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Posts Tagged ‘vegetarianism’

There is a lot that I could write about right now in regards to my life, weight loss and how my Buddhist practice is getting me through some very stressful times but I can’t bring myself to write about that in much detail right now. Instead, I can assure you that I’m exercising, eating healthy and maintaining a vibrant practice that is making some very tough times bearable. Instead, I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts about some of the things I’ve been using lately to help me keep my life on track and my health improving.

As I’ve been actively trying to eat healthy and exercise more in order to lose weight, I’m constantly on the lookout for great vegetarian recipes. For some time, I’ve been aware of a site called Yummly however, I’ve not used it as much as I should. That’s changed recently. Yummly is like a google for recipes and they bill themselves as having the ability to search every recipe in the world. They have a great section of vegetarian recipes available here. I’ve been able to find a lot of different recipes here that have inspired me to create some really tasty meals. The ability to search by ingredient or taste profiles or by category make finding things quick and easy. Regardless of what you like to eat, you’ll be able to find something here to inspire you to make something delicious.

Another new favorite is a blog called The First Mess. Laura, the author of the blog, not only creates amazing recipes but the photographs that accompany the recipes are works of art in their own right. Her commitment to creating fresh and healthy food comes through in each of her posts and the recipes there are all wonderful to read through and look at.

As I’ve said many times here, I’m a person who relies on their smart phone for almost everything. If there’s an app for it, I’ve probably seen it or tried it. One of my new favorite apps is called OurGroceries. It is designed for quick and easy sharing of list data between multiple users and works on the computer, Android, iPhone and Blackberry phones. It makes keeping track of groceries easy and as soon as an item is added to a list, that item shows up across any device that is authorized to see it. Another great feature is the Recipe section. It allows you to specify the ingredients needed for a recipe and quickly add them to a list if you need to get something at the store for something you plan on making soon. When coupled with the recipes I’m finding from Yummly and The First Mess, this app keeps me from missing important items that I’ll need and saves me from making multiple trips to the store.

Speaking of apps, I also recently downloaded an app called allthecooks. It’s for Android and iPhone and also available as a web site. It’s got a lot of nice social features and, while it’s not as nice of an interface as Yummly, it’s a great way to find recipes on the go when all I have is my phone. I’ve found a few really great vegetarian recipes there and a few meals I’ve found on this app have made it to my meal plan for the upcoming week.

I have also been getting a lot of use out of an app called Insight Timer. It’s a meditation timer and on-line community for people who practice meditation of any type. The features and functionality of the app blend seamlessly with the act of meditation and the timers are easy to set and start/stop/pause. You can save multiple timers, quickly switch between them, integrate with Twitter and Facebook and connect with others all over the world. Creating a meditation timer that works for whatever practice you have is quick and easy with this tool and I have found it to be a great way to track my meditation practice and see how I have been progressing.

The last app that I’ve been getting a lot of use out of is called PocketCasts. It’s an Android app for podcasts. Since Google killed the products I used to follow podcasts (google reader and google listen), I had to find something new and I’m glad I did. Finding and listening to podcasts with this app is extremely easy and navigating the user interface is dead simple. It’s intuitive and powerful. I am always up to date getting episodes of Buddhist Geeks, Zencast, as well as my other favorite audio programs like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Science Friday, Snap Judgement and various tech news shows. If you have an Android device, I highly recommend this app for all of your podcasting needs.

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I was sent this recipe this morning through facebook. I have not made this yet but I will be making it soon. It looked too good to not share. There are a lot more recipes over on the facebook page where I got this one. If militant vegans are not your thing, you should avoid visiting it. Otherwise, there are a lot of interesting recipes there and I think I’ll be trying more of them out.

Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad with Lemon Basil Dressing

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup cubed ripe mangos
1/2 cup diced cucumbers
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp lemon zest
6 basil leaves, finely chopped

Place the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked. Remove the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Allow to cool to room temperature.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine the fruits in a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and add the chopped basil just before serving. Add half the dressing to the quinoa and toss gently. Assemble the salad just before serving and toss the quinoa with the fruits and cucumber. Serve the other half of the dressing on the side.

Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad

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The other day, I was trying to make something healthy for dinner and started to browse the contents of my pantry to see what I could come up with. The larder was running low but I did find a container of Israeli Couscous. For those who may not know what this is, it is a pasta shaped in small spheres. Israeli couscous is larger than a lot of other types and is, in my opinion, superior to it’s smaller cousins. Armed with the large container, I started to gather supplies and ended up pulling from my cupboard some hot curry powder, black and white sesame seeds, cayenne pepper and sesame oil. This seemed like a good start so I got cooking.

Curried Sesame Couscous

1 serving of Israeli couscous
Water for the couscous (however much the container says is appropriate for one serving)
Hot curry powder
Cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
White sesame seeds
Black sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Toast the couscous in a sauce pan until it is golden brown. Add the water and stir.

Add curry powder and cayenne pepper to taste (the more the better right?) and salt. Stir to combine.

After a minute of cooking, add the white and black sesame seeds. This is a matter of personal taste. I added a tablespoon each because I like them.

Continue to cook the couscous according to package directions until done.

After the couscous has cooked, add 1/4 tsp of sesame oil and stir.

Add more curry, cayenne if needed and more white and black sesame seeds (the uncooked ones will add a crunchy texture).

Serve

I was quite pleased with the results and liked it so much that I got busy eating it and didn’t take a picture of the finished product. You’ll have to use your imagination but, take my word, it was really good.

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Today was an easy day for being good. I had a healthy breakfast, an amazing jerk tofu wrap from a local vegetarian friendly restaurant by my office and drank a lot of water. This evening, I went with the kids down to York Beach. It’s a very touristy area of Maine but it’s also a lot of fun. We played games and walked around. We went to a candy shop and we ate dinner. Since I’d been so good with everything today, I was going to get whatever on the menu looked good for dinner. I’m trying to not starve myself because that’s not a healthy choice either. However, the choices I’d made throughout the day added up to a much smaller amount of calories than I should have if I want to lose weight gradually. It really felt nice to walk into the place we had dinner and know that regardless of what I chose, I’d still have made all the right decisions for the day.

When I looked at the menu I saw a large collection of food designed for the American palate: foods high in fat and sodium and sugar. There were combinations of meat and eggs and cheese and potatoes in so many different ways it boggles the mind. I could have anything on the menu and not feel bad about it. That’s why when the waitress took our order I proudly requested the vegetarian burger. That’s right, the vegetarian burger. After only about a week of trying to be aware of what I am putting into my body and to make healthy choices, I really wanted that vegetarian burger. That makes today the first all-vegetarian day I’ve had in a long time. I ended up being “good” even when I knew I didn’t have to. It was like a switch has been thrown and I’m really wanting to do the right thing and I’m excited to be doing it. Since I really did want to allow myself to indulge in something I tried an egg cream for the first time. I’ve got to say I can see what all those New Yorkers rave about. It was a really great drink and, because it was a specially made item, didn’t come with free refills. It’s a little hard to go overboard on things if they don’t keep topping off your cup every time they walk by! In the end, I left the restaurant feeling like I had just won a big battle that I wasn’t even aware I’d been fighting.

That’s why I find myself writing a post when I should be getting ready for bed. I am pleased with what I’ve done today and feel encouraged to keep making progress as tomorrow. So, when breakfast comes, I’ll make a good decision and have a healthy breakfast. Then, I’ll follow that up with more healthy choices throughout the day and we’ll see if I can make this a 2 day in a row streak.

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Dough, sauce, cheese, meats and veggies. There’s a lot happening on top of that pizza. I must admit I love them. Pizza is one of my favorite foods. I’m sure a significant portion of my extra weight can be measured in pizza consumption. Today, while enjoying stumbleupon to kill some time and find random things that might be interesting, I cam across this story about healthy pizza.There are vegetarian and vegan options that look really good. Check it out and see if any appeal to you.

Healthy Homemade Pizza Recipes

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Sausage

I like pork. There, I said it. It’s so versatile and delicious. It’s also full of fat and salt and calories and is generally speaking completely bad for you if you are trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Pork is also really bad if you happen to be vegetarian or vegan. Personally, I’m “flexitarian”. I try to eat as little meat as possible but I don’t get too bent out of shape about eating meat. Yesterday was a day when I really didn’t care about it and I had ham. It was so good. Juicy and sweet and porky and mmmmmmmmmm. However, as nice as it is, we must remember that pork is a “sometimes” food. It used to be that those times were breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe that’s how I ended up weighing 330 pounds. I’ll have to think about that some more.

What’s a pork lovin’ guy like me supposed to do? Really, it’s not that much of a dilemma. First, you wake up to the fact that too much of a good thing will lead to obesity, heart problems, diabetes, cancer and an early death. No matter how good something tastes it just isn’t worth all of that. Next, you get creative. Alternatives do exist. Here’s one I found this morning from vegancoach.com. It’s for vegan sausage patties. I stumbled across this while I was looking for something to do with the tempeh I have sitting in my refrigerator. I will be trying this very soon and will report back on the results. I am altering the recipe a bit. The original called for bouillon cubes instead of broth. I’m enough of a food snob to shudder at that thought.

Vegan Sausage Patties

  • 8 ounces tempeh, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 oz. vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 Tablespoons Tamari
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon each of sage, thyme, and marjoram
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or other organic oil, for frying

1. In a small saucepan, add tempeh to vegetable stock. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove tempeh, cool and grate on coarse side of grater. Mix grated tempeh with oats, Tamari, water, oil and spices. Mixture should be moist enough to press into 12 patties. Chill on a covered platter.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown patties on each side over medium high heat, turning carefully. You may want to do this in small batches, using just a little oil each time. Patties will soak up the oil quickly, but will brown in the dry pan.

Makes: 12 small patties, or 6 large patties

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I had a long day at work and when I got home, I was hungry and wanting to relax. Fortunately for me, there is one simple solution to both of those problems: COOK! I know a lot of people don’t enjoy cooking or it is something that they don’t think of as a relaxing activity. I guess it’s just one of the little quirks that makes me the person that I am. Since I was hungry, I wanted something quick but at the same time, I didn’t want to just eat a bunch of junk. I had to improvise. From my kitchen, I grabbed the following items.

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 block of extra firm tofu
1 package of Trader Joe’s lentils
1 bottle of Siracha sauce.

That’s it, 5 ingredients. Time to cook! I quickly slice the onions up into teeny tiny little bits and then I minced the garlic. While I was doing that, the tofu was being pressed between a couple of plates to make sure it was as dry as possible.

This is where the flavor lives

With the onion and garlic finished, I grabbed the tofu and cut it up into small squares. At that point, prep work was done and it was time to get rocking. I quickly sautéed the tofu in some olive oil while I dealt with a page from work because apparently, I don’t spend enough time in my day dealing with people’s computer problems. With the problem solved and the tofu getting a nice golden color, I set it aside on a baking sheet and added the onion to the pan. That’s the point when the whole room started to smell real good.

Once the onion was looking nice, I added the garlic and sautéed  it for about 30 seconds. Then, I dumped in the package of Trader Joe’s lentils. They are already cooked and ready to go so it was one less thing I had to deal with on my own. They taste really good and, when used in a dish like this, are acceptable over stuff you might cook on your own. While they heated up, the tofu went under the broiler to finish up. While the tofu broiled, I remembered that I had a bottle of Siracha that needed my attention. A very generous amount of sauce went into the pan.

After the tofu was complete, I added it into the lentil mixture and that was it. From the skillet it went onto the plate and I was enjoying a hot dinner that was healthy and very flavorful in a short period of time.

Spicy lentils and tofu

 

Tofu cooked to golden brown goodness

Before I started cooking, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I walked into the kitchen, surveyed what I had and, on the fly, came up with something that sounded good. That’s where having a solid understanding of basic techniques is really important. If you want to be a good cook, learning lots of recipes really isn’t the way to go. It’s all in the technique and learning how to have fun putting those techniques together to create something new.

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Where all good things come from

The other day, I was at Trader Joe’s to pick up some staple foods. These include things like tofu, three grain tempeh and basic veggies and dried goods. While I was there, something caught my eye. It’s a Trader Joe’s product called Harvest Grains Blend. It consists of Israeli style couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa. It looked good and it was really cheap so I bought a bag. Last night, I made some for dinner. To prepare it, I used some TJ’s hearty vegetable stock and, after bringing it to a boil, added the Harvest Grains. I then dumped in a generous helping of spices to add some flavor and let it simmer for 10 minutes. After that, I had a great dinner that was healthy and easy to deal with. I still have half a bag left so now that I know what to do with it, I’m thinking of other things I can do with it. I love finding new things to cook/eat that make it easier to eat healthy. This will be a fun one to work with.

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From time to time, I give my thoughts about something that I’ve tried or experienced. I always do this because I like something. I have never made anything from this blog nor have I ever received anything from anyone/anything I write about. I don’t have any plans to change this policy. With that in mind, please enjoy this non-compensated review of a product I just tried and really liked.

I’m always looking for new ideas for vegetarian recipes and decided the other day to try my hand at a quick stir fry. I was wandering the aisles of the grocery store for ingredients, I realized I needed some soy sauce for the stir fry. It’s not something that I keep in my pantry because it’s basically salt sauce. However, this would be an exception. That’s when I saw a bottle of Annie Chun’s Chinese Stir Fry sauce. It caught my eye and I read through the ingredient list. It was vegetarian though the label said it was processed in a plant that processes meat products (you have been warned if you’re a hard core vegetarian). The sodium content was still on the high side but it was less than the soy sauce that I was holding in my other hand. I decided to take a chance on it and went home with everything I needed for a quick dinner.

I cooked the brown rice, chopped up garlic, ginger, carrots, asparagus, onions and got a big handful of snow peas ready. I cooked all the veggies in some olive oil in my wok and, after removing them, browned up some cubed extra firm tofu in the wok. At this point, the rice was done so I pulled it off of the burner and dumped it into the wok with the tofu and added the vegetables that I’d set aside. Once everything was mixed, I added the bottle of sauce. One bottle was enough for the stir fry that I made. My goal was to make enough to have dinner and lunch the next day.The bottle was enough to let this happen. When I tasted the results, I was quite pleased with the taste. The sauce added a really nice flavor and, since it was more than just soy sauce, allowed me to get a bit more of a Chinese takeout flavor than I would have gotten on my own. If you happen to be planning on making a stir fry any time soon, I would highly recommend trying this sauce as part of the recipe.

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As I said in my last post, my weekend was spent at the Providence Zen Center where I took my five precepts and formally became a member of the school. The Zen Center is a beautiful place and spending time there was a great experience. Sure, I’m sore from all the bowing and odd movements that my poor, still overweight, body isn’t use to but I can’t complain too much about that. I’ve got a lot to write about this entire experience but I’m still processing a lot of it and I’m sure it will come out over the next few weeks as I continue to write.

One of the more interesting events from this past weekend was an inka ceremony. Basically, this is the way that the Kwan Um School of Zen bestows the title of Zen Master on someone. This is a process that takes years to complete and is compared to earning a PhD. After seeing the ceremony firsthand, I can see why. For 30 minutes, the candidate for JDPSN (Zen Master) status had to sit while one person after another came up to her and asked questions meant to trip her up or confuse her. In Zen studies, these questions are called koans. Watching someone answer koans for 30 straight minutes and hit each one out of the park was nothing short of awesome. After seeing this, I have a much better understanding of why they call this part of the ceremony dharma combat.

After the ceremony everyone filtered out of the dharma hall and down the stairs to the dining room for an amazing vegetarian dinner of sweet potato enchiladas. I found an open seat at a table right next to a sign reading that the tables were reserved for those who could not sit on the floor. I figured I met that criteria as I was already so sore that I was having trouble getting my legs to cooperate with me when I wanted to do things like walk or stand or move them around.

While I was sitting there trying to taste each of the ingredients in the enchiladas so that I can reverse engineer the recipe, the newest Zen Master in the Kwan Um school sat down right across from me at the table. She thanked someone sitting a few chairs down from me for their kind words at her ceremony and started to eat her dinner. A few more people sat down at the chairs around us and, before I knew it and without planning on my part, I found myself caught up in the discussion that popped up at the table. Anne, the new Zen Master, lectures on science and environmental issues among other things. As we sat at the table eating dinner we discussed environmental science, the changing ecosystem in Florida where she lives, alligators and just how cool they really are, and the importance of actions to do whatever possible to make positive impacts on the environment. She had an amazing depth of knowledge about this subject and her compassion for all living things was palpable as she talked about her experiences working with various groups and research teams.

A few other people came to the table and they were not as inclined to discuss science and environmental issues so the conversation drifted to other topics. These topics were much more along the lines of generalized discussion that happens among people at a large group: things like travel plans, how long different people had been at the Zen Center already, the quality of the food, the experiences one had in the various ceremonies going on that weekend, etc. This was where I got to see just how down to earth a Zen Master could be. The fact that she had just been through an incredible ordeal and passed with flying colors never came up in any of the conversations. It was like it never happened. Sure, she was a Zen Master, big deal, there was an upcoming train trip back to Virginia to discuss since driving in the northeast corridor is such pain to do. It was almost an inconvenience when the time came for her to get up from the table to take part in a cake cutting to celebrate her accomplishment.

After we had all gotten our cake (and it was a delicious cake) we were back at our seats and a new person joined us. This was a person with a question about something someone said in the ceremony. It was a line that had not even really made an impact on my mind at the time but the short version of the story was that the conversation eventually led to the realization that Anne has stage 4 colon cancer and she stares death in the face on a daily basis. The ease with which she tossed out the phrase “it’ll get me some day” still leaves me in awe. She deals with the immediacy of her mortality on a moment by moment basis and has learned from it and become stronger because of it. It was at this point I realized just how amazed I was at this person sitting across the table from me. Her attitude and her humility and her courage were unlike almost anyone else I have ever met. Usually, you only hear stories about people like this. This time, I was experiencing it first hand. I was almost consumed with admiration for the person sitting in front of me talking about how she had tried macrobiotics for a while to combat the cancer but didn’t want to spend all of the life she had left in the kitchen cooking foods that meet the very high bar set by macrobiotics.

She was called away shortly after that by a group of people who hadn’t seen her in a while and she went to speak to them. I continued to have some conversations with those around me but I was still stuck mentally in the previous conversation. I had never seen that kind of clarity, compassion, courage and intellect combined in one person so well. I could not help but feel angry with the knowledge that she would not be a teacher and master in our school for as long as she should be because of the cancer. Then, because this was a Zen retreat, I was left with my own thoughts about why I was feeling this way and why I was thinking this way. I did my best to learn from the example she had just set and accept the reality of the situation for what it is and to be present in this moment because it is all we have. Sure, in some future moment she will no longer be a part of our school but that’s the business of that moment. For now, there were plates to be picked up and trash to be thrown away.

A few minutes later as I was cleaning up my dishes at the sink, one of the other people I met this weekend asked me if I enjoyed having dinner with three Zen Masters. At first I thought he was trying to trip me up with some sort of “gotcha” koan. Then he pointed out to me that the other people that I had been sitting with and talking with were also the same people who usually sit up at the front of the room during the ceremonies and that the reason they did that was because they were Zen Masters. Since things were all so new to me and I wasn’t used to seeing these people outside of the ceremonies yet (I had only been there for 24 hours at that point), I didn’t even realize who some of the other people I was eating with and talking with were. How’s that for down to earth and low key? There was nothing to differentiate these Zen Masters from me, a guy who was there to take step 1: the five precepts. As my new friend laughed at me, I let the lesson sink in. I’m still trying to learn from that moment. I have a feeling I’ll be learning from that moment for a long time to come.

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