once upon a time i became a vegan.

{vegan peanut butter carob cookie from french meadow cafe and bakery}

Greetings, earthlings! I haven't shared in this space in such a long time, but I decided to pop in and write about something that's been on my mind for months now. I started eating vegan about a year ago and began telling people this about six months ago. Since making this choice, I'm constantly being questioned and sometimes criticized on why I chose it. I probably get asked at least once a day, so I thought I'd put it all together in a post for the entire world to see! Which is a little nerve racking. But anyways. It all started around April of 2013 when I experienced terrible acne and a little bit of extra "chub". It caused me a lot of stress and I was always wondering why my skin looked the way it did. In an attempt to clear it all up, I temporarily eliminated dairy, sugar, and gluten from my diet and realized dairy was my problem. I strayed away from it and began experimenting with alternatives. At one point, I went a few months without dairy and when I reintroduced it into my diet again, along with the terrible acne, I began getting terrible stomach aches. After recognizing and eliminating the cause of my health issues, my diet was becoming healthier than before, I started feeling better, and I became very health conscious (almost to the point of obsession, but thats a whole other story). 

After eliminating dairy, I began reading about veganism. Veganism was something I'd never even heard of up until about two years ago, but from what I could tell, vegans were just a bunch hummus-making, yoga-loving hippies, shouting the joys of plant power for all the world to hear. I had never really been a huge fan of meat or eggs. They were just something I ate on a regular basis because my mom cooked those things for our family. Living in Africa, I saw a culture that was completely centered around meat. Seeing meat and dead animal carcasses everywhere, I began losing interest. I started eating less meat until, before I knew it, I genuinely did not want to eat it. The thought of an innocent animal being killed for my food, let alone food I didn't even care about eating, seemed completely wrong to me. So I wasn't eating dairy or meat but I was still eating eggs, mostly just in baked goods and on avocado toast. I started researching plant based sources of protein and researched today's food industry and the treatment of animals. And in early 2014, I made the decision to eat completely vegan. I had decided that I did not want to eat an innocent animal, yet it was not as clear to me why I did not eat eggs or dairy until I realized the abuse those animals experienced for our food as well. Even if they weren't outright killed, they were still being treated so terribly. 

As soon as I made the switch, I experienced clearer skin, my stomach aches were gone, my weight leveled out, I became more confident in myself, and my energy levels were through the roof. I realize not everyone will understand why I eat the way I do. And I've come to accept that fact. Veganism isn't for everyone, and I'm not saying it is. However, I believe that everyone should eat in a way that makes them feel their absolute best and that certain way changes from person to person. It just so happens that I feel my best when I don't eat anything that comes from an animal. 

Another reason I love eating vegan is that it's HEALTHY!! Vegans are generally more likely to consume more fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, etc. since they don't eat meat, eggs, or dairy. Because I've eliminated animal products, I've simultaneously cut out most chemicals, additives, etc. that commonly make their way into our mouths.

Now there are some questions that I hear constantly so I thought I'd talk about those too.  One of the most common misconceptions about vegans is that we don't get enough protein. Yes, animal products are the most common source of protein, but they're not the only ones out there If you eat a well-balanced diet full of variety, you shouldn't have any problem getting your protein from plant-based sources. 

Another question I get asked a lot is what about cookies and sweets and all those foods you love? Well, thank goodness there are SO many alternatives out there, you wouldn't believe it. I can make vegan chocolate chip cookies using the recipe on a Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie bag by simply swapping out coconut oil or vegan butter for regular butter, a flax egg for a regular egg, and dairy-free chocolate chips for regular ones. Once you adjust to making those minor changes, it's really no big deal.  I've become so accustomed to eating this way, it's second nature to me now. There are also amazing alternatives out there for ice cream (double chocolate fudge brownie, oh yes.), chocolate bars, boxed cookies, and pretty much everything you can think of for those moments when you're in need of a little junk food therapy. It happens to everyone. 

Another thing I love is that vegan baking and cooking opens the door to many opportunities of experimenting and trying new things. Sure, not everything works (I have yet to find a good vegan brownie recipe that doesn't taste like play-doh.), but when you actually do find something that works, it's quite exciting.

I'm always being asked if I feel restricted eating this way. The answer is no, I really don't. Once you learn to focus on what you can eat rather than what you can't, a whole new world is opened up. I would never eat this way if I felt deprived or restricted. Feeling that way is indicative of an unhealthy lifestyle, and like I said before, I eat this way because it makes me feel happy and healthy.

People always ask me if I miss eating cheese and ice cream and all those other non-vegan things. I honestly don't. Cheese was definitely the hardest thing for me to give up. But once I got over the fact that I couldn't eat it without getting terrible stomach aches and pimples all over, it made it pretty easy to stay away from it. Of course, like I said, there are amazing alternatives out there. Although ice cream is basically a main food group in my diet (kidding only sort of), I haven't tried any of the vegan options for cheese that are out there because honestly, they do not sound appealing whatsoever.  

What does my family think of all of this? Well. Let's just say they're not always the most accepting and I do hear my fair share of "If only you'd eat meat…" or "Want some of my steak?" But I'm thankful that they've let me make my own choices regarding the food I choose to consume on a daily basis even if it's different from theirs.

Being a Christian, I know that God put animals on the earth with the purpose of providing us humans with nourishment. However, I also know that we are called to be stewards over what He has given us. I'm convinced the way that animals are treated, being inhumanely tortured, abused, torn from their mothers, and killed, is not being good stewards of what we've been given. 

"You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas." Psalm 8:6-8

I've faced a lot of criticism because of my choice, like one time when we were at a BBQ in Tennessee, I told the waiter I didn't want the baked beans if there was meat in it. The man behind me overheard and said, "Some meat won't kill ya." I'm thankful that most people I encounter are open to hearing what I have to say and curious about my choices. I honestly love how people wonder and ask me questions.  I know there are some vegans who are quite extreme and think veganism is the only way to go and if you're against it, you're a terrible person and against the lives of animals. I don't play that. I respect people for their own choices and they respect mine. You eat meat and dairy and eggs? Cool, I don't! I never want to become the preachy type, but would rather show the world how awesome and fun being vegan is. In closing…  my purpose of this post really was not to convince you to go vegan, but to better explain why I made this choice for myself. I hope this answers some of your questions and gets you thinking! 

If you've made it this far and read this entire post, thank you. You deserve a big fat hippy cookie. 

P.S. These posts are fantastic and talk about veganism in a humorous, totally relatable way. 

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spiced pumpkin pecan granola

The change of seasons, from free-spirited summer months to cozy autumn days, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The change is not only evident in the vivid colored trees that line the streets and the leaves that crunch under foot, but I'm also feeling it on the inside. I'm ready for something new. I'm ready to leave the old behind, pick up everything, and go. I'm ready to run with open arms to the new opportunities that are just around the corner. It's so exciting. 

While I'd surely rather be boarding an airplane and getting on my way to some faraway country, I don't think that will be happening anytime soon (but hey, you never know :)). Since coming home from our time in Africa, I've realized a seed has been planted inside of me that doesn't want to stay in one place for too long. As I go to new places, the seed grows, begins to sprout, and turns into full-on addiction that's begging to be fed. And the only way that will happen is if I go somewhere new, somewhere I'm not used to, and emerge my self in the culture and new surroundings. Mmm, that just sounds glorious. 

While I wait for these opportunities to present themselves, I'll be cuddling in bed with endless cups of tea, fuzzy socks, my knitting project, and bowls of pumpkin granola. YES. Pumpkin granola. This is real life, guys. Typically, I'm a purist when it comes to granola. Give me the basics, and I'm happy. But since I was away from my beloved pumpkin for three years, let's just say we're making up for lost time. I can't even explain this granola except for it tastes like autumn in a bowl. Pumpkin puree, maple syrup, cozy spices, chopped pecans, and sweet raisins make for one glorious breakfast.

You'll never regret adding pumpkin to your granola, I promise. 
Comfort zones are overrated anyways. 

spiced pumpkin pecan granola

2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 tbsp. pure maple syrup (or honey)
1/4 c. pumpkin puree
2 tbsp. brown sugar
3 1/2 c. oats
2/3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. raw pecans, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. 
2. In a large bowl, mix all wet ingredients together until smooth. 
3. Add oats and spices. Stir until evenly combined. 
4. Gently fold in chopped pecans and raisins. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. 
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely before transferring to an airtight container, jar, or plastic bag. 

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pumpkin oatmeal bread

It's fall now, guys! Or at least that's what the calendar is telling me. 
The weather, however, is begging for pool parties and watermelon. 
I'm totally confused. 

But as soon as the calendar flipped to September, I got really excited. 

I haven't had an American autumn in three years! 
And that is my excuse for eating all the pumpkin things. 
Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cake, pumpkin pie, pumpkin oatmeal. 
Seriously, gimme it all. 

I'm loving the colors of the leaves when I go for my runs in the morning, the bonfires with friends on the weekends. 
And the fall food. 
I've been dreaming (not even kidding.) of classic fall foods… 
Pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, and apple crisp (getting on that one soon!) 

I honestly can't get over how easy it is to just grab a can of pumpkin puree at the store. 
Way back in the nether years, we had to buy a pumpkin, cube said pumpkin, boil it, and puree it. 
It ended up being quite the process and it never tasted even close to the real deal.

The things we take for granted. 

Anyways, my first fall recipe! 

This pumpkin bread is simple and delicious. 
It's dense and hearty, definitely not a light or fluffy loaf. 
It's lightly sweetened with maple syrup, making it perfect for a healthy snack or breakfast. 
Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon bring a little spice to the party. 
Whole wheat flour and oatmeal make it healthy enough to eat for breakfast. 
Pumpkin bread + coffee = perf. 

ALSO. Smear some peanut butter on there. 
It won't be the worst thing you've ever tasted. 

pumpkin oatmeal bread {vegan}

1 1/3 c. canned pumpkin puree
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. maple syrup or honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. melted coconut oil 
1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. quick cooking oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. tsp. ground nutmeg 

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease or line a loaf pan with parchment paper. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk pumpkin, brown sugar, maple syrup. vanilla, coconut oil, and almond milk. 
3. Add flour, spices, oats, and baking powder. Stir until thoroughly combined. Add more milk if needed. 
4. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely before slicing. 

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peanut butter crunch brownies

So hey, hi, hello. Yes, I'm still alive, can you believe it! It's kinda surreal that I haven't posted since May, when I was sitting in my little room in 9,000 miles away, bored out of my poor little mind. Since coming home, I've thought so many times, "Do I really want to keep blogging? Maybe I should delete my spot in the blogosphere." I've been so busy all day, every single day, and it's like a constant cycle. Wake up. Do school. Run cross country. Do my respective activity for the night. Come home. Watch TV. Go to bed. Repeat. I was afraid I'd never get around to posting anymore. 

But as per usual, my way of relieving stress is baking and with my hectic schedule, I'll be honest. I have no shortage of stress. I'd begun missing messing around in the kitchen with my notepad, pen, and camera close by. So here I am. Back with a vengeance. (I'm looking at you, you sexy peanut butter crunchy brownies, you.) Making time to do what I love. And eating brownies for lunch. Just like the good 'ol days. 

Although I've baked a few times, usually on the weekends, it's typically something pretty boring and practical for the weekday mornings like granola or banana bread. But everyone needs brownies in their lives every once in awhile. Vegans included. 

I've tried SO many vegan brownie recipes it's absolutely ridiculous and none of them have ever been anything worth going nuts (PUUUUN.) over. They always have some weird substitutions and resultant textures. I don't care what you say, BANANA IS NOT BUTTER. 

I am happy to announce, the search is over! I made these brownies, with a couple changes of course, from the ever-talented Minimalist Baker. I followed the recipes somewhat closely and they were a little thin for my liking. Other than that, they were perfectly dense, chewy, and rich. The second I bit into one, I knew they were destined for greatness… i.e. peanut butter and sea salt. 

I'll warn you, the brownie batter will look more like cookie dough. But don't worry, guys. It's all g. Swirl in some peanut butter, sprinkle with sea salt, scatter with roasted peanuts and life is great. Don't bake them for too long or they'll end up dry and crumbly- they're vegan remember, so you don't have to worry about leaving the center a little raw! Let them cool completely before cutting or you'll have a mess on your hands. If you're impatient and having a serious chocolate craving, pop them in the freezer. You won't regret it, I promise.  

vegan peanut butter crunch brownies 

3/4 c. coconut oil, softened
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. unsweetened almond milk
1/4 c. all purpose flour
2/3 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 c. creamy natural peanut butter, melted
1/4 c. unsalted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped 

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line an 8x8 in. pan with parchment paper; set aside. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk coconut oil, milk, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. 
3. Add flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Stir until combined. Press into prepared pan. 
4. Spoon peanut butter onto brownies and swirl with a knife. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts. 
5. Bake for 12-16 minutes- brownies should still be a little bit raw in the center. Let cool completely before slicing into squares. (For a speedy cooling process place pan in freezer for 5-10 minutes or until firm.) Recipe yields 9 small brownies or 12 large brownies. 

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It's been two years and a half years since we got off that little plane and walked on Namibian soil for the first time in our lives. There was so much uncertainty. So much excitement. So much unknowing. Those two years have been a roller coaster. 

My time here brought lots of excitement at new opportunities and being in a new place. 
It saw months of depression, loneliness, and general sadness. 
There were lots of adventures, road trips, and dune-climbing.
It saw the rejoicing in our household as our baby sister was born and adopted into our family.  
There were lots of morning coffee dates with my parents and baby sister as we encouraged each other and strengthened our relationship.
Lots of friends came and went, leaving lessons learned with our memories made together.
It saw our family grow closer and close together as lonely days dragged on. 
There were lots of movie nights, game nights, and dinners with friends. 
There were lots of evening runs to clear my mind. 
Lots of tears were cried and nights spent crying myself to sleep, praying that The Storm would pass. 

When I think of being here, all the trials I went through, and the lessons I learned, I instantly think of 1 Peter 1:6-7. 

"In all of this you greatly rejoice, that now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire- may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Namibia was the Fire. It was where I was burned, refined, and molded into the woman of God He desires me to be. 

At times, it was a painful experience that I will never forget. But the result is something else I will never forget- a renewed faith in Him. A new trust in Him and His plan for my life, because at times, it was the only thing that kept me holding on with what little strength was left in me. 

I clung to the hope that everything I was going through was all because He allowed it. He allowed me to feel the pain, the sadness, the loneliness, the depression because as I fell deeper and deeper, I was being drawn closer and closer to Him. 

As our time draws to a close, I'm reminded of all the memories I've made here. It makes me sad to think of leaving this chapter of my life behind. But I'm excited to turn the page and begin a new chapter, a new journey. 

Although these two and a half years have been so difficult, it's ONLY through those difficulties that I learned what I have. I'm going home a new person, yes. But I want to make sure that change sticks, that I don't return to who I was before. I never leaned on Him like I did here, because when you're surrounded by people who love you and everything you need at your fingertips (aka Walmart), why would you? 

I don't want to go back to being naive of the hurt that is in the world around me. It'd be so easy to get on that plane and never think of this place again. But I never ever want to do that. This place has changed me inside and out and has played such an important roll in who I am now. 

So that's all. The journey home begins! Please keep our family in your prayers as we travel and adjust.

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salted caramel peanut butter cups

Things are all of a sudden moving quickly. Boxes are being packed. Belongings are being sold. Memories are being remembered. Goodbyes are being said. And time is being savored. 

The thought of what the next few weeks and months hold send my mind spinning. I'm overjoyed, excited, and relieved to be heading home. But when you're in one place for two and a half years, there's something still there, pulling you back, asking you to please not leave. 

I have difficulty falling asleep at night, reliving old memories of game nights with friends, pool parties, and singing in the streets past dark. But those memories fade to gray and I'm brought to now; the reality that things have changed since then. The thought of going back home, starting over, and beginning a new journey sends shivers down my spine. I can't wait. 

These next few weeks, I'm vowing to relish in every moment left here. To soak it all in, tucking these moments away to relive when I'm no longer here, but 9,000 miles across the globe. 

There's a limited amount left of coffee dates with my parents, trips out to see kids who have stolen my heart, peaceful mind-clearing evening runs, and game and movie nights with my family.  It's hard to believe that soon these things will be nothing but used-to-be's. But the future excites me. New adventures, new challenges, new people, new lessons to learn. It's all so exciting to me. 

Please bare with me over the next few weeks and months as my life speeds up and my blog slows down. 

salted caramel peanut butter cups (raw & vegan) 

chocolate coating: 
1/2 c. coconut oil, melted 
3 tbsp. honey/maple syrup
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
dash of vanilla
pinch of sea salt 

peanut butter filling: 
3 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1 tbsp. honey/maple syrup
1 tbsp. coconut oil

date caramel: 
1/2 c. chopped dates
1 tbsp. honey/maple syrup
dash of vanilla extract

Begin by preparing the chocolate coating, whisking together all ingredients until smooth. If it seems to liquiddy, let chill for a few minutes until it thickens up. Pour into 10 small paper cups, coating the sides. Reserve about 1/3 c. of chocolate and set aside. Place chocolate cups in freezer and chill while you prepare the fillings. First, prepare the peanut butter filling by whisking all ingredients until smooth; set aside. In a small bowl, soak dates in boiling water. Drain and place in a blender. Add sweetener and vanilla and pulse until smooth, adding more water as needed. Take chocolate cups from freezer. Spoon peanut butter filling into each cup and repeat with caramel. Top with remaining chocolate. Chill for 5-6 hours or overnight. Store in freezer. 

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raw banana nut bars

I've said it before, but since becoming health-conscious, I crave really weird things which is satisfying and terrifying all at the same time only because I wasn't always like this. It's so cool how our tastebuds adjust after only a few weeks or even a few days of eating a certain way. This is the only explanation I have for nights I no longer crave ice cream and bread, but steamed spinach and homemade energy bars. For this reason, I always have the fridge and freezer stalked with homemade goodies (and bags of spinach.)

The other day I was perusing through the greatness that is Oh Lady Cakes and was immediately feeling inspired to experiment with some more raw desserts. I jotted down tons of ideas I had popping up left and right, but first up were these raw banana nut bars. I almost called this recipe raw banana bread because that's really what they taste like. I figured some people (namely my family who I had a conversation with about this earlier) would be out for my head though, considering these things are nowhere NEAR bread with the absence butter, sugar, flour, and baking. So raw banana nut bars it is. 

I'm secretly hoping that I'll forget these are stashed away in the freezer drawer when I go rummaging for something to satisfy my sweet tooth. But let's be real here. I'm not gonna stop thinking about these anytime soon and they'll most likely be gone within the next 24 hours. 

raw banana nut bars

1 c. chopped dates
1 c. raw nuts (I used pecans), finely chopped
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. pure honey or maple syrup
1/4 c. flax seeds
1 c. quick cooking oats
pinch of cinnamon

In a small bowl, soak dates in boiling water. let sit for 5-10 minutes or until soft then drain and chop finely. In a large bowl, mix dates, bananas, vanilla, and honey. Add in flax seeds and oats. (You can either leave the dough like this or place in a food processor for a more fine texture. I like them chunky though!) Press dough into a small pan lined with parchment paper and cut into six squares. 

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