Friday, January 4, 2013

Sushi Party!

My room mates and I love to have sushi night once in a while, and it always turns into an occasion. It is such an involved, hands-on process that it is impossible not to be a fun and entertaining evening.

Any time we at a restaurant and have an opportunity to order sushi, we do, but it gets very expensive very quickly. Not to mention that it is quite hard to find sushi that is completely vegan! Even if it doesn't have fish, it usually has cream cheese or a mayo sauce or something like that. The best solution to these issues is to make it at home.

Sushi making is both an art and a science that I am still working on perfecting. I'll try my best to share what tips and tricks I've been able to figure out thus far. The website has helped me to come a long way.

You'll need to start with the rice, and this is the most important part. In the international section at the grocery store, you should be able to find sushi grade rice. Get either this or a medium to short grain white rice--don't be tempted to use the long grain that you've probably got on hand. Follow the cooking directions on the bag, and be careful not to let it brown on the bottom. In a pot on the stove, dissolve 1/2 rice wine vinegar, 1/2 white sugar, and 1/4 salt. Pour over hot, cooked rice and gently work with a plastic or wooden spatula to help it cool to room temperature.

Sticky, seasoned sushi rice.

Another important part is the sushi wrapper, a type of toasted seaweed called nori. I don't know much about brands, but get something that looked nice. I picked up terrible looking package (which I am pretty sure was about a decade old and it didn't have an expiration date for me to check) that was all in Japanese from a small Asian grocer, and it tasted terrible. I got a nice, new looking package with English instructions and bright colors and it tasted just fine. Trust your gut.

Finally, you'll need some fillings. I always have cucumber, green onion, and avocado. Make sure the avocado is fairly soft. I often also use carrot, bell peppers, lettuce, spinach, bean sprouts, and a Japanese radish called a daikon. I bet mushrooms and zucchini would also be great, and I've heard good things about plum sauce. This is the time to experiment and have fun. There is a sushi bar in Fredericksburg, VA that even serves up sushi with fruit filling. Go crazy! Also, this is a great opportunity to break out that dusty old mandolin with all those nifty attachments!

Vegan fillings!

Cucumber strips.
Fine slice attachment for the mandolin. I use the normal slice setting for cucumbers.

Julienned carrots.
A Japanese daikon radish. You can find it at Asian markets and large grocery stores.
I grated this one. They don't have a lot of flavor but they are good fillers.

Carla gnawed the rest of the avocado off of the pit.

Now that you've gotten everything prepped and ready, get out your sushi mat. It is essential to wrap it neatly in plastic wrap--I learned the hard way that there is no way to properly clean a dirty mat. Begin by laying a piece of nori on the bamboo mat, shiny side down, with the edge of the seaweed touching the edge of the mat closest to you.
I had a hard time rolling the first time because my seaweed wasn't scooted down to the edge of the mat closest to me. I also didn't wrap my mat in plastic and I should have turned the nori so that the lines matched up with the mat. Oopse!

Next, add the rice. You can use your fingers or a wooden/plastic spoon. Put a small heap of rice in the center of the nori and then begin spreading it outward. The layer should be very thin--you'll be sorry when it is time to roll if you are too liberal with the rice here. The layer should be thin enough the you can see the nori through the rice. Make sure it spreads all the way out to every edge except the one farthest from you--that edge should have about an inch left bare.

You can see that some of my rice got a little toasty at the bottom. Not good! Oh well--it still tasted alright and I learned for the next time to watch it closer. You can also see that my rice didn't go all the way out to the edges, which meant I had to discard the ends later.

Now it is time to fill it up! Start layering fillings on the edge closest to you. Don't go too wild here, or else you won't be able to roll it. Make sure these go all the way out to the ends too.

The is about the fullest the sushi should get. This turned into a big roll.

Here comes the hardest part: rolling the sushi. Slip your thumbs underneath the edge of the mat closest to you. Use your other fingers to tuck the vegetables in place while you roll the mat over top of the fillings. When the outside edge of the nori reaches the rice layer, slide the mat forward so it isn't trapped in the sushi and press firmly. Continue to roll forward until the entire sheet is rolled. Press the sushi log with your hands firmly to seal it and shape it. Unroll the mat and behold the beauty! This takes a few tries to get right, so don't be disappointed if it is a mess the first few times. Take a very sharp knife and slice it (half an inch to an inch thick, depending on how wide the roll is), wetting the blade with water between every cut.

Gorgeous! Makes me hungry just blogging about it...

My favorite part of sushi is the toppings. I usually do sesame seeds and sliced green onions, but I also enjoy spicy mayo. Just mix up vegan mayo, chili paste (like sriracha), chili powder, and/or roasted chili oil until it tastes right. You can also try ponzu sauce, teriyaki sauce, or make your own garlic-ginger-soy sauce. This is one area that I will definitely be playing with in the future.

I hope that this post has inspired you to get inventive and have fun creating delicious vegan sushi of your own. Let me know what you come up with!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"I Can't Believe It's Vegan" Gravy

Admittedly, I was a little scared as I patrolled the internet for a carnivore-accepted gravy suitable for my family. They all had such an odd mix of ingredients and I really wanted to impress. You know, so I don't look like a crazy hippy or something. Vegan food is delicious, and I wanted to prove it through gravy!

This recipe came from a cute website called VegWeb. It has a different taste than other gravies I have had, but in a good way. It has a sort of tang to it that goes wonderfully with stuffing and mashed potatoes. Everyone in my family liked it, and happily dumped it on just about everything except for the pile of barcequed ribs that they were feasting on.

And the best part about this recipe is that it is easy!

In a pot on medium heat, add:
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • a dash of onion powder
  • a few dashes of garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but I would recommend it)
  • a few generous dashes of soy sauce
  • a small squeeze of mustard (I used spicy mustard rather than yellow)
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance
  • salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
Whisk it all together, heat to a simmer, and taste for proper seasonings. I think I might have also dumped in a splash of sherry, just for fun. I am looking for an excuse to make this recipe again. Enjoy!

Green Bean Casserole

While I didn't appreciate this tradition quite so much as a kid, in my adult life green bean casserole has always been the food I look forward to most during the holidays. My mom made it the way that I'm sure the majority of people remember their mothers making it--straight out of a can. A can a green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and even jarred mushrooms all got dumped into dish together to bake. Definitely not vegan, and probably not as healthy as it otherwise could have been either. I was skeptical as I searched for a recipe that would even come close to inspiring the joy and comfort I remember from years past, and I was amazed to find that the fresh, home-made, healthy version of green bean casserole is actually even better than the original version!

Home-made Vegan Green Bean Casserole

I found this recipe on this blog.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

First, put a pot of salted water on to boil. Have 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of fresh green beans trimmed and ready to go in. While you are waiting, slice up a container of mushrooms (about 12 ounces) and start those sauteeing in a separate pan. Add in three cloves of garlic, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and freshly cracked salt and pepper. Sautee the mushrooms until soft. When the water is boiling add the beans, cover, and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and rinse the beans in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Sautee the mushroom mixture and cook the beans.

In a bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp of flour and 3/4 cup of vegetable broth. Add this to the mushrooms with 2 tbsp of sherry and 3/4 cup soy creamer (or unsweetned soy milk). Simmer, stirring, until mixture is thick. Taste the sauce here and adjust seasonings--the salt in this recipe is hard to get right, I find. Add the cooked beans, toss, and then pour the mixture into a casserole dish.

Toss the green beans, mushroom mixture, and then top and bake.

In a food processor, process 1 1/2 slices of whole wheat bread, 1 tbsp Earth Balance, salt, and pepper until crumbly. Mix this while one container of fried onions and spread over the casserole. Bake for 15 minutes.

I thought about going all out and making some yummy, healthy breaded onion straws, but in the end I decided that that was more work than I felt like getting in to. Besides, what are the holidays with a little bit of fatty food and indulgence involved? This would be a fun future experiment though!


One of the best and worst things about the holidays is definitely the food. Since I have been trying to cut back on certain elements in order to improve heart health, I was worried that being on vacation and celebrating the holidays would set me back. There have been a few temptations, but I think I've been pretty good this year. Here is a glimpse of what my festivities were like, with recipes to follow!

Why yes, that is a fish themed Christmas tree.
Premier Floral Design is the coolest shop I have ever been in.

The grilled ribs were for the meatatarians (basically everyone but me).

Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, made with olive oil and Earth Balance.

Vegan gravy--super delicious!

Assorted breads with dipping oil. A blend of extra virgin olive oil and Wegman's basting oil
with fresh, coarsely cracked black pepper and sea salt is the best for dipping.

I got this stuffing recipe online. I tasted like poo unless it was drown with gravy.
Sorry folks, but I won't be posting any vegan stuffing recipes this year.

Green bean casserole has always been my favorite holiday food, and I am a sucker for
the classic version that virtually comes out of a can. To my surprise, this home-made
version with fresh green beans and button mushrooms blew the one from my childhood
memories straight out of the water. I have made it severaltimes since and it never ceases
to impress. Stay tuned for the recipe!

My aunt's boyfriend, Rick, invited us over to his lovely home one evening for dinner.
He grilled two huge slabs of prime rib for everyone, but fixed a whole vegan feast just for
me! There were grilled mushrooms, vegan quesadillas, mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus
and zucchini, and more. I'm thinking that Rick's a keeper.

And of course there was SNOW!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sometimes, no matter what...

Do you ever feel that no matter what you do, you just can't succeed?

I have been feeling that way lately, and not with weight loss. I just assumed that because I am living a healthier lifestyle that I am healthier. That is what this is all about for me, after all. I don't care about being skinny--I care about living a long, happy, healthy, and fit life.

I'm struggling with some of that right now.

I had a physical in November, at which they performed a lipid panel. I had elevated triglycerides before, but I was so excited to get tested again and prove to them that a vegan diet could beat anything. Well, it didn't. The results came back and my levels were quite high. The doctor told me to start taking fish oil immediately and try to lose some weight.

What on Earth does she think I have been doing here for the past 3 months?

I told her that I would NOT be taking fish oil (as I am vegan and studying fish conservation, oh my goodness) and that I AM losing weight. She seemed frustrated with me, which I reciprocated. I asked her to let me try the vegan diet a little longer, since I'd only been on it for two and a half months at the time and had already seen so many improvements. She gave me three months. I have until mid-February to lower my triglyceride levels, "or else".

So I've been trying not to eat high glycemic index foods or foods with more than 3g of fat per serving. I've been cooking everything from scratch or eating out at Chipotle, since I know they use only fresh, unprocessed ingredients. What else can I do on top of what I am already doing?

Apparently it hasn't been enough.

I had been "sick" for the past six weeks. My throat was sore and my tonsils looked like they were molding, but strangely I otherwise felt fine. I went to two different doctors and both of them prescribed antibiotics. They didn't work. Also, my blood pressure had been high both visits, which can happen when your body is fighting infection.

I started getting headaches lately, and my vision was a little off, which I contributed to the raised blood pressure. Because of that, I decided it was time to go in a third time and finally nip this cold in the butt.

The doctor took one look at my tonsils, and let out a cry of triumph. As she suspected, no bacterial infection at all--it wasn't a cold. It was allergy related inflammation, and the white stuff was dead white blood cells. She proceeded to pop out a tonsil stone and said, "See, there you have it!"

I was amazed. I constantly struggle with dust mite allergies and have had issues with tonsil stones in the past, but I didn't know that it could possibly affect me so severely. Even this morning after taking some advil and gargling with salt water and listerine, my throat feels so much better.

Which left the matter of my high blood pressure. I realized then that I had only assumed that my blood pressure had been elevated for the past six weeks during the time of my "cold", but I actually hadn't been for an entire year before these visits. I had no way of knowing that my blood pressure had been high any time before--I had never suspected.

The doctor talked to me about type 1 hypertension and gave me some educational packets about it. She said that it sounds like I am eating right, so I need to add 1 mile of power walking on top of my daily 1 mile of meanderings between classes. I then told her about my triglyceride issues, and she gravely informed me that if my primary care physician hadn't put me on heart medication already, then she surely would at my February check-in--unless a miracle happens and I can reign everything in basically overnight.

I am feeling frustrated and a little betrayed right now.

I feel like I am doing everything that I can, but that nothing I do makes any difference. Whether I have the body I want or not, what does it matter if there is a high likelihood that I'll have at least one heart attack before 50? The doctor warned me that I should do everything in my power (as though I am not already) to avoid the heart medications because it is a slippery slope downhill from there.

I am going to add in that extra mile, I am going to watch my sodium, and I am going to continue to restrict myself to low-fat and low-GI rice, beans, fruits, and vegetables. I am going to work my hardest to try and make that February check-in a celebratory one. But in the back of my head I can still hear what my primary care physician said to me back in November: "I just want you to be prepared that no matter what you do, it may not help. Because it runs in the family, sometimes you just can't do it by yourself."

Please, please, please don't let that be me...

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Hey everybody, it has certainly been a while.
We are in the midst of finals here at Virginia Tech, so I have basically been running around like a chicken with my head cut off for the past month. Not to mention that it in nine days it will be Christmas, which brings on stresses of its own. All of this equating to me not having had time to blog lately. My apologies--believe me, I'd rather be doing this!
Now don't think that I've just been fiddling around in the mean time. Oh no, I have a stock pile of photos and recipes that are ripe for posting. Seeing as my month-long vacation begins this upcoming Thursday at exactly 3:05pm, prepare to be bombarded by deliciousness.
Woven in between exams are of course a few end-of-the-semester celebrations.
My good friends, Jessica, Christina, Thomas, and me.
If you've been wondering how my healthful habits have been going lately, the answer is amazing. Sticking to vegan foods hasn't been a challenge and I've continued to get smaller and smaller. Remember that back in June I was tipping the scales at 261 pounds? Here's where I am today:
  • I am 231 pounds. That is a 29 lb weight loss! And the most amazing thing is that every single day that number continues to plummet.
  • I have lost a total of 4 inches from my bust.
  • Three inches are gone from my waist.
  • I've lost 3 inches on the hips.
  • And I am minus two inches  from each thigh.
I have to admit, I am pretty proud of that. All of the wonderful people in my life have noticed the difference, and comment on a daily basis how much I've changed. I can even see it myself when I look in the mirror.
I had to go shopping for dress clothes the other day for a presentation, and I had such a hard time. Not because nothing fit, but because I kept grabbing the size that I used to be, and everything was too big! It took about two hours at Walmart in the middle of the night, but I left with a button down shirt and a skirt--this is the first time I've worn either of those things in my adult life. Things like that just never fit before now.

Dress clothes that actually fit and look nice!

I know that I've got a ways to go still, but I am just so happy that something is finally working for me and that my goals actually seem achievable. I've got another 80 pounds to go before I reach my target weight, but realistically I haven't been at this for very long and I'm already over a quarter of the way there. I am happier with myself right now than I have been in a long time.
My friend and room mate, Carla, has to write a feature story as an end-of-the-semester project. I'm not sure what possessed her, but she decided to do a human interest story about me and my journey toward a healthy life. She is in the process of getting it published now, so I will post a link whenever it is ready. As with all good articles, it was accompanied by several lovely photographs.

Courtesy of Carla Craft.

That wraps up my progress report for now. I'll be back soon!