The Top 10 Reasons I’m Vegetarian

10987704_716252525158783_1671453570492868853_nSo I’ve been vegetarian now for about four years. In these four years, one thing I have found is that people feel the need to apologize to me: They apologize for eating meat in front of me; they apologize for asking why I don’t eat meat; they even apologize to me for being vegetarian, as if it’s some terminal disease I’ll never recover from.

I’m here to say that 1). I am in no way offended when people eat meat in front of me, 2). I am happy to give you my reasons for being a vegetarian, and 3). being vegetarian is not something to be ashamed of – it is simply a life choice that I have made, and I’m sticking to it.

The last two states I’ve lived in are not the most friendly toward vegetarians. I mean, Iowa is the primary pig-producing state in the nation, and Wyoming is Wyoming, the Wild West which homes more cows than people. Vegetarians are like foreigners here – in fact, since I’ve moved to Dayton I have yet to meet another one. That being said, I’d like to illustrate to all you lovely people that vegetarians are just normal people. We’re not aliens or monsters or terminally ill. We simply like veggies a lot.

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So without further ado I give you the Top 10 Reasons I’m Vegetarian.

1. I don’t like meat. This is the main reason I am vegetarian. A lot of people find this hard to believe, but it’s true. It’s a texture and taste thing – it just isn’t something I care to consume. Before I was vegetarian, the only type of meat I really ate was the processed variety – lunch meat, pepperoni, sausage, etc., which are all high in sodium and fat and have essentially no nutritional value. And even then I didn’t enjoy eating it all that much – it was more a convenience thing than anything. It was what was being served, so I ate it.

2. Plant-based diets are heart-healthy. It is much easier to control your saturated fat and cholesterol intake when you are eating a plant-based diet. In America, heart-disease is the leading cause of death and obesity is rampant. Because vegetarians swap out high-fat and high-cholesterol foods for foods high in fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients (beans, fruits, fresh vegetables), the risk for cardiovascular disease goes significantly down. Furthermore, since I don’t eat meat, my main source for fats are the heart-healthy, unsaturated kinds, such as avocado, olive oil, and nuts.

3. Plant-based diets are good for your digestive system. Without giving you too much information, I can tell you that since being a vegetarian my digestive system in general has become much more healthy and regular. It’s called fiber, people, and it’s a good thing.

4. I feel more energized after I eat a lot of fresh veggies are fruit. Many fresh fruits and veggies are filled with antioxidants and complex carbohydrates, which improves brain function and enhances energy. Furthermore, the absence of artery-clogging saturated fats from animal products allows your bloodstream to get the maximum amount of oxygen it requires, leaving you more energized.

5. It’s easier to eat healthy at parties or get-togethers as a vegetarian. Let’s face it: social time in our culture revolves around food. Most of this food is ultra-unhealthy, like pepperoni pizza or hot wings or popcorn shrimp. Party food is simply not for people who are trying to be health-conscious. If you’re a vegetarian, most of the bad stuff is already off the table, which 1) gives you a great excuse to say no to it, and 2) leaves room for better (read: healthy) food.

6. Being vegetarian has made me a better cook. I already mentioned before that Iowa and Wyoming are not states that embrace vegetarianism to the fullest. That being said, going out to eat at a restaurant isn’t really an enjoyable thing for me anymore because there is hardly anything I can eat on the menu. This isn’t because I’m picky – it’s because our world is obsessed with meat. Since becoming vegetarian I have learned how to cook delicious meals that are healthy – better than anything I could get at most restaurants. Even Grant enjoys the vegetarian dishes I make for dinner (don’t worry, I still feed him plenty of meat).

7. Being vegetarian has expanded my horizons when it comes to food and has forced me to try new things. Before I was vegetarian I liked trying new foods, but I had my limits. For instance, some childhood experiences scarred me against certain foods (brussel sprouts, spaghetti squash, etc), and I didn’t even think about eating them as I got older because I assumed they were disgusting. Now that I know how to cook experimentally and love all things plant-based, I’ve retried these foods I was prejudiced against and  can now list them as favorites.

8. I like animals. I’m not a PETA person by any means, but I’ve seen, up close and personal, the cows that turn into burgers…and that just makes me really sad. Have you ever looked into a cow’s big brown eyes? I’m not saying it’s evil to eat them or anything (after all, God did put animals on this planet for a purpose) but I figure why eat them when I can eat other, less-animate things instead?

9. Animal confinements are filthy and inhumane. Let me reiterate that I am not a PETA person; however, I am against factory farming. I have driven past a hog confinement. For MILES I could not breathe because the stench was so bad. And that’s what people are putting in their bodies. The same goes for chicken confinements and cow confinements. They stuff thousands of animals into windowless sheds, without room to run or graze or be free; in large hog confinements up to hundreds can die in just one day. Animal confinements are disease ridden, but they are this country’s biggest supplier of meat.

10. Lastly and most importantly, I love how I feel when my body is getting the nutrients it needs. For me, it is simply much easier to get these nutrients without meat, and after four years of being vegetarian I don’t know how I could go back to being a carnivore.

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For more resources on vegetarianism, read these articles:

Lemon Dream Energy Bites

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I’m going to admit something to you guys: I am sort of…totally obsessed with energy bites. Like, I can’t stop making them. Ever since my first foray into these marvelous ball-shaped bites of deliciousness with my Peanut Butter Spinach Energy Bites I have not been able to stop making them. So it’s been like four weeks straight of energy bites. But whatever, they’re delicious and nutritious, so I don’t feel bad about it.

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These Lemon Dream Energy Bites are my favorite to date. I love lemon things, and these bites are tangy and wonderful. I rolled them in sugar-free desiccated coconut, but this is totally optional. I really love the additional sweetness it gives to the bites. And it makes them look kinda pretty too.

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Lemon Dream Energy Bites

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups granola
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 scoops vanilla protein powder
3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp honey
1/2 cup lemon juice
Lemon zest of one lemon
Sugar-free desiccated coconut (to roll bites in)

METHOD:

1. Place oats, salt, chia, protein powder, and flour into a large bowl. Stir until combined.

2. In a microwaveable bowl, place coconut oil and honey and microwave for 15 to 30 seconds until the mixture is thin and easy to stir. Add lemon juice to mixture, stir, and pour over oat mixture.

3. Stir until well combined. If too dry, add water one tablespoon at a time. If too wet, add flour one teaspoon at a time.

4. Using tablespoon to measure, roll oat mixture into balls. Roll each ball into the desiccated coconut. Chill until ready to eat.

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Creamy Carrot Soup and Garden Dreams

IMG_0400The weather in Dayton for the last couple weeks has been almost cruelly wonderful. I mean, it’s the middle of February and I’ve been outside in shorts on multiple occasions. I’ve had laundry on the clothesline to dry. I’ve been on bike rides and hikes. I’ve even wandered around my backyard aimlessly, blissfully, merely because it was too nice to be inside. All this gorgeous weather has got me thinking of spring and dreaming of gardens, but I know it’s only a short reprieve and that winter will be back eventually. I do thank Wyoming, though, for this lovely gift.

I can’t wait to plant my garden this spring. I recently found out that Dayton has community garden plots you can rent for $15 a season. It’s convenient (and better than doing it in our own yard) because there is a huge fence surrounding it to keep out the deer. Since we have hordes of deer in our yard every day, a garden vegetable would be feeding the wildlife more than Grant and me. I might plant them their own little garden for snacking though. ;P

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So far for my garden I am planning on tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and possibly parsnips. I haven’t quite decided yet, but I am suuuuuper excited to get started. I’ll be doing some research in the meantime on good Wyoming vegetables, and investing in some indoor plants as well (especially for when winter comes back!)

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To tide myself over until garden-time, it’ll have to suffice to eat some of my delicious Creamy Carrot Soup, which is basically like a garden in a bowl. It has carrots and sweet potato and some hearty spices like curry and ginger. Sooooo good, and I imagine it’d be a thousand times better even with homegrown veggies. Enjoy!

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Creamy Carrot Soup

INGREDIENTS:

4 large carrots, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ginger, or to taste
1/2 tsp curry powder, or to taste
6 cups water
Salt to taste
A touch of milk

METHOD:

1. Sautee onions, ginger, and curry powder in olive oil until onions are soft and translucent.

2. Place onions, vegetables, and water in a dutch oven or soup pot and place heat on high until boiling. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer until veggies are soft. Add salt to taste.

3. When vegetables are very soft, let soup cool. Puree in food processor until smooth, and add a touch of milk. Right before serving, heat soup just to boiling.

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Guilt-Free Valentine Candy – Apricot Truffles

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Valentine’s Day is coming up and everyone knows that it is the ultimate holiday of chocolate, whether you’re married, single, or in a complicated relationship with your cat. Since I am trying to avoid processed sugar, I decided to try out a truffle recipe that is kinda healthy so I can enjoy Valentine’s Day chocolate without overindulging and consequently hating myself.

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This truffle is made with a mixture of unsweetened coconut, cashew butter, and dried apricots. I used dark chocolate for the chocolate coating, so there is a little bit of processed sugar in there, but for the most part it’s pretty great. And dark chocolate is good for your heart, so we won’t count it anyway. 😉

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I slightly adapted this recipe to make my truffles. Since I used cashew butter instead of cashew meal, the inside of my truffle is smooth and creamy – more like a traditional chocolate or cream-filled truffle. Even though these are “healthy” candies, they don’t really eat that way. Even my dessert-obsessed husband appreciated them!

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Apricot Truffles

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup cashew butter (I made my own using one cup of cashews and my food processor)
1 6 oz. bag of dried apricots
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
2 tbsp water
1 tsp agave nectar
Pinch of salt
1 bag dark chocolate chips

METHOD:

1. Place cashew butter, dried apricots, unsweetened coconut, salt, and water in your food processor or blender and process until completely smooth (two or three minutes).

2. Place mixture in a bowl and cover with saran wrap. Let chill in the fridge for about an hour.

3. After your mixture has chilled, line a baking sheet with parchment and melt your dark chocolate in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring between each interval.

4. Using a teaspoon, scoop out truffle mixture and form into a ball. Dip in the melted chocolate and place on parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Let truffles chill in fridge or freezer until the chocolate is completely hardened.

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Lemon Chamomile Granola

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In continuation of my longing for spring, I made this delicious Lemon Chamomile Granola. There is nothing more springish that lemon things, and the chamomile adds the perfect soothing touch to this unforgettable morning snack. When eaten plain, it is very lemony, but when eaten with milk (and possibly a banana on top) the flavor of the chamomile really comes out. This is basically my new favorite thing.

I’ve done a bit of experimenting with tea-infused baked goods, and I am always happy with the results. I don’t know why it isn’t done more often. For instance, this Honey Fig Tea Cake is the best thing I’ve ever made (it has green tea in it) and this Apple Green Tea Cake is a close second. Granola seemed like the natural thing to try next, but I’ve got high hopes for delicious tea-inspired goods coming soon. I’m thinking tea muffins, tea energy bites, tea truffles, tea brownies…The possibilities are truly endless.

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Lemon Chamomile Granola

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups old fashioned oats
3 Chamomile tea bags
1/2 tsp salt
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
Poppy seeds (optional)

METHOD:

1. Place oats, contents of tea bags, salt, lemon zest, and poppy seeds into a large bowl and mix until combined.

2. Stir honey, coconut oil, and lemon juice together in a separate bowl. Note: if your honey is very thick or you are using solid coconut oil, pop in the microwave for a 20-30 seconds so the liquid mixture is easier to mix into the dry ingredients.

3. Pour liquid mixture into the oat mixture and stir until all of the oats are adequately wet. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Enjoy!

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Super Healthy Peanut Butter Spinach Energy Bites

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There is something about bite-sized food that gets to me. In a good way. I just think it’s the best idea, which is why my muffins are always mini. That being said, granola bars are great, but energy BITES are even better!

These energy bites are really healthy, too. They have a cup of spinach (which you cannot taste, unlike my sweet kale muffins), that provides iron on top of protein from protein powder and healthy fats from natural peanut butter. Can’t beat that. There is some honey in them as well, but these bites are mostly sweetened from pureed raisins.

A couple of these make for the perfect post-workout snack or grab-and-go breakfast.

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Super Healthy Peanut Butter Spinach Energy Bites

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup oats
1/4 cup ground flax
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 cup fresh spinach
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp protein powder (any flavor)

METHOD:

1. Soak raisins in 1/4 cup water for 30 minutes to an hour. After they are finished soaking, drain most of the water (all but about a teaspoon or two) and place them in the food processor. Process until only small chunks are left. Add peanut butter, spinach, and honey to the mixture and process until smooth.

2. In a separate bowl, combine oats, flax, chia seeds, salt, and protein powder. Mix well.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is sticky. Depending on what type of peanut butter you use, the mixture could be too dry or too wet. If too dry, add water one teaspoon at a time until sticky enough to form into balls. If too wet, add oatmeal one tablespoon at a time until the mixture is the right consistency.

4. Scoop out the mixture one tablespoon at a time and form into balls. If desired, cover the balls in melted chocolate (this makes it less healthy but probably more delicious). Stick in the fridge to store and enjoy!

Sweet Kale Muffins

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I’m sure you’ve had/at least heard of one of the prominent health food fads of our day: vegetables in desserts. Obviously the ageless one we can all think of is carrot cake. But now people are making beet brownies, chocolate zucchini cake, spinach who-knows-what. The deal with all these vegetable desserts is that – gasp! – you can’t even taste the vegetables!

Now this is all fine and dandy, but I decided I wanted a sweet treat where I could taste the vegetable. What’s wrong with tasting one of nature’s most perfect things? Enter Sweet Kale Muffins.

Kale has a bad rap. One of my first memories of kale is my dad’s attempt at a “green smoothie” when I was a kid – it was gag worthy, and for years I wouldn’t touch kale with a ten foot pole. But my leanings have changed. I happen to have an almost unhealthy attachment to kale these days. I’ll put it in anything and everything – smoothies (and mine are actually delicious), casserole, pizza crust, and now baked goods.

This Sweet Kale Muffin, as I call it, is the perfect blend of sweet and kale-y. It is low in gluten, high in vitamins, and has no processed sugar. For some reason people don’t have vegetables for breakfast; well, now you can.

*Disclaimer* If you’re the sort of weirdo who does not like the taste of kale, you probably won’t like these muffins.

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Sweet Kale Muffins

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup processed oats
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 cup processed kale
1/4 cup agave
1/3 cup greek yogurt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray a muffin tin with oil (I like to use a mini muffin tin). This recipe will make about 6 large muffins or 20 mini muffins.

2. Place oats, chia, flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and stir until blended. In a separate bowl, mix agave, greek yogurt, vanilla, milk, and coconut oil. Add the egg and whip until well combined.

3. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in processed kale.

4. Fill large muffin tin cups about half full and mini muffin tin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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Creamy Banana Coconut Chia Pudding

You know how when you give something up you want it even more? Yeah, that’s how I’m feeling right now about sugar. It’s January 14th, and I’ve done relatively well with my no-processed-sugar resolution (I’ve only had a few slip ups, one of them being my at brother’s wedding, and come on, wedding cake is a necessity at weddings!). However, every time I see something sugary I want it even more than I used to. Stupid brain. Luckily, I’ve figured out some ways to trick my brain into thinking I’m eating something sugary, even if I’m not. This Creamy Banana Coconut Chia Pudding is one of those ways.

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I’ve been on something of a chia kick recently. Chia seeds are delicious in just about everything, and the healthy benefits they pack in are incredible! Here are some facts about chia seeds:

  • In just one serving (an ounce), there are 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and a decent amount of calcium, magnesium, zinc, and potassium.
  • Chia seeds are high in antioxidants.
  • Experts claim that due to the high amount of protein and fiber found in chia seeds, they are a great food to eat while trying to lose weight.
  • One serving of chia seeds is only about 140 calories and is a great supplement to your diet.

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Now isn’t that amazing? This Banana Coconut Chia Pudding is a super simple and super healthy dessert perfect for those who are trying for a healthier lifestyle. It gets most of its sweetness from the banana and is deliciously creamy. If you are a pudding fan, give it a try. It’s a little different from traditional pudding in texture, but I was amazed at how creamy it got after an hour or so of chilling.

Creamy Banana Coconut Cream Chia Pudding

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 ripe banana
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp coconut flakes
1 tsp agave nectar
1/4 tsp vanilla
dash of salt
2 tbsp chia seeds
banana slices  and cream for topping

METHOD:

1. In a blender or food processor, blend banana, milk, coconut flakes, agave, vanilla, and salt until smooth.

2. Pour banana mixture into a bowl and mix in chia seeds. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour. The longer you chill it, it creamier the texture will become.

3. Serve with fresh banana slices and a little bit of cream. Enjoy!

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Homemade Marshmallows

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Part of my Christmas gifting this year included jars of homemade hot cocoa mix and homemade marshmallows. When I mentioned that the marshmallows were homemade, I received a plethora of astonished looks and surprised murmurs.

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Everyone was so impressed with me that I didn’t really want to say how easy they were to make. But I guess the truth needs to come out sometime – really, they’re so much easier than they look.

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The biggest thing about homemade marshmallows is that you’ve got to be patient. At first, you’ll think you did something wrong because the mixture is sooooo runny you think it couldn’t possibly turn into the fluffy, lovable texture we all know so well. It takes about 18 minutes in a stand mixer for the mixture to actually start resembling marshmallow. Even after that it is incredibly sticky, and you’ll doubt yourself, but don’t worry – it will dry out and be delicious!

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These marshmallows are so much better than the store bought kind, and are simply delectable in a cup of steaming coffee or chocolatey hot cocoa. I adapted this wonderful recipe from Ideals: Candy Cookbook; try it so you can impress everyone around you as well! 🙂

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Homemade Marshmallows

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup hot water
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp unflavored gelatin
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 vanilla pod seeds (scraped)
Powdered sugar

METHOD:

1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, soak gelatin in 1/2 cup water.

2. In a saucepan combine sugar, hot water, and corn syrup. Cover and bring to a rolling boil; uncover and cook to 240 degrees (use a candy thermometer for accuracy).

3. Slowly pour sugar mixture into gelatin mixture, beating constantly. When mixture begins to thicken (about 5 minutes) add vanilla and scraped vanilla seeds.

4. Continue to beat until marshmallows stick to beaters (10 to 15 minutes). Pour into a greased 12″ by 8″ (smaller or bigger depending on how thick you’d like your marshmallows to be). Let dry on the counter for an hour or so.

5. For star cutouts: Lay a large piece of parchment paper on a table and dust it with powdered sugar. Carefully turn marshmallow onto the parchment paper. Dust the top with powdered sugar. Dust a clean star-shaped cookie cutter with powdered sugar and press firmly into the marshmallow. The marshmallow cutout will stick in the cookie cutter; gently press it out. Dip marshmallow cutout in powdered sugar, making sure all sides are completely covered (this prevents stickiness).

6. Store marshmallows in a dry, sealed container. They should keep for about two weeks. 🙂