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.