day water-only challenge.  Yes, I've been keeping up with it, aside from some wine on Christmas Eve, and a glass of punch on NYE, I think I've officially trained myself to like drinking water, something I thought would never happen.  I wouldn't have liked it so much if I hadn't seen such wild results from it, but I've lost two dress sizes since the very beginning of this journey.  It was never about losing weight, but I had a feeling that would fall into place if I could keep this commitment. (I actually asked Erica to stop the water-only thing last week, because she's lost too much weight. I envy the girl that gets to go on a chocolate milk twice-a-day regimen!)

To celebrate ending the challenge, I'm planning to hit up Sheetz on our way to the dealerships Saturday morning for a decaf mocha, but I plan on sticking mostly to water from here on out.  And I definitely don't care to go back to being a caffeine addict; I'm not going back to soda, and coffee will be decaf, and a once-in-a-while thing.  I love not buying juice at the store, we're saving so much money in our grocery (and alcohol) budget.  We got wine for Christmas, and we actually got to use our wine rack for a month! It's funny, I have to be so extreme to get myself to do the simplest things, but now I can't imagine going back!

I won't lie, I am looking forward to sitting back with a nice glass of wine Saturday night, looking out at our new car in the driveway.  Keep your fingers crossed for us!!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

TV-Free: Eating Dinner in the Dining Room

One week down, fifty-one to go.  It has certainly been a totally different house without the TV on!  My list of stuff to accomplish this year is getting continuously longer, and it got to the point where it was just overwhelming.  So Tuesday, my first day off since New Years, I was kind of left to my own devices and didn't know where to start.  I took some time to catch up on writing people I missed throughout the holiday season, made sure to update the blog, and then just kinda stared at the list, too intimidated to actually dig in.

Each passing day has gotten better, though.  Erica put her computer back in her office and is using that space for writing again, I rediscovered my love for Pandora Radio so the house isn't always so quiet, and there's always plenty of time to get all the household stuff done.  And even though I don't think I'm going to bed that much earlier, I'm way less tired in the morning for some reason.

By far the biggest accomplishment is something I'm kind of embarrassed to admit to: we've started eating dinner at the dining room table, instead of on the couch.  Before this challenge, even when we were cooking these fabulous meals, we always ate in front of the TV.  I'm willing to bet that a lot of people my age operate like this, but it is something I'm glad we're rectifying.  Not only does this habit encourage overeating, it also takes away from the quality of the meal, because your brain is being stimulated by the TV and not the food.  This is all stuff I've heard before, and trust me, I was not raised eating dinner in front of a TV.  For this one, the blame's all on me.  But I'm glad it's over.  I'm excited to watch TV again, but from here on out, I'm keeping dinner in the dining room!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kitchen Overhaul, and What Santa Brought Us

If being robbed means that you come home and your house looks empty and your stuff is missing, I imagine that the opposite of being robbed would be if someone pulled everything you own out of its place and put it on the floor in plain sight.  One day, between Christmas and New Years, I came home to this:
And this:
Pictured: everything from my kitchen pulled out if its place and dumped in the dining room.

To be fair, it was a project that Erica and I had talked about, especially since a majority of our wonderful Christmas gifts were kitchen-related.  We needed to re-organize and make room for the new stuff, pitch some old stuff, and deep-clean the cabinets.  I just didn't expect to come home to it looking like I'd been transplanted into a Hoarders-type situation.

As tired and hungry as I was, though, I pitched in, because I couldn't wait to see the final product.  It was good, we pared down a lot of kitchen gadgets that we haven't used since moving in, wiped down the inside of  all the cabinets, and found some stuff that we had lost to the sheer depth of some of our drawers  (welcome back, decorative cheese knives!). 

When I came home the next day the kitchen looked like this: 

And our once-hopelessly-disorganized spice cabinet like this:
I took the advice of commenter Alicia from my September post about my messy spice cabinets
 and ordered a  spice organizer off of Amazon.  I could use a second one, actually!

I'm super happy with how everything turned out!  And all our new stuff has a home, which was the biggest concern, although we were elated about what our super-generous family gave us.  Erica's mom gave us our first stand mixer, and Erica's looking forward to making her own bread.  My grandparents got us an 11-cup Cuisinart food processor,  which has been a huge lifesaver already, because before, all I had was a little 1-cup chopper.  Needless to say veggie burgers just got a thousand times easier.  (Also, special thanks to everyone who's asked if I've cut myself on the processor blade yet.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, but the answer is yes.  Yes I have.)

Other faves have included an olive oil mister from Erica's brother, a set of five clear food storage containers from her dad and stepmom, and a cookbook from my mom that we've used four times already since Christmas.  It, and the food processor, helped us make this amazing pizza, our first shot at using yeast/making dough.
I cannot wait to have this again!

Overall, the holiday season was kind to us, and we're nowhere near tired of our new toys yet, so I'll continue posting about all the other fun stuff we get into.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Another Extreme Challenge

Since this past September, I've been trying to better myself through a series of food-related challenges, but the ultimate goal didn't really have a lot to do with food or weight loss.  It started because in August, I realized that when people ask me "what's new with you?" or "what do you do for fun?" and they actually want an answer, I had nothing for them. Time and again, I seriously couldn't think of anything to answer except that I waste a lot of time on the Internet and I watch too much TV.

In short, I was a boring person.  I ate boring food, I hate talking about work, and even if you asked me what I did on the Internet, I couldn't tell you, because it was mostly just surfing around.  I never wanted to be that person.  High-school Valerie would be disappointed, and college Valerie would be disgusted.  So the vegan challenge was a way for me to turn a microscope on one aspect of my life, and start working at it.  Now when someone asks "what's new," I can at least say I've been teaching myself to cook, and it's ridiculously fun.

When Erica took me out for dinner on my birthday, we'd been talking about my next challenge.  I decided I wanted to move away from the total food focus, and try to improve another area.  I bounced a lot of ideas; I have a lot of potential interests and even more things that I need to get done:
  • Plant a garden out back
  • Play the piano a few times a week
  • Write a book
  • Read more books
  • Create (and stick to) a workout plan
  • Have more dinner parties
  • Paint our bedroom
  • Look into getting the basement finished
  • Update this blog more frequently
You know, all those thing we tell ourselves "I'd love to get done, if only I had the time!"  But I do have the time, I just don't use it right.  The original plan was to pick one or two of these, make a quantifiable goal and make that my new 60-day commitment, but when we got the check, something funny happened--my fortune cookie was actually insightful:
"First, think of what you want to do; then do what you have to do."

It didn't hit me right away, but I liked the fortune so I tucked it in my wallet behind my driver's license.  As time passed, though, I understood--all those things on my list, they're the things that I want to do.  In order to achieve them, though, I probably have to do some things I don't what to do.  But everything on my list is possible.  If I'm proactive, I can make it happen.

I know what I want to do. What I have to do, though, won't be easy.  With Erica's blessing (and, surprisingly, enthusiastic cooperation)  I'm going to unplug my TV for a year.  It means no Netflix, no Hulu, no videogames, and no cable.  As this year drew to a close, I was pretty anxious about it.  I don't have a solid plan for where on the list I'm going to start; I also don't have a solid plan to keep myself from replacing my pointless TV watching with pointless Internetting.  But I'm working on it.  The first step is done though, we've verbally committed; wish us luck!