Category Archives: Health

Spencer’s Smoothie

Vegan MoFo

SpencerMy dear canine companion, Spencer, has passed away. He lived a good, long 12 years and while he lived with my great aunt and was not technically mine, he holds a place deep in my heart. I lived with my great aunt for 9 months after I graduated college and I totally and completely fell in love with Spencer. A wily and beguiling cockapoo with a penchant for cuddling and being the center of attention, he quickly became the best part of my day. When I would come home from work he’d be waiting for me with hugs and kisses. He also loved the breakfast smoothies I would make. I would always pour some in his bowl for him. And in honor of him I’d like to post a smoothie recipe which I will always remember him by.

Green smoothie

Tropical Green Smoothie


Spencer’s Smoothie

Makes 1 serving


1/3 cup frozen mangoes

1/3 cup frozen peaches

1/2 a banana

1 cup kale

1 tablespoon flax meal

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 cup almond milk


Add the banana and kale into blender first, so there’s something soft for the blades to work on. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.

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Cafe Brasil

Vegan MoFo

You know those select few restaurants where you fall head over heels for one dish? The food is amazing, so you feel an obligation to order something new every time you visit; however, you just can’t bring yourself to order anything other than your favorite dish. It makes me feel so boring, ordering the same exact thing every time, but it is so darn good I can’t help myself. That is how I feel about Cafe Brasil, an aptly named Brazilian eatery in Santa Cruz. It’s been about a year since I’ve eaten there and I still day-dream about their food.

I try to visit this place every time I’m in Santa Cruz and on the occasions where I don’t I leave with a longing. The dish that has captured my heart is the portobello breakfast. A marinated and grilled portobello with sautéed spinach and garlic with creamy polenta, tomato slices and bread. Back when I was first introduced to Cafe Brasil, I was not vegan and I would order this with a poached egg, but now for a dollar more I get savory sautéed tofu and veggies. Everything on the plate works in tandem to bring out every flavor you ever hope for in your breakfast. The meatiness of the portobello is met by the sharp tang of the spinach with a wave of buttery, herb-flavored polenta.

Polenta Breakfast

I am very big on textures in my food. I like to roll it around with my tongue to get a feel of the food before I eat it. For that reason I love to eat smoothies, high pulp orange juice, chocolate mousse, chia pudding, stew, curry, and, of course, polenta. Polenta is high on the list of textures I love and Cafe Brasil does not disappoint. They also have a fresh juice and smoothie bar, which does give me the opportunity to vary my order up a little bit. Using ingredients like guava, açai, acerola, coconut pulp, avocado, papaya, watermelon, passion fruit, pineapple, mango, and my personal favorite, cashew fruit they make a wide array of tropical juices and smoothies that will blow your mind. I didn’t know until I ate at Cafe Brasil that cashews grow on fruit that looks similar to an apple. Their fruit tastes light, faintly sweet, with a richness similar to that of the cashew itself. With no end to the drink variations I always feel satisfied in ordering something new each time so my order doesn’t seem so predictable.

Cashew Juice!

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“You eat fish, right?”

Vegan MoFoThe problem with vegetarianism is that the definition has become blurred; eating fish or animal-based foods has somehow found its place under the vegetarian umbrella. People who don’t think about the exact ingredients that go into their foods sometimes have a problem discerning what is and isn’t appropriate for a vegetarian or vegan dish. Fish is easy to avoid, even if someone tries to serve it to you, because it is easy to identify on your plate. Where the issue gets muddled is when you get into animal-based flavorings or condiments; they aren’t visually apparent. Are you still a vegetarian if you consume chicken broth? I think the real difficulty is that people perceive vegetarians as simply not eating meat; so as long as there isn’t a hunk of meat on their plate it should be fine, right? But chicken broth isn’t a byproduct of an animal like milk or cheese, which vegans exclude and vegetarians don’t, it is made with chicken meat, therefore it is a meat-based food even if you can’t see it on the plate.

Soups are the worst offender. The cafe at my work has such a hard time defining for me what foods are vegetarian or vegan. They label everything on the menu with a V for vegetarian and a V² for vegan but each week the exact same dishes fluctuate in their labeling. Soups with chicken broth are labeled as vegetarian; I used to love this Thai rice noodle and tofu dish but some weeks the menu would label it as vegetarian and some weeks as vegan. I finally asked the server about it and it turns out the dish used fish broth so it was neither vegetarian or vegan.

I am not saying that people shouldn’t have control of their own diet. Every vegetarian, every person in fact, has to define for her or himself just what she or he is willing to eat and why. But when it comes to public food service in grocery stores, prepared foods, and restaurants the rules for vegetarian and vegan ingredients need to be clearly defined. And when it comes to friends who misguidedly ask if I can have cheese ravioli, I think the biggest impact vegetarians and vegans alike can have on their friends is to change their perception one at a time. A simple and kind-worded explanation is all it takes to clear the air. I try to lead by example and show my friends that what I eat is healthy, filling, tasty, and fun.

It might be time to move past the word vegan and onto a word that more aptly and clearly defines my diet. The term ‘plant-based’ is where I think we should be heading; the explanation is in the title. I only eat foods derived from plants and ‘plant-based’ says it all in two little words.

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Homemade Adventures: Almond Milk

Vegan MoFo

I’ve been making my own almond milk for quite awhile now and I like to tweak with it now and then. Since it has no preservatives it only lasts 4-5 days, but it’s well worth the effort because the flavor is unbeat by store bought varieties. A few weeks ago I thought I was short on almonds so I substituted some cashews instead and the result was amazing. The sweet nuttiness of the cashews mixed with the subtle refined flavors of the almonds was something I hadn’t expected. This is by fat my favorite almond milk combination yet.

I was astonished to find that cashews produce very little pulp so straining them was a breeze. Almonds on the other hand produce a lot more pulp so straining them is necessary. I highly recommend buying a nut milk bag if you want to make homemade almond milk; it’s much easier than using cheesecloth and not straining the milk at all results in a very clumpy milk that’s not satisfying at all.

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Zucchini Pesto Sandwich

Vegan MoFo

I thoroughly enjoy summer; it’s sunny all the time, you can jump in the pool any time of day, you get to wear cool sunglasses, and sandals, and dresses, you don’t need to think about whether you’ll need a sweater later. Most of all, I love the plethora of fresh produce. Going to the farmer’s market each week for me is like going to fashion week. I come home with bags full of precious treasure and turn them into edible art. And let me tell you, art that you get to eat is one of the best things in the world.

My big three foods of the summer are zucchini, tomatoes, and corn. The vivid colors and textures represent the abundance of the summer sun. Bursting with life, and so many possibilities. I can make a pasta sauce, tacos, salads, pizza, I could go on and on but my hands down favorite accompaniment to fresh summer veggies is pesto. Basil being a summer herb after all it fits in perfectly with my bounty of produce.

I tossed some of the pesto with roasted corn and  diced tomato for a nice side salad.

I tossed some of the pesto with roasted corn and diced tomato for a nice side salad.

I seriously love pesto, it makes anything better.  I could write a love poem to pesto. It’s bright green richness envelopes the senses and brings a magnanimity to every bite. I stopped adding cheese to my pesto years before I went vegan because the basil can stand on its own. It can dress up a dish in a single swish, but tonight, as the first day back at work after a long holiday weekend I’ve decided on a simple pesto sandwich. It’s a breeze to make and it doesn’t skimp on flavor. Let’s celebrate the end of summer with a sandwich so beautifully simple it might just make you cry, or reach for a glass of wine.

Zucchini pesto sandwich

If you end up with any leftover pesto you should definitely save it for some pesto pizza (one of my favorites) which I’ll post about sometime soon.

Zucchini Pesto Sandwich

*Quick tip: If the raw garlic taste from fresh cloves overwhelms you, you can always replace it with a couple teaspoons of crushed garlic or vegan garlic aioli.

Makes 2-4 servings


1 large bunch basil

3-4 garlic cloves

1/4 cup walnuts

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Sandwich Components:

4 slices of bread, preferably sliced fresh from a whole grain loaf

1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise (you should get 4 or 5 slices from one zucchini)

1 tomato, sliced widthwise (you should get about 4 slices from one tomato)


Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.

For the pesto, toss all ingredients in a blender. Blend, stirring as needed, until everything is incorporated.

Grease a baking sheet and slather both sides of each strip of zucchini and tomato with pesto. Toss into the oven for 15-20 minutes. Once the veggies have browed a bit remove the tray from the oven. Stack up your sandwich and try not say “yum,” I dare you.

Open face sandwich

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Labor Day Celebrations and Getting Ready For a Whole New Month

Vegan MoFo

Labor Day Weekend happens to fall this year on the same weekend as my boyfriend’s birthday. So this weekend has brought a lot of cooking and non-cooking. My bfs fave dessert is tiramisu, so Friday night I whipped up a batch, thankful that it required no heating elements since Los Angeles is insanely humid and hot right now. Then came a series a barbeques for which I made Healthy Happy Lifes sweet potato burgers. Then I finished the weekend off with a cauliflower puree, barbequed tempeh, with a quinoa salad.


Marinated and BBQed tempeh produces a nutty and spicy summer favorite

Marinated and BBQed tempeh produces a nutty and spicy summer favorite.

Cauliflower puree with BBQ tempeh and a quinoa salad

Cauliflower puree with BBQ tempeh and a quinoa salad

Dinner for 2


Exposure: The Meat Industry’s Biggest Fear

Pink Slime: Why the Meat Industry is Freaking Out

Do ethics come into play for the meat industry or is the focus solely on profit margins?

What other additives are we eating that don’t have to be labeled?

The health-conscious community has been questioning the meat industry for ages. The revelation of the widespread use of ammonia-treated beef, otherwise know as pink slime, in ground beef has reached mainstream media despite the efforts of the meat industry to keep their methods quiet. The secretive methods of meat production makes you wonder what else they might be hiding. The production of food should be transparent to the public. People should be able to easily find out what is in the food they are eating, and food production should be ethical to the point where methods and ingredients do not need to be hidden. Unfortunately, the USDA does not require ingredients such as ammonia, which is harmful in high amounts and a household cleaning product to boot, to be included on ground beef labeling because it is considered a process and not an ingredient.

The USDA essentially cares about whether or not food or its additives are harmful for human consumption. Don’t get me wrong, that is absolutely an important and essential role, food should not make you sick. But what about food additives that are just fillers? Even if they are not harmful they are not essential. People are being tricked into buying food they think is wholesome when it’s really been stretched to the point of just meeting basic requirements. Pink slime, wood pulp, and even silicon dioxide, better known as sand, are all USDA-allowed food additives that are used by the food industry to stretch their product in order increase profits. Much like a drug dealer who adds flour or baking soda to his coke, the food industry is delivering inferior products to its consumers and the USDA allows it because the fillers used are not harmful, often not even requiring the ingredients be listed on the label. Case in point: pink slime.

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Balela: Another Word For Simple Bean Salad

I always enjoy the cool flavors of Mediterranean food. So when Trader Joe’s came out with a tantalizing Balela salad I snapped it right up; however, when I glanced at the ingredient list the salad went back on the shelf. Garbanzo and black beans with herbs and spices, easy peasy. Most of the ingredients are staples in my pantry so I rushed home and threw together a lovely protein-rich salad.

Eat your heart out Trader Joes!

Mediterranean Bean Salad

Makes 2-4 servings


1 can garbanzo beans, drained

1 can black beans, drained

3 carrots, shredded

1 1/2 tablespoons dill

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon no salt seasoning

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar


Toss all ingredients together and serve!

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Santa Fe Kale Salad

Yes, kale is the ‘it’ health food everyone is blabbing about these days and even though I love it and have been eating kale for the past few years I still sometimes feel like a hipster bandwagoner when I talk about it. However, those health nuts have good reason for euphoria. Kale is low in calories (33 in one cup), low in carbohydrates, it gives you fiber and well-rounded protein as well as tons of vitamins and nutrients. It’s packed with calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, B6, C, and K.

Ignoring all the health aspects of this leafy green kale has shown to be highly filling per calorie, according to Nutrition Data. This means that you can eat a large salad and actually feel full; it’s cost effective and helps with weight loss since you’ll be full for a longer period of time on fewer calories/carbohydrates.

I used to shy away from kale because the first few times I tried it the leaves were rather tough. It can be an intimidating vegetable to try; however, with the right approach anyone can easily incorporate kale into their meal and actually enjoy it. One easy way to enjoy kale is to cook it in a saute, soup or with pasta. Cooking kale helps break down some of the cell walls so it’s no longer tough but resembles steamed spinach. Kale also takes on flavor really well; seasoning your food right before it’s done cooking then letting it sit for a minute or two amplifies the taste.

Eating raw kale is my favorite method; the cool thing about making a kale salad is that you can and should toss the dressing when you make the salad rather than waiting until the very last second. Most salad greens turn limp and slimy if you let the dressing sit; however, leaving the dressing on kale helps make the leaves more pliable and flavorful. The important factor you can’t forget in your dressing for this to work is an acid, usually lemon juice or vinegar. Whatever acid you choose will be the component that covers the leaves and will beat the toughness out of them.

I have a few standby dressings that I often use depending on what flavors I’m craving at the moment. The one I’m going to show you is my Mexican dressing. It’s a very simple recipe; a little cumin, lemon juice, and olive oil is all it takes to bring out a spicy and earthy flavored salad. I love this salad recipe because it doesn’t take much effort, there are endless topping combinations, and it’s quite filling. In the summer I pile on fresh tomatoes and avocados and in cooler months I rely on pantry staples like quinoa and black beans. Anything goes with this salad; assess what you have on hand or what produce is in season and go nuts!

Santa Fe Kale Salad

Makes 2-4 servings


4 cups chopped kale

1 cup cooked quinoa

1/2 cup soy chorizo (I use the Trader Joe’s version)

1 avocado, diced

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 medium lemon usually yields this amount)

1 tablespoon cumin

6 tablespoons olive oil

pepper to taste


To make the dressing: combine the olive oil, lemon juice,  cumin, and pepper (I usually use just a pinch) in a bowl and whisk.

Toss the kale with the dressing so that the leaves are well coated. For best results, place dressed kale in the fridge for an hour or overnight (I make my lunch the night before and this works wonderfully); however, no wait time is necessary if you’re really hungry. Add the quinoa and soy chorizo. Be sure to add the avocado just before you’re about to eat or it will turn brown.

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A Mediterranean Vegetarian Tagine

I like to bring easy self-serve dishes to a party; anything that can fit into a bowl usually does the trick. This strategy pays off since it doesn’t require a lot of space or dirty lots of dishes, it’s not as fancy as tiers of complicated little bites but if the flavors are good and hearty people will go for it.

One of my favorite choices is a simple, uncomplicated Moroccan dish; I first tried this with a recipe from Bon Appetit; however I found a few elements to be too time consuming as well as a hinderance to the clean flavors of the dish. After reworking the recipe I ended up with a real crowd pleaser and the best part is that after you chop a few vegetables the hard part is over. The vibrant orange hues of this dish really stand out; the brightness matches the flavor perfectly. The rustic flavor of the turnips plays into the soft sweetness of the potatoes and carrots, balanced out by the zing of sun-dried tomatoes and olives. And my absolute favorite part of a good stew is the texture; it gives your mouth a break so you can play with your food a bit and don’t have to worry about getting anything stuck in your teeth.

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

For a quick version, you can use store bought ground spices instead of toasting and grinding the spices yourself. An interesting fact about coriander: it’s the same thing as cilantro and in the UK the seeds and the fresh herb both go by the proper title, coriander, whereas in here in the U.S. the fresh herb/leaves are called by their Spanish name, cilantro.

If you want to make some of this ahead of time you can make the spice mixture a up to 1 week ahead and store in a plastic bag or container. You can prep the vegetables 1 day ahead and store in plastic bags or containers, just be sure to keep the sweet potatoes and turnips submerged in water to keep them from browning. You can make the couscous 1 or 2 days ahead.

Makes 6 servings


1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/4 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled carrots

1 celery stalk, chopped

4 cups water

1 1/4 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 pound turnips (about 2 medium), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch wedges

3/4 cup brine-cured green olives, pitted, coarsely chopped (I would advise against using canned olives as they can be quite bland)

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (about 1 ounce; not oil-packed), thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon dried or chopped fresh mint (optional)

10 ounces couscous

3 cups vegetable stock


In a skillet over medium heat toast the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds until they start to brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Transfer seeds to a spice mill (or if you’re more low tech use a mortar and pestle) and process until finely ground. Add red pepper flakes, turmeric, and salt and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in spice blend, garlic, and tomato paste for 1 minute. Stir in carrots and celery for 2 minutes. Add water, sweet potatoes, turnips, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes and simmer for 35 minutes with lid ajar; stirring occasionally. Add parsley, cilantro, and mint; season with salt and pepper. Close lid, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

While the vegetables are simmering you can make the couscous, or you can make it beforehand. Add vegetable stock to a small pot, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add couscous, put on the lid, and let sit for 7 minutes. Fluff with a fork and spoon onto plates, placing the stewed vegetables on top.

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