ABC Mooncakes (less sugar, vegan, and close to being organic)

Moon festival is my favorite cultural holiday.  My mom and dad call it Chinese Valentine’s Day.  Every year we get to play with lanterns, drink tea, eat mooncakes, and listen to my parents tell us these amazing stories.  There’s a love story behind this holiday, but I can write an entire essay on this so here’s a link if you’re interested.  It’s such a powerful story to my parents that they decided to get married on this holiday, so every year we are also celebrating their anniversary.  The best part about this festival is eating mooncakes.  These delights are sold once a year in decorative tin boxes and they can range anywhere from $20-$50 for a box of four.  The reason why these are so expensive is the fact that it’s hard to make.  Also, there is an ingredient that needs to be prepared a year in advance.  Don’t fret!  I found another method around this.  For this year’s anniversary, I decided to surprise my parents with homemade mooncakes but with a classy and fit twist.  Mooncakes are not healthy.  Think donuts or heavy pastries.  What I did in my recipe was cut the sugar and oil significantly, made it vegan, and I tried to keep majority of my ingredients organic.  Also, I wanted to bring a Filipino flare to my recipe, so I made an ube (aka purple yam) mooncake.  Since the process was long I thought if it doesn’t work out I don’t want to make them again.  Mama Chiang never made mooncakes, so I had to put this to the ultimate test by sending it to Pao Pao (grandma).  I was nervous.  If anyone’s been around longer to know supreme Chinese mooncakes it’s my Pao Pao.  Guess what?  Looks like I’ll be making more of these.  It was a perfect anniversary gift.  My parents loved it!  They were surprised how an ABC (yes, my parents often stereotype me as “American Born Chinese”) is able to make this.  I experimented to make a healthier recipe, so here I present my masterful ABC Mooncakes.

By Shelly Chiang, Makes about 8 mooncakes (considering one serving of the outer dough)

Tools

Mooncake mold – I got this from Brown Cookie

Outer Cake Ingredients

(Note: I made the outer dough 3 times to use up the lotus and ube paste below.  It’s better to make it in small portions because it will make it easier for you to knead the dough.  The outer dough is what makes the mooncake.)

  • 1 cup sifted unbleached cake flour
  • 1/3 cup of golden syrup (This is the ingredient that takes a year to make, but I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup and it turned out great.  I got this from World Market)
  • ½ teaspoon of potassium carbonate (This is what makes the texture of the dough.  You can get this from the Asian Market)
  • 2 tablespoons of organic peanut oil

Outer Cake Instructions (Preparation takes 24-48 hours)

1. Sift cake flour into a large bowl.  Make a crater in the middle of the flour.

2. Pour golden syrup, potassium carbonate, and peanut oil in the crater.

3. Carefully take a rubber spatula and pour the flour from the sides into the middle of the crater.


4. Keep pouring the sides until the dough is formed.


5. Rub some flour on the cutting board and transfer the dough from the bowl.
6. Now knead the dough until its smooth.


7. Roll it into a log and wrap it with plastic wrap.  It’s difficult to form the filling in the dough within a day (texture is not there yet), so you want to place it in the fridge overnight.  For best results, leave it in the fridge for 2 days.

Lotus Paste Ingredients

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 12 oz dried lotus seeds (You can get this at the Asian Market)
  • ½ cup organic peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon organic brown rice syrup

Lotus Paste Instructions (Preparation takes 24-48 hours)

1. While you are waiting for your dough, you want to make your Lotus Paste because this takes time to make.  First, soak the dried lotus seeds.  I would say soak it over 24-48 hours for best results.


2. Now you want to remove the green root in the middle of the seeds because it’s bitter.  You may need a partner for this.  Simply pinch the seed and you’ll see the green root.  Remove and keep the halves of the seeds.


3. Place seeds in a pot and fill with water.  You want to boil the seeds on high.  Once it boils, lower the heat to medium.  Since I started in the evening, before I went to sleep I had the stove on low overnight.  You may want to start in the morning or use a crock pot.
4. Once the seeds are soft place this in a food processor.  Blend until it becomes a paste-like texture.


5. Put the paste in a non-stick pot on medium heat and mix half of the sugar and peanut oil.  You want to evenly distribute the sugar and oil, so once it’s blended you want to put the other half of sugar and oil to mix.

6. Once it’s blended mix brown syrup until smooth.
7. Put the lotus paste in a container.  Feel free to add nuts to some of the lotus paste.  I made a few nut mooncakes mixing in almonds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts as a separate filling.

Ube Paste

  • 4 purple yams
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup organic coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon organic brown syrup
  • 1 tablespoon of organic coconut milk

Ube Paste Instructions

I made this paste to create a Chinese-Filipino fusion mooncake.  My husband introduced me to Filipino ube desserts in the past and I absolutely love them, so I thought why not make this into a mooncake.

1. Peel the purple yams.

2. Cut purple yams in squares.

3. Boil purple yams on high and then to medium low heat for about one hour.
4. Blend the purple yams in a food processor until it becomes a paste-like texture.
5. Put the paste in a non-stick pot on medium heat and mix half of the sugar and coconut oil.  You want to evenly distribute the sugar and oil, so once it’s blended you want to put the other half of sugar and oil to mix.


6. Once it’s blended mix brown syrup and coconut milk until smooth.  Place the paste in a container.

Mooncake Technique – Now let’s put the two together

1. Before you start, dust your cutting board and the mooncake mold with flour.  Also, spray or oil your baking pan.
2. Use an ice cream scooper to scoop your paste.  Two small scoops should do it.  Form the filling into a compact ball and set aside.


3. Now for the outer dough.  Cut about 2 inches from your roll.

4. Flatten the dough on the palm of your hand.  If needed, flatten further with your fingertips.  The trick is to keep your hands moist, because you don’t want it to stick on your hand.


5. Place the filling in the center of your outer dough and carefully wrap the filling with your fingertips.


6. Dust the filled dough.


7. Carefully place your filled dough in your mooncake mold.  Then use your fingers to evenly press your dough around the mold.


8. Now gently press the mooncake out of the mold.


9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
10. Bake mooncakes for 10 minutes.


11. In the meantime, melt some vegan Earth Balance Butter.
12. Take the mooncakes out and brush them with melted vegan butter.
13. Bake mooncakes for another 10 minutes.
14. Ideally the mooncakes should be consumed in 24-48 hours.
15. Enjoy your mooncakes with jasmine tea.  My favorite brand is Pearl Queen of Jasmine Tea.

DIY Mooncake Packaging

I wrapped my cakes in pretty red tissue paper and raffia ribbon to make it more decorative.  Then I placed my mooncakes in the tin boxes I saved from the last year’s moon festival.  It was a perfect way to package my parent’s anniversary gift.

My Super Duper Foods

There are a couple foods that I eat religiously to give me super powers.  Well, super powers as in energy and strength. I feel like Mario when he gets invincible powers from a starman.  So what are superfoods?  Superfood is really a marketing term used for describing foods that are high in nutrients to give you superior health benefits.  Here are a few super duper foods that help me stay classy and fit:

KALE – Remember when Popeye eats a can of spinach he gets ginormous arms that are too big for his body.  First off, you won’t get a lot of nutrients if your veggies are in a can.  Raw is the way to go. Secondly, Kale can give you as much or more benefits than spinach.  I eat about two servings of kale 2-3 times a week.  I incorporate kale in my meals, soups, and snacks.  Kale chips are delicious, so replace those bags of potato chips and Doritos with kale chips.  Kids love them!  I can tell you I eat a big bowl of raw kale a day before a race.  No pasta for me.  With kale, I feel 100 times lighter but it still gives me the stamina I need for a race.  If you’re looking to build calcium Kale can give you more per calorie than milk.  As for iron, it gives you more per calorie than beef.  Kale is the new beef.  It’s also an anti-inflammatory food that fights against inflammatory-related issues such as arthritis, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.  I can rave on and on about kale, but this infographic says it all.

GOJI BERRIES – Growing up, Mama Chiang used to make me a nice bowl of soup with goji berries.  Sometimes she’ll make desserts or drinks with goji berries.  As a child I was told this is good for your vision and it keeps you looking young.  Well, fast forward a couple years later, I found out that it does a lot more.  Goji berries are packed with vitamins, protein with 18 amino acids, and antioxidants.  I love sprinkling these berries over salads and oatmeal.  I especially love to eat these by itself as a snack.  You’ll find that it curbs your appetite, gives you energy, and keeps your mind sharp (definitely brain food).

QUINOA – I heard that this is “God’s gift to vegans” and I totally agree.  Quinoa is a fantastic source of protein with 8 essential amino acids and it’s gluten-free.  This is definitely the type of grain you want to incorporate in your diet.  I’m slowly getting my parents to replace white rice with quinoa.  It’s versatile, so you can make just about anything with quinoa.  You can make stuffed red peppers, quinoa crackers, breakfast quinoa porridge, or throw quinoa into your salads.  The possibilities are endless.

CHIA SEEDS – Chia Seeds are tiny black seeds that are grown from a flowering plant known as Salvia hispanica.  One tablespoon of these seeds punches in a good amount of Omega-3.  For vegetarians that don’t eat fish chia seeds will give you the Omega-3 oil that you need for your body.  Athletes – chia seeds can hydrate your body longer and provides the protein that you need for intense workouts.  Simply soak the chia seeds in water and it becomes a gel like the image below.  The gel allows your body to absorb carbohydrates to slowly covert them into simple sugars, so it controls your blood sugar.  They make you feel fuller because they absorb 10 times their weight of water.  It doesn’t have any flavor, so I love to sprinkle these over my salads and soups.  I particularly like to coat my bananas with chia seeds.  There are plenty of dessert recipes that incorporate chia seeds such as pudding or baked goods.

HEMP – There are three types of hemp that I like – hemp milk, hemp seeds, and hemp oil.  It works just like Chia Seeds providing you plenty of protein with essential amino acids, calcium, and Omega-3.  It curbs your appetite, it prevents inflammation, and it’s good for your skin.  It has a nutty taste, so I love sprinkling hemp seeds in fruit such as bananas and kiwis.  They are good in breakfast bars and oatmeal.  I found blending hemp milk with smoothies help me recover faster after intense workouts.  Instead of using too much olive oil I use hemp oil for cooking and salads.

KOMBUCHA – When I was younger, I found these odd-looking jars in the basement.  From time to time, my grandpa would drink these for breakfast.  I thought it was one of his strange Chinese medicinal drinks.  I found out it was Kombucha.  Kombucha is a fermentation of a sweetened tea with cultures such as good bacteria and yeast.  This is actually known to detoxify your body, increase your immunity, alkaline your PH, and increase your metabolism.  It’s full of probiotics to help you with digestion.  Vegans – since you’re not getting probiotics from yogurt you can sure get it from Kombucha.  I love the Synergy Drinks.  My favorite flavors are Strawberry Serenity and Multi-Green.  This is a great replacement for soda and coffee.  I have soda once in a blue moon, but if you are a heavy soda drinker this is 100 times better for you.  As for coffee, it gives you the pick-me-upper you need in the morning. Amazingly this also curbs my appetite, so I tend to have a swig of this closer to 4 pm when I get hungry.

These items are found in Whole Foods, your local organic market, and Amazon.  Try it out!  I hope you feel the super duper benefits I do with these superfoods.

Vegan Ice Cream Birthday Cake

There’s something about an ice cream cake that takes you back to your childhood.  For my husband Eric, it’s a flashback of taking his first bite of that cake and thinking it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Almost every year I purchase a Carvel ice cream cake for his birthday, but this year I made him one.  The one thing that my husband wishes for in a Carvel cake is a layer of actual cake.  A soft spongy texture fused with ice cream to create a combination of pure yumminess.  Although my husband is an omnivore he enjoys vegan dishes.  In fact he’s always looking for creative vegan recipes to make.  I guess you can call him a flexitarian.  My husband loves to cook (reason #1 why I married him) and let me tell you his food is amazing.  When I started a plant-based diet he researched vegan recipes and loved experimenting with a variety of dishes.  Every evening my husband watches me enjoy his dinners, so for his birthday I wanted to do the same … but with dessert.

Cake Ingredients

  • 1 yellow cake mix (You can make your own, but I opted for Cherrybrook Kitchen.  It has natural ingredients and the cakes turn out perfect.)
  • 1 pint of dairy-free chocolate ice cream
  • 1 pint of dairy-free vanilla ice cream
  • ¼ container of organic chocolate syrup (Look for syrup without milk.)
  • 15 Newman-O’s cookies

Frosting Ingredients

  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • ½ cup of softened vegan butter (Earth Balance)
  • ½ cup of soymilk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

Instructions

1. Follow the cake mix instructions using an 8-10” cake pan.

2. Cool cake for an hour.

3. Cut cake in half.  Save the other half for the next day.

4. Take plastic wrap and cover a cake pan.  Make sure there’s extra plastic wrap over the pan.

5. Place half of the cake in the pan.

6. Take out chocolate ice cream and let it soften for about 15 minutes.  Spread ice cream over cake.  Freeze for 2-3 hours.

7. Now let’s make the crunchies.  Scrape the cream from Newman-O’s cookies, so the crunchies don’t become soggy in the cake.

8. Pulse the cookies 1-2 times in a food processor until it looks coarsely-chopped.

9. Add about ¼ container of chocolate syrup.  Pulse 1-2 times until the crunchies forms into clumps.  Don’t overdo the syrup, because it can turn your crunchies into fudge.

10. Take the cake out of the freezer and layer with crunchies.

11. Put the cake back in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

12. Take out vanilla ice cream and let it soften for about 15 minutes.  Spread ice cream over cake.  Freeze for 2-3 hours.

13. Place the other half of the cake on top of the pan. Freeze overnight.

14. For the frosting – add powdered sugar, butter, soymilk, and vanilla and blend until creamy.  You may need to place the frosting in the fridge so it becomes thicker.

15. Turn the cake upside down on a piece of cardboard.  I cut the cardboard in a circle and taped wax paper to it.

16. Start frosting your cake and then place the cake back in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

17. Decorate your cake.

18. Time to sing “Happy Birthday!”

Heat Run

One of my shortcomings has got to be running in the heat.  My performance is poor and sometimes I can’t even finish the run, but then again the heat makes me a stronger runner.

As temperatures climb to the 90-100 degrees and humidity reaches 50-70%, I feel like I’m lifting sandbags on my shoulders.  I know it’s hot when I hear cicadas singing loud a long my path.  My mouth is dry and all I can think about is “water”.  As I see a blaze of heat down the trail, I brush the sweat over my head and I can feel a glob of salt in my hands.  The sun is beating me down like I’m in a boxing match.  I made plenty of mistakes tackling this.  Although I continue to find ways to improve, here are a few things I learned training in the dog days of summer:

Hydrate.  I drink a liter of water an hour before running.  You’ll be amazed how much water you lose in the heat.  Some runners can lose 1-4 quarts of water every hour.  I also wear a Camelbak so I can hydrate on my run.  It’s hard to find water fountains where I run, so a Camelbak was a great purchase.

Schedule your run.  My number 1 mistake is running at the wrong time.  Avoid running at times between 10 am-6 pm.  I hardly see any runners on the trail during those times.  My running experience described above was during noon or 5 pm.  Big mistake!  Try to run early in the morning or night if you can.  I also schedule my runs by reviewing the weather forecast for the week.  If the temperatures are lower on certain days that’s the day that I’ll run.  In fact, I take advantage of days when it rains.  Running in the rain feels so good from the heat.  Also, I get a major adrenaline rush when it storms.

Plan your route.  Try to find a route with more shade.  It makes a huge difference.  Some days I wish I had that red umbrella from the Traveler’s insurance commercial follow me around.

Don’t over exert yourself.  I generally slow down 2-3 minutes when I’m running in the heat.  My heart rate is off the charts when I’m in the heat, so I take my time and save my energy to finish the run.  Most of the time I have to stop and walk, but I start running again when I see an overcast.  It bothers me at times when I can’t finish what I hope to do, but I remind myself that this will only make me stronger.  Come fall, I will probably be able to push more miles out in cooler weather.

Gear.  Wear light, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing.  Avoid black.  Always wear a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Never forget sun block.  I always forget this and I come home looking like a lobster.  I don’t typically wear a hat because it can trap heat and cause your body temperature to rise.  I wear a thick headband, but there are running caps you can buy in any sports store.  Take your cell phone in case of an emergency.  I have my iphone with me so I can listen to motivating jams or audio books.  You can even learn another language while you’re running.  I’m going to start that next time.  It keeps my mind off the heat.

What to eat.  This section deserves it’s on blog post, because I have a lot of say about this.  Stay tuned!

I can tell you most of the time I find it difficult to finish in the heat, but there is always tomorrow.

Vegan Gyro

Gyros – One of the staple foods of a college student.  Since I didn’t eat beef I ordered other greasy items on the menu while my friends got their gyros.  I never thought to order one since I didn’t have it before.  My husband picked up a vegan gyro from Harrison Street Coffee Shop, our dating digs when we lived in Richmond.  He gave me a bite of his gyro, and let me tell you, it didn’t end up to be a bite.  There’s an explosion of flavors coming from the seitan (wheat protein) with creamy tzatziki sauce oozing out of the pita.  It was phenomenal!  As I took bites out of my husband’s gyro the experience took me back to college, but this time I’m actually eating a gyro (a non-meat gyro that is).  Since we don’t live in Richmond anymore Harrison is a hike to get to, so I made my own version of a gyro.

By Shelly Chiang, Makes 2 gyros 

Ingredients

  • 2 pita bread
  • ½ onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 8 oz WestSoy seitan strips
  • 1 tablespoon tamari sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Splash of red wine

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 6 oz So Delicious coconut milk “plain” yogurt
  • 1 cucumber
  • ½ squeezed lemon
  • ½ teaspoon of dill
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic

Gyro Mix

  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground mustard
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cumin

Directions

Tzatziki Sauce

1. Peel, un-seed, and grate cucumber

2. Drain and squeeze the water out of the grated cucumber

3. Mince 2 garlic cloves

4. Blend or combine cucumber, soy yogurt, garlic, lemon, dill

5. Place tzatziki in fridge for about 30 minutes for thickness

Seitan

1. Mix spices – oregano, rosemary, marjoram, garlic powder, thyme, ground mustard, paprika, and cumin in a small bowl.  Set aside

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat

3. Sauté onions and then add seitan

4. Stir and then add tamari sauce.  Cook until tamari is distributed throughout seitan

5. Add gyro mix and splash of red wine

6. Stir until seitan is golden brown

Gyro

1. Cut tomatoes in slices

2. Spread tzatziki sauce, add seitan, and add tomatoes in pita bread

3. I like to squeeze a little sriracha in my gyro, so feel free to add for a kick

4. Enjoy!

Vegan Banana Almond Butter Bread

It rained all day this past weekend and I felt the urge to bake.  Something about baking on a rainy day seems comforting to me, so I turned on some French café music and whipped out my baking gear.  Now what to bake?  I had plenty of ripe bananas on our kitchen counter.  It’s been such a long time since I had a slice of sweet banana bread.  I wanted to give my banana bread a little flare, so took a gander at my fridge and saw almond butter.  Yum!  I love bananas with almond butter.  Why not make this into bread?  The experiment was a success – super moist with a nutty punch.

By Shelly Chiang, Makes about 10-12 servings

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 3 bananas
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ¾ cup apple sauce
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tsp Ener-G egg replacer with 4 tbsp of warm water

Directions

1. Preheat oven 325 degrees

2. Mix dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt

3. Blend or mash bananas

4. Mix wet ingredients – bananas, almond butter, vanilla, oil, apple sauce, almond milk, sugar.  Don’t add egg replacer at this step – it will be mixed in later

5. Mix dry and wet ingredients together

6. Add 4 tbsp of warm water for 3 tsp of egg replacer.  Mix water and egg replacer in a separate bowl.  After powder is dissolved in the water, add to the mix

7. Grease 8×4 pan and bake for approx 1-1/2 hour.  Do the toothpick test – insert a toothpick in the center of the loaf and if it comes out clean then the bread is done

8. Cool bread for 30 minutes

Great for breakfast!

You can also use the bread for dessert.  We cut a small slice and made it into a vegan banana almond butter bread a la mode.

Just heat the bread for a few seconds and add your favorite ice cream.  We used So Delicious Dairy Free Ice Cream Butter Pecan.  It’s divine!

Eating and Running “Chi”

Two meanings of “Chi” in this post – Chi as in “energy” and in Chi-town (aka Chicago).  There’s amazing energy in the windy city, but with a relaxed vibe than the East Coast.  I definitely appreciate the wind since we’ve been suffering from crazy heat back at home, so coming to Chicago was a breath of fresh air.   Last time I was in Chicago the weather was hot with patches of thunderstorms, but lady luck was on my side this time around and the weather was gorgeous.  I was itching for a run but first things first when I arrive – food!

Chicago main staple digs are its deep dish pizzas, Chicago dogs, and Italian sandwiches.  A few people stressed this and thought it might be difficult for me to find good vegan eats around the city but au contraire.  There’s always options especially in Chi-Town.  About every menu had vegan/vegetarian eats.

I was craving for a big leafy green salad and something quick because I had a busy day ahead of me.  I was at the Willis Tower (also known as Sears Tower), so there were tons of restaurants all around me.  I made my way to Market Creations since there was a huge salad bar. Got myself spinach, red onions, tomatoes, cranberries, cucumbers, Moroccan chickpeas, bowtie pasta with artichoke and olive salad.  I only had a few minutes, but found a table where I can baste myself in the sun.  I couldn’t do that back home, so I enjoyed the little time I had with my salad and the beautiful weather.

That night I met up with a few friends who happen to stop in Chi-Town from their cross country trip.  We went to concert at Millennium Park and headed to dinner at The Purple Pig.  The ambiance there was spectacular.  There’s a patio strip where you can have wine delivered to you as you wait for your table.  We got a table outside which made it perfect.  You’re probably wondering what I was able to eat.  There’s actually a variety.  To begin my friends treated me with some champagna.

I started with Tomato Bread with garlic, olive oil, and sea salt.  This was phenomenal and new to their menu.  I also had the charred green  onions with romesco sauce.  Romesco sauce is a nut and red pepper base sauce from Spain.  It went perfect with the charred green onions.  We ended the night with another toast to their travels.

The day after I went to a very hip restaurant for dinner – Revolution Brewery near Logan square.  They are known for their awesome hometown beers.  I had a cool refreshing Bottom Up Wit – Belgian-style wheat beer spiced with coriander and orange peel.  I heard the Anti-IPA is also a favorite.  That hit the spot after a long day.  I was thrilled to see so many vegetarian/vegan options on the menu.  I had the tempeh reuben with sauerkraut and vegan Russian dressing on dry rye bread – held off the cheese.   I love digs like this because they offer vegan, vegetarian, non-vegan plates, and great beer – a place to satisfy everyone.

I had to take advantage of the weather, so my last day I woke up early and went for a run.  Let me just say it was incredible.  Chicago is actually known for one of the best running places in the US.  I had so much energy running through the morning crowd/traffic and tall skylines around me.  It was bustling.

As I made it to Lakefront by the Navy Pier, it was calm and peaceful with little boats swaying against the wind.  You can see the beautiful Chicago buildings and architecture from a far.  I wish I had more time but there’s always next time.  What a experience!

Before I left for my flight, I walked over to this place called Raw in the French Market.  Raw was started by two women – Polly and Carole – who is raising their awareness around health and nutrition from raw and 100% plant-based foods.  They even have sessions to show you how to creatively prepare/cook raw dishes.  I actually met Carole and she was super nice.  She let me try all sorts of tasting samples.  I had a sample of their apple pie and I totally should have gotten that.  It was so delicious and RAW.  They also had their signature hummus and garlic sticks that were also very yummy.  I decided to grab the Kale salad since people raved about this.  They weren’t wrong.  This salad was amazing.  There was a ton of super foods in this, which I believe helped me with my long run the next day.  The salad consisted of fresh kale, cucumber, zucchini, onion, red pepper, lemon, EVOO, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, jalapeno, herbs, spices, gojiberry for sweetness, and avocados so creamy that it melts in your mouth. A delicious lunch before I headed home.

The visit to the windy city left on a good note.  A couple days of beautiful weather, great company, and a bit of Chi runs & eats.

The Vegan Athlete

Tuesday was a very exciting day because I met my idol, Brendan Brazier.  For those who don’t know him, he is a Ironman triathlete, a two-time Canadian 50k ultra-marathon champion, and **drum roll** practices 100% plant-based diet.  I signed up immediately once I found out he was hosting a seminar at the Whole Foods in Arlington.  As you can see in the picture, I was super stoked and of course I sat in the front with my googly eyes.

When I started a plant-based diet I discovered Brendan’s book, Thrive.  Although I felt better and had more energy, I struggled with my long runs.  I’m very adamant about this lifestyle, but I wanted to perform better and that’s when I found Brendan Brazier.  How can a professional triathlete be vegan and win championships?  He reveals his philosophy and secrets in Thrive.  Essentially, the seminar was a short summary of his book plus a lot of great tips not in the book.

Not to worry I took notes from the seminar, but I highly recommend his book to anyone – athlete or non-athlete, omnivore or herbivore, anyone who is interested in improving their sleep, energy, and overall lifestyle.

Stress – We all have different types of stress that effects the body.  Some are emotional, physical, and environmental.  These stress factors increases cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a hormone produced from your adrenal glands.  A small release of cortisol can be beneficial to increase your immunity and energy.  Your body is smart – it will trigger these hormones the moment it feels it needs to go in survival mode.  Too much of cortisol can decrease bone density and muscle.  It can eventually lower your immune system and cause blood sugar imbalances.  It can also led to abdominal fat and high blood pressure.  Wonder why there are people who workout everyday and don’t see results?  I use to over exercise with no breaks in the week.  I didn’t let my body heal or recover, so my body was freaking out and it created more cortisol hormones to protect myself.  Like Brendan’s experience, I started to feel weak and actually gained weight, so I did something really stupid – I lowered my calorie intake.  I damaged my body enough and now I’m depriving my body from nutrients.  I gained the weight even faster. The key is RECOVER.  My body was crying for this.  It’s so important to rest.  This will balance your stress levels, so you can perform better.

Balance – Remember in chemistry class when you had to test the pH (potential of hydrogen) with strips of paper – 1 being very acidic and 14 being very alkaline.  Our body is neutral with a pH around 7, so it’s important to maintain this balance.  I’m not saying to pull out a chemistry set to test everything you eat.  There are a few foods you should try to stay away from or take in moderation.  If the body is in a acidic state it prone to aliments.  Here’s a great diagram that summarizes acidic and alkaline foods.

Energy – Brendan talks about two types of energy – short term energy from stimulants and long term nourishment for your body.  Stimulants like coffee and sugars can give you a quick boost, but there’s a price to pay for this.  Your body works harder to digest stimulants, so it’s using a lot of energy and causing stress to your body.  Ever feel that afternoon crash?  This is what caused it.  Your body is working so hard it will result to fatigue, so you want more to get over that hump.  I like Brendan’s analogy – “think of it as a credit card”.  You can buy it now, but then .. you pay for it later.  This made me think about what I should put in my body.  Ever since I went on a plant-based diet I never get the afternoon crash.  If I feel hungry around 3 or 4, I eat a fruit and it gives me the energy I need because it is nourishing my body.

Brendan is my inspiration.  There was book signing after the seminar and I was able to speak to him for a couple minutes.  The cool thing about Brendan is that he doesn’t push you to buy his products.  He wants to help you.  Brendan is the creator of Vega products.  I will talk about Vega in another post because I actually use these before meeting Brendan.  I’m hoping to run a full marathon this year and need to know how I can improve my performance on a plant-based diet.  He gave me solid advice on what to eat and how to train.  Not once did he mention his products to me.   He is indeed a very classy and fit athlete.

I ended the night by picking up dinner from the Whole Foods salad bar, which by the way, is awesome.  I love the brown paper boxes you pack your salad in.  Here’s what I had:  chard, lettuce, wheat berries, corn, radish, balsamic tofu and mushrooms, red cabbage, chick peas, tomato, kidney beans.  I didn’t add any dressing because it’s already full of flavors.  There’s no need to hinder the freshness.  It was a delicious meal to end my evening.

Reference: Thrive by Brendan Brazier

Dining Vegan

As much as I enjoy experimenting with vegan recipes, I love to dine out and enjoy the company of others.  Most of my family and friends are omnivores, so I go to restaurants they choose.  I do get questions like what do vegans eat when they go out?  You don’t need to live in LA or chomp on lettuce eating out as a vegan.  You don’t even need to go to specific vegan digs to enjoy a good meal.   I never felt limited.  You just have think outside of the “menu”.

Here’s a couple tips dining vegan:

Research.  Read the menu a head of time.  You’ll be prepared to know what to order, what to ask, and how to be creative.  If it boils down to limited choices then you’ll know to eat something before you leave, but save room for snacks.  It can get awkward if your friends are having dinner and you’re not eating, so munch on fries and have a beer.  You also want to reassure your friends that you’re fine if there’s not a lot of vegan choices.  By the way, there is always a minimum of one or two vegan items in any menu.  I love when people think about me, but rest assured this will never deter me from having a great time with good company.

Ask.  Don’t be afraid to ask off the menu.  I asked many times and gotten great suggestions.  In fact, chefs might make dishes for you because they’re excited to experiment with something new.  My family wanted to go out for Japanese ramen from Maneki Neko at Falls Church VA, but there’s only ramen with meat listed on the menu.  I asked the waitress and the chefs were delighted to make me a vegetable miso ramen.  It was spectacular!  My husband even got jealous of the ramen I got.

Remove.  There are items that can be removed and it tastes just as good.  I was recently at Peking Gourmet for Father’s Day.  My dad loves this place, so I was looking at ways to order.  I always loved Chinese pancakes, cucumbers, scallions, and hoisin sauce (despite the name there’s actually no seafood in this).  I can still enjoy this with everyone and leave the duck out.  I just filled it up with more cucumbers.

Substitute.  If I see something like vegetables on the menu I’ll ask to get that substituted for my dish.  We were at Arcadia in Richmond VA and they had beets with a meat dish, so I asked if I can substitute one of the dishes with beets.  Sure enough they were happy to do that.  I started out with the roasted turnips & beets, polenta, chive sauce, and gala apple.  It was perfect.  The beets and turnips complimented the polenta very well.

Sides.  You can have sides as a la carte or tapas style.  There are always sides that are vegan-friendly.  If that’s the case, order a couple dishes for your meal like this side salad and sweet potato fries I had at Bistro 27, also in Richmond VA.

Digs to satisfy both parties.  If you have the option to choose a restaurant go for Asian, Mexican, Italian, and Indian.  They will have vegan options for you, so both you and your friends can enjoy.  For instance, my husband asked me to choose a place for lunch while we were in Tampa.  I was interested in Taco Bus because number one it was on the Food Network and it had vegan and meat options.  My vegan taco was so delicious my husband had one too.

As long as your creative there are no limits dining vegan.

PB&P Sammich

I know!  You must think I’m strange or preggers (don’t get any ideas now), but this is incredible.  I love PICKLES and PEANUT BUTTER, so when I saw this at The Bricks of Ybor I had to try it.  Sure enough I’m in heaven.  The combination of sweet and sour flavors amazed me, as well as the texture – crunchiness of the pickles and fluffiness from the bread.  I made a YUM-O version of what I had at The Bricks.  This time around I used crunchy peanut butter and grilled the bread for a crispy outside.

Inspired by The Bricks of Ybor – Tampa Florida

Ingredients

  • Unsalted crunchy peanut butter (Choosy moms choose natural pb.  Try to stay away from JIF or Skippy.  There’s added sugars and all sorts of unhealthy ingredients)
  • Kosher pickles
  • 2 slices of wheat bread
  • Earth Balance Butter (non-dairy butter)

Instructions

  1. Spread peanut butter on two slices of bread.
  2. Press pickles between paper towels to absorb the juices from the jar.
  3. Layer pickles.
  4. Spread non-dairy butter on both ends.
  5. Grill both sides over medium heat until golden.
  6. Enjoy!