Tag Archives: health

Vegan Lemon Chia Seed Muffins

It’s raining in San Francisco today. We’ve been mourning the lack of moisture all over the West this winter, which is nothing like past winters I’ve spent in the bay area. I remember walking the length of campus in the pouring rain to get to a midterm. The class was held in a frigid basement room of the old women’s gymnasium, next door to the anthropology collection, and I thought I was going to freeze to death before finishing that midterm. My pants and feet were soaking wet and I’m sure my toes turned blue. I remember not really caring about the test any more. I just wanted to finish it and get out of there! Ah, those were the days.

The fool in me thinks You should go back to school! You’re certainly not getting a job so you don’t have anything better to do! Ha. No way. The smarter part of me remembers that I promised to never repeat the thesis-writing experience.

What can I do instead, now that I’m without employment, internships, or medical crises to keep me occupied? I’m thinking about learning to sing or dance (I’ve been watching way too much Glee on Netflix). Or maybe I’ll through myself headlong into organizing and decorating the house, something that might never get done otherwise.

Before I get to whiny, let me get to the point: These muffins are bright sunny spots on this grey day and on my recent dark mood. The solutions to my boredom and idleness are of cooking and blogging, of course. A job would help too. I have at least one really, really incredible prospect in my sights.

Meanwhile, I’ll be making these muffins over and over again until I get tired of them. They are undoubtedly the best thing I’ve made in a long time. I knew they would be as soon as the idea hit me. What about lemon poppy seed muffins but with chia seeds instead! They could be vegan!

Lemon poppy seed muffins have always struck me as the most dainty, sophisticated muffin. They don’t have much substance and often toe the line between cupcake and muffin. With chia seeds, though, and whole wheat pastry flour, these muffins are like undercover spies in the world of frivolous pastries. A modest amount of honey adds the perfect sweetness and the lemon flavor is surprisingly strong, in a good way.

If you have not tried chia seeds I encourage you to get some. As gross as this may sound, their coagulating abilities are just so…cool. I mostly use them in hot cereal and overnight oats but now that I’ve baked with them once I think they will join flax seed meal as an essential part of my vegan baking.

Lemon Chia Seed Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds + 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sour non-dairy milk + juice from half a lemon
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a muffin tin with silicone or paper cups.
  3. Combine chia seeds with water, whisking them together. Allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, blend flour, baking powder, and salt.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine lemon zest, soy milk, and lemon juice.
  6. Add honey and chia gel to soy milk mixture, stirring until honey dissolves and is thoroughly blended.
  7. Stir in vanilla extract.
  8. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir gently till barely combined.
  9. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
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Franken-me

As promised, here is the long story of my very busy December. If you’re worried, stop worrying. I want to start the new year with less worrying.

By busy, I mean no free weekends to enjoy our new house or do anything outdoorsey. I’ll pick up where I left off here, when I had to leave town abruptly before a planned road trip to Oregon to get my dog. That unplanned flight to Los Angeles had to do with the melanoma that turned up on my shoulder back in November. Okay, so it had been there for a while. November was just when I got the results of biopsy from a recent dermatologist visit.

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Doc did eventually make it home to us. As a side note: on our trip to pick him up I left my phone on top of my car, it fell off, and was run over multiple times. Fortunately someone found it and it still worked! With a new screen is was almost good as new!

The funny/ironic/sad thing about me having a melanoma is that my dad has always been known as somewhat of a skin cancer Nazi among family and friends. Even though we wore much, much more sunscreen than the average kids growing up in the 90’s, my brother and I used to feel like we’d committed some kind of crime when we got sunburned. We are fair skinned, blue-eyed, and doomed to live in fear of the sun for the rest of our lives.

My melanoma (doesn’t that have an endearing ring to it?) was large enough to warrant a pretty extensive surgery to remove the area around it as well as the nearby lymph nodes where cancer cells might have migrated. I was working on getting an appointment for that procedure at UCSF but wasn’t having much luck so my dad pulled some strings at the university cancer center where he works. With less than a days notice, I was flying to SoCal.

I spent an entire day in exam rooms, alongside ultrasound machines, and under the care of several wonderful doctors. I went home with a biopsied lymph node in my armpit, three stitched-up biopsy spots where a dermatologist decided to test some of my other moles, and an appointment to return for the surgery on January 18th. All those biopsies came back negative but January 18th wasn’t soon enough for the surgery as far as my dad was concerned.

Three days before Christmas Eve, when my dad called me at work to tell me there was a opening and the doctor could do the surgery on December 22, I was not happy. I did not want to fly South to be cut open. I didn’t want to be recovering over Christmas and miss out on those last precious days before the holiday itself arrived. Reluctantly, though, I gave in and my dad made the arrangements. I know he was worried about me and it would have ruined his Christmas to have to keep worrying.

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This guy kept me sane through it all.

My second visit to LA involved a pre-surgery procedure and an early morning in the operating room. The day I arrived, they injected radioactive stuff under the skin at the melanoma site (ouch!). That stuff – okay it was an isotope, lets get technical – flowed to the nearest lymph nodes, which happened to be in my armpit, and helped the surgeon find them the next morning.

I had a deeeeelicious dinner at an Italian restaurant with my dad that night and Pinkberry (a special treat) for dessert. We stayed in a hotel because my dad’s apartment is so tiny.

On surgery morning, I got to the hospital at 5 am and began the two-hour process of changing into a gown, funny hat, and socks and having 7 different people ask me the same questions. What is your name? What are you here for today? What shoulder is it on? Do you have any allergies? When was the last time you had something to eat?

I’d never had any kind of surgery requiring general anesthesia before. The whole pre-op room was super interesting, which was nice cause without all those diverting conversations to overhear and people to watch I would never have been able to stay awake to answer all the questions. At 7:30am I finally went into the operating room. That is, the anesthesiologist gave me an injection of “stuff to make me calm and happy”, which also made me forget everything after they wheeled me out of the pre-op room. I know the surgeon was there in his suspenders. That made me happy. Suspenders are cool.

When I woke up I was in the recovery room and a nurse was trying to talk to me. Waking up from Anesthesia was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. I was so frustrated because I just couldn’t stay awake no matter how hard I tried. It took me all afternoon to wake up and a couple of tries to get out of the room. The first time I got up, went to the bathroom, and realized that my body wasn’t ready to be vertical yet. I went back to bed and back to sleep. On my second attempt, the nurse helped me get dressed and someone wheeled me out to meet my dad in his car. He got me a chocolate banana smoothie from Starbucks, per my request for a smoothie. It tasted wonderful and staid down.

My shoulder hurt. They had taken out five lymph nodes but found all of them normal. I had dressings on the top/front of my left shoulder and under my left arm. I was still so tired. Pain medication and lots of pillows helped me get through the night but by the morning it was clear that super-duper pain meds make me sick. I stopped taking them.

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Some yummy eats from the past month. I’ve been making lots of pizza!

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I did a lot of cooking+eating but not much exercising thanks to my wounds.

I negotiated the rest of the holiday season with my left arm in a sling and a limited range of motion in my shoulder. The sling mostly kept my arm from resting on my swollen armpit and discouraged movements that might have ripped wounds open. I kept the waterproof dressings on for as long as possible so I didn’t see my actual incisions for a while. When I finally took all the bandages off (two weeks post-surgery) it was worse than I thought! I almost passed out when the surgeon unveiled my shoulder incision, complete with 7 staples! Those came out last week (3 weeks post-surgery) so now I look a little less like Frankenstein.

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Cherry-Filled Sourdough

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        I have a lot of food boundaries. Some of them are more like barriers (I think this term has a slightly negative connotation) and some are lines that I think it’s better not to cross. I spend a lit of time breaking down the barriers and testing the boundaries of my cooking and eating habits. Comparing now to my eating disordered past, I think I only have my big toe dipped in the food restriction waters, while I was up to my neck several years ago.
        Still, old barriers remain and I chip away at them every day. Take cheese, for example. I used to eat the most processed, light, fat-free, bleugh cheese ever, and then only in minuscule amounts. Right now, I have exactly 5 kinds of cheese in my refrigerator…wait, make that 4. I finished the feta for lunch today. I love cheese and I’ve learned to eat real-food kind of cheeses (no more nasty processed stuff) in reasonable amounts.
        I could go on but I think one confession is enough for one post. Oh, but then there’s the whole reason I started talking about boundaries/barriers in the first place: Pie filling! You know the stuff in the can that you can just pour into a crust and voila, you have a pie? I don’t think I had ever bought or baked with canned pie filling until Duncan Hines sent me coupons for their baking mixes as well as Comstock Wilderness Fruit Fillings through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program last month.
        Canned pie filling was on the other side of pretty much every food boundary I have. First and foremost it’s a non-homemade route for baking, which I try to avoid. Second, it’s got to be loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and probably doesn’t have much real fruit in it anyway. Third, fruit pies aren’t my favorite. I’m a pumpkin girl all the way.
        As soon as I brought myself to pie filling level in front of the supermarket shelves (on the floor), Comstock surprised me. Some of the cans looked newer and were labeled “More Fruit” and “No high-fructose corn syrup”. What? Really? Huh, maybe this stuff isn’t that bad after all.
        I chose a can of Cherry “More Fruit” filling and immediately started thinking of how I was going to use it. Pie was too obvious. I wanted to make bread, sourdough bread to be specific. It struck me that the sweet, gooey fruit filling would be a perfectly odd partner for tangy, dense sourdough. Thus, the cherry-filled sourdough loaf was born!

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        It may look like a cherry pie collided with a loaf of bread to produce this bizarre offspring. I like to imagine both things flying through the air in my kitchen…but that would be messy. Instead, I simply made a small batch of wet dough with my sourdough starter, layered half of it on the bottom of a round baking dish, poured in about half the can of fruit filling, and then made a ring around the edge of the filling with the remaining dough. After some more rising and some oven time, I had a sweet, doughy thing that I didn’t know how to eat. Fork? Hands? Hands won but it was messy.
        The sourdough is very sour (I used a lot of starter) and the cherries are very sweet. Together, though, they are the perfect winter breakfast or brunch flavors. One reason I chose the cherry filling was that cherries are no longer in season so I can’t actually make a cherry pie from scratch right now. That’s the perfect excuse for using a canned convenience food, in my opinion. Cherry pie filling is such a Christmasy color that it’s nice to have it around this time of year, even if it isn’t made from seasonal produce.
This isn’t really a recipe, since I totally improvised the sourdough bread and I think everyone who makes sourdough has their own way of doing it. If you have a starter, make a whole grain dough with a high moisture content and open a can of pie filling. If you don’t have a starter, put it on your Christmas list!

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Hearty Cherry-Filled Sourdough Bread

1 batch of your favorite sourdough, made with a little less flour or more water so it’s wet enough to spread over the bottom of a pan.
1 can Comstock Wilderness Fruit Filling (More Fruit, no high fructose corn syrup!)

Prepare dough, allow it to rise once. Punch down.
Coat the inside of a baking dish with oil and then stone-ground cornmeal, semolina flour, or regular flour.
Divide dough in half and gently spread half of it over the bottom of the baking dish.
Spoon about half of the can into the center of the dough in the dish, leaving at least an inch of dough around the edge of the filling.
Lay the rest of the dough all the way around the edge of the filling so that it makes kind of a barricade between the fruit and the sides of the baking dish.
Cover dish and allow bread to rise for another couple of hours, or until the top dough circle has expanded to almost cover the filling underneath.
Preaheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bake bread for 25-30 minutes, or until it’s golden-brown on top and the edges have pulled away from the dish somewhat.
Cool on a wire rack until the dish is no longer hot to the touch, and the fruit filling is somewhat set (not too liquidy). Then remove loaf from dish and continue to cool on rack.
Slice like a pie and serve!

The only thing that would have made this better is chocolate. Why didn’t I think to add chocolate? You could always spread some Nutella on each slice or sprinkle dark chocolate chips onto the bottom dough layer before adding the cherries. Now that would be decadent!

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Fresh or Frozen?

Freezers are wonderful things. They hold ice cream, home cooking put by for later, and frozen convenience foods. Some might say there’s no place for the latter in a the healthy, local, sustainable kitchen. Just look at the ingredients and nutrition label on a frozen lasagna…yeah, they have a point.

Still, I buy things from the frozen foods aisle and I consider myself a relatively healthy shopper/eater. Sometimes, you just need something easy and the freezer is one of the best places to find real food with a longer shelf life than a head of lettuce. Here are a few frozen foods I love:

    1. Veggie burgers: While I’ve dabbled in homemade veggie patties and enjoyed my creations, I still like to have store-bought veggie burgers on hand. They’re one of my favorite go-to easy, fast dinners and make great hot lunches too. Recently, I’ve been buying a big package from Costco, which cuts down on excess packaging and makes the price a little more attractive.
    2. Ice cream, of course: I’m actually trying to cut down on my ice cream consumption. It got a little out of hand when we moved ashore from the boat and I was just so thrilled to have ice cream at my fingertips again! Don’t take this frozen treat for granted!
    3. Frozen spinach: This is my new favorite thing to put in smoothies. With a bag of frozen spinach in the freezer I know I can always make a green smoothie, even if I don’t have fresh greens on hand. Frozen chopped greens also make the smoothie colder and thicker than fresh greens. My favorite combo these days is frozen spinach, frozen mango, whey protein powder, and almond milk. It makes for a wonderfully thick smoothie that I like to eat with a spoon.
    4. Frozen edamame: snacking heaven. I don’t know how else you’d keep edamame around.
    5. The occasional frozen dinner…I feel kinda guilty about this one but I can’t help myself. My indulgent, lightning-fast comfort food for nights when I just don’t feel like cooking or don’t have time is frozen mac and cheese. I try to buy the natural/organic brands. It makes me feel better to know I have one of these in the freezer in case of a dinner emergency.
    6. Misc. frozen veggies: I’m a sucker for brussels sprouts and, lately, lima beans. I have a favorite tofu/lima bean spread/dip recipe that I’ll share here eventually.

Recently, the Foodbuzz Tastemakers program sent me a coupon for a Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers frozen vegetable + sauce dish. Normally I’d steer clear of any sauced vegetable in the frozen food aisle. I was happy to see that the ingredient lists aren’t too weird – there’s mostly just veggies in there! I was also thrilled to find macaroni and cheese with broccoli among the selection. While that doesn’t exactly qualify as enough vegetables for a meal to me, it is a great example of how to incorporate more green stuff in normally not-so-green meals (even my guilty pleasures!).

The Steamer I tried tonight was good! It served Lee and I as a side dish. The sauce was light and with the addition of eggs tortillas, and a few more vegetables (since I cannot get enough of them) made a tasty dinner. I do wish there were more veggies in the bag. The whole thing was about as many veggies as I normally eat in one sitting.

Simple dinner: scrambled eggs and Garden Vegetable Medley + some

additional vegetables + whole wheat tortillas to stuff = sort of egg and veggie fajitas

(This would make an awesome breakfast too!)

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