Spaghetti & Beanballs: A Vegetarian Take on an Old Classic

A love for cooking definitely runs in my family. Growing up, my mom and aunt always prepared the most delicious meals; it served as a true inspiration to my culinary adventures. They had “go-to” recipes but still weren’t afraid to experiment – sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. Either way, you still have fun mixing it up in the kitchen, right?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am the only vegetarian in my family – so reconstructing those family favorites was quite a task. If there was one dish my mom is known for, it would definitely be her meatballs. I can’t remember a family event when she wasn’t asked to bring a batch. Considering that I’m not “afraid” of meat (I just don’t eat it) and that my boyfriend is a die-hard meat fan, I decided to make a batch for him.

I was then inspired to not just create a vegetarian version, but a VEGAN one! I’m not a vegan, but some of my favorite dishes I’ve made happened to be vegan. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot – besides, the “meatball” is simply an accessory to a spaghetti dish, right?

Well, it turned out that not only were the vegetarian meatballs easy to make, they were DELICIOUS! Even Nick liked them!  I pulled the recipe from my handy dandy Veganomicon – whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or meat-eater, I highly recommend this book. It is chock full of hearty and satisfying recipes. I actually made two recipes from this book, Spaghetti and Beanballs (p. 189) and Homemade Marinara Sauce (p. 205).

Ingredients:

For Homemade Marinara Sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 t thyme
1/4 t oregano
1/2 t salt
couple grinds of black pepper

 

For Beanballs:

20 oz. can of cooked kidney beans
1/4 c. vital wheat gluten
1/2 c. bread crumbs
2 T. olive oil
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. steak sauce or tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated
1/4 t. lemon zest
1/2 t. oregano
1/4 t. thyme

The Method:

For sauce:

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan on medium-low.  Add the garlic and cook about a minute.  Don’t let it burn.
  2. Add the rest, cover, bring to simmer over medium heat, then turn it down to low and simmer 15 minutes.

For Beanballs:

  1. Preheat oven to 375* and spray rimmed baking sheet with oil.
  2. Mash kidney beans using potato masher or food processor. I used my food processor and it worked well. Some beans were left whole and that was OK with me. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix together. Knead with your hands for about a minute once combined.
  3. Roll into balls – I got about 20 out of this using 3 cups of beans – and place on baking sheet. Spray beanballs with a little more oil. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip and bake again for 10 minutes.
  4. The book says to cover them in the sauce and baked them again for 5 minutes. I decided to just let them simmer in the sauce for a couple of hours since that’s what my mom’s recipe called for. It turned out fantastic – less clean-up and a more flavorful ball!
  5. Now the only cooking left to do is cook that pasta according the directions on the package.
  6. I topped my plate off with some vegan Parmesan by Rice Dream – it actually tastes a lot like Kraft grated parmesan.
  7. Now, pour a glass of wine. Sip. Eat. Enjoy.

My Reasons for Meditating

Stress stemming from work, family and relationships can definitely take its toll, even on people that are the coolest of cucumbers. The fact of the matter is that our hectic lifestyles make it nearly impossible to stay cool, calm and collected. Although I’ve always tried to come off as a tranquil person, I used to fall victim to the anxiety that life often brought on many, many occasions. That’s when I discovered how meditation could save my sanity.

I haven’t always been a meditation advocate. In fact, incorporating meditation into my routine is something that I have done for less than a year – but this is a hobby that I will never give up. I must admit, beginning meditation for the first time was very difficult; it was hard for me to concentrate and remain patient for the benefits I was told I would reap in by doing this on a daily basis. It seemed really easy to give up and continue living my balancing act of a life where things were equally glass half empty and half full. I envied those that I knew who didn’t let anything get to them – whether it was their boss overloading them at work, a friend making snarky comments or issues in their relationship – nothing seemed to faze them.

Here I was, a woman who became irate just from driving behind someone who was going 5 miles under the speed limit. Yes, that was the old me. I didn’t meditate because I convinced myself that I didn’t have enough time. Well, let me tell you that is 100% false for everyone. Nobody can say they don’t have enough time to meditate and should be willing to sacrifice 10 minutes to better their mental health and overall well-being. After I got over the difficult hump of concentration during the first couple of weeks, I started experiencing euphoria just by examining my breath and truly believing that I should not worry about the things I couldn’t control.

How and when you meditate is up to you. I know people who meditate first thing in the morning, and I also know people who do it on their lunch hour or right before they go to bed. You can do it in silence, with ambient music or a recording of a soothing voice filling your mind with positivity. As for the position, you can sit or you can lay down on the floor or bed.

As for me, I like to lie in my bed and listen to music; sometimes I’ll lay on the floor and raise my legs parallel against the wall. I also choose to meditate at night because I go into such a relaxing trance that I sometimes fall asleep and don’t wake up until my alarm goes off in the morning.

For those of you who want to start meditating but are intimidated by it or are discouraged because it doesn’t seem like a possibility for you, here are a few tips to help ease you into the process:

1. Find a comfortable place in your home or outside if you prefer. Take the first few minutes and allow your muscles to just relax – don’t move them, just allow your limbs to rest peacefully.

2. Close your eyes to avoid distraction and examine your breath. At some point you’ll be able to meditate with your eyes open and still remain totally focused on your bliss and breath. This may take time, so don’t rush yourself; in fact, there is nothing wrong with always closing your eyes if you find it relaxes you more.

3. Use sound. Beginning to meditate in silence can cause frustration and discourage you from continuing your meditative routine. There are DVDs, CDs, websites and multiple free apps available for smartphones that have guided meditation backed up by soothing tunes to help you remain focused and tranquil. Some of my favorite apps are Qi Gong Meditation and Buddhist Meditation. Both of those apps come equipped with positive affirmations and reminders so you don’t forget to meditate.

Happy “Oming” everyone!

Natural Remedies for Insomnia

I’ve penned an article or two about my sleeping woes; and realizing that nixing caffeine doesn’t work for everyone, I wanted to offer another solution. Even though cutting caffeine from my diet completely has helped my insomnia tremendously, there are still some nights that I have trouble catching even a wink of sleep. Our sleep cycle is a sensitive thing and can be disrupted by many things including stress, certain foods, illness, etc. and it’s imperative to baby it so we can get the recommended 7 – 8 hours per day. Most of us, if we’re lucky, are probably getting around 5 hours a night and then channeling the zombies on The Living Dead during the day.

We are well-aware that there are numerous amounts of over the counter sleep aids and just as many prescriptions that claim to “fix” insomnia, but are they safe?

The reality is, these medications only cover up your lingering insomnia and hold the risk of dependency and some pretty freaky side effects if taken too much over an extended period of time. The only way to “fix” your insomnia is by resetting your circadian rhythm. Luckily for those of us who don’t want to take those risks, there are supplements that are easily accessible that can help induce relaxation and sleep around bed time – and can even reset your circadian rhythm.

Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that is already found in our bodies and is responsible for regulating our sleep cycle. It may be possible that your body isn’t releasing the hormone at bedtime or just not releasing enough of it to induce drowsiness. You can find it in two forms; a pill that is immediately released into your system to promote drowsiness, the other is an extended release pill that helps you stay asleep. If you’re someone who has trouble staying asleep, the extended release pill can enhance the amount and quality of your sleep. Doctors recommend taking 1 – 3mg an hour before bedtime.

Valerian Root: Given its usage to treat anxiety and depression because of its sedating qualities, researchers also believe that Valerian Root can effectively treat insomnia. Although the relaxation effects kick in immediately, it may take a week or two to induce drowsiness since it has more of an effect on your body the longer you take it. You can find Valerian Root in pill or tea-form at your local grocer or health food store. I like using the SleepyTime Extra Tea by Celestial Seasonings – it’s delicious and soothes you to sleep after 45 minutes to an hour.  Doctors recommend taking 300 – 900mg one to two hours before bedtime.

Kava: This peppery plant has long been praised for its treatment in anxiety and studies suggest it can effectively treat insomnia. It comes in the form of a pill, tea or extract – all are effective and can be found at any health store. I LOVE the Yogi brand of Kava Kava Tea, I drink it about 30 minutes before bed and it helps encourage a restful slumber. Although taking this supplement is relatively safe and has been used for thousands of years, researchers warn that it can become slightly addictive and cause liver damage if taken in excess over time. Doctors recommend taking 100 – 200mg an hour before bedtime – but as always, check with your doctor to make sure you’re taking the correct dosage for your body.