Crock Pot vegan tacos!

It’s Tuesday! Guess what that means?

It’s taco night! Taco Tuesdays, is that a thing? I don’t really know, but I was really craving some tacos today, so that’s what we’re doing.

As you may know, I’ve been trying to eat less meat, so even though I still have animal products during lunch sometimes, I’ve been keeping all my dinners meat-free.

So far, so good! I’ve been making lots of creative vegetarian dishes that don’t let me miss meat at all! I’m actually surprised because just a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t believe you if you told me someday I would enjoy a dinner plate without any beef on it.

But with the right kind of tools (Pinterest) and the right kind of materials (fresh veggies from the farmer’s market) you can make truly amazing vegetarian meals that are full of flavor, texture, and nutrition.

Anyways, back to tacos. How oh how do you make those without meat?

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Simple! After checking out a few vegan taco recipes on Pinterest, I realized it’s a pretty simple formula of some types of legumes, some quinoa for texture, herbs and spices.

I decided to go with lentils and used red lentils and regular (green?) lentils. I also used some quinoa, homemade taco seasoning, and slow cooked everything for 4 hours.

The best part about these vegan tacos is that you can also slow cook them on ‘low’ for 8 hours, meaning they can cook while you’re at work, and then you’ll come home to ready-to-eat delicious tacos. It’s like magic!

I am definitely doing that next time.

I like to eat my tacos in a soft shell, rolled up like burritos with all my toppings, which usually include cilantro, tomato, greens, taco sauce, and some plain greek yogurt (a little probiotic never hurt anyone). But you can serve this vegan taco filling however you like!

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup red lentils

1/2 cup lentils

1/2 cup quinoa

2.5 cups water

3 cloves of garlic

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 dried oregano

1/2 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

salt & pepper to taste

taco shells (I went with soft)

toppings: I went with spinach, tomato, red onion, plain greek yogurt, taco sauce

Directions:

  1. Throw everything except for taco shells and toppings into the crockpot for 4 hours on high, or 8 hours on low.
  2. That’s it! Enjoy your vegetarian/vegan tacos.

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Jackfruit BBQ Sandwiches – Vegan Version of “Pulled Pork”

Have you ever heard of jackfruit? It’s a gigantic fruit that grows in Southeast Asia and resembles one of Khaleesi’s dragon eggs.

There are many ways to indulge in this sweet tropical fruit, but probably the most unusual way to eat it is as a vegan meat alternative.

The white, stringy part of this fruit is so mild in flavor, that it will taste like any seasoning you put on it. The texture also resembles meat, making it ideal for those of us who miss meaty dishes.

One easy way to cook it is with BBQ sauce, like a vegan pulled “pork” sandwich.

I suggest using canned jackfruit for this, because when I tried using it fresh, it came out too stringy and tough (still edible, of course). But the canned type has a much better texture for imitating cooked pork.

Make sure the canned jackfruit you buy is either in water or in brine (not syrup! The syrup kind is too sweet for this dish!)

You can get canned and fresh jackfruit at most Asian grocery stores, or online.

Serve your BBQ pulled jackfruit with some gluten-free buns and a few rings of a crunchy red onion for a bomb summertime dinner.

bbq jackfruit sandwiches

How to cook BBQ pulled ‘pork’ jackfruit sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans young green jackfruit in water or brine -OR- 1/4 fresh jackfruit (the less ripe, the better)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 pepper
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce
  • gluten-free buns
  • optional: red onion as topping

Steps:

  1. If you’re using canned jackfruit, drain and rinse the jackfruit. Remove the core and any seeds, leave just the white stringy parts.
  2. If you’re using fresh jackfruit, cut it in quarters, remove the core, seeds, any yellow/orange parts (those will be too sweet) and the skin. Leave just the white stingy parts. Give yourself 30 extra minutes, because this is a pretty tedious process.
  3. Chop the yellow onion and cook in a large pan with some oil until slightly soft.
  4. Add the jackfruit.
  5. Throw in the seasonings: salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, chili powder and smoked paprika
  6. Cook for about 10 minutes
  7. Add the BBQ sauce to the pan. Feel free to add a little bit of water to thin it out.
  8. Let the mixture simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes, adding water if necessary to prevent burning.
  9. Once the jackfruit is soft enough, it’s ready to serve! Goes well with red onion and any other toppings.

I hope any of you who are meatless meat-lovers enjoy this recipe. It comes out pretty similar to the real thing, so you can get your meat fix without actually killing any piggies.

bbq jackfruit texture

looks legit

Peace x

Paleo CrockPot Beef Bourguignon Recipe

My first week of paleo is going rather well and I wanted to share with you a great recipe from Paleo Leap, that – I can already tell – will become a staple in my new paleo meal routine: Paleo Beef Bourguignon.

Beef Bourguignon is a classic French beef stew made with vegetables, mushrooms and a wine broth. The paleo version of it excludes flour and starches. This recipe is typically rather time-consuming and requires a dutch oven (which I do not have). So I decided to simplify it and make it in the crockpot! It turned out great – the meat was incredibly tender and flavorful. I also ended up cooking the bacon differently and tweaking some things to suit my taste. I had a lot of leftovers and took them to work for lunch.

For me, the hardest part of paleo so far is parting with bread. But this stew is flavorful and filling enough to keep those carb cravings away. I hope you try it out sometime as an easy and delicious dinner!

Paleo CrockPot Beef Bourguignon

Original non-crockpot recipe here: Paleo Leap

Ingredients

3 lb stew beef

4 slices of bacon

1 sliced carrot

1 sliced onion

2 cups of high-quality red wine

2.5 cups natural beef stock

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

thyme

1/2 lb organic mushrooms, sliced

10 pearl onions, peeled

salt & pepper

Cooking Instructions

1. Place bacon on a pan and fry on a low-medium heat, turning occasionally, until the bacon is golden and crispy. Remove and place on a plate with a paper towel to dry and absorb the fat.

2. Using the same pan with the bacon fat still on it, sauté the beef until it is slightly brown on all sides. If the inside is still red, don’t worry – it’ll cook in the crock pot. Transfer the browned beef into the crockpot.

3. Use the same pan to sauté the vegetables: carrots, onions, and garlic. Sauté until they are soft, and add to the crockpot.

4. Once the bacon has cooled, break it into 1-inch pieces and add to the crockpot.

5. Add mushrooms and pearl onions and season with salt & pepper.

6. Pour in the red wine and beef stock. Add a couple teaspoons of thyme and a bay leaf.

7. Cook on high, stirring occasionally for 3-4 hours. You could also cook it on low for about 6-7 hours.

Enjoy!

Going Paleo: WEEK 1 Meal Plan

paleo diet meal plan

All my friends have gone on a low-carb diet, and I definitely need to as well… it’s been a cold winter and I’ve been sitting indoors, munching on comfort foods, living the life! It’s time to pay the price and make a better choice for my health and weight. Since the Atkins and other low-carb diets are just a bit too extreme for me, and since I want to lose no more than 10 lbs, I decided to finally try out the paleo diet.

What is Paleo?

Paleo, or the Paleolithic Diet, is a diet designed to imitate the daily nutritional intake of our ancestors who lived during the Paleolithic era, when they ate truly clean foods, before the introduction of food processing, agriculture, and refined sugar. The diet is believed to be the healthiest for human beings, because our bodies have been adapted to this type of eating for over 2.5 million years. Our metabolism hasn’t yet adapted to the introduction of new foods and processes, which is why obesity, heart disease and diabetes are so common today.

The diet requires you to eat protein (red meat, poultry, seafood), and a good amount of fiber (as long as it doesn’t come from starchy foods or legumes). You should avoid dairy, grains, legumes (beans and peanuts), processed foods, refined sugar, and trans fats. The foods you exclude are similar, but not limited to, those of a low-card diet.

Paleo promises to help you lose weight (some people have lost 100 lbs!), improve your cardiovascular health, keep you more energized throughout the day, and improve your overall well-being. Paleo is definitely a long-term, safe and healthy diet. Paired with some light excercise it becomes a complete lifestyle change.

Paleo Meal Plan WEEK 1

Paleo is not cheap, because you will be paying a lot for grass-fed meats (optional, but recommended), and a lot of fresh organic produce (again, it doesn’t need to be organic, but that’s recommended) that can get costly. However, paleo is definitely not an expensive diet either, most of these foods you are already buying, and since you will be excluding many items, it might actually be cheaper than your average shopping trip. Paleo does involve a good amount of cooking, since processed foods are, quite literally, off the table. Luckily for me, I get catered lunches twice a week at work, so I will not have to come up with a lunch on those days. I go shopping on Fridays, so my weekly meal plan starts on Saturday:

Saturday:

Breakfast: Zucchini and Sweet Potato Frittata

Lunch: Avocado Tuna Salad with Lettuce

Dinner: Beef Bourguignon

Sunday:

Breakfast: Eggs and Bacon

Lunch: Leftover Beef Bourguinon

Dinner: Paleo Spaghetti

Monday:

Lunch: Leftover Paleo Spaghetti

Dinner: Paleo Shepherd’s Pie

Tuesday:

Lunch: catered

Dinner: Balsamic Salmon w/Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach

Wednesday:

Lunch: Avocado Tuna Salad with Lettuce

Dinner: Red Wine Roast Chicken with Sweet Potato

Thursday:

Lunch: catered

Dinner: Tuscan Chicken Skillet 

How to Have a Green (and Awesome) 4th of July!

Independence Day is a big holiday here in the USA, often celebrated outdoors, with delicious foods on the grill, big coolers full of beer, and American flags everywhere! It’s fun. But, a lot of 4th of July activities are terrible for the environment, especially when almost everyone in the country is participating in the festivities. Below are a few tips to help you reduce your footprint this weekend, and still have a blast!

Green Tips for the 4th of July

1. Biodegradable Kitchenware

Whether you will be partying indoors, on the deck, or at a beach, you probably don’t want a pile full of dishes to deal with after the festivities are over. It’s logical to opt for some plastic forks and knives. This year, however, I urge you to buy biodegradable forks, knives, cups, and plates. Don’t know where to begin? Vegware makes biodegradable cutlery, cups, and plates – all for reasonable prices. If you have a compost – or if there is a compost in your community (which you should definitely take advantage of) – I suggest Plantware Cutlery – these plates and utensils are compostable, stylish, and made in the USA.

 

Plantware Cutlery from ecoproducts.com

Plantware Cutlery from ecoproducts.com

 

2. Grilling Greener

You may not know this, but traditional charcoal grills produce twice as much carbon as gas grills. A more eco-friendly option for grilling is propane, because of its lower emissions and little waste – propane tanks can be returned and refilled. If you have your heart set on charcoal (mmm, nothing tastes better than charcoal-grilled steak), buy lump charcoal instead of briquettes, which can contain additives that are bad for your health and the environment.

Opt for environmentally preferable charcoal, or propane grilling

Opt for environmentally preferable charcoal, or propane grilling

3. Stock up at the Farmer’s Market

Eating organic and locally-sourced food is not only good for you, but it is great for pollution prevention! Fewer emissions are produced when food only has to travel a couple of miles from its source, instead of shaking in the back of an 18-wheeler across the entire country. Go to your local Farmer’s Market this week, and get all the veggies, fruits, meats, and sausages you need. Stop by the wine booth and pick up some organic local wine. Which brings me to my next point…

Local food = cleaner air

Local food = cleaner air

4. Green booze

I know you don’t want to hear this on 4th of July, but beer is the least eco-friendly type of alcohol because it goes through a rigorous heating-cooling process (which uses a lot of energy), produces a lot of water waste, uses agriculturally-intensive ingredients, and then usually travels great distances to reach retail shelves around the world. That doesn’t mean the party is ruined though. If you want beer, opt for cans, not glass bottles. Cans are lighter (therefore require less energy to transport) and are easier to recycle than glass is. Also, some beers are certified organic, which means, at the very least, that no harsh chemicals were used during the farming process, which is a great plus for the environment! If you are expecting a lot of people to come over, it may be a good idea to get a keg. The keg will leave zero waste behind and it’s a much more efficient way to get beer to your party.

Not a beer fan? There are more options for you to drink green!  Square One Organic Vodka is very environmentally-friendly. Square One uses less water and goes as far as printing its labels on sustainably-grown fiber materials. Boxed wine is also a great way to reduce your footprint this year.

Drink local if you can, drink smart otherwise

Drink local if you can, drink smart otherwise

5. Ditch the private show

Sorry, no backyard fireworks this year. Fireworks, at least the ones you can buy at a store, are terrible for air quality. If everyone is setting them off in their backyards, we might end up like Beijing, where excessive use of fireworks last year resulted in hazardous levels of air pollution in a matter of hours. Instead, take a walk to your town park, or wherever the municipalities are displaying fireworks, and enjoy the view with other fellow Americans.

Watch the public fireworks display to reduce air pollution

Watch the public fireworks display to reduce air pollution

6. Eco-friendly décor

I love 4th of July for the decorations. Everything is beautifully-patriotic and red-white-and-blue. But like most decorations, Independence Day décor usually gets drunkenly thrown into the trash can, or worse – scattered around the ground until someone else picks it up and sends it to the landfill. There are many ways to make your celebration greener: buy recycled paper materials, recyclable materials, and compostable party supplies. They even have eco-friendly American flags made from recycled plastic. Even if you can’t get your hands on such things, make sure to reuse your decorations every year so that you are not contributing more garbage to the landfill. Another great idea is to use live potted flowers instead of fake ones for your centerpiece. That way, after the party, they will still serve a green purpose – turning carbon into oxygen.

Live plants serve as great decorations and benefit the environment at the same time!

Live plants serve as great decorations and benefit the environment at the same time!

 

That’s about it! Do you know some other great ways to be environmentally-conscious this holiday? Leave a reply in the comments!

And remember, if we want a greener world, if we want companies to be more responsible when it comes to the environment, then we (as consumers) must show our support and demand for greener products by choosing them over regular products as much as we can.

Project Balcony Garden: Preparation

project balcony garden

A big part of budgeting for me is finding ways to cut down on food, since it’s one of the only variable costs I have.. everything else is out of my control, like monthly bills and rent. I always make sure to plan my grocery trips ahead and make sure I stay on budget.

Now that the weather is getting a little bit nicer and I have so much free time now (I just graduated college! :)) I decided to cut my costs even further by starting my very own balcony garden! Many people believe that apartment living makes it impossible to have a garden, especially one that produces organic delicious edibles. But I have been doing a lot of research and found that to be far from truth.

So, starting this week I will be working on my balcony garden, and will record my progress and any tips here. Let’s start with preparation, because without the necessary preliminary work, you will find yourself at Home Depot with absolutely no plan, and might end up spending money on the wrong thing.

Disclaimer: I am definitely a gardening newbie and still learning as I go. My advice will hopefully be helpful for other beginners looking for simple ways to pick up some gardening in their free time (and small space). If you are a gardening expert – your input is always welcome in the comments 🙂

Identify Your Environment

The first step is to figure out the environment you live in, such as the climate and the direction your balcony faces.

In order to figure out what type of herbs, flowers, and vegetables you can grow in your area, I suggest going to this website and searching by your zip code. You will be provided the “Plant Hardiness Zone” for your area. Knowing which zone you live in can help you figure out what plants can survive well in that climate.

Find out what hardiness zone you live in before you select your plants

Find out what hardiness zone you live in before you select your plants

Then, take note of what direction your balcony or patio is facing to determine the amount of sunlight your future garden will receive. If it’s facing south – you lucked out, since most herbs and veggies call for 8 or more hours of sunlight a day. However, if your balcony gets less sunlight than that – don’t fret, as there are plenty of plants that thrive in partial sun and even in mostly shady regions.

Pick Your Plants

Here is the fun part! Now that you know what type of plants you can accommodate, start making a list of those you absolutely need. For my purposes, I wanted a lot of edibles (to cut down supermarket costs), some medicinal herbs, and a couple different flowers to keep my balcony looking lush and pretty.

To give you an example, I live in the 6th Hardiness Zone, and my balcony gets partial sun (3-6 hrs a day). Here are the plants I want to start with:

Herbs

  • Chives: I use them often for their oniony flavor. They are hardy in zones 3-10, and don’t require a lot of space.
  • Lavender: It’s gorgeous, and I use it for brewing relaxing and mood elevating teas. Lavender is hardy in zones 5-10.
  • Parsley: Russian cooking calls for a lot of parsley, so I’m going to need it. Hardy in zones 3-9.
  • Sage: Great for seasoning poultry and for air freshening. Hardy in zones 4-10 (although it can grow in all of them).
  • Garlic: Also grows just about anywhere, and there’s always demand for it.

Vegetables

  • Onions: I use them all the time, and growing them is super easy. Easily grow in most environments, but require deep planters.
  • Potatoes: easy to grow, delicious when not store bought. However, require a deep large pot. Grow in most areas.
  • Tomato: because they are delicious when freshly harvested, used for many foods, and can grow hanging upside down!
  • Carrots: why not? I will need a special variety that grows better in pots – this means shorter, wider and rounder types of carrots, such as Thumbelina, Parisienne, and Danvers Half Long.

Flowers

  • Petunias: pretty flowers for a balcony rail planter. Grow well in zones 4-8.
Petunias

Petunias

  • Vinca: cute little flowers that easily grow in most regions, hardy zones 2-11, and come in a variety of colors such as pink, red, white, and blue.
Vincas

Vincas

  • Oxalis (shamrocks): bloom all summer in small clover-shaped flowers of shades ranging between silver and purple. Hardy in zones 6 -11, and can keep growing all winter if you take them inside.
Purple Leaf Oxalis

Purple Leaf Oxalis

Pick Your Pots

Now that you have your plants chosen, you need to plan for the platers and pots for them. This is where you can get creative. Remember, not all pots need to come from the store, in fact you may have some lying around the house! Anything can work: old baskets, buckets, tubs, plastic containers, I’ve even seen herb planters made out of an old tea set! This is a great opportunity to up-cycle and design a truly unique look for your balcony garden!

Up-cycle other containers to use for planters

Up-cycle other containers to use for planters

Remember to make sure there are sufficient holes in the bottom of your chosen container to make sure the water can drain, otherwise your plants won’t like it.

Most importantly, do your research and find out how much space each plant needs. Then you can think about how many planters you can make out of existing materials and what you still need to purchase. Also keep in mind how much space you have on your balcony/patio. For smaller spaces, there are many great ways to use vertical space either by hanging planters or putting up shelves.

Here are some general guidelines for some of the plants I’ve chosen:

  • Herbs typically require the least amount of space and can be planted in 5-8in. terra cotta pots, mason jars, baskets, and even up-cycled soup cans (don’t forget those drain holes!)
Herbs need the least amount of space

Herbs need the least amount of space

  • You can also buy a large pot (16 in. or more) and plant your herbs together. Just make sure all your herbs require similar soil and watering schedule if they will be sharing a pot.
Let your herbs share a pot!

Let your herbs share a pot!

  • Onions require a pot that’s at least 10 in. deep. The width will depend on the number of onions you plan on planting. Terra cotta, plastic, wood, metal, and barrel planters work best.
  • Potatoes will need the biggest pot of all. They will grow in any large container – a clean garbage can, a bucket, a giant pot. Make sure it is at least 2 ft. deep.
  • Tomatoes also usually need a large pot, however I am going to try growing those upside down to leave some room on my balcony. Hanging tomatoes requires either a 5 gallon bucket or a 2-liter plastic soda bottle, and I will soon post a tutorial here (if you don’t want to wait – check out YouTube for some amazing tutorials for upside-down tomato growing!).
Save space by hanging your tomato plant

Save space by hanging your tomato plant

  • Carrots, the types that grow best in pots, will need at least a foot deep container.
  • Flowers are the most versatile, but I plan on planting them in those rectangular boxes that I will hang along my balcony rail.

flower box

Pick Your Soil

Most of your container plants will thrive best in potting soil. Potting soil is different from garden soil. It contains more nutrients, and has a texture that prevents water from suffocating the plant. If you’re growing edibles, like me, I would suggest using organic soil, which can be found at your local home improvement store, nursery, or even Walmart’s garden center.

What about fertilizer? Well, some people suggest using it, others say “don’t”. Since I am a beginner, I can use all the help I can get, so I will opt for the slow-release organic fertilizer pellets. There is also liquid fertilizer that can be mixed in with the water you use to water your plants. In addition, you can use compost.

So There You Have It!

Stay tuned for my detailed step-by-step instructions on how to actually plant all these herbs, vegetables, and flowers! I hope this helps you get an idea of what will go into your balcony garden project. As you can see it’s not that much work, just read up on it and talk to the sales associates at your garden center.

And one final tip: hold on to the plant tags you get when you purchase your plats/seeds/seedlings (in my next post I will get into which method works best for which plants), because those tags have all the care information you will need throughout your plant’s life!

Never Enough Sleep

Image

Sleeping has become an unsatisfying affair. Don’t get me wrong, sleeping is one of my favorite things in life, at least right now. Sleep is what I dream of as I am driving to work, running through a blizzard to my next class, or when I am nodding off in the middle of an important meeting. Sleep is still easy for me to accomplish – as soon as my head hits the pillow – it doesn’t matter if my boyfriend is watching TV or talking on the phone. Nothing can stop me, because sleep is what I never get enough of.

From the Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom of Lifelong Health:

Today our bodies have become thoroughly confused by the artificial signals of modern life. Light is no longer a cyclical function of the sun, but of always-on indoor lights, TV screens, and computer monitors. Temperature no longer follows a dynamic cycle of cooling at night and warming during the day but sits at a static level set by the thermostat. Human chatter and social interaction used to follow a natural ebb and flow, but now we are more likely to live and sleep in isolation from real people, even while we have 24/7 access to artificial people (faces on TV, voices on the radio). Then, after utterly confusing our circadian rhythm, we try to take back control with stimulants (caffeine, nicotine) and depressants (alcohol, sleeping pills). Is it any wonder that a third of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived?

Despite the fact that I sleep well, rarely dream, and more often than not sleep right through the night – I never feel well rested. Waking up always has and always will be a pain for me. And it doesn’t matter if I am waking up at 6 am or at noon (yay Sundays!), regardless of the time, my head is cloudy for at least 2 hours after waking.

Sometimes I am so tired in the morning, that I feel like my whole drive to work is spent sleepwalking. Eight or nine hours later, when I am finally ready to go home – I can’t remember where I parked my car!

So how do you deal with something like that? I don’t suffer from insomnia, I sleep well, and I get around 7-8 hours of sleep, which is pretty healthy compared to how I used to live on 1 hour of sleep a week…. but that was a long time ago, in a totally different world.

I have looked into vitamin supplements, Seasonal Affective Disorder (here in Upstate NY it’s a serious concern!) – anything that could explain why I never get enough sleep. But in all honesty, instead of looking for deficiencies and diseases to blame, I should look at all the energy-consuming activities I put myself through. Maybe eliminate some of them for the sake of my health.

Taking 8 classes, working in between, developing a startup, actively pursuing jobs and internships, constantly monitoring social media channels (because god forbid I miss anything – my whole career literally depends on it), supporting the eboard of the largest organization on campus, maintaining a happy relationship, taking care of a pet, budgeting, figuring life out. It’s a lot and it happens every day. It starts every morning and it doesn’t end until I fall asleep. And I could say “f— it!” and quit half of those things. Find some time for myself, to do the things I love, to sit in silence without feeling guilty for not being productive.

But then I really will be a lazy, self-absorbed millennial, won’t I?

Part of the Daily Prompt: Mr. Sandman