Friday, February 26, 2010

Tofurky Deli Slices

How could I have forgotten this one on my list of favorite vegan foods?! Tofurky deli slices make scrumptious sandwiches - even my picky eaters love to eat them in sandwiches or by themselves. Low in calories, high in protein. Yum.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Eat This, Not That: A few of my favorite vegan substitutions

It has taken several years to sort through and find my favorite substitutes for commonly used animal products, so I hope that by throwing these out there, I might save one of you a little time, frustration, and money. This is also a great guide if you have a vegan guest or are cooking for someone with food allergies.

Turbinado Sugar as a substitute for White and Brown Sugar
Sugar isn't vegan?! I have been really surprised at how many people seem offended by the fact that I don't eat meat - especially since I am careful not to bring it up unless I'm asked - so when someone first told me that white sugar is not a vegan product, I almost assumed they were just giving me a hard time :P Then I looked into it and found that most cane sugar is processed using bone char. Bone char is made from ground up animal bones (mostly pigs and cows) and used to pass sugar through to whiten it. Newer technology is starting to replace the use of bone char, but bone char is cheap and many major sugar manufacturers still use it. Generic brands of sugar are hit and miss since they get their sugar from multiple suppliers. They also use bone char when they process brown sugar because, despite what most of us probably grew up thinking, brown sugar is not less processed than white. They process it all the way through to white sugar and then add molasses at the end. Some people use sucanat sugar in place of brown sugar, but I find that the flavor is too strong for my taste. Additionally, sucanat and brown sugar do not have comparable moisture levels, so baked goods can turn out dry when sucanat is used as a substitute. That being said, when my recipe's call for brown sugar, I add 2 Tbs. unsulphured molasses for every 1 Cup of turbinado that I use to replace the brown sugar.
Turbinado sugar is less processed than white sugar - never making it to the bleaching stage. It is slightly coarser than white sugar and is off-white to tan in color. It cooks/bakes just like white sugar but in addition to being vegan, it also has a higher mineral content and is slightly lower in calories (turbinado sugar = 11 calories per teaspoon, white sugar = 16 calories per teaspoon). Take a look at THIS awesome guide (love it!) for more information on sweeteners.

Earth's Balance Buttery Sticks as a substitute for Butter
This is a great brand of vegan "butter"! I love to bake and this "butter" bakes and cooks just like dairy butter. There are no hydrogenated oils or artificial anything. You can buy it in tubs or in a box of four (1/2 Cup) sticks. It's GREAT! HERE is a link to their website if you want to check it out.

Powdered Egg Replacer
This is not a great egg substitute for recipe's that really depend on egg's emulsifying qualities (like in cakes and brownie mixes - for those I'd recommend a liquid egg replacer), but it's great for cookies, breads, and anything else that just needs the extra moisture that an egg would normally provide.
If you are making a hearty recipe, like a whole grain bread or oatmeal cookies, you can also substitute 1 Tbs. ground flaxseed and 3 Tbs. water for each egg you are replacing in your recipe instead of using a commercial egg replacer. But be careful because flaxseed is too heavy for a lot of recipe's. If you're in a pinch (and you're a weirdi like me and actually keep these kinds of foods in your house) you can also use 1 Tbs. soy flour and 3 Tbs. water to replace an egg.
If you're looking for more options, I've heard great things about Ener-G Egg replacer. I've never tried it because I really haven't missed eggs in my recipe's enough to go looking...

Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream as a substitute for Sour Cream

This is, by far, the best sour cream substitute that I've found. It has a nice texture and a mild flavor. Unless someone intends to eat this by itself, I don't imagine most people would notice much of a difference from dairy sour cream. It doesn't cook up (ex. casseroles) as creamy as dairy sour cream does, but it
does the best job of all the brands I've tried. Tofutti manufactures another sour cream substitute (Tofutti Sour Supreme) but it has hydrogenated oils in it so I haven't ever tried it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ahh, the Neti Pot

It's been several years since I first saw a neti pot being used when it was featured on Oprah, but I didn't start using one myself until about a year or two ago when my nurse practitioner suggested I give it a try. I am now convinced that the use of a neti pot is one of the simplest, most effective methods for maintaining upper respiratory health. I have seasonal allergies and the resulting inflammation caused me to get sinus infection after sinus infection (that would lead to ear infection after ear infection). After my nurse practitioner recommended a neti pot, I started using it twice a day until I got things under control. Now, even though I think I'd do well to use it every day, I only use it when I'm feeling congested, sick, or if I've spent the day caring for patients with infectious diseases. I rarely get sinus infections (haven't had one all winter!) and I don't get nearly as many ear infections. When I first started using it I didn't even realize how stuffy I always was because I was so used to feeling that way!

A lot of people use herbal preparations in their neti pots, but I prefer to stick to saline. Add 1/4 tsp. non-iodized salt and fill the neti pot with room temperature water. Repeat for each side.

It took me several tries of using a neti pot to tilt my head and breath just right so that the water didn't run down my throat, so don't give up if it's unpleasant at first! Also, watch to make sure that you don't add water that's too hot or cold or you'll get shooting pains similar to a "brain freeze" when you use it (not to mention risk for inflammation or injury to the delicate tissues in your nasal passages if you use really hot water). On a side note - spend the extra $4 to get a ceramic neti pot. They're worth it. The overpriced, cheaply made plastic ones I've seen are a horrible embarrassment to neti pots everywhere.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Basics for Body Care

Castile Soap

Castile soap is my miracle soap. Right now I use Dr. Bronner's brand (even though the over-the-top religious rhetoric printed on the bottle creeps me out a little) but this weekend I'm planning to make my own for the first time - good or bad, I plan to blog about it. Castile soap has an alkaline pH of 9 (that means you shouldn't set the bottle down too hard while it's open so that it splashes in your eyes because it really hurts - not that I'd know). The higher pH worried me at first because most manufacturers strive to create body cleansers that have a neutral pH of 7. Either way, I can tell you that castile soap has worked wonders for my skin! It is now the only soap I use - even for my face. It has been incredible for my skin allergies and sensitivities (yes, I'm the geek with the allergies) and almost immediately after I started using it I noticed my face wasn't as oily. It's all natural, hypoallergenic, environmentally friendly (you can use this when you go camping) and it is the only soap I know of that lathers in salt water - don't ask.

Baking Soda as a Face Scrub

I noticed once, after buying a HUGE box of baking soda, that it had tips on the back of the box that listed possible household uses. One of the suggestions was to use baking soda as a gentle exfoliant. I've tried it and it's really gentle while still being effective. And even though the baking soda method ("no-poo") thing was a total fail, I've found that adding a teaspoon of baking soda to your shampoo once a week gives your shampoo a great lather and your hair more body and volume.

Unrefined Coconut Oil as a Moisturizer

I use unrefined coconut oil after every shower as an all over moisturizer. It's made almost entirely of medium chain fatty acids - just like the oil your body naturally produces - and it's loaded with antioxidants. Because of it's high level of antioxidants, it even offers some UVA/UVB protection. I would advise combining it with zinc oxide powder for sun protection if you plan to be out for awhile because natural antioxidants are neutralized when they combine with free radicals (meaning the UVA/UVB protection won't last for more than a couple of hours at best). I was hesitant to start using coconut oil on my face because I'm already prone to breakouts, but I'd read so many positive reviews from people using it specifically to control acne that I thought I'd give it a try. Miraculously, it hasn't caused me any problems. I apply a thin layer on my face to wear under my makeup and a heavier layer before I go to bed at night. It's also great as a substitute for shaving cream or gel.

Shea Butter as a Hand Moisturizer

Shea Butter is a natural derivative of karite trees that grow in Western and Central Africa. It has a great texture and a very mild, neutral smell. Considering the number of times I have to wash my hands every day (I'm a nursing student), I find that unrefined coconut oil is not heavy enough of a moisturizer or convenient enough to carry around and use as hand cream. Before I started using shea butter as a hand cream my hands were getting cracked and irritated. Now, even though I only remember to use the shea butter at night, my hands feel great!

I hope these simple tips are helpful!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

You're supposed to clean that thing?!

Oven cleaning. My Achilles heel. The truth of it is, I usually don't clean my oven until it gets to the point that it takes an entire box of baking soda to put out the fire that will inevitably start when I turn it on. My mom, who's microwaves and ovens are ALWAYS spotless, has become so embarrassed by my poor oven cleaning habits that she no longer introduces me as her daughter...and I can't say that I really blame her. *sigh*

Last week I cleaned my oven. About 3/4 of the way through, I realized that I hadn't taken any "before" pictures but that I wanted to blog about it because conventional oven cleaner is such a toxic, caustic, nasty chemical cleaner (check out the chemical safety data sheet here) and I wanted to share my cleaning method so that, if you are like me, once every two years or so the job can be a little easier.

After sweeping out copious amounts of baking soda from the floor of my oven, I lightly spray the oven down with white vinegar. Then I preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. After five minutes or so, I turn the oven off and pour white vinegar into the oven being careful not to get it on the oven's heating elements. When the oven is cool enough to work on, I use a scouring pad to scrub it clean. The mess usually comes up pretty easily no matter how many times it has been baked on. This time I thought it would be best to lay down a layer of tinfoil to save myself the trouble the next time I clean it.

I know I can't really hope to demonstrate an accurate representation of "before" and "after" when I start taking pictures just a few minutes before I finished, but here's a picture I took of the sidewall of the oven before I scrubbed it:

Remember, I'm intrinsically lazy, so this is after a half-hearted attempt at scrubbing: