Fresh Veggie Quinoa Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

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It’s March! That’s the start of spring, right? The Beast and I went on a vacation last week (more on that later…) and on the first day The Beast said to me, “You know what’s nice? When we come home it’ll almost be golf season.” The next day he said the same thing, but replaced “golf season” with “spring,” and then he went so far as to say we’d basically be coming home to summer. Welcome to the mind of a Minnesotan.

We ended up flying home in the middle of a snow storm…welcome to the life of a Minnesotan.

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When warm weather becomes such a foreign concept that I can’t even remember what it feels like to walk outside without the cold stealing my breath away, I like to eat something that at least reminds me of summertime. Take this salad, for instance. It’s jam-packed with fresh veggies, bright flavors, and pretty colors…which sounds silly, but when you live in a monochromatic winter world, colorful food helps.

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As a bit of a texture freak, I love the multiple crunches that come up as you bite through the raw onions, red pepper, and sliced almonds. Alongside that crunch, you get juicy tomatoes, nutty quinoa, and bright, creamy lemon tahini dressing. It’s so refreshing you might just think summer has a chance of coming around…eventually.

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I actually made this salad a few days before we left for vacation, thinking it would help get me in the spring/warm weather swing of things. Mission accomplished!…until we actually arrived for our vacation and experienced a very cold, very windy version of Florida. Oh well, it’s almost summer here anyway.
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Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons (Gluten and Refined-Sugar Free)

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I rarely buy desserts when I’m out and about, but when I see chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, I need them. Neeeeeed them. Do not pass go, do not collect your things or walk away, just get your wallet out and pay for the damn macaroon. I’ve come to embrace my weakness…because embracing it means I get more macaroons.

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I love that most restaurants sell HUGE macaroons, because you can eat the whole thing and truthfully say, “I’m just eating one cookie!” (side note: this same logic also works for a large glass of wine). However, when I make macaroons at home I try to be much more responsible. Take this recipe, for instance, where the macaroons are not only a normal cookie size, but they’re also gluten AND refined-sugar free! What?! I know.

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Part of my inspiration for these little bites of heaven came from the honey in our pantry; I geek out at any opportunity to use our super flavorful clover honey from the Beast’s family farm in Wisconsin. No matter where your honey comes from, using a combination of honey and applesauce instead of white sugar keeps the inside of the macaroons chewy, soft, and without even the slightest hint of dryness. The chocolate coating is daaaark, silky smooth, ever-so-slightly bitter, and absolutely perfect.

Warning: you NEED to double, triple, or quadruple this recipe. 24 hours later, almost all of my macaroons were gone. Not only can I physically not stay away from them, but the Beast loved them, and even my mother, who always suspects that I put “weird” stuff in food, and hates baked goods without “real” (aka white) sugar, devoured the one I brought to her. Who even needs white sugar and gluten? Not me, and not even my mom, as long as we have macaroons.

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Protein Powerhouse Veggie Burgers

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“You’re a vegetarian? How do you know you’re getting enough protein? I know someone who nearly died because they were a vegetarian and didn’t eat enough protein. Did you know soy can give you cancer? What do you even EAT?” I know it usually comes from a harmless place, but I’m continually amazed when people critique my diet, particularly the protein issue. You’d think more people would talk to me about Iron or B Vitamins, which could actually be a more interesting topic, but nope, it’s always just protein.

I understand where it comes from, as the generic American diet is MEAT-MEAT-MEAT focused, and meat is packed with protein. Boom, logic. However, I think I speak for the majority of vegetarians when I say that we know what we’re doing, we know what foods are rich in protein, and we’re often more focused on creating balanced meals than the average meat eater.

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Take this burger for example, which has 11 grams of protein in every damn patty. Add a whole wheat burger bun, and your meal climbs up to about 17 grams of protein. The burger is hearty, rich, spicy, and downright irresistible when slathered in a smooth roasted red pepper Greek yogurt sauce.

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Since vegans get even more grief about protein than I do, I decided to really drive home the plant-based protein point by making the patty completely vegan. Simply leave off the sauce (and top with avocado instead-yum!), for a vegan, high-protein meal. For gluten-free folks, put the patty between a gluten-free bun and you’re golden.

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If you’ve read my blog at all, you’ve probably realized I’m not a judgmental vegetarian. I know there are all kinds of diets that can be healthy, energizing, and smart; it just seems that vegetarian and vegan foods are often overlooked by meat-eaters. However, I live with one of the biggest carnivores around, and that carnivore ate two of these protein-packed patties within 6 hours. If that’s not a stamp of approval for veggie burgers, I don’t know what is.
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Zen-Inducing Vegetarian Chili

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There are some times when you just need a bowl of comfort. Like last week, for example, when I decided to go to a Yoga Sculpt class all by myself for the first time. For the past month or so I’d been going with my sister to the classes. In the first class I got sick (literally in the middle of the class), but after that every class seemed to get easier. I figured it helped that I was prepared and knew what was coming, but I also falsely convinced myself that the classes were getting easier because I was getting SO STRONG.

They weren’t getting easier. I wasn’t getting stronger. In fact, this one lonesome time last week, I voluntarily walked into the hot, fiery, sweaty hell of my nightmares. 15 minutes in, I began thinking of my favorite CraigsList ad, and then after that slight amusement the hard reality set in: I had no way out, the walls were tightening…and my neighbor seemed to be inching closer…and did he just fling SWEAT at me? Oh no he didn’t…

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As the minutes (hours?) baby-stepped by, I looked around and wondered if any of my classmates were contemplating a revolution. This instructor clearly had no intention of letting us out…ever. We must do something, I thought. We must.

After my mind finally numbed itself to some of the pain, I found a light at the end of the tunnel (I even realized at the time that assuming there would be an “end” was optimistic). The hot torture chamber happened to sit across the street from one of my favorite restaurants, with my favorite chili, just waiting to be taken home. I promised myself that if I made it out alive, the first thing I would do is faceplant into that bowl of chili.

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After finally leaving the class, my legs felt like Jell-o and my hands would not stop shaking. I sent the boy a text that said, “Just leafing the gardens workout ass ever.” I noticed my typos just before pressing send, but didn’t bother correcting the message. He’d get the idea, and I couldn’t fathom expelling any more energy, even through my fingertips.

Just so you know, this class really was hard. I know because I’m strong and stuff, so otherwise I wouldn’t have thought it was hard. Yeah, that’s me…super strong and not a sissy.

This chili is truly attitude-altering, and the thought of it will power you through even the most awful of awful things. It’s warm-your-soul food with a thick tomato base, and just enough of a spicy kick mixed with a blend of chunky veggies and beans. I devoured the bowl in approximately 4 minutes, and immediately felt my mood turn around, as my body reverted back to its normal and less achy/shaky self.

After this chili saved my life last week, I realized I needed to find a recipe to have on hand in case the need for comfort hit when my go-to chili restaurant was not convenient. I found the restaurant’s Chicken Salsa Chili recipe online, then played around a bit until it matched my memory of the restaurant’s vegetarian version. The outcome was a stick-to-your-ribs hearty bowl of warm-your-soul goodness.

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The hardest part of this recipe is the patience it requires. It’s super quick to put together, but then you need to let it simmer. The longer the soup simmers, the more it will thicken, the more the flavors will blend, and the more awesome it will be when poured into your bowl. Think of what a yogi would say…probably something like “The concept of time lies only within the mind…know you are stronger than you think you are. Do another downward facing dog to rest and regain your strength” – okay guys…am I the only one who rolls their eyes when an instructor calls downward facing dog a “rest” position? Downward facing dog does NOT feel restful, so let’s stop lying to ourselves and just curl up in child’s pose dreaming of soup. Word?
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Drama-Free Rice and Beans

Drama Free Rice and Beans

For the most part, I’m a pretty drama-free girl. From day one, my mom says that I “came out mellow,” and that’s pretty much been my way of being in the years since, with the exception of a few adolescent outbursts. However, there are a few things I’m a bit of a drama queen about.

Like when I open my car door to get out and it’s juuuust not open wide enough, so it comes swinging back and hits me in the leg. I think I’ve scared my neighbors with my expletives a few times.

Or when I carry my groceries up my three flights of stairs, huffing and puffing, sweating, needing to pee in a big way, then go to find the right key to open my door in the sea of keys I carry everywhere, and drop the entire thing just as I get it up to the key hole. I will cry.

Or when I get all fancy in my Sunday cooking, just trying to make my lunches for the week, trying to live a responsible, well-planned adult life, and I end up with 5-days-worth of nearly inedible food. To make matters worse, I usually end up eating the failure food anyway because I also hate wasting things. This experience will ruin my day, and usually the only thing that will make it better is an oven-fresh chocolate chip cookie and trash TV (and I mean really the. only. thing). Again, drama queen.

My mom knows all-too-well that my lunches are very important to me. She’s experienced first hand when I’ve spent $30 on ingredients and literally could not force down the result. So, when her coworker recommended a very simple and quick bean salad, she thought of me and my lunch adventures.

The recipe intrigued me, but it was SO straightforward…so simple…so unlike me and my Sunday experimentation. It may not get me into my Sunday cooking trance, but it would supply me with food for a full week with very little effort. I decided it was worth a try. This dish comes together in literally 20 minutes, and will feed you for DAYS. Now that’ll just make a girl smile.

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