My Funny Valentine Muffins

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Really? Muffins *again?*

What would make the most perfect, sexy muffin, you ask? (Of course muffins can be sexy. Don’t knock it till you try it…) Why, raspberries and chocolate chips, obv. The other day, I was craving raspberry-chocolate…something. Knowing my muffin fixation as we all do, this was the obvious choice. I wanted plenty of chocolate and raspberries in a muffin that had good lift and tenderness but was still pretty wholesome and healthy.

Let me tell you, friends, we are in luck. One of my other perennial favorite Alton Brown recipes is his blueberry muffins. They’re loaded with berries and just perfect and fabulous in every way. Unless you’re looking for a vegan muffin recipe, but that’s where I come in, after all. If you were to accuse me of subbing chocolate chips for the blueberries at various points in my misspent youth, you mightn’t be far off the mark.

Alton’s muffins always had the perfect cakey texture and nice crumb that I was looking for in my sexy muffins, and I chose his as a starting point in hopes of recreating that. I’m not above telling you, it worked like a charm.

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I’m calling these “My Funny Valentine” muffins because they’re not cute. I used most of a bag of frozen raspberries, and when you put thawed berries in batter, they turn the batter kind of purply-grey, but be not afraid. Fresh raspberries would be prettier, but not taste better and cost at least twice as much. These muffins are, however, a fabulous Valentine breakfast or, you know, for whenever. I managed to recreate the texture of Alton’s muffins, with whole grains, less fat and sugar. You could have these for dessert, breakfast, or a snack. Or stick a birthday candle in one and be all romantical and give it to your honey bunny.

You could also sub 1 1/2 cups of blueberries for all the raspberries and chocolate chips and have some fabulous vegan blueberry muffins. That is, if chocolate and raspberries aren’t your thing…?

Vegan Raspberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

Adapted from Alton Brown’s Blueberry Muffins

Printable Recipe

1 1/2 cups white wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
heavy pinch salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 mashed banana
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 tbsp flax meal
1/2 cup nondairy milk
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup chocolate chips

First, whisk your flax meal into your milk. Throw together your flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix with your fingers to distribute and make a well in the middle. Dump your oil, banana, agave, and flax-milk, and fold together a few strokes with a rubber scraper. Fold in your berries and chocolate chips. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and fill the cups most of the way. These will puff up nicely, and for me it made exactly 12. Bake at 350 until a knife or toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes?

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Plant-Based on a Tuesday: Magical Chipotle Black Beans

DSCI2226No, I am not overselling this not-quite-really-even-a-recipe. Literally, I make this every week on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. One batch serves my voracious husband and me for dinner, with enough left over for the next day’s lunch. We tend to eat them by the bowl with avocado slices on top, but you could absolutely serve over rice or in a taco or whatever. I like them alongside some oven-roasted potatoes.

These beans happened about a month ago when I looked around the kitchen and was like, seriously, we have nothing to eat. I improvised and ended up with this, and it was amazing. Easy enough for a weeknight (one pan), crazy cheap, and all made out of things I have in the pantry and freezer.

Canned chipotles in adobo are in all grocery stores these days, and they’re definitely something you should just have on hand, like onions and garlic. You will never use the whole can at once, but these guys will keep in a sandwich bag in your freezer indefinitely. I use a whole pepper in this dish, but you don’t need to. I like it relatively spicy. If you have some mushrooms on hand, throw them in with the onions. Leftover corn kernels too. You could put some canned tomatoes in here, but I’m just as happy skipping them. This recipe is a springboard. A delicious stopgap. Cooking vegan dinners on weeknights is absolutely possible, and can even be easy, with a couple of recipes like this in your repertoire. (We have spaghetti every week too.)

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Nooooom……….

Vegan Chipotle Black Beans

Printable Recipe

2 cans black beans

1 large onion

1 large chipotle pepper (or less–you could start with half a pepper and see what you think)

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

1-2 tsp olive oil

salt to taste

Chop your onion and throw it in a big nonstick skillet with the oil. Turn the heat to about medium and let it brown as much as you like, stirring occasionally. Pull your chipotle pepper out of the freezer and dice it small, seeds and all. When your onions have a little color on them, throw in the pepper. Drain and rinse your beans and throw them in with your pepper and onion. Add the cumin, oregano, and salt (you shouldn’t need much salt– canned beans are pretty salty). Let it all cook together, stirring occasionally, till the beans look less shiny and get a starchy coating, and the mixture kind of tightens up.

Another Cool Meditation Thing

Yoga practitioners and meditators sometimes chant mantras in Sanskrit. The repetition of speaking and hearing the sound can be very meditative, and so it’s often something people do as they begin or end a meditation. Lots of yoga teachers will begin and/or end a class by chanting Om a few times. The chanting serves to focus one’s attention and calm the mind. When I go to a yoga class after work, a little chanting in the beginning really serves to get my mind off of work and into the yoga practice.

My introduction to chanting was in yoga school, where we dabbled in it a few times. I’m very much a chanting novice, but I like it quite a bit. Chanting sounds very spiritual, and it can be if you feel that way about it. Some mantras acknowledge a god and have connotations of prayer as I understand it, but plenty of other mantras mean things like “peace” and “may all beings in the universe be well” and “I honor the divinity within myself,” which I think are pretty easy for people to get behind, regardless of faith tradition. And hey, if you find one that rubs you the wrong way, pick a different one. Everybody has mantras they like and return to, and others that don’t speak to them, for any number of reasons.

Ok, fine. Chanting in Sanskrit sounds pretty weird. If I’m being honest, the first about 5 times you do it will be weird. You won’t feel centered, and you’ll sit there wondering what the hell is going on and questioning the decisions you made that landed you on a meditation cushion mumbling in a dead language. Don’t worry. It gets better. And stop mumbling. Own your flagrant mispronunciation. It’s a dead language, after all. Everyone is butchering it.

So, I was thrilled to find this free three-week mantra meditation course-journey-thing. Deva Premal and Miten are very famous yoga musicians–she sings a lot of Sanskrit mantras. I haven’t heard him sing on the albums I’ve downloaded, so I’m not sure if he sings too or not. Anyway, I like their music a lot for practicing yoga and qigong. Their sound is beautiful and Deva has a wonderful voice. It’s good for yoga practice because the songs are kind of repetitive and constant. They don’t change tempo or get quieter or louder, and the lyrics are repetitive too, and in Sanskrit, so the music is just pretty without being distracting in any way from your practice.

Anyway. Back to the mantra meditation. It appears (as of this writing, only the first three meditations are live) that each meditation is about 12-15 minutes long. They introduce the mantra, tell you what it means, and then chant it with you with some musical accompaniment for a few minutes. Simple enough. I’m finding that opening my meditation with chanting allows my mind to clear and my attention to focus much more effectively than just sitting quietly. I’m a pretty auditory person, so this probably should have been obvious.

So, this is just to say, I think this mantra meditation journey is fun, easy, and an interesting addition to a meditation practice. If you’re just starting out with meditation, this mantra course makes a great jumping-off point as well. Also, it’s free. Where’s the downside?

One-Day Produce Cleanse

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The past few weeks, the hubs and I have been waiting for some news about a project that he’s been working on for months and months, and I’ve found myself emotionally eating, especially at work. My office is a fantasyland of free snacks, many of which are “healthy,” like pita chips and peanuts and things. So, I’ve been eating more vegan junk that I shouldn’t be eating and it made me feel heavy and slow.

So, on Saturday, I decided to do a cleanse-fast-other trendy word day. I did this a few months ago and it made me feel surprisingly awesome, rather than really tired, which was what I expected. Here’s what I do, when I make up this sort of thing for myself:

I eat raw fruit and veggies all day. I don’t count or track them. No condiments, grains, breads, beans, meat (duh), oil, nuts, seeds, or condiments. I only put nondairy milk and a little sweetener in my coffee, and that’s all. I could be more of a purist about clear beverages, but this is about feeling good, not deprived.

Sometimes I have plain boiled or steamed veggies (things like cooking greens, potatoes, veggies I don’t like raw) for dinner, with only a little salt, pepper, and maybe vinegar.

I drink coffee, herbal tea, and water with lemon juice.

Some people respond well to skipping meals and fasting, and some people don’t. If you have issues with hypoglycemia, these temporary calorie restriction practices, of fasting or cleansing or whatever, are probably not for you.

For most healthy adults, though, the occasional fast or calorie-restricted day is no problem from a health perspective. Many religious practices involve the occasional ceremonial fast, to remind worshipers to be conscious of an aspect or aspects of their faith. The practice is meant to help people be mindful and turn inward.

If you’re going to do a produce cleanse like this, you want to pick a day when you don’t have a whole lot going on. A slow day at work, or a weekend day when you’re not going out to dinner. You would be a super lame dinner date. This is a cleanse–it’s meant to help clear the scrungies out of your digestive tract and give your body a chance to process some of the junk (additives, stabilizers, weird isolated starches and things) from the processed crap you’ve been eating before you go junking yourself up again.

Want to try a one-day produce cleanse?

It’s cheap, you don’t need to buy any weird expensive juices, and you can do it whenever is a convenient day for you. Here’s how:

  • Before your cleanse day, make sure you have plenty of produce on hand–fruit and veggies that you like to eat raw.
  • Prep some fruit and veggies the night before, or first thing in the morning. First thing Saturday morning, I trimmed celery and carrots into sticks and dismantled a pineapple into chunks.
  • Make your lemon water. Lemon water is weirdly important to this, more than you’d think. I just mix the juice of one lemon with two quarts of water in a pitcher and keep it in the fridge. Lemon water helps keep your hunger in check and makes the whole process go much more smoothly.
  • Then, on your cleanse day, start with a big glass of lemon water, before your coffee and breakfast. This is your primary drink through the day.
  • Breakfast is fruit- a banana and an orange, apple, grapefruit, pear, whatever. Minimum of two handheld-size fruits per meal. This is not about being hungry all day.
  • If you drink coffee or black tea, have a cup or two, not a pot. A little sweetener and nondairy milk is ok here, but this is the only sweetener you get all day.
  • Snack on your veggie sticks and other raw fruit and veggies. Not juice. Juice does not make you feel full, because the fiber is stripped out. Eat whole produce. Snack all you want.
  • More raw fruit and veg for lunch, maybe a salad dressed with lemon juice or plain balsamic vinegar and a little salt.
  • Dinner is salad, or more raw fruit and veg, or if you want to steam or boil some veggies you don’t enjoy raw, do that. No adding oil, and no condiments other than vinegar, lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper.
  • Drink lots of lemon water and unsweetened herbal or green tea.
  • Dried fruit does not count as raw for these purposes. It’s one day. You’ll live.

I’m not throwing this out as a Great Diet Plan, I’m just saying that when I get off-track and find myself cutting corners and eating processed junk, I don’t feel energetic and good, and this is what I do to clear out my body and start over with a cleaner slate. I’m throwing it out as a suggestion if you find yourself in similar situations.

Have you tried fasting or cleansing? What do you think about it?

 

Veganized Martha’s Banana Bread

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Well, hello, beautiful…

When I was a kid, I never liked banana or zucchini bread. I’m still pretty picky about them, but I’ve found/created recipes for both that I like, a lot. I’ve already shared my veganized chocolate zucchini cake, but today I’m tackling banana bread.

In law school a few years ago, I stumbled on Martha Stewart’s banana bread recipe. It’s my favorite. I found this one and it was the only one I made for years, and it’s amazing. It’s dead simple, involves few ingredients, and comes together like a dream. Not that I’m advising this sort of behavior, but if you happened to switch out the nuts for chocolate chips, that’s delicious too. Also eminently suitable for muffins.

My boss had a birthday this week, and so I figured banana bread was just the thing. Vaguely suitable for breakfast or lunch, needs no frosting, and easy to transport. But could I veganize Martha’s recipe I loved so much?

Turns out I can! This was one I was a little intimidated to try, because as the only banana bread recipe I really like, the bar was set pretty high. But fear not, internet, I’ve got you covered. This one, in Martha’s tradition, comes together really quickly and is just as delicious as I’d hoped.

The magic in Martha’s recipe is the sour cream, and so I recreated that with tofu. There are scads of recipes online for tofu sour cream– you pretty much buzz a block of silken tofu in the food processor with a little lemon juice and/or vinegar, with maybe some sugar and/or salt, and use it like sour cream. Tofutti makes a vegan sour cream, but it’s a) full of stabilizers and science and b) I don’t have any on hand. So I got around this by putting some tofu in the blender with a little lemon juice, and the soy milk and flax meal for the flax eggs. You end up with a flax-tofu goop that will serve as both your eggs and sour cream.

The rest comes together in a totally predictable fashion–mash your bananas first (a potato masher is the perfect tool for this. A little lumpy is good. You want mashed, not smooth.) Then add your goop from the blender and your other liquids. Mix well, then add the dry stuff and fold in the nuts/chips.

I had carob chips on hand, and they’re just great in this banana bread. I don’t love them by themselves like chocolate chips, but they’re ok. I actually really like the carob chips for this banana bread, because when they melt they end up almost more butterscotchy than chocolatey, which in banana bread is really nice. And the carob chips I bought are smaller than most chocolate chips, which can sometimes kind of drift to the bottom of muffins and quickbreads. Jerks. All the same, I’ve made Martha’s recipe with chocolate chips rather than nuts, and it’s *amazing,* if you’re into that sort of thing.

I made two loaves, and this recipe is for two. You  could absolutely halve it, but I find that banana bread is one of those things that you bake for people, so I tend to do the two–keep one and give the other away.

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::drools::

Vegan Carob-Chip Banana Bread

 

6 oz. silken tofu
2/3 c nondairy milk
juice of 1/4 lemon
5 tbsp flax meal
4 very ripe large bananas
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups AP flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups carob or chocolate chips, or chopped pecans or walnuts

First, put your tofu, milk, lemon juice, and flax in your blender and buzz till smooth. Mash your bananas in a large mixing bowl, and add the mixture from the blender. Then add the sugar, vanilla, oil, and applesauce and mix well. Sprinkle the salt and baking powder evenly over the mixture, then add the flours and fold the batter together. Fold the chips or nuts in last. Distribute the batter evenly between two large, well-greased loaf plans and bake at 350 for a good hour–test with a knife or toothpick. Mine probably took 70 minutes.

Study shows that Meditation Lowers Cortisol, a Stress Hormone

More evidence that meditation is good for us! A UC Davis study showed that participants’ levels of cortisol, a stress hormone (I’ve seen quacky commercials associating it with belly fat too), were lower after a meditation retreat than before the retreat. Participants filled out a questionnaire about mindfulness behaviors before and after the study.

At an individual level, there was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol both before and after the retreat. Individuals whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat showed a decrease in cortisol.

“The more a person reported directing their cognitive resources to immediate sensory experience and the task at hand, the lower their resting cortisol,” Jacobs [a postdoctoral researcher] said.

The research did not show a direct cause and effect, Jacobs emphasized. Indeed, she noted that the effect could run either way — reduced levels of cortisol could lead to improved mindfulness, rather than the other way around. Scores on the mindfulness questionnaire increased from pre- to post-retreat, while levels of cortisol did not change overall.

I don’t think it matters whether there’s a direct cause and effect–whether low cortisol yields mindfulness or mindfulness lowers cortisol. The take-home point remains the same–meditation lowers stress. You don’t need to think about lowering stress or remind yourself to relax or berate yourself for taking things too seriously. All you need to do is close your eyes and sit for a few minutes, and then do it again tomorrow. The good stuff will just happen on its own. You will become more mindful in your daily life, you will be less stressed, and, apparently, your resting cortisol levels will drop too. Real zen master stuff!

“The idea that we can train our minds in a way that fosters healthy mental habits and that these habits may be reflected in mind-body relations is not new; it’s been around for thousands of years across various cultures and ideologies,” Jacobs said. “However, this idea is just beginning to be integrated into Western medicine as objective evidence accumulates. Hopefully, studies like this one will contribute to that effort.”

Indeed. Also, meditation apparently makes you more compassionate, too.

Newsflash: Drug Companies Are More Interested in Treating You Than Curing You

Because they can only cure you once. They can treat you forever. A Duke Medicine study found that diabetes research is focused on treatment, not prevention or cures.

Of 2,484 trials related to diabetes identified by the researchers, 75 percent focused on diabetes treatment, while 10 percent were designed to test a preventive measure. Most of the interventions – 63 percent – involved a drug, while 12 percent were behavioral.

75 percent on treatment. 63 percent about drugs. I am not, by any stretch, opposed to treating diabetics or to finding better treatment for them. I would prefer, however, that we spend some time and energy on curing diabetes. And preventing people from getting it. Because being sick sucks, and it’s disgusting that the incentives are to keep us sick rather than make us well.

(You know what can reverse diabetes? A plant-based diet. But who profits off of that? Okay, the people writing books about it, fine, but they’re not making drug company-style profits. And you know what? God bless them for helping to make veganism cool.)

How much do MS drugs cost? $45,000-$60,000 annually. No wonder we’re seeing new oral medications–MS is a cash cow. (If you don’t have good insurance, most drug companies have assistance programs so you can afford your medication.) But it also illustrates how disinterested drug companies are in curing MS. We, and our insurance companies, are their golden egg-laying goose.

Which brings me to my other point. I suspect that MS drugs are expensive because so many people who have MS can pay. MS prevalence correlates with wealth, and it’s very much a first-world disease, although as developing nations…develop, it is spreading. I think that the drugs are so expensive because MS is a disease disproportionately affecting privileged white ladies. We have insurance, and so the operative question becomes, how much will our insurance policies pay? A lot, clearly.

I don’t see these incentives rationalizing until we have honest-to-Jesus socialized medicine in the U.S., and I hope that the state-based exchanges set to come online in 2014 will be a big step in that direction.

Sitting with our Fears

Annette Funicello passed away last week. She was 70 and had had progressive MS for many years. I read that she was diagnosed in 1987 but didn’t go public for five years. I’ve also read that she’d been pretty much bedridden and unable to speak or feed herself for the past several years. My sympathies go out to her family.

This is big news in MS circles because Annette was one of the famous people who had MS, and we all have a tendency to look to them for hope and to set an example. My inclination is to hope that her death was a mercy, a relief from suffering in a body that functioned less and less over time.

Annette’s death is scary for those of us with MS. Canadian TV has a video I can’t watch yet about her life with MS. Her death brings up a lot of fear for us, and it’s just something we have to sit with for a while. It’s easy to try to make distinctions–there weren’t any good drugs on the market when she was diagnosed, my case is different from hers because… But those distinctions are ultimately false or unhelpful. We all have the same disease, and it’s unpredictable for everyone.

I was going to say that it’s scary because this could happen to any of us–but I don’t think that anymore. I don’t see MS as completely out of our control. I believe now that that’s a load of crap, at least for those of us who have been diagnosed early in the disease course. The drugs are getting better at preventing relapses and disability, and there is so much we can do in our own lives to be healthy.

Ultimately, it comes down to a fear of death, which is something we all share. MS just makes the specter of disability progression more real than it is for other people. This is a fear we all need to sit with sometimes, because it’s not going to go away or get better. Maybe it changes, but death and fear will always haunt us.

After sitting with my own fear for a few days, I feel more appreciative of the life I have, which is sacred. I’m determined all over again to take care of myself and live consciously. It’s too easy to lose that and go through the motions, so periodic reminders to consciously return to ourselves are important.

I’m too young to feel very connected to Annette through her career in singing and acting, but it’s clear she was loved by a lot of people. She inspires me to sit with my fears, dig deep, and live fully.

MS Patients Taking Pills are More Optimistic About Their Disease

A recent survey found that MS patients on an oral medication are more optimistic about the course of their disease than patients on the injectables. The medications in question are the disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) on the market for relapsing-remitting MS, which are meant to lower relapse rates and help postpone/prevent the onset of disability.

I think this is fascinating, because I think the role that MS occupies in our lives plays an important role in the course the disease can take. According to the survey:

More than 950 MS patients were asked to predict whether they expected their disease to improve, worsen or be the same in a year. Among patients taking oral DMDs, 34 percent expect their disease to be better and 49 percent expect their disease to worsen, compared with 16 percent of patients taking non-oral DMDs expecting their disease to improve and 62 percent expecting it to worsen.

Pills are just easier. A pill for MS makes it like all kinds of other health conditions that people manage with medication, whether it’s their cholesterol or blood pressure or depression or anxiety or acid reflux. Taking a pill for MS makes the disease more like an immune system issue that you take medication to manage.

Surprise. Injections are a bummer.

Am I Getting Enough Iron?

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How’s a kitty to know?

A commenter asked the other day about how to get enough iron on a meat-free diet, which is a great question, so I did some research to come up with a good answer. You can get enough iron without eating meat, and you don’t need to obsessively keep track of how much iron you’re getting if you eat a varied diet with lots of legumes and dark green leaves.

First, I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist, I just read a lot, so nothing about this is intended as professional advice. If you have reason to believe you may be anemic or have low iron stores, you should get a blood test. If you are anemic, I would suggest you ask your doctor about taking iron supplements, or vegetarian sources of dietary iron. Some breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, which may be a good option.

You can find iron in lentils, soybeans (and soymilk), blackstrap molasses (drizzle it over your soy ice cream–nooom), quinoa, and spinach. There is iron, but somewhat less, in other greens and other legumes too. So, if you’re eating legumes and greens most days, and your iron levels are pretty normal, you should be fine.

The main issue around plant-based eating and iron isn’t quantity, as much as it is absorption. Iron in meat is easier for your body to absorb than iron in plants or supplements. If you want to maximize your ability absorb the iron in your diet from plants, try combining food rich in vitamin C with foods rich in iron. Have an orange or some pineapple for dessert to get all the iron from your lentils and spinach. Many fruits, and lots of veggies, have loads of vitamin C, so this shouldn’t be difficult.

I don’t keep a strictly vegan diet, but since I’ve given up meat, dairy, and eggs (okay, almost), I’ve found that the nutrition advice I look for now is geared toward vegans, because by and large, that’s how I eat. I read Vegan for Life last summer, and found it very informative and helpful.

The authors of Vegan for Life are both dietitians, and I’ve poked around their blogs for advice on vegan diets and iron.

As luck would have it, they both discussed iron this week, making my homework much easier. Ginny Messina advises plant-based eaters to think twice before abandoning our cast iron pans, since we seldom need to be concerned about excess iron.

Jack Norris lists 3 simple changes one woman made that cured her iron deficiency. If your iron is on the low side, these are easy changes to make before you consider making any bigger changes.

Norris also has an excellent post about iron on VeganHealth.org, which has great information about plant-based sources of dietary iron, and how we can absorb it effectively.

What do you think? Definitely let me know in the comments if you have more questions I haven’t answered here, or if you have other nutrition questions. I’m happy to geek out about nutrients!