Thursday, March 6, 2014

It's embarrassing how long it's been

It truly is embarrassing that my last post was so many months ago. It wasn't because I fell off the wagon, or stopped eating. It's definitely not because I stopped eating at restaurants. Come on, I am a die hard foodie... can't stop eating, can't stop going to swanky eateries. I blame two things. 1. Sometimes I move into a place mentally where I feel like I need to be more private (which is pretty terrible if you want to be a serious blogger like I do). I guess it's the crazy Greek traditionalist side of me, where you feel like you need to hide your life from lurking eyes. 2. My career has been crazy bananas. I am very grateful that I believe I am at a point where I am able to push myself professionally, be challenged daily, and use the skills that I have been working so very hard to develop over the past several years.

Last Month, Dean and I both completed our one year mark of this plant skinny journey. Dean down around 80 pounds, and me down still around 20 pounds. My goal was 30, but let's be real... even though I was eating plants and whole grains... I did continue to eat a heck of a lot of plants and whole grains. In January, I began eating fish about 1 to 2 times a week. In February I began to allow myself to eat some dairy. I don't drink milk, I don't buy any dairy really, but if there is some cheese in a sauce or some dairy in a meal that someone is serving I don't say no. I have bought one container of Greek yogurt (no regrets).

Dean has taken a different approach. After one year of zero meat and dairy, he decided what path he was going to take going forward. Dean is eating meat, has continued to eat zero dairy, and has eliminated grains. He has adopted an approach similar to the Paleo Diet. 

That being said, it is impossible to cook again. IMPOSSIBLE. I have no idea how families cook and accommodate for family members that have drastically different dietary restrictions. I give moms/dads a lot of credit that work around their children's allergies and preferences. My experience growing up in my home "what was for dinner, was what was for dinner." My mom always worked, prepped our dinner as she was making breakfast. I wonder how that would have worked if I hadn't eaten meat in those days? Poor Anna! 

I love eating primarily green. When I have tried bits of meat over the past year it hasn't excited me. On one occasion, I was quite disgusted by the texture and thought of ingesting a dead animal. I know! It's shocking to me too! I eat beans like nobody's business. Dean won't touch beans. I eat whole grain pasta and whole grain rice. Dean won't eat either. Dean wants me to cook him a steak, I look at the meat that I used to enjoy preparing and seasoning and I think it repugnant. I gag smelling meat cooking in an oven. 

We are continuing to move forward, most importantly this past year has taught both Dean and I to give care to every morsel that we place in our mouth. And I continue to be convinced that eating from the ground is the best way to eat! 

Thank you for reading and not giving up on me!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Like Here, Nowhere

6 month, 22 days. SIX MONTHS, TWENTY TWO DAYS. That just blew my mind when I looked up the duration of our journey thus far. I apologize for being on blog hiatus for a bit there. Our trip to Greece was incredible. The best part for me was introducing Dean to so many special people in my life that I haven’t been able to see in the past five years.

I so wish that Greece was a two hour plane ride that cost a fraction of the price, because I would be there 10 times a year, but it’s not. The trip is far, the trip is expensive, and the trip is emotional. It’s tough loving two places as much as we do. I am an American through and through, I live here, I work here, I was educated here, I got married here, and as American’s we take for granted many of the freedoms and benefits that we are entitled to. Greece on the other flip side of the coin, in my opinion is the most beautiful country you will ever have the opportunity to see. Look to the right, you see mountains, look to the left you see the ocean, look in front of you, you see a man peddling roasted corn on the cob.. What could get better than that? Honestly, the department of tourism in Greece was on to something when they made their slogan several years ago, “LIKE HERE, NOWHERE”.

We were in Greece for two weeks. I knew that this vacation would obviously be the most difficult where meat is concerned. Greece and Meat are synonymous. In the first week I had no problem staying far away. Yes, I was eating some dairy, not as much as you might think. If there was a dip that had dairy, I might have tried some, if there was some Feta on my salad, I wasn’t about to throw it off, but I wasn’t ordering items like yogurt or eggs. I didn’t have one bite of meat the first week. Not one…. And then we got to Athens. My sweet theo, whom we call “Babino” picked Dean and I up from the airport and was so excited to tell us that Thea Magda, his wife, had been slaving away making my favorite meal. We get to their home and of course the “Biftekia” or grilled beef patties are sitting on the table alongside big plates of fries and a village salad. I’m not sure I even hesitated. I’m being honest, I ate three of them, and it felt good that the first time I broke my fast was with Magda and Babino, eating Magda’s famous biftekia… they are famous, just ask my brothers.  

For the remainder of the trip, I only ate meat on 3 other occasions. I wasn’t excited about eating meat, it didn’t bother my stomach. But truly, I have been eating vegetables like a mad woman, and what I wanted was vegetables. I did eat fish, which I know is considered meat - but to me it feels different. While I know they were both once alive, what weighs heaviest in my mind is that the beef patty is doing atrocious things to my body.

While on our vacation, I gained about 5 pounds in two weeks. Can you believe that? I can. And overall at this point I am only down the original 15 pounds; since I just packed on some lbs. Dean is down 50. Is that crazy or what? We baptized a baby this past weekend (who is perfect, and we are very proud Godparents!) and it was so funny watching Dean try and put on a suit. He is really starting to look like his clothes belong to someone else. He could wrap his suit jacket around his body like a blanket. I am so proud of him it’s crazy. I’m proud that not only has he really stuck to being plant skinny, but also he has really taught himself new habits, and new portion sizes. Dean eats fruit every morning for breakfast; I on the other hand have been eating cereal. Dean tries to eliminate all grains from lunch; I am more so-so with eliminating grains. Truly, If you can’t eat meat or dairy, and you eliminate the grains.. What the hell do you eat?... apparently fruits and vegetables, lol. I have to say, I am starting to understand why people are successful at weight loss with the Paleo diet. No dairy, except some eggs, limited meat; they eat seeds and nuts, fruits and veggies. Oh, and zero processed foods. I am assuming that paleo might be the direction of my diet at some point, but it is tough to even fathom putting meat into my diet on a regular basis.

The bottom line is, I have this down. My body hardly knows what processed foods taste like anymore. If I do have any sugar, that sugar doesn’t taste the way it used to. I don’t get excited. I don’t need meat two times a day and I never will need meat two times a day again. I have gotten used to not eating dairy. I don’t need milk, I definitely don’t need cheese. Now that my mind is ready, I need to start following in Dean’s footsteps and I need to start losing some damn weight.

My problem is that ever since I have been with Dean I have learned to eat portion sizes that are similar to his. Seriously, Dean eats a sandwich; I eat the same size sandwich. So now that I have what I am going to be eating down, I need to start eating less of it. Yesterday, I added the “my fitness pal” app to my phone. I have tracked my food many times. Generally I am pretty successful with it. So, what the hell I am giving it a try. I used to pay for weight watchers online, so why not try my fitness pal for free? My goal is to lose another 15 lbs by year end. If I can have lost 30 lbs in 2013 I can be happy with that. This is a marathon, I get that, at some point I will cross the finish line. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RECIPE: Sweet Olive Quinoa & Potato Salad

Quinoa & Potato mixture Ingredients:
3 small sweet potatoes peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups quinoa
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups (8 ounces) frozen peas, thawed

3/4 cup pitted medium black olives
1/3 cup chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup agave nectar
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan with enough cold water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside to cool. Add a dash of salt.

For the quinoa: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring the vegetable broth, quinoa, and garlic to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Mix in frozen peas, then remove the pan from the heat and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes. Using a fork, fluff the quinoa and place in a large serving bowl. Add the cooked potatoes.

For the dressing: In a food processor, combine the olives, oregano, oil, agave nectar, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Blend.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss well until coated.

Chef’s Notes: This recipe will take you about an 45 minutes to cook and at least another 15 to prepare, unless you are much, much quicker than me in the kitchen.. Which is certainly a possibility. I have made this a few times, and it’s great to serve up when you are expecting a crowd. I would say this recipe fills at least 8 heavy bowls. My favorite part about this dish, aside from its sweet and savory - hearty taste is the colors, the bright green from the peas and purple tones from the olives! To top off the quinoa I add a few more whole olives, but I am an olive fanatic, go ahead and use as little or as many as you would like. Chances are if you have heard of quinoa and your eating it you know how good it is for you. It’s loaded with protein, and incredibly vitamin rich. If you were trapped on a desert island, hope that you packed your quinoa. Enjoy! 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

I have been wanting to go to Twist for over a year. The restaurant is located within the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. This boutique hotel is unlike anything I have seen on the strip. I understand that each property is supposed to make you feel special and as if you were truly a VIP, but nothing makes you feel more like a VIP than free shit. When I went to the bathroom I stocked up on freebies like a homeless person. Ok, it’s not just the free stuff that makes this place incredible. The restaurants are breathtaking and there are small design elements through out the place that just make you stand in awe.

There is a long corridor that you walk through in order to enter Twist. This corridor makes you feel like you are traveling down the yellow brick road, and once you get there something very special awaits. We were seated at a window seat, and had we not been, I would have been swooning over the lucky bastards sitting next to us all night.. so thank goodness, window seat is obviously key. When we sat down there was a gorgeous “charger” plate waiting for each of us. I am not sure if that’s what it would be called. I have a photo of it below. This crackle white porcelain theme was splashed through the restaurant. It made me think of historical white clay, smashed and reworked for today’s generation.  

We were brought a regular menu, we requested the vegan-tasting menu and they were certainly more than happy to oblige. They delivered our drink menu by form of an iPad. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this, Jose Andres’ Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan, Botero at the Encore, as well as Gordon Ramsey Steak in the Paris also serve you up by iPad. Even though it’s not new to me, it continues to be super cool. Who wants to read about a cocktail without seeing how fantastic it’s going to be first. I don’t know what drink I ordered, but it had bourbon in it, and it made everything in my tummy that much warmer.

The breads where stunning. They kept them coming through out the meal, and it’s so difficult to say no, when everything is so fresh. It was awkward asking for a vegan menu and still being served items like butter… and special chef tastings that where cream ridden. I have to say, we didn’t receive an amuse-bouche, instead it felt like their was a carnival placed all over our table. I mean that in a good way. The food was vibrant in color, popping in texture, and all in all an exercise for both our minds and our stomachs. I think we were a bit spoiled by the chef’s offerings. Once our real food came, it seemed like there was something missing. There were seven courses, and most likely for normal eaters this would have seemed like an overwhelming amount of food. I am not normal. My favorite of the mini meals was the Carrot Fondant, which was a raspberry and beet reduction, spinach salad and crunchy turnips. I don’t have the faintest idea how, but those beets tasted like hot fudge. I wanted more, I needed to have three plates of those beets.  Course after course, I was enjoying the very obvious international fusion behind each dish. I am often weary of mixing too many cultures in one plate but this seemed more like mixing cultures through each course layer, which I enjoyed more. The dessert was an eloquent mix of fresh sorbets. I loved it. It was refreshing and was such a great way to clean your palette.

Twist was truly an adventure for the senses. Each course was plated to perfection, and beneath the food, was the surprise of a newly shaped dish that was very specific to accommodate your course. As you taste the decadence you can’t help but to stare of into the gorgeous décor of the entire restaurant ceiling to floor. Next time you are in Vegas, don’t forget about Twist.

Twist on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Plant Based in Las Vegas?

When Dean booked our Vegas trip this year the only thing I could think about was, “What will we eat?” I kept playing this tape of veal chops, burgers, and crab legs in my head. Thinking that it would be next to impossible to try and maintain our whole-foods, plant based lifestyle. We have been living on this path for almost four months! I wanted to write a bit about how we coped with the challenge. And yes, trust me, when you pass by a crepe shop 7 times a day… It’s a challenge!
We flew Delta to Vegas, which we try and always do not only to accumulate our miles, but also because Dean has their American Express card which means that he and his companion (me) get our first bags free!

We picked up our brand spankin’ new Camaro convertible from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car at the airport. Everyone needs to be driving a convertible when in Vegas. Especially, when you are coming from Michigan! The car only had about 4,000 miles on it. We felt like a million dollars sitting in it, and it didn’t hurt that everyone on the strip was telling Dean what a great ride he had.
For our resort this time around we chose the Bellagio. In past we have always stayed at the Harrah’s properties, such as Paris, Caesar’s, Bally’s, and Flamingo. I’m not sure if it was our annoyance that Harrah’s has now instated resort fees or if it was just because gave us a pretty bangin’ deal on the Bellagio that pushed us to stay there. The funniest part about checking in was Dean’s attempt at the $20 sandwich. If you don’t know about the sandwich you should. Generally when we check in dean will hand them a $20 to $50 bill sandwiched between his id and credit card. The amount is based on the number of nights stayed and the property. It’s always funny to watch the desk receptionist hide the $20 and bump us into a better room. Apparently, the $20 dollar sandwich does not always work. At the Bellagio the receptionist gave us our money back, and shoved us in a room with 2 beds. Hahahahaha. This took us a good half of the next day to get moved into a room with one bed, and a whole lot of complaints from yours truly to get us into a room with a fountain view.

I had said in a previous blog post that I really did not know what we would do with our diet. I had assumed that Dean would at least have the burger at Carnevino, but he didn’t. He stayed strong, I stayed strong and we kept meat off the menu. Where we did falter was with the dairy. We would go to a gorgeous restaurant, order a vegan tasting menu, and then the waiter would ask us, “The chef would like to bring you out a treat, its vegetarian, would that be okay?” Well, I’ll be damned if at a restaurant that I am paying $150 a plate, I turn down the chef. My stomach didn’t hurt. And to be honest, I didn’t feel THAT bad about it. I will tell you exactly how I felt. Every time someone new hears about our journey/ change in diet, their response is always, “well I believe you should eat everything in moderation.” To which I generally reply, “That’s fine, but most people don’t have a very good handle on what eating in moderation would be.” Then I go on a short rant about how much meat or olive oil is truly suggested in a diet, and how much more Americans eat each and every day. I felt like in Vegas, us eating a bit of dairy… that was our moderation. Most Americans eat about 630 pounds of milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream per year. I am thinking this year I might consume about 5 pounds. In my book, that’s moderation.

Our big splurge was on the last night. Dean and I were walking back to our room, and I said to him… “Let’s go to Sugar Factory and have a sundae”. I know, it shocks me too, but I said it. At first he looked at me puzzled. I’m sure he thought I was tricking him. I wasn’t tricking him. I meant it. I wanted to go to Sugar Factory and I wanted to eat cookie dough. We dashed across the street, ordered our sundae, and laughed. It was like Christmas. Dean says to me, “I could be a vegan the rest of my life, if at least once a year; I get to eat a cookie jar sundae!” Admittedly, I couldn’t eat very much of it. My brain wanted something that my stomach really didn’t need. I indulged, I had my treat, and I looked onward to the good health and body I am building by eating a whole-food, plant based diet. I am sharing all of this because I don’t ever want to lie to the people that read this blog. I think it’s important to share, that we are doing our best. We strive to eat a diet that doesn’t include any processed foods, added sugars, added oils, meat or dairy. We aren’t just dabbling in this idea. Those foods don’t exist in our home. We can’t be tempted and we feel good about it. That being said, on the last night of every vacation. I’m pretty sure I am going to have a cookie jar sundae.  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Orthodox Holy Week: Add Color To Your Fast

Dean & I are back from Las Vegas. My arms and legs are a perfect brown / red tan. The trip ended too soon. We met lovely people, had laughs with friends, ate at some of the world’s best restaurants, and I can’t wait to share our eating experience as well as all of the restaurants we visited in the coming week! Las Vegas is truly foodie heaven. Before I do that however, I have to take the time to write a post about Orthodox Holy Week.

The most popular post on the blog this past week has been a recipe for briam, which I added about two years ago. I am pretty sure that some of my fellow Orthodox friends were gearing up for our Holy Week! In the Greek Orthodox tradition this week and for many people all of the Lenten season we fast from meat, dairy, and oil. Before beginning a whole foods plant based diet I had almost always fasted all of lent by not eating meat. I had never tried to abstain from oil, and the first time I abstained from dairy was in college through some encouragement of my friends at Orthodox Christian Fellowship, but mostly from my dear friend Greg Stamatopoulos who promised to help me through the process! And he did.

Fasting is a controversial subject for most people. Some people believe that you fast to become close to God, therefore you are supposed to become weak by the foods you are partaking. Weakness will bring you to prayer. Prayer will bring you to God. Others believe that fasting is an antiquated practice. My mother used to always promote a fast, but also tell us that, "what comes out of your mouth is more important than what goes in". If you are fasting this Lenten season remember to eat fresh, eat colorful, & beautiful foods. Your body will thank you for it! I am certainly not an authority on religion, but I have to believe that eating oreos and hash browns is in no way a sacrifice. Instead, I would think that God might like it if we fed our bodies with nourishment.

This week try: Ezekiel bread, kale, spinach, almonds, beans, carrots, apples, flax seed, spelt, millet and quinoa!!! Check out these recipes! Feel free to omit any oil or added cheeses you might see within a recipe.

Mushroom & Garlic Spaghetti Squash

Vegetarian Gemista
Apple & Kale Pasta

Cinnamon & Spice Stuffed Squash

Friday, April 19, 2013

The 2013 Vegas Restaurant Watch List

I am gearing up for our next trip to Vegas in less than a week!!!!! Dean and I are Vegas obsessed. Each time we go, I create a list of all of my must visit restaurants, I add the chefs, cuisines, price range in an excel and keep in handy for the trip. In the past I added a quick list to the blog of some of my favorite spots VEGAS: THE QUICK LIST.

This year is slightly different in that I am looking for restaurants the gear towards a whole foods-plant based or raw diet. It will be very interesting to see how difficult it is to maintain the exclusion of meat and dairy from our diet, while dining out for six days! I have a feeling we will allow ourselves to indulge in a bit of dairy, not quite sure about the meat. I don’t really want meat, and I’m really concerned about how I will feel if I eat it? I will let you all know what we decide when we get there! I want to be armed with smart restaurant choices. I listed a few that I’ve heard of and I can’t tell you how much I would appreciate if you would add to the list. Please just comment below.

So far I know that the restaurants in the Wynn & Encore all have vegan options, and some even have tasting menus, like Botero. Steve Wynn is a vegan himself, and wanted to make sure that there was health conscious options in his casino (LOVE THIS).

I am also dying to try Sensi in the Bellagio. I have never been there and have heard its praise for being committed to serving sustainably grown and naturally raised products. Go Sensi!

The Vegas Vegan”, has discussed Paymon’s Mediterranean Café on his blog more than once. I know it’s a short taxi ride from the strip, but I am betting that it will be worth it.

Last but not least, one of my all-time favorite Vegas Restaurants, Border Grill apparently has several vegetarian / vegan options… Can’t wait.

If anyone has tried the above restaurants and loved them, let us know. If you hated them, let us know that too. I am dying to get a few more suggestions on my list. Thanks for all of your help!

*Photo Taken at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas, NV