Recipe First Impression: Stuffed Acorn Squash

recipe fip acorn

I recently moved in to my first apartment, giving me the opportunity to try lots of new vegan recipes. So to share my culinary experiments with you, I thought I would create a series of “Recipe First Impressions.” In these posts, I will share a recipe I have never made before, recreate it, and share my finished product and opinion about it.

The first new recipe I am tackling is Stuffed Acorn Squash, using this recipe from The Roasted Root. I decided to veer away from the recipe by filling the squashes with wild rice, cranberries, apples,  pecans, and a drizzle of maple syrup. When I first picked up the acorn squashes, I was a bit nervous about how this meal would turn out, since they are a bit strange looking! But I found that they were very easy to cut open and cook. The wild rice filling was lovely and fragrant, too.

I enjoyed the combination of the buttery, nutty taste of the squash with the tart cranberries and apples. The pecans also added a nice texture. The only drawback was that I overcooked the squashes! 35 minutes as recommended in the recipe was not long enough, but the 55 minutes I cooked them for was too long. Next time, I will try cooking them for around 40 minutes.

Overall, I really liked this recipe. It was easy to make, delicious, satisfying, and healthy. It makes a festive and pretty autumn meal, and would be perfect for the holidays. I would make this recipe again, and I would recommend it to anyone interested. Below is a picture of how my stuffed squash turned out:

acorn squashhh

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any recommendations for what I should make next, please let me know!

Best,

Leila

How To Cut a Mango

how to cut a mango 2Ripe and sweet mangoes are the perfect cool and refreshing summer fruit. They are also rich in vitamins A, B and C, aid in maintaining clear skin, and even have cancer fighting properties. So in case you do not know this trick, this is how to cut a mango for maximum enjoyment. 🙂

To get started, find a ripe mango and a sharp knife. If the mango is ripe, it should feel slightly soft when you squeeze it. They ripen well on a sunny windowsill.

Steps:

1. First, locate the top of the mango. To do this, hold it upright and find the knot where it attached to the tree.

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2. Using the knot for reference, place two parallel cuts about one inch apart so the pit lies between them. Cut all the way through the mango to produce 3 slices.

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3. On both end slices, place 3 parallel cuts and 3 perpendicular cuts in a checkered pattern, but do not cut through the skin. Then push up from the bottom to invert the mango skin and form cubes.

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4. On the slice with the pit, place a slit in the skin so it is easy to peel away as you eat. This also makes it easier to hold the pit.

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Now the mango is ready to eat! Happy snacking! 🙂

Best,

Leila

What I Learned during my First Year Vegan

vegan 1 yr

Two days ago, I celebrated my 1 year vegan anniversary. It is a cliche, but it is hard to believe that a whole year has gone by already. However, reflecting upon where I started makes me realize how far I have come. So below are a few things I learned during my first year as a vegan.

You can’t be perfect.

During my first week vegan, I remember accidentally eating sauce that contained oyster extract. I felt so discouraged and upset with myself for letting it slip under the radar. Now I know that obsessing over the small stuff will simply burn you out. Your best is always the best you can do.

You can’t change the world all at once.

It is sad, and seems defeated to say, but because there is such a huge wall between consumers and where their food comes from, ignorance is something we must learn to live with it. There is not much you can do to stop a stranger at the grocery store from buying that jug of milk, and you would lose your mind if you got upset every time you saw someone eating meat. Simply put, you can’t change everyone. Striking a balance between understanding the cruel reality while at the same time working to make the world a better place is key to maintaining your strength to keep fighting.

Don’t be annoying.

I must confess that I went through a stage where I was an annoying vegan. I felt that if I didn’t speak up whenever I saw someone consuming animal products, I would be letting the animals down. But looking back, I was doing more harm than good. Criticizing your friends’ meal choices won’t make them want to go vegan. Who would respond favorably to someone who constantly picks on them?  By showing the world we are accepting and understanding, we can make being vegan much more inviting.

Living with non-vegan friends and family can be challenging.

Friends and family are the most difficult people to change. Talking to them about veganism can be awkward, and friends and family are more likely to take arguments and disagreements personally. For the sake of peace among comrades, I choose to simply avoid confrontation and tolerate their choices to consume animal products. In fact, not being judgmental makes friends and family more likely to show interest in talking to you about veganism.

Keep an open mind.

As a vegan with strongly-held ethical beliefs, it is easy to go into every conversation with my mind already made up. But I find it does more harm than good to come off as someone who is unwilling to listen and consider opposing viewpoints. How can we expect others to consider our message if we won’t consider theirs? Ask questions and listen to others, even if they disagree with you. You will find common ground if you listen to their side.

Stay positive!

Let’s be real: confronting some of the most twisted, terrible, and cruel sides of humanity can be a burden sometimes. But it is always important to stay positive. Being vegan is a joy. Our attitude and outlook on the world should reflect that. Smile. Be lighthearted. Watch happy animal videos. Take a time out to de-stress. Making the world a more positive place begins with you.

Here’s to the start of the second year of my vegan journey! I can’t wait to see where this year takes me.

Best,

Leila

Animals Suffer During Transport

While driving home from college earlier this week, I saw a truck transporting pigs, most likely to slaughter. Through the holes in the truck I could see the pigs’ pink bodies. One pig stuck with me: he was lying on his side with his back pressed against the wall of truck, as if the exhaustion and fear had overcome him. On that day, the sun was shining, the skies were clear, and it was seasonably warm. But knowing that for every pig in that truck, these were their last moments on earth–their first and last chance to see the sun and sky–I could not help but feel tears coming to my eyes.

inside transport truck after arriving at slaughterhouse

The inside of a transport truck after arriving at the slaughterhouse. Imagine spending the last moments of your life here.

The suffering animals experience during transport to slaughter is arguably even worse than the slaughter itself. The animals are crammed into trucks with barely any room to move. Birds are roughly shoved or thrown into crates, their heads and wings often painfully slammed in the doors or even torn off in workers’ haste to unload them. These journeys may last for 28 hours or more, despite suffocating heat and bitter cold. Animals are forced to defecate where they stand and are not given a single drop of food or water. Many animals arrive at the slaughterhouse frozen solid, stuck to the cold metal sides of the truck, or dead due to heat exhaustion.

Chickens crammed into transport crates.

The number of animals who die before even making it to slaughter are astounding, and further demonstrate how disposable the meat industry views these animals. It is estimated that 17-41 million chickens and over 250,000 pigs die during transport in the United States. Though death is less common in cows (I assume due to their higher body mass allowing them to survive longer amounts of time without food and water), transport is considered to be the most stressful experience a cow ever goes through. It is not uncommon for cows to become “downers,” unable to stand or walk due to their bodies giving out, during transport.

Cows being transported to slaughter. 

No taste, tradition, or moment of pleasure can make the incredible fear and suffering these animals endure worthwhile. And with a plethora of fresh, delicious, and nutritious vegan foods available at every local grocery store, eating animals is simply unnecessary. To spare animals cruel transport to slaughter, please choose a compassionate vegan diet.

Best,

Leila

Vegan in College: What I Eat in a Day

what I eat in a day veganA common question among prospective vegans or students heading to college soon is, “What the heck am I going to eat?” If you eat all of your meals at a dining hall like I do, this question can be even more concerning. To hopefully provide some insight, I am going to show you everything I ate today as a vegan college student.

Breakfast

For breakfast, I ate a bowl of pineapple and strawberries, half of a grapefruit, and a banana. I also drank a glass of water. Typically, I like to have peanut butter toast, but I wanted to go running and was too drowsy to wait until afterwards to eat breakfast, so I opted for a light and energizing all-fruit  breakfast.

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Snack

After I finished my run and had gotten ready, I went to my favorite coffee shop to study for an exam. I drank a peach iced black tea and ate a banana and an apple.

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Lunch

For lunch, I ate a spinach, tomato, cucumber, mushroom, and hummus sandwich on wheat bread. Tip: hummus makes a great substitution for cheese on sandwiches and adds flavor so you need not add any additional sauces.

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I also ate a plate of veggie sushi, which contained carrots, cucumbers, and avocado.

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Another tip: Whenever I visit the dining hall, I like to take some fruit, such as apples and bananas, with me and keep them in a fruit bowl in my room. Then, if I am hungry during the day or after the dining hall closes, I have a snack on hand. I recommend keeping only healthy snacks in your dorm room so that when you are up late studying for exams or working on projects, you won’t be tempted to binge eat junk food. Am I the only one whose inhibition takes a nosedive after midnight?

Dinner

As a vegan in college, there are bound to be days when the vegan options at the dining hall are far from ideal. Today was one of those days. The only vegan entrees the dining hall in my residence hall was serving were tater tots, fries, and orange sauce. 😦 Here’s a tip for turning a tight situation around: Check the menus at other nearby dining halls (my university has an app for this). That way, you can scope out some tastier, healthier vegan options and avoid having fries for dinner.

I took a trip to another dining hall that had a rad pasta bar. I got mine with broccoli, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, marinara sauce, and soy cheese.

IMG_20150424_170406622I also ate a plate of grilled asparagus.

IMG_20150424_171232233For dessert, I ate a bowl of pineapple and strawberries.

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For a study snack later that evening, I ate a cashew and almond mix.

IMG_20150424_194517419That’s what I ate today! I hope that this helps to answer the question of what vegans eat, and what to eat in college.

Best,

Leila

Bugs in Makeup?

bugs in my makeup

An unexpected ingredient in my eyeshadow recently came to my attention…BUGS!

Yes, ground up bugs are a common ingredient makeup such as eyeshadows and blushes. Often masquerading under the name Carmine, this red coloring is produced by the cochineal beetle. To produce the coloring, thousands of live insects are dried using boiling hot water or harsh sunlight. Then, they are ground and squeezed to extract the pigment. It takes 70,000 insects to produce a single pound of dye!

bugs in makeup

I had always thought carmine was only found in red colored foods, such as candies and sugary drinks. But it is also common in makeup, even makeup that is not bright red. Shockingly, the majority of Urban Decay’s eyeshadows contain or “may contain” carmine! Even my all time favorite shade Sin, a champagne color, may contain carmine.

sin carmine

Additional names for Carmine include crimson lake, cochineal, and natural red 4. When in doubt about whether an ingredient is vegan, a brief internet search will often give you the answer.

When it comes to food, I don’t mind if it “may contain” animal products, as they are obligated to add that statement if it is processed on the same equipment as foods that contain animal ingredients as as an added precaution for those who have severe allergies.Carmine is also linked to severe allergic reactions, so I assume this is the case for cosmetics as well. Therefore, using makeup that “may contain” carmine does not contribute to the demand for it. However, Urban Decay does not denote the shades that “may contain” carmine as vegan. So whether you choose to use these products is up to your judgement.

To avoid rubbing ground up bugs on your face, I would suggest always checking the ingredients before purchasing any makeup or colored food items, even if it does not appear to be red. And to stay on the safe side, there are plenty of completely vegan cosmetic brands such as Pacifica, which is conveniently sold at Target. In addition, many brands such as Urban Decay allow you to browse only their vegan products online. Just select the vegan filter. Tarte cosmetics carries an entire vegan collection.

eyeshadow vegan

On the Urban Decay website, select “Vegan” under “Feature” for the product of interest.

So though shopping vegan and cruelty-free may feel like a hassle, there are plenty of great vegan friendly brands that make it so much easier.

Best,

Leila

Go Vegan for a Day on March 20th!

meatout

If you have been searching for the opportunity to give the vegan diet a try, but have lacked the incentive to dive in, here is your chance! On March 20th, you can join the thousands across the world pledging to go vegan for a day. One day does not seem like much, but only 3 vegan meals can do tremendous good for the earth and the animals. Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life!

pig and lambThe benefits of going vegan are not only amazing for the animals and environment, but also extend to your health. Choosing to eat vegan is an effortless way to go cholesterol free, cut down on fat, and eat more nutritious fruits and vegetables. But of course, there are plenty of indulgent vegan treats too, so you won’t be missing out on anything!

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So whether you decide to go vegan all at once, or begin easing your way into the lifestyle a bit at a time, this is your chance to test out the waters. What are you waiting for? Pledge to go vegan on March 20th here!

Once you have pledged, check out PETA’s awesome vegan starter kit for all of the tips and tricks you will need to make your first day vegan a breeze. For some ideas about what to make, check out the recipes on my blog, such as french toast, a tofu scramble, and macaroni and cheese. And as always, let me know if you have any questions about the vegan lifestyle.

Best,

Leila