Four Dollar Vegan

When I first got interested in vegetarianism, I scoured the web for resources – blogs,¬†recipes, links to good books, and so on. All of the information really equipped me with the tools to be successful and not just a “potatoes and pasta veggie” as some might say. Now, as I try to lean more vegan, I am once again looking to blogs and especially books for ideas and inspiration. I’ve got some great cookbooks on the shelf – The Kind Diet, The Happy Herbivore Cookbook, Appetite for Reduction– but one I’m really digging these days is Eat Vegan on $4 a Day by Ellen Jaffee Jones. With a household full of graduate students living off loans (sigh), this sounds like my kind of book!

Not only does the author offer almost 100 simple and accessible recipes, she also does the math! She breaks down the costs of each recipe per serving and offers tips on working with different ingredients to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak. She’s also a planner (a woman after my own heart!) and puts together a weekly menu plan to show how you can easily eat a varied, tasty diet on less than $4 per day.

My favorite parts of the book come even before the recipes begin. There are cutesy chapter names, like “Bolster your Budget Breakfasts” and “Penny Wise Spreads and Sides” (peek inside on Amazon), but I also really appreciate Jones’ exploration into our culture’s infatuation with junk food and convenience foods as the most economical food choices (wrong-o!). She talks about the lack of government advertising dollars allocated to fruits and veg (sad face), speaks honestly about chemicals and pesticides (don’t go crazy trying to avoid all of them, but be mindful and limit what you can by eating plant-based), and talks about eating locally and seasonally to save $$ and the environment (two thumbs up!).

OK, I don’t want to give it all away, but this is a fantastic resource for budget-minded people; soooo, that’s most of us! Even if you are not vegan or even vegetarian, the book offers a lot of food for thought. Pun intended ūüôā

Review: Little Bee

Oh my. This was an amazing book. I could tell by page 3 that I was really going to enjoy reading this.

Gorgeous writing. I can’t even imagine where the author came up with some of his descriptions…of the most normal seeming things. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write so eloquently, which is why I like the free flowing nature of blogs, but I was absolutely enamored of this book. It was sad. And hopeful. And gut-wrenching. And beautiful.

This was a fictitious story with real world possibility. unfortunately.

Little Bee is the main character in this novel of the same name. She’s a teenage refugee from Nigeria who has experience more in her sixteen years than anyone should in a lifetime. ¬†The story takes us through her chance meeting with a British couple and how that relationship evolves. I don’t want to get any deeper into the story because it’s absolutely worth reading.

I’ll leave you with just a little taste of the eloquent writing, from page 1:

“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead – but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other’s names.”

Read it. NOW.

Ready to GO!

Happy Monday to the world! I am more excited than usual on this beginning of the week day because tomorrow Hubs and I will be in Arizona! For 9 glorious days. In the desert. Yay!

To prepare for 100-degee dry heat (which we are NOT used to coming from Detroit and Pgh), I had a packing extravaganza last night! LOTS of lightweight tank tops and leggings, workout clothes, hiking shoes AND socks, and more…

Who knew there were so many types of hiking socks (from one company)?! Here’s my new fancy, breathable, foot-hugging pair from Wigwam:

Exciting, right? Along with my trusty Tevas, I’m all set for the rough roads and rocks of Sedona and the Grand Canyon!

Also along for the ride are a few reads I’m excited to dive into:

 

I like to switch it up between non-fiction, health-related books and fiction pieces. I want to get in as much “me” reading before I have to read about 800 pages a week in grad school!

Any summer reads or fun vacations planned?

A Little Spending Spree

You ever have one of those days where you just keep shopping and shopping, popping out of one store with bags in hand and into the next? Well, that was my Saturday! It certainly wasn’t planned, and started out innocently enough with a.m. spinning and tv watching, but soon I was burning a (mini) hole in my wallet. It all began with an afternoon appointment at David’s Bridal. It’s weird and a bit sad walking in to that store to buy a bridesmaid’s dress rather than a flowy, long white wedding dress. Been there, done that I suppose. Now it’s time to support my friend (and former bridesmaid) in her life changing occasion. I may not be dressed in white for the big day, but I will be looking pretty!

The bridesmaid dress style I’ll be wearing (in navy)

Just in case you’re wondering, my bridesmaids wore very cute (of course I think so), comfortable strapless and knee-length royal blue dresses. WITH POCKETS!

Moving on from wedding memories, I ordered my dress at David’s Bridal and then just had to stop in to the Half Price Bookstore a couple doors down. I’ve actually been meaning to check this place out, especially since beloved Borders closed across the street. Half Price is even better in my book (haha, pun intended). I picked up a couple gifts and some funny/totally random books, such as Would You Rather…? Pop Culture Edition. Example: Would you rather be machine-gunned to death with Lite-Brite pegs or be assassinated by Cabbage Patch Dolls? That’s a serious thought to ponder :-)…Even though it felt a bit like a clusterf**k with all the inventory in that store, I was pleasantly surprised with their organizational skills and knowledgeable employees. I will be back! Maybe with books to sell, too ūüôā
 
Next up, I was on the hunt for a birthday present. After fueling up with Starbucks iced coffee (splash of soymilk, please) and scouring Marshall’s, DSW, Dots, Old Navy and Five Below, I ended up with a lot of stuff for me, but was empty handed for my friend. I decided to get a restaurant gift card that was sure to please. I’ll be honest, I’m not the best present giver. Sorry friends, I still love you!
 
Other things I learned along the (strip mall) way:
Five Below is kind of a cool store for cheap junk! I had never been inside before, assuming that it was, well…I didn’t know what it was, but now I do! I walked away with 2 pairs of $4 sunglasses, among other tchotchkes, so I was happy to make this store discovery.
– DSW has awesome shoes. Oh wait, I knew that one.
– Marshall’s has an adorable gourmet food section mixed in with their kitchen supplies.¬†I found a lot of stuff that would make great dinner party or housewarming gifts (just not birthday gifts…)!
 

My loot!

Among the items I picked up, my favorites include: super strappy sandals from Dots, comfy yet cute walking shoes from DSW (I finally found you!!), coconut oil from Marshall’s, the 2 pairs of Five Below sunglasses at $4 each, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I will have you know that, being the bargain shopper I am, ALL of this stuff (including gifts for 3 friends) cost less than my David’s Bridal dress (which was discounted as well). After spending $55 on gas and a car wash in the same day, I’m pretty happy about that! Let’s see what this weekend holds…I have no more $$ to spend!

Monday Giveaway!

Happy Monday! Let’s start this week off right…how about with¬†my first giveaway?!

OK, so you probably know I’m a little obsessed with¬†Happy Herbivore. When I started reading blogs about a year ago, I immediately added HH to my roster, even though I don’t necessarily¬†follow a low fat or vegan diet. At first, I was only making HH’s famous black bean brownies, but then I started further exploring her recipe page and cooking style. I honestly didn’t think I would buy the HH book when I heard about it’s early 2011 release. But as I made and devoured more free recipes from the blog, I realized that I would really enjoy the ease and satisfaction of HH recipes (and pretty pics) from the cookbook, too.

Now, through the generosity of BenBella Books, I would like to pass on a copy of The Happy Herbivore Cookbook so you can see for yourself how awesome low-fat, vegan cooking and baking can be!

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment or send an e-mail to TheSteelLife@gmail.com explaining why would you would like to try The HH Cookbook or with ideas of what you’d like me to blog about (I’m still pretty new to this, after all).
One entry per day through 11:59pm on Wednesday, April 13.
I will announce the randomly selected winner during Thursday’s Project: Food Budget post.
(U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.)

Good luck ūüôā

HH Interview

Remember when I got to meet the Happy Herbivore at¬†her¬†Pittsburgh book signing?¬†Well, she’s taken that book tour to a new level with a blog book tour! Lindsay, a.k.a. Happy Herbivore, is coming out with TWO new cookbooks in the next year or so and she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about inspirations and finding passion. Enjoy!

(J)¬†Tell me about the path of Happy Herbivore…How did you get started?

(HH) I started happyherbivore.com several years ago when I was newly vegan.
Blogs were still new back then and veganism wasn’t as mainstream as it
was today so I wanted to put information out there for others like me,
and maybe meet other vegans… I never expected it to take off or turn
into a book!

(J) How do you find inspiration for your recipes?

(HH) It’s sort of a mix of trying to find ways to recreate healthy and
fat-free vegan versions of foods I used to love, responding to
suggestions and requests from fans and inherent inspiration. For
example, I might see a beautiful eggplant and think “I really need to
come up with a recipe that uses eggplant!” Or more commonly, I’ll
realize I’ve totally neglected a certain food, like say kidney beans,
so I’ll try to develop a recipe that uses them (hint: that’s how the
Rajma Masala was born!)

(J) Was cooking and writing a book always a passion of yours?

(HH) I’ve always been passionate about writing, though I thought I’d be a
novelist or something! ha! I was a lawyer before a chef, so I guess
I’ve always been a writer? I was a horrible, horrible cook in college;
so cooking really intimidated me. I got over that, though, when i went
vegan since, at the time, I lived somewhere where “vegan” was unheard
of — if I wanted to eat, I had to make it. I happened to fall in love
with culinary arts in the process and now it’s my all encompassing
passion!

(J) How has HH’s success affected you?

It’s all so humbling; I’m in total denial about the success — which I
think is good. Recently someone recognized my sister and was like
“OMG! You’re the HH’s sister!” and when she was telling me the story,
I thought she was pulling my leg at first, and then it was just really
cool. Unbelievable, but cool. I’m just in shock, I still don’t believe
it some days — it all feels like a dream.

(J) What advice would you give to people trying to find their passion like you have?

I feel like my life took me here, that a lot of small steps, small
seemingly inconsequential decisions, led me here, as though my passion
found me. Who knows maybe there were signs all along and I missed
them?? but one thing I’m sure of: is life is too short to not do what
you love. I was a lawyer and hated it. I’ll never make as much money
as I did as a lawyer, but I’ll never be as happy as a lawyer as I am
now. I guess what I’m saying is, be open to the possibilities. This
“career” came out of the worst thing that ever happened to me, after
all.

Thanks so much for the interview HH!! Here’s a great recipe from her¬†current cookbook. I’m making this one tonight – it’s so versatile!

Quick Queso (makes 1 cup) – It’s okay to go at this sauce with a spoon. I won’t judge.
1 cup non-dairy milk (such as fat-free soymilk)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 tsp granulated onion powder
1/2 tsp granulated garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp chili powder or cayenne (optional)
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often until thick. Serve immediately.
Note: Gluten-free flours or blends may be substituted, such as chickpea flour. Also, add a 10-ounce can of Rotel tomatoes with green chilies for a Mexican Queso twist.

Learn more about Lindsay:

Biography – Lindsay S. Nixon is a rising star in the culinary world, praised for her ability to use everyday ingredients to create healthy, low fat recipes that taste just as delicious as they are nutritious. Lindsay’s recipes have been featured in Vegetarian Times, Women’s Health Magazine and on The Huffington Post. Lindsay is also a consulting chef at La Samanna, a luxury resort and four-star restaurant in the French West Indies. You can learn more about Lindsay and sample some of her recipes at happyherbivore.com.

Review: Joy Comes in the Morning

Sorry for the lack of posting over the weekend…did I forget to mention that I’m house sitting, AND I don’t have internet there?! But more on that later…

Anyway, it’s no secret that I’m a big Jew. I’m actively involved in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, which is pretty rockin’ FYI, and one of my book clubs in kind of Jew-y. So for our last book club pick, we read Joy Comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen. The title comes from the¬†beautiful Psalm 30: Weeping may endure for¬†the night, but¬†joy comes in the morning.¬†

The novel is about a reform rabbi, Deborah Green, and the son of a¬†man she’s counseling, Lev Friedman. I don’t want to give too much¬†away because it’s¬†worth reading on your own, but I will say the characters each go on very¬†unique spiritual journeys¬†and encounter a lot of people and adventures along the way. I really grew to like Deborah and Lev and how they dealt with those things throughout the book.

Jonathan Rosen’s writing was also superb. It could have been possible to feel overwhelmed with the amount of¬†Jewishness in¬†the stories and struggles of the characters, but I found myself enjoying the prayers, the reflections, and how¬†everyone dealt with their Judaism. It made me think deeply about my own relationship with religion.

While we discussed all this at last week’s book club gathering, I found it¬†funny that it sounded as if we didn’t really like the book with how critical we were being! But that was just because there were so many good things to analyze. Then again….get a bunch of Jews together and you’re bound to hear some complaining ūüôā

Review: Eating Animals

Happy Monday! It’s happier for some (Packers) than others (Steelers), but more on that later. I’m going to discuss my Super Bowl thoughts tomorrow. Commence nail biting, sitting on the edge of your seat suspense!

Anyway, it’s kind of obvious that I like to read fairly regularly. I’ve actually been reading a lot lately compared to my scholastic history. I didn’t like being forced to read as a child, so it’s all the more liberating now that there are endless choices. I prefer to read fiction novels but like to switch it up every few books with a non-fiction topic like food, history, wellness, etc.

Enter Eating Animals, my latest non-fiction read about- you guessed it- the food industry and what it really means to eat animals. This book was written by Jonathan Safran Foer of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close¬†fame…Both of which are movies now. So it was a nice turn of events in Foer’s career to write a non-fiction book¬†with his perspective and childhood stories in mind. He gets personal with the reader and explains that part of the reason he wrote this book was to learn more for himself and his family and decide what was best for them.

Along the way, he shares a ridiculous number of facts, stories, and glimpses into the food industry, ranging from factory farms to farm sanctuaries. He attemps to view the issue of eating animals from many sides- guest letters and observations featured throughout the book come from factory farmers, vegans, family farmers, vegetarians, and the in-betweens.

Foer shares so much alarming information in this book that it could become overwhelming, but he is able to visually portray the facts and allow the reader to put into perspective what he is saying. One visualization comes to mind- as Foer equates the number of chickens slaughtered each day to how many times they could wrap around the earth. Unbelievable. Some of the findings are simply outrageous.

Whether you’re¬†omni, pesci, veggie…you must read this book. Of all the information I’ve come across that leads to my current vegetarian lifestyle, this has been the most compelling for me. I’ve enjoyed Skinny Bitch, The Kind Diet, The Omnivore’s Dilemma…but this is the book I’m¬†going to try to convince Hubs to read the most!

Review: Happy Herbivore Cookbook

Happy Hump Day! Let’s call this a hybrid “What I Like Wednesday” post and book review all in one. See how clever I can be…

When I started reviewing books on my blog, I didn’t think I would be discussing cookbooks. I’m not the type to seek out or buy cookbooks…I usually just look at what needs to be used up in my fridge and try to find a good recipe with that ingredient.
I’ve learned this may not be the best way to go. I’m trying to plan more meals ahead of time to focus my grocery list (read: budget) and not have immediate anxiety about what to whip up and eat in a matter of 30 minutes. I’m really good at planning in general, so it’s time to do it with meals.

Enter The Happy Herbivore Cookbook: Over 175 Delicious Fat Free &¬†Low Fat Vegan Recipes. It hit stands everywhere yesterday, but I received my copy last week. I’m not a vegan and I don’t strictly follow a low fat diet, but I’ve already made plenty of recipes from this book. And they’re all delicious. My favorite part of the recipes is that they’re easy and accessible – simple ingredients and simple preparations. It makes me want to eat low fat and vegan more often.

I also really like the index, so I can look up recipes with certain ingredients and find out what they mean in case I don’t know. She has tips, tools, and all kinds of extras that make this more than just another cookbook. And those pretty pictures!

Here are some things I’ve already tried and loved and maybe a recipe or two:

Veggie, Bean & Quinoa Croquettes (You gotta buy the book to see the recipe!)

Black Bean Brownies (a.k.a. Beanies)
I’ve been making these for awhile now…even Hubs likes ’em! They’re not your typical butter & egg-laden, fudgy brownie, but they’re slightly banana-y, lightly sweetened, and a filling energy booster that you don’t have to feel bad about eating (half a pan worth…)

Photo courtesy of Happy Herbivore

 

Recipe: Black Bean Brownies
Courtesy of the Happy Herbivore

Ingredients:

  • 15 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 whole bananas (I like mine a little green for this recipe)
  • ‚Öď cup agave nectar (I use pure maple syrup)
  • ¬ľ cup unsweetened cocoa¬†(The real stuff- Ghirardelli!)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¬ľ cup raw sugar (optional) (I skip- makes it even healthier!)
  • ¬ľ cup instant oats

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8×8″ pan and set aside. Combine all ingredients, except oats, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scrapping sides as needed. Stir in the oats and pour batter into the pan. Bake approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing. Chef’s Note: if you find these brownies are too soft or too fudge-y, add another 1/4 cup oats or flour.

I cut these into twelve rectangles¬†at a meager 86 calories each. Even better is baking them in muffin tins and you’ll have 12 cute round beanies ūüôā

Maple Glazed Vegetables
I served these to Hubs and the in-laws for Thanksgiving. They all liked!

Photo courtesy of Happy Herbivore

Recipe: Maple Glazed Vegetables
Courtesy of the Happy Herbivore

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 cups chopped vegetables (I use carrots and turnips or whatever needs using up)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 whole garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar (optional) (I don’t think it needs the extra sweetness)
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions:

Mix cornstarch into 1 tsp cold water, stirring until dissolved and set aside. Add broth and vegetables to a large frying pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add maple, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, juice, garlic, pepper and agave if using. Cook for five minutes or until vegetables are cooked but still slightly crisp. Add cornstarch mixture and stir to combine. turn the heat to high and wait for the sauce to thicken, but keep a watchful eye! Once the mixture is thick like a glaze, remove from heat. Garnish with sesame seeds.

I’m really looking forward to making some of the super easy bread recipes, too!

P.S. How you likin’ the new blog look? It’s a little more feminine than I, but it’s just the right amount of artsy & pretty ūüôā

The Last Lecture

Oh it was a happy morning! I had a really intense spinning class that revved up my energy, then did some deep stretching for the body and soul, and topped it off with a quick and healthy, delicioso breakfast-o!

 

Almost 20 miles on the spinning bike in under an hour. I was peddling FAST!

Refueling B-fast: whole wheat blueberry pancakes topped with whipped greek yogurt, blueberries & honey. Mmmmm!

I recently read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow. In a matter of about 3 days. It discusses a lecture of the same name that Randy gave¬†at Carnegie Mellon¬†soon after receiving grim news of his fatal pancreatic cancer. If you haven’t seen the lecture, you’ve probably been living under a rock. So watch it now.

And after that, or before if you prefer, read the book. There are some really great life lessons reinforced. Reminders about not letting the little things get to you, ways to follow your dreams and never give up, stories of magical parenting…I’m surprised I only teared up once.

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