Increasing SNAP Restrictions could benefit health & government

*Below is an Op-Ed I wrote for a class assignment, but wanted to share in light of some themes (block grants, budget-centric policy making) that while present in politics forever, have been prevalent recently in regards to health care reform*

 

It may seem early to start thinking about the 2018 Farm Bill, but under the new administration, food policy is dynamic. While the 2018 Farm Bill has heavy implications for small and large farmers’ day-to-day operations and sustainability, it also affects funding of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other nutrition programs.  Just about 75% of the Farm Bill budget goes to nutritional programs like SNAP, accounting for about 89 billion dollars in federal spending in 2016­1. In 2014, when the previous Farm Bill was passed, spending cuts to SNAP were a huge source of debate.

Farm Bill 2018

To avoid a repeat of 2014, when political standstill significantly delayed the passing of the bill, let’s start talking about changes to the SNAP program now. Public health experts have been pushing for buying restrictions on SNAP for years, usually dismissed by Republicans as unnecessarily patronizing the American public. An alternative to banning junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages purchases under SNAP benefits is to give users incentives for buying whole fruits, vegetables and grains2.  Research shows that this is successful on a small scale, increasing the amount of fruit and vegetable purchases by giving people an extra 30 cents per dollar when they buy fruits or vegetables2. Placing restrictions on junk foods and incentives on healthy foods doesn’t necessarily get to the bottom of the budget issues, however they ensure that the government money is going towards products that will improve health (other aspects of the Farm Bill control subsidies and have the power to incentivize healthy foods for all).

From a tax-payer perspective, I am in favor increased regulation if it means SNAP users are buying more nutritional foods.  The SNAP program is designed to be some of the money that low-income families need to purchase groceries, not all of it. Think about it – junk foods that are high in salt and fat, sugar sweetened beverages and even some processed red meats are linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. How is that any different from restricting the purchase of tobacco products and alcohol?

Another method of controlling SNAP purchases is through modifications to grocery and corner stores that accept SNAP.  This could include changing the layout to prompt shoppers to buy healthier foods rather than processed foods2. Many big food companies have contracts with stores regarding displays, making this difficult to achieve.  Grocery and corner stores face requirements regarding food offerings and product visibility as conditions for accepting SNAP2.  Increasing those requirements to include fresh fruits and vegetables and prominent displays for healthier items would increase access to healthy foods, especially in corner stores which are commonly located in food deserts. Upping store requirements could cause stores to drop out of the SNAP program all together, which decreases overall access to food. However, similar changes were made under the WIC program in which stores dutifully complied.

Republicans favor the budget-only approach that shifts the SNAP program to block-grants, giving each individual state control over benefits1.  Block-grants cut spending dramatically, which limits the scope and impact of SNAP.  Returning to my previous point, if we are going to uproot the program, shouldn’t we think about its impact on individual and family nutrition as motivators?

We need to remind our policymakers to think beyond the monetary aspect of decisions like the impending Farm Bill, as its impact reaches beyond the economy.  If we step out of the deep and ever-growing pockets of Big Ag leaders like Monsanto (with whom President Trump just had a meeting1) and Big Soda, our options for improving the nutrition of our nation will increase.  It is possible to make changes to SNAP that increase health outcomes for its users AND decreases spending and reliance on government assistance.

What are your thoughts on the 2018 Farm Bill?

References:

  1. Douglas, Leah. (February 8, 2017). The Future of the Farm Bill. Civil Eats, retrieved from http://civileats.com/2017/02/08/sneak-peek-coming-farm-bill-process/
  1. Farley, Thomas & Sykes, Russell. (March 20, 2015). See No Junk Food, Buy No Junk Food. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/21/opinion/see-no-junk-buy-no-junk.html?_r=0

 

 

Following Signs and Cooking Lentils

French Lentils and Balsamic Mushrooms | Vegan

It has been almost three months since I sat down to write a blog post. What the heck!?!

I’ve been busy with my thesis (my defense is exactly one week away!!!), wedding planning and job searching.

I finished one book, and cracked open at least four new ones. I have always been a reader, but recently I have been addicted – I can’t wait to get done with school and spend all of my time reading. Maybe I should factor that into my job searching. If you’re curious about what I’ve been reading, check out my Goodreads profile.

Now that you’re all caught up…let’s talk about signs.

I believe in signs. I believe that if something keeps coming up I should pay attention to it.  Currently, my topic of obsession is my strengths. I was thinking about them a little due to interview prep, my thesis defense and the general state of unknown that my very near future holds.  Then I had an assignment for a class to do the Strengths Finder test. Then I received Tools of Titans for my birthday. Then I did yoga this morning and Adriene was all about balancing softness and stability, thinking about our strengths, being kind to ourselves in regards to our weaknesses. All of this strengths talk emphasizes the fact that we can become infinitely talented in the areas of our strengths, and only marginally talented in the areas of our weaknesses – so forget about your weaknesses and focus on developing your strengths.

For me, it’s critical to think about when I am the happiest. Professionally, I know from experience that I hate work and am less productive if I am not passionate and fulfilled by what I am doing.  Why are we wasting so much time doing things that make us miserable? Even if you get  a paycheck out of it – at some point you cross a line, ultimately wasting your time and energy. Channel that into something that is going to help you shine and thrive.

French Lentils and Balsamic Mushrooms | Vegan

This recipe grew out of a “sign”.  There was a picture of lentils and mushrooms on my Pinterest feed recently. I dismissed it  – I didn’t read the caption or click the link. But the image is imprinted in my mind. I have not stopped thinking about it. I think that’s a sign that I just need to get in the damn kitchen.

This is one of the funnest ways to cook. I am inspired, but I’m also challenging myself to create a recipe based on a picture of a plated dish. I’m grateful for this experience. The fact that a lot of people don’t have the financial means to “experiment” with food or the base of knowledge to just wing it is not lost on me.

So, how do you create a recipe based on a picture? 

  1. Identify ingredients: Start with what you can see and add things that you like and make sense.
  2. Identify technique: Think of how to cook each ingredient. Can you cook them together or should you cook them separately? How will this decision impact the texture and flavor of the dish?
  3. Try it! And take lots of notes. What did you do? What would you change for the next time? Should there even be a next time? Pretty is fine, but taste is what counts.

So for this French Lentil with Balsamic Mushrooms dish, I could see lentils, mushrooms, a shiny brown drizzle and a green. I added onions, because everything needs onions (I might even eat a chocolate covered onion). And I made the green arugula because its peppery flavor complements that of the lentils and it adds freshness to an otherwise cooked dish.

I cooked my lentils according to package directions with homemade veggie broth. I wanted my mushrooms to be completely browned on both sides, so I knew I would cook them separately and use a heavy cast iron pan.  Everything else comes together at the last minute.

French Lentils & Balsamic Mushrooms

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

This recipe is naturally gluten free. Serve with a crostini or toast for a light lunch or as a compliment to a big dinner. Don’t be intimidated by the time, only 30 minutes are active in this recipe.

  • 1 cup dried lentils*
  • Vegetable broth*
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Half of a yellow onion, sliced thin
  • About 10 cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup fresh arugula
  • Salt, to taste
  • Vegan Feta**, optional
  1. Measure and rinse the lentils. Cover with cold water and let soak for 45 min – 1 hour.
  2. Drain and rinse the lentils. Transfer to a small pot and add vegetable broth. I use 2 cups of broth for every one cup of lentils because I like to have a little liquid leftover when they’re done cooking, but I advise reading the package instructions. Heat over medium-high heat until the broth is boiling. Reduce to a high simmer (medium-low heat) and cover. The lentils should be al dente in 20-25 minutes.
  3. Wait about 5-10 minutes to start step 4 so that everything is done at the same time. Use this time to slice your mushrooms and onion.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet, like a cast iron pan over high heat. Add the onion and toss to coat in oil. Cook until translucent. Remove the onions from the pan. Add the mushrooms to the pan, arranging the slices so they sit in a single, flat layer. Cook for about 5 minutes, until they are nicely browned. Flip each slice of mushroom (tedious, I know). Let them cook for another 2 minutes and then add the balsamic vinegar. Cook until all of the vinegar is reduced.  Turn off the heat.
  5. Add the onion back to the pan and toss with the mushroom slices. Add salt to taste.
  6. At this point the lentils should be cooked, they should be easily squished between two fingers, but not mashable. Use a slotted spoon to scoop lentils into a bowl or onto a plate. Top with the mushroom and onion mixture, and then with arugula and vegan feta.

*I used French lentils, because they’re hearty and peppery, but use what you’ve got! Red and yellow lentils cook a lot faster but tend to clump and mash, so the texture is totally different from Green lentils, like the French variation. Different types of lentils will require a different amount of liquid to cook, so read the package you use for more details.

**I use this recipe for vegan feta and it is super easy and super delicious. I highly recommend you give it a shot.

 

Vegan Parmesan

This recipe was originally shared on my tumblr in 2014. 

I try to live by the motto “why buy when you can make”. This is especially true in the kitchen, but increasingly so in everyday life. Now that I’ve learned to paint and draw okay, I make all my cards and feel guilty when I purchase one. Part of it is money, I could spend $5 on a card at the drugstore, or I could make one for pennies (this is especially true with food!). Gratitude plays a big role, you appreciate things more when you know what it takes to make them. Control is another big piece – especially for food  – knowing what is in something, where it came from, and how it was made is a big deal for me. With all of the empty terms used in food labeling, transparency can be really tricky to find. When you make things yourself you have control over how much you make, saving food from being wasted.

Parmesan is a pantry staple. Thinking back to childhood, we always had one of the green topped, plastic shakers in the door of the fridge. I hardly ever have it now, nor do I really miss it, but it was such a constant when I was growing up.

Unlike some other vegan cheeses, this recipes only calls for 3 ingredients and is super quick to make. First you toast off some white sesame seeds, and let them cool. Then you blend them up into a powder with a healthy pinch of salt and some nutritional yeast. That’s it.

Vegan Parmesan | veganheartbeats.com

Vegan parmesan can be used just like a regular shaker of parmesan cheese – on pasta, salads, sandwiches, soups and in pesto and sauces!

Vegan Parmesan

  • Servings: yields one cup
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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This recipe is actually just a ratio – equal parts sesame seeds and nutritional yeast and salt to taste.

  • 1/2 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until golden brown. Immediately remove the seeds from the hot pan and place in the freezer to cool down quickly.
  2. Use a food processor or blender to grind the sesame seeds, nutritional yeast and salt into a cohesive powder.
  3. Store in an old spice container in the fridge. The spice containers are nice because they have built in shakers, but if you don’t have any, a tupperware will do.

Stewed Butternut Squash with Barley

Stewed Butternut Squash with Barley | Veganheartbeats.com

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and fallen in love with a dish? It has happened to me twice. There have been other times, obviously, when the food has been amazing, but not in that way that takes you by surprise, making you fall in love.

This dish, Stewed Butternut Squash with Barley, is a bit of a departure from the first time I had it.  My mom and I went out for lunch in a small town called Skaneateles last winter when I was home for the holidays.  There was a new cafe where a French boutique used to stand. Maybe because I knew if first as a French boutique, but it seemed like a strange place for a cafe. My mom and I got two dishes to share, hers was a salad of some sort – good but not too memorable. Mine was this butternut squash stew, with a tomato-y broth and capers, served over Israeli couscous. It was something I had never had before, and since Josh doesn’t love squash I usually only get it on holidays and dining out (not complaining – he has to say the same thing about whole food groups – milk, eggs, cheese, meat, fish, etc.). This dish was so good – each bite was like a dissection of what we were eating, and how it got to be so delicious so we could recreate it another time.

Stewed Butternut Squash with Barley | Veganheartbeats.com

Anyways, it took me a year, and a few trials, but I’ve made my version so that it makes my taste buds dance like they did the first time I ate this Stewed Butternut Squash with Barley. Make this recipe on a cold day – the oven will heat up your house and the squash and barley will fill up and warm your tummy.

Stewed Butternut Squash with Barley | Veganheartbeats.com

Stewed Butternut Squash with Barley

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

If you want to feed an army with a delicious and nourishing meal, you can double the recipe and use the whole squash.  To make the dish gluten free, switch the barley out for quinoa or brown rice (will also make the dish cook faster!).

  • 1 cup barley
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can of whole or diced tomatoes
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • dash or two of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2- 1 cup of vegetable broth
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Combine the barley, water and salt in a medium saucepan.  Heat over medium-high heat and allow to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, simmer and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until the barley absorbs all of the water.
  3. Combine the squash, tomatoes, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning and cayenne in an oven safe dish. Add the vegetable broth, starting with half a cup.  You want the dish to have some broth left over after baking, but not be watery.
  4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking halfway through to stir and add more vegetable broth if necessary.  It’s done when the squash is tender.
  5. Serve hot, scooping the squash and tomato-y broth over the barley.

Cookbook Review: Homestyle Vegan

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites - Vegan

We have been flirting with cold weather for a month here in Central Ohio, but this morning when I opened the door, I saw snow, and when I opened the weather app, forecasts are all in the 20s. That’s why I wanted to share Amber St. Peter’s new book, Homestyle Vegan, with you today. You may know Amber from her popular blog, Fettle Vegan. Amber delivers on homestyle recipes that will bring you back to your grandmother’s kitchen table.  These are the perfect recipes for cold, snowy days.

Homestyle Vegan is a great blend of homemade and simple.  In our vegan world, ‘homemade’ doesn’t always mean simple.  Cue all of the vegan cheese we’ve made from cashews and sprouted grains, being part of the food system from seed to fruit – including composting. A whole section in the book is dedicated to homemade pantry items, items that if you have time you should make them yourself, but can easily be replaced with the vegan store-bought versions.

Recipes like Green Bean Casserole, Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy, Lobster Mushroom Bisque, Rosemary Hot Chocolate and Holiday Nog make this book a classic. None of Amber’s recipes use soy-based ingredients, so that means faux meats and tofu are out, and veggies are in.  Music to my ears.  Most recipes are gluten-free, or can be easily modified to be gluten-free.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites - Vegan

Given the cold weather, I thought I’d warm us up with a recipe for Buffalo Cauliflower Bites from Homestyle Vegan.  Buffalo sauce became my go-to comfort food once I realized I actually liked some spicy foods. I’ve attempted to make cauli-wings before, but could never get them crispy.  This recipe calls for battering the cauliflower and pre-baking them, then coating them in buffalo sauce and baking them again.  It takes about an hour, but it’s so worth it and a really hands-off process so you can knit yourself a scarf while you’re waiting.

Homestyle Vegan's Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

  • Servings: 2 to 4
  • Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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If you’re having company over, double the recipe. These cauliflower wings are too good to share! Thanks to Fettle Vegan (Amber St. Peter) for the simple recipe, featured in her new cookbook, Homestyle Vegan.

  • 1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 1 cup  Frank’s RedHot sauce (or your preferred hot sauce)
  1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you have an oven safe cooling rack, place that on top of the lined baking sheet and spray it with oil. This method makes it so you don’t have to constantly flip each piece of cauliflower.
  2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the almond milk, flour, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.
  3. Dip the florets into the mixture, coating evenly. Tap off any excess batter and place the florets on the baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, checking halfway through and flipping if you don’t use the cooling rack method described in step 1.
  4. While the cauliflower bites cook, heat the butter and hot sauce together in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts. When the cauliflower bites have cooked, pull them from the oven and, using tongs, carefully dip each floret completely into the hot sauce mixture and place it back on the baking sheet. Continue this until all the florets have been dipped. Bake for 25 to 30 more minutes, again flipping about halfway through if not using the cooling rack.
  5. When they’re finished, serve immediately with vegan ranch dressing and sliced vegetables or just enjoy as is!

Living with purpose…

[sorry there aren’t any recipes today, however if you read all the way through, I put a few links to some of my faves  for Thanksgiving at the bottom]

The events of last week left me feeling, well, all sorts of negative emotions.  I spent a lot of time in reflection, thinking about how I was going to handle this. I thought of attending a rally or a protest, but that’s not me. I knew it wouldn’t make me feel any better.  In reality I didn’t really do much – I listened to a lot of positive podcasts and thought about life in a really theoretical way, I talked to some people about it, but talking about it gets me fired up and that’s what I am trying to subdue.

During this process I thought a lot about purpose.  So many of us go through our days, subconsciously making decisions about what to eat, where to eat, what to wear, who to sit with, who to talk to, etc.. Some of those decisions are meant to be automatic because overthinking them would be unhealthy (and exhausting), but others in our life could use a little purpose. We could use a little purpose.

living life with purpose

For me, giving purpose to my life, my actions and the situations I find myself in, isn’t about right versus wrong, it’s about understanding why I am doing what I am doing, when I am doing it. I’ve been sparked to be more purposeful as I find my memory fading a little bit. It’s just because I’m so damn busy all of the time, I never give my full attention to anything, and I’m ashamed to admit that.  I forget someone’s name and if I actually did this task or that when asked about it at work.

Giving purpose to something you’re doing can be as small and simple as remembering why you are in class- to you pay attention – and it’s actually easier to give it all of your focus. You are there to learn from that professor and those classmates, not to catch up on current events or emails. I’m definitely guilty of this one. Purpose can give you a positive source of accountability.

Don’t stress out about what your purpose in life is. I would argue that most of us have multiple purposes in life, sometimes they overlap and sometimes letting go of one will allow you to start working towards another.  In the nonprofit world our missions are very similar to our purpose, and if a nonprofit closes it’s doors because it’s mission is fulfilled it is usually something to celebrate.  Where I work it would mean that everyone has access to healthy and affordable foods, no one is food insecure and diet related chronic disease and obesity are problems of the past.

living with purpose

I’ve been thinking very consciously about purpose for about a week now (obv I am an expert), and I’ve noticed that I am happier and more confident. I am living a more genuine life and every decision I make is deliberate.  It’s a little exhausting, and there are certain areas and times of day when I am unable to execute this, but I do what you can and I go to sleep feeling good.

So what does this look like? Since my life revolves around food, and I have been eating with purpose for 14 years now, I think it’s a good place to start. You wake up and want breakfast: your options are a bagel, a bowl of fruit with a cup of (vegan) yogurt or bowl of oatmeal.  They’re all good options, ones that I eat regularly, so how do you choose with purpose? Ask yourself what you’re having for lunch, or for dinner. If you answered a sandwich, pasta or pizza you should probably go with the fruit with yogurt. If you answered with a salad or soup, you should have the oatmeal or bagel.  Life is about balance – living with purpose helps you keep your balance instead of having to readjust and recover.

living with purpose

Thinking about what you are going to say before you open your mouth.  This one is hard, but so important.  I struggle to articulate and have really found it helpful to just slow down and think about what I’m going to say before I start.  It’s a lot like writing, a lot of times the thoughts and ideas I share come to me on a walk with the dogs and I allow my thoughts to collect in a stream and I organize it in my mind the same way I would when I type.  I let it all flow through my mind and then rework it until the words fit together.

Okay, clearly I have been thinking a lot about this subject, and it’s one I will be revisiting. After finding out that Trump was elected I felt defeated and hopeless.  Focusing on purpose has empowered me and inspired me to create a positive space for myself and others to feel empowered.

As promised, here are some Thanksgiving table worthy links:

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad - V GF

I’ve reached the point in the semester when I make or buy coffee about three times a day. I sat down to write my midterm paper today and couldn’t get my furious typing fingers to move until there was a steamy cup at my side.

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad - V GF

Coffee is not my only saving grace though. I am so proud of myself this semester for making food a huge priority. I know y’all are like, come on Laura, food is always your number one priority. Last year that meant homemade granola bars and homemade dinner three times a week. This year, it’s homemade lunches, made ahead of time, homemade dinner five nights out of the week and fresh, sweet baked goods (for my mental health).

I’ve made this chickpea salad for three weeks straight so I figured it was worthy of a post.  I love chickpea salad for lunches, because I can make enough for five lunches in no time flat. This particular recipe is inspired by fall, with sweet potatoes and apples.  Sometimes I pack a couple slices of bread to make a sandwich, sometimes I  through in a sleeve of crackers and sometimes I just eat it with a spoon.  I never skip lunch when this in my bag.

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad - V GFSweet Potato Chickpea Salad - V GF

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, roasted and mashed*
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 1/4 cup of raisins
  • 2 green onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  1. Open, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Transfer them into a food processor and pulse a few times to mash them up.
  2. Stir together the mashed chickpeas, sweet potatoes, apple, raisins, and onions. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, vinegar, salt, ginger and pepper. Add the sauce to the chickpea mixture and stir to combine.

Notes: To save time you can cut up the sweet potato and microwave until soft.

 

Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches – Cookbook Review

Curried Polenta - Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches by Maya Sozer

The beginning of each semester starts so brightly.  I have so much energy during those first few weeks and am relieved by the consistent schedule. Working out 5 times each week, homemade meals 6 days a week.  Keeping up with all of my non-school related hobbies like painting and blogging.  The dogs get all the walks they can handle.  I can always tell when I’m spinning out of control by taking a good look at my diet.  Enter week four – the nutrient of highest consumption was sugar. Josh made monkey bread (brownie points), I had about 3 packages of sour patch kids and drank my weight in lemonade.  Luckily, I have Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches by Maya Sozer to get me back on track.

Takeaway Sandwich - Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches by Maya Sozer

Takeaway Sandwich filling

Maya’s cookbook is full of delicious recipes, that despite the name, are good for all times of the day.  At first I was expecting all of the recipes to come together in 5 minutes, have minimal ingredients or be semi-homemade.  Maya takes a different approach in Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches, a lot of recipes require a little bit of time, but with just a touch of planning, your fridge will be like a vegan vending machine for healthy meals and snacks.

Curried Polenta - Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches by Maya Sozer

Curried Polenta with Sautéed Veggies

I eat healthier when my pantry is well-stocked.  This doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend $100 on groceries a week, simply make sure you always have some canned beans, tomatoes, some sort of whole grain and an abundance of fresh veggies.  I am always better off when I spend an extra half hour or hour per week to prepare a few extra items or double the amount of whatever recipe I am making for dinner. Then I can have some grab ‘n’ go meals in the fridge.  Otherwise I eat PB&J french toast at midnight…

My favorites from Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches are the Takeaway Sandwich, Curried Polenta, and Veggie Stir Fry.  I’m going to make the Salted Tahini Spread and Roasted Eggplant Salad later this week.  I’m really tempted to throw chocolate into the Salted Tahini Spread, but that’s against my no-sugar policy for the week. The Roasted Eggplant Salad is an example of a recipe that makes you think ahead, but once you’ve invested in it, it’ll pay you back all week long.

Curried Polenta - Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches by Maya Sozer

Curried Polenta with Sautéed Veggies

I love this approach to healthy eating.  In public health we attribute this approach’s success to making the healthy choice the easy choice. Everyone wants to eat healthy (and delicious), and Maya’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches definitely helps turn your fridge around.

Takeaway Sandwich

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Print

This recipe first appeared in Maya Sozer’s cookbook, Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches.  This sandwich filling is a cross between a mashed chickpea salad and potato salad.  The result is mind-blowing – why I had never tried this before? The filling is completely gluten-free too!

  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 medium potatoes, boiled and chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (I used peanuts!)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (I used raisins!)
  • 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • bread or bun & sandwich toppings of your choosing (I recommend thinly sliced tomato and avocado)
  1. Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor. Combine with all of the other ingredients, including salt and pepper to taste, in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Store in a covered container in the fridge.  I portioned mine into small tupperwares that I could easily pack for lunches.

Coconut Curried Polenta

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Print

This recipe originally appeared in Maya Sozer’s cookbook, Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches.  Maya pairs the Coconut Curried Polenta with sautéed mushrooms, which is one of my favorite food combinations and my go-to comfort food. Feel free to sauté up some mushrooms with onion, garlic and some seasoning.  I usually have a crisper full of veggies and have a tough time choosing just one, so I made a sautéed vegetable medley to top my Coconut Curried Polenta. This recipe is naturally gluten-free.

  • 18 ounces precooked polenta (about 1 cup dried polenta cooked in 3 cups of liquid, or you can typically find precooked polenta in the produce department of supermarkets)
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream (the solid fat found in a can of coconut milk)
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger (tip: use a citrus zester)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet curry (I like Patak’s curry paste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Mix the all of the ingredients except for the olive oil in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the polenta mixture and cook for 7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Serve sautéed vegetables over a bed of the Coconut Curried Polenta for a warm, filling and comforting lunch or dinner.

 

Corn Chowder with Salsa Verde

You know those moments when you look around and realize you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing? Well, that’s how I feel when I make corn chowder.

Corn Chowder & Salsa Verde - V/GF

It’s my favorite recipe to make. I could break it down and try to explain it, but I don’t want to ruin the experience with an overly analytic play-by-play.  At this point in my corn chowder career each time I make it I get a nostalgic-like experience for the previous time I made it.  Soups are one of the foods that allow you to use the same ingredients but manipulate them in different ways, somehow still resulting in the same soup.  It’s beyond science, it’s magic.

I was graced with a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) bag earlier this week with four fresh ears of corn, which was the catalyst in this corn chowder equation.  The bag also contained tomatillos, which for some reason never end up on my grocery list and new ingredients are great ways to get your creative juices flowing.  Corn chowder goes really well with classic Mexican ingredients, like avocado and cilantro, so why not make a salsa verde to drizzle over the top of my corn chowder?

Corn Chowder & Salsa Verde - V/GF

You can see from my picture that I’m currently (forever) obsessed with my cast iron pan. I love the deep flavors it brings out and the ease in which I can get that perfect char on veggies. I recommend investing in a nice big cast iron pan, especially as grilling season winds down.

Salsa verde is a green salsa made with tomatillos, or green tomatoes.  Tomatillos are smaller than the typical tomato and come with a paper-like shell around them.  Think Chinese lanterns.  They’re cooked in some way or another, and blended with jalapeños, herbs (typically cilantro), garlic, onion and salt. I used to be intimidated by salsa verde, once a long, long time ago, and I realized  it is freaking simple to make – one of those recipes that makes you vow to never buy the food ever again (*hummus*).  #homemadetilidie

Corn Chowder & Salsa Verde - V/GF

I know I’ve shared a thousand corn chowder recipes, but never with salsa verde, and never with so much passion.

Corn Chowder and Salsa Verde

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
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Warning: this may become your new favorite recipe.

Corn Chowder:

  • 2 ears of corn, husked and kernels cut off the cob
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 large russet* potato, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 15-ounce can of coconut milk

Salsa Verde:

  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, about 3 cups
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (I like dill as a weird twist, but cilantro is the traditional herb)
  • 1/4 of an onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, cut in half and the seeds removed
  • dash of cayenne, optional
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon salt, to taste
  1. Bring a small pot of water to boil.  Add the tomatillos (you can remove the paper-like shells first, or boil them with the shells on and they’ll pop right off – cook’s choice!).  The skin of the tomatillos will start to crack, indicating they are ready to be drained. This should take 4-7 minutes.  Rinse in cold water for about 1 minute to bring the temperature down.  Set aside.
  2. Heat a large pan or a pot with a drizzle of oil.  Add the onions, bell pepper and celery.  Cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until the veggies soften and start to brown.
  3. Add the spices and stir. Add the potato and the garlic.  Cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add just enough vegetable broth to cover all of the ingredients. Don’t add too much because corn chowder is supposed to be a really thick and creamy soup.  Bring the broth to a boil and reduce to simmer for about 7 minutes. More broth can be added throughout the cooking process to keep the thickness however you like it.
  5. In the meantime, transfer the tomatillos (now definitely with no paper-like shell) to the blender or food processor.  Add the rest of the ingredients (only start with 1/2 teaspoon of salt) and blend on high for 3 minutes, or until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning to add more cayenne or salt.  Place in the fridge to cool completely before serving.
  6. Add the coconut milk to the soup and stir.  Bring the chowder back up to a boil and reduce the heat so it simmers. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are really soft.
  7. Remove half of the soup and blend it with an immersion blender or actually in a blender.  If you’re feeling lazy you can use an immersion blender directly in the soup pot without removing any, but don’t blend all of the ingredients – leave some chunks.  I blend half separately so I can better control how blended to soup gets.
  8. Combine the blended and non-blended soup and add the corn kernels. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

*You can use other potatoes, but the starchiest ones (russets) are actually great for thickening this soup up.

 

Baked Curry Potato Wedges

Baked Curry Potato Wedges - V/GF

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered my true interest in nutrition is not in what one should eat, but the fact that one should have access to healthy foods and the skills to prepare them.  Written in a sentence, it sounds like the simplest thing in the world. The bottom line is, it’s not just about access. You have to bring access, change preferences so that healthy foods are more desirable, provide education so the food is used properly – all at the same time. And that’s not even considering the politics that are knitted in our meals.

Another part of the problem is food waste. There are tons of programs throughout the country that work primarily to increase access to healthy foods in areas of food insecurity. How is this food being used? How much is being wasted?

There are tons of programs that work to recover food waste to recycle it into energy (think compost). When you hear ‘food waste’ you most likely think of what you scrape off your plate into the garbage at the end of a meal.  That’s the food waste that we, consumers, most often encounter.  We don’t think about the ‘ugly’ foods that don’t sell in the grocery stores, the foods wasted during production – either by farm or factory.

There is a lot of work in food waste recovery, that’s helping to make use of some of the food we, consumers, are wasting, but the answer to reducing food waste is in processing.  As consumers we can stop overlooking the deformed, slightly off-color, bulbous produce. We can plan our grocery shopping a little better so we are buying with a purpose. Ask yourself – ‘Do I think I can use this by the time it spoils?’ We can make use of storage techniques like freezing and canning to preserve food for longer periods of time.

My grocery store has a little section that contains discounted produce due to blemishes.  You can buy bags of 4 to 5 pieces of fruits or vegetables for only one dollar!  The only catch is that you have to use these products within the first day or two of purchasing them because they tend to be closer to spoiling than non-discounted produce.  Being aware of this prevents you from buying what you cannot use.  This is where I often find potatoes.

Baked Curry Potato Wedges - V/GF

I used to buy potatoes by the 2-5 pound bags they are typically sold in, however I started noticing that after a few weeks I had to scramble to make something with potatoes in order to avoid throwing away a majority of the bag.  It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’d make a big batch of pierogi to freeze or mashed potatoes (which are actually pretty versatile – have you tried throwing leftover mashed potatoes in soup?).  Since I started buying smaller bags of potatoes (these discounted potatoes contain only 4) I am a little more creative in what we make with them – cue Baked Curry Potato Wedges.

The purpose of today’s post is really to encourage mindful consumption of food.  This phrase is often overlapped with comments about healthy eating and nutritional prompts, but it’s more than that – it’s about reducing waste, reducing your footprint, if you will. For some of us it’s about time, do I have the time to prepare this food? It’s about energy, do I have the energy to prepare this food? It’s about knowledge, do I have the skills and experience to properly prepare this food? If not, where can I learn more about it? I know it sounds daunting, but once you get in the habit of thinking about food in terms of reducing waste, these questions will be answered naturally.

Baked Curry Potato Wedges - V/GF

With no further ado – Baked Curry Potato Wedges.  This recipe only calls for 6 ingredients, is naturally gluten free and prep time is only 5-10 minutes, depending on how fast you chop.  The potatoes need a little bit of time in the oven, but if you plan ahead, you can throw them in and then work on the rest of your meal.

Baked Curry Potato Wedges

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Spice up your burger night with these 6-ingredient Baked Curry Potato Wedges.  Gluten free too!

  • about 2 pounds of white potatoes (about 3-4 potatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons mild curry paste (can substitute with 1 tablespoon curry powder)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Wash and scrub the potatoes – you aren’t going to peel them so you need to wash the skins really well.
  2. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise. Slice each piece in half lengthwise again, so you end up with wedges. If the potatoes you are using are really large, you can repeat the slicing until you have skinnier wedges. Place the potatoes in a large bowl.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the potatoes and mix. Your hands are the best tool for this job, you can really rub the spices and oil into each potato.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the potato wedges in a single layer.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, tossing them around halfway through.* The potatoes are done when they are easily pierced with a fork and have turned a golden color.

*To avoid having to tediously toss each wedge, place a wire cooling rack on the baking sheet and line the wedges up on that. This way air flow can reach the bottom and top of the potatoes.