Monday, January 18, 2010

"Chicken" Marsala and Nutty Quinoa

In a strong yet brief moment of inspiration and short-lived deficit of queasiness today, I took the opportunity to throw together dinner. I have a feeling that my brisk walk today (we finally had a break in this frigid weather: a sunny, bright day) did a lot to lift my spirits and chase away the preggo blues.

I made something I loved from my forever-ago bird-eating days: chicken marsala (click on the photo to zoom in). My version features baby bellas, shallots, and mixed bell peppers, but it's a very flexible recipe. I also made a quick quinoa pilaf. Some might argue that these flavors don't meld well, and actually, I would normally agree, but for some reason they worked well together. Plus I served them with a salad with mustard-tarragon salad dressing (by Organicville).

Dina's "Chicken" Marsala

There's something homey and comforting about marsala sauce. If you don't have soy creamer, unsweetened soy milk will work well as a substitute. Less creamy but still yummy.
  • olive oil or oil spray
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots or 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 10-oz package sliced mushrooms (baby portobellas or button)
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers (they're not a traditional ingredient, but they are tasty IMO, and do boost fiber and antioxidant content. Use whatever veggies you like.)
  • 2 packages Light Life Chick'n Style Smart Strips (you can also use 2 lbs sliced seitan, 4 defrosted Morningstar Farms Grillers Chik'n, 1 package of defrosted Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik'n Strips, OR 1 package defrosted May Wah chicken substitute. Just don't use pre-breaded veggie chicken.)
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp Earth Balance margarine
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup organic soy creamer (unflavored)
  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp powdered sage
  • Salt & pepper to taste
First, keep the last few ingredients out on the counter, because you might want to change the amount of wine, creamer, lemon, etc. to taste. The amounts here are mere suggestions (plus I didn't measure; I'm guestimating by memory).

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add chopped shallots or onions, and cook for about 3 minutes or until translucent. Next add mushrooms, and cook for about 8 minutes, until most of the moisture is expelled from the mushrooms. Then add the peppers, and saute until the peppers start to soften. Saute for another minute or two, and transfer the veggies to a bowl.

Dredge/toss the veggie "chicken" in the flour until well-coated.

Return skillet to stove and melt the margarine with the olive oil. Add the "chicken" and fry until golden brown on all sides. You may need to do this in two batches. Remove the "chicken" from the pan (add to the veggies if room in the bowl, to avoid having to wash an extra plate). The skillet should have tiny bits of floury "chicken" -- leave them in the pan.

Return skillet to stove and pour in the broth, marsala wine, creamer, lemon juice, and sage. Let simmer for about 2-3 minutes (it should thicken a bit). Then, add back the "chicken" and veggies and coat with sauce. Let the sauce boil gently for about 4 minutes; it will thicken nicely. Taste, and adjust by adding salt and pepper, and more lemon juice, creamer, and/or marsala.

Easy Quinoa Pilaf

Since the "chicken" recipe has quite a bit of fat, this oil-free recipe goes quite nicely.
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 3/4 cups water or vegetable broth (I used a little of each)
  • 1/2 cup sliced and blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • pinch cinnamon
Rinse quinoa well by running plenty of water through a sieve filled with the grain. Combine quinoa and water/broth in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.

Meanwhile, toast almonds in a dry pan or in the toaster oven. Keep a close watch so they don't burn.

When quinoa begins to boil, add almonds, cranberries, and cinnamon and give it a stir. Turn heat to low and cover, cooking for about 1o minutes or until all water is absorbed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pregnancy Reflections

This post is neither educational nor interesting; it's also off-topic. I just wanted to get my thoughts down on "paper," as I've been reflecting a lot on this pregnancy.

I'm not the first woman to be pregnant, and I don't feel particularly special. What I do feel is bewildered. Bewildered and curious about how women over thousands of years handled the challenges of pregnancy. About how they endured pregnancy again, again, and again. And again. And how in spite of the challenges of pregnancy, they produced healthy, well-developed offspring.

I feel so nauseated, so disgusted, so lousy, so exhausted, and because of this, I think I actually am experiencing a touch of depression (and I consider myself a generally well-adjusted, content, and happy person; I've never been depressed before). I wonder if many pregnant women experience this, or if I'm among a "lucky" minority. I wonder if it's because I'm older (my first pregnancy, 5 years ago, wasn't this intense). I also wonder if feeling this way is a function of modern life; if women felt better when life was simpler -- small-town, little-house-on-the-prairie lifestyle. I wonder if being indoors so much, if dealing with the stresses of a career and modern life (on top of the usual responsibilities of mom and homemaker) explains why this pregnancy is kicking my butt to the moon.

I don't know. What I do know is that feeling this way makes it nearly impossible to work (I'm behind on all of my projects), impossible to clean the kitchen (the smells are overwhelming and just the sight of crumbs in the sink makes me gag), and I just want this to be over and done with already. I have about 26 more weeks to go.

I've been contemplating the ironies of pregnancy. How the most nutritious foods are often the least appealing. And how the junkiest foods are often irresistible. How I am sure that a glass of wine would relax me and make me feel better, but can't have it. How I'm getting a lot of help (thanks, family) but am still behind. How I feel utterly debilitated during one of the most critical periods of my life: I'm responsible for the healthy development of another human being (what is more important than that?), yet taking good care of myself is more difficult than ever. So why can't I catch a break?

Scientists don't really understand exactly why pregnancy causes these symptoms; it is known that nausea tends to increase with an increase in pregnancy hormones (though this is not the case for all pregnant women) but the mechanism remains a mystery. For me, it's a different kind of nausea than, say, motion sickness. I've been able to reverse motion sickness in seconds by eating a small piece of candied ginger; if I have ginger now, I just feel additionally nauseated.

For dinner tonight I had a bowl of cut up fresh fruit. And honestly it's all I could imagine keeping down. To have to actually plan to get enough protein is something I'm not at all used to; in general I love all sorts of healthful foods and get enough just as a function of getting enough calories from a variety of plant foods. These days, I can't read my own appetite at all (the thought of eating sends my stomach spinning, but often it's a sign that I need to eat something), again, ironic, considering that now more than ever, my appetite should dictate how much I need.

I know what to do: I know the nutritional guidelines for vegan pregnancy inside-out, and I've helped other women eat optimally throughout their vegan pregnancies. It's just particularly challenging to follow those guidelines.

I'm not worried about the baby. I got an ultrasound last week and all is well. In fact, according to my tests, my risk of carrying a baby with Down's is about 1 in 2300, while an untested 38-year-old has a risk of 1 in 114. I have not lost (or gained) any weight, and the baby's growth is right on track. So I'm not apprehensive about the pregnancy's outcome; I'm just sick of being sick, as they say.

Here's to hoping that as I become further immersed into the second trimester, these symptoms dwindle away so I can feel human again.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Food Cravings & Aversions During Pregnancy

I might be having a vegan pregnancy, but I'm not sheltered from the usual symptoms: "morning" sickness (my version is nausea all day, at its worst in the evenings), disturbed sleep, exhaustion, food cravings, food aversions, and being emotional (earlier today, I found myself laughing and sobbing simultaneously).

I'm almost at my 13th week, a time when the less comfortable aspects of pregnancy ought to be ebbing. But for me, not yet! Hopefully soon.

Being a dietitian and all, I've heard some pretty strange stories of food cravings and food aversions. I have come to the conclusion that there is no "normal" or "abnormal" -- we are all different. Each pregnancy is different too. When I was pregnant with Ben, I ate hummus on a toasted sesame bagel with a thick slice of tomato... almost every day. This pregnancy, I can't even look at hummus! With Ben, I craved minestrone soup all the time; I couldn't get enough. Now, I can take it or leave it.

The surprise craving for me these days is INDIAN FOOD. I dream about rich aloo chole, crisp samosas dipped in thick tamarind chutney, roti stuffed with vegetables, and hot, flavorful dahl with ghee-free nan for dipping. Unfortunately, cooking makes me nauseated. But even if it didn't, I cannot cook Indian food like they do at the restaurants. And it's unrealistic for me to eat out very often. One product that satisfies my craving and requires no dining out or cooking is a frozen Indian burger from Trader Joes, called Vegetable Masala Burgers. They are So. Good.

Do you know of any healthful, easy-to-prepare Indian specialties? I've tried those meals-in-a-pouch and find them a bit too spicy. I like flavorful, but mild on the spicy scale.

I get a lot of questions about diet during pregnancy. Is it ok, for example, to feed our cravings, or should we stick to a meal plan? If we crave something, does that mean that it has some nutrient our body needs?

Here's my take on these questions. First, for the most part, I think it's fine to feed our cravings. That said, we have to look at the "craved" food amongst the big picture. So if I'm craving cherry coke, it's really not ok to have a 2-liter bottle every day and little else. But if I'm craving raw cauliflower, it IS ok to eat massive amounts every day. Trying to include healthful foods around the craved foods is really a good approach.

If I'm craving a food, is it because my body needs some nutrient it contains? No, probably not. It's nice to think that our bodies are THAT smart, but unless you're in a dire state of starvation, your cravings are probably a result of your preferences. There's no evidence to suggest that your potato chip craving is your body's way of getting its much-needed sodium, or that a magnesium deficiency explains your yen for chocolate.

What about food aversions? Should you eat your greens (my biggest aversion, when cooked anyway), even though they make you want to vomit? I vote NO. I have, unfortunately, many food aversions with this pregnancy. And many are healthful foods (although I have aversions to many junk foods as well). Forcing down foods that we are averse to you will just make mealtimes that much more unpleasant. If you have committed to eating 5 veggies a day but a pile of veggies makes you sick, give yourself a break. Eat more fruits, or eat a salad (if you crave it) or get Chinese sesame tofu with some chopped veggies if you can stomach that. As a health-conscious vegan, you already have a nutritional edge over folks (believe me, there are so many) whose main source of food comes from a drive-through.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Something amazing happened this week. So marvelous, so stupendous, so incredible, I have to share.

I experienced outstanding customer service. Beyond my wildest dreams.

Back in September, during Dan's and my trip to Portland, we were shopping at Herbivore, and a cute wallet caught my eye. It looked and felt like leather, but it was faux leather, made of recycled materials, and with colorful embroidery. My old wallet was falling apart so I decided to buy it and support this vegan store. Well I've never got so many compliments on any sort of "accessory" before. It's a great wallet -- fits all my stuff without bulking out, and closes with a magnetic snap -- the only problem is that last week, the stitching at the edge was starting to come out. I was going to take it to a professional shoemaker or someone similar, but first I decided to call the company which, I discovered by looking inside the wallet, is LAVISHY, a Canadian company.

A real live person answered right away and listened to my story. She took down my name and address and promised a replacement. Pretty impressive. I asked if she wanted me to send back the old one. No thanks, she said.

The NEXT DAY, no kidding, an overnight package arrived from Canada -- with a brand new wallet, a duplicate of my own. I couldn't believe it!

If you do a google search or google image search for "Lavishy Wallet" you will see their collection. I could not find my particular wallet online (but the one pictured above is close enough; mine has 4 smaller butterflies with embroidered green swirly flora). Their newest collection (including wallets with dogs, cherries, flowers, birds, more) can be seen via slideshow here: In addition to wallets, they have checkbooks, cell phone holders, change purses, handbags, passport holders, and luggage tags. They also have a beautiful line of fashion jewelry.

I'm the last person anyone would go to for fashion advice, but I will tell you that I'm brand loyal, and that LAVISHY can count on my sale whenever I'm looking for a new accessory for myself or one of my girlfriends. THANK YOU LAVISHY!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Soy can actually INCREASE longevity in breast cancer survivors

There seems to be widespread fear around soy and breast cancer: I have heard unsubstantiated claims (from the general public), everything from soy causing breast cancer to needing to completely avoid soy products if you already have breast cancer.

Thankfully, those fears can be put to rest: a recent scientific study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that soy can help decrease risk of death and decrease the chances of a breast cancer relapse. The study looked at a 4-year outcome period amongst 5,000 breast cancer survivors, and measured their intakes of soy foods in their diets. Women with the highest soy intakes had a 29 percent lower risk of dying and a 32 percent lower rate of their breast cancer returning than those who had the lowest intake of soy.

What I think is a very important point here is that these are not women who took soy supplements, or packed their diets with isolated soy protein. Tofu, soy milk and fresh soybeans (cooked soybeans or young soybeans, aka edamame) were the soyfoods most commonly consumed. So the study is NOT suggesting that breast cancer survivors eat soy bars, soy shakes, soy meat alternatives, and soy ice cream all day: the most protective soy foods are those that are the least processed/fractioned: tofu, tempeh, natto, miso, soy milk, and just plain soybeans.

Much of the worry and confusion surrounding soy and breast cancer stem from the fact that soyfoods are super sources of isoflavones, naturally-occurring, estrogen-like compounds. To many, that sounds like we're "eating estrogen," but actually the opposite is true: Breast cancer depends on estrogens to grow, and soy's "weak" estrogens compete for space on cell receptors and bind there, but do not exert estrogen's dangerous effects. So in essence, isoflavones are thought to BLOCK estrogen's deleterious effects.

In addition, the study authors reported that the results eased previous concern that isoflavones might interfere with tamoxifen, a cancer drug designed to block estrogen. The study found higher soy food consumption was beneficial regardless of whether a patient was taking tamoxifen.

The USDA recommends a daily intake of 25 grams of soy protein; this study suggested that 11 grams is enough for a significant benefit. This works out to be 1 to 2 servings of soy a day.

Click here for the study abstract, and option to purchase the full text:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fast food linked to diabetes risk

Not that it's shocking or anything, but yet another study, this time from the December issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that people who eat fast food are at an increased risk for diabetes.

Here's the link to the study summary per Reuters:

In a nutshell, the study, based on the eating and lifestyle habits and health outcomes of 44,000 black women over 10 years, reports that those who ate fast food burgers or fried chicken at least twice a week were 40 to 70 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their counterparts who never ate such foods.

Maybe our national health care overhaul should include an adjustment on our premiums
based on fast food consumption. Now, wouldn't that be something?