Lettuce wrap it up for the day: Soy-free Asian inspired mushroom, nut, seed, veggie lettuce cups

Today is the Chinese new year – year of the monkey. On my way home I smelled mushrooms cooking in some sort of soy sauce and it made me crave something Asian with mushrooms. I have really grown into mushrooms over the last few years. I used to hate them…all the way into adulthood until I finally tried a dish at one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in New York City called Zen Palate. It was called mushroom forest and and was a chopped medley of shiitake, wheat gluten or soy, celery and other goodness that was eaten in a lettuce shell. Since coming to Calfornia, I have been making something similar, but without the wheat gluten or soy, and that is full of nuts and seeds for protein. It is shiitake, kale, carrot, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, pine nut medley served in a lettuce wrap. And it was perfect for a new year celebration.

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Oh, Yeah. Kickstart my new start: Mayo-less avocado based egg salad lettuce wrap

I started this blog earlier this year as embarked on a “smart start” whole30-like program. I was needing a change in my life – needing to challenge myself to think differently. And it worked. I quit my job, found a job that is more compatible with my current life, changed my eating habits, rediscovered my passion in the kitchen and have been inventing recipes left and right. I have been backlogged on writing posts on my most recent creations – and I will post those soon – but I knew it was time to challenge myself again, foodwise and to get out of this rut I am stuck in. So when a friend proposed the Whole30, I was all over it. Day one is tomorrow and I had meals planned based on a vegetarian Whole30 for the rest of the week. But of course, all that planning forgot to take into account my schedule…first preschool field trip for my little one, and I am chaperoning. Tomorrow. Early morning. On day one of the food challenge. Soup was the worst possible thing I could make for a lunch on a school bus. So it was time to create. Sandwich was the first thing that came to my mind…without bread made only with whole foods. So I made a mayo-less egg salad using avocado, spices and veg wrapped in lettuce topped with avocado, fennel and sunflower seeds.

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Wake me up before you go go: Flourless energy cookies with coconut, nuts, sunflower seeds, currants and more

Recently I have had a lot of conversations with people that ask about my lack of sleep and schedule during the day. My schedule is pretty typical and routine for a full-time working mom, but seems to shock people that don’t have kids or have forgotten what it was like. The number one question I am asked is, how are you able to work out at 5 am after only a few hours of sleep? Really, there is no choice for me right now, so I just do. The next question is what do you eat for breakfast? I eat more like a hobbit than human with an early wake up call – breakfast, second breakfast and an elevensies. So it requires having a lot of food around. The easier it is for me to eat and the more filling, sustaining and nourishing it is, the better off I am (and less likely to reach for junk since I have a constant desire to eat). That’s what makes these energy cookies so good: rich with good fats and protein from a variety of nuts and seeds, fiber from oats and sweetened with nothing but banana, dates and bites of currants so I don’t crash.

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You can get with this or you can get with that: Bell peppers stuffed with cauliflower rice OR quinoa, butternut squash, kale, nuts and currants

One of the most important aspects of diet I try to teach my little one is that everyone is different – Diet and what we chose to eat is up to an individual. At home we are vegetarian and at times Whole30-challenged vegetarians. I don’t eat meat but outside of the house, I feed her meat and fish, as long as it is good quality, preferably locally sourced. When she grows up, she can make conscious decisions about her diet, all I can do and lay a foundation, offer her choice and teach her that diets are personal and as a result she may eat differently depending on where she is. I also know that if we are too strict with our diets then we lose interest in food or eat that which is not good for us. As a vegetarian, the Whole30-like diet without legumes and quinoa can be a bit daunting. I have learned a lot about myself and my tendencies with regards to consuming these foods, but that does not mean I buy into Whole30/paleo mantra against it, just like I don’t believe that the amount of meat the diet suggests is environmentally or physiologically (if not sourced well) sustainable in the long-term. Nothing is wholly good and nothing is wholly bad. Everything – even water and oxygen – must be consumed in moderation. I have not eaten quinoa or legumes in months and I thought it was time to offer up a choice when making stuffed peppers – quinoa or riced cauliflower, because, well, why not. Both were tasty – so I suggest both varieties. The choice is yours.

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Sketches of Spain: Vegetarian paella with cauliflower rice

I like cooking classes because they are a great way to connect with people who love food and to learn tips, tricks and techniques. I am lucky to have more than one cooking school within walking distance from my house. I took a class on vegetarian cuisine at the New School of Cooking which encourages a love of crafting food in novice and experienced cooks alike. We made several dishes, including a vegetarian paella – but all that rice made me feel heavy.  So of course I modified it to meet my current dietary needs (and taste buds) – crispy cauliflower “rice” with vegetables, seeds, and spices. As the cooking instructor said, “make the recipe yours.”

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C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me

I had a crummy day.

I spent most of the day in the car. 6 hours driving in the rain to and from a meeting that took only 2 hours. I brought my my meals with me knowing I was going to be on the road and in meetings and would likely not make good decisions about food if I did not plan ahead. But I did not think about a snack or treat while driving. And with the traffic I was in a not so great mood. What I really wanted was a cookie.

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