Sunday, April 15, 2012

I'm taking my oats elsewhere...

Well, I finally did it. After months of deliberating, I made another blog. It's called The Oatmeal Artist, and it's my new home for oatmeal recipes. Ever since I posted "The Oatmeal Addict" back in December, my blog has slowly changed more and more to a consistent string of porridge posts. Additionally, if you look at my list of most popular posts, the oatmeal ones seem to reign supreme.

So anyway, at the moment the new blog is extremely simple. The design is basic, and I merely transferred all my oatmeal recipes over there. I plan on editing the posts over time, taking new pictures (I need prettier bowls), and finding a consistent way to present the actual recipes, especially regarding the multitude of optional ingredients I typically add, such as flax and coconut oil.

Sometimes, I worry that I'm being too noncommittal, but ultimately, who cares? As much as I love cooking in general, nothing matches my love for porridge, and it's something I'm actually good at. I have a lot of practice with porridge. It's my specialty, you know? When I post other recipes on here, I'm usually "meh" about it because I don't know if others will like it as much as I did. On the other hand, when I post oatmeal recipes, I feel a surge of pride. I know it rocks.

I do not think I will delete this blog (because I'm too proud of the Food Revolution badge), but I'm not sure if I will continue posting here. We'll see. :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Honey Nut Oatmeal with Apples

I highly admire several food activists fighting Big Food these days. One of my idols right now is Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian from Seattle. He's one of the best tweeters, constantly posting clever, educational, and witty updates. He's also friendly and helpful, and he always answers any questions I ask him.

One of these questions popped up about a month and a half ago. I saw that bizarre PB2 product at the store; it's basically a jar of dried peanut butter, in the form of powder. I rolled my eyes the first time I saw it, but then I couldn't stop thinking about it later. Think of the possibilities! And what would it be like in my oatmeal? Wouldn't it be like using cocoa powder instead of chocolate syrup (not to suggest chocolate syrup is in any way nutritionally similar to peanut butter!)?

So, I asked Andy what his opinion of PB2 was. Not surprisingly, he replied passionately that this product was a prime example of the narrow view of nutrition, focusing just on calories and fat content. He pointed out that peanut butter is full of healthy fats, and reducing it to a reduced-fat powder takes away its nutritional value. My question ignited such a passion in him, in fact, that he wrote up an entire blog post about it the very next day. At least I can say I inspired him, right?

But here's the thing: I do understand that peanut butter has healthy fats...which is why I eat it by the truckloads every day! But as someone with IBS (which makes me sensitive to fatty foods, no matter if it's healthy fats or not!), replacing one of these multiple servings with PB2 would ease some of my discomfort.

In the end, I purchased a jar (mostly out of curiosity). This product appeared to be safe, so even though I agree with Andy that it's nutritionally inadequate compared to the real deal, I thought it was a fine ingredient for oatmeal.

Here is my favorite recipe with PB2. The flavors are warm and comforting, like apple pie (only better, in my opinion). This particular bowl of oatmeal ranks as one of my top favorite recipes!

Here's what I did:

1. Begin bringing one cup of liquid (I used almond milk) to a boil. While it's heating, add two spoonfuls of PB2, and then whisk until any clumps are gone.

2. When the liquid begins to boil, add 1/2 cup of regular rolled oats (and, optionally, a spoonful of milled flax). Stir.

3. Dice and add an apple (I only used half an apple) into the cooking oats.

4. Once the oatmeal has thickened up a bit, add a splash of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, some cinnamon, and some peanuts or almonds. I also added raisins. (At this point, I also added a spoonful of coconut oil, but that's totally optional [I'm on a high-calorie diet]).

5. When you're pleased with the consistency of the oatmeal, transfer to a bowl and drizzle generously with honey. You could also add another splash of liquid, but I didn't this time. Enjoy!

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coconut-Grapefruit Oatmeal with Pineapple

I bought a pineapple for the first time (ever) this week. I've always feared them, so the few times I've needed pineapple, I just bought the frozen stuff (I hate canned pineapple).

I had to Google how to cut one, but I found it much easier to deal with than a mango! And oh, so delicious! I want to bring some to school for lunch on Monday, and I'm having a hard time keeping my fingers out of it this weekend. I may only have a few tidbits to enjoy by tomorrow! ;)

Anyway, when I purchased it, I immediately thought of oatmeal. What concoction could I come up with??

So without further ado, I give you:

Oats cooked in coconut milk with grapefruit segments, and topped with fresh pineapple and shredded coconut. As if I didn't love my regular grapefruit oatmeal enough as it is, this combination really blew me away. The pineapple was divine, and it sweetened up the bitter grapefruit. Plus, pineapple and coconut is one of my favorite flavor combinations! Hurray!

Here's what I did:

1. Begin preparing the oatmeal like you would for my regular grapefruit oatmeal. For this recipe, I used a full cup of coconut milk.

2. When it comes to flavorings, I wasn't quite sure what to add. So, I kind of experimented: cinnamon, ginger, and poppy seed. Yes, poppy seed. I know that sounds like an odd combination, but you know what? It worked. Go ahead and do what you think is best here. I'm not exactly an expert at tropical food, so... :)

3. When finished, top with fresh pineapple chunks, shredded coconut, and another splash of (coconut) milk.

Soooooooooo delicious!!

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

PB&J Oatmeal with Apples (Happy St. Patrick's Day!)

For months, I've been dreaming of this day. I imagined cooking up some elaborate Irish meal and drinking cider, Jameson, or some other Irish-related beverage with my besties. And oh yes, there would be soda bread.

As the day approached, however, I lost my motivation to do any serious baking. I could definitely make some soda bread, but beyond that, no way. For that reason, I was thrilled to see a Facebook post by a local cafe announcing that they were serving potato and leek soup with soda bread. Count me in!

That salad was wowza! Spinach, mandarin oranges, chickpeas, baby mozzarella, and a vinaigrette 
I've never had soda bread made with white flour before. It was tasty, but I found it too "light" and "cake-like." I guess some people would think those are positive attributes, but those people have never had soda bread before. ;) I like my soda bread dense and hearty. The only thing "sweet" about it should be the jam you slop on top. :)

We decided when we were finished that we were still a little bit hungry, so we walked down the block to our favorite bar/eatery to split one of their ah-may-zing cupcakes. Much to my delight, their flavor of the day was Irish Car Bomb!

The frosting was the star of the show for the most part, but in the last few bites, I finally tasted the cake itself. Wow. Absolutely incredible. I might have even liked to eat it plain, without the frosting. 

Anyway, I have another oatmeal recipe for you. It's basically the combination of several of my favorite oatmeal recipes. I woke up Monday morning craving peanut butter, but I needed to use up half an apple I had in the fridge, so I just kind of threw it all together. Naturally, it was delightful (I think I've made less than three "bad" bowls of oatmeal in my life. It's hard to screw up!).

PB&J Oatmeal with Apples

Prepare my Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal. Top with swirls of your favorite jelly/jam/preserves and globs of your favorite nut butter. I used banana butter. Enjoy!

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Oatmeal "Secrets" Answered

You may have stumbled upon a few of my oatmeal recipes by now. I have several, after all. :)

And during this excursion, you might have read some of my directions and asked, "Why?" Thus, I've decided to make one post explaining all of my slightly quirky oatmeal tricks.

The Mashed Banana?
The mashed banana appears in some expected recipes, like Dark Chocolate Banana, but it also pops up in a couple strange recipes, like Lemon Poppyseed and Thin Mints. Why? First of all, with intense flavors like lemon or mint, it completely overpowers the banana taste. The banana, then, is merely used to sweeten the porridge. For example, without the banana in Lemon Poppyseed, the oatmeal would taste like citrus mixed with a hay bale. Additionally, the banana serves three more purposes: to include a serving of fruit in my breakfast, add a creamy texture, and bulk up the volume of the porridge! Not bad, eh?

I always mark this as optional in my recipes, and I imagine most people take me up on the offer to forego it. Here's why you shouldn't: flax tastes great, helps the texture of the oatmeal, and is an excellent source of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids (so it's good for your digestion AND your heart!). Flax has a wonderful nutty taste that is especially wonderful in oatmeals with less intense flavors (e.g. Apple Cinnamon). Plus, it helps the oatmeal gel together; after all, flax is used as an egg substitute in vegan baking! It's like dropping an egg into your bowl, without the cholesterol and saturated fat. I use milled flax, flax seeds, or a mixture of the two!

Almond Milk?
You can use whatever milk you want. My favorites are almond and coconut. Why? They taste good, and they're easy on my digestive system (dairy upsets my IBS).

Half Almond Milk, Half Water?
I once saw a European comment on a food blog once about how strange Americans are for cooking their oats in water. She viewed this as evidence of our self-hatred. This made me laugh (and think), but here's the thing: almond milk is expensive! By mixing it with half water, I can essentially double my supply. Plus, almond milk (and most nondairy milks) is pretty thick, so watering it down isn't a problem.

1/2 an Apple/Banana/Whatever?
Whenever I write to use half a fruit, I always imagine people reading it and thinking, "WTF?! What do I do with the other half??" Well, if you haven't learned by now, I'm really cheap. Because I've committed to more expensive higher quality food, I've had to save money in other ways--watering down my almond milk, buying overripe bananas in bulk, and only using half a fruit at a time. For bananas, I slice up the remainder and add it to a bag in the freezer, which I use later to make banana soft serve. For apples and grapefruit, I store the other half in a Glad container in the fridge. The next morning, I have another half an apple waiting for me! You might be thinking, "But apples brown when you cut them!!" Relax. They work great for oatmeal. You're just cooking them again, anyway! And they don't actually brown that much, in my experience.

When to Add What?
I understand my directions aren't always the easiest to follow. That's because oatmeal is difficult to screw up. Really, it all comes down to timing. For apples, bananas, and frozen fruit, I add those almost immediately after adding the oats (to soften them and let them become "one" with the porridge). Fresh stone fruits, like peaches, can also be stirred in early on. For fresh berries, I add them closer to the end, or even as toppings at the very end, so they don't collapse and lose all their flavor and appeal.

When adding flavor enhancers, like vanilla or almond extract, I wait until the oatmeal has thickened up (and about 2/3 of the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated). I'm afraid of adding them earlier because I don't want the extract to evaporate with the simmering almond milk/water. I could be totally wrong about this; I'm just following my instinct.

For cocoa powder, I will typically add it when the liquid is half absorbed. Don't wait too long because the powder needs some liquid to mix with. For chocolate chips, save them until the end to sprinkle on as toppings! Otherwise, they'll melt in right away--which defeats the purpose!

"Finish with Another Splash of Milk?"
I end all my recipes with this line. I never did this until I saw pictures of other people's oatmeal, which always had milk poured on top. I decided to try it once, and I instantly recognized the appeal. Splashing some milk over your finished oatmeal serves three purposes: it cools it down so you can eat it without burning yourself, adds one more source of creaminess and milky flavor, and moistens it up again, especially if you accidentally overcooked your oats. From an aesthetic perspective, it also makes your breakfast look more appealing. :) So don't skip the splash!

Without the splash of almond milk, this bowl of Thin Mints Oatmeal would just be a brown blob.


Yes, I use almonds frequently. Many times, a different nut would fit the recipe better. In such cases, I'll say so ("I suggest pecans or walnuts"). However, I can't afford to have a variety of nuts on hand. I can barely afford to have one type of nut on hand. Since almonds are my favorite, I buy them in bulk from Sam's Club, so I always have plenty to add to my oatmeal, even if a different nut would fit better.

No sugar?
Sugar is for ninnies. I "quit" instant flavored oatmeal because of the sugar content (and artificial flavors), so sugar is one thing I never add to my porridge. Occasionally, I'll add honey, but that's more for its flavor than its sweetness. If you're not hardcore like me, feel free to add some sugar, but please, for the love of Michael Buble, do not use Splenda on any of my recipes--nothing would offend me more!

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Strawberry Banana Oatmeal

I know, I'm know. I'm out of control. This is my ten billionth post about oatmeal in a row.

But I really like it, okay?

This morning, I had full intentions of making my Chocolate Strawberry Oatmeal. As I started heating up the almond milk on the stove, however, I had a sudden change of heart. I wanted something different. Something without chocolate. I've done the chocolate thing too much lately.

How have I not tried the strawberry-banana combo yet with oatmeal? It's so obvious; it has to be one of the most classic flavor combinations out there!

I decided to use the strawberries as toppings instead of mixing them in/cooking them along with the oatmeal. After all, what's the point of having fresh strawberries if I'm just going to cook them up and turn them into mush? What have I been thinking?

How I did it:
  1. Cook the oatmeal as you normally would. As I've said many times before, I use an equal mixture of almond milk and water to cook my oats. I also cook mine with a spoonful of flax. 
  2. Next, mash a banana well, and stir that in.
  3. Once more of the liquid has dissolved, add a splash of vanilla extract, a tiny pinch of salt, and a modest shake of cinnamon (don't you love my measurements?). Stir.
  4. Transfer to a bowl and top with diced strawberries (I used four). Other toppings include nuts, dried fruit, and coconut. I served mine with coconut, sliced almonds, and another splash of almond milk. Nummy!

You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lemon Poppyseed Oatmeal

If you can believe it, I didn't try lemon poppyseed until I got to college. In my depression/identity crisis, I basically ate my feelings, so I made frequent trips to the on-campus eateries throughout the day. One of the treats I became addicted to was the lemon poppyseed bread. It was dense, chilled, and super sweet. I shudder now at the amount of extra calories I consumed every week from that bread alone.

When I started eating oatmeal the following year, I initially set out to recreate dessert recipes. I tried banana bread, carrot cake, cheesecake, french toast, and chocolate chip. Basically, oatmeal was my attempt to make dieting suck less (before I discovered whole foods).

Lemon poppyseed was one of the first flavors I tried to recreate, but it took a lot practice. In fact, It took almost two years to perfect. I originally used a recipe that used lemon pudding mix, which was delicious, but it no longer works with my whole foods approach. Thus, I have had to come up with something else. I then tried simply adding lemon juice and poppyseed, but that was dreadful--it was bitter and tart! Finally, I had an epiphany to use a mashed up banana to sweeten it. It worked!

Here's what I did: 

1. Begin cooking the oatmeal like you normally would. For me, this means cooking a 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats and a tablespoon of milled flax in one cup of half-water, half-almond milk at a low boil. For this particular recipe, I would also recommend coconut milk!

2. Mash up a banana very thoroughly and add to the oatmeal. Trust me, you don't want to stumble upon a chunk of banana in this bowl of porridge. Stir.

3. When more of the liquid has dissolved, add four or five teaspoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of poppyseeds. Stir.

4. Serve with dried fruit, nuts, and/or shredded coconut, and another splash of milk!

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Oatmeal doesn't have to be dull.

I think I've made it clear that I love oatmeal. In addition to posting about it more than any other type of food, I also eat it every single morning.

In fact, last week, I accidentally ran out of oats, and I spent hours deliberating what I would have for breakfast the next morning (I had just been to the grocery store and didn't want to make a second trip). My soul was truly tortured. Thinking of starting my day with something other than that comforting bowl of porridge terrified me.

I survived, luckily, and I'm here to share more oatmeal awesomeness!

My bowls of oatmeal are typically fairly simple. I only add a few ingredients, and I stick to the same flavorings (vanilla, almond, cinnamon, chocolate). But sometimes, on the weekends, I like to get a little...crazy. Sometimes the craziness is due to me wanting to be crazy. :) Other times, like this morning, it's due to indecisiveness, and the wonderful realization that I don't have to narrow my choices down; I can just have everything!

And thus, I present to you, super fudgy oatmeal with chopped fresh strawberries, topped with banana-peanut butter and shredded coconut. What up?!

I literally finished this approximately five minutes ago. The taste is still lingering in my mouth and tantalizing me. I don't think I've ever gobbled up a bowl of oatmeal so fast!

Wanna try it? Here's what I did:

1. Follow the directions for making Chocolate Strawberry Oatmeal (I skipped the mashed banana this morning).

2. Top with Chocolate-Covered Katie's banana butter. It's essentially peanut butter blended with banana. It bulks up peanut butter so you can use more without consuming extra calories. I didn't think it would be that good (I didn't want my peanut butter to taste like bananas!!), but I was sick of experiencing thin smears of peanut butter instead of gobs, so I tried it...and I ended up really liking it. (Side note: I also added vanilla extract to mine.)

3. Sprinkle with shredded coconut and a splash of whatever milk you prefer!


**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Grapefruit Oatmeal

Remember nearly three weeks ago, when I had the audacity to christen myself "Lauren the Runner?" Yeah, well, I spoke too soon.

The week that I wrote that post, I went running every other day, and I loved almost every minute of it. I felt great, motivated, and eager to move.

The next two weeks, I felt the exact opposite. What happened?

I've come to realize that there is, in fact, a direct correlation between the weather and my motivation. Back in January, I stuck to my New Year's resolution...until the temperature suddenly dove below 10 degrees and the clouds dumped a foot of snow over everything. Suddenly, my mood plummeted, and all I wanted to do was sulk around the apartment.

Around mid-February, the weather was consistently hanging around between 20-40 degrees, and the snow was almost entirely melted. Out of nowhere, I willingly hauled myself to the wellness center and ran a full two miles for the first time ever. Then I did it again two days later. The rest of the week, I consistently kept running.

Until the next week, when we had a mini-blizzard on Monday afternoon. I dragged myself to the wellness center on Tuesday night, but I've yet to go back since. During this length of time, we have experienced a drop in temperatures, fierce winds, and several snowfalls.

And don't even get me started on this week's major blizzard. Or perhaps it'd be more accurate to call it an ice storm.

Ice, ice, ice, and more ice
All of this evidence supports my belief that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have actually had a rather pleasant winter this year, due to the fact that we have had little precipitation and only one or two days when the temperature dropped below zero. Last year, during a string of nasty blizzards and a consistent negative temperature, I remember dragging my feet everywhere, feeling hopeless and desolate, and even crying at the thought of getting out of bed and physically transporting myself to class. If I didn't love school so much, it's possible that I wouldn't have gone at all.

I haven't had to deal with that this year, luckily, but I'm still seeing it impact my motivation for exercising.

So what's a girl to do when it's snowing and the wind is howling? Try a new oatmeal recipe, of course!

I first stumbled upon a recipe for grapefruit oatmeal on Pinterest (imagine that!), and I was initially skeptical. I have never used citrus in my oatmeal before, and I had a hard time imagining how those segments of bitter juice would mesh with an earthy bowl of porridge.

Well, I'm here to tell you that they mesh beautifully. Even more impressively, after I dropped the segments in and stirred, they broke into their tiny, individual pockets of juice, which resulted in every spoonful having an equal dose of grapefruit!

Although I got the idea from Pinterest, I made up the recipe on the spot. Here's what I did:

1. Begin cooking the oatmeal like you normally would. For me, this means cooking a 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats and a tablespoon of milled flax in one cup of half-water, half-almond milk at a low boil. For this particular recipe, I would also recommend coconut milk!

2. Spoon/cut out the segments from half a grapefruit and drop in the oatmeal. Stir, stir, stir!

3. When the oatmeal is closer to your desired consistency, add a pinch of ground nutmeg and a shake of cinnamon.

4. When the oatmeal is ready, serve topped with shredded coconut and another splash of almond/coconut milk. Enjoy!

If you're interested, here's another method of preparing grapefruit oatmeal, using the actual grapefruit as the bowl!

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Birthday week!

For the past week or so, I've been intending to write a post. Whenever I had a topic in mind, I had no time to write it. Once I got the time, I had already lost interest in the topic.

So here I am, recapping my birthday week.

I had school off on Monday, so I visited my parents on Sunday afternoon. We had a birthday dinner for me, and per my request, we had a grill-out with wine! :) I chose a grill-out because I thought it would be an easy way to accommodate my meatless diet; all I would need is a veggie burger, and I would fit in! Of course, my mom messed this up by serving grilled chicken instead--thanks, mom! :) That drew lots of attention to me, and for the first time, my dad noticed that I wasn't eating meat. Considering this has been going on for half a year, I guess you could say he's not very observant!

On the day of my birthday (Thursday), I expected to hear a "Happy birthday!!" or two from a few students who remembered since I had been announcing it for weeks. I received much, much more.

Within the first minute of walking into the school, one of my students got up from her table, ran up to me, and wished me happy birthday. Immediately after, a group of girls did the same thing. After I passed, I heard them arguing behind me about who was "first" to wish me happy birthday. :)

When I entered my classroom, I had a vase of yellow daisies on my desk from my cooperating teacher (she knows yellow is my favorite color flower), along with a bag of lentils (she always hears me rave about them!), dark chocolate (she knows it's my favorite), and several colored pens for grading (I complained once about how I didn't have any). I was stunned! Not only did she go above and beyond what was necessary, but her gifts were perfect! They were so "me." Other people who walked in and saw them were like, "........lentils?" But I was over-the-moon thrilled.

My first period class sang happy birthday to me. My second period class gave me a signed card, an Easter basket full of candy, and a book of poems (I just finished teaching them a poetry unit!). By fifth period, I had three cards/drawings from individual students, a large poster signed by almost all of my 100+ students (and some others whom I've never even met!), and multiple other renditions of the happy birthday song. To top it off, my parents sent red roses to the school, so I got called into the office to get them. I couldn't stop blushing!

My bounty by the end of the day

Needless to say, it was the best birthday ever. It simply reminded me why being a teacher is so satisfying. Despite the fact that I give them homework and make them think and do things they don't always want to do, they still admire/appreciate/adore me...almost as much as I adore them! They may complain one day when I ask them to write 20 examples of imagery to use in their poems, but they turn around the next day and compete to be the first to wish me a happy birthday.

I rounded out my birthday with dinner with my friends at one of my favorite restaurants in town. :) They have cider on tap, which is a rare find in South Dakota!

To complete my birthday week, I chaperoned the middle school dance on Friday night. I took away two things from that experience:

1. The cool thing to do in middle school is huddle in groups around the entrance to the bathrooms. (...I'm just as baffled as you!)

2. "Ice Ice Baby" is still a "cool" song to the current generation of adolescents.

Oh, and to call it a "dance" is a bit of a stretch. It should really be called the "Stand in a Circle with your Friends and Sing the Lyrics to Every Song" event. Or perhaps the "Get Sugar-Drunk on Mountain Dew and Chase Each Other around the School" event. Anything other than a "dance," since very little of that was actually taking place.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lauren the Runner

One week ago, I started typing up a note on my iPod as I lay in bed. The note was intended to be an upcoming blog post, admitting my failure to uphold my New Year's resolution to exercise two and a half hours a week.

The post was going to ramble on about how I hate exercise. And how my "program" was flawed. And how I had no chance of staying committed to such a flawed program. I was ready to swear against ever exercising again.

But since then, something has drastically changed. The change was a result of three factors:
  • I started reading "Whitewash" by Joseph Keon, which mentions lack of physical activity as a cause of osteoporosis
  • I noticed since I resumed my sloth lifestyle that I was feeling lethargic and having trouble sleeping.
  • I was incredibly bored over the weekend and spent hours and hours just sitting around, being bored, and doing nothing.
Thus, on Sunday I got dressed in my workout clothes for the first time in weeks, and I drove to the wellness center. Where I ran two miles. Yes, two miles. At once. Which I've actually never done before.

Fast forward to Tuesday. I finished eating supper, and my legs got all twitchy. They wanted to run. I, Lazy Lauren, actually had a strong, burning desire to run. I knew I had to act before the temptation passed, so I hurried to the wellness center....and ran another two miles. For the second time in my life. This time was more difficult than the first time, but whenever I wanted to stop, I said to myself, "You spend too much money on high-quality food to not put every effort into total wellness. You deserve this. You deserve to be healthy." And I finished with a smile.

Today, I wasn't planning on going. I wasn't completely in the mood, and I thought I would rather go tomorrow night, on Friday. But I finished dinner, and my legs got all twitchy again...

So I returned to the wellness center for the third time this week. I wasn't really feeling a long-distance run (aka two miles), so instead, I ran one mile, but I pushed myself by picking up my speed and taking longer strides.

I don't know where this is coming from...but I hope it lasts! Even though my one mile today does not satisfy the recommended half hour of exercise a day, I do not care. That mile was a heck of a lot more physical activity than sitting at home, working on lesson plans. That mile took way more effort than any of the half-hearted exercise I did back in January when I was just trying to tally up the minutes for my two and a half hours. I'm going to stop worrying about time and numbers, and just focus on movement. If my body is feeling good, I'm able to sleep well at night, my stress is low, and my attitude is high, then that's good enough for me. :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chocolate Strawberry Oatmeal

For some people, weekends mean making elaborate breakfasts with pancakes, bacon, eggs, and glugs of maple syrup. ("Glugs" is a word, right?)

For me, weekends mean adding chocolate to my oatmeal.

This week was extra special for me because I had strawberries. I generally try to stick to the produce that's in season, and I usually avoid all conventionally grown berries because of the pesticides. However, I was dying for strawberries, and after several weeks of thinking of them constantly, I gave in. So thanks for the strawberries, California!

Throughout the week, I ate them diced up in my oatmeal along with some mashed banana. It was quite delightful, but when Saturday came around, I was ready to amp it up. My original plan was simply to swirl in some chocolate chips at the end, but then I convinced myself to use cocoa powder instead to avoid the extra sugar (not to mention how expensive that bag of chocolate chips was!). To keep it from being too bitter, I used half a mashed banana. Perfect!

How I did it:

  1. Cook the oatmeal as you normally would. As I've said many times before, I use an equal mixture of almond milk and water to cook my oats. I also cook mine with a spoonful of flax. 
  2. Next, mash a banana well (I only used half a banana), and stir that in (the banana is optional. If you don't need the sweetness, you could leave it out!). 
  3. Once more of the liquid has dissolved, add several spoonfuls of cocoa powder until the oatmeal takes on a dark, luxurious, creamy texture. :) I recommend tasting it after every spoonful so you can judge for yourself how much you want. If you don't use enough, it will just taste weirdly bitter and bland. You have to use at least two spoonfuls. :) 
  4. Add a splash of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Stir, stir, stir! 
  5. Finally, add some diced strawberries (I use about 4-6 berries). You want to save this for last so the strawberries don't become mushy and dull while cooking.

I served mine with sliced almonds and another splash of almond milk. It would also be appropriate to add chocolate chips...if you're wild like that. :)

By the way, I recently found out that Hershey's has a dark chocolate powder... I must have this! Soon! But I should probably finish my current tub of cocoa powder. I guess that gives me an excuse to add it to my oatmeal every day from now on!

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lauren the Baker

As much of a Debutante I am with the stove, I'm even worse with the oven. I used to love baking when I lived with my parents. My mom decorates cake as a hobby/side job, so I had tons of baking tools and recipes at my disposal. I used to bake cupcakes for my boyfriend-at-the-time's family for their birthdays; it's no wonder I was so popular at their house! :)

However, I lost my interest after I got sick of doing the dishes. That's the worst part about baking: tons and tons and tons of dishes.

I also lost interest when I went to college and eventually got an apartment. Once I was buying my own groceries, buying ingredients like powdered sugar, cream cheese, and mass amounts of eggs seemed like such a waste, especially when I was devoting my financial resources toward whole foods and organic produce.

Lately, however, I've been into baking again, but a different kind: healthy baking. Eggless, sugarless, dairyless baking. It's an interesting challenge, but it gives me something different to include in my bento box at school.

When I say healthy baking, I don't mean a cookie with some oatmeal thrown in. I'm so tired of people bastardizing the word "healthy" (I'm looking at you, Pinterest users!). "Healthy" is not reduced-fat cream cheese. "Healthy" is not sugar-free jello. "Healthy" is not apple pie, strawberry ice cream, or banana bread. Including a fruit does not negate the sugar and fat. It's still a dessert. You could say "homemade." You could say "lightened up." You could say, "Made from fresh-picked apples!" But it's not "healthy."

I'm talking about dense and hearty gems concocted from mashed bananas, peanut butter, flax, oatmeal, and other whole ingredients. No sugar. No butter. No egg. No white flour. I look for the most healthful ingredients, and cut out the unnecessary ones. This is what attracts me to vegan recipes so often--the ingredients are typically unprocessed and nutritious. After all, vegan bakers are experts at replacing butter and eggs!

My bakery items are not what most people would consider "dessert," but for my everyday purposes, they're perfect. It's like taking a healthy and nutritious bowl of oatmeal and turning it into a baked good.

Like these banana-oatmeal muffins. Filling, flavorful, and hearty. And to push them over the top, I spread peanut butter on them. :)

I adapted them from this recipe. Although the actual recipe is very respectable, I used flax instead of eggs, and instead of chocolate chips, I went for a more banana-bread-like flavor, so I skipped the chips and added cinnamon instead. Mmm!

If you're also interested in unsweetened (and/or vegan!) baking recipes, check out this blog--she has lots of great healthified takes on classic desserts (although I'm unsure of the Stevia thing, so I avoid that)! I've made the chocolate chip cookies (contains some brown sugar) and breakfast cookies. They were both great!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Coconut Quinoa and Apple Salad

Salad is, like, my thing right now.

And I don't mean iceberg lettuce and cheese. I mean good salads. Super salads. Powerhouse salads.

My world changed a month or two ago when I suddenly realized that I could put fruit on salads. I've always made mine with things like broccoli, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, feta, etc. But then Pinterest came along, and I started collecting super salads. And then I found this recipe, with quinoa cooked in coconut milk. I was sold.

The problem is that I can't afford to buy pomegranate every week. So I adapted the recipe to my budget level. But that doesn't mean it's less awesome; I found it equally enchanting to my taste buds. :) It also fills me up without weighing me down! I love this dish.

They may not be pomegranates...but how can you not like APPLES?!

Coconut Quinoa and Apple Salad
Adapted from the Sprouted Kitchen

1/2 c coconut milk
1/4 c quinoa
1 heaping plate full of greens! (Either spinach or mixed baby greens, like I used)
1/2 an apple, diced
handful of raisins
small handful of sliced almonds

For a citrusy drizzle:
1 tbsp. lemon, lime, or orange juice (I used lime)
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
dash of salt
splash of coconut milk (optional)

1. Bring the coconut milk to a boil, add the quinoa, and reduce heat to low or medium low. Simmer for 15 minutes. Be careful! Sometimes it cooks weirdly fast, and I'll return to the stove to find it dried out and burnt to the bottom of the pan. I hate that! In other words, check on it occasionally. You may need to add more milk or turn down your burner.

2. Cook until the quinoa is cooked (not hard) and the liquid is mostly absorbed. Transfer to a bowl and place in a fridge. I like to spread it out so it cools faster. (I also make the quinoa in a larger batch and just keep it stocked in my fridge, so I always have some cooled coconut quinoa ready!)

3. Prepare the rest of your salad while the quinoa is cooling. On top of your "heaping plate full of greens," add the diced apple (I used organic Braeburn), raisins, and sliced almonds. 

4. Mix together the ingredients for the citrusy drizzle. I like it with the coconut milk because it makes the whole salad all wonderfully coconuty.

5. Spoon the quinoa over the salad. It might be a little warm still, but I didn't mind that. If that bothers you, you can wait until it cools more.

6. Drizzle on the citrusy dressing, and munch, munch, munch!

Probably the healthiest thing I've ever eaten four days in a row.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Uncooperative Intestines

Exactly one year ago, I realized something was wrong with me. A friend and I went to pick up some lunch before our second-to-last performance of the show we were in, but I noticed that I still felt weirdly full. I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast that morning (which was most likely a bowl of oatmeal, or an omelette).

But it was lunch time, and I needed to eat something before my long afternoon. So I had a minuscule bowl of chicken and dumpling soup. Immediately afterwards, the fullness feeling intensified. I felt like I had just finished a Thanksgiving dinner!

After the afternoon show, we had a little over an hour before we had to be back for the final evening show. I was still full, even after the intense dancing, but once again I thought I had to eat something. So I made a small salad.

When I thought about it, I realized I had noticed these feelings throughout the entire week, but they seemed to be getting worse. I knew no other way to interpret these feelings than, "I'm eating too much." Why else would I feel full all the time?

Unfortunately, this caused a period of several months in which I continued feeling more and more full, consumed less and less, and lost more and more weight. It wasn't until the end of March when my aunt made a comment to my mom about my Facebook pictures that I realized something was horribly wrong.

(FYI: No worries, I have since gained that weight back.)

I told my mom about how I thought I had been overeating because I always felt full. I spent a long time on Google, and when I found several sites stating that a feeling of fullness is a symptom of ovarian cancer, we made a doctor's appointment.

The doctor actually laughed when I told her my suspicion. She eventually sent me to the GI specialists, the thyroid specialists, etc. Everything they tested came back negative, which means I ate radioactive scrambled eggs for nothing. ;)

It's been a year, and as I write this post, I am feeling incredibly, miserably, frustratingly full after eating a nutritious and delicious bowl of oatmeal an hour and a half ago (and you've seen my oatmeal recipes, so you know they are a perfectly reasonable portion size). You'd think I would have gotten used to the feeling by now, but it's just as frustrating as ever. Sometimes, I become so disgruntled that I sincerely believe the only solution is to fast for the rest of my life, but then the voice of reason tells me to eat through the pain.

As you can imagine, this problem is especially annoying to a food lover like me. I will often be in the kitchen preparing an elaborate meal for dinner, and I'll sit down with something like this or this (which were both amazing, by the way), and I'll still feel full from LUNCH. But I have to eat anyway.

But this weekend, my mom and I figured it out. It's my IBS. Duh.

What particularly baffles me is how none of my doctors could come up with a solution this obvious. Instead, they scheduled me for appointment after appointment to perform upper endoscopies, elaborate x-rays, blood tests, ultrasounds--y'know, all the things that help them make lots of money.

So I've identified the problem, but what's the solution? I'm already doing all the steps to reduce my symptoms (small but frequent meals, exercise, high fiber, no caffeine, etc.), but it's still affecting me. This must stop!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Best Day

I have had the best day ever. Well, kind of. But it does really seem like things are going my way today.

I started my day off right with some fun and delicious Choconut Oatmeal.

For lunch, I made linguini with my homemade tomato sauce and lentil balls, with a salad consisting of baby greens, grapefruit segments, raisins, sunflower seeds, and a raspberry-lime-coconut vinaigrette.

In the afternoon, I dragged myself to the wellness center. I really didn't want to be there. But after just 2 laps of running, I suddenly felt great. I knew I was going to run more than a mile. Gleefully, I ran a mile and a half...which sounds anticlimactic, but not if you consider that I haven't run more than a mile at a time since high school. I was considering continuing to two miles, but then my lungs really started hurting, so I wimped out. :)

Then I went to my beloved grocery store, which I actually haven't been to for nearly two weeks! And wouldn't you know it? They've expanded the health market section. And guess what one of the many new products is? A blend of almond milk and coconut milk. I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP. I was so excited that I opened it up as soon as I got to the car and took a swig. Such an interesting flavor! It begins with that typical nutty flavor I know and love, but then it hits you with the coconut. Bam!

Soon, it was time to make dinner. I had purchased all the ingredients to make this fantastic shredded brussels sprouts and apple salad...including the tofu. I really hate tofu. Or at least I thought I did. But then I read somewhere that if you tried tofu and didn't like it, it's because it wasn't prepared right. So I decided to give it another chance.

Um, this salad is possibly the best thing I have ever made (although I'm not sure it could beat my chili...or roasted butternut squash and kale pizza). I have been allllll about interesting salads lately (check out my Pinterest board!), but this one just blew me away. Charred, flavorful, sweet from the apples, crunchy from the almonds (I used sliced almonds instead of pine nuts), and.....that TOFU. I caramelized mine by sauteing it with olive oil, salt, garlic, and blackstrap molasses. It was crisp and sweet and smokey and wonderful...and it didn't taste anything like that dreadful sponge in the package!

Let me make this clear: if you've tried tofu and didn't like it, it's because it wasn't prepared right.

And then, just because I was so delighted with the world and needed some dessert, I made a glass of pina colada soft serve, with just three beautiful ingredients: frozen bananas, frozen pineapple, and coconut milk. And gosh darn it, it was the perfect ending to a great day. It was super healthy, yet it tasted far more rich and decadent than a brownie, or my mother's amazing baked cheesecake.

I tell you, my friends: clean eating is a blast and a half.

Choconut oatmeal

One of my favorite things about adopting a more healthful diet is that it taught me to try new foods. My diet used to consist of various combinations of potatoes, ground beef, corn, and Campbell's Condensed Cream of Chicken, with occasional doses of Cheetos, Lucky Charms, and Toaster Strudels. Anything beyond that, I hated. If it didn't taste exactly like something my mom made, I would turn my nose up.

Opening my mind to all foods has really helped me embrace all flavors and textures. Many foods that I hated five years ago have now become some of my favorites.

One food in particular has really captivated me lately: coconut. I had always hated it. I hated german chocolate cake because of the coconut. I hated Samoas because of the coconut. I hated coconut cream pie because of the coconut.

Perhaps it was Malibu (and Pina Coladas) that helped me acquire a taste for it, but I've lately been coconut crazy. I bought some coconut milk yesterday to make this coconut quinoa salad for dinner--which was beyond delicious--and this morning I used it to create this chocolatey coconut oatmeal. Or, as I like to call it, Choconut Oatmeal. :)

Choconut Oatmeal

  • 1 c coconut milk
  • 1/2 c old-fashioned (rolled) oats
  • 1 tbsp. flax or chia (optional)
  • 1 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp. chocolate or carob chips (I used Nestle dark chocolate)
  • shredded coconut (I didn't have this, so I skipped it)

1. Bring coconut milk to a boil. Add oats and flax, and reduce heat to medium. Stir frequently.

2. After several minutes, add the cocoa powder. You could also use chocolate chips here instead, but I wanted to keep the added sugar to a minimum, so I used cocoa powder. It takes a little longer to mix in, though.

3. When the oatmeal is done, transfer to a bowl and top with chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and another splash of coconut milk. As you can see from my picture, I stirred half of my chips in and then added the other half on top. 

I rarely have oatmeal with no fruit. To compensate, I followed up this beautiful bowl with a gorgeous grapefruit (so much alliteration!). I always aim for 4-6 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thin Mints Oatmeal

I have a love-hate relationship with bananas. In general, I kind of hate them. I rarely eat them plain; their taste and texture make me gag a little if I'm not in the right mood. On the other hand, they are just wonderful. They are a natural sweetener, super cheap, and versatile. I can put them in sandwiches, smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods, which is why--despite my on-and-off hatred of them--I almost always have some on the counter.

The fruit I have available typically dictates what kind of oatmeal I'll make for breakfast. For the most part, I mainly switch back and forth between apple cinnamon oatmeal and banana bread oatmeal, but sometimes I get creative. This was one of those mornings.

I had one banana left on the counter, and it was looking pretty sad and close to death. I was much more in the mood for apple cinnamon, but that banana demanded my attention, and soon. Begrudgingly, I began cooking the oats and mashing the banana.

But then I had the idea: mint chocolate chip. Why not? It's not just an ice cream flavor, after all. The Girl Scouts proved that mint chocolate chip makes an excellent cookie as well, and anything that makes a good cookie will also make a good oatmeal. That's my theory, anyway.

How does a banana fit into the equation? Just like I used it for my lemon poppy seed oatmeal, the banana sweetens the oatmeal, and it also bulks it up both literally and nutritionally! Because of the strength of peppermint oil, you most definitely will not taste the banana. Which is exactly what I wanted that day. No banana.

I was surprised by how much I liked this oatmeal. It was somehow refreshing and hearty at the same time!

Mint Chocolate Chip Oatmeal (or, "Thin Mints Oatmeal")
  • 1 c of milk, water, or a combination (I use half water and half almond milk)
  • 1/2 c Old-Fashioned Oats
  • 1 tbsp. milled flax (optional)
  • 1 mashed ripe banana
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp. peppermint oil or extract
  • 1 tbsp. dark or semisweet chocolate or carob chips
1. Bring your water/milk mixture to a slight boil. Add the oats and flax and reduce heat to medium.

2. Mash up your banana so no chunks are left. If you don't mash it enough, you'll end up getting tastes of banana during your mint chocolate chip experience, which is not ideal. Once it's all perfectly mashed, add to the pot.

3. Wait until the oatmeal has thickened up, and then stir in the cocoa powder. Stir, and watch your oatmeal transform into fudgy goodness. Next, add the peppermint oil and stir again.

4. Serve the oatmeal with another splash of milk, and then sprinkle some chocolate chips on top.

You could also top it off with other mix-ins, like nuts or shredded coconut. I left mine plain.

Aaaaand now I really need to do some homework. :)

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mint chocolate chip "ice cream"

My favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip. Sadly, I cannot remember the last time I had it. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I bought ice cream. 

I never made a conscious decision to avoid ice cream; my body just did it naturally. Whenever the option was presented to me, my digestive system practically sobbed in horror. It got out its iPhone and sent some fiery tweets to my brain, forcing it to imagine the inevitable gutache that would result from those few scoops. Like this:

@stomach: @brain Don't do it. You'll regret it.
@brain: @stomach Dude, back off. I'm not afraid of a little dessert.
@stomach: @brain Don't eat the ice cream.
@brain: @stomach But it's really good!
@stomach: @brain You know what's NOT good? Being imprisoned in your bathroom with upset stomach, having post-dessert regret. 
@brain: @stomach It won't be that bad...
@stomach: @brain ...remember last time?
@brain: RT @stomach Don't eat the ice cream.

So you can imagine the joy of both my brain AND stomach when I discovered a digestion-friendly alternative to my beloved mint chocolate chip. 

I've been eating "frozen banana soft serve" for at least half a year now. Even though it's an amazing alternative to ice cream, I sometimes got sick of the banana taste (note: in some variations, you can't taste the banana at all! I'm just too cheap and lazy to invest in other ingredients). That is, until I bought myself a spiffy bottle of peppermint oil.

I blend some frozen banana slices with whatever milk I have on hand (almond, soy, coconut, rice) and a few drops of peppermint oil. Then I stir in a small handful of dark chocolate chips. And voila! Mint chocolate chip " ice cream" that doesn't taste like bananas OR make me miserable for hours afterwards!

A rather liquidy version, right after blending. You can make it thicker by using less liquid (if your blender
 can handle it) or placing it in the freezer for a short time.
Here are my other favorite mix-ins for banana soft serve:

- a spoonful of peanut butter and a dash of cinnamon (works well as a green smoothie as well)
- half a teaspoon of jam and a drop of almond extract
- coconut milk and frozen pineapple (a creamy PiƱa Colada!)
- berries and almond extract
- berries and chocolate chips

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Motivation and Anxiety

Today, I attended my very first yoga class. Our wellness center offers all classes for free on the first week of every semester, so I knew I had to take advantage of this. I've always wanted to attend a yoga class (it's on my bucket list!), but I always used the cost as an excuse to avoid the anxiety of trying something totally new. This time, I had no excuse. It was just me and my anxiety.

For the past several weeks, I had been saying I was going to go to as many classes as I could this week to try everything out. Now that the week is here, I've been piling up excuses left and right.

But I'm done with that. I hate that quality in me. I need to be brave, flexible, adaptive, and fearless. If I ended this week without going to one single yoga class, I would never have forgiven myself. So I kicked my butt all the way to the wellness center this morning and just did it.

So I guess you could say I'm really proud of myself. :) Several times throughout the class, I would smile and think to myself how ridiculous it was that I was afraid of ever being there. Even if I went by myself and knew nobody, it didn't matter. Yoga is a personal, reflective thing. You never really have to feel self-conscious about not knowing what you're doing because it's such an intricate and self-centered form of exercise that nobody has time to see what you're doing. They're too busy perfecting their own positions, focusing on their own breathing, or meditating in their own minds. They don't give a crap if your knee isn't perfectly above your ankle.

I've been dealing with motivation a lot since the end of the Semester from Hell. And I don't mean motivation like, "Get off the couch and do something productive!" I mean it in a bigger sense, like "Figure out what you want in life, and work toward it. Don't let fear stop you."

I'm getting tired of the bitterness and jealousy I experience when I witness other people's awesome lives on Facebook. I have friends/acquaintances studying abroad, getting internships in California, finding careers in Florida, and going on vacation in Colorado, the Caribbean, or New York City. I'm tired of it because I know that I could have those things, too...if I just stopped doubting myself and letting my anxiety win.

I really hate running. But I tell myself, "If Micaela can run a marathon, I can most certainly run a mile."

I freak out on the first day of big life changes. But I tell myself, "If Katie can move to Nashville for an internship, I can most certainly attend a middle school within walking distance of my apartment, find the classroom I've already observed, and become better acquainted with a teacher I've already met."

The point is, I'm graduating this spring, and I know what I want--to move out of South Dakota. Preferably, to move out of the Midwest completely. And--just like with the yoga class--it sounds so fine and dandy when it's far in the future, but I know when the time comes, the anxiety will creep up on me. And I'll stick around, find a school nearby, and plant myself there for life. Then I'll watch other people's lives and be miserable that I was too scared to make my own dreams a reality.

Well, I don't want that to happen, so I need to practice getting out of my comfort zone and kicking Mr. Anxiety in the face. I found a great opportunity to get into an incredible teaching program in Boston (yes, Boston!). I'm going to pursue it. And I'll probably have a lot of anxiety about it, but that won't stop me.

Maybe this time next year, people will be bitter and jealous of my Facebook photos...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolutions and Tostadas

I was never one to make resolutions. Or, I should say, I was never one to follow through on them.

That changed last year when I decided to take on flexitarianism. I guess you could say it was a pretty successful resolution, considering I converted to vegetarianism at the end of August. I proved to myself that I can follow through on resolutions, as long as it's something that's attainable, something I value, and specific. For example, it's way easier to hold myself accountable to "Drink 5 glasses of water a day" than "Drink more water." The specificity of "I can't consume meat more than one meal a day" forced me to always challenge myself far more than "Eat less meat" would have.

Anyway...I've been considering these resolutions for months. I'm a planner like that. Naturally, I've considered a lot of food-related ones, such as "Lighten up on the peanut butter, you psycho," or "No non-organic soy." But ultimately, I decided to avoid those. As a perfectionist, putting myself under that kind of pressure can be a little problematic. Plus, my quest for good nutrition is a step-by-step journey. I don't believe I need any monumental "resolutions" to make them happen.

So without further ado, I present my resolutions for 2012: 

1. Exercise for 2.5 hours a week. It doesn't have to be intense, but it has to get my heart thumping! I'm not trying to burn calories or train for a marathon; I'm simply hoping to keep my heart and lungs healthy and vivacious!

2. Floss at least every other day. My dentist loves my teeth. Like, he loves them. Sometimes, I feel like he wants to turn my mouth into an art exhibit. He's always saying things like, "Beauuuutiful teeth.... Wow.... You have such excellent home-care... Beautiful.... Perfect...." I take great pride in my dental hygiene, to the point where I actually brush my teeth around four times a day. Yet I don't floss. That needs to change. I would commit to "Floss daily," but then I would give up if I accidentally missed a day. This way, I have wiggle room for mistakes.

I wanted to make more; I'm just full of ideas for self-improvement! But I knew I had to narrow them down and prioritize. These two alone will challenge me sufficiently.

So anyway, I've had a delicious start to 2012. I reheated my fantastic 3-bean and quinoa chili for lunch (I swear it gets better every time I taste it!), and I made a bean and avocado tostada for dinner.

I got the idea for the tostada from one of my favorite restaurants. It's usually made with a giant helping of iceberg lettuce, so I was excited to make it myself, using fat-free refried beans (which is apparently not fried in the question did they fry it? haha), a whole wheat tortilla, and organic spring mix.

P.S. Are you aware that "refried" is actually a mistranslation? These beans have not been fried twice, as the name suggests. "Refritos" literally translates to "well-fried," and not "refried."

Happy New Year!