Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hilary's Veggie Burgers and Veggie Bites Product Review

After becoming a vegetarian, which for me happened at the age of 7, finding new alternatives to foods I used to eat became exciting. When I discovered there were people making burgers out of vegetables I was ecstatic! Nothing brought sympathy to people's eyes faster than seeing me munch on celery sticks at cook-outs. Now I was finally able to feel satisfied and enjoy the fun of grilling something outdoors! But there was a problem. Most of those vegetarian burgers had a lot of ingredients which weren't vegetables and which weren't very healthy.

Between my teen years and my twenties I was obsessed (or rather, addicted) to fake meat products. If you have explored the market for these yourself, you may be aware that many of the vegetarian meats are highly processed culminations of soy, wheat, and sometimes dairy. By my mid-twenties this diet had attributed to cystic problems, abdominal cramping, and general inflammation throughout my body. With side effects like that, it would almost be healthier to eat a real burger, but neither my taste buds nor my ethics fell in line with that idea. My desire was never to replace beef, anyway. What I wanted was something to eat at social events that I actually felt good about.

I have experimented with making my own veggie burgers, but to be honest getting a good solid texture that holds together well enough can be difficult. Luckily, I found Hilary's, a brand of veggie burger that used all the same ingredients I was trying to make burgers with! They are made with millet and quinoa (grains which the body can properly digest), sweet potatoes, and various other vegetables. Another thing which REALLY has me excited about Hilary's products is that they use coconut oil! After spending time as a raw vegan, and going back to add some cooked foods back in to my diet, I have found that coconut oil is the only oil that my body doesn't reject when cooked. There are countless studies on the Internet by scientists and nutritionists that all agree that coconut oil is the best kind of oil (many say the only kind of oil) to use at high temperatures. Please do your research and seek out that information if you aren't familiar with it already.

On a purely culinary level I was thrilled with all of the flavor selections that Hilary's offers. The Kimchi Burgers are my personal favorite. Spicy with cabbage, carrot, and a hint of ginger - these patties inspired me to top them off with a spicy peanut sauce, honey quick-pickles, and avocado. YUMMMM! A few other flavors are close runners up, especially the mini burger bites in Mediterranean and Mesquite, which are easy additions to make weekday salads a little more exciting. The Mediterranean Bites can be treated like falafel and paired with olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lemon-tahini dressing.

Hilary's are excellent vegan/ gluten-free party foods. Aside from the burgers you can serve them as tiny dipping bites, or turned into stuffing or a loaf for the holidays. Hilary's burgers are my favorite veggie burger option for both taste and health. I am grateful I can have a fast weeknight dinner by throwing a couple of patties in a pan, and not have to sacrifice my values or well-being.

Mediterranean Bite Salad with Red Pepper Dressing and Beet Noodles

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Daiya Product Review

In the land of health-focused vegan food blogging there is a large push for homemade goods, which I fully support. Being able to select our own ingredients is a powerful means to taking our well-being into our own hands. But what happens when extreme exhaustion and fatigue set in and the DIY home cooked meal idea actually becomes an obsessive fixation that robs us of our mental health?

As an example, let me tell you about my past week. Our car (we only have one for our family at the moment), had a couple of hundred dollars worth or repairs, which left me doing some logistic work to figure out how to get to my job. We got the car back from the shop and after less than a week of driving it, the belt snapped. We took it in for a couple more hundred dollars of repairs. I had to figure out arrangements to get my son to his home school science course. We got the car back and a small ding in the windshield had turned into a sprawling 10-inch long crack. We opened our wallets again, got the car back with a new windshield and less than a week later it started making a high-pitched metallic squealing sound. We had hit the tipping point, got a rental car, and then a pipe burst in our 150 year-old house, soaking the ceiling through and forcing us to shut off the pipes for a few hours.

Needless to say, this was NOT a week for dehydrating the perfect raw food pizza crust for 10 hours. And I didn't have 6 hours to soak cashews for a cram sauce. Heck, I didn't even have time to buy groceries. And if anyone had suggested in my stressed out mentality that I should "just eat a salad", I would have bitten them. My son was also grumpy from being dragged from waiting room to waiting room, and annoyed at having plans canceled. This is where my favorite Daiya product really shines.

Sometimes in life you need a pizza. You need comfort and convenience and to let someone else do the work for you. And as we live out in the country, where I am more likely to find a dinosaur bone than a place that delivers vegan, gluten-free pizza, Daiya is the answer. Since my son is a picky eater, we stick to the Cheeze Lover's. Not only is it gluten-free and vegan, but it is soy-free as well, which gives it a big leg up on the competition. Plus, let's face it, Daiya cheese melts better than any other cheese on the market. If texture is important to you, Daiya is your answer. My son was truly grateful for a treat and I could put my feet up and save my sanity for a night.

I tried the sliced Daiya in cheddar and provolone as well. While they can be eaten cold, they really are best melted. Paired with gluten-free bread Daiya slices make an excellent grilled cheese for adults and children alike. For people who suffer from food allergies, Daiya provides a chance to enjoy those "normal food" that usually must be avoided. They are also a great solution if you are desperate to taste lasagna again.

I recommend Daiya products as comfort treats, for allergy sufferers, and for family meal times when you want everyone to eat the same meal. The only modifications I would like to see made to these products would be if they switched to 100% coconut oil, instead of also using some canola/ safflower oil. But considering what is used in most packaged products, Daiya is still far ahead of the game!

I'm grateful that there are companies paying attention to dietary restrictions, but also to taste. Remember in elementary school when it would be announced that it was pizza day in the cafeteria, or at summer camp when Friday came and everyone was overjoyed that there was a pizza party? It eases my mind to know that my family and I can have these breaks. Even those concerned with their health deserve a pizza party every once in awhile!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Jackson's Honest Product Review

Have you ever tried to do something that was a trivial part of your daily routine and instead been jolted from your mundane, hypnotized state to see what is really important? Well, that just happened to me. So this blog entry is a potato chip review, but it is also a blog entry about why I am crying while writing a potato chip review.

Firstly, I should start with the products themselves. Jackson's Honest chips are delicious. They are made with a few, simple ingredients, but more importantly they are made with the best ingredients. I appreciate that the company has options of heirloom potatoes, sweet potatoes, and non-GMO corn. I also appreciate that they use sea salt, instead of refined table salt. But I am fully won over by the use of coconut oil. Countless studies show that coconut oil is the only plant-based oil that our body can properly digest after being cooked. Coconut oil is also beneficial for brain-functioning. Aside from that coconut oil tastes better as well, which is an enormous bonus! Jackson's Honest chips are crisp with an almost creamy texture and salted just enough to bring out the natural taste of the potato. Other companies use vegetable and canola oil for one reason only- they are cheap! In order to make their chips using coconut oil, and to keep the molecular structure of their MCTs, Jackson's Honest chips are cooked at lower temperatures for a longer amount of time than your average big brand potato chip. Jackson's Honest products care about quality, and it shows.

So, why would a good tasting chip bring me to tears? I did my homework and read up on the company. Jackson's Honest company is family-run and named after a son, Jackson. Jackson had struggled with health issues, about which you can read more here. Upon adjusting his diet the family was able to relieve some of his pain. I myself have a child, Sydney, who suffers from neurological weaknesses. It has been an ongoing struggle in our family, but it has also been one that we are able to improve upon by being watchful of his diet. When we are not careful with his diet, and he is allowed to eat "normal" food from the Standard American Diet, the results are immediate and alarming. One food which Sydney ate a lot of as a toddler was Doritos, which had terrible impacts on his health. I am relieved that he can still have the option of eating chips now, without losing the ability to hold his head up straight afterwords. I worry about the world sometimes, when the shelves in the grocery store are stocked with waste products parading themselves as actual food. I have two options though- I could complacently sit by and silently fume about bad corporations, or I could actively seek out and support companies that are making good choices and products. I choose the latter.

Sydney staking his claim on my chips!

I am grateful for companies like Jackson's Honest chips - for their simple, pure products which don't sacrifice health for profit. I will happily continue to buy from them, as I am supporting a good family and investing in the well-being of my own family. The company has also started Jackson's Honest Charitable Foundation to help educate people about balanced diet and nutrition.

Of course, it wouldn't be a fair review if I didn't mention the downside of a product, which is this- I can't stop eating them! I could easily eat an entire large bag in one sitting if I wasn't interrupted. Luckily, both Sydney and my husband feel the same way and the three of us can devour an entire bag together.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ener G Product Reviews

The majority of this blog has been dedicated to gluten-free and vegan recipes, but as a mom who works an average of a 45-hour work week, with a 45-minute commute each way, I can tell you that sometimes breaks are necessary. But even when you give yourself a break, you shouldn't be hurting yourself with foods that will make you sick. But we may need to cut corners to save time occasionally, or treat ourselves to a familiar "normal" food to deal with the huge amount of stress that surrounds us daily. That is why I am excited to announce that I am starting to highlight vegan and gluten-free product reviews on Radiate the Day! The first of which is a selection of Ener G Foods!

Most people who are long-time vegan or gluten-free may be familiar with this company, as they have been around since 1962. My first experience with them was with their Egg Replacer, which is a quick add-in for any vegan/ gluten-free baker. Ener G Foods had a slew of products which I had never tried. As a note, the company has split their products into Ener G and Ener G Select. The distinction between the two is that Ener G Select products have egg, so if that is not a part of your diet, please be aware and always read your labels. 

I sampled 3 types of Ener G Foods' Pretzels (Original, Garlic, and Sesame), their Light Tapioca Loaf, and their Cinnamon Cookies. The 8 Grain Bread (pictured in the lower right corner) also looked amazing, but because it had egg in it I gave that as a gift to my very grateful co-worker. 

While I enjoyed all of the products I sampled, I have to admit that my son was Ener G's greatest cheerleader. As my son has several learning disabilities, which seem to be altered greatly by diet choices, we have been very careful as to what he eats. It doesn't help that he is also naturally a very picky eater. Yesterday when I asked him if he wanted to try the pretzels he screamed, "YES!" and inhaled the entire bag of the original flavor. I was suddenly hit with a great wave of guilt in realizing it had been years (yes, YEARS) since my son had eaten pretzels. Pretzels are a staple of childhood in a lot of ways, but when we started eliminating wheat, dairy, egg, and soy from his diet we never found a suitable replacement. I think I will be buying these again, because my son definitely deserves them. And they taste exactly as I remember any "regular" pretzels tasting, so I am sure a room full of wheat-eaters would have no problem devouring a bowlful. I should warn that the garlic flavor, while delicious, may be a bit strong on your breath, so make sure you don't eat a bag before going on a first date!

The Light Tapioca Loaf was probably my favorite. I tried it plain, as well as toasted, grilled, and even made an attempt at french toast (which was a bit complicated without egg, but very close none the less). The bread is a soft, fluffy texture and not mealy like a few other gluten-free breads I have tried. Both my son and I appreciate toast in the mornings. He usually takes his plain, while I love covering mine in mashed avocado and a ripe tomato. Honestly, there are not many things you can use to fill the toast void, other than actually finding a bread that fits your dietary needs like this one. My husband relies on nut butter and jelly sandwiches to give him energy and focus while homeschooling our son, and this bread is one they can both enjoy. I also made a vegan grilled cheese with this bread and the texture held up beautifully. The sponginess absorbed the coconut oil I cooked it in and became crispy without breaking down into bits, which is a problem I have previously experienced with other brands. 

The Cinnamon Cookies were a bit like sugar cookies, and a bit like a soft biscotti. They dissolve a bit as you bite into them, which make them a perfect accompaniment for tea or coffee. I enjoyed them along with a coconut milk chai. I shared these with some co-workers, and half the box was gone before I got even home. 

All of the Ener G products I sampled were delicious, versatile, and useful. It is rare to find products which are so aware of allergens and make such clear guidelines to inform their customers of which products will be safe for them. The only alterations I would make on these products would be a few ingredients here and there (I try to avoid any cooked oil other than coconut oil, but with packaged foods this is hard to do). I would highly recommend these products to people transitioning to a gluten-free, soy-free, or vegan diet. Another benefit of these products is that they are easily enjoyed by others who don't share this diet, which means you can use them to cook for a family which may not eat the same way. The goal of Ener G Foods seems to be to make people who with specific diets feel that they can eat the same things as anyone else... what else could a company that sells gluten-free communion wafers be about! Whether you are Catholic or just looking for something to serve at your cook out, this company has the years of experience in creating products everyone can enjoy. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gluten-Free Vegan Jackfruit "Chicken" Noodle Soup

The holidays have worn many people out, both physically and emotionally. The is a cold drizzle of rain outside, and the few people who have made it to the office today pose a viral threats. I refuse to let their cold or flu symptoms ruin my upcoming long weekend. Luckily, last night I had this wonderfully comforting un-chicken noodle soup. Soy-free, gluten-free, plant-based, vegan... I only wish I had doubled the batch last night so that I had leftovers today.

Obviously, this is a coooked recipe. Modification could be made to make it raw. I have decided an entirely raw diet just doesn't work for me through these East Coast winters. I do look forward to eating a higher percentage of raw foods again once it warms up a bit. If you want to adapt this recipe for a raw diet, don't cook it (haha, but seriously), chop the carrots more finely or grate them. Also, if you are 100% dedicated to being raw, sorry, no jackfruit. Unless of course you have access to fresh unripe jackfruit, because the canning process does mean higher temperatures.

I hope this recipe gets many of you through the cold nights. It is a comfort food, and brings me back to childhood memories of my mother taking care of me when I was sick. Get the healing feeling this time with ingredients which can really heal you.

4 cups filtered water
2 cups corn (frozen or fresh, non-gmo)
1 can jackfruit (packed in brine or salt with lime)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3 medium carrots
1/4 a red onion
2 stalks of celery
1/2 cup of nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons coconut aminos
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of gluten-free brown rice pasta
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
dash of white pepper
dash of dried (or fresh) parsley or bouquet garni
pink himalayan salt to taste
dash of hemp oil (optional)

Open canned jackfruit and drain liquid. In a small frying pan, melt coconut oil and add jackfruit. Add coconut aminos and cook on medium heat until very slightly browned.

In a blender, combine water and corn, and mix until smooth. Transfer into a large soup pot and set to medium-high temperature. Chop carrots, onion and celery and add to pot. Stir in nutritional yeast, turmeric, parsley, white pepper, and salt (you will need more salt than you think). Add pasta 8 to 10 minutes before serving, or until cooked. Add cooked jackfruit. Stir and serve in bowls. Add a dash of hemp oil, if desired.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Re-Inventing My Old Life

If you have followed any of this blog, you may be aware that my family sold the majority of what we owned, including our house, to move to the Big Island of Hawaii and pursue a new life. And we did it, for one year. During that year we faced a great many logistical and financial struggles, though we also experienced a plethora of beautiful and inspiring images which will stay with me my entire life. In the end we were called back home to Maryland, but did not return the same as we left.

I explored my employment opportunities upon our return and found myself working for the same company. Wasn't this what I had been trying to escape? But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a new position open for me which I find more stimulating and where I can work with my favorite individuals in the company. Another big change upon our return has been that my son is now being homeschooled by my husband. The first year into this change is a big learning experience, but I am already happy with the results. My son needs as much one-on-one time as he can get because of some of his special needs, and the public educational system simply cannot address this. Before our move to Hawaii we lived in house built in the 1980s that had a yard so small that it was one step away from being a townhouse. True, we we homeowners, but I had bought the house before meeting my husband and it did not really reflect our personalities or beliefs. After accepting the position at my old work a coworker helped us find our new home... a historic house built in the 1800s which backs right onto the Patuxent River. Odd as it may sound, I feel more comfort and joy observing the beauty here than I did even watching the sunsets in Waikoloa.

So as you can imagine, there has been a lot of activity, a lot of adjusting, and a lot of re-inventing. And that includes our diet as well. At my job in Hawaii I was given free rice, as much as I could eat, so we drifted away from a 100% raw diet. Returning to Maryland we are getting used to the fluctuating weather patterns. In a drafty historic house I have found myself drawn to more soups and stews, and the occasional oatmeal cookie. We enjoy lightly steamed vegetables and healthier grains. I am still focusing of trying to make hardy, gluten-free and vegan meals that avoid processing as much as possible.

I do not want to subscribe to any exact ideology of what health is, or what a good life is for that matter. As I see it we should all be life-long learners experiencing what we can of different methods, cultures, and elements, and from that point adopt the practices that are best for ourselves and those around us. Most people would think a move from Maryland to Hawaii and back to to Maryland was a failed experience, but if we stayed as we were ours lives now would not have progressed as they have. I am thankful and grateful, and hope there are readers who are interested to see where this new chapter takes us.

Sunrise on the Patuxent River.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spicy Oregano Quick Pickles

When you think of foods that are prevalent in Hawaii, you probably aren't thinking of cucumbers. But the truth is that while pineapples and mangoes are only seasonal on the Big Island, delicious mini-cukes can be found year-round! My son eats so many cucumbers sometimes John and I don't eat as many as we'd like, since we are saving the for school lunches instead. This time at the market I decided to be a bit smarter and buy them by the bagful.

And what does one do with a surplus of cucumbers? Make pickles! The idea of pickling always seemed a bit intimidating to me when I would look at cook books. Sterilizing jars and canning seemed daunting. But if you are making pickles for home use and not to store for months on end, you don't really have to worry about that other stuff. These quick pickles can last for about a month in the fridge, but you will have to take my word for it, because I eat mine in less than a week!

Of course any cucumber can work for this recipe, but the mini cucumbers are strongly recommended, They are sweeter and more tender and less likely to go mushy. Eat these pickles in raw wraps, salads, or just on their own!

5 to 6 mini cucumbers
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized, with mother)
1/4 cup sea salt
1 small handful fresh oregano
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
filtered or distilled water to cover

Cut cucumbers to desired shapes (slices or spears) and pack tightly into a pint jar. Remove oregano leaves from stems and add to jar. Add red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, and salt. Pour in apple cider vinegar. Cove with water so that all cucumbers are submerged. Place lid loosely on top of jar and leave on counter for 2 to 3 days. Eat or refrigerate up to a month.