Engine 2 Retreat Portland – Dance Party

The Engine 2 Retreat was in Portland, Oregon last weekend; a friend and I decided to make the trip from Philly because it seemed as good a reason as any for a long weekend in the Pacific Northwest.  The Retreat was wonderful!  It was a very well organized weekend and I think the content was such that whether you are 100% plant perfect or an omnivore interested in learning more about the impact of diet on health you could comfortably enjoy the discussions and stay interested throughout the days.  There were so many interesting speakers I’ve had a hard time deciding how to post about the weekend adventure.  I finally decided to split up my Retreat posts into a few mini posts.  I’ll keep today’s post focused on the most important parts of the weekend – the food, and the dancing.

Yes, there was dancing!  Natala Constantine is the Communications Director at Engine 2.  Her story is beautiful and inspiring and the brief paragraph on the E2 website doesn’t do it justice, but I urge you to give it a read.  I won’t get into her story here because I won’t do it justice either; Natala in her humor, her presence (and hotness that clearly surpasses that of Rip), are what make the story so inspiring.  I will share three lessons learned from Natala:

  1. 1 Minute Dance Parties daily should be incorporated into your routine.  It’s true.  Rough day, feeling sluggish, a little down?  1 minute…dance like nobody’s watching and you will immediately feel better.  They went with Pharrell’s Happy for their dance parties at the Retreat; I prefer P!NK myself.  Whatever you choose just get up and get your running man on.
  2. An abundance of fat stores is indicative of strong genes.  Consider evolutionary survival, those selected to survive famines, droughts, etc survived due to an abundance of fat stores.  To adapt to these environmental influences populations developed “thrifty genes”.  There has been substantial work on this topic as it relates to the Pima Indian population and the incidence of obesity and Type II diabetes.  In the absence of famine with unlimited access to an overabundance of calorie dense foodstuffs rates of obesity and Type II diabetes increase substantially.
  3.  Do Normal.  Go about your health in a practical way.

I enjoyed Natala’s talks tremendously.  She has an important message to share with people and I think the key is that Engine 2 Diet is a lifestyle change not a diet in the 15 lbs in 15 days sense.

Of course, there was food!  You’ll have to excuse my iPhone/instagram photos here on the blog this week but that’s all I had with me under the fluorescent hotel lights.  The food was awesome.  The coffee was half-caff, and there was not a sugar packet to be found anywhere though they did leave a couple of salt shakers out if you were so inclined.  I admit the Starbuck’s guy across the street knew my friend and I pretty well by the end of the weekend, but other than my morning fully caffeinated Pike’s Place (black no sugar) I stuck to green tea.  Other than the need for my morning cuppa, I was fine without added sugars or salt.  Breakfast was steel cut oats with fresh fruit, chia seeds and cinnamon, steamed greens with fresh tomato and hot sauce, and a muffin (which I saved for a mid-morning snack).

IMG_5809Lunch the first day was black beans and rice, and a salad.  You can’t actually see my black beans and rice because there are so many veggies loaded on top but trust me they’re under there.  This is a very simple and satisfying meal that I’ve come to make often.


Day 2 lunch was a burger, baked fries, and a salad.


Dinner Night 1 was Raise the Roof Lasagna.  I’ve made this a few times myself and really enjoy it.  It’s definitely a weekend meal due to all the chopping and prep, but it’s well worth it and makes a lot.


The second dinner was a pasta bar with a choice of sauces.  We skipped the second dinner to go touring around Portland and eat something local (sorry no pics, we ended up at a Thai restaurant and by the time we got our food we were starving and dug in).

It didn’t occur to me to ask for a picture with Rip but I did buy Engine 2 Diet and had him sign it for me.

IMG_5823I read it on the plane trip home.  I think the take home message is “Don’t eat bear balls. Eat healthy, delectable, plant-based foods so that you will never fall over on your cat.”  Kidding aside, if you don’t get a chance to hear Rip tell the Engine 2 story in person, I would highly recommend the book; it’s a fast read and has a nice balance of stories, science, recipes and health tips.




Life After the Engine 2 Challenge

There were no new recipes this week but plenty of home cooking so I thought I’d give an update on staying whole food plant based post the Engine 2 Challenge.  The Challenge ended a little over a month ago, 3 March.  In general, I’ve done pretty well maintaining a mostly whole food plant based no oil diet.  I’ve slipped into old bagel habits with breakfasts when I don’t plan ahead and have a batch of steel cut oats or breakfast hash ready to grab and go on the way out the door.  I am much better at lunch preparations; the lack of appetizing choices at the work cafeteria is good incentive.  At this point I’m a pro with dinners.  Snacks get tricky, but I find myself making better choices since the Challenge and when I do make an unhealthy choice it’s a cognizant decision.  This week’s dishes came together pretty easily.

I loved Isa Chandra’s Falafel Burgers from Isa Does It so much I was craving them again.  I make the chickpeas in the pressure cooker (Note to Self:  1 cup dry beans, unsoaked and 2-1/2 cups water in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes with natural pressure release cooks a perfect garbanzo bean).  I served the burger topped with kalamata olive hummus, cucumber, red onion, tomato and spinach in a pita.  Oven baked sweet potatoes and a side salad completed the dinner.  The remainder of the week I had this for lunch;  for lunches I skipped the sweet potato and had the burger and a side salad.


Left-over Thai dressing from the Sweet & Sour Brown Rice Salad and an impulse buy of Thai Black Rice from Trader Joe’s inspired a Thai stir-fry dish for dinner.  I had never had Black (forbidden) Rice before so was intrigued to give it a try.  It is similar in texture and flavor to brown rice and adds visual interest to the dish (if you can see it peaking through under the pile of veggies).  The stir-fry had no recipe, but was a simple sauté of veggies on hand, adding in the leftover dressing, additional ginger, garlic and chili sauce to taste.


I had made more veggies than rice and didn’t want to wait the 45 minutes for rice to cook after work so made some Udon Noodles quickly and mixed in the remaining Thai veggies, topped with chopped peanuts, scallion and cilantro.


I discovered Wasa crackers during the challenge.  These low calorie, no oil crackers don’t really have much flavor in my opinion, however, they have great texture and are excellent vehicles to deliver more flavorful components to one’s mouth.  My favorite is a smear of avocado, thinly sliced tomato, scallion, cilantro, fresh ground pepper, a tiny bit of salt and a squirt of fresh lime juice.  It may take a few minutes to prepare compared to grabbing a bag of chips but it’s delicious.

IMG_6061It’s less than one month until I make my way to Portland for the E2 Retreat!  I’m so excited to see this city and go to the retreat.

Whole Food Plant Based Breakfast Tacos

The first week since the Engine 2 Challenge ended and I didn’t fall too far back into old habits.  There were a couple of moments where “it’s been so long since I’ve had x…I think I’ll indulge.  What I’ve found for the most part is that my tastes have changed and things simply don’t taste as I good as the memory seems.  Diet Coke is a good example.  I used to have one diet coke a day with my lunch.  I never considered this a healthy choice or even a better choice than the regular high fructose corn syrup version, but I preferred it to water.  Now, I don’t seem to find myself wanting it or enjoying the taste as I used to.  Unfortunately, I did still enjoy yesterday’s bagel but will limit that so it does not become a daily habit again.

Which finds me here today making my breakfasts for the week to take in to the office.  I made a breakfast hash last week mainly to use up what I had in the fridge; I enjoyed it so much I decided to make it again for this week.  I  had planned this week’s post to be the recipe for the rice pudding I’d made last weekend but it lost some of its creaminess after the first day;  while I play with making brown rice creamy here is the hash recipe.  You are encouraged to play with it and make it your own (have you ever seen Chopped?  They often seem to throw a hash appetizer together to use up the basket easily – it’s a forgiving dish).

IMG_5965For the Potatoes
2 small russet potatoes
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
fresh ground black pepper
a pinch of salt

For the Chickpeas
1 can garbanzo beans
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
I follow the Happy Herbivore Chickpea Taco Recipe.  I also follow the link in that recipe and make a large batch of taco seasoning to keep on hand in a mason jar.

For the Hash
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 pint mushrooms (I use baby bella, stems removed, sliced thinly)
1/2 – 1 pint grape tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of dinosaur kale (or other greens), stems removed and sliced into 1/2 -1 inch pieces

To Serve
Green Onion
Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce, or your preferred hot sauce
Corn Tortillas (Trader Joe’s Corn & Wheat Tortillas are oil free)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Dice the potato into a small 1/2 inch dice.  Spray with cooking spray, toss with garlic, onion, fresh ground pepper and a dash of salt.  Place a single layer on the prepared cookie sheet.  For the chickpeas, I use the same bowl that I had prepared the potatoes in to toss the chickpea taco ingredients.  I tend to layer on the same cookie sheet as the potatoes to save myself from dishes (though keep them separate in case the potatoes need longer than the chickpeas it is easy to just put them back in the oven). Bake for 25-30 minutes.

IMG_5967Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients. Sauté the red onion over medium-high heat in a large pot, until translucent 5-7 minutes.  Add splashes of water to keep from sticking to the pan.  I use my Dutch Oven so there’s plenty of room to add everything in at the end.

IMG_5970Add the mushrooms and tomatoes and continue cooking until they release their juices, approximately 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds until fragrant.

IMG_5971Add the kale, toss, cover and remove from heat.  The kale should steam in 1-2 minutes but retain it’s vibrant color.  Once the potatoes and chickpeas are done add them to the pot and toss again.

IMG_5975I’ve been enjoying this as breakfast tacos (sadly, I cannot find burrito sized oil-free tortillas), topped with green onion and cilantro with plenty of hot sauce.  I don’t have a pretty assembled picture since I was packing up to go, but here is the meal prep madness version.  As written this makes 6, 1-cup servings, which I find to be a pretty satisfying breakfast.


Engine 2 Challenge: The Finish Line

Today is the final day of the 28 Day Engine 2 Challenge.  During the Challenge my two year plant-iversary passed.  I don’t recall the exact date but it was February 2012 when I decided to give up meat for Lent.  I’m not a particularly religious person, but wanted to reclaim my diet and Lent seemed as good a time as any to focus on healthful eating.  I did not expect this would be a longer term decision.  I noticed during that time that I had more energy, slept better and generally felt better; that was what led to the decision to continue with this lifestyle change.  Given this was primarily a decision based on health benefits,  it has been important to me not to substitute standard junk food for vegan junk food.  Of course, it is easy to slip into convenience.

Immediately before starting the Challenge, I was 100% vegetarian, ~90% vegan, and I’d guess ~80% whole food plant based no oil.  The 90% vegan is due to my love of the fried egg on an everything bagel.  I wouldn’t have guessed this the vice that I could not seem to crack (pun intended) but apparently the egg and bagel sandwich is engrained in my NYC girl DNA.  This was a common weekend treat, so I would guess I probably had 1-2 eggs/week.  Cream cheese on bagels was the other non-vegan item that tended to find itself in my diet (as I write this I realize that I apparently need a bagel intervention).  Before starting the Challenge I may have graded my WFPB no oil  higher because I have been cooking and baking without oil for some time but now that I have been more cognizant of EVERYTHING I eat, ~80% is probably more accurate.

If I were to grade myself during the Challenge I’d pass 100% vegetarian, 98% vegan, 95% WFPB no oil.  I went from having a bagel from the office cafeteria 3-4 days a week and my weekend egg & bagel sandwich to one bagel a week at the office and steel cut oats or scrambled chickpeas on the other days.  I did succumb to one egg sandwich over the 28 days.  I went from inconsistent lunch prep resulting in buying office cafeteria lunches about 60-70% of the time to bringing lunch from home nearly every day (I think I had 1-2 days that I bought salad bar at work).  Dinners have always been well prepped for me but I did cut out my weekend Wegman’s Asian Food Bar (which I am quite certain would not qualify as oil free).  I only had that 1-2 times during the 28 days and found I’ve lost taste for it – Happy Herbivore Cheater Pad Thai is more flavorful by far.

The biggest improvement for me was snacking.  Pre-Challenge, I often found myself going to the coffee bar at work and getting a Philly pretzel and diet Coke in the afternoon.  In the evenings I would, out of habit, go for store bought hummus ( ~50% calories from fat) with Blue Corn Chips (~40% calories from fat) and veggies.  The Challenge has made me much better at conscientious eating and making better choices.  I pack fruit and some nuts to bring to work everyday and this has replaced my afternoon snack.  Hot green tea has replaced my Diet Coke.  I make my own hummus without the oil and I’ve made my own tortilla chips from oil-free tortillas.  Reading Rip’s post about Plant-Strong Snacking made me rethink what it means to snack.  At first glance, I was confused to see potatoes and ears of corn on the list.  Ultimately, anything is a snack – baked french fries with hot sauce, soup, cereal.  We’ve become so accustomed to the snack aisle that it is a habit we rarely reconsider.

It’s not all easy, but it’s not as hard as the typical omnivore might think either.  I easily cook and bake without oil (admitting that baked goods will not last as long without oil as they do with the added fat but do taste just as good fresh).  The most difficult for me during the Challenge was bread.  It was difficult to find oil-free breads and those that can be found are not quite the same.  I think eating out would also be difficult; given the snowtastic winter we’re having here in the East, there hasn’t been much opportunity to get out and I’ve made it a bit easier on myself by sticking to preparing all of my own foods.

What next?  I do consider an unprocessed life to be as good as it gets.  I enjoy cooking, have far more variety in my meals now than I ever did as an omnivore, love different flavor profiles and tastes that develop as you cut back on salt, fat and sugar, and it is cheaper.  Preparing my own food for this past month has not really increased my grocery bill but I saved a lot of money by not buying food at work or takeout from Wegman’s.

For me personally, I intend to continue this journey beyond the 28 days but am doubtful I will be 100% all the time.  I plan to continue to choose healthy snacks, and pack it rather than resort to  the office cafeteria (frankly my food tastes better than the cafe).   At the same time an indulgent, or even bad, choice does not mean giving up and going back to old habits, and I may enjoy a meal out without worrying about the oil now and again.  Diet has many meanings and too many people consider it as a temporary alteration in life rather than a lifestyle. A concept so wonderfully explained on Weighing In with Words.

Since it feels strange to have a post with no pictures I thought I’d post the final few days food diary and pretty this post up a bit.  Breakfast was a potato hash with kale, mushrooms, tomatoes, and roasted chickpeas.

IMG_5948Lunches over the weekend consisted of a Chopped Salad with Spicy Chipotle Dressing.  Fat Free Vegan was the source of this deliciousness.  My version was romaine lettuce, tomato, zucchini, radish, peppers, cucumber, avocado, cilantro, and scallion topped with a homemade creamy, spicy (and oil free) dressing.

IMG_5951Dinner found me going back to an Indian flavor profile mainly to finish up the cauliflower I’d bought to make pizza crust.  I made an Indian eggplant dish and  a dish inspired by another Fat Free Vegan delight, Vindaloo Vegetables, served over brown rice.

IMG_5956For a plant-based dessert worthy of a gloomy snowstorm (ugh) I made rice pudding.  I’ll post the recipe in my next post.


Engine 2 Challenge: Week 4!

If you think you couldn’t handle a 28 Day Challenge, let me tell you it goes by fast!  Monday, March 3 will be the end of the Engine 2 Challenge.  I’ll post my final Challenge post early in the week after I cross the finish line but for now will focus on the Week 4 wrap-up.  For the final week I was a food prep master (to the point I ran out of containers and used mason jars to keep my steel cut oats).

Breakfasts included pumpkin version of last week’s french toast; I used the Ezekiel Raisin English Muffins for that again.  I also made another batch of steel cut oats in the pressure cooker to bring to the office.


Lunches were leftover penne broccoli rabe early in the week and potato leek soup from Isa Does It (sans oil) with a side salad dressed with fresh lemon juice and ground black pepper for the remainder of the week.


We had a brief, too brief, reprise from the cold and snow over the weekend that made it seem like spring until you saw the piles of snow lingering at every turn.  The milder temps inspired me to grill and I decided to go with fajitas for dinner this week.  I marinated portobello steaks in ginger, garlic and tamari based sauce (Forks Over Knives Cookbook has my preferred portobello steak recipe) before grilling them.  I also cooked the peppers and onions on the grill then sliced and seasoned (Happy Herbivore Cookbook is my go to fajita seasoning).


I assembled the fajitas in an oil-free corn/whole wheat tortilla (Trader Joe’s), topped with green onion, cilantro, fresh tomato and avocado.  I served chipotle black beans (Veganomicon) over cilantro lime brown rice on the side. The dish was exactly what I wanted, and I pretty much ate this every night of Week 4 (and could go for another week without getting bored of it, so good!).  I should say that the Trader Joe’s Corn & Wheat Tortillas are so much better than the Chi-Chi’s corn tortillas, which were the only oil-free I could find at Wegmans.  They’re definitely worth the trip to the tiny, over-crowded Trader Joe’s (or Trader Jose’s as they write on the packaging).


By Friday I was out of leftovers and my refrigerator was barren with the exception of pickles and condiments.  A quick stop on the way home from work and I am storm ready (yes, it is March, and yes, another snow storm is expected tomorrow).  I seemed to be the only one not looking for milk and bread 😉

IMG_5356For a quick, after work dinner, I made cauliflower pizza crust pizza.


A sweet treat this week was Forks Over Knives Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Whip to finish up the Ezekiel Raisin Muffins and the silken tofu that I had used a portion of in the chickpea tikka masala; I hate wasting food and cannot figure what to do with the English Muffins without butter or cream cheese other than french toast or bread pudding.

IMG_5928Stay tuned for the final Challenge post!

Potato Leek Soup

I’m keeping lunches simple this week. This means a big pot of soup.  Isa Does It Potato Leek Soup is a limited ingredient, fast cooking soup that serves 8.  Compared to most of Isa’s recipes this is pretty basic, but sometimes that’s just what you want.  It is also probably one of the cheapest meals to throw together on a budget.

The most time consuming part of this soup is cleaning the leeks.  Once cleaned you get them cooking; I sautéed with splashes of water to omit the olive oil from the recipe. IMG_5932

After the leeks cooked down add the potatoes, broth and seasoning.

IMG_5936Simmer until the potatoes are cooked through then mash (I cheated and used the immersion blender).  Add a bit of cashew cream and woo-hoo you’re done.  A beautiful, creamy whole food plant based soup!

IMG_5939Simple as it may look and sound, this soup is rich with flavor.  It has a wonderful texture and the creaminess makes it seem hardy and indulgent.  I topped with fresh ground pepper and served with a Wasa sourdough cracker (they’re oil free!) for some crunch.  As the number of servings warned this recipe makes a lot (much more than you would think from 2 pounds of potatoes and 1 leek); I froze what was left after packing this week’s work lunches.


Isa Does It Recipes: 13

Engine 2 Challenge: Week 3 Wrap-Up

Even though I’m not following the meal plan in the eBook when I started the Challenge I had printed out some of the recipes thinking I would give them a try.  I’d completely forgotten about them until I was cleaning up some of the papers lying around the dining room table and happened upon the stack of recipes.  Looking them over I decided to incorporate some of them into the last two weeks.

Monday I had off from work and French Toast from the eBook seemed a good treat to enjoy my late start to the day.  I’ve had difficulties finding oil-free breads but had bought some Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin English Muffins that I’d yet to try so why not english muffin french toast.  I have fond memories of raisin bread french toast from my graduate school days eating at Angelo’s near the University of Michigan medical campus; it’s so good it still gets the homepage cover photo.  The base of the Engine 2 recipe is mashed banana and non-dairy milk with cinnamon and vanilla.  This certainly isn’t Angelo’s but it was very good and a whole lot healthier.


For my on-the-go breakfasts, I made a batch of steel cut oats in the Instant Pot.  I decided to experiment with the basic recipe from Jill Nussinow by adding pumpkin puree and cranberries.  Recipe below:

1 cup non-dairy milk
2 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup frozen cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla
pumpkin pie spice

I cooked in the Instant Pot electric Pressure cooker for 3 minutes and let the pressure release naturally.  Split into three ~1 cup servings and top with brown sugar and chopped walnuts.  Made for a great grab-and-go breakfast to reheat in the microwave.

Lunches consisted of leftover falafel burgers and a salad dressed in fresh lemon juice and topped with a scoop of hummus.  The burgers were even better left over than when first made; the flavors developed more and the texture was firmer.  The whole wheat fat-free pitas I found at Wegmans were also a great success, really good! [Father Sam’s Fat Free Whole Wheat Pita Pockets; the mini size were just right for the burgers]


I finished up the Dilly Stew for dinner early in the week, had a falafel burger the first night I’d made them, and Happy Herbivore Cheater Pad Thai later in the week.  I was running out of rice noodles so my Pad Thai was more veggie than noodle but always delicious.

IMG_5908Rounding out the week’s dinners I made Broccoli Rabe Penne from Forks Over Knives Cookbook (I only have an instagram pic of that one).

For a sweet treat, I went back to the Challenge e-book and made the Banana Peanut Butter Oat Cookies.  A very satisfying little snack and love the banana, peanut butter and chocolate combination.


I also made a microwave baked apple courtesy of Fat Free Vegan.


Overall Week 3 has been a great success in term of food.  However, fitbit doesn’t lie and I’ve dropped my average steps below 10,000 this week.  The goal for the final week of the Challenge is to get my average daily steps to at least 12000 and get back to daily 5k on the elliptical for a strong finish.

I almost forgot the exciting news!  I signed up to go to the Engine 2 Retreat in Portland this April.  I’m so excited.  Portland was on the bucket list and E2 had the retreats on sale so why not.  I can’t wait!!!