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Garcinia Cambogia, The New Super food Wave Hitting Singapore?

Green Garcinia cambogia

This new found fruit has seen a rise in consumption in Singapore. It is mostly ingested in a pill form and is said to have many different benefits, including weight loss.

What is it?

Garcinia cambogia is a tropical fruit native to South and South-east Asia that is very commonly used in Asian recipes. It is green, rather small (the size of an apple), and is pumpkin shaped. It is well known for its sour taste. In the late 1960s, an acid (hydroxycitric acid) has been discovered in the fruit’s rind, which has been found to provide many benefits, such as appetite reduction, improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels, increased weight loss, and mood enhancement.

How does hydroxycitric acid work?

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) was discovered over four decades ago, and since then studies have shown that it provides many benefits for humans. HCA seems to inhibit citrate lyase, an enzyme that is used by the body to produce fat out of carbohydrates. HCA blocks a portion of this enzyme, making it more difficult for the body to turn starches and sugars into fat. This means that rather than be accumulated as fat, carbohydrates are diverted into energy production.

What are the benefits of garcinia cambogia?

As discussed above, one of the benefits of garcinia cambogia is less energy being stored as fat, which means that it should (and does) aid weight loss. One recent study by Dr. Harry Preuss of Georgetown University Medical Center showed that participants HCAHCA lost significantly more weight than those using placebo. In another study, also by Dr. Preuss, those not supplementing HCA lost an average of 3.5 pounds, whereas those that did supplement HCA, lost an average of 10.5 pounds.

Jess Nadel’s Brussels Sprout Latkes with Tofu Sour Cream

Brussels Sprout Latkes with Tofu Sour Cream. Credit Jackie Sobon

About a year ago at this time, I had the good fortunate to review Jess Nadel’s creative cookbook, Greens 24/7, here on the blog. Today, I get to tell you about Jess’ new book, Superfoods 24/7, and I’ll be offering a giveaway at the end of this post. The new title picks up where the last one left off, with the theme of incorporating a powerfully nutritious category of foods (greens last time, superfoods this time) into everyday cooking. It is, like Jess’ first book, playful, inventive, and inspiring. And Jess’ delicious brussels sprout latkes with tofu sour cream are a perfect example of what this vibrant recipe collection has to offer.

superfoods cover

I get a little nervous when I hear the word “superfoods”; it’s too often used to market expensive specialty items that may or may not be as miraculous as the claims suggest. But this isn’t how Jess Nadel employs the word at all. Her definition of a “superfood” is simple: any food with particularly high nutrient density. The recipe collection features a few more exotic choices (matcha and goji berries), but for the most part Jess’ list of superfoods includes ingredients that many whole food cooks already know and love, including:

• Amaranth
• Avocado
• Blueberries
• Chia seeds
• Cinnamon
• Coconut
• Edamame
• Flax seeds
• Ginger
• Kale
• Lentils
• Pumpkin
• Sweet Potato
• Quinoa

These tasty, nutritious plant-based foods are used in a diverse array of soups, salads, breakfast, smoothies, entrees, and wholesome desserts. Some of my favorite recipes include Jess’ sunflower seed and sprout pad Thai:

Sunflower Seed and Sprout Pad Thai. Credit Jackie Sobon

Her sundried tomato and coconut quinoa burgers:

Sundried Tomato and Coconut Quinoa Burgers. Credit Jackie Sobon

Her coconut kale soup:

Coconut Kale Soup with Cashew Creme Fraiche. Credit Jackie Sobon

And her delicious minty matcha nanaimo bars:

Minty Matcha Nanaimo Bars. Credit Jackie Sobon

As you can see, the book features beautiful photography from the very talented Jackie Sobon, and the images alone will entice you to give some of these superfoods a try, if you don’t know and love them already.

The book features fun facts about Jess’ favorite superfood ingredients, from nuts and seeds to fruits and legumes, as well as some general cooking tips and even several superfood-themed meal plans. As always, her tone is warm, welcoming, and accessible, and her recipes are totally unfussy. Jess makes it easy to love healthful ingredients.

I chose Jess’ brussels sprout latkes with tofu sour cream to share today because the recipe combines two of my favorite categories of vegan superfoods: brassicas and soy. Beyond that, the recipe perfectly captures Jess’ talent for folding super wholesome ingredients into comforting, homey dishes–dishes that you want to eat again and again. These latkes have a lighter and crisper texture than traditional potato versions, as well as a beautiful green hue, but they’re every bit as addictive. See for yourself!

Brussels Sprout Latkes with Tofu Sour Cream. Credit Jackie Sobon

Jess Nadel’s Brussels Sprout Latkes with Tofu Sour Cream
Author: Gena Hamshaw
Recipe type: Small plates, side dishes, light bites
Cuisine: vegan, nut free, gluten free optional
Prep time:  15 mins
Cook time:  15 mins
Total time:  30 mins

Serves: 4-6 servings

  • 2 cups (180 g) shredded Brussels sprouts
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium potato, grated
  • 2 chia eggs (see below)
  • ¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour or gluten-free all purpose flour
  • pinch of paprika
  • fresh chives, chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a little oil, for frying
For the Tofu “Sour Cream”:
  • 1 x 12 oz (350 g) package firm silken tofu
  • 2 tablespoons umeboshi vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

  1. For the chia eggs, follow these instructions: to make one chia egg, mix 1 tablespoon of whole or ground chia seed with 3 tablespoons of water and let it sit for 5 minutes. The mixture will gel and become a bit gloopy, like a raw egg. Stir again and the “egg” is ready for use. It’s best used in baked goods.
  2. To prepare the latkes, in a medium bowl, mix together the Brussels sprouts, onion, and potato. Add the chia eggs and toss to combine.
  3. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, paprika, and a little sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle this over the vegetable mixture and fold in to create a thick batter.
  4. Heat a little oil in a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Scoop out ¼ cup (60 ml) of batter and place in the oil, flattening it with the back of a spatula. Repeat with three more scoops to fill the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, then flip and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the underside is also golden brown. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and then repeat with the remaining batter. If not serving immediately, keep warm in the oven at 250°F (120°C).
  5. For the tofu “sour cream,” place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Alternatively, a hand-held immersion blender can be used. Any leftover cream can be stored for up to five days in the fridge.
  6. To serve, top the latkes with a dollop of cream and a sprinkle of chives.

Recipe from Superfoods 24/7: More than 100 Easy and Inspired Recipes to Enjoy the World’s Most Nutritious Foods at Every Meal, Every Day © Quantum Publishing, 2015. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com.


Want to explore Superfoods 24/7 ? Awesome. Jess and her publisher, The Experiment, are generously sharing a copy with a US or Canadian reader today. Simply enter below to win, and I’ll be emailing the lucky reader in two weeks!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, friends! And I hope you’ll explore more of Jessica’s soulful recipes by checking out her blog, Cupcakes and Kale, or by finding her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.



On the topic of giveaways, there are still three days left in my giveaway to win a free Blendtec designer 625 high speed blender. Enter if you haven’t already, and while you’re at it, grab a super spicy and delightful butternut squash and five spice soup recipe.

And I wish you all a wonderful start to the weekend. See you soon, for weekend reading.


The post Jess Nadel’s Brussels Sprout Latkes with Tofu Sour Cream appeared first on The Full Helping.

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Creamy Amaranth Polenta and Chickpea Marinara

Creamy Amaranth Polenta and Chickpea Marinara | The Full Helping

If you’ve got a date night planned at home this year for Valentine’s Day, then allow me to suggest this creamy amaranth polenta and chickpea marinara as your main event. It’s easy to prepare, but it has the aroma and flavor of something slow-simmered and traditional. Best of all, it’s a wonderful way to showcase amaranth, a more unconventional, yet highly nutritious, whole grain.

Creamy Amaranth Polenta and Chickpea Marinara | The Full Helping

I created this dish with Steven in mind, as he’s a huge fan of any type of polenta. We enjoy it often at home and in many ways: grilled, baked, simmered on the stovetop, or cut into croutons. We’ve made it with millet, cornmeal, and even quinoa. Amaranth lends itself perfectly to a polenta preparation because it’s so finely textured, not unlike cornmeal. The resulting dish has just the slightest bit of chew (amaranth grains have character, in spite of their tiny size), as well as a creaminess and heft. It’s a hearty, surprisingly satisfying take on a classic.

Creamy Amaranth Polenta and Chickpea Marinara | The Full Helping

This dish isn’t only about the polenta, though: it’s also a perfect vehicle for what may be my new favorite pasta sauce, grain topper, etc. The chickpea marinara here comes together in a snap using pantry ingredients, which means that it’s perfect for cold weather, for last-minute entertaining, or simply for creating an easy, economical, and highly flavorful all-purpose sauce. I can’t wait to enjoy the leftovers over rice or quinoa, or as a topping for penne.

Creamy Amaranth Polenta and Chickpea Marinara
Author: Gena Hamshaw
Recipe type: Main dish, entree
Cuisine: vegan, gluten free, soy free optional, nut free optional
Prep time:  10 mins
Cook time:  30 mins
Total time:  40 mins

Serves: 4 servings

5.0 from 1 reviews


For the chickpea marinara:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon crushed thyme
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Dash crushed red pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (or regular diced tomatoes)
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1½ cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
For the polenta:
  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ½ cup salt
  • 1½ cups amaranth
  • ⅔ cups almond or soy milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Black pepper to taste

  1. To make the marinara, heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sugar. Saute and brown the onions for 5-7 minutes, or until they’re golden. (Add a few tablespoons of water as you go if the onions start to stick to the bottom of the pot.) Add the garlic and saute for two minutes. Stir in the oregano, thyme, salt, red pepper, tomatoes, tomato paste, and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. To prepare the polenta, bring the broth and salt to boil in a medium sized pot. When it boils, whisk in the amaranth and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently for 20-25 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and a bit bubbly. Stir in the plant-based milk, nutritional yeast, garlic, and pepper. Simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the polenta has a thick texture and the amaranth is chewy yet tender, adding an extra splash of milk if it becomes overly thick.
  3. Divide the amaranth into four bowls and top each with a cup of chickpea marinara. Serve.

Leftover marinara will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.


This is the first preparation I’ve found for amaranth that makes it highly enjoyable without the need to mix it with other grains. I often find the texture of amaranth to be too gummy, but here, that texture really works, and the fact that the grain is stirred with broth and a touch of plant milk right until serving keeps it light and creamy. Amaranth is relatively high in both protein and calcium, as well as magnesium and potassium, so it’s most definitely a nutrient dense grain to include in your diet–and a great option for gluten-free folks.

Of course, if you don’t have amaranth or you don’t care for it, regular polenta will work perfectly in the recipe (follow your usual cooking method and prepare the sauce alongside), and you can also use the chickpea marinara to top a bowl of regular pasta.

I hope you’ll enjoy the dish no matter how you plate it!

Creamy Amaranth Polenta and Chickpea Marinara | The Full Helping

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing a terrific recipe from my friend Jess Nadel’s creative new cookbook, Superfoods 24/7, and hosting a giveaway as well. I hope to see you then!


The post Creamy Amaranth Polenta and Chickpea Marinara appeared first on The Full Helping.

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Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies

Vegan, gluten free chocolate cherry almond cookies | The Full Helping

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I would call these sweets for my sweet, but sadly, Steven won’t be enjoying these chewy chocolate cherry almond cookies with me. As I think I’ve mentioned in the past, he’s allergic to chocolate, which means that the cookies are essentially my Valentine’s Day treat to myself! I’ll be sharing a recipe later this week that’s my Valentine’s Day culinary offering to Steven. In the meantime, what a treat these cookies are: tender, studded with chunks of dark chocolate and chopped dried cherries, and deliciously sweet.

Vegan, gluten free chocolate cherry almond cookies | The Full Helping

The inspiration for these cookies was Merrill Stubb’s soft chocolate cherry almond cookies, which were served at the Food52 Holiday Shop. They looked terrific, and folks were raving about them, so I had the idea to try my hand at a vegan version. It’s taken nearly two months, but the recipe was well worth the wait.

Vegan, gluten free chocolate cherry almond cookies | The Full Helping

The key to the soft, chewy texture of these cookies is a mixture of almond flour and oat flour, as well as Earth Balance for super authentic, buttery results. I’m sure that a lot of you don’t have Earth Balance at home, and with that in mind, I tested the recipe using solid coconut oil, too. The resulting cookies have the same chocolatey flavor, but they’re definitely a bit plumper and much crispier than the Earth Balance version, as you can see below (coconut oil version is on the bottom). I’d say that the texture is more biscotti-like.

Vegan, gluten free chocolate cherry almond cookies | The Full Helping

I’ve given instructions for both versions in the recipe. If you don’t have dried cherries, dried cranberries are a perfectly good substitute. Dark chocolate chunks or chips make the recipe a snap, but if you don’t have those, you can chop up the equivalent amount of vegan dark chocolate instead: just be sure that the pieces aren’t too big.

Vegan, gluten free chocolate cherry almond cookies | The Full Helping

Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies (Inspired by Merrill Stubb’s Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies for Food52)
Author: Gena Hamshaw
Recipe type: dessert
Cuisine: vegan, gluten free, soy free optional
Prep time:  1 hour
Cook time:  12 mins
Total time:  1 hour 12 mins

Serves: 24-30 large cookies

  • 1½ teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer, mixed with 2 tablespoons warm water or 1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax seed mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water)
  • 1¼ cups almond flour
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons oat flour
  • ⅓ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 10 tablespoons Earth Balance buttery sticks at room temperature, or 10 tablespoons solid coconut oil (see note for instructions on using coconut oil)
  • ⅔ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cane sugar, plus extra for rolling
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ⅔ cup bittersweet or semi-sweet vegan chocolate chunks or chips
  • ½ cup chopped dried cherries (substitute dried cranberries)

  1. Place the flours, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Place the Earth Balance in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a handheld mixer on low speed). Beat on medium low speed for one minute. Add the sugars, egg replacer, vanilla, and salt. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes, or until mixture is fluffy. Add half of the flour mixture and beat for another minute. Add the remaining flour and beat to incorporate. Add the cherries and chocolate and beat quickly on low speed, until they’re just incorporated.
  3. Place the dough in a bowl and cover. Let it sit in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two cookie baking sheets with parchment.
  4. Remove dough from fridge. Place about a half cup of cane sugar into a plate. Roll the dough into 1½ inch balls, then roll them in the sugar. Place them 2 inches apart on your baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the cookies are still soft in the middle but firm on the edges. Allow them to cool a bit before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely. Enjoy!

If you use coconut oil in place of earth balance, increase the coarse salt in the recipe to 1 whole teaspoon. In step 2 of the recipe, add the solid coconut oil, egg replacer, sugars, vanilla, and salt to the stand mixer all at once. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is well combined and fluffy, then follow remaining instructions.

Leftover cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to four days.


As an early Valentine’s Day treat, I brought some of these cookies to my mom over the weekend. As gracious a recipe tester as she is, my mom usually registers the complaint that my baked goods aren’t quite sweet enough. This time, though, all she could say was “they’re delicious!”

Vegan, gluten free chocolate cherry almond cookies | The Full Helping

Don’t take my word for it, though: give the cookies a try, and see if they satisfy your vegan chocolate fix. I hope you love them, and I’d love to hear how it goes if you try them at home!

In other news, thanks a million for the helpful feedback on my SNAP challenge for Community nutrition, and keep your thoughts coming. I think I will be sharing here on the blog, but I’ll be doing my very best to make my reflections as nuanced as I possibly can. I’d also love for readers who use SNAP or grew up using the program to comment and share that week, if they wish to.

More on all of this soon. And I’ll be back on Thursday with a dinner recipe that’s easy, flavorful, and perfect for a Valentine’s Day date night at home. Have a great Tuesday!


The post Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies appeared first on The Full Helping.

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Menu Plan Monday: Amaranth Polenta, Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup, Cauliflower Tacos, and More


Happy Monday, friends. I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend!

This week’s menu plan is a little more fun than last week’s, which was circumscribed by an exam. I’m making my African spiced yellow split pea and sweet potato soup again (with a few tiny modifications). I’ve been eating it often this winter; it’s cheap, filling, nutrient dense, and I love the color and spice combination. I’m also excited to whip up the cauliflower and oyster mushroom tacos from Food52 Vegan on Friday night (they are a favorite recipe of mine from the book), as well as a new amaranth polenta recipe on Wednesday. If that one’s a hit, you’ll be seeing it on the blog!

Menu Plan Monday

Here’s what’s ahead:


African spiced split pea and sweet potato soup
Slow cooker black bean, butternut squash, and quinoa chili
●New amaranth polenta recipe
Cauliflower and oyster mushroom tacos


●Basmati rice (to stir in the split pea and sweet potato soup)
●Bicolor quinoa
Turmeric tahini dressing


The Menu Plan

Sunday/Monday: African spiced split pea and sweet potato soup (with carrots and celery thrown in) | Big salad or steamed greens with turmeric tahini dressing

Tuesday: Leftover slow cooker black bean, butternut squash, and quinoa chili | Sauteed collards

Wednesday: New amaranth polenta recipe | Big salad with lemon vinaigrette

Thursday: Leftover yam and peanut stew with kale (from the freezer) | Green bean and walnut salad

FridayCauliflower and oyster mushroom tacos from Food52 Vegan

Saturday: Sweetgreen salads to-go (there’s a new sweetgreen in the neighborhood, and sometimes we make it our Saturday night treat) or something from the freezer


Before I sign off for today, I wanted to float a question to readers. As part of my Community class this semester, all students are being asked to do the SNAP challenge for seven days. This challenge is intended to help participants better understand what it means to be food insecure and have only SNAP benefits available for the weekly acquisition of food. You can read more about the challenge here and here.

Typically the challenge is to spend no more than $4.50 per day on food (about $31.50 for the week, per person). My class is being given a $40 maximum, which is pretty generous. If another person in our household wishes to participate as well, we’re invited to combine food budgets (so, $80 for two people). We only shop at grocery stores or farmers markets that accept food stamps, and we can’t pick up any additional food (so: no grabbing a cup of coffee at Starbucks, no restaurant dining, no takeout, no grab-n-go food). We can use spices, herbs, and oils from our pantry, but we have to purchase everything else we’ll eat (which means that we can’t use other pantry items we have on hand).

While I’ll be doing as much grocery planning as I always do at the start of my week, we’ve been encouraged not to plan things too meticulously; the goal of the challenge isn’t to game the system by coming up with an elaborate scheme to maximize the given budget. I’ll be thinking about recipes that I can stretch for the week, but I won’t be turning it into a perfect science, either. Steven wants to participate with me, and we’re going to try to shoot closer to a $63.00 budget for two people, rather than $80, if possible.

I’m thinking about sharing the challenge in my Menu Plan Monday post for that respective week, as well as sharing some of the recipes I make while on the challenge. I wanted to take your temperature on it first, though — is this something you’d all be interested in reading about? In full disclosure, while I look forward to the challenge, I also have some conflicted feelings. To some degree it feels problematic to be a tourist for seven days in a scenario that defines everyday life for so many, and I wonder if it actually underscores privilege. Still, I hope the challenge will give me (and all of my fellow classmates) a better understanding of what it means to have one’s food choices circumscribed each week, and I hope that I might become a more conscious consumer as a result.

Curious to hear if you’d like to follow along here on the blog — and if not, that’s cool, too!

Have a wonderful Monday, all.


The post Menu Plan Monday: Amaranth Polenta, Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup, Cauliflower Tacos, and More appeared first on The Full Helping.

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Weekend Reading, 2.6.16


Happy Saturday, everyone. I’m happy to see that the slow cooker chili was a hit (a few folks have already let me know, via Instagram and FB, that they made it, and they seem to have loved it as much as I have). I’ll definitely be posting more slow cooker recipes in the coming year, as that kitchen appliance is quickly becoming a grad school lifesaver! (And I’ll always try to give a stovetop version of things, too).

By the way, if you make a recipe and enjoy it, or if you come up with a cool modification, please let me know here on the blog or on social media. I always get a kick out of hearing how my recipes could be modified or tweaked in fun and interesting ways!

This has been a nonstop week, between exam cramming and new clients and teaching a class yesterday at ICE (which was a blast). We featured recipes from Food52 Vegan, and at the end of class all of the students and I were able to sit down to a shared meal. I loved that the class was broken up into seasoned vegan home cooks, longtime vegans who aren’t really in the habit of cooking but want to learn, omnivores with curiosity about meatless meals, and total kitchen newbies. It was a diverse, enthusiastic group, and we had a lot of fun together.


And now, I’m gathering some culinary inspiration from friends around the web. Here’s what I’m finding.


First, some breakfast fare. These whole grain pancakes from Sophie of Wholehearted Eats are delicate enough to double as hearty crepes, and they’re ingenious–just a super simple ingredient list of quinoa, millet, buckwheat, chia, baking powder, and sea salt. Proof that pancake recipes don’t need to be fussy in order to turn out beautifully. The sunny citrus accompaniments are a nice touch, too.


I was excited to see that my friend Ashley was inspired by the lemon hemp dressing on my blog (which is at this point practically a weekly staple for me, and I know it’s a reader favorite, too) to create a delicious orange maple hemp dressing, and an even more delicious (not to mention visually stunning) kale and delicata squash salad to accompany it.


Alexandra’s Leblebi (North African chickpea soup) looks like the perfect hearty and easy meal to whip up when you’ve got a bag of dried chickpeas at home. Paired with flatbread or pita, it’s a perfect lunch or dinner.


It’s still brussels sprout season, and these tasty brussels sprout and soba noodle salad bowls are a great way to show those crucifers off. I love Adrianna’s colorful avocado, sesame, and ginger garnishes — they add brightness and texture to these simple and homey noodle bowls.


Finally, dessert. One of the recipes we made in my cooking class yesterday were the Mexican chocolate date “truffles” from Food52 Vegan; I chose them because they’re simple, no-bake, no-fuss, and I know the whole class could participate in the fun of rolling them together.

These cacao almond truffles from the lovely folks at Cocoon Cooks show off the same idea: an easy, healthful way to chocolate dessert bliss. What a great idea for easy Valentine’s Day giving!


This month, my Food, Nutrition, and Behavior class has been focusing on the origins of taste and taste perception. We’re delving into the question of whether or not taste for sugar is innate, and if so, what purpose does it serve? How and why does taste evolve as we get older, and are there any genetic pre-determinants for our predilections for things like bitterness or spiciness? What’s the evolutionary explanation for liking spicy foods?

It’s all really interesting stuff, and because it’s on my mind, I took note of NPR’s interview with food writer Bee Wilson, whose new book, First Bite, covers many of these topics. Wilson also touches on parental feeding styles (authoritarian and permissive) in the interview, which ties in nicely with some of what I learned in my human development class last semester.


While we’re on the topic of taste, this article by Mary Roach came out in 2007, but it’s still an engaging and curious exploration of how and why taste can differ dramatically from person to person. There’s evidence that there are genetic underpinnings of some of our tastes (the taste for bitterness, for instance), and amniotic fluid contains flavor molecules that can ultimately influence a newborn’s taste. But even from sibling to sibling, there can be vast differences, as Roach demonstrates when she compares her own adventurous eating preferences to her brother’s very conservative ones.


Since sweetness seems to be a universal human preference, let’s talk ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s revealed its four new vegan flavors this week, and I have to say, they all sound delicious (coffee caramel fudge, anyone?).


Some good potential policy news: President Obama is proposing in his 2017 budget that all families who qualify for subsidized school meals be given a special electronic benefits card that will allow them to buy an additional $45 in groceries per child each month when school is out.

Many low-income children who receive free and reduced price meals during the school year have a difficult time obtaining enough food during the summer, when schools are closed. This is especially difficult in rural areas, where transportation to feeding sites can be a problem. Hopefully the proposed initiative might help to keep kids well fed all year round.


Finally, some levity. This Buzzfeed article pokes fun at the way that male and female scientists’ biographies are relayed differently. I’ll let the article do the talking!

On that note, friends, I wish you a lovely, restful weekend. See you on Monday with a new weekly dinner menu plan.


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Slow Cooker Black Bean, Butternut Squash & Quinoa Chili

Slow Cooker Black Bean, Butternut Squash & Quinoa Chili | The Full Helping

As I mentioned in my Menu Plan Monday post for the week, this is the week of squash. Creamy butternut squash and five spice soup earlier this week, and a really delicious, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs slow cooker black bean, butternut squash and quinoa chili today. I didn’t plan on all of the squash, but I’m certainly not complaining (I know that I’ll soon be missing winter squash as spring and summer roll around, no matter how many other vegetables there will be to savor!).

This is also a week of intense schoolwork. I have my first Advanced Nutrition II exam this evening, and I’m more than a little nervous about it. It’s a difficult class, taught by a detail-oriented medical school professor, and the level of complexity reminds me quite a bit of my post-bacc chemistry and biochemistry courses. It’s hard not to feel some of the old anxiety rushing back, the fear and the sensation of helplessness I used to experience as I entered a test, totally uncertain about what to expect and whether or not I’d studied the right things.

Slow Cooker Black Bean, Butternut Squash & Quinoa Chili | The Full Helping

So it’s a good time for comfort food, for something warming and hearty and uplifting. This spicy, flavorful chili is just that, and it’s also perfect exam fuel. It’s packed with satiating protein, energy-sustaining complex carbs, a healthy dose of iron, and a slew of healthful phytonutrients–I couldn’t ask for a more nutrient dense meal. Better yet, it’s a slow cooker recipe, which means that I was able to whip it up even during a week when preoccupation with schoolwork made it very tempting not to cook. If you don’t have a slow cooker, no worries: I’ve given a stovetop option, too.

Like many of the recipes I’ve been making lately, this one feeds a crowd. It makes about 12 cups by my count, a generous 6-8 servings of food, depending on your appetite. You can cut the recipe in half if your slow cooker is 4 quarts or smaller, or if you make it over the stovetop.

These days, though, I see so much value in batch cooking, no matter how many people one is initially cooking for. Steven and I rarely finish a huge recipe like this in a week; we love leftovers, but after three days or so we start to crave variety. Still, I always freeze what we don’t eat, often in individual portions, and I don’t know what I’d do without these freezer staples during super busy weeks.

Slow Cooker Black Bean, Butternut Squash & Quinoa Chili | The Full Helping

As you’ll see, there are ways to jazz this dish up a little, using chopped herbs, green onion, or a dollop of tofu sour cream, which I’ve included the recipe for. It’s really quick and easy to make, and it can work in a variety of soups or stews, or on top of a baked potato. Whether you add toppings or not, you’ll have tons of flavor to savor in this chili. Smoked paprika, chipotle peppers, chili powder, and cumin really bring it to life, and I added just a pinch of cayenne for a little extra heat.

Slow Cooker Black Bean, Butternut Squash & Quinoa Chili
Author: Gena Hamshaw
Recipe type: main dish, entree
Cuisine: vegan, gluten free, nut free, soy free optional
Prep time:  15 mins
Cook time:  6 hours
Total time:  6 hours 15 mins

Serves: 6-8 servings

For the chili:
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1½ tablespoons chipotle en adobo (about 1 pepper and juices), finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • Pinch cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth or water
  • 3 cups cooked black beans (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1 – 1¼ pounds peeled, cubed butternut squash (about 1 small squash)
  • 1 can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (don’t drain)
  • 1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed under running water in a fine sieve for about a minute
  • Optional toppings: Tofu sour cream (below), chopped green or red onions, chopped parsley, chopped cilantro, avocado slices, guacamole, hot sauce
For the tofu sour cream:
  • 8 ounces silken tofu
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  1. To make the tofu sour cream, simply place all ingredients in a blender or a food processor and blend till smooth.
  2. For the most flavorful chili results, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and a pinch of salt, to get the onions sweating. Sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are soft and clear. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add ¼ cup water, the tomato paste, the chipotle en adobo, the chili powder, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne. Allow it to cook for one more minute, stirring to incorporate all of the ingredients.
  3. Add the broth, black beans, squash, diced tomatoes and their juices, and quinoa to your slow cooker. Add the cooked onion, garlic, and spice mixture. Stir everything to combine well. Cook on low heat for 6 hours. Before serving, give the chili a good stir and add some additional vegetable broth if you’d like it to be less thick. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve with toppings of choice.
  4. Alternately, you can simply add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker and cook for 6 hours on low. If you have the time, browning the onions and garlic will give you most flavor. See note for stovetop option!

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days, and can be frozen for up to 1 month.

To prepare on the stovetop, follow step 1 of the instructions, using a large soup pot instead of a sauté pan as your cooking vessel. Add the broth, black beans, squash, diced tomatoes and their juices, and quinoa to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 35-40 minutes, or until the quinoa has cooked and all of the squash is very tender. Add some extra broth or water if the chili becomes too thick for your taste. Adjust seasonings and serve with toppings of choice.


This recipe is destined to become a slow cooker go-to for me. I love all of the texture, the combination of a nutty grain, tender, sweet squash, and chewy black beans. It’s such a satisfying meal, especially for cold months–and also for a day on which you’re feeling just a little anxious or vulnerable or overwhelmed. I have plenty of regrets about my post-bacc, but one thing I don’t regret is having managed to take care of my body, even when I was at my most stressed and unhappy. I didn’t relapse, and I kept myself nourished with good meals, and this kind of self-care is something I’m happy to carry into my RD education.

Slow Cooker Black Bean, Butternut Squash & Quinoa Chili | The Full Helping

Hope you’ll let this bowl of vegan goodness take care of you, too. Enjoy the recipe.


The post Slow Cooker Black Bean, Butternut Squash & Quinoa Chili appeared first on The Full Helping.

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Creamy Butternut Squash and Five-Spice Soup + Blendtec Giveaway!

Creamy butternut squash and five spice soup | The Full Helping

As I was writing this post, I realized that I actually have very few butternut squash soups on the blog. It’s a strange oversight, because I love squash soup, and it’s probably my most reliable “go-to” when it comes to an easy fall or winter appetizer. This creamy butternut squash and five spice soup features a unique flavor addition of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds–the characteristic blend known as Chinese five-spice powder.

I purchased a bottle of Chinese five-spice this past fall, prompted by my best friend and her husband, who traveled to China last year and returned home with lots of culinary inspiration (and quite a few bags of spices and peppers). I’ve fallen in love with the stuff; it’s a perfect compliment to sweet and savory dishes, and as many longtime readers of this blog know, I have a weakness for those!

Creamy butternut squash and five-spice soup | The Full Helping

The silky smooth texture of this soup is thanks to a new kitchen asset: the Blendtec Designer 625 high speed blender.

Blendtec Giveaway | The Full Helping

When the folks at Blendtec reached out to me about an opportunity to share a brand new Designer 625 blender with one of my readers, I was thrilled. I’ve been personally curious about the Blendtec for a long time; I know it’s one of the most powerful high speed blenders on the market, and I’ve heard awesome things about both its lightweight quality and also the variable settings (which make it easy to blend for an appropriate time, based on what sort of recipe you’re creating).

Now that I’ve had a chance to use the Blendtec Designer 625 for several weeks, I’ve been thrilled with it. I’ve owned a Vitamix for a long time, and it’s also a wonderful machine, but I think the Blendtec has a few features that make it really unique within the high-speed blender market.

First, it’s lightweight, which means that it’s easy to keep in a cabinet or hutch and then effortlessly carry to the countertop when you’re ready to cook. This is a huge advantage for those of us who don’t have enough counter space to house a sizeable blender permanently. It’s also shorter and wider than other high speed blenders, which means that it can fit under a cabinet on your countertop if you do wish to store it there. The wide, square bottom means that it’s seriously easy to clean (much easier than any blender I’ve ever used)–no more awkwardly trying to scrub at the blade. Finally, it features a super attractive, illuminated surface that lights up in response to touch and has a few programed cycles: smoothie, ice cream, whole juice, hot soup. You can use these cycles as a guide for blending, and as you blend, the touch screen will actually show you how many more seconds or minutes is advisable for the dish you’re making.

Blendtec Giveaway | The Full Helping

The folks at Blendtec also shared with me their special twister jar, which is designed for blending thicker mixtures, including homemade nut butters, nut cheeses, hummus, and single serve ice cream. I’m sure that some of you have experienced a common blender pitfall, which is that you have to add a lot of water to the machine to get hummus or cashew cheese blending. This can dilute the recipe more than is desirable. The twist jar allows you to grind denser foods without making them overly watery, and it’s a really handy tool to have around.

I’ll be offering a Blendtec Designer 625 and Twister Jar to one luck reader at the end of this post, so stay tuned for details!

But in the meantime, let’s get back to this soup business. As you can see, I topped the soup with a small scoop of seasoned black rice. It was a wonderful way to add texture (which is important when it comes to blended soups) and some extra satiety to the dish. You can definitely omit the rice from the recipe, but if you make it, you’ll probably be glad you did, and you’ll have some leftover rice for salads, bowls, and other meals. I’ve included instructions for both the rice and the soup.

Creamy butternut squash and five-spice soup | The Full Helping

Creamy Butternut Squash and Five-Spice Soup
Author: Gena Hamshaw
Recipe type: soup
Cuisine: vegan, gluten free, soy free
Prep time:  15 mins
Cook time:  40 mins
Total time:  55 mins

Serves: 4-6 servings

5.0 from 2 reviews


For the creamy butternut squash and five-spice soup:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-Spice powder
  • Dash crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 pounds peeled and cubed butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup coconut milk
For the black rice (optional, for adding to bowls):
  • 1 cup black rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons tamari
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (or 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar)

  1. To make the soup, heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions appear soft and clear. Stir in the garlic and ginger. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, adding a few tablespoons of water as needed to prevent the veggies from sticking or burning.
  2. Stir in the five spice powder, red pepper, and salt, and give everything a good stir. Add the butternut squash, syrup, broth, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the squash is very tender.
  3. Transfer the soup to a blender in two batches and blend on high speed until it’s completely smooth, being very careful to keep the lid on tight (hot liquids will spatter). Alternately, you can use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Transfer the blended soup back to your pot and stir in the coconut milk. Check the soup for seasoning and adjust spices to taste.
  4. To make the black rice topping, bring 1 cup of black rice and 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan while your soup is simmering. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed. Fluff the rice, cover, and allow it to rest for a few minutes. Then, stir in the tamari, sesame oil, and mirin or rice vinegar. Serve the soup with about a quarter cup of rice topping per bowl.

Leftover soup will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days and can be frozen for up to one month. Leftover black rice will keep for up to three days.


Now that I’ve tried this squash and five-spice combination, I have a lot of other ideas for ways that I might pair them! But for now, I’m happy to have soup leftovers in my fridge and a few portions already tucked away in my freezer. The soup is perfect for this time of year–nourishing, creamy, warming–and I’m happy to have discovered it. (The leftover black rice is great in lunchbowls, too–you can see an example from my Instagram feed yesterday below!)

Lunch Bowl

Blendtec Designer 625 & Twister Jar Giveaway

Here are the details: Blendtec will be sending one lucky US or Canadian reader a Blendtec Designer 625. The package includes:

●Designer 625 motor base
●BPA-free jar with vented Gripper™ lid
●Blending 101 quick-start guide and recipes
●Twister jar with patented Twister lid

I’ll be running this giveaway for two weeks, until February 15, and you can enter to win below. Good luck! I can’t wait to share the gift of powerful blending 😉

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck with the giveaway, friends, and I hope you can all cozy up to a warm, vibrant bowl of soup very soon.



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Menu Plan Monday: Butternut Squash Soup, Quinoa Chili, Rustic Chickpea, Cabbage, and Wild Rice Soup, and More


Happy Monday, everyone! I’m having a busy start to the week, so I’m grateful that this week’s menu plan features a lot of batch cooking, as well as a bunch of leftovers from our trusty freezer. I noticed last week that the freezer was getting a bit crowded, and I have my first exam of the semester on Thursday night, so this week presents me with a perfect opportunity to defrost and create some space for leftovers.

Menu Plan Monday

Just as I inadvertently planned the week of quinoa a few weeks back, this appears to be the week of butternut squash. Or, more broadly, the week of beta carotene, because there’s some sweet potato thrown in the mix, too. Fortunately, a glut of winter squash and other root veggies isn’t something I’ll ever complain about! (I was sad when I polished off my root vegetable panzanella leftovers last week.)


Dinner last night included a creamy, spiced butternut squash soup that I’ll be sharing the recipe for tomorrow. It was delicious, and we’ve got enough leftover for tonight, along with a hearty salad. Tomorrow I’m trying my hand at a quinoa, black bean, and butternut squash chili in the slow cooker (I have class Tuesday night, so it’s a good day for setting and forgetting), which I’ll share on Thursday if it’s a success!

The rest of the week is all about leftovers for lunch and dinner–and thankfully, I’ve got some good leftovers to savor, including my rustic cabbage, chickpea and wild rice soup and a portion of my African yam and peanut stew with kale.


Here’s what’s getting cooked:


●Butternut squash and five-spice soup
●Slow cooker quinoa, black bean, and butternut squash chili

Simple Staples

●Black rice
●Baked tofu
Spicy carrot chili vinaigrette


The Menu Plan:

Sunday & Monday: Butternut squash and five-spice soup | Big salad with mizuna, cabbage, black rice, baked tofu, and spicy carrot chili vinaigrette

Tuesday & Wednesday: Quinoa, black bean, and butternut squash chili with tofu sour cream | Roasted broccoli or sautéed collard greens

Thursday & Friday: Rustic chickpea, cabbage, and wild rice soup | Toast | Big green salad with spicy carrot chili vinaigrette

Saturday: Yam and peanut stew with kale | Basmati rice | Cauliflower with carrot chili vinaigrette

I’m looking forward to the week ahead, especially as I’ll be sharing Monday and Tuesday’s recipes with all of you.

Speaking of that, tomorrow’s soup recipe will be accompanied by a super exciting kitchen appliance giveaway! You don’t want to miss this one, so be sure to check in tomorrow for details. Till then, I wish you a great Monday.


Butternut squash image source
Quinoa image source

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Weekend Reading, 1.31.16


Happy Sunday, everyone. I was happy to see such supportive and thoughtful responses to Alisa’s green recovery story on Friday (and I got a few green recovery submissions over email that night, which is always a big treat). Thank you for sharing your impressions, and if you haven’t read Alisa’s perspective, it’s really thought-provoking and worth exploring.

It’s the end of another busy week, and so I took some moments this morning to catch up on health and wellness news, recipes from around the web, and other reading. Here’s what caught my attention.



First up, I just love Jodi’s beautiful white bean, fennel seed, and lemon soup with crispy brussels sprout leaves. I’m a huge fan of lemony soups, and I bet the brightness of lemon contrasts nicely with the creaminess of the beans here.


Speaking of the white bean + fennel combo, these white bean burgers with fennel slaw from Sasha of Tending the Table look so, so good. I’ve made many a bean burger, but I haven’t often used white beans as my base — time to change that. (Use Veganaise and maple syrup in place of the mayo and honey to veganize the sauce.)


My friend Margaret’s slow roasted buddha bowls with kale & sunflower seed pesto look so hearty and abundant. I love all of the variety and color here, and the dollop of pesto completes the dish!


This is my idea of perfect winter comfort food: an easy, adaptable red miso soup that’s loaded with any veggies you please.


Also some very fine comfort food: a beautiful bowl of puttanesca pasta from Nourish Atelier.



First up in reads, a new study that suggests that eating too few polyunsaturated fats from plant sources is actually a greater health risk than failure to reduce saturated fat in the diet. This is in the wake of the new dietary guidelines, which emphasize reduction of saturated fat overall (though they fail to give clear language about which foods should be reduced or eliminated).

I think that the study is really interesting, though I did have some questions. For example, Time‘s coverage of the study reports that it implied that “only 3.6% of global heart deaths can be attributed to eating too much saturated fat, while just over 10% of heart deaths can be traced to eating too little plant oils — a three-fold difference.” Is this true only for failure to eat plant oils, or would the same be true of nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and other plant fats? And was it the plant oils specifically that were cardioprotective, or do people who consume more olive oil and other plant fats have other dietary habits that might explain their decreased risk?

Plenty of variables to separate, but interesting nonetheless, and certainly more proof that healthful fats have an important place in our diets.


When I saw the headline of this article–“Bad thoughts can’t make you sick, that’s just magical thinking“–I felt wary. I believe in psychosomatic illness, at least to the extent that I believe that stress, trauma, and anxiety can exert physiological effects on the body.

But the article wasn’t what I thought it would be, and it actually offers an important perspective for health care providers. If we overemphasize the role of psychosomatic illness, it argues, we may ultimately find ourselves attributing too many symptoms to stress or anxiety, potentially failing to spot other causes. This is certainly a real phenomenon, and it can delay the diagnosis of autoimmune diseases, chronic diseases, and other illnesses that are more mysterious and poorly understood.

The idea of psychosomatic illness is also tricky for clinicians because it can lead to the creation of “personality types” that we associate with certain symptoms, such as the classic association of a “Type A personality” with heart disease, or the unfortunate characterization of cancer patients as repressed worriers.

In the end, I think it’s important that we acknowledge the role that stress, emotion, life circumstance, and trauma can have in exacerbating or creating certain kinds of illnesses. But these factors shouldn’t be assumed or used to crowd out other lines of inquiry, and they shouldn’t be hastily attached to personality or gender.


An important article for women in the food industry, via Eater. It touches on the very problematic absence of paid maternity leave within the industry, and it suggests that this might be the main underlying cause of a culinary gender gap (which is often attributed to male chefs having more “aggressive” or dominant personalities).


I enjoyed Jeff Gordinier’s article about the tremendous energy and innovation that characterizes African-American cooking right now. As Gordinier notes, “a new generation of black chefs and cookbook authors has been reinventing, reinterpreting and reinvigorating what’s thought of as African-American food.”

I was also really happy to see Afro Vegan author Bryant Terry mentioned, as he’s a powerful food advocate.


Finally, I really enjoyed Michael Ruhlman’s recent article on healthwashing in The Washington Post. In spite of the provocative title, Ruhlman’s point is not to claim that kale isn’t a highly nutritious food. Rather, it’s to say that labeling foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy” in a vacuum can be highly misleading. Overall dietary patterns can either support or fail to support one’s health, but foods on their own aren’t healthy or unhealthy. They’re either nutritious or not-very-nutritious, and ultimately, the healthfulness of our diet is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that doesn’t hinge on emphasizing one food or eliminating another.

On that note, I wish you all a happy, peaceful Sunday. I’ll be back tomorrow to share my meal plan for the week!


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“I have taken small steps to get back to the center”: Alisa’s Green Recovery Story


With a new year comes an opportunity to share more Green Recovery narratives. This is the first story I’m posting for 2016, and it offers a unique perspective, one that few of these testimonials have shared so far.

Earlier this fall, a reader emailed me to say that she both appreciated the Green Recovery series and also found it to be triggering. One of her concerns was many of the stories implied that one can eat whatever one wants on a vegan diet, that the need to count, measure, or weigh disappears because the foods consumed are healthy, nourishing, and so on.

I agree that this message–the idea that you can eat whatever you want and as much as you want when you go vegan–is problematic. One can’t truly eat endlessly on any sort of diet (veganism included), and to imply as much may trigger binge eating or distort one’s sense of dietary balance. I do think that most vegans can eat a bit more volume than most omnivores, because the absence of animal fats usually creates a slightly less calorie-dense eating paradigm overall. But it’s not always the case, and it’s also not something that should be taken to extremes.

My reader’s email got me thinking about some comments and emails I’ve gotten over the years saying that Green Recovery stories can be both inspiring and also frustrating to read for those who are still in the grips of an ED. This feedback has made me intent on sharing more posts that highlight the complications and difficulties and impasses of recovery, as well as the breakthroughs.

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t believe that veganism is a “solution” to disordered eating, and the intention of Green Recovery isn’t to suggest as much. Rather, it’s to open up a dialog about the possibility of veganism offering a meaningful perspective to those who have struggled with EDs. For me, veganism was a turning point. It placed food my choices in a philosophical framework that allowed me to break free from some of the obsessions and fears. But I’d be nowhere without the work I did in therapy, as well as extensive self-reflection and honest dialog with family and friends.

In other words, veganism influenced my recovery, but it didn’t create it. And I think it’s important to share narratives that make clear that veganism is not therapeutic for everyone. Today’s story does just that, and it’s also an inspiring example of self-reflection in action. Because she’s the person who opened up this important dialog, here is Alisa’s story.

My “recovery” from disordered eating did not begin with adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle.

In fact, as of today, I have not recovered from disordered eating despite having been vegan for five years, meat free since 2006. While it is true that my diet now is more heavily focused on plant-based meals than in the past, and that I eat more nutrient-dense meals now than I did even just a few years ago, I am still in the clutches of my eating disorder, alternating between periods of bingeing and purging and restriction. Veganism did not “liberate” me from my eating disorder; instead, it merely gave me license to continue to binge and purge and restrict, even as the food groups on which I binged remained the same. In this way, my green recovery story is not a story of how veganism aided in my recovery from an eating disorder but rather a story about how I developed disordered eating, transitioning first to vegetarianism and later veganism, and maintained my disordered eating despite adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle.

Like many people who have contributed to this series, I come from a family preoccupied with food. My father’s family is from Italy, and my parents are both from the working-class. Visits to my paternal grandparents’ home were met with food: wandering through my grandfather’s garden and delighting in the abundance of zucchini planted with me in mind, eating pastina when sick, modeling my preference for warm polenta with milk after my grandfather’s. To say that food occupied space in my grandparents’ lives would be an understatement; for my grandparents, food was everything – from the garden planted each year that fed my father, his siblings, and, later, their children to the homemade peanut butter crackers that adorned the dining room table regardless of if visitors came or not. Food carried weight with my grandparents, both for what it meant culturally and because, at times, food had been scarce, and the ability to feed a family of six was a source of pride for my grandparents. As I began my transition to veganism, my grandmother confronted me with questions about what I would now eat; in reality, her questions were also about why I had rejected my cultural heritage, as food played a prominent role. To my grandmother, being vegan meant a move away from the family – a point of soreness that has been compounded by the other ways I’ve differentiated myself from my working-class home and past.

I went vegetarian in 2006, the same year I moved from my hometown to pursue a PhD in English. My transition to vegetarianism, then, coincided with a transition away from what was familiar – my home, my hometown, and faculty who had been largely supportive of my academic career. In truth, my transition to vegetarianism was unguided, not borne out of ethical concern for the well-being of animals but rather influenced by dating someone vegetarian and enjoying the meals she made. It is at this time, as well, that “restriction” meant only slowly eliminating foods I once enjoyed, foods that had been important to my family and attached to memories of my grandparents. In 2006, despite being moderately overweight (my father referred to me as a “chunky Italian girl”), my only preoccupation with food was that I would no longer enjoy these foods of my adolescence. In 2006 I also began seeing a therapist, but not for the reasons for which I now see her. At our first meeting, I told my therapist that despite feeling some sadness at eliminating meat and seafood and wanting to lose a few pounds, I didn’t have an issue with food or my size/shape. In other words, I didn’t have either disordered eating or body dysmorphia prior to or at the time of my transition to vegetarianism – a narrative in contrast to many in this series.

It wasn’t until 2007, a year after making the switch to a plant-based diet, that I developed disordered eating, and it was brought on by a confluence of factors. The university from where I received my PhD (trigger warning here) has one of the highest, national rates of eating disorders among all colleges in the U.S. – so high that the counseling center has a team of researchers to figure out why, and many dorm bathrooms are locked after a certain time to discourage purging. I spent five years teaching at this university, watching female students in their first semester begin to carve themselves into smaller and smaller frames until by their junior or senior years they were skeletal. I dealt with a student body that valued thinness for women all costs, often imposing on female students unrealistic expectations and reinforcing for many that to find their “merger” (when two graduates marry) they must be thin. The epidemic that plagued undergraduates spread to graduate students, some in my own department. Reflecting on the etiology of my eating disorder, I now understand that these factors – teaching students with disordered eating, watching graduate students mimic these unhealthy behaviors – contributed to what was becoming an unhealthy relationship with both food and my body.

Of course, contributing to this relationship, as well, was my inability to cope with new stressors in my life (being away from what was familiar, including my best friend and partner, and dealing with unsupportive faculty). I also believe that the root of my eating disorder is genetic, inherited from a father who vacillated between extremes in weight and attitudes toward exercise. Throughout the course of my graduate program, I did not recognize my relationship with food as an eating disorder, simply that I would binge eat, feel shameful and angry, resolve not to binge but do it anyway. As I have many times in my life, I spent much of my PhD program eating away my feelings – using food as a way to control what felt very out of control in my life, e.g. stability of job market, etc.

In the last year of my program, I routinely binged. The more stress I experienced, the more calories I consumed, often when my partner was not home or out of town. I did not weigh myself once in 2011, but I knew that I had put on considerable weight, and that I felt increasingly uncomfortable as a result. I graduated in 2011, accepted a job in nonprofit, and continued to binge. It is also in this year that I transitioned away from vegetarianism to veganism, although my diet still largely consisted of vegan convenience foods, the cheese pizza traded for the Daiya pizza and ice cream traded for the vegan variety. As is true today, veganism meant for me in 2011 an ethical decision, a conscious move away from the dairy industry and its mistreatment of cows and goats. It was not redemptive in the sense that it alleviated my disordered eating – only that it meant less animal suffering.

Flash forward to 2013 – still vegan and still overweight. In 2013, I decided to “get real” about my health and actively made strides to eat better and lose weight, which I did almost effortlessly; the closer I came to my weight loss goal, however, the more I restricted. I had traded binge eating for anorexia and suffered new health conditions as a result. After having gone four months without a period, I contacted my gynecologist, only to be told that perhaps I should start birth control to jump start my period. I did but have since stopped taking the medication. Sadly, not menstruating was not enough of a scare for me to gain weight or change my habits. I came to like the body I had developed, the aesthetic I had created, the way my body looked as I ran (am a marathon runner).

My new attitude towards food and my body now took up too much space in my therapy sessions, and I became frustrated with my therapist (still the same one as in 2006) who told me that I would need to gain weight to have a period. Eventually, my period resumed but left again once I resumed marathon training, even while on birth control. I began to eat more broadly and permissively, even while on a vegan diet, and I tried eating more during the day. I gained a few pounds but also gained back bingeing – brought on, likely, from such periods of restriction. Unlike in my graduate program, now I binged and ran off the calories or restricted, weighing myself daily. I developed an almost obsession with “clean eating” (orthorexia), and I had anxiety eating out or eating food others had prepared. I frequently found myself either trying to avoid food entirely or objectively bingeing, even at other people’s houses. I became embarrassed by my behavior and have been desperate to stop it, to reestablish a healthy relationship with food and my body.

Throughout this process – my move from understanding food as fuel to food as something to be counted and both feared and obsessed over – I have taken small steps to get back to the center, to establish moderation, to not vacillate between extremes. One way that I’ve done this is by talking with friends who have recovered from eating disorders, to practice (although I am not generally very successful) the strategies given to me by my therapist, and, lastly, to be open about having an eating disorder. This narrative, this history of my transition to both disordered eating and veganism, has been both cathartic and anxiety provoking, both liberating and restrictive, both helpful and harmful. I am glad to tell the truth about my eating disorder, but in writing my “recovery in progress” (because, again, I have not yet recovered) I am reminded of how far I am from recovery.

I’m really grateful to Alisa for sharing her experience today on the blog. I hope others will agree that it lends an important new dimension to this conversation, and I hope that future stories will continue to collectively represent a wide range of experience. Beyond this, I find Alisa’s writing to be bracingly honest and very thoughtful. I could (as is usually the case when I read a green recovery narrative) relate to much of what she described, especially some of the tensions she felt within her family.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and responses to Alisa’s story. And, for those who have experienced veganism or vegetarianism after an ED, I welcome thoughts and impressions on how the diet may have influenced recovery–beneficially, detrimentally, or not at all.

By the way, the ouroboros image today was Alisa’s suggestion. When I asked her what sort of image might be appropriate for her post, she said she’d like something that “demonstrates a self forever in transition.” I can’t think of a better way to capture the recovery process as a whole.

I wish you a great weekend, and I look forward to weekend reading on Sunday.


The post “I have taken small steps to get back to the center”: Alisa’s Green Recovery Story appeared first on The Full Helping.

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