The plant based nurse

My family's excellent adventure to better health!

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Engine 2 Nationwide challenge, day 7, International cook off!

Last evening we had our first meet up for the Engine 2 Nationwide challenge and I may have gone a little crazy, but I think all in all it was a successful evening. At the suggestion of one of our new members, we had an international theme. We had Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern cuisine and also had some sugar free desserts. I chose some easy recipes and then made an ingredient list and people signed up to bring them. I gave the teams the recipes and they took off and did a great job! I also made the dough for soft pretzels from The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook and let it rise prior to the meeting. Our two youngest guests, Alex and Alizah formed the pretzels, and then boiled and baked them and made  Dijon dipping sauce. They were outstanding!

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EngineNight_1-18-15 (17)My friend Kelley and I worked on the Chana masala for the Indian portion of the meal and Kim, Susan and Brittany made the aloo tiki patties. I think Christine was on this team, too! I was a little overwhelmed and she took all of these great photos, so she’s not in them. We’ll make sure to snap her next time! These dishes are a normal part of our diet and we love Indian spices, but may have been a little too much for our new folks. I need to remember to ease people into some of the more exotic flavors. They were not part of our repertoire before we started eating this way either. If you have not tried aloo tiki and you love potatoes, you have to try this Northern Indian street food. Check out the recipe at Indian as Apple pie. Just use veggie broth or water instead of oil  bake them at 400 degrees on silicone mats or parchment paper for about 10 min on each side. They were a hit and no leftovers from the two trays that were made!

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Next up was the Middle Eastern crew who made hummus and Quinoa tabbouleh, both from The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook. They added a raw red bell pepper to the hummus which was wonderful and my friend Gail T. made a tray of raw veggies to dip in the hummus and my husband made home made oil free whole wheat pita at home before the event, too. The quinoa tabbouleh was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The fresh parsley really made it sing and reminded me of summer. It was a little overpowering to some, but I’m finding the stronger the flavors for me, the better. Thanks to Virginia, Gail D., and Nicole for manning this station!

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The Asian cooking crew with Christine, Kristina, Susan, Brittany and Kim cooked up a storm! They made Thai noodle soup before they made the aloo tiki patties. I used Happy Herbivore’s Thai noodle soup as my inspiration and adapted it and quadrupled the recipe. It is SO good, but again, may have been too spicy for some of our folks.

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Michele came with avocados, a sharp knife and a burning desire to make guacamole, which was delicious!

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Our dessert crew with Marlene, Gloria, and Edie made Anne’s pumpkin muffins from “My Beef with Meat,” and decided we didn’t even need the maple syrup and they were sweet enough with the bananas and applesauce! And, we forgot to take a picture of the finished product! They also chopped some bananas and added them to some blueberries Kristina picked this summer and thawed for us!

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My husband, Scott also did a veggie sushi demonstration for us and his sushi is always a hit!

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Finally, we had a giveaway of Engine 2 loot for the person who posted something on our Facebook page every day this past week and Kristina was our rockstar! She posted recipes, pics of her food, and what she did for fitness and I really enjoyed her enthusiasm and hard work diving right into the Engine 2 plan!

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Remember to Have fun with your food and enjoy!



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Rice and Beans “recipe”

My husband’s favorite meal is fast becoming one of my favorites, too! It comes out different every time we make it and it’s always delicious. Just make some rice, saute some peppers, onions, garlic, oregano and red pepper in veggie broth, add some beans, some tomatoes, fresh or canned, some jalapeno if you like, some Southwest seasoning or whatever spices and/or hot sauce you like and you have a cheap easy meal! I just mix the beans with the rice, but my husband adds the raw rice to the veggies in the pan to toast it, pilaf style, then adds the liquid, cooks the rice and then adds the beans near the end. You can’t mess this up! Serve with a salad or some greens and top with avocado or guacamole or salsa if you have some.We make a big batch so we have leftovers. Enjoy!

rice and beans guacamole

beans and rice with guacamole

Beans and rice


Navigating the holidays and Happy 2nd Plantiversary to us!

I hope everyone had a wonderful, healthy Thanksgiving holiday filled with great food and family and friends. The holidays can be a time of great joy for many but a time of grief and sadness for others. If the holiday season is hard for you, I hope you find a way to reach out for support and comfort. I find myself having a tough time this time of year, but have found I cope better with stress and sadness when I have something positive to focus on and keep my food full of wonderful plant based nutrients and antioxidants. Our families have accepted that our diet and lifestyle have changed for good and we no longer worry about offending anyone by bringing our own food to share for special occasions. Eating plants is our new normal and we have learned that if we want to celebrate with delicious food that won’t leave us feeling guilty and weighed down, then we have to plan ahead and bring some yummy dishes with us. It is really a small price to pay for better health and feeling great. When you think about it, we plan for sickness by purchasing health insurance, and we even plan for our death by buying life insurance. Why not plan for health and wellness by filling our bodies with the best fuel on the planet, whole plant foods!

Our Thanksgiving celebration actually started the week before with a huge celebration at our church. We have a Thanksgiving pot luck every year and invite some folks from the Clarks Summit State Hospital to celebrate with us. Some of the church members cook turkey and stuffing and everyone brings a dish to pass. My sister Bonnie and I and a few other friends who are vegetarian at church decided we didn’t want to miss the meal and fellowship, so we planned to make our own dishes to share and then put them out on the main table and we had a great variety of dishes and had a great evening. The play the Sunday school children was a great surprise as they did a play about children rescuing turkeys from a farm and inviting them as guests at their Thanksgiving vegetarian meal. It was so cute and so appropriate for the meal we ate! We had sweet potato casserole, roasted potatoes with apples, green beans with almonds, steamed broccoli and carrots, roasted brussel sprouts and carrots, eat loaf, tofu peanut butter pie, and pumpkin pie.

Church dinner

Our second Thanksgiving on a plant based diet was more successful than our first since we made recipes we had already tested and knew we liked except for the cranberry sauce which turned out to be a very good experiment! My sister Judy was also kind enough to leave the butter off of the veggies she cooked and have butter on the table for those who wanted it so we had a great feast at her home. I did compromise and have some foods we normally don’t eat, such as a vegan pumpkin cheesecake my daughter made from a recipe of Susan Voison’s from her blog, fatfreevegan. My husband also made a delicious stuffing full of herbs and spices using bread from a bakery since we didn’t have time to bake our own bread, but the rest of our meal was plantstrong. My daughter and I made the dessert, the cranberry sauce from straightupfood, and the Eat loaf the night before and the rest of the dishes came together easily in the morning by team effort, including mushroom gravy, garlicky mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole. We had the dishes cleaned out of the sink and were at my sister’s by noon. It was great to have helping hands and no rushing or bickering!

There are so many wonderful cookbooks and websites with great recipes that are plant based and even those recipes that include oil can be modified or the oil can often be left out without affecting the dish a bit. This year, we used ‘The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook” for the Eat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy recipes. The Eat loaf is like a party in your mouth with a wonderful mixture of creamy cannellini beans,steamed greens and veggies and topped with a spicy organic bbq sauce I found at our local Wegman’s. The mashed potatoes were yukon gold boiled with the skins on and mashed with fresh garlic I sauteed in veggie broth with some fresh rosemary and thyme I found buried in the snow in my garden and topped with dried chives and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. If you think you’ll never have real gravy again on a plant based diet, think again! Mommy’s mushroom gravy 2.0 is flavorful and hearty and good on everything! It is also super easy to make. I like to make a double batch so we don’t run out. The green bean casserole came from fatfreevegan and my daughter substituted almond milk for soy creamer and left out the vegan margarine and they were fabulous with the fresh green beans my husband found. We did take a shortcut and use the french fried onions in a can on top, but last year we baked our own onion topping. The ones in the can were pretty greasy and I doubt I will buy them again. We didn’t miss the turkey broth in the stuffing at all. My husband used veggie broth and lots of herbs and it turns out that it’s the herbs that really make the dish. We have found that with most of our dishes. If you have delicious herbs and spices, the dishes will be fabulous. One of my sisters scoffed when we made gumbo without shrimp, but it really is the spices that make the gumbo, not the seafood.

Some other great resources for holiday recipes are The Engine2diet website, Happy Herbivore’s website and cookbooks, Dr. McDougall’s website, among so many others. For Christmas the last couple of years, we have been making lasagna, traditional for the omnivores and plant based for us. I hope to continue this tradition this year. I will be working Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but lasagna is a great dish to make ahead, and we can have a huge salad and maybe some home baked bread. My favorite substitute for ricotta cheese is this Rinotta cheez from Ami Mackey’s blog, plantbasedadventures. It tastes so much like traditional lasagna, that I have had people who are not plant based rave about it. I like to make Engine 2 Raise the Roof lasagna but use Ami’s rinotta cheez instead of the tofu mixture in the original recipe. I also leave the sweet potato off of half of it for my husband who is not a sweet potato fan.

Be creative and have fun with your food! Almost any traditional recipe can be re-imagined to be plantstrong and you don’t even have to use recipes if you’re not a fan of cooking. You can keep it simple and just have some rice and veggies or potatoes and veggies with whatever spices and herbs you love. And as always, we find it’s fun to be different! Here is our friend Bobby Anderson, The Plant Fueled Trucker’s  “turkey” dinner:

Bobby's turkey

It was 2 years ago on the Saturday after Thanksgiving that my family and I set out to try out plant based eating and we haven’t had one regret that we embarked on this journey. It has been a wonderful two years filled with great food, great fun, and great opportunities to meet new friends and open our minds to new ideas!

When is your plantiversary?

Eat loaf igCranberry sauce   Garlicky potatoes Green bean casserole Happy Thansgiving with Love Mushroom gravy  pumpkin mousse  Stuffing Take twoFlowers

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November musings and sharing the plant based message!

I don’t know where November went! It has been a whirlwind of working, cooking, and fun and delicious plant based events. It started with hosting a table and speaking at a Natural Health Clinic in Tunkhannock, Pa where there were many wonderful vendors selling their wares and talking about their holistic health practices. I was thrilled to represent plant based eating for better health along with folks who were there to share their knowledge of practices such as Reiki, Shiatsu, massage, meditation, and many others. There were around 900 people who walked through and visited the tables and learned about new modalities and met some people who are passionate about helping folks get healthy. One of my new friends, Edie, spent the day with me and helped me set up and chat with folks about how plant based eating has helped her lose 40 lbs and improved her blood sugars. I was so concerned about conveying my message so people would understand and be interested in trying on a new lifestyle that I barely slept the night before after a cooking frenzy in the evening so I would have samples of some of my favorite dishes for people to try. I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the event and some of my Engine 2 crew from PA came to show their support. Even my sister who thinks we’re crazy came and listened to my talk and I hope she will take something positive from it. I talked about how plant based eating has changed our lives immeasurably in the last 2 years and showed a video about Rip Esselstyn and the Engine 2 plan. I also talked about how important support and education are when making a lifestyle change, how plant based eating can prevent and reverse many chronic health conditions, and also shared some success stories from our local Engine 2 group. It was a thrill and in my mind a weighty responsibility to share this message and share it accurately and with passion. It was also wonderful to network with others in the community who have similar passions. I met a lot of kind and interesting folks, some of which who would like to learn more and join our Engine 2 group for our next 28 day challenge in January. I also gave away the new Forks over Knives plan and a copy of The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook. It was fun not to have to sell anything but healthy eating!

Books health fair Edie at health fair Engine 2 board  Table 2 at health fair

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Jean at health fair

The week following the Health clinic was the monthly pot luck hosted by my friend Virginia Fennelly, who was also one of the organizers of the Health Clinic. We had some new folks there that we met at the health clinic and had a wonderful meal and some great conversation. My sister even came and had a great time! We were 26 strong and I think the food gets better every time we meet.The coolest part is that this group is a judgement free zone for people to try plant based foods without making any commitment and all are welcome.

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Our last plant based gathering for November was a farewell party for a couple who just joined our group in June and are having fabulous benefits already. They are the oldest members of our group but are young in spirit, open minded, and full of love and generosity! They are leaving for Florida for the winter and we had a pot luck luncheon at their home to wish them well on their journey. Look for Ginny and George in a future installment of our success stories series!

 george and ginny

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Iron chef challenge #2, Scrumptious squash with rosemary roasted apples!

I didn’t think I was going to have time for this challenge on between assignments for eCornell and making a dish to take to a going away party for the Sickler family who is a part of our local Engine 2 group and was featured in one of my blogs recently, “Meet the Sicklers.”

I really didn’t know what I was going to do with the ingredients once I roasted the squash, apples, and rosemary. I decided after they came out of the oven and in a flurry of mess making cooking merriment, this is what I came up with right before I jumped in the shower:

I cut 2 acorn squash in 1/2 and roasted them skin side up until they were fork tender at 350° along with 3 cored apples with sprigs of rosemary on top and some on the baking tray. I peeled the skin off of the squash and put the squash in the food processor with the rosemary and some thyme and about a tbs of maple syrup. Then I placed the squash in a pretty dish and saved a ring of squash to place on top. Lastly, I sliced the apples and placed them around the flowery ring of squash, et voila! And it was fun!

Acorn and apples

Acorn and apples going in the oven Roasted acorn and apples finished acorn and apples

Scrumptious squash

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Meet Michelle Fitzsimmons, AKA Mikey!

I first met Michelle when my friend, Virginia brought her to our first Engine 2 diet 28 day challenge meet-up in February of this year.  She came to my home, listened to the information I presented about how a plant based diet can improve our health and well being and watched the video of Rip Esselstyn challenging us to try a whole foods plant based diet for just 28 days to see how great we could feel.  She also sampled the great array of plant based, oil free dishes everyone brought to share. She got in Virginia’s car at the end of the meet-up, and said, “Let’s get healthy!” and hasn’t turned back since!

This summer when we asked everyone what convinced them to try this way of eating from our first 28 day challenge group, she said, “I decided I could do anything for 28 days.”  It encouraged me so much to know that people can try plant based eating out using this program without feeling pressured to do it forever. The wonderful thing is that no pressure is needed because people come back and tell me they want to continue with this nutritious and delicious food because of the great benefits they experience. Michelle was one of our members who came back after her first week and said, “I’m in!”  I was in awe of her tenacity and determination because of the hoops she had to jump through to bring her own food to work.

Here is her story in her own words:

My sister has always been a positive influence in my life by always modeling healthful behavior.

I have psoriasis and eating this way has minimized my symptoms and made it much more manageable. I had my annual physical two weeks ago and my physician was happy for me. She was delighted with my weight loss and everything else looked peachy.

I like to cook and tend to stick to a few simple things. I always have containers of brown rice and steel cut oats in the refrigerator. I make soup at least once a week; this week’s soup is split pea.

I have been eating healthful foods for years because I loved my vegetables, fruits, rice and beans, but I also loved convenient, processed foods. It took me a while to let go of the unhealthful snack foods and focus on nutrition. I had to give up nuts completely because I found they triggered a bad overeating habit.

The rewards are astounding. The first fifty pounds just fell off and I continue to lose weight slowly and steadily. It’s an attitude adjustment. The healthier I get the better I feel and the better I feel the nicer I act. So it’s a win-win for me and all the people in my life.

I’m a correction officer in a county jail and in an attempt to minimize the movement of contraband into and around the facility the rule is we cannot bring anything into the building and that includes food. Officers are fed the same food the inmates get. When I decided to pursue this way of eating I thought food would be a problem. I went to the warden and asked permission to bring my own food in; at that time he told me I would have to submit my request in writing. Hmm, I got a negative feeling like this request is going nowhere. Surprisingly the following day he got back to me and not only gave me permission to bring food in but also gave me his favorite meatless chili recipe.

My favorite quote is “Be the change you want to see in the world”, Mahatma Gandhi

Mikey and Virginia

Mikey and Virginia

Plant powered!

Plant powered!

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I’m not sure where the time went this weekend. It seemed to have just flown by! I did have some fun and got to meet some great people. After I got some things done in the a.m. I went to a craft fair at a local church to check out the wonderful things my daughter’s future mother-in-law paints. She had painted vases, candle holders, glasses and salt and pepper shakers with beautiful flowers and seasonal scenes. I picked out what I wanted to buy with gorgeous fall colors and she gave them to me! I could not believe her kindness and generosity and hope to be able to repay her someday with another kindness. I also met my future son-in-law’s grandpa who has been giving me beautiful produce from his garden. We had a great chat about gardening and I can’t wait to visit his garden sometime. His wife was also lovely! I spent the afternoon making deviled potatoes and a black rice salad to take to my father-in-law’s 75th birthday party and off we went to celebrate. We had a wonderful time and he really enjoyed visiting with all of his friends and family. When it was time to leave, my husband heard my sister-in-law was going to a jazz club to hear a band with her partner and work friends and we ended up going along. I have not been out that late in many, many years! We had fun but didn’t get home until around 2 a.m.

Sunday was spent working on my course work for the ECornell course on plant based nutrition and then meeting plant based friends for lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant. It was fun to relax and visit with them and have delicious spicy fare. I decided afterward to bite the bullet and finally buy myself a new computer. I have been using my daughter’s old Dell laptop and it is very slow. I still may get it checked so someone can use it, but I got myself a new Surface and a lightweight projector which is wireless. It will be great for showing plant based documentaries and both are very portable! Back to more coursework tonight and learning about the environmental impact of what we choose to eat which is very eye opening. Goal for tomorrow is to finish the remaining coursework!

Breakfast day 27 and 28- oats with arugula, grape nuts, a dash of maple syrup and almond milk

Lunch- Yesterday I had a casserole dish full of salad and leftover roasted butternut squash and cauliflower soup and an Engine 2 crispbread. Today I had mushroom mutter at New Amber Indian restaurant with rice and lentil wafers and whole wheat chapati bread

Supper- Yesterday at the birthday party, I had my black rice salad and a deviled potato, a whole wheat roll, pickles, cashews, almonds, and peanuts, and I did have some crackers, but was able to avoid the cheese. It looked really good to me last night for some reason, and I had grapes for dessert. Today I had leftover black rice salad and a red potato with the last of the leftover chili while watching videos for my course.

I can’t believe another challenge is over! Hoping my local Engine 2 members weigh in about what they learned about themselves, this way of eating, or whatever they would like to share!

Oats and arugula love Lunch day 27 Black rice salad party smoky devils party Chili with ecornell

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Day 26, Fall 2014 Engine 2 28 day challenge, Dancing…pure joy!

I decided to put off finishing my paperwork tonight until I met my husband after work to wish the son of one of his coworkers a happy birthday. We met at Ale Mary’s and I had a glass of wine and chatted with some nice folks and then Tyler, the man of the hour, broke into dance. I couldn’t help myself, so I joined him and we let loose and had a great time. I love to dance because you forget yourself if you can really let go and just enjoy the sheer joy of moving to the music and interacting with your partner. It was only one dance, but it made my evening and put a bright note on an otherwise frustrating and crazy week.

Breakfast- oats with blueberries and raisins over a bed of organic arugula with racy mango balsamic vinegar, topped with grape nuts and almond milk.

snack- banana and a couple of Engine 2 original crispbreads

Lunch- Leftover salad, chili and red potatoes, onions and red peppers

Supper- Tom yum soup, and Veggies with ginger sauce and rice at Thai Rak Thai. You know you’re eating out too much when they know your special requests by heart. One of the waiters I had a conversation with about how we eat on a prior visit also stopped by to say hi and said “You’re the vegetarians, right?” We think it’s fun to be different, how about you?

Spread some joy, dance!!!!

Day 26 breakfast Day 26 lunch Day 26 supper

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Days 23-25, Engine 2 Fall 2014 28 day challenge, just a blur!

The last 3 days have been just a blur of working and then working some more. I’m really looking forward to this weekend so I can try to catch up a little on opening the mail from the last 3 weeks, making sure I paid all of the bills, celebrating my father-in-laws 75th birthday, and finishing my coursework for the eCornell plant based nutrition course.

Our food the last 3 days has been good, but not stellar. Breakfast every day has been my usual oatmeal with fruit and lunch was leftover chili, corn muffins, and fruit the last 2 days and a Subway veggie sub today. I have tomorrow’s lunch planned so I can avoid Subway. Tuesday for supper we ordered a pizza with whole wheat crust and veggies, hold the cheese. My husband got home and after we ate our salads, opened the pizza box to a pizza loaded with cheese and headed back out to get a new one. The new one had tons of veggies, but had a white crust, but we were tired and ate it anyway. Last night we had a great and easy dinner. My husband quartered small red potatoes and boiled them a bit, then chopped red bell pepper and onion and sauteed them in veggie broth, tossed it all on a silicone mat on a tray, sprinkled with garlic powder and baked at 400 degrees while I made a quick salad. After we ate our salads, I broiled the potatoes a couple of min to brown them. Add any other spices you like and Yum!! Tonight we went to our favorite Indian restaurant and had sabji jalfrezi, a veggie dish with a tomato base over rice, nice and spicy. The first bowl they brought out looked different than usual and I had a feeling it may have had cream in it and sure enough, they had to take it back. I learned the mild form of the dish can have cream but we ordered medium spicy and the server wasn’t sure why it had cream but took it back right away and got us a whole new dinner. And, it was spicy, but very good!

Hopefully next week will be calmer and I will be doing more cooking and less eating out. Part of my problem was a too busy weekend last weekend and I didn’t have time to make enough dishes for the week to have leftovers. It was a trade off since we got to see both of our kids and that cheered us both up immensely!

We are also looking forward to our brussel sprouts from the garden and hoping they will be big enough to harvest soon.

Day 23 supper Brussel sprouts

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I often hear comments from people about how we eat grass, or that they could never eat my “bird diet.” They think we only eat veggies and salads all day with some bird seed thrown in. They often worry I’m starving myself. I have even been told that I must be since I’m staying thin. It amazes me that when people are able to sample some of our bird food and discover that it is not only delicious but filling and satisfying, they are often more open to at least thinking about eating some plant based meals.

I was definitely very full tonight! I came home and decided I had everything I needed to make chili and I had chili and corn muffins ready in about an hour and 15 min. My husband and I both had seconds and enjoyed every bite! No deprivation here!!

Breakfast- Oats with blueberries, raisins, banana, grape nuts and almond milk

Snack- banana

Lunch- Leftover gorgeous black rice salad from The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook, whole wheat pita.

Supper- More black rice salad, chili with cilantro and cornbread muffins

Chili fall 2014 Black rice salad 2Black rice salad