vegan fiesta!!!

  
So yesterday I shared with you the story of the Sanibel Sprout and the delicious meal I had prepared by the chef & owner, Nikki. She told me that she is a firm believer in seasoning. I agreed with her wholeheartedly, I’ve always said I feel that anything can taste good as long as it is prepared and seasoned well. 

(Some people prefer a little too much seasoning, and salt my food right in front of me…eye roll…no comment…)

Nikki’s taco salad with walnut “taco meat” was so very flavorful that when you took a bite you tasted cumin, chili powder, and sea salt, not walnuts. It actually tasted like ground taco meat. But lighter and more heart healthy. But the cashew “queso” topping? That really blew my mind, I had no clue how it even existed and I decided I had to try making it for myself. I did a little research and experimenting and came up with my own concoctions for both. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures as I went along, sorry, but trust me it’s really easy. But there are pictures of the finished product! 

First, the taco meat.

Ingredients

  • 2 C whole walnuts (if you only have chopped on hand that’s OK just don’t pulse them as much in the food processor so that they don’t get too fine…like Brad Pitt)
  • 3 teaspoons chili powder (all spices are to taste; you may want a little more or a little less…as I tasted I felt it couldn’t get enough cumin so I kept adding until the flavor was just right)
  • 4 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tb olive oil (I omitted this when making it for friends who are not eating any kind of oils, I just put a little water in instead, but I do think the oil is helpful in binding the mixture together and enhancing the flavor.)

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until it’s the consistency of ground meat.

Taste test, and add more spices if you’d like.

This is totally optional but I think totally a must to a) feel like you’re eating taco mea and b) completely fool your butcher husband…Heat mixture in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Your house will smell like you’re having a fiesta!  

  
 
I love a colorful salad so I out all sorts of toppings out; black olives, red & yellow bell peppers, fresh diced tomatoes, shoestring carrots, seasoned kidney beans, sunflower seeds, organic blue corn tortilla chips, and, my personal favorite, big hunks of avocado!But the real star of the dish and the perfect finishing touch? The cashew queso! Which, by the way, also doubles as a dressing for the salad which was especially nice for our non oil eating amigos. I’m really getting into this fiesta thing now! 

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup cashews, soaked for at least 3 hours, drained, and rinsed.
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast…(I had to go to the health food store to find this…it smells awful and I don’t know why it was necessary but it just was. Note to self: do more research on nutritional yeast and follow up with blog post about said ingredient) 
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Instructions

Blend all of the ingredients together in a blender until smooth and queso like. Make sure to scrape down the sides and that it’s really blended all the way through, you don’t want any little cashew chunks.  This makes about 2 cups and the queso sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

 You could just spoon the sauce over your salad but where’s  the fun in that?! Or….you could put sauce into a ziplock bag, snip the tip, and artfully pipe over your salad for a beautiful finish to the meal. There was plenty of queso left over too, so we took some of those beautiful organic blue corn tortilla chips and dipped them right in there. Take that nacho cheese!  

The butcher and I aren’t quite ready to go completely meatless or dairy free yet, but we are definitely cutting back and making better choices. This dish is so delicious it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice! Taco salad for all!

   

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Vegan Paradise 

As you know, I spent a lovely week with my mother in law on Sanibel Island recently. It was a much needed relaxing break. On Wednesday we went for massages, body treatments, and a little oxygen bar treatment at the Sanibel Day Spa. It was divine.  

After such a grueling (ha!) morning of pampering and detoxifying treatments, we wanted something light and healthy to fill our bellies. Since Yelp never lets me down when looking for local restaurants, off to Yelp I went, and came across a little vegan cafe, called the Sanibel Sprout. It had great reviews and the menu sounded fantastic. Five minutes later we were there.  

 I can never walk into any health food store without instantly thinking of my mother in law, even though this time she happened to be standing right next to me. The combined aromas of vitamins, essential oils, and patchouli fill the air and remind me of her. This was no different. We were instantly greeted by the most adorable little British woman with platinum hair, a hot pink shirt, and a warm smile.

After perusing the shop section of the store, filled with books, supplements, candles, and a plethora of all natural products, we wandered over to the cafe portion, oohing and ahhing over the vegan cheesecakes, mini vegan key lime pies, vitamin elixirs, and other goodies in the prepared food case. We grabbed a few vitamin elixirs (Ok Mom grabbed one, I’m still new with all this stuff) and took a seat to look at the menu. 

     
   
Mom decided on the vegan lasagna made with brown rice noodles, tomato sauce, and cashew cheese. I, because I’m special, ordered something that wasn’t on the menu but listed on the specials board behind the counter. It was a vegan taco salad. Sounds like an oxymoron right? Wrong! The “taco meat” is actually made with seasoned walnuts and the “cheese” is cashew queso. It was almost too pretty to eat. Almost

    
 It was delicious, filling, and if I hadn’t known, I would’ve thought I was eating ground beef. Seriously. In fact, I even found out later from the chef that recently a woman who had picked up a taco salad to go, had called later completely irate that there was meat in her vegan salad! There was no greater complement than that! We had to talk to the owner. I walked over to the aforementioned sweetheart who had welcomed us and found out her name was Edith. I gabbed to her a bit about how much I loved my food and asked her who owned this amazing little spot.

“I do. With my daughter, Nikki. She’s the chef” she said as she motioned toward a young woman working furiously behind the counter blending, chopping, and moving back and forth with grace and know how.

 I told Edith that I had a blog and would love to do a little write up about the Sanibel Sprout so perhaps I could ask her a few questions and take a photo of her. She kindly obliged but said she first had to check her lipstick. She was so adorable I couldn’t help but snap a photo of her as she did so. 

 Once she was fully primped, she positioned herself on a stool in front of the juice bar and smoothie station, took her glasses off, and smiled. 

“Is this alright?” she asked.

“Perfect” I said.

Edith is 89 years old and becoming a vegan literally saved her life. 

Three years ago she was diagnosed with stage one leukemia. Her daughter and natural chef, Nikki, moved from Miami to Sanibel to help her mother change her diet and hopefully prolong her life. Although Edith had been a vegetarian for many years, she was not as enthusiastic about going completely vegan. 

“If I have to give up chocolate and milk, I’d rather just die.” she candidly recanted. 

But Nikki assured her that she would never be hungry and that every day she would be showered with deliciously filling breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. And that she did. She never went hungry and was fully convinced. It has now become her lifestyle.

Edith’s sister, still living in England, was also diagnosed with leukemia. Sadly, she passed away soon after. The difference in their diets was undeniable and the results spoke for themselves. Three years later, Edith’s leukemia is still at stage one and, to the amazement of her doctors, has not moved or grown whatsoever. 

There may not yet be a cure for cancer out there, but a plant based diet, living on what God created, certainly seems to be effective in prevention and even treatment of disease. 

I could have sat and chatted with those two all day, but the beach was calling. I look forward to going back on our next visit, Edith will be 90 by then, and probably better than ever. 

As soon as I got home, I had to try to recreate Nikki’s delicious taco salad. Stay tuned tomorrow for the recipe! 

  

 
 

curly girl

 If you have curly hair then you have most likely, like me, tried just about every product ever made for curly hair. Literally. 

I finally found one that I think I’m going to be sticking with for a while. It’s called Miss Jessie’s Pillow Soft Curls. I get mine here. It’s a bit pricey but a little goes a long way so it lasts a long time. The name says it all, this styling lotion that borrows fabric care technology and marries it to haircare. It is perfect for achieving static-free, big, soft, curly hair that we all dream about. If you don’t want ramen noodle definition and instead want a larger, expanded, fluffy curl then this is the product is for you! It’s the first “fabric softener” type styling lotion that will leave your curls light & fluffy soft. 

But why is curly hair so difficult? A large part of the problem people have with their curls is their requirement for a lot of moisture. Not all styling products help with this and some containing alcohol or sulfates actually dry out the hair even more. 

Naturally curly hair is prone to dryness because of the structure of the hair. The natural oils produced by the scalp of those with curly hair are not able to travel all the way down the hair shaft because of the twists and turns of the curls. Other problems can also exacerbate this dry state of affairs. Listed below are some common causes and solutions.

Possible Causes of Dry Hair

  • Shampooing toooften 
  • Use of shampoos with harsh sulfates 
  • Use of products with alcohol which can also be drying
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Sleeping on a cotton pillowcase or using a cotton scarf, which rob hair of moisture
  • Not using water based hair moisturizers
  • Not sealing moisture in with an oil or butter
  • Excessive use of heavy products w/out proper cleansing (build-up)
  • Chemical Damage such as relaxers or other chemical straighteners
  • Color treated hair (notorious for dryness)
  • Using too much direct heat (blow dryer, flat iron, curling iron, etc. on a consistent basis)
  • Shower water too hot
  • Too much chlorine (from swimming pools or tap water)
  • Salt (from ocean water)

Solutions

  • Increase water in-take
  • Use an oil that can penetrate the hair shaft like coconut oil or jojoba 
  • Don’t use shampoo! Almost all shampoos contain sulfates and other harsh drying chemicals that are detrimental to curls. Instead use a cleansing conditioner and use your fingers to massage your scalp to get your blood circulating and break up dirt and product buildup. If you must cleanse with something else then use a natural soap like the ones described here
  • Use a water based leave-in conditioner after your wash and conditioning routine, and seal it in with a butter or oil while damp or wet
  • Instead of using a rough towel to dry your hair, try an old t-shirt. The material is softer which will reduce frizz and breakage. Gently wrap the end of your hair in the shirt and squeeze out the excess water.
  • Use deep conditioners weekly. Some may need to apply indirect heat through a shower cap, steamer, hair therapy wrap, etc., while deep conditioning
  • Evaluate if your water is hard or soft and if it needs to be treated.
  • Protect your hair, when going swimming, with conditioner and a swim cap or use of a product specifically designed for sun/chlorine/salt, such as Ouidad Sun Shield. I always have a travel bottle of conditioner in my beach bag to act as a barrier between my hair and the chlorine or salt water! 
  • Avoid hear styling. If possible, allow hair to air dry most of the way then finish by diffusing your curls with a blow dryer on a low setting. If you must style it with a flat iron, curling iron, etc., always use a heat protectant when styling with heat.
  • Sleep with a satin pillow case and/or satin scarf
  • Be patient and gentle when handling your hair. Don’t touch your hair when it’s wet. Just don’t!!!

So ladies, (or gentleman for that matter) be gentle with your curls and embrace the hair God gave you, it’s beautiful!!!