Vegan Diaries – Removing The Rose-Colored Glasses

Originally posted on http://shrinkingjeans.net

vegan diaries

There are 3 kinds of people I’ve discovered in the past week: those who do NOT like their views to be challenged and will most certainly let you know, including what and how they eat; those who will entertain the idea of a change – they will listen, smile and nod, and maybe in some back corner of their brain store that information for a rainy day; and those who are all about learning something new and attempting to incorporate it into their lives, if even just for a day. I have encountered and handled each of these in the past week.

Apparently, going vegan puts me in a different category than, oh I don’t know, everyone else. I am no longer simply a human. I am a vegan human. I feel like I’m on a display for people to marvel at, ridicule, and everything in between. I have been told I am not thinking this through, that I’m being ridiculous, that it’s just plain unnecessary. I have also been told that people love that I am doing this, that I am an inspiration, and that they support me in this alternative lifestyle. I’m not here to dissuade or persuade anyone of anything. I’m simply eating differently. That is all. I welcome the reactions, positive or not; it proves that it’s getting people thinking and talking. Plus, I have thick skin, so bring it on.

I’m surprised at the reactions I’m getting, but also very interested as to why. I think many of the reactions stem from an absence of information. I’m shocked we’re not more educated on our food, food sources, and what we put in our bodies each and every day. It’s appalling, really. I love answering questions–and actually knowing the answers–when people ask me about veganism, nutrition, and food. I’ve been continually educating myself via documentaries, articles, books, and trial and error.

The transition hasn’t been too much of a stretch so far. I’ve made a few mistakes here and there, but have done very well. My energy levels are good and aren’t interfering with my daily workouts, my job (I’m a server, so I’m on my feet a lot), or my day-to-day activities. In fact, I feel great! My body has become, shall we say, much more efficient, due to the amount of vegetables, grains, fruits, and unprocessed foods I’m eating, but I view that as a good thing.

Even though it has only been one week, I have discovered and rediscovered: my rekindled love affair with avocados, I’m not impressed by vegan cheese, it’s hard to cook for one person, boxed and flavored quinoa and brown rice meals are not my favorite, homemade flavored quinoa and brown rice meals are delicious, you can’t trust bread (so I make my own), read the ingredients in EVERYTHING, Thai restaurants are an easy place to be vegan, spices are fun things to play with, my family was surprisingly willing to try a complete homemade vegan dinner, I have many people standing behind me and supporting me, there is always another way to expand my knoweldge.

Eat Of The Week

Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Soup

soupThis soup was the first vegan recipe I made, and it was a hit! It had just the right blend of spices, texture, and flavor. I changed a few things and added a few things – but isn’t that what everyone does with recipes?! Instead of orange sweet potatoes (yams), I used white sweet potatoes. I’m not the biggest sweet potato fan, so I opted for the less-potent ones. It also calls for garam masala, which I didn’t have (nor did I have a clue as to what in the heck it was – it’s a blend of Asian spices), so I made my own. I blended cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, cumin, turmeric, pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, and probably something else that I don’t remember. I added more of this to the soup itself for a stronger flavor. I also added kale for that extra nutritional punch.

Mistake Of The Week

Not all beverages are created equal, even if they are delicious. As mentioned in last week’s post, vegans can drink alcohol, but not all alcohol is vegan. Say what? Some alcoholic beverages can be processed with animal by-products, mostly used for the filtering process. This process voids that particular beverage of all vegan properties. These adult beverages are tricky, though, as they are not required to place anything on their labels acknowledging their veganness, and I fell victim to their ambiguity. After 2 sips of my milk stout beer, the imaginary light bulb over my head went off. The word ‘milk’ triggered it –I know there’s no milk in the beer, people– and I checked Barnivore, a website that informs whether or not a beer, wine, or liquor is vegan. Sadly, my milk stout was not. I sighed deeply, made peace, pushed it aside, and grabbed a New Belgium Fat Tire instead. Not a bad trade off if I do say so myself.

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Craving Of The Week

Chocolate. Enough said. This strikes me as funny, because I’m not usually a big sweets person. I think part of it had to do with the fact that every chocolate anything I ran across had some sort of dairy in it. Stupid subconscious making me want something I can’t have. Yesterday, I emphatically shut up my subconscious and put it back in its place with Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles. SO. FREAKING. GOOD. I had trouble finding the will to stop eating them. I had 3! Ok, ok, I had 5. Oops. They were so worth it.

cookies

What’s better than ooey, gooey, sugary, chocolatey, vegan goodness? Ooey, gooey, sugary, chocolatey, vegan goodness with Homemade Baileys Irish Cream. Also vegan, of course. Although it didn’t turn out quite as thick as I hoped, it was absolutely delicious. I’ll probably let it condense on the stove a little longer next time. Additionally, I added some almond extract for extra dimension. I’m not Irish, but I am Ginger, so this was my unconventional St. Patrick’s Day celebratory meal. I can call this a meal, right?

cookies and irish cream

At least the plate is green…

Eye Opener Of The Week

EARTHLINGS

This award-winning documentary, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, is “about the suffering of animals for food, fashion, pets, entertainment and medical research. Considered the most persuasive documentary ever made, EARTHLINGS is nicknamed ‘the Vegan maker’ for its sensitive footage shot at animal shelters, pet stores, puppy mills, factory farms, slaughterhouses, the leather and fur trades, sporting events, circuses and research labs.”

This film opened my eyes to a reality that the majority of people don’t think about, or choose to ignore. It’s a harsh, uncensored, and shell-shocking angle, but it’s what happens behind closed doors, so to speak. The treatment of animals originally was not one of the reasons for my vegan challenge, but this film reveals actions, situations, and circumstances that I can’t now unknow. It’s a hard film to watch, but I’m glad that I did. I watched it once, and that’s all I’ll ever need. It definitely evokes antagonizing thoughts and second guessing on whether or not a potential future prime rib indulgence is really worth it. Though difficult, I would encourage you to watch it as well. Knowledge is power.

Read Of The Week

The Omnivore's DilemmaThe Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan addresses the question “What should we have for dinner?” in this eye-opening publication. He follows food from it’s source to the table through 3 different food chains: industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves. Through personal experience, research, and reflection, Pollan addresses not only what we eat, but how the food we eat today is produced. I am in the beginning stages of this book and am already amazed at the information provided. This book has been recommended to me over and over again, and I’m so excited to finally have the opportunity to read it. I will be doing a book review on it later this month, potentially coupled with a book giveaway on the shrinkingjeans site (fingers crossed!).

Wow. All of that and it has only been one week. My realities have been challenged, altering my outlook and perspective in several food-related areas. Moments of enlightenment, frustration, accomplishment, shock, camaraderie, confrontation, acceptance, and more have all occurred. I can’t imagine what I’m going to come across, struggle with, succeed at, and discover in the coming weeks. This experience is going to put me through the paces, but I plan on enjoying the ride.

One down, 4 to go.

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Vegan Diaries – Best Laid Plan(t)s

Originally published on shrinkingjeans.net

vegan diaries

Hello, my name is Melissa and I’m a vegan.

Friends, family, strangers: “You’re crazy!” “Are you out of your mind?” “Why would you EVER want to do something like that?!”

Me: No argument. Possibly. Why not?

I sincerely believe that you can’t knock something until you’ve tried it (within reason). I’m stubborn, dogged, and determined. I’ll be the first to admit it. When I decide to do something, I jump in with both feet, guns blazing, and ‘Eye of the Tiger’ theme music on repeat in the background (in my head). The 5 week vegan challenge that I decided to do starts today. I have taken the past week to research, soul search, food search, and prepare in the best ways I could. This has included: vegan blog reading, cookbook buying (3 in fact!), recipe finding, documentary watching, article researching, advice seeking, tête-à-tête conversating, pro and con evaluating, decision defending, habit adjusting, grocery shopping, label scrutinizing, ingredient dissecting, and life habituating, among other things. I’m just happy I’m not doing this alone; my boyfriend, Aaron, is going vegan, too.

In an effort to truly understand how a vegan diet can affect our bodies, we have taken the liberty to do a few ‘before and after’s: blood work, weight, and photos. We are not using this as a gimmick to lose weight, we’re not doing it as a detox method, we’re not going to throw red food coloring on the next person we see with leather boots or a fur coat, and we’re not tossing out everything in our lives that have something to do with animal by-products. This is simply a health challenge that we decided to take on as a way to see food consumption, diet, and a lifestyle decision from another perspective. These ‘befores’ will have to wait as they have not come in yet, unfortunately.

Seaweed chips

Seaweed chips

Vegans do eat, contrary to popular belief. In order to eat like they -I mean we- do, I had to take a grocery shopping trip. Although it ended up being a little pricey, I bought a TON of stuff and feel very prepared for this journey…or at least the start of it. My grocery cart was packed with more produce than I think I’ve ever bought at one time. It actually felt good. I felt almost smug walking around the store, thinking ‘My cart looks WAY better than your cart.’ There were a few things that I struggled to find easily, though. The item I struggled the most with surprised me: crackers. No joke. I was hard-pressed to find crackers that didn’t have sugar, milk, or some other hidden item in the ingredient list that made me put the box back on the shelf. (Why does sugar matter? Keep reading to find out.) I finally did find some, though. Many products were also labeled ‘vegetarian,’ which I felt was a safe bet on putting them in my shopping cart. At one point, I asked an attendant her thoughts, and she told me that if it did not exclusively say ‘vegan’ on the packaging, there were no guarantees. So I took those out of my cart and put them back. This shopping trip definitely took more labelstime and effort than any previous trips. But, I survived. The items I bought that I’m most interested in trying are seaweed chips (by the recommendation of a friend), vegan cream cheese, vegan butter, and tempeh (which looks insanely unappetizing).

I did not buy tofu.

Not only is this a health challenge, it has also been quite a learning challenge so far. According to the Vegetarian Times, there are 7.3 million U.S. adults who follow a vegetarian diet, and 1 million of those who are vegan. I’ve been doing my fair share of research on a vegan lifestyle, and then some. Now, it’s my turn to be the enlighten-er. Here’s some insight on what I’ve learned (educational, interesting, shocking, weird, and otherwise) in the past week.

You can’t eat, like, anything can you?

Uh, actually, you can. You can have anything that is not an animal by-product. That does mean no meat, dairy, fish, eggs, or honey. Anything and everything else is fair game! The last time I checked, that’s quite a variety of food.

What do you mean you can’t have honey? What about sugar?

agave

Sugar & honey replacement

Well, it depends on the vegan. Honey is made by bees. Bees are an animal. Therefore, it’s an animal by-product. For all intents and purposes of this vegan challenge, Aaron and I discussed honey, beeswax chap stick, etc., and we decided that we would not cut out products from bees, but simply try to limit them. As for refined sugar, no it does not come from animals, but can be processed with animal bone char to remove color, impurities, and minerals, according to Vegan Action. I love agave nectar, so I’ll probably use that as my honey/sugar substitute.

How are you going to get enough protein?

The American culture is obsessed with protein consumption. From protein shakes to 12oz steaks to protein-enhanced foods, there is an overabundance of protein in our diets, which can actually be harmful to the body and stress out our internal systems. Based on a 1,800 calorie diet, only about 270 of those should come from protein. Don’t get me wrong, protein is an important component of a diet and should be consumed daily. There are, however, many different ways to get adequate amounts of protein without eating meat. Shocking? Not so much. Nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, tempeh, tofu, grains, and lentils are a few examples of foods that contain protein….not from an animal. An additional fun fact is that quinoa and hemp seeds are complete protein foods, which means they boast all of the essential amino acids.

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Protein!!!

Is a vegan diet even healthy?!?!?!!

The truth is, a vegan diet can be devastating to your health if you don’t keep a balance and variety of foods to sustain the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly and efficiently. I suppose this is true with the ‘regular’ American diet as well. As a vegan, you can have carbs (hallelujah!); however, if refined carbs turn to be the primary source of your daily caloric intake, you are essentially starving your body of all the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to function. Carbohydrates are not the enemy. In fact, they are in fruits and vegetables! If you choose to eat them in other forms, opt for the unrefined carbohydrates. Unrefined carbs are in their most natural state, without unnecessary processing that removes water, fiber, and nutrients. This unnecessary processing is called refining. Refined carbs have a longer shelf life and a more concentrated taste. This is the process that most ‘white foods’ have endured, including white sugar, white bread, cereals, white rice, many pastas, bakery items, etc.

What cookbooks did you buy?

These are the 3 that stood out to me the most:

And last, but most certainly not least:

You can still drink alcohol, right?

The simple answer is yes, of course. How else would I get through this?! Just kidding. The more in-depth answer goes back again to what type of vegan you are. Alcohol is not an animal by-product, however, many companies use animal by-products in some way to produce their beverages, mostly for filtering purposes. One way to check if your favorite beverage is vegan is through a site called Barnivore.

For more vegan FAQs (if you haven’t had enough already), check out:

Like I said, I’ve done my research. Maybe I went a little overboard, but I like to be prepared. There are a multitude of resources out there for those interested in learning more; I never ran in to a problem trying to find information. I’m excited for this journey and trying something new. It has already altered the way I look at food, particularly the ingredients in food. I’ve challenged myself, and am challenging you, to look at the ingredient list on a few of your food products at home. It can be quite surprising what is in there, and sometimes what isn’t.

Well, here I go: 5 weeks of changing my habits, changing my lifestyle, and changing my tune to ‘Eye of the (Vegan) Tiger’.

Vegan cheese?! Hmmmm

Vegan cheese?! Hmmmm

Breaking (ginger)bread: Cherry Delight Bread

If a ginger makes bread, does that make it gingerbread?

Aw, geez, I crack myself up sometimes.

No, but for real. I made bread. And it’s good! -well, in my opinion anyway-

I even -wait for it- tweaked the recipe and made it my own. And it still tastes good! I’m just as surprised as you are. But, there you have it. I really should buy myself a chef hat at this point. And an apron. I think I’ve earned them. Or gifts are always welcome. I might even give you some bread if you show up with one or the other. And definitely will if you show up with both!

Onward to the carb-fabulous bread loaf that I created with my own mind -the recipe- and conjured with my own tiny hands and stubby fingers.

Cherry Delight Bread Ingredients

Cherry Delight Bread Ingredients

My Recipe: Whole-wheat-flax-hemp-seed-cherry-delight Bread OR Cherry Delight Bread

1cup warm water
2¼ tsp dry active yeast (or one of those little yeast packets)
1tsp salt
1 ½ tbls applesauce
2½ tbls agave nectar
2 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbls hemp seeds
2 tbls milled flaxseed
1/3 to 1/2 cup dried cherries

 
Combine warm water, yeast, salt, applesauce, agave nectar, flaxseed, hemp seeds, dried cherries, and half the flour. Mix thoroughly. Let rise until it doubles in size.

Cherry Delight Bread - the beginning stages

The beginning stages

Gradually add the rest of the flour, kneading until smooth. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise again until doubled in size.

Cherry Delight Bread - dough

Cherry Delight dough ball

Punch down the dough and let rest for a few minutes -also great to release any additional stress. just don’t get too carried away- Shape into a loaf and place in a greased loaf pan. Let rise again until doubled in size. I covered mine with a damp cloth during this step as well.

Cherry Delight Bread - in bread pan

Ready for the oven!

Bake at 350°F for 35 to 50 minutes.

Hooray! You successfully made Cherry Delight Bread! Eat a piece while it’s still warm. Trust me. It’s, well, delightful! -and I’m just cheesy-

Cherry Delight BreadCherry Delight Bread
 

Cherry Delight Bread!!

 
 
The original recipe called for vegetable oil instead of applesauce,  3 tbls sugar instead of agave nectar, and white instead of wheat flour. It also didn’t have the flaxseed, hemp seeds, or dried cherries. I brilliantly added those. Essentially, you can put anything in the beginning stages of the dough depending on what type of bread you want. I put in flaxseed and hemp seeds for nutritional value (see my kickass article on seeds if you’re interested), and dried cherries for fun and flavor. You could add any sort of seed, fruit, nut, or whatever sparks your inner baker’s interest.

This bread is vegan friendly, but not gluten free. You could adjust the flour for the bread to make it so (I’m not sure if this would alter the amount of flour, baking time, etc.).

To be quite honest, I really had no idea what I was doing in the first place. I’ve never made bread before. I have zero idea how long the dough takes to ‘rise’ and ‘double in size’ during each step. I guesstimated. Next time, I think I’ll give it some more time. Probably 1-3 hours in between each ‘rising.’ I didn’t do that this time and it turned out a little thick (I think that’s the word I’m looking for). Dense. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very tasty. I just can’t be perfect all the time. Rarely do I falter, though.

I’m sure I’d do much better with my chef hat. And/or apron. *hint hint*

Cherry Delight Bread

Cherry Delight Bread

Vegan Diaries – Get Vegucated

Originally posted on shrinkingjeans.net

Vegan Diaries

“WHAT?!” I exclaimed. I’d been thinking it would be fun to do, but never said anything aloud. Never in a million years did I think he’d want to do it, too. My boyfriend, Aaron, and I were watching a documentary about 3 random people in New York who were challenged to become vegans for 6 weeks. A vegan is someone who does not consume (or use) animal or dairy products; they abide strictly by a plant-based diet. The documentary, Vegucated (well worth a look, and it’s on Netflix!), follows these people on their journey to the grocery store, to the kitchen, and to their understanding of veganism based on the education they receive. It’s funny, enlightening, and informative.

About halfway through the documentary, he suggested it would be something fun to do together. Uhhhhhhh, let me give you a little insight. This truly Southern Louisianan wanna-be Coloradoan lives on a diet of bread, potatoes, pasta, ice cream, pizza, hamburgers…you get the picture. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great cook. Here’s the kicker: he hates vegetables! And not just a little bit. Hence, my reaction: “WHAT?!”

I do my best to be mindful of what I eat for the most part, but have a wicked weakness for ice cream/frozen yogurt, seafood, and cheese….not together.


But, there you have it. Based on his suggestion (notice how I’m taking zero credit), from March 11 to April 11 we will be completely vegan. No meat, no eggs, no dairy (which means no cheese, which is a horrible, horrible thing). No animal products of any kind. Thank Mother Nature I can still have coffee! During the next week we will do a weigh in, do ‘before’ pics, get our blood drawn to check cholesterol levels (and maybe a few other things), go grocery shopping, find recipes, and mentally prepare. I’ll go ahead and add the disclaimer that we’re not doing this to lose weight. We’re doing this as an adjustment to our lifestyle and eating habits. It’s going to be quite the challenge, especially since we’ll be in different states for part of the time, making it harder to keep each other in check and resist a bacon cheeseburger or some frozen yogurt supreme goodness. I was also banking on Aaron doing the majority of the cooking, I’m not exactly kitchen savvy – usually anything that could go wrong, will. I did take the liberty to order a vegan cookbook, though, mostly because I liked the name of it. Whether or not I actually attempt to make one of the recipes is a different matter.

The Sexy Vegan Cookbook

I’ve never thought about going vegan before. Ever. But things change, and I do love a good challenge. If you’ve thought about it, or even if it’s the most ludacris idea and furthest of your food desires, I encourage you to watch the documentary or do some reasearch on veganism. Afterward, if something has peaked your interest and you’re so inclined (I might be pushing it), join us on this challenge and journey. Even if it’s just for a week. Or even a day. We’d love to hear about your experiences!

My goals for this personal challenge:

  • Become more familiar with the vegan/vegetarian community
  • Gain an appreciation for a strict plant-based diet
  • Actually cook a few recipes from the cookbook
  • DON’T CHEAT!
  • Be an inspiration (hopefully) for those interested in trying it
  • Learn – I feel like this will be happening a lot
  • Have fun!

If any of you have already taken the plunge to veganism and have any advice, suggestions, and favorite recipes, please help us! We will most certainly need it.

Cocoa almond surprise

I like chocolate just  as much as the next person. If you don’t like chocolate, we clearly butt heads. In my efforts to try relatively healthy foods, I recently stumbled across cocoa-covered almonds. Fan-freaking-tastic! So, naturally, I’m pretty sure I ate about a pound of them, if not more.

Healthy Me = 0, Food Demons = 1.

As I was gorging myself on almonds, I thought to myself: ‘I’m pretty sure anybody with a brain could make these.’ Any time I have a thought like this, I should really have a red flag pop out of my forehead with sirens blaring warning the kitchen police to come haul me away.

But I don’t, so here we go with another brilliant endeavor.

Cocoa-covered Almonds.

Not only are these relatively healthy, they are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and vegan. Score.

They have minimal ingredients which fit seamlessly with my kitchen requirements, and, of course, and super yummy. Double score.

All you need are raw almonds, agave nectar, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt.

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Cocoa-covered almond ingredients

Here is the recipe that I used.

The recipe calls for 2 cups of almonds to start, however, since I’m pretty sure that would last me a whole half hour or so, I decided to double the batch.

Turn the oven on to 350ºF. The first step is to blend the agave nectar with salt on medium heat. I used ½ cup agave nectar and 2 pinches of salt -whoever came up with this whole ‘pinch’ measurement clearly didn’t have people like me in mind. Not only are my hands the size of a middle-schooler, my kitchen skills aren’t particularly solid; I prefer exact measurements.- The mixture started to bubble and that’s when I figured it was ready.

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Agave nectar & salt

Toss in 4 cups of raw almonds (for the doubled recipe) and stir until the almonds are completely coated.

Agave-covered almonds. Yum!

Agave-covered almonds. Yum!

Spread the agave almonds on a cookie sheet with wax paper. Put the almonds in the oven for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn.

Agave almonds on cookie sheet

Agave almonds on cookie sheet

My Mom wanted to help!

My Mom wanted to help!

Put 3 tbsp of the cocoa powder in a large ziplock bag – you’re going to put the almonds in there and shake it all up.

Easy, right?

JUST KIDDING!!!

I know all of this sounds very simple, but it turned out to be a little harder than I thought. When you pull the almonds out of the oven, they start to cool very fast which makes them stick to everything! I started putting the almonds into the ziplock with the cocoa powder. Conveniently, the ziplock started to melt through because the almonds were extremely hot. I quickly dumped everything in to a plastic bowl and tried my best to get the remaining almonds off the cookie sheet, off the counter, and off of my fingers.

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Melted Ziplock

Cocoa almonds in bowl

Cocoa almonds in bowl

I put a lid on the bowl and shook them up in the cocoa powder. They looked very slimy, unappetizing, and not exactly covered or ‘dusted’ with the cocoa powder. So I added more.

Bam! It worked! They turned out looking somewhat like I’d hoped! I spread them on another cookie sheet to cool.

Cocoa almonds on cookie sheet to cool.

Cocoa almonds on cookie sheet to cool.

What I didn’t realize is that the wax paper from the first cookie sheet also melted and came off in little bits either on the almonds or somewhere else. I’m not really sure. It also made it stick to the cookie sheet itself and became impossible to peel off.

Melted wax paper. Yikes!

Melted wax paper. Yikes!

What was supposed to be an easy project turned in to:

Cocoa-covered-wax-paper-surprise almonds!

Yep, I’ll eat them anyway.

Getting cultured: Take 2

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. — Albert Einstein

Well, there you have it. According to Mr. Einstein, I’m a crazy person. I like to think that I’m a crazy person with high standards, though, which just goes to show that if you believe in it enough, do zero additional research, and try the exact same method…..you’re certifiably psychotic.

Psychosis works for me. Suits me, in fact. However, instead of proving the rule this time, I am the exception.

~~~~~~~~I MADE YOGURT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!~~~~~~~~

For real. Edible, too! I’m actually going to go ahead and toot my own horn: It was absolutely delicious!

Because my first attempt was such a disaster, it took me a while to muster up the desire to try it a second time. Then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day. -yogurt, Rome…whatever-

When something goes wrong the first time, typically you assess and adjust the process for any subsequent trials. I say typically, because I didn’t. Too much effort. Wait, that’s a lie: I did not put towels on the stove for charring purposes this time. Yay me. I did look at additional yogurt-making recipes, the majority of which called for either powdered milk, yogurt cultures, whole milk and whole fat yogurt, or yogurt machines. Fabulous. Couldn’t find powdered milk -it was probably right in front of me at the store; I obviously don’t do well in grocery stores-; didn’t want to use yogurt cultures since I felt it was pointless because yogurt cultures are in the yogurt you add to the mixture already; wanted a reduced-fat yogurt — I don’t buy whole fat yogurt or milk at the store in the first place, so why would I make it that way? –; and I clearly do not own a yougrt-making machine.

Back to square one. So what did I do? The same damn thing I did the first time…with slight adjustments. I bought fat-free yogurt, 2% milk (last time I used skim – I don’t recommend that), and just talked nice to it. I had everything at my fingertips. When I decided to give it another go, I re-created my double-boiler, got out my trusty thermometer, and was ready to face the yogurt fates. -OH, I decided I didn’t learn my lesson the first time and bought another half gallon of milk to make another unnecessary half gallon of yogurt for this one person. I amaze myself at my intelligence sometimes-

Step 1: create double boiler

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Double boiler

Step 2: pour milk into pot
………….Step 2: pour milk into pot

This gets slightly complicated when the top shelf of your refrigerator has decided to imitate the Arctic and make one giant ice cube out of your milk. -insert background laughter from the yogurt fates here- I’m off to a spectacular start. Step 1 has now turned in to: thaw your giant ice cube of milk any way you can – this may take a good half hour or so. Probably longer.

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Well, that was fun.

After your milk cube is thawed, pour into the top pot and bring up to 180°F for minimum a half hour, stirring frequently. During this process, I did notice that my milk frothed quite a bit more than the skim milk for the first attempt.

IMG_0169 IMG_0175

After about a half hour, cool down the milk to approximately 110°F, stirring occasionally. I did this with an ice bath in my sink. You can do it by leaving it on your counter, it will just take much longer, and goodness knows (and my family, and my friends, and my boyfriend) that I am not a patient person.

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Ice bath to 110F

Add 1 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt (yes, you use yogurt to make yogurt) to your cooled milk. I used FAGE Total 0% for mine. Stir this in well to your milk.

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Add yogurt to cooled milk

Now, you have sour, hot, yogurt milk. Congrats! Think of it as your yogurt embryo. This little guy needs some TLC, and a warm, quiet place to incubate for 7+ hours. You want to keep it between 100°F and 110°F during this time. The site I originally got the recipe off of suggests a heating pad. Uh, don’t try to get super creative and invent your own if you don’t have one. It won’t work. Trust me. This time, instead of putting it on top of the oven, I decided to put it in the oven! ………I can hear your negative thoughts you cynics. Ok, ok, I deserve them. I did not turn the oven on. Instead, I put a lid on my yogurt embryo mixture, wrapped it in towels, and put the bottom of the double boiler (the pot that had the boiling water in it) next to it in the oven. I heated up more water in a tea kettle and added that to it as well. I checked on the temperature every now and then and added more hot water only once.

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The oven ‘incubator’

I intended to pull it out of the oven at 7 hours. But I went to dinner with a friend and lost track of time. I got home when it had been sitting there for at least 9 hours if not longer. Knowing me, and my relationship with the yogurt fates, I was figuratively crossing every limb, fiber, and hair strand I had that this would not be my downfall again. I pulled out the pot, unwrapped it from the towels and lifted the lid to reveal:

Yogurt.

WOO HOO!!!

WOO HOO!!!

I did it! It worked! I couldn’t believe it. It looked like yogurt, and even kind of smelled like yogurt. I was giddy with pleasure and the satisfaction that the yogurt fates and I had become friends come to an understanding. I put it in containers to refrigerate over night -NOT on the top shelf of my fridge-. The real testament would come the next morning with the first sample.

Morning comes. I’m excited and slightly nervous to try it, considering it was something I made. From scratch. In the kitchen. And you just never know how that’s going to turn out. –If it works out, you ideally never have to buy yogurt again; you can use a few tablespoons from your homemade yogurt in the milk to make a new batch.- It was actually, surprisingly very good. Not as tart as I’m used to, but I was ok with that. The consistency was perfect, maybe a little less solid (is that the right word?), but definitely not runny.

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Homemade Yogurt

HECK. YES.

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So good even Klondike wants some 🙂

I’ll just go ahead and give myself a pat on the back for that one.

Rainbow Salad

So….obviously cooking has never really been my thing. You’re shocked, I know. However, one of the very few things I do like to do in the kitchen is make salad. -ya cuz THAT takes an iron chef-

As long as there is minimal chopping to be done, I’m all for it.  I like it so much, in fact, that I decided to name my salad Rainbow Salad! Yep, claiming it as mine. …And THIS is where I understandably lose the majority of you readers right now.

But, for you poor, poor souls who are determined to continue reading, let’s get colorful!

Everyone knows what a rainbow looks like. Uh, almost everyone. Unless you’re colorblind, which is just extremely unfortunate considering my favorite color is red. Back to rainbows. The bottom line: there are a lot of colors. That’s what I think a salad should look like, too. Not only should it blast my tastebuds with goodness, it should be a flamboyant, cocky array of delight to my eyes as well. That’s right. A salad should be flamboyant. What can I say, I like pretty things.

I confess, though, I’m a hypocrite. One of my kitchen requirements is minimal ingredients. For Rainbow Salad, this is a lie. The more ingredients you have, the more colors there will be, hypothetically.

This is my take on Rainbow Salad. I suppose you could have a different approach. But why think outside the box?!

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Rainbow Salad ingredients. Some of them, anyway.

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RED

  • I use grape tomatoes. Do I cut them in half to make life easier when I go to eat this scrumptious bowl of healthy delicousness? Of course not.
  • Dried cherries. Because they’re delicious.
  • Sometimes I use red peppers. I say sometimes, because more often I use:

ORANGE & YELLOW

  • Bell peppers. Mmmmmmmm. Unfortunately these do not come already pre-cut at the store, but I’ve been managing so far. They add the perfect pop of flavor.
  • Sometimes I add carrots, but not very often.

GREEN

  • This is where you can get CrAzY! Use your imagination. Go wild. Be dangerous,  you salad innovator, you.
  • I typically use spinach and kale for my salad base. Already pre-cut and packaged, of course.
  • Green onions. Did you know if you leave the base of the green onions (the white part with the roots), you can put them in some water and grow your own?! Nah, I haven’t tried it either. I should, though.
  • Cilantro. For some zip.
  • Avocado. If they’re affordable, which doesn’t happen very often in Colorado.

BLUE

  • Blueberries. CHA-CHING! I love blueberries on salad! No cutting, chopping, or hacking required. This is the moneyball to any salad, in my extremely humble opinion. You doubt me? Try it. Then maybe we can be friends again. Maybe. -I also thouroughly enjoy strawberries on salad, too-

PURPLE

  • Red onion. Ok, so they’re called red onions, but they look pretty purple to me. So I’m going to leave it at that. If you’re like me, chopping onions is one of the least lucrative kitchen tasks known to man. Every time I do it, I end up looking like I just finished watching some moving, heartfelt movie with a sappy ending. Complete with puffy eyes and runny makeup. But, they taste fantastic, so bring it on.

Congrats, ladies and gents. We’ve successfully completed a rainbow -like every other toddler on the planet- . If you decide to pretensiously argue with me about skipping out on Indigo, we’re going to have words. Specifically: Really!? You’re correcting me on a food rainbow! Get over it.

The rainbow may be complete, but the salad is not. *Gasp* That’s right – it gets more colors!

BROWN/GRAY

  • Portabella mushrooms. Surprisingly, I don’t buy these pre-sliced. Instead I opt to save 50 cents and slice them myself at home. I know they are a love/hate food, but I happen to love them. I could talk for a while on truffles…but I won’t. I love the mushrooms in the salad, but you could also drizzle truffle oil on the entire thing. YUM! Truffle oil just happens to be expensive and something I don’t necessarily think about when I go to the store.

BLACK

  • Black pepper. I’m slightly addicted. I put pepper on everything. Even if it already has pepper in it, it probably isn’t enough, so I’ll drench it with some more.
  • Sometimes I add chia seeds as well. *Self promotion: for my article on seeds, click here.

WHITE

  • Sliced almonds. If I had the oomph to glaze or candy them I would. Instead, I just buy pre-sliced almonds and generously add them in. You could add in any type of nut or seed.
  • Cheese. I often don’t add cheese to my salad right away. If I feel like it later, I’ll add either blue cheese, goat cheese, feta, or parmesan.

Dressing

  • You can add any sort of dressing to this. I usually do the same thing every time:
  • Olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. OR
  • Sea salt, olive oil, and lemon juice. -if I’m feeling exceptionally enthusiastic, I’ll add crushed red pepper-
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One rendition of Rainbow Salad

I think we’ve almost run out of colors. Well, there you have it. That’s my basic Rainbow Salad. Obviously there are thousands of variations -but mine’s the best-. You could always add chicken, shrimp, steak or any sort of protein to it as well. I could go in to the health benefits of everything listed, but I think I’ve bored you enough already. I make a giant bowl of this weekly, that way whenever I want some I can just go to the refrigerator and grab it without having to do any more chopping.

-sidenote: if you cover the salad, make sure it can breathe. It has mushrooms in it, which can get slimey if there’s no airflow-

For those of you who think this was a ridiculous post, I completely agree. But, you did finish reading the entire thing…

Dear Skittles: Taste the rainbow? …NAILED IT!

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