Italian Power Bowl

Do you have anything that you just dread so much it builds up in your head to feel like you’re about to face the worst kind of torture? For me it’s going to the doctor. I’ve had a couple of experiences in the last few years that left me traumatized and ever since then fear of going for a checkup has me on edge for weeks. Plus I have terrible health anxiety and always assume I’m gonna learn the worst. But the doctor will only refill your meds for so long before they realize you should’ve had a visit with them months ago. So, last week, it was finally my time to suck it up and say what’s up, Doc.

Adding to the pressure was the fact that I was seeing a new doctor in a new practice, because…American insurance. But of course, for all my anxiety and worry, it actually went very well. She was very friendly and very thorough. The entire time I was waiting for her to bring up my weight and talk down to me like I probably live off fast food everyday. But instead at the end she said “by the way I noticed from your old records that you’re about 35 pounds down, that’s awesome keep up the good work!” That moment meant a lot to me, because even though I still have so much more to go, she noticed the effort so far. I’m going to keep her, and maybe not even be scared of seeing her again in a few months.

I would never claim anxiety is a blessing, but there is one really great thing about dreading a medical checkup. I’m so scared of getting bad news, or even judgmental remarks, that I’m on my best nutritional behavior leading up to the visit. It’s kind of like when you just coast along all semester and then when it’s time for the final exam you stay up all night cramming. That usually worked well for me, though. It’s not a great health lifestyle, but I like the extra boost of motivation from time to time, anyway.

Diet rules

My best behavior nutritionally is pretty simple. Lots of vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat, with some cheese or full fat dairy and fresh fruit here and there. Limited carbs. No sugar, no starch. Whole or homemade foods.

In terms of macronutrients, my goal is to keep carbs between 10-15%, fat between 60-70%, and protein over 20%. Generally I’m right around 15-63-22. Tracking these is crucial for me because my instinct is always too many carbs and too little protein. I use Cronometer because that’s what my dietician-friend told me to do. (She also set those macros.) 

Since I had a doctor’s appointment coming up, which meant new weight recorded, new blood panel data, and with this new doctor, I really wanted to have my body in the best shape I could manage. So that meant no leniency on the “best behavior” nutrition. In my life, lots of vegetables with healthy fat and protein means lots of salads.

I actually love salads. Out of everything I make I think I might be best at salads. I’m more of an ideas person than a skills person and salads often don’t take too much skill or effort, but can seem elaborate because they are colorful and have multiple parts. I really, really love colorful food. Too much beige on a plate makes me sad (unless it’s cookies.)

Mangia Verdi

This Italian Power Bowl has become one of my favorite things to make. It’s incredibly healthy: only 8 net carbs, multiple protein sources, and healthy, plant-based fats. It’s also pretty easy. It has a lot of components so the hardest thing is the timing. But it’s a collection of simple ingredients that you can easily tackle one at a time if you don’t like to multitask, without doing much damage to the final product.

Parts of the bowl: 

  • Greens – I prefer an arugula & spinach mix for this but I’ve used spring mix and it’s still great. You’ll toss them in olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Chia Seeds – I put chia on almost everything…
  • Asparagus – lightly roasted 
  • Shaved Brussels sprouts – pan fried in butter 
  • Tomatoes – cherry, Roma, whatever you have
  • Avocado – almost every meal I eat has avocado and this is no exception. 
  • Toasted pine nuts
  • Mozzarella balls/pearls – found in the grocery’s fancy cheese section 
  • Herbed Chicken – chicken sautéed with herbs & spices 
  • Pesto! – A liberal dollop of a nice, olive oil based pesto (not vegetable/sunflower) is what really takes this bowl from boring dinner salad with chicken to “I feel like I could open my own cafe tomorrow.” 

Like I said, timing is important because otherwise you’ll be wishing you had 7 hands or it will take a long time. Here’s how I run it:

Start by toasting your pine nuts in the oven for 8 minutes. I don’t bother to pre-heat. I set the oven at 400ºF (for the asparagus later) and by the time it’s preheated the pine nuts are done.

While that’s happening, set up your greens. I use 2 ounces, which is a pretty hearty amount, enough to½ll a large dinner bowl. Top the greens with a squeeze of lemon (just a ¼ of a lemon is enough) and 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper if you want. Then toss the greens. Sprinkle a teaspoon of chia seeds over them.

When you’re arranging the bowl, work clockwise adding each ingredient in its own spot around the edge of the bowl.

Arrange ingredients on top of greens clockwise around the bowl, with the pesto in the middle

Now you can get the cold items ready. You can use whatever tomatoes you want. I like cherry or campari. If you’re using cherry, just cut them in half, or if you choose something bigger then chop them. Put them in your bowl at 12 o’clock. Now you can pull out your mozzarella pearls and set them up next to the tomatoes. Don’t forget to take your pine nuts out of the oven!

Next we prep the cooked stuff. Cut some asparagus so you have just the spearhead tops. Place on a baking sheet, spritz with olive oil (or toss in ½ tsp if you don’t have a spritzer), and add a dash of salt and pepper. I use about 8 pieces per salad.

For the chicken, trim one boneless, skinless breast per bowl. I like to have about 4 ounces once cooked. For every piece of chicken you’re cooking, mix ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder, ⅛ teaspoon salt, a few twists of black pepper (I’d do five) and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning. (Note: If you don’t have Italian pre-mixed you can use ¼ each basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.) If you’re in the mood for spice, sprinkle in some red pepper flakes. Add ¾ teaspoon of your spice mix to the chicken (just the side facing up).

Next the Brussels sprouts. I buy mine pre-shaved, so really there’s not much prep there other than measuring out how much you want. (I get mine at Whole Foods.) If you can’t find them shaved, you can slice them, making sure to save whatever leaves fall off. I use 3 ounces per salad, which ends up being about ¾ cup when cooked. If you want more, by all means go big!

Once everything is prepped, get the chicken started. Heat about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil per chicken breast on medium-high heat. (If you are only making one piece use a smaller skillet so the oil doesn’t have too spread too thin.) Add chicken to hot oil with the spiced side facing down and unseasoned side facing up. Add the rest of the spice mix to the bare side (it should be a a heaping ½ inch per side). Let cook one minute then flip. Depending on thickness, it generally takes 15 minutes to cook. Be sure to flip every few minutes to avoid burning or sticking to the pan.

Meanwhile, get your sprouts going. Heat one tablespoon of butter on medium-high in a medium sized skillet. Add the sprouts to the pan, spread over the whole surface so they are laid as flat as possible without overlapping. Sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Let cook without touching for about 3 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. Then toss them, turn heat to high and cook another 2 minutes, which will crisp them up a bit. When they’re done, let them cool for a couple of minutes.

Shaved brussels sprouts arranged in the skillet.

Put the asparagus in the oven and cook for five minutes. While that’s happening, Slice the cooked chicken. I just use a fork and a steak knife and cut it into strips. Simple.

Add all the cooked ingredients, as well as a few slices of avocado, completing the circle around the edge of the bowl. Finally, in the middle add a heaping tablespoon of pesto. I usually put the pesto in the microwave for about 7-10 seconds just so the oil can liquefy and it’s not too cold.

And then you’re done! If you can multitask it takes very little time to prep, and in my opinion it tastes a lot more extravagant than it really is, which is the best quality a meal can have in my opinion!

I love all the different flavors of this bowl, how they are unique but complement each other. Even though it is quite robust it doesn’t taste heavy. The mixture of warm and cold ingredients means it will be great in any season too. I find I feel very satisfied after the Italian Power Bowl, because it is a lot of healthy, nutrient-rich food, without anything that will make you feel sluggish like a big bowl of pasta would. Eating food that is super clean, super easy, and still super flavorful and delicious makes trying to lose weight a much more pleasant process.

Italian Power Bowl, mixed up salad style

Italian Power Bowl

  • Servings: 1-2
  • Print

    Notes
  1. This is a BIG salad. I always finish it myself but normal people could probably split it. Especially if it’s lunch or you have something like bread on the side.
  2. The amounts I included below are suited to my personal taste in order to calculate nutritional data. If you like tomatoes a lot and hate Brussels sprouts, adjust accordingly. Personally, I like a lot of greens.
  3. Like quantities, the style of ingredients is my personal preference but easily substituted: use spring mix instead of spinach/arugula, cherry tomatoes instead of campari, shredded mozzarella instead of pearls, etc.
  4. If you don’t have a pre-mixed Italian Seasoning you can use ¼ teaspoon each oregano, basil, rosemary (crushed), thyme, and a dash of parsley.

Ingredients

    Salad:
  • 56g (2oz) Spinach/Arugula salad blend
  • 1 ½ tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • Wedge of Lemon
  • 1 tsp Chia Seeds
  • 1-2 Campari Tomatoes
  • 45g Mozzarella Pearls
  • 14g (½ oz) Pine Nuts
  • 8-10 Asparagus Spears, tops only
  • 4 slices (1½ – 2oz) Avocado
  • Chicken:
  • 1 boneless, skinless Chicken Breast (6oz raw, 4-4.5oz cooked)
  • 2 tsp EVOO
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • ⅛ tsp Garlic Powder
  • ⅛ tsp Salt
  • 5 twists or ⅛ tsp Black Pepper
  • Brussels Sprouts:
  • 3oz Shaved Brussels Sprouts
  • 1 TBL Butter, separated into halves
  • salt to taste

Directions


1. Set oven to 400ºF. Spread pine nuts over a baking sheet and toast in oven for 7-8 minutes. (No need to pre-heat.)
2. In a large dinner bowl, toss greens with olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle chia seeds on top.
3. Add diced tomatoes and mozzarella pearls to salad, placing each item along the edge of the bowl moving clockwise.
4. Mix spices (italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt & pepper) in small bowl.
5. Add heaping ½ teaspoon of spice mix to uncooked chicken breast.
6. Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a saute pan on medium-high heat.
7. Add chicken, with spice side down. Sprinkle the rest of the spice mix over exposed side of the chicken.
8. After 90 seconds, flip the chicken. Then again another 90 seconds later. Continue to saute chicken, flipping every few minutes, for about 10 more minutes or until finished.
9. Set asparagus on a baking tray. Spritz with olive oil, add salt & pepper to taste. Bake in oven for 5-6 minutes.
10. Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a medium saute pan.
11. When butter is hot, add shaved brussels sprouts, distributing over the pan so that they are in one layer, not on top of each other. Cook on medium for 3 minutes then flip.
12. 2 minutes after flipping, add the other ½ tablespoon of butter, sprinkle with salt, and turn the temperature to high. Stir to incorporate butter.
13. After another 2 minutes, (or when butter is fully melted), remove pan from heat.
14. Remove Asparagus if you haven’t already.
15. Slice chicken into strips or chunks.
16. Arrange all ingredients in the bowl, lining everything clockwise around the edge.
17. Heat 2 tablespoons of pesto in the microwave for 10 seconds, then add to salad in the middle of the bowl.
18. Eat!

Directions


Nutrition

Per salad: 822 Calories; 63g Fat; 46g Protein; 10.6 Net Carbs; 9.6g Fiber

Omelette Taco! An easy 10 minute Super Meal

Spinach & Onion Omelette with cheddar, grilled in a low-carb wheat wrap, with turkey bacon and avocado sandwiched inside.
Spinach & Onion Omelette Taco with Turkey Bacon and Avocado

Life is stressful right now. There’s a lot going on in the world. And there’s a lot going on in my house. Things are chaotic.

Under normal circumstances, I cook or prepare 2-3 meals a day, 6-7 days a week. I try to avoid processed convenience foods. It’s a privilege of being underemployed and single that I have the opportunity to eat as healthy and clean as I want without a lot of time constraints. But when life is stressful and there are lots of other things to think about and do, it’s just not realistic to spend hours in the kitchen everyday. (I know for many people this is always the case.)

I try to maintain a diet that is low carb, high fat, with a good amount of lean protein. A lot of times that means chicken or fish with a big salad or cooked vegetables or both. Those things aren’t particularly hard but they can be tedious and take a deceptive amount of time. All the chopping and the different utensils and dishes to wash after can be annoying when you’re stressed and tired and really don’t want to bother.

So lately I’ve been working on easier, faster recipes. The alternative is takeout everyday, which is tempting but not a good solution if I want to stay on track with my nutrition goals. Instead I’ve been focused on making nutrient dense foods that don’t require prep or skill. This omelette taco is perfect because it ticks all my boxes, healthy, low carb, easy to make, easy to clean. Perfect.

the incredible egg

The omelette taco has become one of my favorites. It’s actually like half quesadilla, half taco but I couldn’t think of a good word for that. It’s not like a panini, it’s definitely not a pita, so Omelette Taco it is.

It’s an omelette. It’s a taco. It’s an omelette taco.

The Omelette Taco is 2 eggs cooked in a skillet then glued to a low carb wrap with cheese. You can add ingredients like onions, peppers, mushrooms, bacon, or spinach to the skillet to for the omelette, and you can fill your taco with other toppings like avocado, salsa, sour cream, meat, or greens. Most kinds of cheese you buy pre-shredded will work: cheddar, mozzarella, Mexican blend, etc. I have torn up little pieces of American and that worked fine too. You can season the eggs while you’re cooking, or season the taco after, or you can skip the seasoning. Use paprika, cumin, curry powder, chili powder, Italian herbs, garlic salt, whatever you fancy. Because of the flexible nature of both the omelette and and the taco, the flavor possibilities for these little ditties are pretty much endless.

I eat these at all hours of the day, mostly because of how easy they are. They are great because from prep to plate they take 10 minutes, clean up is easy, and even though they’re simple they aren’t boring.

When I say easy, I’m not kidding. I sometimes like just plain ones, which are (obviously) the simplest. Here’s what you do: make a scrambled egg patty in a medium frying pan. To do that just pour 2 whisked eggs into a pan with hot melted butter. (Yes, I use butter. No I don’t feel guilty.) Let the eggs run so it fills the area of the pan. Cook on medium until the eggs are hardening. Add salt & pepper. Sprinkle a healthy amount of shredded cheese (cheddar is my go-to) over the egg patty, then cover the surface with your tortilla wrap. Flip the whole thing over and heat on high. Pat the egg (facing up) with your spatula. When it feels flat against the tortilla, it’s finished. Put it on a plate, add some avocado slices, then fold it up and eat it like a taco.

The Spinach & Onion Omelette Taco

Making eggs with vegetables in them is slightly trickier but still easier and faster than your average dinner. Like I said above you can use any ingredients, just make sure they are chopped finely.

I make the spinach and onion omelette taco quite often because it adds a helping of greens and I usually have a box of spinach and a baggie diced onion sitting in my fridge. Plus it’s tasty. I often make this with white Mexican cheese blend (Oaxaca, queso quesadilla, & asadero), but I also like it with yellow cheddar. The instructions are exactly the same either way.

First get everything prepped. Cook your turkey bacon in the microwave per package instructions. In a bowl, whisk 2 eggs until yolks and whites are blended. Measure out your spinach and pull off the stems. I like to press the spinach in a paper towel to dry it a little bit. Dice your onions if necessary. Measure out 1.5 ounces of cheese (a heaping ⅓ cup).

Pull out salt, black pepper (grinder if possible), garlic powder and paprika. I use my fingers to add the seasoning but if you want to use a measuring spoon use the smallest one you have, because you only need a dash of each.

Also make sure to have your tortilla ready because the cooking process goes fast. My favorite tortilla wraps are these La Banderita Carb Counter tortillas. They come in both wheat and white and both are delicious, high in fiber and low in net carbs. (Unfortunately no one is paying me to plug these I just really, really love them.) If net carbs are not a priority or you can’t find these, you want to use “Soft Taco” size wraps, 8-8.5 inches.

Ingredients minus the spices which I forgot to include in the photo.

It’s also important to use a skillet that matches the size of your tortilla. You definitely don’t want to use a skillet smaller than the tortilla. A few centimeters is fine, but the whole thing works because the size of the egg matches the size of the wrap, and the egg size is based on the area of the pan.

The actual cook time for this recipe goes very quickly, so it’s critical to set up all of your ingredients next to your stove. I personally hate overcooked eggs, so I need to be able to grab everything the second I need it to make sure I don’t waste seconds on the stove.

Start by melting a teaspoon (5-6 grams) butter in your medium-sized skillet, on medium heat. Add onions, cooking for about 90 seconds until they are translucent. (If you want them more caramelized, cook an extra minute with a couple of extra grams of butter.) As soon as onions are ready, poor your whisked eggs into the pan. I always take a second to scrape the sides of the egg bowl to get as much into the pan as possible. The eggs will start cooking immediately. Twist the pan around so that the eggs reach all edges of the skillet. If you see egg liquid pooling too much in one spot, tilt it to help distribute it evenly. Also, use your scraper to play with the edges so that they don’t stick to the sides of the skillet.

Let the eggs cook for just 60 seconds. Then add the seasonings: a dash each of paprika and garlic powder, a healthy sprinkle of salt, and 4-5 twists of the pepper grinder. At this point, the egg should be about 70% cooked. Don’t worry about the egg that’s still liquid, it will finish cooking after it’s flipped.

This is what the egg looks like when it’s ready for spinach, cheese & tortilla.

So after about a minute of cooking, when a majority of the egg is cooked and you’ve added your spices, add the spinach, then the cheese. Make sure the cheese covers as much surface area as possible. It will act as the adhesive to connect the wrap with the omelette. Now add the tortilla/wrap.

Once the spinach, cheese, and tortilla are on top of the egg, use the rubber spatula to press the tortilla into the pan, to help the cheese glue the two sides together. This only takes a few seconds, then use the spatula to flip the egg over, so that the tortilla is on the bottom. (You may need to pick at the edges a little bit with your spatula but it should flip easily.)

Once flipped, turn the burner to high and let the whole thing cook another minute or two. Use the spatula to press down on the egg. You will be able to feel (and maybe see) the rest of the liquid egg harden as it finishes cooking. When it no longer feels squishy, it’s finished. If you want to, you can let this side cook longer as there’s enough barrier between the heat and the egg that it shouldn’t burn, but I wouldn’t let it go more than 2 ½ minutes, especially on the high heat.

When the egg feels firm, move it from the heat to a plate. Add two slices of turkey bacon and several slices of avocado to one half of the taco disc and then fold in half, forming a taco shape. And that’s it! Ready to eat. If I want a big lunch or dinner I’ll add a side of salad, berries or nuts, but in the morning or if I’m not too hungry it’s plenty by itself. 10 minutes and you have a whole delicious meal shaped like a single large taco.

Told you it was easy.

If you’ve noticed several different versions pictured, it’s because I really do make this all the time. It’s not always beautiful but it’s always delicious.

Spinach & Onion Omelette Taco

  • Servings: 1
  • Print

    Notes:
  1. The egg + tortilla in skillet idea came from Nadiya Hussain’s “egg rolls” which she presented on her Netflix show “Nadiya’s Time to Eat.”
  2. The actual cooking of this goes very quickly so it’s important to have all the ingredients ready next to the stove when you begin. You’ll risk burning your eggs if you have to look away from the stove for more than a few seconds.
  3. Read the instructions below thoroughly so you are prepared ahead of time.
  4. The nutrition facts at the bottom are based on the La Banderita CarbCounter wraps I discussed above and mild yellow cheddar cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp (5-6g) butter
  • TBL (10-12g) finely diced onion
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 2 oz (14g) Spinach, stems removed
  • Heaping ⅓ cup (1 ½ oz, 42-44g) shredded cheese: yellow or white cheddar, Mexican blend, etc.
  • Dash paprika
  • Dash Garlic powder
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 8 1/2 inch low-carb wrap
  • 2 slices turkey bacon, cooked
  • 2 oz Avocado, sliced

Directions

  1. Set up all ingredients next to stove.
  2. In a 8 or 9in. skillet, Heat BUTTER on Medium. Tilt around skillet to coat.
  3. When butter is completely melted, add ONIONS, sauté for 90 seconds. Position them so they are distributed evenly around the space.
  4. Pour whisked EGGS into skillet over onions.
  5. Let eggs cook on medium heat for 1 minute, moving the skillet around to distribute eggs completely across pan, up to edges. Use a rubber scraper to lift the edges so the egg doesn’t stick.
  6. Sprinkle paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper onto eggs.
  7. Add SPINACH, distributing evenly.
  8. Add CHEESE, distributing evenly.
  9. Place TORTILLA wrap over egg & cheese, centering if possible.
  10. Press the taco with rubber scraper, helping cheese adhere egg to tortilla. Do this in a few different spots.
  11. Flip the taco so the tortilla is against the skillet.
  12. Turn heat to HIGH. Press scraper against egg, targeting spots that feel “squishy” like there is liquid below surface.
  13. The taco is finished when there are no more squishy spots. (Takes 1 ½ to 2 minutes.)
  14. Remove from skillet to plate. Place avocado and bacon on one half of the circle, then fold the other half over it.
  15. Eat!

Nutrition

Serving Size: 1 taco; 557 Calories; 42g Fat; 8g Net Carbs; 16g Fiber; 34.6g Protein

Building Change

I’ve been trying to write this post for more than 2 weeks now. I had a post in mind, but it seemed trivial to talk about dieting under the current circumstances. In my own home I have a parent suffering through the pains of cancer treatment, and out in the world there’s a global pandemic and systemic racism that is finally boiling over into nationwide protest and unrest. Amongst all of that, it doesn’t really feel right to talk about how I was feeling about my progress and comparing myself to other people. 

I’ve been watching protest footage on social media nonstop, unable to look away. Sometimes it would get to be too much and I’d start to take a break, but then I’d remember that it’s my privilege as a white person to be able to put down the phone and “forget” about everything going on,  while for black and brown people it’s a constant reality. So I pick the phone back up and watch more footage. I can’t protest due to quarantine, so the least I can do is bear witness. 

But it is a lot. To see all the violence and atrocities, the pain and grief, on top of my own family’s pain and frustration. It’s a lot. I had one day last week where it all got to be too much, and since then I’ve been taking the advice of my friends and spiritual gurus ranging from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to TikTok’s Earth Mother Tabitha Brown, and taking moments to recharge when I need to. All of these people remind me that I’m no good to anyone else if I let myself be worn down and forget to take care of myself. My commitment to my health isn’t something I should be willing to set aside, no matter how serious and important the distractions. 

But as I said, worrying about my weight and closing the activity rings on my watch feel insignificant while people are risking their lives to fight for equality. It’s hard to know if I’ve done enough, if “enough” even exists. I know we all have our own needs, abilities and limitations, and our own circumstances, but it’s difficult not to compare, even when comparison is counterproductive. It’s a silly waste of energy to make something a competition when it isn’t. 

We (as a society) tend to do that with too many things that are just too important to be subjected to pettiness. Case in point: it’s not a competition when you’re talking about whose life matters. Of course all lives matter but the fact is that Black humans face hurdles that most others can’t imagine, because of systemic, structural racism that’s been passed down for generations. Not to mention ingrained stereotypes many people have without even realizing it. To say another matters just as much is not the same as saying they matter more, and it’s not saying in order for them to matter more, you have to matter less. It’s not a zero sum game.

On a much, much smaller scale I have the same struggle over myself, internally. I was feeling a little doubtful because of a few reactions people have given me when Iately when I explained (before the protests) that I’m focused almost 100% on self-improvement and taking care of myself during this unexpected quarantine/sabbatical. I’ve even doubted myself because it does feel a bit self-absorbed to be so internally focused when it seems like the world is ending.

And it probably does sound frivolous. To a lot of people self-care might sound like a lavender bubble bath and hot yoga, but to me it’s literally turning my entire life around so that I can keep on surviving. And just in case 2020 really does end in apocalypse, I’d like to live a while past it in order to see what happens next. But I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I tell you there’s no way I can survive long term at my current weight and fitness level. It’s not healthy or normal to worry about going somewhere because you don’t know if you’ll fit in the chairs, or worry about taking a walk in the park because what if there’s too many stairs and you can’t handle it. The shame of those things are unbearable. It just felt like a breaking point, like a now or never, so I took a terrible situation and made it an opportunity.

When the circumstance is so dire that it simply cannot continue, there’s nothing else you can do but take action, no matter how disruptive or extreme it might seem to other people. Action is almost always the only way to make a permanent systemic change, whether it’s in one woman’s body or in an entire culture. 

But as I said, looking at videos on social media and news seeing everything happening in the protests and riots, and hearing (but distancing from) my dad upstairs, it’s hard knowing how to balance all of the intensities at once. One solution I found was really amping up my exercise routine the last couple of weeks, because I can’t read or watch twitter videos and workout at the same time, so it’s a mandatory break for my brain at least an hour everyday. And I think, hopefully too, it’s helping give me more clarity as well. 


I realize I haven’t even posted about my actual strategy, goals, and methods so this probably seems vague. But just know when I say I’m working on building a better Lydia, that’s a holistic goal: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. So this week when I say exercise is good but everything else is down, I mean, I’m cooking less, not doing my full skin routine, not meditating nearly enough. But what I am doing is keeping myself informed and educated. I considered myself fairly antiracist, woke, whatever you want to call it, but still I’ve learned a lot this week and thought of things from new perspectives. One thing that’s for sure is there’s always room to grow. 

I don’t even know if this post makes sense, it’s probably rambling but I committed myself to doing this blog and this is what I wanted to say. 

Here are some books/articles that I think are excellent for educating yourself about the Black/African-American experience in the US, how racism persists, and ways to stay spiritually and emotionally healthy in these kinds of crises. 

The audiobook is also excellent!

-The Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates

-Becoming by Michelle Obama

-Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

-Black Looks by bell hooks

-Black Boy by Richard Wright

-Autobiography of Frederick Douglass

-I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

-The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

-An Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa

-The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz

This Anti-Racist Resource Guide

Prejudice vs. Racism: What’s the Difference

Books and Media I intend to read/watch to educate myself:

-Between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

-Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

-White Fragility by Robin Deangelo

-The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

-Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD

-“When They See Us” Ava DuVernay, Netflix

-“If Beale Street Could Talk” Barry Jenkins, Hulu

-”The Hate U Give” George Tillman Jr., Hulu

-”I Am Not Your Negro,” James Baldwin, Netflix

-”Hello Privilege, It’s Me Chelsea,” Chelsea Handler, Netflix

-“Just Mercy” Bryan Stevenson (Movie free to rent on iTunes)

The New York Times Magazine 1619 Project

-Pod Save the People podcast

Also this is a YouTube playlist of fundraising videos for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Or a link to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund if you want to skip ahead. 

You can also check out BLM petitions on change.org.

I hope with this list my point of view will continue to grow more enlightened. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list but it seems like a good starting point. Unfortunately I think this fight will continue for a while, but I do believe it is much closer to the end than the beginning. 

xo

Eggplant Tomato Stir-Fry with Tofu

Eggplant Tomato Stir-fry

Sometimes you just want a vegetable

I made a cake last week. A carrot cake for Mother’s Day, my mom’s favorite. I don’t do a ton of baking. For starters, I try to avoid sugar and other carbs. Also, my style of cooking is to sort of throw stuff in a bowl or pan and hope for the best. Baking is way too science-y. The ratios matter, the temperature matters, everything needs to be precise. Except with carrot cake, a very throw it in the bowl kind of cake. I made mine with pineapple & dates and cut out half the sugar. There was plenty of sugar in my frosting. The whole thing was annoyingly good.

But this post isn’t about carrot cake. It’s about making amends for the approximately 9 pieces of carrot cake I ate over the next 3 days (yikes). By Wednesday I was feeling like garbage. You know when your insides feel puffy? Gross. I had a zit on my face, nearly never happens if I’m living clean. So I decided I needed to revamp with a perfect day of food.

Natural Energy

I love that feeling of natural energy I get when I’ve eaten really healthy food. And alternatively I like to avoid the feeling of sluggishness when you eat too much heavy, starchy food. This is easier in theory than in reality because if someone offers me a big plate of mac & cheese or some fish with steamed vegetables, I’m not necessarily making my decision based on how I’ll feel an hour after I eat. I’m thinking about how good that mac & cheese will taste in my mouth versus how much I do not enjoy plain steamed vegetables. Impulse control & immediate gratification are real issues. But when I overindulge for too long, like around holidays, it catches up to me fast and I miss my veggies (still not steamed, though, please).

In the last few months I’ve noticed the more I avoid indulgence foods like cake and mac & cheese, and the more I make sure to include vegetables in every meal, the faster I hit that point where I don’t want more cake, I want more salad. It’s hard to imagine a time when I will skip a homemade carrot cake all together, but if I can want *less* of it, that’s a good start. And even better if I don’t want to have cake instead of salad, but as a small bonus, which I suppose is how dessert was meant to be eaten in the first place, by normal people.

So anyway, after the zit arrived I decided that was enough of the cake, and I needed some extra fresh meals to balance the system.

The day started with eggs & berries. Then a cruciferous veggie salad with salmon and seeds, and then this vegan vegetable & tofu dish that I’m about to talk about. All three were slightly less delicious than homemade carrot cake but still very tasty, and ultimately much more satisfying than all the sugar and flour.

Already by Thursday I was feeling much less contaminated. We reluctantly threw out the rest of the carrot cake but never even missed it. I was so happy to feel fresh it didn’t matter to me anymore.

What is a stir-fry, Actually?

I literally just googled the definition of stir-fry, and I’m still not sure if this recipe counts as one or not. It’s not a stew though, or a curry, so I’m sticking with stir-fry just because I need something to call this.

Here’s what it is: fried tofu, eggplant, and a bunch of other vegetables sautéed and simmered in a bold garlic tomato sauce.

I made this for the first time a few weeks ago after I got the idea from Ali Wong’s book Dear Girls. She talks a lot about Vietnam, Vietnamese food, and Asian food more broadly. At one point she says her favorite cooking base is garlic, tomatoes, and fish sauce. I thought that seemed interesting so I decided to work with it.

The problem was, I didn’t know where to go from there. I tried to search around for recipes that used this exact base and never found anything that was an exact match, but I got some ideas. I thought about what goes with tomatoes and garlic and decided to try eggplant. Eggplant obviously goes with tomato sauce and garlic, because I think the king of eggplant dishes is probably Eggplant Parmesan (it’s also one of my favorite things). I figured eggplant would work well for this dish because it’s found in Italian things like eggplant parm, but also in plenty of Asian stir-fry dishes, so it could work with the fish sauce as well. I’ve been on a big eggplant kick lately so this seemed like a win all around.

Next, I pulled out other vegetables that would go with these flavors and were already in my fridge. (I don’t keep shiitake mushrooms lying around but they weren’t in the first version of this.) Finally, I decided to use tofu as my protein because I knew it would pair well, also it’s easy and healthy.

A few notes upfront. I follow a high fat, low carb diet. This recipe calls for a lot of oil, but it won’t hurt you, I promise. You need these calories when you’re eating a dish made of entirely of plants.

Second, like I said at the top, I follow a throw it in the pan method of cooking. If you don’t like spicy or you don’t like broccoli, leave it out. I recommend keeping the tomatoes, garlic or ginger because those are sort of the point, but pretty much everything else could go if it had to.

How it works

Before I start, I want to emphasize that this recipe is easy. I’m still trying to learn how to make a recipe seem easy, but still make it thorough enough that you can make it even if you don’t cook much. I like to include a lot of details but I don’t mean to make it look scary. It really isn’t!

First thing to do is chop your eggplant. I slice it into 1 inch slices, then quarter each slice. Then you sweat it. Lay it out on paper towel and sprinkle salt over the pieces. This draws out moisture to let it fry better. Let the moisture sweat for 15 minutes, then get fresh towels, flip the pieces onto the new paper, salt again, and sweat for another 15 minutes. (If you do a web search, there is a big debate over whether or not this is necessary. I’ve never *not* done it, so I have no idea how pan fried eggplant would be without sweating.)

While that’s happening, get out your block of tofu. For this recipe I use half a block, but I think you could use the whole thing if you wanted to. The sauce just wouldn’t spread as far. Either way, drain and rinse. Slice it into rectangular blocks, maybe like 2 inches x ½ inch. Then sandwich between paper towels to dry. (10 minutes is enough but I usually just leave it until all the other prep is done.)

Do all your mincing and chopping while you’re waiting on the big boys to get ready. Once you get cooking it can go fairly fast so I like to have everything laid out next to the stove. That way when I inevitably forget something (not pictured here: broth) I can grab it without causing too much chaos. Is this obvious to other people? I’m causing chaos all the time so I do not know.

All the prepped ingredients lined up by the stove. Not pictured: vinegar & broth (I forgot to get them out.)

The cooking happens in 3 stages, but all in the same pot. Start with the eggplant. Fry in 2 tablespoons of oil on medium high for 8 minutes, stirring it around occasionally. (If it seems too dry and/or is sticking to the pan, add a little more oil.) It should be soft and slightly browned on both sides. Set it aside on a plate and move on to tofu.

In the same pan, heat another 2-3 tablespoons of oil (depending on how much your eggplant soaked up and how much is left). I recommend removing the pan from heat when you add your tofu because it will jump and splash immediately. Arrange the tofu so that the pieces have enough space in the pan, then move to the burner, and heat on medium-high.

How I like to fry my tofu is to do one side, then flip it 90 degrees and do the next side, until 4 sides are done (no need to get the small ends). Start the first side at 2 minutes, then do diminishing increments for each side after. So 2 minutes, turn pieces, 90 seconds, turn pieces, 60 seconds, turn pieces, 30 seconds. I start the timer after I’ve flipped every piece, and I try to begin the flipping at different spots in the pan each round. At the end of the process, scoop tofu onto a paper towel with a slotted spatula, and let the towel soak some of the oil.

Tofu on Side 2

Now it’s time for the sauce. Make sure your can of crushed tomatoes is opened and ready. Add the garlic to the oil left over from the tofu, sauté on medium for 30 seconds only! The oil is already very hot so anymore than that and your garlic will burn. (The garlic is burnt in all of the photos you see in this post tbh.)

Now add the tomatoes, stirring to blend the garlic. They should be cooking at a fast simmer or a low boil. Continue simmering on Medium while you add the rest of the sauce ingredients: fresh ginger, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Stir in each ingredient, then add the next. When you have added all sauce components (other than broth) let the whole thing simmer together for 3-5 minutes to let the flavors blend.

When the mix is fragrant and the thickness of a jar of pasta sauce, add ½ cup of vegetable broth to thin it out. Turn the burner to high, stirring continuously, until sauce comes to boil. Turn back down to medium immediately, stir more to prevent from sticking to pan.

Next, add onions, red peppers, mushrooms, and broccoli. Let simmer until the broccoli is starting to look soft (maybe 5 minutes) then add in the eggplant and tofu. Continue stirring occasionally for another couple of minutes until the eggplant and tofu look like they have soaked up some of the sauce. Finally, add in the spinach and chia seeds, stirring well until the spinach is wilted and everything is blended together.

The final product in the pan

Add some sesame seeds to the top and enjoy! Serve with rice or another grain if you want, but I eat it plain. Sometimes I add in some cashew pieces for extra crunch.

The Food


EGGPLANT TOMATO STIR-FRY WITH TOFU

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Print

A hearty and healthy vegan single pan dinner

Notes: Vegetables are all different sizes, so I recommend using the weighted amounts I provide if you have a scale available. (You should totally get one if you don’t have one!) Please don’t be discouraged by the number of steps in the recipe. It’s easy! Cook your eggplant and tofu, then basically throw everything else in the pan in order of ingredients and you’re good to go.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 TBL Avocado Oil (Olive is fine)
  • 400g Eggplant (1 small)
  • 220g Tofu (½ block)
  • -¼ tsp Black Pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 14g Garlic (2-3 cloves), minced
  • 15oz can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 14g Ginger (large chunk), minced
  • 2 TBL low-sodium Soy Sauce (Tamari for gluten free)
  • 2 TBL Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 TBL Rice Vinegar (or Apple Cider Vinegar)
  • 1 TBL Maple Syrup
  • up to ½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes (for desired spiciness)
  • ½ Cup low-sodium Vegetable Broth
  • 70g Onion (½ medium), chopped
  • 90g Red Bell Pepper (1 cup), chopped
  • 40g Shiitake Mushrooms (1 cup)
  • 100g Broccoli florets (1 cup)
  • 56g Spinach (2 cups), stems removed
  • 1 TBL Chia Seeds

Directions

  1. Sweat eggplant: spread pieces onto paper towel, add salt and let moisture draw
  2. out. After 15 minutes, switch sides and repeat.
  3. Set tofu slices on paper towel to dry.
  4. Prep everything else.
  5. Heat 2 TBL oil on medium-high heat.
  6. Pat the excess moisture off of eggplant, then add to oil. Sauté 7-8 minutes until soft and browning. Set aside.
  7. Add more oil, then pull pan off burner and add tofu. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Cook on all four long sides. Start with 2 minutes, flip 90 degrees, cook 90 seconds, flip, cook 60 seconds, flip, cook 4th side for 30 seconds (if it doesn’t seem crispy or look tan enough give it another 15 seconds.)
  9. With a slotted spatula, set tofu onto paper towel to drain oil. NOTE: if there is more oil than needed to sautee garlic, you can pour out the excess.
  10. Add the garlic to oil, cook 30 seconds.
  11. Add tomatoes, stirring until garlic is blended. Let simmer 1 minute.
  12. Add ginger, simmer another minute.
  13. Add soy sauce or tamari, Worcestershire, vinegar, maple syrup, and red pepper flakes. Stir in each ingredient before adding the next. When all added, let simmer 3 minutes.
  14. Add broth, stir until combined. Turn burner to high and let sauce come to a boil, then turn back down to medium again.
  15. Add onions, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and broccoli. Simmer until broccoli is soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  16. Add eggplant and tofu, folding into the the rest of the stir-fry. Let simmer 3-5 minutes.
  17. Add in chia seeds and spinach. Stir until everything is well-mixed and spinach is wilted.
  18. Serve as desired. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Serving size: ⅓ of dish (573g); 446 Calories; 28 g Fat; 26.6 g Net Carbs; 12 g Fiber; 15.2 g Protein

9 ‘Healthy’ Alternatives that are Just as Bad as the Originals via HuffPo

9 ‘Healthy’ Alternatives that are Just as Bad as the Originals via HuffPo

Oh wow, I am so sorry I am the worst blogger ever! It’s inexcusable but here’s some excuses anyway: I sprained my knee, badly enough that I was totally incapacitated for a bit, then I went on vacation, then I started a new job, then I went on another vacation and then I got the flu. There you have it, my entire summer in one run-on sentence. 

I’m happy to report I didn’t gain any weight while recovering from my knee sprain, which is unusual, usually people gain anywhere from 5-20 pounds, but I was trying hard to keep myself in line even if I wasn’t spending an hour on the elliptical or doing 100 squats. (Sadly I still can’t do either of those things…yet!) But with the new job, I’ve had less time to devote to the healthy living process. I worry about getting sucked into easy routines that aren’t as clean or healthy as I’d prefer, so I’m trying to stay aware of what I’m doing to and with my body via food and exercise. It is hard though, and I promise to write more about it later. 

In the meantime, I thought this article was pretty interesting. I didn’t really know that about skim milk. Interesting. While rehabbing my knee I’ve been ingesting more conventional (re: animal) forms of protein, so this is definitely something important for me to think about. I had a bag of microwave popcorn a couple weeks ago and it genuinely tasted like chemicals. The idea that we are ingesting the GLUE and INK from the bag is really horrifying.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop in and post this list. And to say hello. Hello! I will be back soon. 

Summer Salad

All winter long, it felt like I was on a great quest only instead of a holy grail I was searching for easy and tasty ways to prepare vegetables. In the summer, I don’t have to look very far. Inevitably, when summer rolls around, all I ever want is a nice dinner salad. I think it’s the sunlight that inspires me to eat brightly colored cool foods. I search Pinterest for new summer salad recipes at least once a week. One thing I love about salads is that virtually anything in your kitchen can go in one. That leaves a ton of room for creativity and innovation. But a lot of times salad recipes in cookbooks and online call for ingredients that require a special grocery trip or take too long to prepare, which is great sometimes but not always. Sometimes I just want a plain old dinner salad.

Lately, my favorite salad to make has been just that: one that gets back to the basics. Honestly it reminds me of the kind of salad you’d make at a salad bar, except the ingredients are fresh and haven’t been manhandled by who knows how many strangers.

Summer Salad
Summer Salad

This salad is all veggies (plus some sunflower seeds). It is super easy to prepare, and would be a good option to take for lunch at the office. The recipe as it stands is for one entree-sized salad. If you want to make more just increase the amount of ingredients proportionally.

Summer Salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • Handful Mixed Greens and/or Spinach
  • 1 Heart of Romaine
  • 1 Campari Tomato (or other small variety)
  • 1/2 Cup Diced Cucumber
  • 1/2 Cup Diced Carrots (or Matchstick Carrots)
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Broccoli
  • 1-2 TBL Chopped Red Onion
  • 1/2 a Small Avocado
  • 1 TBL Sunflower Seeds

Combine all ingredients except avocado. Toss. Address vinaigrette and avocado. Toss again. Enjoy!

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette:

1 Teaspoon Each:

  • Honey (or Agave if Vegan)
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Lemon Juice

summer saladOne important thing to note about this salad is that these proportions are not mandatory. I don’t like much tomato or onion in my salad, so I limited the quantity. One the other hand I love lettuce and avocado so I added a bit more. If you feel the opposite, just adjust your quantities accordingly! This is just a starting guide, really. The dressing, Honey Dijon Vinaigrette, is one of my favorites, and is generally my go-to for a vegetable salad. You can make a big batch and store in a mason jar, but it only keeps for a few days.

This salad is easy to make and pretty tasty. Plus the fiber and nutrients make it surprisingly filling, even though it is fairly low in calories (around 250). It’s just a nice, crisp and refreshing bowl of vegetables that works best in summer, but could probably be enjoyable all year round!