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At one time in my life, the thought of steamed vegetables (especially steamed broccoli and kale) evoked lacklusterness and deprivation. That is until I discovered this dressing. Now, I’ll eat just about anything I can use as a vehicle for this sweet and tangy sauce. It’s awesome on salad, as a satay dip, or drizzled over steamed vegetables and tofu for a very healthy meal (add a sprinkle of sesame seeds for presentation). Now, nothing gets me more excited than a heaping bowl of steamed vegetables.

I’ve been busy, busy, busy these last few weeks. But I’m determined to uphold my promise of more low carb vegan fare. So without further ado, here’s the recipe that makes eating heaps of vegetables quite easy. Play around with it — I rarely make this one the same way twice. Sometimes I add some fresh squeezed orange juice instead of agave for sweetness.

Miso-Tahini Dressing:

2 tablespoons sesame tahini

3 tablespoons white miso (make sure it’s gluten-free)

1 1/2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari soy sauce

3 tablespoons brown rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1 tablespoon water (optional)

Directions:

1. Whisk all ingredients until smooth. Add more miso for extra thickness, if desired, or water to thin to desired consistency.

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Who has read The Hunger Games trilogy? Anyone? My mom bought be a nook a few weeks ago, and I took my husband’s suggestion to make The Hunger Games my first nook purchase. That was last Thursday, as in, February 17th. Since then, I’ve literally been glued to my nook during every inch of spare time I can muster. I’ve even deliberately picked longer checkout lines just for an excuse to read for a minute more. I just started the third book, Mockingjay, and expect I’ll encounter the same lack of willpower when it comes to putting it down to go to bed. Thinking about starting this trilogy? If so, don’t plan on being productive or getting much sleep in the next week.

That said, I’m a little glad I can at least covertly — thanks to my nook — be so engrossed in what’s considered a “young adult” series. Am I really turning into the Hunger Games’ version of a “Twihard”? Please let this not be true.

At any rate, at the hands of my newfound obsession, my baking has suffered as well as my sleep. I did, however, manage to break away for a few hours to do Bikram Yoga last night (something I’ve “re-discovered” lately after a few year hiatus), and was craving my usual post-Bikram snack when I realized there was little to work with in the fridge, and I had little energy to make something complicated. I was going to settle on a small bowl of brown rice crisps with soy milk when I realized how boring that sounded. Fifteen minutes later I had created something much more satisfying: my gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan version of a rice krispie treat. Which was perfect, because that’s about all the time I could manage to allow before surrendering to a few more hours of uninterrupted reading.

Yield: about 9 large crispies; 18 small

Coconut Almond Rice Crispy Treats:

4 cups Barbara’s fruit sweetened brown rice crisps

3/4 cup creamy almond butter (not raw)

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut

Directions:

1. Put rice crisps in a large, heat-safe bowl.

2. Heat almond butter, coconut nectar and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir. When everything has melted together and become smooth, about 2 minutes, pour over rice crisps and stir to combine and until all of the dry crisps are coated. Add coconut.

3. Press rice crisps into a square, parchment-lined baking dish (8×8 or 9×9 is fine). Press firmly to smooth over the top and shape treats into dish. Chill in refrigerator for a few hours, or until set.

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When I began transitioning to a vegan diet — almost a year ago now — I knew there would be moments of concession. I was always one of those people who said things like “I could easily go vegan if I had to…except for…” and that’s where I decided it didn’t matter, because no one’s putting a gun to my head and making me go vegan. But then I learned a few things about where my, say, chicken was coming from, and someone might as well have put a gun to my head. Because that was it. Suddenly, after all of those hypotheticals, I had found myself in as close as I would ever come to a “had to” moment. As in, I felt I had no choice.

While I’m no longer pining for things like sushi and roasted chicken like I used to, I am finding that there are moments where concessions still are made. At times — a small fraction of the time, really — I find myself having to make a choice to stay on course, even when it’s not entirely easy. Usually, it is.

But now — and is it just me? — it seems like the whole low-carb/no-carb phase has gotten it’s second wind, and I can’t help but feel annoyed by the whole thing. Like, “didn’t we go over this already?” Bacon and eggs for breakfast might make you skinny, but it isn’t going to win you any brownie points with your cardiologist.

It seems we’re often prone to conflating the notion of “dieting” with healthy eating, when the two are often incompatible at best.  So when I saw an article in Reader’s Digestthis weekend that reinforced the notion that carbs are our enemy and thrice-daily servings of meat, dairy and eggs will solve all of one’s problems with weight, I was simultanously annoyed yet eager to one-up the consulting Reader’s Digest Dr. with my own, healthier version of a low-carb meal plan.

Ok, confession time. There have been a few times in my life when I’ve succommed to the whole no-carb thing, which has always lasted for maybe a day. That is, once I remember that not having at least some sort of grain or starch during the day makes me feel rather nauseated, which is not a feeling I particularly enjoy. To be fair, though, I am equally affected by carb overload, which usually has the effect of making me extremely tired and unusually hungry during the day, no matter how much I eat.

I admit to having a tendency toward the latter when I’m going on instinct. I prefer tortilla chips to nuts as a snack, and cereal to a protein shake for breakfast. Adding the vegan element only further challenges me to think a little harder about how to get enough protein and vegetables into my diet without overdoing it on the carb front. I know, I know. I’m reading The China Study as we speak. Our requisite protein intake is, indeed, often overstated. But I nevertheless feel more energized and healthy when I’m swapping out at least some starch for protein-packed foods. I’ve decided, then, that this is not one of those areas where I’m going to make a concession just because animal protein isn’t on my grocery list.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to challenge myself to come up with as many low-carb, vegan dishes as I can think of. I find that when I have a good amount of recipes and ideas in my arsenal (and on this site) I’m never at a loss when it comes to my meals.

I started with a simple, mushroom-based dish, atop a bed of mashed cauliflower (a low-carb classic). You can serve this as a side dish, or as a hearty main course along with some green beans and almonds, or with some soy tempeh for protein. There’s something very nostalgic to me about anything in gravy, which is why I imagine this is a great dish for anyone longing for a “classic” American dinner, veganized (and low-carbized), of course!

Protobellos in Gravy:

6 portobello caps (stems removed), dirt removed with a damp cloth, sliced

2 tablespoons soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread, divided

2 tablespoons brown rice flour

2 cups vegetable stock

parsley for serving

Directions:

1. Heat 1 tablespoon buttery spread in a large skillet. Add mushrooms and saute for 1 minute, until they just begin to moisten and soften. Remove from pan.

2. Melt remaining butter and add flour to the pan. Stir with butter until a crumbly paste forms, then add the broth. Whisk or stir constantly to prevent clumps until the broth begins to thicken and boil.

3. Add back mushrooms and heat for another minute, or until mushrooms are softened. Remove from heat and serve over mashed cauliflower or potatoes or with wide noodles for a Stroganoff knock-off.

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I’m one of those people who likes Valentine’s Day more than I should admit. While feigning apathy and even disdain for this so-called Hallmark Holiday, I secretly love the idea that there is one random night every year where you are justified in splurging on a date night dinner, even when the remaning 364(ish) days of the year are spent with dinner plates on your lap while watching T.V. on the couch (not that I’m thinking of any particular couple here…)

Gennaro has always had a knack for the sweet but not gushy or sentimental. He has also, at times (ok, only once), had a knack for shooting himself in the foot when it comes to V-day plans. A fews years ago — my first Valentine’s Day living out in New York — he made reservations at a new “it” spot in the West Village. It was overpriced and underportioned, and we both left hungry and one of us left a few hundred dollars poorer. All in the name of love!

The following year was more successful, to say the least, and illustrated what has always been quite clear about the man I married: he gets me. Around 11 p.m. on February 13th, I was presented with a “menu” for the following day, complete with breakfast, lunch and dinner plans at my favorite spots around NYC. Curly’s Vegetarian vegan pancakes for breakfast, Caracas for lunch, and a new Mexican spot I’d been dying to try for dinner. Gennaro also threw in “snack” plans for a trip to Babycakes for some gluten-free cupcakes and brownies, but needless to say we were so stuffed after lunch (which was a stretch after our hearty breakfast as it was) that we nixed those plans in favor of a nice stroll around the East Village on that unusually warm February day. Did I land an awesome guy or what?

As you may have guessed, I made these brownie bites as a nod to Valentine’s Day — a day that it not entirely complete without a little chocolate. Ironically, these were inspired by those served at Babycakes, the one spot we never made it to on our February 14th NYC eating tour a few years ago.

Photo Courtesy of Linda Wan Photography

Raspberry Brownie Bites:

Yield: 24

Brownies are a contentious subject among many. I like mine super chocolately and not super sweet, kind of like a morsel of good, dark chocolate. If you refrigerate these they get even more fudgy, so feel free to do so. Note: for best results, use silicone muffin cups, which allow you to pop the brownie bites easily out of each cup after baking. 

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup liquified coconut oil

1/3 cup coconut nectar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 hot water

1/4 cup brewed coffee

a few tablespoons raspberry fruit spread

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add remaining ingredients except for fruit spread and whisk until just incorporated.

3. Spoon tablespoon-sized scoops of batter into mini muffin cups (I used silicone cups, as the brownies pop out really easily this way). Using a 1/4 teaspoon rounded measure, scoop out raspberry fruit spread and place on top of each brownie, pressing in gently.

4. Bake in preheated oven until tops begin to crack and bounce back slightly when pressed, about 10-15 minutes (brownies, I find, can vary greatly depending on preference and oven). Set on a wire rack to cool, about 10 minutes, before removing from cups.

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Today was a snow day. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had one of those.

I can tell you first hand that nothing makes you appreciate being snowed in as having a full-time job. Not that I don’t love my job. It’s just that all those little things that usually fall by the wayside — paying bills, returning phone calls, doing laundry, testing recipes — suddenly have your full attention; your to-do list is suddenly dwindled to a less anxiety-inducing size. Wait, did I say, testing recipes? Yes, that is always on my “to-do” list. It’s my favorite “chore.”

That said, my offering in this post is one that’s been in my queue for quite some time. Today’s baked goods shall have to wait for a later date. You see, it occurred to me today, as I marveled at the time I had to really bake a real dessert, that I normally (as of last month, when I got a job) don’t have the time for such endeavors. Still, that doesn’t seem to stop me from pining for some sweetness after a meal (seriously, I have no idea where this newfound sweet tooth came from). I started making these chips a few years ago to satisfy those cravings when a real baked treat was unavailable. I guess it’s about time to share my super simple secret with all of you.

Oh, and there’s this little event called the Super Bowl coming up this weekend. While I already did my due blogger diligence and shared the compulsatory Super Bowl recipe, I do think this would be a very appropriate, mindless snacking option for watching a game. Make this in batches for a crowd. Not into stevia? Try mixing cinnamon with some agave and drizzle it over the unbaked chips.

Yield: about 40-50 crisps per batch

Sweet Cinnamon Crisps:

3 gluten-free brown rice tortillas

2 tablespoons melted vegan buttery spread for brushing

1 teaspoon Sweetleaf Stevia Plus Powder (about 4 packets)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Brush tops of tortillas with melted buttery spread. You will probably not use all of it. Very lightly grease baking sheet with buttery spread as well and set aside. Cut tortillas into triangles roughly the size of tortilla chips. Lay flat on baking sheet and do not overlap.

3. Mix cinnamon and stevia. Lightly sprinkle over tortillas. You will probably have some of the cinnamon mixture left over as well. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, until crisp. Remove to a paper towel to cool. Chips will become crispier as they cool.

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What a funny world we live in. One month, we’re showered with every type of diet and detox recipe imaginable (including here on Delectably Free), the next month we’re teased and lured by Super Bowl party recipes for nachos and junk food, only to face the sweets and chocolate onslaught that is Valentine’s Day. No wonder we’re so schizophrenic about our food habits sometimes.

Then again, I am far from immune to the temptation to shift gears toward the end of January. Maybe it’s the inner party planner in me — I’m the girl who plans fictitious dinner parties I know I’m never going to have (I still am contemplating a recipe round-up post for all my favorite dinner party ideas, for those who are actually motivated to execute on that front). As you can see, I went decidedly re-tox for this dish. No more detox fare here. Processed “cheese”? Check. A hefty dose of (albeit healthy) fat? Check. Something that requires some sort of chip for dipping? Check.

Yes, folks, I’ve gone “bad” for this recipe. But what’s a Super Bowl party without some junk food thrown into the mix? I don’t care if this is a vegan dish packed with 4 cups of fresh spinach. This dip tastes baaad in such a good way; I doubt anyone will find this to be health fare.

On that note, if you’re serving a crowd, I’d suggest a double/triple batch. Between the two of us, my mom and I finished this off in just two sittings (not exactly something I want to brag about here, just stating the facts).

Serves: 4-6

Hot Spinach Dip:

1 cup chopped scallions (about 1 bunch)

4 cups tightly-packed fresh spinach, chopped*

1/2 cup Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1/2 cup Daiya vegan mozzarella, plus more for topping

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Mix all ingredients, except remaining cheese for topping, in a large bowl until combined. Turn out into a shallow baking dish or ramekin and smooth out top. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve immediately with favorite gluten-free chip.

* For a healthier twist, use 1/2 spinach and 1/2 finely chopped kale

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I love scones. I think they’re among my favorite indulgences, as they’re one of the less sweet desserts out there, but also a very viable breakfast option. I also think I like just about anything that goes well with a cup of coffee, and I’ve never met a scone that didn’t.

It took me three tries to make these. They turned out well the first time, actually. But I stupidly measured the oil over my bowl, and as it went pouring over and into my flour mixture. From there I knew I was dooomed to guess exactly how much oil had actually made it in. My first guess (and second batch of scones) came out quite oily. The third was just right — and to my mom’s delight, as I think she is already quite over me dirtying up her kitchen and waving baked goods under her nose every weekend.

While I used agave in these, I was very gentle with it — only 1/4 cup. Therefore, these scones are not too sweet. Just how I like them. You’ll have to excuse my choppy writing, but I’ve had residual headaches ever since my migraine on Friday night and putting together a sentence is a little much for me at the moment. I think it’s time for winter to be over!

Sweet Potato Scones:

2 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup liquified coconut oil, plus more for brushing

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup agave nectar

zest of one orange (optional)

1/2 cup fruit sweetened dried cranberries

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir in oil, sweet potato, agave, vanilla and orange zest until combined into a workable dough. Fold in cranberries.

3. Form dough into a large ball and place on floured counter. Roll into an 8×8″ disk using dusted rolling pin, smoothing out edges with hands. Make slices in dough, cutting into quarters and then eighths (alternately, roll into two smaller disks for 16 small scones). Gently remove to parchment-lined or silpat-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining oil.

4. Bake scones in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until tops are golden. Let cool before serving.

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I got the idea for a millet risotto recipe from this site for “clean” recipes, which I discovered through GOOP. I pretty much wanted to try every recipe on there (or a vegetarian version of those that had meat), but was particularly intrigued by the sound of a millet risotto.

Risotto is one of my weaknesses. It’s the carb-lover in me that can’t get enough of the often creamy, rich and delicate rice dish. On the other hand, a good rice risotto often requires arborio or another starchy, white rice. As a result, I try to limit my intake as much as possible. I like even my favorite guilty pleasures to have at least some nutritional value (thanks, guacamole, for coming in handy in that department).

Whole Grain Millet, on the other hand, is a good source of fiber and protien. I bought some awhile ago and was stumped with what to do with it (I was thinking a sweet pudding-type dish) until I saw a recipe for artichoke risotto in the clean, elimation diet recipe guide. I tried to vary the flavors a bit with some nutritional yeast, kalamata olives and parsley. If you’re so inclined, you might even want to add some white wine from the start as well. Like risotto, this dish does require a bit of stirring and attention. Still, the preparation is otherwise quite simple. Great for a week night when you’re tired but don’t want to give up on the hope of a nice, healthy and luxurious dinner (story of my life these days).

Makes: 4 servings

Mediterranean Millet Risotto:

1/2 red onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced or thinly sliced

1 cup millet

1 cup water

4 cups vegetable broth

1 can or jar artichoke hearts, drained (look for ones that are oil and additive free) and roughly chopped

20 kalamata olives, drained and chopped

1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil, onion and garlic. Saute until onion is transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add millet and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate, small pot, heat vegetable broth. Add 1/2 cup heated broth to millet once millet has absorbed most, but not all, of the water. Stir until liquid is again mostly absorbed, then add another 1/2 cup of broth. Keep repeating this process until there is no more broth, about 25 minutes.

3. After you have added your last 1/2 cup of broth and risotto is still somewhat soupy, add remaining ingredients. Stir until risotto is desired texture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Hey, everyone. I feel like it’s been forever, though in reality it’s not even been a week since my last post. There have been so many developments and changes in my life, I don’t know where to start! As far as news goes, I did manage to get a job that I really love. The bad news is that it might take us out of New York… But, more on that later; we’re still working out some of the details. Although I should clarify that I’m not necessarily looking at it as “bad” news — it’s more of a bittersweet feeling. A bright future; a bright city to leave behind.

Well, as you might imagine, I’ve been a bit busier in the past week than I was when I was unemployed. Remember my whole rant about being a “night owl/morning person” a few weeks back? Well, I’m no longer either. I both go to bed early and hate waking up to an alarm clock in the mornings. Other than that, though, (and again, I will provide more details in the months ahead), I have the opportunity to do something I’ve only dreamed was possible: feeling wholly fulfilled in my career. The downside (aside from my alarm clock in the morning) is that all of my energy goes into doing well at work, and I have little left over when I get home to cook anything, let alone write posts.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about recipes all the time, though. I actually made these coocnut macaroons last week. My mom has implored me not to make them again because she liked them “too much” (oh, yeah, I’m living with my parents temporarily, too. But more on that later as well. Don’t worry; all is well with the hubs! …I told you there were a lot of changes going on!) I wanted to make a lower-carb, grain-free recipe for awhile and this one certainly fits that description (plus, they’re vegan, obviously). Although these are not low in fat, if you make them into small clusters as I did, you won’t have to feel too guilty about enjoying one or two (if you have the willpower to resist going for more).

Coconut Macaroons:

1 ½ cups shredded unsweetened coconut

2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

1 tablespoon arrowroot powder/flour

2 tablespoons coconut flour

¼ cup light coconut milk

½ cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until combined and sticky. Form into small mounds using a rounded tablespoon measure and lay flat on a parchment-lined baking sheet (if mixture is too dry and falls apart, add a bit more coconut milk. If it’s too wet add a bit more coconut).

2. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Let cool before serving.

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As I may have mentioned before, I’ve never done a “detox” in the traditional sense of the word. That’s not to say, however, that I can’t go a little crazy when it comes to eating healthy. My crazy-healthy streaks– those where I really go all-out with the greens, juicing, low-carbing, etc. — are the closest to detox I get. That is, if you can call it “detox” when coffee is involved (probably not, right?) Last I checked, copious amounts of caffeine and cleanses didn’t mix.

My slight — ahem, massive — coffee addiction might explain why I tend to be overzealous in other areas of my diet. Perhaps I’m trying to compensate? Whatever the reason, I like to play games like “see how many different colored vegetables I can fit into one meal.” Or, “how many ‘cleansing’ ingredients can I fit into one dish?” Of course, such moments are interspersed with spurts of baking zeal and uninhibited tasting. Then there are those days where I’m tired, lazy, busy, out of groceries, or eating out a lot. Those days? My plates are less-than-colorful; my meals skewed toward the carb-loaded and vegetable-deprived.

As contradictory and schizophrenic as this may all sound, I reason that no one can be 100% perfect all the time. Which is why, even on my worst days, I’m still getting some fruits and vegetables, and why, even on my best, I don’t strive for absolute perfection (what is “perfection” in a diet, anyways?) Thus, my tendency to avoid cleanses, which seem to require super-human strength, willpower, and a complete abandonment of reality (I’m sorry, but I’m not one of those people who can carry on a normal work day subsisting on solely juice. If you are, more power to you!!).

So, after a long-winded explanation, you understand why this green glob — and the bed of fiborous spaghetti squash it sits upon — is one of my favorite and most often-prepared dishes. It’s my non-cleanse cleanse. A detoxifying dish without the “detox.” Parsley, with all its diuretic properties is a wonderful kidney cleanser. The higher-than-usual amount of lemon juice in this pesto provides a great tonic for the liver. Lemon juice is also said to be helpful for the skin. The b vitamins in the nutritional yeast provide essential vitamins and nutrients, especially for those of us following a vegan diet. Finally, pepitas (my secret ingredient) provide a healthy source of protein and fat. They are also said to help lower cholesterol. I like to add all of this to a heaping bed of low calorie, high-fiber (helps to “move things along,” so to speak…) spaghetti squash, which is one of my favorite foods to prepare.

Pepita-Parsley Pesto:

1 small bunch curly parsley

6 tablespoons raw pepitas

¼ cup nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon water (more as needed)

½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

Directions:

Puree all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Add water as needed for desired texture.

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