Recipe Friday: Pumpkin Spice Latte

Anyone who knows me knows that I love this time of year.

I am very basic when it comes to fall. Fall decorations, fall clothing (even when it’s still 90 degrees out because I live in the South), and fall festivals. 

I am especially in love with Pumpkin Spice Lattes from a certain coffee chain. They introduced the drink around the time I was an undergraduate in Boston. I had to pass this chain on my way to classes every day so when I discovered this delicious beverage, I made sure to grab one every day before heading to class.

I know that this is probably where a bulk of my college weight came from. That and the peppermint mocha drink that follows for the holidays. I really couldn’t resist the two.

I think because I had fond memories of undergraduate, Boston falls, and this drink – it’s a little cup of nostalgia every year. When I was pregnant, I started craving the drink in early August. Every couple of days I would comment how much I wished it was PSL time. I know I drove Ash and my mother nuts with how much I was talking about the drink.

When it finally debuted Labor Day Weekend I bought my first cup of the season and a cute reusable mug to show off my love. Because it was my major pregnancy craving, especially towards the end, I insisted on including it in my weekly bump photos. I joked that I was basting Jai in nutmeg.

If he craves pumpkin spice or hates it, it’s my fault.

pregnantPSL

No, seriously. This was my week 37 bump photo. Exactly 2 years ago today.

Pumpkin Spice Drought

But when I quit sugar around this time last year, I had to give up my beloved fall drink. Unfortunately, no matter how I tried to order it, coffee shops found ways to sneak in sugar. In the sauce and in the milk (sugar is the third ingredient in their coconut milk). I found that I reacted the same way to the sugar-free mixes as I do with the full-sugar, which is to say I get headaches, neck pain, and nausea. I also hate the aftertaste sweeteners give a drink or food item.

I went the entire year without my PSLI made it through, but it didn’t feel like fall for me because it was the first time in 10+ years where I didn’t have the drink at least once.

I didn’t want to go a second year without it. It wasn’t that I was craving it as much as it was wanting it for nostalgia reasons. Fall is my season and if I went another year without really embracing the season I was going to feel a little sad. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I found that the holidays didn’t feel the same because I didn’t experience fall like I normally do.

I tried a couple recipes for making the drink at home and while they were good, they didn’t quite have the flavor I was looking for. I tried coconut sugar, I tried straight maple syrup, but it wasn’t that perfect blend of sweet and spice. I didn’t want to make the drink too sweet, as that was a complaint I actually had of the original, and I had to find the right kind of sweetener that didn’t add flavor.

My mom suggested using xylitol. Xylitol is a wonderful sweetener because it melts like sugar and can function 1:1 with sugar. If you are watching your sugar intake for personal reasons or due to diabetes, it’s a suggested alternative to sugar cane.

I do find it can taste a little sweeter than sugar, but that may just be me. It’s a little pricey, so I don’t use it as much as I do maple syrup, coconut sugar, or applesauce in my baking. But for a drink such as this, it’s a great substitute because you can use as much or as little as you want.

I also threw in some maple syrup because I wanted to thin the sauce a bit, but also add a bit of that New England flavor I love. Below you will find my personal recipe for the Pumpkin Spice Sauce to add to your latte or morning coffee.

I used greater proportions so you can make it in bulk rather than one drink at a time.

Read More


My Love of Cooking (& Baking)

Every superhero has an origin story.

My superpowers reside in the kitchen. I am not going to put on false humility about it: I am a great cook and baker. Are there people who are better? Absolutely, and I am not going to be joining any competition shows because I know there are plenty of people who are better than me. But I am good.

Growing up, cooking and baking was an act of love for my mother. Every meal contained a lot of passion, care, and flavor. Seeing her work in the kitchen was inspiring and made me want to be like her. When I grew up, I wanted to have a family tied together by my cooking just like we were with hers.

What follows is my introduction to the art of cooking (& baking) and how I fell in love with it as a hobby.

A Childhood Introduction

My childhood home was centered around the kitchen as the main gathering place – for eating, cleaning, and chatting. Many hours were spent there – most of the time with my mom working and me just watching her prep, assemble, and make. I would stand behind the stove and chat about my day at school while she made dinner or dessert.

I absorbed all that she did while I watched her work. Many times I was asked to stir something while she moved onto the next step and other times I felt comfortable enough to ask her questions: how can you tell the candy is ready? why does the temperature of the oven matter? what does a clean knife mean after inserting it into the cake?

I never saw her get discouraged in her work. Frustrated, yes. But not discouraged. If a dish didn’t work out quite like she wanted, she never threw in the towel. She would look over the recipe and realize that most of the time it was written badly. Her cookbooks are littered with marginalia to direct her future self on how to make the recipe a success. 

I didn’t stay on the sidelines either. My real introduction occurred when my mom had me help her as a toddler, with my first project using cookie cutters for a batch of Christmas sugar cookies. I would press the cutter into the dough and many times the dough would come out with the cutter, stuck. I would pull this dough out of the cutter and pop it into my mouth. I think out of a potential batch of 24 cookies, we successfully made 18. It was my earliest experience as a quality control tester as well.

Read More


Simple 3-Ingredient Fruit Leather

Jai and I went strawberry picking yesterday, our first of the fruit season. It was his first-time strawberry picking, though he went peach picking with me last year. He seemed to enjoy himself, although he stayed in his carrier the whole time which isn’t a bad way to spend the time: comfortable transportation AND food service? Yes, please.

This bodes well for blueberry picking because the farm we go to has tall bushes that are out of reach for little ones. He may be able to grab a few while he’s on my back and if he doesn’t, he won’t be bored while I pick.

I snuck a couple of (rinsed) berries to him while he was back there and he seemed to be a fan, though he was more into eating them once we got home.

Strawberries have an extremely short shelf-life, so I had to come up with some ways to preserve them beyond a couple of days. We got huge bucket-full so I needed to think of something quick.

Jai is on a fruit leather kick so I decided to make some from the fresh strawberries. I hunted around for some recipes and settled on this one, but I made my own modifications to veganize and help naturally sweeten the leather some more.

I’ve written up my modifications below, but do check out Momables for other great healthy eating ideas for little ones.

berrypicking

Jai’s first berry-picking experience. He was the official quality control agent: my shirt-back can attest with all the strawberry stains.

Read More

“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a power-protein seed and a favorite in our household.  But with any sort of “grain,” you can make too much of it by accident for a recipe or find that you have boring leftovers that need sprucing up.

I am a person that can’t have the same thing too many nights in a row, so when I have extra quinoa in the refrigerator, something needs to be done with it to make it interesting again.

With that in mind, below is a delicious vegan recipe I came up with to handle extra cooked quinoa. It’s also a fantastic make on its own – no need to wait for leftover quinoa.

Leave a comment with your thoughts and modifications to the recipe below.


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

LeftoverQuinoaPepperspin

 

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients
3 large red peppers, sliced lengthwise and de-seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you are making low sodium)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1 Cup vegetable broth
1/2 Cup cooked quinoa
1 (16 ounces) can vegetarian refried beans
Large handful from 1 (5 ounces) package fresh spinach
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-in glass baking dish and arrange the peppers with the skin down.
  2. Roast peppers in the preheated oven until tender for about 30 minutes. Dab the excess liquid that collects in the peppers with a paper towel. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the peppers are roasting, use the remaining olive oil, heat skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder to the onion; cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Mix in tomatoes, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa to the onion mixture; stirring occasionally. Cook until everything is heated through (about 6 minutes) and some of the liquid has cooked off.
  5. Stir in refried beans and cook until the beans incorporated into the mixture (about 3 minutes). You want this to have a thick consistency (not too soupy), but you also don’t want it to be too dry, so allow to simmer for a few minutes or add in reserved tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
  6. Add in spinach, stir until it just wilts. Remove from heat.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the roasted red peppers, top with nutritional yeast.
  8. Bake in the oven until the pepper gets crispy around the cut portions, about 20 minutes.

 

Notes

  • To reduce the spice level, use only 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.
  • To increase the spice level, add a chopped, deseeded jalapeno to Step 4.
  • Add in 1 Cup of frozen sweet corn to step 5 with the refried beans to get a sweet contrast.
  • To make non-vegan version: substitute chicken broth and a shredded Mexican cheese blend for the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast respectively. Add any chopped leftover chicken as well.
  • Leftover white or brown rice will work as a nice substitute for the quinoa.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 pepper half
1 Serving: 170 Calories; Fat: 6 g; Sat. Fat: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 7 g

Bonus Recipe – Vegan Nachos

This recipe will leave you extra filling for 3 more peppers. If you don’t want to make another batch:

Ingredients
Leftover quinoa stuffing
1 (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
Tortilla Chips
Vegan cheese good for melting (or shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and top with a layer of tortilla chips.
  2. Mix in green chilies to the quinoa mixture.  Just before putting into the oven, sprinkle a layer of the stuffing and top with your favorite vegan cheese.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with your favorite salsa.

Liked this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.

Photo Credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


Liked this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.