Lifestyle, Recipes

Vegan Valentine’s Day Ideas

Happy Valentine’s Day! How will you be celebrating? I thought I would share some ideas to mark the occasion in a romantic and compassionate way.

Cook Something!

It’s often said that the way to someone’s heart is through the stomach and that’s equally true for plant-based eaters! One of my favorite ways to show love to the people I care about is to make them tasty, healthy vegan meals. Whether or not they are vegan, everyone appreciates the gesture. You can make something fancy or some good old-fashioned comfort food. So many blogs have made it easy to find something to make for your sweetheart with recipe round-up lists like this one from Minimalist Baker.

I like to keep things simple on Valentine’s Day by staying in and making a special meal. Last year I thought it would be fun to make borscht since it has a beautiful pinkish-reddish hue that is perfect for this holiday. I found this recipe on My Darling Vegan and even whipped up some cashew cream cheese to serve on top. 

Do Something!

Here’s a great list from Live Kindly of 7 different ways you can spend your Valentine’s Day. I especially love the idea of visiting an animal sanctuary. Josh and I spent a night at Soul Space Farm Sanctuary once and it was one of the most romantic and restful trips we have ever had!

Watch Something!

Since we prefer staying in to celebrate Valentine’s Day, dinner is usually followed by a movie. What better way to end the day than curled up on the couch with the one you love? Throw in some popcorn or other plant-based goodie and you’re set! Rotten Tomatoes has a great list of the Top 100 Romance Movies. Some of my recent favorites include Call Me By Your Name and The Big Sick.

Whatever you end up doing, I hope you have a great day full of love and kindness!

Breakfast, Lifestyle

Coffee Free One Year Later


Last February I decided to give up coffee. I had been a coffee drinker since I was 12 years old and I guess I could be considered a bit of a snob when it came to it. I always used fresh ground, high quality beans and brewed with an expensive coffee maker. I loved going to local coffee shops and treating myself to a good cup of pour over.

Why I Decided to Quit Drinking Coffee

I didn’t like the idea that I felt like my body depended on coffee. I didn’t feel awake in the mornings unless I had several cups. It was often hard for me to fall asleep at night and I wasn’t always getting the most restful sleep. I clenched my jaw during my sleep almost every night, which I learned was probably due to my caffeine dependency. I also suspected my coffee drinking habit was the reason my blood pressure was slightly elevated.

How I Did It

Once I decided I wanted to stop drinking coffee I had to figure out how I was going to do it. I told myself I was going to start with just trying to go without it for one month and see how I felt after that. I picked February as the month to start because it’s so short! I knew I still wanted to drink something warm every morning because I enjoy the ritual and allowing for a little “me time”  is always nice. I did some Google searches to find out what other people did and what some good coffee alternatives might be.

What Alternatives I Tried

After some internet searching and shopping around, I landed on a few different alternatives I wanted to try: Teeccino (a brand of herbal coffee alternative drinks), matcha, dandelion tea, and black tea.

Teeccino: I really enjoyed drinking this brand and thought it tasted great, but it was more expensive than drinking coffee everyday. It’s also something that isn’t available where I regularly do my grocery shopping, so it would mean making a special trip to the co-op or Whole Foods every week. 

Matcha: I found a large bag of powdered matcha for a good price at Costco. I also happened to have a matcha brewing kit that I had received as a Christmas gift, so I even had a special whisk for mixing it. I love the flavor of matcha, but I found making it to be a little fussy and time consuming for the mornings.

Dandelion tea: I had heard from many people that dandelion tea is a good coffee alternative because it has a similar strong, bitter taste. I tried the Traditional Medicinals brand and really enjoyed the flavor, but it was also on the more expensive side and not available at my regular grocery store. 

Black tea: There is such a wide variety of black teas available and I like them all. I mainly drank chai, English Breakfast, and sometimes Earl Grey during the switch. I can find these teas in large quantities at my regular grocery store, so I end up spending about $0.04 a serving. 

My New Morning Routine

I start my mornings by brewing a cup of black tea, usually chai or English Breakfast. This means I am still consuming a small amount of caffeine every day, but not nearly as much as when I was a coffee drinker. I only drink 1-2 cups of tea a day, but I used to drink 4-6 cups of coffee a day! I also like to unwind with a cup of herbal tea in the afternoons or evenings. 


I decided to keep going after the first coffee free month because it was so easy! I didn’t feel any caffeine withdrawal symptoms and I was falling asleep faster at night. My sleep was also more sustained and more restful. Overtime, I noticed less soreness in my jaw due to less clenching. I no longer get that jittery feeling after drinking too much coffee. My blood pressure levels are lower now. I am also spending less time getting ready in the morning since I no longer have to clean the coffee machine, grind the beans, and wait for the pot to be ready.

One Drawback

I am using single use tea bags which does create a little waste. I am able to compost the tea bag itself, but they often come wrapped in plastic. I try to buy tea with less packaging when I can and sometimes brew loose leaf tea in a reusable mesh strainer when I have time. 

How I Feel One Year Later

Since I am getting more and better sleep, I feel great! Giving up coffee was something I didn’t think I would be able to do. For weeks after I gave it up, I would crave it every time I smelled it. I no longer have those cravings and I am happy with the benefits I have seen in my health and lifestyle since switching to tea. I have a well stocked cabinet full of tea choices so I am never bored! It was much easier than I thought it would be to give up coffee and I’m glad I resolved to try.


WFPB Cooking in an Oil-Free Kitchen

We’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts to leave out the oil that many recipes call for. That’s because we follow a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle (WFPB, for short), which means we do not consume any overly processed foods. The food we eat is as close to its natural state as possible.

There are many reasons not to consume oil. If you want to find out more, here are just a few links explaining why we don’t eat oil: one of Michael Greger’s many videos on oils, John McDougall’s articles on extracted oilsone of Engine2’s discussions on oil, and lastly an article from UC Davis Integrative Medicine.

Simmering Tempeh Triangles

Tempeh simmering on the stovetop in a mixture of soy sauce, veggie broth, and sriracha sauce. No oil needed!

When we first decided to switch to a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to cook without oil. We worried about taste, texture, and everything sticking to the pan. After giving it a try, we realized how easy it was and even found that leaving it out actually improved the flavor of our meals! Suddenly sautéd vegetables tasted like vegetables rather than vegetable-flavored oil.

Now that we have been cooking without oil for a while, we have established a few methods that work really well. The next time you find yourself reaching for your bottle of extra virgin olive oil, consider tossing it out and trying one of these tips instead!

Oil-Free Cooking Tips

  • Bake instead of fry: We still love eating things like (plant-based) burgers and fries. Not to mention things like latkes, falafel, and crispy tofu. But we never fry these. Instead we bake them on parchment paper or silicone baking sheets. They are just as flavorful out of the oven as they are fried on the stovetop.
  • Try a dry sauté, water, or veggie broth: If you are cooking veggies on the stovetop, they emit so much water content that some don’t need any added liquid. Onions and mushrooms, for example, release so much water that you can deglaze without adding anything. If you need to, though, water or veggie broth are good to use.
  • There are lots of oil-free recipe resources! Forks Over Knives, The Engine 2 Diet, and T. Colin Campbell’s Center for Nutrition Studies are just a few of the sites we visit for completely oil-free recipes. The China Study Cookbook and PlantPure Nation Cookbook are only a couple of the many oil-free cookbooks available.
  • You don’t need oil to make healthy, delicious salad dressings. We use things like mustard, tahini, or avocado as the base of our dressings and add vinegar and spices to finish it off. Do a Google search for oil-free dressings and you’ll see that the possibilities are endless!
  • There are always substitutions. This is especially important when it comes to following recipes for baked goods.  The oil is usually added as a binder or to keep the finished product moist. The same effect can be achieved by adding applesauce, ripened bananas, or a flax “egg” to the recipe. Follow this link for a definitive list of oil substitutions.

Until you’ve tasted food without oil, you just don’t know what you’re missing. There is so much flavor under the oil that you can’t appreciate until you leave it out. We tried it once and have been hooked ever since. Save the oil for your car!

Produce Picks, Recipes

I Dream of Zucchini: Recipe Round-up

Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash

Zucchini and yellow summer squash have an almost identical flavor and texture. They’re also in season right now!

Earlier this week, I declared my love for cucumber. Today, it’s time to show some love to an equally worthy veggie: the zucchini! I love how versatile zucchini is. There are so many ways to prepare zucchini that it’s really hard to get tired of eating it. Here are a few of our favorite ways to prepare zucchini:

So Many Ways to Prepare Zucchini!

  • Sauté it! With a little veggie broth, garlic, and spices (we like basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper for a Mediterranean flair)–this is a perfect side dish for almost any meal.
  • Roast it! With some cherry tomatoes and a few whole cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper. Place the roasted veg atop a bed of quinoa and arugula, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar for an easy and delicious salad.
  • Bake it! In some muffins or bread; zucchini makes a sweet treat, too!
  • Spiralize it! Make zucchini noodles or “zoodles” and eat them the same way you would ordinary pasta. How fun is it to say “zoodles”?! (Recipe found on One Green Planet.)
  • Steam it! With an assortment of other veggies, zucchini often makes it way into many of our Buddha Bowls.

But, wait– there’s even more ways to eat zucchini!

Zucchini Recipe Round-up:

(Some of the recipes below call for oil.  Since we eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet, we avoid processed ingredients like oil and always omit it. It’s really easy to leave the oil out and not have any impact on the taste of the final product.)

We eat zucchini year-round, but peak time is right now. Zucchini is in season mid- to late summer and can be picked up at grocery stores and farmers market for a great price. I find that you can also substitute yellow summer squash for zucchini in any recipe that calls for it. When we go to our farmers market, we like to buy from the growers that have the half zucchini/half summer squash trays to get a variety of color onto our plates.

Do you have a surplus of zucchini to go through this summer? What are your favorite plant-based recipes that feature zucchini? Let us know in the comments!

Budget-friendly, Recipes

Recipe Review: Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce

Last night we made this recipe from Forks Over Knives: Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce. It’s an excellent recipe on its own, but we made some modifications to make it a little better. This recipe will be included in the forthcoming book Forks Over Knives Family: Every Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy Kids on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based DietThe book is set to be released in September 2016 and is available for pre-order at Amazon now.

Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce

We substituted cabbage for the bok choy. It tasted great, but the cabbage doesn’t stand out against the noodles as much as bright green bok choy does.

As I’ve said before, our introduction to plant-based living came from the frugal living community. Ever since then, we have consistently tried to make our meals as inexpensive as possible while maintaining maximum nutrition and taste. This is the same approach we took with this recipe. Here are our thoughts:

banh pho noodles

Banh pho noodles are available at most Asian markets. They tasted great in the Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce and can easily be cooked to a chewier consistency than other types of rice noodles.

Banh pho noodles

Banh pho noodles add a much different texture from the one you get with standard brown rice noodles. We find they have a much greater margin of palatable chewiness, which we reached by testing a noodle every minute or so. Once you have the texture you want, shock them with cold water.

To cook these banh pho noodles, we put the whole package in a covered pot. Separately, we boiled enough water to cover all the noodles. We poured the boiling water over the noodles, covered it, and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Then we drained the noodles, shocked them with cold water, and let them sit until reheating them in the main dish at the end.


We used three medium heirloom carrots from the farmers market: one purple, one yellow and one white. The white carrot helped to offset the sweetness of the others, giving it a subtle earthy, turnip-like taste.


Cashews are a nice touch, but they are expensive when you buy them oil-free and raw (unroasted), which is what we prefer. We save them for special occasions, like when we make a big lasagna or pizza. Next time we make the Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce we will use peanuts instead, which I think would be just as good in this dish, maybe better. The cashews add a certain flavor you may not get with peanuts, but buying oil-free cashews costs significantly more than peanuts.


Cilantro is especially flavorful at certain times of year, like summer, so you may not need to use too much for added flavor. We left ours whole out of habit. Because it is summer and cilantro is at peak flavor, it would have been more appropriate to give it a light chop to distribute the flavor more evenly, instead of getting big shots of flavor here and there. Chopped is the direction in the recipe, and we didn’t follow it. Next time, we will!

Cabbage instead of bok choy

We replaced the bok choy with cabbage, which is cheaper, and also because we had it in the refrigerator anyway. Cabbage is a fantastic, frugal substitute for bok choy. While bok choy is a good and worthy ingredient, for us it’s not always worth the added expense. This recipe calls for baby bok choy, which, depending on where you live, can be difficult to find and more expensive than normal bok choy. For us, the only real issue is one of appearance: bok choy is a much brighter green and stands out better against the noodles. Pound for pound, though, cabbage will nearly always be one of the cheapest vegetables you can buy, and you can reliably get it at most farmers markets.

The sauce

The sauce is good, and the proportion of thickener to liquids is perfect. Overall, though, the ginger and garlic flavors in this dish were somewhat weak. We even used three times the amount of ginger called for, and while it was still detectable, it was far too subtle. The problem is that it is added at the beginning of cooking, which guarantees that the flavor will diminish significantly by the end. When we cook with ginger and garlic (which we often do!) we try to add them as late as possible to preserve as much flavor as we can. Even though it’s only ten minutes total, that’s still long enough to neutralize flavors like garlic and ginger, especially since they’re not sitting in a stew or soup. Next time we will add the garlic and ginger instead to the sauce, let the flavors marry, and then add the sauce at the very end. For us the sauce thickened very quickly, so it probably doesn’t even need to cook for the full 5 minutes.

Final thoughts

We would recommend this recipe without hesitation, but don’t be afraid to make alterations or substitutions. In fact, that’s our advice for every recipe. When you do make changes, be sure to write them down. Keeping a food journal in the kitchen is the best way to keep track of it all.

How do you approach new recipes? Do you cook them as written or make changes the first time? Let us know in the comments!