best blogs and recipe thievery

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In meandering around the web, I have found a multitude of blogs devoted to gluten free or vegan living. Some even focus on both, making reading through them feel like Christmas morning. Some of my favorites are the Gluten Free Goddess, the Urban Poser, the Veggie Nook, Oh She Glows, the Happy Herbivore, the Almost Vegan Chef blog, the Fat Free Vegan blog, Girl Makes Food, and Carrie on Vegan, so I thought it’d be worth sharing links to those. Thanks to the awesome creative minds behind them!

I can’t wait till next year when I have an apartment and can actually make some of the wonderful recipes that overflow these blogs. Until then, I guess it’s window shopping for me…

so many things to be grateful for…

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I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on all of the beautiful things that I have to be grateful for right now. I think it’s really important to consciously notice and appreciate these things before they pass us by; you never know when they’ll be gone, and beauty always looks more vivid in the flesh than in age-old memories.

1. Yesterday I had the chance to go out the breakfast with my boyfriend and his wonderful dad who was visiting from Denver. Not only did I get to spend time with this amazing duo (who are both such an inspiration to me), I also got a wonderful gift at the little cafe that we went to. I ordered a soy latte, which came out as a soy chai. Now normally, I don’t treat myself to these sweet little cups of goodness, but it seems that someone else had a different plan for me. Incidentally, it may have been the best chai that I’ve ever had– rich and spicy and not too sweet. Thanks Marie’s Coffee!

2. My roommate rented a vacuum this week from the Customer Service Center in the building next to ours and vacuumed our room. Coming back after my midterm to a picked-up and vacuumed room was amazing!

3. I went to Santa Monica yesterday with some friends, planning to spend the day on the beach. We decided to hunt for a Thai restaurant that got rave reviews online, and after meandering for 1.1 miles (according to a friend’s iPhone), stopping to take pictures and enjoy the views, we realized we had gone the wrong direction. We ended up having to walk two miles the other way before we found the hole-in-the-wall Thai Vegan. It was past 5 pm when we finished “lunch” and headed to the beach to frolic in the waves for 40 minutes before rushing to catch a 6 o’clock bus a mile away, but it was the best Thai food I’ve ever had in my life, and the entrees were only $5 each. We also got to enjoy four beautiful miles of walking along the beach on a gorgeous sunny day in Southern California, regardless of how much the reality of our day divulged from our original plan. So much to be grateful for!

4. This past weekend I went on a backpacking trip in the sprawling Sespe Creek Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest with the outdoors club here on campus. Originally one of my closest friends was going on the trip with me, but she got sick last minute and cancelled. I was scared going into the weekend because I didn’t know the other participants and I struggled so much last semester with finding people that I fit with at this school. It turns out I was so wrong to be afraid. This club has provided me with so many beautiful and unique people to get to know. Not to mention that one of the girls on the trip will also be on my summer study abroad trip to Belize this year! How lucky can I get?

Spending some time thinking about these beautiful gifts each week has been so affecting my mood and outlook. I hope to always find the little gifts in every situation and give them the appreciation that they deserve. It’ll only make me a happier person in the long run. Here’s to many glasses half-full and raised to toast this wonderful life that we’re living– cheers!

DAY TEN: exploring, exploring

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I can’t believe ten days have gone by so fast! I’ll make this a long post, as it’ll be the last regular daily one.
Today was such a day of celebration (although I certainly didn’t plan it to be). After a rushed start– downing a bowl of cherry cashew granola with almond milk and running out the door, coffee in hand– the day slowed down and became truly amazing. After class, I was studying with a friend in my room when we realized how claustrophobic we were feeling. Not much of an epiphany, I admit…claustrophobic in a dorm room? No way… you think. Remembering that there’s a HUGE CITY right outside, we grabbed our papers and headed out, deciding to take whichever Metro line came first and go exploring.
The Expo line to Downtown LA came within five minutes and we were whisked away (in a slightly less fairytale-like manner than the Cinderella’s carriage or Aladdin’s magic carpet). We got off the line at the last stop, 7th St/Metro Center and were greeted with the massive LA Public Library, a work of art in itself if you ask me. After detouring around the library via its beautiful marble staircases, we got to see the Bradbury building, the park from (500) Days of Summer, Pershing Square, and the the Millennium Biltmore a breathtaking  building that appears to be from another time– with huge chandeliers, richly painted ceilings, and rugs with tiny detailed patterns– and still managing to come off as unimposing and classic without a hint of gaudiness. As we were marveling, we turned a corner to see a building with trees and flower bushes on top of it, piquing our interest and fascination. The more we walked, the more we saw, and we could see drastic cultural divisions and shifts as we crossed streets.
Eventually, we found ourselves at The Last Bookstore, a16,000+ square foot wonderland.
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Wandering through the halls and hidden rooms of this magical place, we found walls built from books, windows carved in books, a tunnel of books, and all sorts of art work incorporating words, pages, and (of course) books.
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I was in awe of this place. We really could’ve easily stayed there for days, exploring the book stacks, filled with mostly used books on every subject from UFOs to cooking for heart health. But we were determined to find a good study spot, so we tore ourselves away and started trekking through the streets of the city again. The weather was beautiful and I made effort to focus on how the sun felt as it soaked in to my cheeks and forehead. I’m learning it’s the little bits of magic like that feeling of warmth that create a lifetime of happiness.
We were so tied up in gushing about The Last Bookstore that we almost missed a beautifully simple coffee shop called CoffeeBar, tucked neatly into a sleekly modern building on the side of Spring St. In the mood for something cold, I grabbed a refreshing Guayaki Yerba Mate tea (the “empowermint” flavor– so fresh!), but the coffee is also deliciousI had a sip of my friend’s, and with the fragrant aromatics of an African coffee, it took me back to a summer working in a coffee shop not so long ago; it tasted like the sweet innocence of growing up and all of the potential and promise bottled up in naïveté.
I felt this deep potential and will to explore as we sat down and decided to make a list of all of the wonderful things in LA that we plan to explore before graduation. I felt like a kid listing off imaginary characters that I wanted to meet… fairies! Peter Pan! Cinderelly, Cinderelly! The list could go on forever, and it spewed from us as fireworks on 4th of July. Just when we thought we were finished, another round would start up, and we ended up with a massive compilation and surely not enough time to see everything. But we did have time to grab lunch downtown before heading back to campus so my friend could make her afternoon class.
We found Mendecino Farms, a sandwich market, just across from the Metro station. Having never been to this delightful and fresh stop, I was impressed with their commitment to seasonally and locally grown foods and substantial variety of vegan and gluten free foods. Given this, I opted for a soup and salad combo to maximize my tasting potential. The salad consisted of arugula and quinoa with beets, almonds, cranberries, and diced Granny Smith apples. As if that wasn’t enough, I got to throw in a small cup of butternut squash soup (my favorite!) to have an insanely good– and healthy– meal.
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After that, admittedly, I didn’t want much other than a large serving of peanuts and dried cherries while studying  when dinner rolled around. But wow. What an amazing day of exploration and wonder. I don’t think my jaw will pick itself up off the ground until I wake up tomorrow and realize that none of this was a dream :)

day nine (midterms, Dane Cook, and free food??)

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Somehow (without my knowledge or consent) my mind always manages to conceal the idea of studying form me until <1 hour before a big test. For small tests, it generally gives me the 3-4 minutes at the beginning of class when the teacher is still sopping up the coffee that she spilled on the stack of quizzes or finding a calculator for a student who “forgot” and is trying to buy time. I don’t really blame my mind. If I were my mind, I would stash away the daunting task in some underground cave as well.

So, after managing to skirt completely around opening my book last night, I rose early this morning to cram. You think I’m serious? Of course not; I got up early to go to the gym, grabbing a handful of baby carrots on my way out the door. After all, if you’re gonna walk into a midterm completely unprepared, you better take something to numb the pain of stupidity. I figured a grand dose of endorphins should last long enough to stumble through the test and back to bed for a nice long nap. (Kids: don’t try this tactic at home).

After the gym, a breakfast of Food for Life brown rice toast spread with natural crunchy peanut butter and an iced coffee were my tools to balance out the lack of sleep (last night my hands kept trying to open my textbook even though my mind sneakily stole away their willpower at regular intervals until almost 3am). Admittedly, my bike ride to my first lecture is a bit of a blur, as I’m convinced I may have still been half asleep.

I got extremely lucky on my midterm, remembering some ridiculously obscure facts that I picked up from page-flipping through my Environmental Studies class during my Linguistics lecture. (Again, kids…really just generally ignore most of what I say today. Man does not live on coffee alone…) After partially sleep-walking out of the exam, I grabbed an apple and some steamed broccoli florets and headed back to the dorm for a nap. A nap which lasted until FOUR THIRTY PM.

On the bright side, I certainly missed the lunch rush at the dining hall and got to fill up on three bowls of green beans tossed with garlic and onions. Don’t have to worry about any vampires coming near me today I guess… These delicious veggies paired with a slice of frozen banana dipped in vegan dark chocolate prepared me as best as anything could for the hard pill that I would swallow this evening.

It came to me in the form of a documentary called “Vegucated,” which is available on Netflix. I knew that the lives of animals in food production are bad. I knew that factories and slaughterhouses are unsanitary and the rules that govern them are faulty. I knew that organic and free range doesn’t always mean much. But this documentary increased my understanding to a huge degree and slapped me in the face. I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever be able to go back to eating animal products after what I saw on my computer screen today. I made a decision to become more educated about veganism and food production in order to be well-informed about the lifestyle choices that I make, and now I’m confident that the education I will receive along this journey will only add to my conviction. I have a whole line-up of documentaries to watch and books to read, and I’ll be sure to keep my thoughts about them flowing.

Until then, wrap your mind around this. I travelled to Hollywood this evening with some friends to watch a classmate compete in the final round of the Laugh Bowl at The Laugh Factory. This competition has been going on for four months, and she made it all the way to the finals (where Dane Cook showed up and performed, might I add). As if it could get better, my friend’s family owns a wonderful Mexican restaurant down the street, Pinches Tacos (yes, that’s Fuckin’ Tacos to all of you non-Spanish speaking or just politically correct folks). So we got free tacos. For me, it was a vegetarian taco with eggplant, bell peppers, crimini mushrooms, onions, salsa, and guacamole to be exact. Dinner was amazing, and, more than that, the whole experience was really amazing. It was a reminder that making an effort to travel off campus and outside of my daily routine– even if it’s just a few miles or small steps– is what brings out the pure joy, rip-roaring laughs, happy accidents, and wonderful surprises in life.

I’m so thankful for this day. And a virgin bloody Mary at the show? Don’t mind if I do.

the eighth day (when God made all the good stuff)

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I’ve always said the eighth day was a magical time when God made all the really cool stuff. I mean chocolate? Sports bras? Sporks? (The utensil, not the animal that supposedly drops off babies… that’s a stork. It’s ok, I get them confused too.) Bobby pins? You think those just appeared?? No. Eighth day magic. It exists! And my experience today proves it.

I was having a typical breakfast of cherry cashew granola with golden raisins, sesame seeds, and almond milk (I know, you’re bored with it) when I remembered something amazing. I actually jumped out of my seat a little bit. Today, the Good Karma Cafe was re-opening. Prepare to check your envy-o-meter as I explain.

The Good Karma Cafe was started by Varun Soni, the dean of Religious Life at USC, and Sarvatma Das from UC Santa Barbara. Sarvatma commutes to to University Church courtyard on USC’s campus every Wednesay and Thursday to cook and serve fresh vegetarian lunches from 2-3. Realizing that USC’s vegetarian students were not receiving adequate nutrition from the on-campus options, Sarvatma and Dean Soni decided to create this cafe. For $8, you can have unlimited homemade food and take as much as you carry out in tupperware to go! No more hiding the plastic containers in my backpack…eh hem EVK (the dining hall)… here, they encourage you to leave with enough to last you a while. But let me tell you, the two full tupperware that I left with as I ran to class didn’t even make it to the end of the day today…

Mostly because of Sarvatma’s salad dressing. His invention, this vegan almond dressing was by far the best salad dressing– or any type of dressing– that I’ve ever tasted. Atop a bed of mixed greens, it was divine. Real, honest to God, eighth day creation stuff. And I wish I could figure out what was in it… but it’s a mystery to me. Nutty and perfect, my friend scooped the excess off of her salad and added it to the entree, a beautiful Indian rice dish (we’ll come back to this), and the dessert: homemade halava (which was not gluten-free). I was surprised that she didn’t throw the dressing in our glasses of fresh kale ginger-mint juice… (but grateful, don’t get me wrong).

Because we were hurrying to get to lab, I threw my entree in my bag with some extra salad dressing for later (who knows what I planned to put it on, but I couldn’t leave without it. Please.

With that amazing salad, I was still full by the time my lab ended, and I headed straight to work. I’m volunteering with CALPIRG, the public interest group on campus, this semester, and today I was pestering passersby to sign a petition that we’re sending to the Los Angeles mayoral candidates, asking them to commit to have 20% of LA’s energy come from solar power by the year 2020. With over 1000 signatures so far, our incessant interruptions of students’ daily treks to classes is paying off (sorry guys!).

By the time my shift ended at 3, I still found myself full. Sarvatma, what did you put in that almond Jesus dressing?? Anyway, I still grabbed a quick snack at the dining hall to prepare myself for a study camp out in the dorm room. The culprit: Environmental Studies midterm tomorrow. A few bites of plain boiled sweet potato and baked tempeh were the perfect mix of comfort food and energy to get to work. But after a small apple and a movie screening for my writing class from 6-9 tonight… I was finally really hungry…

Oh what was that rice dish that my friend had for lunch? I happen to have a tupperware of it in my mini-fridge? You must be joking.

Good Karma Cafe’s Wednesday entree is a north Indian dish called kitchari, a combination of basmati rice and mung dal with coconut, fresh ginger, saffron, turneric, cumin, coriander, garlic, onions, cinnamon, and a slew of spices that I’d never heard of. Not to mention the diced tomatoes, cauliflower, green pepper, and ridge gourd (luffa) that add thickness and nutrition to this delightful dish. Supposed to be marvelous for digestion and one of the most detoxifying foods (because of the mung lentils, which remove built up pesticides from your body), this dish is filling, fresh, and delicious. I grabbed a small serving of yellow curry tofu to have on the side, and enjoyed perfect bliss from the good vibes that were gushing from my bowl. Good karma anyone?

day seven

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Today was definitely a Kurt Vonnegut kind of day. It was raining when I woke up and pretty cold compared to the hot, sunny days that we’ve been having. But I left my dorm early to get a coffee (iced with soy milk), and as I walked through the rain (and waited in the outdoor walk-through line at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf), I got to thinking about how much I love rain, especially in the morning. The sky is grey and thick with clouds, but you know that the sun has risen because the entire world above you is glowing softly. The world is fresh. I love how the tiny drops pile up on my glasses because they bring me into the world of the rain, like I share some sort of secret with it, and I feel at home.

Not that a breakfast of mom’s homemade cherry cashew granola with golden raisins and almond milk didn’t help with that;) And I know, I know, I haven’t been too creative with the breakfasts lately, but this granola is anything but monotonous, trust me. Filled with sesame seeds and sweetened with organic applesauce, it could pass for a divine relic, blessed by God himself.

Even with that meal though, I got hungry very soon after. I blame my Environmental Studies class for taking a tour of the sustainable community garden… I mean, how could you not be hungry after ogling over fresh-grown broccoli, peas, swiss chard, and spinach. Mmm. Luckily I stole a tupperware full of steamed rutabaga with herbs from the dining hall yesterday, so I snacked on that and the usual golden delicious apple after class. (I can’t help it. They call them delicious for a reason!)

As a reward for finishing a long paper on revolutionary philosophy, I met up with a friend in the same class to share the satisfaction of dropping them off at our professor’s office and grab a celebratory lunch at the dining hall. I filled a bowl with black beans and mixed in a small scoop of corn, diced tomatoes, and bell peppers from the salad bar to add some character and color. Looking at a colorful bowl of food just makes me so happy (maybe I’m crazy??).

About halfway through my second paper of the day, I took a quick 40 minute Grey’s Anatomy catch-up break– my not-so-guilty, guilty pleasure– which I topped off with a snack (of course) of Trader Joe’s garlic hummus and carrot sticks. These power foods somehow inspired a dive back into the paper and near-completion before a friend popped in and asked if I’d go to dinner with him. Food? Always! I love food.

I was determined to finish up and get to sleep early, though, so I grabbed a quick dish of braised kale, cucumbers, and raw spinach and headed back up to my room. Coming back here is always so nice, since my roommate and I rearranged the furniture this semester to give us more space and make the place homier and more uniquely usNow it’s easy to sit down at my desk and stay focused (with only minor excursions to my favorite food blogs… Food Porn, anyone?), and with my goal board and pictures of my amazing friends visible from my desk chair, what better way to be inspired?

Anyway, I buckled down with a creamy cup of soy milk butternut squash soup from Trader Joe’s and a Trio blueberry bar, packed with nuts and seeds, and my books and got paper #2 done. Thank you food and feng shui! Or at least a minor shout out to the random creative stylings of furniture that we wish we could name something fancy like that… Dorm shui? Feng dorm? Suggestions always welcome!

Hastaaa tomorrow:)

day six (aka cloud nine)

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Today was one of the best food days, not just of this vegan experience, but of my life. After a horrible stomach ache last night and this morning, I was not excited to jump into getting creative with my food today. It’s was also overcast and a bit gloomy this morning, so a warm slice of Food for Life brown rice toast smeared with a thick layer of mashed avocado was a soothing start to the day.

After breakfast, I was still not fully awake and ready to embrace the day (and my huge laundry pile), so I headed off to the gym for a pick me up. Lately, I’ve been practicing the art of reading on both the treadmill and elliptical, and let me tell you: today was proof that I may never master it. I’m reading Zoo City for a writing class (a really fascinating sci-fi book, if you’re into that), and my notes in it look like chicken scratchings. Hopefully I’ll remember enough details that I can avoid consulting the messy scrawl in class…

As I hoped, by the time I finished my workout and took a shower, I was totally ready to tackle the laundry and set my focus to a much more difficult textbook on revolutionary theory (while snacking on cauliflower and carrots with garlic hummus, of course). It’s so amazing to me how exercise can completely alter your mood and outlook. Although I’m definitely sometimes guilty of going to the gym for vanity alone, I love how the act of exercising tends to correct my outlook. Being active is not about “fixing” your body or being more physically attractive. It’s about finding whole health, self-esteem, and taking care of yourself. I’m grateful today for this shift of consciousness that mimics the bigger changes that I’m making in my life as a whole. Taking a step back from self-depracation and obsessiveness, it’s easy to appreciate the body for everything it allows us to do: run, bike, stretch, dance. For this reason, I now feel like exercising is a thank-you note to the planet for giving me this body to live in. I’m promising to enjoy it every time I put on my tennis shoes.

I had a tiny lunch, because I was saving room for an AMAZING dinner, but it was delicious nonetheless, thanks to Chocolate-Covered Katie! The healthy vegan eggnog recipe that I found on her website was to die for. And it wasn’t just good for a vegan recipe. It was good for any recipe. It tasted just like real eggnog!

I altered her recipe a bit (because I don’t have measuring utensils in my dorm room, and because I had to give it a little personal flare). What’s the fun in a strict recipe anyway? So I evened out the amounts of tofu (yes tofu, don’t freak out) and almond milk to make a thicker nog than her recipe would make. I about doubled the vanilla extract that she calls for, along with the nutmeg, because, well, who doesn’t love nutmeg in eggnog? It’s kind of the whole point, if you ask me. I also nixed the lemon and the sugar in favor of one Stevia packet (which was plenty for me, but I don’t like things very sweet). I threw all that in the Magic Bullet (God created this blender on the 8th day, in his image of course) and watched anxiously as the tofu disappeared. I know, I know. Tofu…?? But this drink was a cup full of frothy, eggnoggy goodness. I PROMISE.

And it only gets better from there…

Because my building took a group of residents out to dinner at Real Foods Daily, an all organic and vegan restaurant in West Hollywood. And paid for it. Cultural excursion? I can work with that. Thank you USC!

The menu was huge and had so many gluten free options that it must’ve taken me years to decide. Even settling on a drink, an almond milk teeccino latte, was a huge struggle. This caffeine free tea latte, with notes of hazelnut and caramel, was tucked in on the menu amongst a slew of coffees and teas, homemade agave-sweetended lemonades (including a kale-cucumber lemonade and a ginger lemonade), fresh smoothies, and hemp milkshakes.

If it’s possible, the appetizer menu looked even more delectable than the drink menu… We ending up ordering three plates of the “Not-chos,” a dish featuring corn chips topped with lentils, pico de gallo, guacamole, a drizzle of tofu sour cream, crumbled tempeh, and melted cashew cheese.

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These were WAY better than any normal nachos that I’ve ever had in my life, so to anyone who thinks vegan food is weird, please compare this dish with Velveeta, and get back to me:)

For the main course, I eventually picked out the Essence of Autumn seasonal special (also known by lovingly by friends as heaven on a plate). This lovely dish consisted of two main elements. The first was a portobello mushroom stuffed with forbidden rice, apples, and chopped walnuts. The second was a portion of blanched brussels sprouts, drizzled with a sweet pomegranate glaze and topped with whole walnuts and pomegranate seeds. As if this wasn’t enough, both were floating angelically atop a cloud of cauliflower mash. The dish got better and better with every bit as the balsamic from the mushrooms mixed with the nutty sweetness in the glaze and soaked in to the creamy cauliflower.

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I confess: when our waitress brought out dessert menus, we caved without needing much prodding. I really strictly avoid sugar normally, and I try to eat only very clean, healthful foods. But that being said… how often do you get a chance to eat vegan coconut bliss ice cream and get it paid for?? There’s not much else to say about that. Chances are, the gym will be getting a nice long visit tomorrow, but it’ll be in the name of balance and positive energy. There’s no guilt associated with this beautiful (and huge!) meal.

I guess it’s back to the dining hall tomorrow (this holiday weekend fantasy food couldn’t last forever), but I’m working on appreciating good ol’ EVK (EVerybody’s Kitchen) for providing health-conscious options and extreme ease of access. I’m sure I’ll miss it next year when I can’t go grab a zero-effort snack at any time of day…

Anyway, this has been one more solid day on my Lenten journey, filled with small lessons and moments for gratitude. An early wake up for classes tomorrow should be another opportunity for appreciation of the wonderful world that’s always surrounding us, no matter what struggles we’re facing:)