Saturday, March 31, 2012


I meandered out to the 'burbs to check out Whole Foods Market's Extraveganza featuring vegan and health starts here samples and store tours by volunteers from the Animal Rights Coalition. Well, actually, I drove on two highways to get there. My fiance meandered on his bike and met up with me (I wasn't feeling a 32-mile bike ride today.) Before the tour we got lunch, and I was super excited to see Whole Foods offered a vegan burrito bowl that had oil free vegan chili, seitan and charros beans mixture and brown rice (in your face, Chipotle!)

Here's my synopsis of the tour:

1. Veggies are your friends. Meet new ones, do new things with them and surround yourself with them.

2. Buying in bulk saves money and there's lots of new things to try!

3. Whoa, there are a lot of different oils out there (but why not skip the oil and eat healthier fats like the things the oils are derived from (i.e. olives, avocados, nuts, coconuts, etc.?) -- This was not on the official tour --

4. Vegan alternatives to dairy and meat are vast and improving (and cholesterol-free.) Gardein, daiya, lightlife's gimme lean and tofurky are all great options if you're missing that stuff.

5. Surprise! Some things are vegan you might not have realized:

Boathouse Vanilla Chai Latte - non-dairy, very little caffeine, no sugar and high in protein  (the other flavors have dairy milk.) 

Doritos' Spicy Sweet Chili chips - not Engine 2 approved

Jalapeno Pop chips - half the fat of the doritos, a little less sodium as well. Still not Engine-2 approved.

Not-Chick'n and Not-Beef Bouillon Cubes (also not low in sodium)

I liked the tour because I learned new products that are vegan (including shampoos). However, it was very clear that this was about not eating animals for ethical reason and not about eating plant-based for health reasons. Different people approach eating this way for different reasons and it would be good to note (and accept) that.

Also, big props to Whole Foods Market for using green building practices in their Minnetonka store. My favorite was the recycled walnut shell bar table in the seating area. But, you should really have a bike rack...even in the 'burbs people bike. :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recipe: Ratatouille Pasta

Tonight, my fiance made a delicious dinner perfect for Spring/Summer: ratatouille pasta. I learned an easy way to remember the veggies in ratatouille: EZPOT (eggplant, zucchini, pepper, onion and tomato.) But don't forget the beautiful fresh basil. It really makes the dish. 

Ratatouille Pasta
Serves 4

1 eggplant
2 zucchini
2 red bell peppers
1 onion
28oz crushed tomatoes
1lb pasta (your choice)
fresh basil
crushed red pepper

Saute onions first in a nonstick or stainless steel pan. Add peppers, zucchini, eggplant and crushed red peppers and saute 8-10 minutes. Add veggies to tomatoes in a large pot, bring to a simmer and cover. Allow the sauce to cook for an hour. Boil water and cook pasta according to package. Add fresh basil and garlic to the sauce. Drain pasta and add to sauce. Serve garnished with fresh basil and vegan parmesan

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What's missing?

Day 18 of my second Engine 2 28-day challenge has me thinking about moderation and acceptance. This time around because it's not new I keep thinking "oh it won't be so bad if I don't follow the rules exactly." The only thing that keeps me honest is not wanting to feel like a fraud at the Monday check ins at Whole Foods Market. The challenge is I want to have more flexibility in my food choices and I miss the social aspects of eating out with friends. It's really too bad that eating this way is seen by many as weird or extreme. The food is good: nutritious and tasty. People can't believe what eating without oil would be like. A friend at work asked if I ate all my food steamed.

Walking to the bus this morning I thought how nice it would be to go to a restaurant and everything on the menu met the Engine 2 guidelines but was still luscious and delicious. Whole grain baguette with various oil-free spreads (like olive tapenade, hummus, roasted garlic white bean puree) served with microgreens, vegetable bites, etc. Tacos, pastas, salads, soups...really there are endless possibilities. Somewhere I could go with friends and enjoy a dinner where the focus was about good food not about what was missing from the meal.

Anyway, dinner tonight is on my own. I just heated up a Sunshine falafel burger with all the toppings on toasted Ezekiel bread.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Holy Cravings, Batman!

Wow, today was hard. I was craving all kinds of non-Engine 2 approved foods. Mostly sweets, like the cookies sitting out at work, but also for some odd reason the doritos taco at taco bell. When I left work, I was so tempted to stop at the coop and get a slice of vegan chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, but I resisted. Then a mile later, I started to think "what if taco bell doesn't carry the doritos taco after the challenge?" This was quickly followed by "that would probably be a good thing because there is little to no nutrition in that taco." The thought that won out was "get home and eat food from the fridge."

For dinner, I made a sesame ginger stirfry wrap (sorry for the bad picture, but I was too hungry to get it right.) It was super tasty and cured the cravings.

Sesame Ginger Stirfry Wrap
Serves 2-3

1/2 container wildwood sprouted tofu (vacuum pack) - baked in advance
1-2 large carrots
1 small head of broccoli
1/2 onion
2 anaheim peppers
1 T tamari or soy sauce
1 T chili garlic sauce
1/4 c Whole Foods no-oil Sesame Ginger Dressing
veggie broth (as needed)
2-3 French Meadow Sprouted tortillas
1/4 c fresh basil

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Dice the tofu into 1/2 or 1 inch chunks and spread out on parchment on a cookie sheet. Bake the tofu for 8 minutes, flip and cook for another 8 minutes. You can do this in advance or while you cook your veggies. Heat up your nonstick or stainless steel pan on high. Add diced onions and let them start to brown. Without the oil, you just got to stir the onions once they start to brown. If the pan starts to brown, just add veggie broth or water and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned goodness off the pan and into your veggies. Add the diced anaheim peppers and continue the saute. Add sliced carrots. Add small broccoli bites. Add your tofu. Stir in your chili garlic paste, tamari and sesame ginger sauce. Let the veggies cook in the sauce. If you want more sauce, add in some veggie broth. Roll your basil leaves together and slice it very thin to garnish your wrap. Turn off the tofu veggie mixture and let it cool while you heat the tortillas over the open flame of your oven (or in the microwave). Serve the mixture in the tortilla with fresh basil. You can add fresh spinach or cabbage, lime, creative and have fun!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chickpeas and Chocolate Chips?

There are some great plant-based recipes on pinterest, but today I found one from an unlikely source: my cousin. She's got a board called "food I'll never make" where she posts recipes that look good to her. The recipes range from chicken dishes to desserts. Today, she had one titled "this is HEALTHY!!!!wow" with a photo of chocolate chip cookie dough. I've been jonesing for something sweet that isn't banana soft-serve, so I thought why not check it out. To my surprise, it was vegan and I had all the ingredients in the house (except the chocolate chips.) Even more surprising, it called for chickpeas! Ok, now I have to try it.

Well, it's good...surprisingly. I substituted maple syrup for the sugar (I think that's why it looks wetter than most dough) and used Enjoy Life's mini chocolate chips which are dairy-free. I'll definitely be making this one again.

A shepherd to follow

I haven't been blogging daily on this challenge and was surprised to realize I'm on day 16 of the March Engine 2 28 day challenge already. This time around has been harder because it isn't new, so it's not preoccupying as much of my time or mind. I'm still seeing great results including losing 7 pounds. It's harder to imagine sticking to this way of eating year round though. My mind keeps wandering to how much easier it would be if I didn't care about what I ate.

 My birthday is coming up next week, and it took me awhile to come up with something to do to celebrate since eating out or even having people over would be difficult to navigate and food would seemingly take center stage of the conversation.  I finally settled on going to see a new exhibit at an art museum which should be fun and not food-focused. It's possible to eat this way all or most of the time and have things not be about food all the time. It's just about getting comfortable with a new way of doing things. I'm working on it.

Tonight, I'm trying a new recipe from Engine 2: Shepherd's pie. I was never crazy about the traditional shepherds pie because it was greasy, mushy and kind of bland. With no oil and lentils instead of meat, this version is definitely not greasy. I added onions, garlic, peas, carrots and thyme to the recipe and it definitely wasn't bland. The recipe they listed on facebook that I followed should have called for pre-cooked lentils, but I didn't know that and added dry lentils.  By adding some water and cooking them with the rest of the ingredients, the lentils gave it some texture (so not mushy.) Most who know me know I hate gravy, but this quick brown gravy version worked well with the dish.

Icy love

One of the changes I made when first starting the Engine 2 28-day challenge in January was to give up caffeine. This isn't required under the Engine 2 guidelines, but for me caffeine was really just a pseudonym for soda and sugary coffee drinks which aren't allowed because of the sugar and processing. My dentist and my doctors have for years suggested I give up soda because it's not good for your teeth and health. However, the sugary fizz and caffeine buzz was very addicting and I couldn't stick to letting it go until it was time to start the Engine 2 challenge. I knew I wouldn't survive the challenge if I was drinking caffeine. I went through caffeine withdrawals including headaches and low energy for three days. On the other side, I've got more steady energy, no late afternoon energy crashes and I'm drinking more water.

I'm not a saint though. I want some fun drinks and herbal teas or fruit-flavored waters don't always cut it. At first I started ordering caffeine free tea lattes with soymilk at coffee shops. My favorite was decaf earl gray with soy milk. However, it wasn't available at most coffee shops and I got tired of strange combinations like blueberry rooibos, so I took up decaf soy lattes. With summer approaching, I've been craving cold press coffee, but most coffee shops don't offer decaf. What to do? Make my own!

Friends have been telling me for years about this delicious and inexpensive New York Times' cold-brewed iced coffee recipe. This weekend, I finally got around to making it and it's good. The only steps that even slightly involve thinking are: 1) grind your coffee on the coarse setting (the recipe says medium coarse, but most in store grinders don't have that setting and the nice folks at Whole Foods Market told me they grind theirs with the nob all the way to the left (coarse).) and 2) use a mason jar to store the cold-brewed coffee so you can use the cover ring to hold the coffee filter in place when you're filtering out the grounds. I'm looking forward to experimenting with different decaf blends to find my favorite.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Donut Tempt Me

Those who know me know I love donuts. I inherited my Dad's sweet tooth. Living on the East coast with a Dunkin Donuts every 2 blocks was heavenly trouble.  The Engine 2 challenge doesn't really allow for donuts given they're oily sugar bombs of refined flour with no nutritional value.  So, imagine my dread when these showed up in my office today.

Vegan donuts from The Donut Cooperative 
Add to the challenge, I got a late start this morning and ran out the door without breakfast. "Luckily", I missed my bus connection so had a half hour to kill at the coffee shop where I ordered a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and nuts. That oatmeal saved me from temptation, but I can tell you my brain was in full blown Homer mode:

My willpower won out today. Usually, it wouldn't. Maybe that's a good sign?!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Grillin' Time

The weather in Minnesota is more reminiscent of early summer than not quite spring. We were wooed by the perfect 70 degree day this weekend to grill. Our friends were coming over to visit a friend who was visiting from California, so despite yesterday being St. Patrick's Day we went with an Italian theme because vegan Italian is much more accessible than corned seitan.

When making a marinara without olive oil, the trick is to really give the tomatoes time to develop depth. This is the difference between tomatoes straight from the can and tomatoes that simmer for about an hour. Good marinara sauce is simple. Carmelize some onions in pan (no oil needed if you get the pan hot, stir and use broth or water to loosen the browned bits from the bottom.) Add the oregano, garlic, basil to the onions. Add crushed tomatoes and simmer away. If you want to lower the salt content, try tamari (or reduced sodium soy sauce) instead of salt. Super tasty!

If we were making this just for us, we would have piled the veggies in with the spaghetti. I'm glad we didn't because it gave my fiance the idea to grill up a ratatouille. Using broth, garlic and pepper, he marinated ratatouille's EZPOT (eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions and tomatoes) and some portabellos for good measure.  We cut them into bite size bites and added a LOT of fresh basil. Holy delicious! We'll be making this again, for sure.

Serve this with a fresh salad and you'll get easily 3-4 servings of veggies in one meal!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wake Up Call

In January, I scheduled a physical to get a baseline reading on my health stats for the Engine 2 28-day challenge. When I got the call with the results, a lump formed in my throat. The nurse said "you have diabetes." I'm 32 years old and had just been bad mouthing Paula Deen's public announcement about her diabetes diagnosis and that she would not be changing her cooking philosophy and would be promoting medications. Karma's a b@#$, I guess. The news came about a week into the January Engine 2 28-day challenge, and I found myself fighting the depressing idea that I was marked with this illness at the very time I was really focusing on what I could do in changing my habits to reduce my risk of diabetes and other illnesses impacted by lifestyle. To be clear, lifestyle is not the sole contributor to diabetes, but it can play a pretty important role in reducing the risk of getting the disease and managing the disease.

As I begun to learn more about my diagnosis, I realized that it wasn't a foregone conclusion. I was right on the line with my test results and the test results needed to be confirmed. This was, and is, a huge motivator in my lifestyle changes. The test is the A1C and it is a snapshot of your average blood sugar over a 2-3 month period. If it is 6.5 or higher, you are diagnosed with diabetes. If it is 5.7 or higher, you are considered to be pre-diabetes. I am ecstatic to report that my test results this week were 5.6. The diagnosis of diabetes has been removed, and I am currently in the normal range (not even pre-diabetic). I have to go back in for tests this summer to monitor the situation, but I have been very fortunate to get the wake up call when I did.

My doctor was very real with me. He said a lot of people have a religious moment when they have a health scare and make temporary changes that improve their situation, but most eventually resort back to their old habits. I know this is true. I know this is a big possibility for me because I witnessed some of it during the 3 week break between the January and March Engine 2 challenges Whole Foods Market in St. Paul are offering. Old habits die hard. That's part of the reason I'm doing this blog and signed up for the second round of the Whole Foods challenge, I'm in a fight for my life, quite literally, with my old habits. Today, I'm winning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sweet 'Nana

One thing I gave up when going back on the Engine 2 challenge was the apple fritter from my local coffee shop. What can I say? I love sugary sweet. I also know it's not good for me and I need alternatives. On the challenge, I've returned to my standard puffed millet and uncle sam's toasted cereal for breakfast, but by the end of the day I'm craving something sweet. The solution? Frozen banana soft serve!

This is going to become a hot weather staple for you, I promise! You can either use new bananas or ones that have browned past their prime. Peel the bananas, break them in thirds and put them in a bag ( I like to make sure they are in a single layer and push out the extra air before sealing to make it easier to remove the frozen bananas.) If you have frozen bananas in the peels, you can use them...they're just harder to peel when frozen. I put them in the microwave for 5 seconds and use a paring knife to get the peel started.

Michelle's Favorite Frozen Banana Soft Serve Recipe

1 - 1 1/2 frozen bananas
2 T milk alternative
1-2 t vanilla extract (optional)
2 T peanut butter (optional)
2 t chocolate extract (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pulsing or stirring can help break down last remaining frozen banana chunks for a soft serve texture.

You should have fun with this recipe. What is your favorite flavor combo with banana? Add some cocoa powder or chocolate chips...maybe even some oreos? Go the tropical route and add in strawberries or coconut. You could even substitute your favorite liquor for the milk alternative...kahlua or coconut rum and banana soft serve? Have fun with it and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Last night was the first night of the March Engine 2 28 day check in with Whole Foods St. Paul. I met my fiance and a friend a little early to grab dinner from the deli. I had a delicious latin corn soup and a whole wheat roll. It was nice to go out to eat and socialize without it being the 1000+ calorie, high fat and sodium options you find at most restaurants.

My fiance asked a good question: why do I want to go to the check-ins? They're the same topics that we did in January. Last night the group tested dairy alternatives and we passed on the samples since we'd already done it. Yet, I still want to go. The reason is really quite simple. If I don't go, I don't prioritize eating this way. In the three weeks since the January challenge wrapped up, I gained over a pound and found myself grabbing unhealthy food on the go. I know I should be able to do it, and I'm hoping that maybe the second time around it will stick and I will do it myself. I just know from the experience of the past few weeks that I'm not there yet. I felt really good eating this way, and I want to get that feeling back. In the first two days, I've already lost that pound I gained and then some. By knowing the check in is happening on Monday, my eating habits get on my calendar which means during the week they get priorities they otherwise wouldn't.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Luck of the Irish or Italian?

It just dawned on us that we're hosting an out-of-town guest over St. Patrick's Day weekend ... and we're having a dinner at our house on Saturday in her honor. Hmm. this is kind of screaming traditional Irish dishes done in an Engine 2 approved way, isn't it?

St. Patrick's Day standards are usually really heavy on meat, butter, cabbage and potatoes. Luckily, two of those 4 are already Engine 2 approved. Now, how to make the whole meal friendly to our challenge?

Consider yourself lucky as a leprauchan because my fiance has been done all the work for us compiling these great plant-based recipes from Fat-free Vegan Kitchen:

Corned "beef", cabbage and roasted potatoes
Colcannon puffs
Irish white bean and cabbage stew

My addition:

Whole wheat irish soda bread with raisins

Although this is an exciting adventure of a spread, we decided to play it safe by making a marinara pasta with a side salad. We'll look for an opportunity to make some of these dishes when we don't have a dinner party to host with folks who aren't on the Engine 2 challenge.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Forward

As luck would have it, my 2nd Engine 2 28-day challenge begins on the day we "spring forward" our clocks. I can say from experience my body is looking forward to the "spring forward" that happens by treating it well and feeding it lots of veggies and whole grains and very limited salt and sugar and no oil. 

Some slight modifications to yesterday's BATO made it Engine 2 approved. I simply omitted the mayo and upped the veggie content by making it into a wrap and adding a couple handfuls of spinach. Yesterday, I ate two of those BATO english muffins, but today I opted for one wrap and added in some fruit (mango).

I'm heading out soon to stock up on ingredients for this week's meals. My fiance and I are splitting up the week's cooking responsibility, so I'm making the following:

For lunches: Engine 2 Hot Dish (they call it chili mac.) 
Monday Dinner: Whole Foods Deli during our Engine 2 check-in
Thursday Dinner: Rip's Sweet Potato Bowl

If you're looking for some inspiration of your own, check out these great resources: 

Whole Foods' Health Starts Here Challenge (I think they allow for some meat.) 
On pinterest, follow Engine 2 Diet's great recipes board.

Success Stories:
The Daily Beet (Engine 2's blog)
On facebook, "like"  Engine 2 Diet.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bacon Your Pardon

As the start of phase II of the Engine 2 28-day challenge fast approaches, I wanted to do a little somewhat healthy sinful indulging. What's more indulgent than bacon? So, this morning I made a BATO (bacon, avocado, tomato and onion sandwich with mayo, of course.) Oh, did I mention it's all plant-based?

I started with Tofurky's smoky maple bacon tempeh. To give you a comparison, check out the nutritional facts comparing Tofurky's bacon tempeh to Oscar Mayer's original (I had to do a little excel calculating because tofurky's serving size was 7 slices (87g) and Oscar Mayer's was 14g with no mention of how many slices that equaled. You can see if you care about calories, fat, cholesterol or sodium Tofurky wins hands down. For protein, Tofurky had only half of Oscar Mayer's. 

Nutrition is important, but taste matters too. I didn't taste test the oscar mayer bacon (I did eat it growing up), but rather I was interested in testing the difference between following the package directions for the Tofurky bacon by cooking it in oil or going oil-free. As you can see in the picture, the pieces cooked in oil (lower left) had more of a baconesque shine (grease) and better color. The aroma when you cook this stuff is definitely reminiscent of a maple bacon. If you want a close bacon substitute, I would recommend cooking it in oil and getting the pan really hot to assist in the crisping (a cast iron pan would be preferred to the non-stick I used for this experiment.) 

Finally, the BATO sandwich. This is essentially the same recipe as my I'm Heartin' It breakfast sandwich, substituting Tofurky Smoky Maple Bacon Tempeh for Gimme Lean veggie sausage. I did add some Earth Balance vegan mayo because I like how the tomato mayo combo tastes on your average BLT. 

If you like avocado and the taste of bacon, this sandwich will knock your socks off ... all while being much kinder to your heart than the alternative.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sunday Fun Day

I start the March Engine 2 28-Day challenge on Sunday. In the 3 weeks I haven't been on a challenge, I've avoided eating meat and caffeine, but found myself back into buying breakfasts at coffee shops and 15 min. lunch breaks at Pizza Luce (with cheese laden pizza slices.) I'm not proud of how far back I've slipped, but realistically I know I'm slow to change. That I've stuck with no meat and caffeine are minor victories.

One thing I'm realizing is that you have to make time for healthy living. It's easy to get stressed or busy at work and forget to eat or come home and veg out on the couch because you're tired. That easy though has hard consequences: health problems, boredom, hunger. I've noticed over the past two weeks that my ankle is a little stiff and my back aches more than it did during the challenge. I'm also not cooking as much or eating nearly enough vegetables. I think a redo is in order. You're welcome to join me :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

When an apple isn't enough

Whole Foods Market in St. Paul has opened up registration for their March Engine 2 28-day challenge. New this time will be a celebratory brunch and dessert feast (It is very obvious I am their target demographic because brunch and dessert are two of my favorite things!)  This challenge runs March 11 - April 7th. Wait, my birthday is April 2nd....during the challenge?! Oh, the humanity!

Yes, that's right, I am signing up to do another 28-days of no oil, no added salt plant-based eating. You might be wondering why I would subject myself to that. The answer quite simply is for my health. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but I think it takes a little more than that.  Even though I realized really great benefits while on the Engine 2 challenge in January, I have fallen off the band wagon a bit since. First, it was just a nibble of milk in a rasberry champagne chocolate bar on Valentine's Day, but soon it was a veggie and cheese pizza. I have the willpower of something with very low to zero will power of its own. I will say I suffered for that cheese pizza, 6 hours later, I feel a headache and rock in my stomach.

Case in point would be my exercise challenge. I've gone to the gym once in the past week and did some late night ab workouts or walked around Target or the neighborhood to approximate 30 minutes of exercise. The reality is my exercise challenge resolve is weak at best because I don't have the support and accountability that I had with my fiance and the Whole Foods Engine 2 Challenge weekly check ins. Today, I went to the gym and had a great workout. It's good to feel exercise sore rather than stiff from sitting around. I just have to remember that and repeat tomorrow.