Hello 2015 & A Vacation Recap

Happy 2015 everyone!

New Years may just be my favorite holiday. I love that it is a time of reflection and a time to rejuvenate and restart. I love that the whole world celebrates it, but in different times and slightly different ways. I love reading ” top ___ lists” of the previous year and what the upcoming trends may be for the new year. And most recently, I love reflecting on my progress and setting new goals for myself.

I have been looking back on my 2014 resolutions and making new ones for 2015. I have broken them up between more general resolutions for the year and more specific, measurable monthly and daily goals. I have also categorized them by personal and professional. Tomorrow, my Monday Link Up post will focus more on New Years, resolutions and goals, but for now I want to post a vacation recap about my recent journey to South Africa!

Gray Travels Green

Traveling out of the country can be stressful. Traveling with 18 of your family members can also be stressful. Traveling as a vegan or a health-conscious person can also be stressful. But traveling out of the country with 18 of your family members as a health-conscious vegan? Extremely stressful! Luckily, it was not as bad as I thought it would be and I happily rose to the occasion and survived the challenge.

South Africa is most definitely not a food destination and my family members are definitely not foodies. I went in with the best possible attitude and tried to be as flexible as possible. Even though I follow a plant-based diet almost all of the time, I will still eat eggs or seafood on occasion.

Eating vegan in a foreign country is very difficult because of the language barrier (yes, I can have soy milk, no I cannot have Lactaid milk, etc.) I found that there was a vegetarian option pretty much every where I went and then I would focus on the fact that I have a dairy allergy. I didn’t go so far as to ask if every little thing contained eggs, so long if there was no dairy I was content.

It is also necessary to let go of some health ideals when you travel. For example, I ate a lot more “white carbs” than I normally would but I just focused on fueling myself with the best-possible option available so I could do what I was really there for, safari-ing, sight-seeing and family bonding.

Normally, when I go places, I have a laundry list of restaurants and markets I want to eat at and see and I want to experience the food culture as much as possible. It was hard for me to let go of that on this trip, but I did my best to go-with-the-flow.

Here’s a recap of my food journey through South Africa and some useful tips for health-conscious travelers.

Be Prepared

As any vegan or health-conscious person knows, the best advice is to just be prepared. In hindsight, I probably should have brought even more snacks and meal-replacement bars, just in case, but luckily I was able to restock at our second destination. I tried not to be too prepared because I definitely wanted to try the local cuisine and eat what the rest of the family was eating in order to not isolate myself (if it was up to me I honestly could eat protein bars for every meal because I love them so much).

I tried to pack snacks that could withstand two weeks of intense travel in the heat (I ate the bars I had chocolate in them first). I packed an assortment of Vega, GoMacro, GoodGreens, LARABAR, and KIND bars. I also packed a huge Ziploc bag full of trail mix; dried figs, dates, cherries, and raisins and walnuts, peanuts, and almonds.

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During the trip I bought another big bag of dried figs and a bunch of single serving nut butter packets. South Africa is known for their macadamia nuts so this almond/macadamia spread was a winner.IMG_7148

Safari 

Our first destination was the Thanda Private Game Reserve. Set in Middle-Of-No-Where, South Africa my food expectations were very low.  Luckily world class travel agent (also known as my grandma) prepared the lodge for dietary restrictions, including dairy-free (much of my extended family avoids dairy), picky children and non-red meat eaters.

Upon my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised. Think of the safari dining room as a cruise dining room of sorts, I ate a lot of tropical fruits, vegetables, cereal with soy milk, and pasta. What I did not count on, however, was coming down with a terrible case of food poisoning on the third day. After that I counted on dry toast and eggs (I will still eat eggs occasionally) to sustain me for the rest of my time at the safari lodge. I’m not sure what caused the food poisoning, I didn’t eat any meat or dairy products, it could have been the water that was used to wash the mass amounts of fruit and vegetables I was eating.

IMG_7020The food highlight of the safari was stumbling upon some fresh, local pineapples in a neighboring town. Of IMG_7022course, the animals and the sheer beauty of the African bush was the real highlight and I loved every minute of it.

Winelands

Our next stop was Franschhoek, a beautiful town in the South African winelands. The highlight at this stop was, of course, the wine. I discovered my new favorite variety of wine, Sauvignon blanc and tried a variety of different reds, whites and “bubbles” as they call champagne in South Africa.

IMG_7136Our lunches at the winery were absolutely delicious. I was able to get coconut “curry” dishes at a couple of different restaurants which I found interesting. And a variety of amazing salads, vegetables, hummus and grainy breads. This region’s food had a bit of a French flair to it.

Amazingly I was able to find a South African brand of Kombucha at a little health food store in the University town of Stellenbosch.

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The hotel staff cooked us a barbecue one night, complete with corn, roasted veggies and three different vegan grain salads. I was in heaven! This place also served plain “porridge” for breakfast which I happily topped with nut butter each morning.

Cape Town

I felt right at home in modern, hipster-esque Cape Town. The V&A Market on the Wharf was like a South African Chealsea Market, I could have spent all day there! I enjoyeIMG_7222d a green juice from Dr. Juice and some raw plant protein balls.

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I also discovered an coffee beverage at an artisan coffee shop that consisted of cold brew coffee, local raw honey, soy milk and ice blended together. Definitely making my own version of this at home!

Speaking of coffee, the coffee everywhere was delicious. Unlike in the United States, even the most basic hotel cup of joe tasted like the perfect cup.

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IMG_7225The seafood on this coastal town was another favorite, so I enjoyed some langoustines one night.

Overall, this was an amazing journey filled with exhilarating natural beauty and family. I couldn’t be happier to be home, but my memories, photos and newfound love for South African wine will last a lifetime.

On that note, I am looking forward to doing big things in 2015! See you back here tomorrow for the Monday Link Up.

Thanksgiving 2014 Cooking Recap

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving yesterday! I thought I’d give you a little recap of what I made last night. My mom and grandma also made some more traditional Thanksgiving staples but here are my healthy, plant-based and Gray-Eats-Green-approved Thanksgiving contributions.

Vegan Cornbread Muffin recipe adapted from Food52 served with Cranberry-Pear Sauce recipe adapted from Oh She Glows and homemade “honey butter.”
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Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Cashew “Cream” and Fried Sage Leaves. This was a completely original recipe that I will have to post on the blog soon. The soup ended up being a big hit with everyone from my younger sisters to my grandparents and it was nice sitting down to an “appetizer” course, a Thanksgiving first for us.

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Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprout, and Bread Stuffing with Apples recipe adapted from Food52. Made with local, Detroit Avalon Bakery Motown Multigrain Bread.

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Here is a look my Thanksgiving plate. Salad with roasted asparagus and maple mustard dressing, a baked sweet potato, a corn bread muffin with honey butter, cranberry sauce and stuffing.

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Good luck to anyone participating in Black Friday Shopping today and enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers!

How I “Kaled It” On National Kale Day

As many of you may know from my previous post, yesterday was National Kale Day. Due to that fact that kale is the stereotypical star of the “trendy, vegan, health food scene” this day got a lot more attention than, oh, I don’t know, say “National Beet Day” would.

As a longtime Kale devotee, (and current unemployed nutrition school student with more than enough time on their hands) I knew I wanted to celebrate this day to the fullest!

I started off the festivities by throwing a little bit of kale in my morning green smoothie. Also in the mix was frozen banana, spinach, butternut squash puree, unsweetened vanilla almond milk and half a packet of Vega One Vanilla Chai protein powder, which I like to use every now and again as a special treat.  I topped this creation with pumpkin seeds and ate it out of a bowl with a spoon. Butternut squash + chai spices + pumpkin seeds = fall in a bowl.

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I then headed downtown to Wayne State Wednesday Farmers Market in Detroit. My friend’s mom volunteers at this market and is a huge pioneer in the organic and local movement in Detroit so I’ve been meaning to pay her a visit for a while. Her birthday happens to fall on National Kale Day so it was a two-in-one celebration!

The farmers market is part of the Wayne State SEED program, a program dedicated to building sustainable food systems on the campus of Wayne State University and in Detroit communities. While the market was small, it was of very high quality. All of the vendors grow their produce right in Detroit or surrounding areas which I thought was really cool. Another cool thing that the market does is that it gives Wayne State students $10 in produce for $5. I love this incentive to try to get students interested in and motivated to buy more fruits and vegetables.

A few farm-to-table Detroit restaurants, including Brooklyn Street Local and Russell Street Deli, had stands set up where they were serving lunch. I enjoyed a bowl of vegan black eyed pea and collard soup before picking up some produce. I also learned that Russell Street opened up a new vegan/vegetarian restaurant in the MOCAD called Topsoil. I will definitely be checking this place out, I love how Detroit is becoming more and more vegan friendly.

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After lunch, I visited each stand and picked up a nice variety of stuff. Kale (of course), some nice looking Honey Crisp apples, cherry tomatoes, some type of winter squash and a freshly baked Avalon bread.

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To end my National Kale Day celebrations and really pamper my kale on its special day, I whipped up some tahini miso dressing and gave my kale nice, relaxing massage in it. Kale yeah!

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National Kale Day

Happy October 1st and Happy National Kale Day! I love first-of-the-months because they always feel like a mini New Year or a big Monday, a great time to refresh, renew, reset and make some resolutions. This month I am going to take the Greatist October Meditation Challenge! #letsmeditate

While I am sad that it is no longer #VeganMonthOfFood and October means #WinterIsComing, National Kale Day is a great transition and way to kick off the month. And last night I had the fantastic opportunity to celebrate with plant-based celebrity, Rip Esselstyn.

Whole Foods and the Plant Based Nutrition Support Group put on an event at Seaholm High School where Rip Esselstyn spoke to a crowd of over 400 people! The crowd consisted of mainly elderly people who either reversed a disease with plant-based nutrition or elderly people who were looking to make a lifestyle change. My fellow Rip fanatic friend Dana and I were definitely two of the youngest people there, just looking to meet our favorite vegan firefighter, star of “Engine 2 Plant Rescue” and see him speak. Rip touched on a lot of the points that he mentioned in his video and other material I have listen to and read before but it was great seeing him live in the flesh, and who can resist a little health food humor.

After Rip spoke there was a Q+A session with the crowd, which was informative and entertaining in its own right. At the end of the Q+A session, Dana and I actually had the change to meet Rip! I was thrilled to get to take a picture with him in our matching Kale sweatshirts (what are the odds?) and tell him how much I love his cereal and his Netflix video, which he claimed was “boring.”

This event was fun because local vegan celebrity and cardiologist, Dr. Joel Kahn was one of the introductory speakers and I got the opportunity to chat with him a little bit at the end. Such a cool guy and I love what he is doing for the plant-based movement in my hometown of Detroit.

Outside of the auditorium there was a little plant-based reception where Whole Foods was sampling some Engine 2 and Health Starts Here products. Rip’s Engine 2 Black Bean Hummus and Three Seed Crackers were definitely my favorite.

Overall, it was awesome seeing all these people come out to learn more about this lifestyle, an honor to meet such a legend in the plant-based community and a great way to celebrate National Kale Day!

Well, I’m off to a farmers market in Detroit to grab some kale and continue the celebrations.

 

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National Coffee Day: An ode to one of my favorite beverages

Happy National Coffee Day! As I sit down to write this post at my local artisan coffee shop, I think about my love affair with coffee and how it has evolved over the years…

Although my #1 beverage remains WATER and kombucha would probably come in at second place, coffee is definitely right up there.

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Coffee is more than just a beverage, it’s a culture, a way of life, and something I throughly enjoy being part of. Although research regarding whether or not coffee is actually good for you remains varied, I believe that coffee is a welcome part of my day as long as I make sure to take breaks every now and then to be sure I don’t become dependent.

One of my favorite articles on the topic of coffee is from MindBodyGreen and it explains some of the most notable health benefits of having that daily cup of joe, including its cancer-fighting and heart-healthy properties.

While its nice to be reassured that coffee has a place in a healthy diet, I especially love coffee for its mood-boosting effects. I can definitely tell I have an extra pep in my step, a more positive attitude and outlook on the world, and am generally friendlier when I have had that cup of coffee.

As a self-proclaimed morning person, I also love what coffee symbolizes. There is something soothing and ritualistic about warming up to a hot cup during a dreary winter morning or sipping a cold brew to cool down and liven up a hot summer morning. For me, coffee symbolizes the dawn of a new day, an incentive to read, write or study, a pleasant morning chat with a friend or family member, or a solo mediative moment.

Now, back to coffee culture. Sometimes I feel as if coffee is similar to wine in the fact that there is a whole culture surrounding it; there are coffee snobs, coffee know-it-alls, and coffee purists. There are also separate camps that all fall under the coffee umbrella.

There’s drip, pour over, french press, cold brew and the revolutionary clover machine (we’ll get into this later.) There is also espresso, americanos and decadent dairy-free milk lattes and cappuccinos. There are different roasts and blends. Coffee brings people together, while also giving them their individual freedom to customize.

“Do you take cream or sugar?” could be the most the most American thing you can say besides the pledge of allegiance.

Of course, there is no cream or sugar floating around the Gray Eats Green kitchen. Clearly the “healthiest” way to enjoy your coffee is black, but I often like to sweeten and flavor my coffee with a little almond, soy or hemp milk. A few friends of mine swear by stevia but I find it tastes too artificial for me.

I love going out for coffee more than anything, but my current at-home brewing method consists of a Keurig coffee maker. I have recently heard not-so-good things about the effects of hot plastic from K-cups and I don’t love the taste of Keurig coffee so I am currently on the hunt for a less harmful and more tasty coffee brewing method that is still inexpensive and easy. I am thinking french press but would appreciate any and all suggestions!

 

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A funny sign about about benefits of drinking coffee from one of my favorite New York coffee shops; Birch. I love how this sign addresses one of the less-widely discussed aspect of coffee, the fact that it certainly gives the digestive system a nice boost.

So, cheers, from my coffee mug to yours!

Vegan Mofo: Avocado Toast

This morning, I started my day off with a little superfoods cereal blend. I combined gluten-free oats, chia seeds, cacao nibs, goji berries and sliced banana in a bowl and topped it off with some hemp milk and let it soak for a few minutes. I got the idea for a “superfood cereal” from Eating Bird Food last year, but I rarely have all the ingredients on hand to make it. I picked up a box of hemp milk yesterday in order to recreate some of the rich and creamy hemp coffee beverages I had in New York last week at Birch Coffee. I had never seen hemp milk offered at a coffee shop before and it sure made for a delicious vegan cappuccino and iced coffee. Much richer than almond milk, it is also a lot higher in calories and more expensive, so it won’t be an every day occurrence.

For lunch I made one of the most widely acclaimed vegan meals/snack; avocado toast. I used One Degree Organic lentil grain bread and topped it with a combo of sea-salt and red pepper flakes. I was blessed with a perfect avocado, which I find so hard to come by these days (I’ve been getting a lot of brown spots or a stringy texture.)

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Since avocado toast has really gained popularity and hit the Instagram/food blog scene, I’ve noticed some people are “mashers” while others are “slicers.” I tend to be a masher myself, but I decided to experiment with one of each in honor of the for the #VeganMonthOfFood. Toppings are also endless when it comes to avocado toast but I tend to go with the simplistic and classic sea salt and crushed red pepper flake combo.

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Yum.

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Eggs and Seafood

As some of you may know, I’ve been dabbling with the concept of becoming vegan for the past few months. I have always enjoyed reading vegan blogs such as Oh She Glows, Choosing Raw among other articles that emphasis vegan as the best, most healthy way of eating, have both consciously and unconsciously slowly reduced dairy products in my life within the last couple years or so, and red meat has never played a huge roll in my life. Also, my mom

A couple months ago, I noticed that at school, when I am cooking alone and for myself, I tend to just naturally eat vegan. I would still eat meat during the weekends when I was home or traveling and eating out at restaurants or with others. I did a little “weekday vegan” challenge and experiment. But, of course, with me being me and all, I became obsessed with the idea of veganism. I stumbled upon the blog No Meat Athlete and started listening to his podcast on my long drives to and from school and even bought his book. Most everything Matt (the “No Meat Athlete”) said just clicked and made sense, I even found out about more vegan podcasts, such as Rich Roll. I also watched Forks Over Knives and Veducated on Netflix.

Once I saw that my favorite musical celebrity couple was taking a 22 day vegan challenge. Yes, I am talking about Beyoncé and Jay-Z, the whole foods, plant based diet as I have become to know it became even more appealing to me.

My mom bought us the Forks Over Knives cookbook The idea of meat has become less and less appealing and I just feel better eating plant based. It could be a placebo affect from listening to all those podcasts noticed I have more energy and just feel better in general.

My one hang-up with eating vegan, was socially. I noticed its very hard to be socially appropriate and not completely alienate myself as well as find things on menus. So far on this trip, I have noticed that eating a strict vegan diet would have proved to be very challenging. So I have adapted my diet and lifestyle while traveling to make room for  seafood and eggs. I have been in Key West, which is home to some of the best, freshest seafood in the world and I think its important to enjoy oneself. Also, we have been eating breakfast out every day and there have been no options  besides eggs. All of the seafood was absolutely delicious and I felt great afterwards. The eggs were good as well! I suppose if I really tried, I could have kept vegan on this trip, but as of right now, I definitely would rather have a clean, healthy meal than an unhealthy vegan one. I also love enjoying the local cuisine and restaurant specialties.

Here are some of the lovely dishes I enjoyed while eating out in Key West. 

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Grape Leave Wrapped Salmon Over Lentils
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Seared Sesame Tuna With Seaweed Salad, Ginger and Mixed Greens in a Wasabi Vinaigrette
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Scrambled Eggs, Whole Wheat Toast and Avocado
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Stone Crabs

As far as my reading, viewing and listening to vegan and health media go, I have seen the most opposition to meat and dairy. Which, I also feel worse after, I haven’t seen much about eggs and seafood,.