The Simplicity Project

Though I haven’t delved into this topic yet (been too busy snacking on dark chocolate and watching X-Files and fleeing the country), one of my M.O.s, along with nutrition, saving money, and occasionally regularly indulging in a bit of obsessive-compulsive behavior, is simplicity. I call this site “Healthy Minimalist” because, in my opinion, each of these words by itself tends to call forth quite extreme images –“healthy,” when taken to the extreme, becomes fussy, complicated, expensive; while “minimalism,” taken to its extreme, brings to mind a blank white room with a few pieces of stainless steel furniture, a lack of color, emotion, and the fun good things that make life soulful.

Therefore, I like to soften my otherwise minimalistic lifestyle around the edges by including a few “messy” elements simply because they make me warm and happy, and to simplify my attempts at healthiness with substitutions and, often, deletions when I feel it is necessary to keep sanity and $avings intact. Also, healthyminimalist.wordpress.com wasn’t taken yet and I’d already spent way too much time trying to decide on a name.

With all my simplicity-loving philosophies, I feel there are several areas in my life where I could safely chuck unnecessary items out the window and not look back. There have been moments of, gasp, frazzled rustling around when attempting to locate something lost, and my control-freak self has a difficult time with that.

Living thousands of miles away from home for the next couple of months with only a suitcase full of personal belongings, I suspect the craving for further simplicity will grow, as it has already in my last two weeks abroad. I figure it’s time to ignite a stronger flame of sorts. Plus, it’s a new year and all. These clean-out-the-closet attitudes are inevitable. The fact that I won’t be able to implement many of the simplification strategies I have in mind until my return to the States in spring will hopefully give me time to firm up the plans a bit while getting used to a more minimalist lifestyle here (In Germany, I’m staying in a small one-room apartment with a kitchenette, have no car, and am without most of the products and tools I’ve grown fond of back home–evidenced below).

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Lots of pretty plans are in the works, at least in my brain. But perhaps I’ll be able to set certain techniques into motion while still here–we shall certainly see.

So! I’d like to propose a new project for the year–the simplicity project. To cut out items, actions, habits, responsibilities, attitudes, and expenses we feel are unnecessary and that don’t add considerable value/usefulness to our lives. We couldn’t go into this project unprepared, could we? Maybe that’s just me. I told you–control freak. So here’s a rough, tentative plan, which I’m sure will be revised throughout the journey. I invite you to join me if you’re getting that clean-out-the-closet feeling, too.

1. Make a list of 5-10 items (objects, activities, people, etc.) that are most important to you and add the most value to your life.

2. Make another list of items that you know you need to downsize/give away/ignore/delete/spend less time on, and do so.*

3. Each week, find a way to downsize/delete at least one item from the extraneous list, and replace it with more of an item of real value.

4. Think twice before purchasing anything. If it’s not absolutely necessary and doesn’t add considerable value to your life, don’t buy it. If it’s not a necessity but will add considerable value to your life, try getting it for free. Only spend money as a last resort. This is my favorite, since I’m a tightwad.

*Just don’t ask me to spend less time watching X-Files or eating dark chocolate, I’m afraid it won’t do any good.

If you’d like to join in this project with me, drop me a line! You probably have ideas I’ve never even thought of, and I want them. What items add the most value to your life? What areas would you like to simplify? What strategies have worked well for you in the past? Please share.

“Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.”

-Langston Hughes

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A Healthy Thanksgiving Feast

Step 1: Tuesday, prep veggies.

Step 2: Wednesday, don apron. Make pie, chill in fridge overnight.

Step 4: Wednesday night, create adorable autumn-themed placeholders and centerpiece, Martha Stewart style.

Step 4: Wake up Thursday morning and don apron again. Bring your menu to life.

On our menu this year:

Baked Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Cranberry, and Apricot stuffing

Hearty Butternut Brussels Sprout Stuffing

Pomegranate Mint Cranberry Sauce

This Ain’t Grandma’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Vegan Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Nut Crust and Coconut Cream

Maple Pecan Pie

Step 5: Arrange your plate with warm colorful goodies and experience ultimate enjoyment. Be satisfied.

Step 6: Live on beautiful leftovers for the next week (pumpkin pie for breakfast, anyone?).

We made a lot of new vegan recipes this year, and everyone was highly impressed with how everything turned out (super delicious), including the omnivores in the family. Except that I baked the stuffed acorn squash a bit too long so the quinoa got dry and crispy on top… nothing a little homemade cranberry sauce couldn’t fix. Overall, I had a ball planning and executing this creative and cruelty-free menu with my mom, which was extra special since most of the vegetables came from her garden or we received as surplus from her neighbor’s produce stand.

I’m so excited, I am already in the midst of planning our Christmas menu… watch out!

Tea Time

Last weekend I made a lovely visit to Kansas City to see my dad, stepmom, brother, and grandmother. Saturday afternoon following an immensely satisfying Indian meal, all of us (minus my teenage brother; this was definitely not his cup of tea) met at a huge conference center for an event called 2012 Holiday Boutique: An Enchanted Shopping Experience. Upon entering, we were confronted with a ginormous array of booths with goods from hundreds of local boutiques and shops. I should have taken a picture. It was intense.

Having never been to such an event before, I was initially a bit overwhelmed at the sight of so much stuff. I don’t consider myself a big shopper and even the rare trip to the mall tends to give me a headache and a mild panic attack in which my only thought becomes get what you need and get the hell out. I believe similar thoughts overcame my dad and grandma; they bailed after an hour. We hadn’t even gotten through half the booths.

Then something happened. My stepmom and I entered a magical realm called Shop Or Die. Over the next three hours, we examined, we compared, we bought Christmas gifts for ourselves, each other, and others. We embraced the “enchanted shopping experience.” We didn’t buy very much, but what we did take home was selected with the greatest care and consideration, and our money went to support local small businesses. I like that. I came away with the perfect Christmas gifts for most of the women in my life, and it’s not even December. Bam.

Heather and I agreed that picking out your own presents might seriously be the way to go. This is how I ended up with early gifts for myself that included a travel tea press and loose leaf pomegranate green tea (thank you, Heather!), and a handpainted mug from Poland (thanks, me!), among other delightful goodies.I have a thing for really big mugs. This one is the size of a soup bowl.

The tea is calming with a mild fruity flavor. I made mine really strong, and no sweetener was needed.Loose leaf tea might be my new love. It’s the simple things, really.

Stacked

What can I say? I was in the mood for chocolate chip pancakes. And this is what happened. Mine turned into something more akin to chocolate chip cookies. Pancookies, if you will. Adapted from OSG.

Ingredients:

1/2 c whole wheat flour

1/2 t cinnamon

pinch sea salt

1 t baking powder

1/2 c milk of choice (I use Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla)

1 t vanilla

1/4 c chocolate chips

syrup and/or any other toppings you like

Directions: Mix all dry ingredients together while skillet is heating on medium. Stir in vanilla, milk, and chocolate chips. Spray skillet with nonstick oil and drop the batter onto skillet to make silver dollar sized pancakes. Flip pancakes when bubbles start to form on the top. When done, stack and layer with your favorite toppings. Drizzle maple syrup atop the delicious stack.

Makes about 6 small pancakes.

A tall stack of syrupy, chocolatey Sunday goodness. I did not share. You may if you want.

What’s your ideal Sunday brunch?

Perfect Pumpkin Pie Gingerbread Smoothie

What to do with an extra can of pumpkin in the pantry? Smoothie it, of course. I first made this on Halloween, perfected it the next day, and now I’m officially obsessed. Inspired by Angela’s Pumpkin Pie Monster.

Ingredients:

1/4 c canned pumpkin

1 c milk of choice (I use Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla)

1.5 t pumpkin pie spice (or 1 t cinnamon, 1/4 t nutmeg, 1/4 t ginger)

1/2 t vanilla extract

1 t blackstrap molasses

1 small banana, frozen in chunks

Directions: Throw everything in the blender and blend away until smooth, starting with the lowest setting first.

I’m so glad this happened. It seriously tastes like pumpkin pie and gingerbread! Enjoy it outside while breathing crisp autumn air into your lungs.

To make that pretty little frothy bit at the top: After pouring the smoothie into a glass, just drop a couple tablespoons of almond milk back into the blender and blend for a few seconds. This gets some of the remaining smoothie out of the bottom of the blender, too. Then pour it on top and voila. Beauty.

BOO!

HAPPY HALLOWEEEEEEEEEN! I hope you’re all doing something fun/cozy/yummy/creepy today!

Here’s a recap of my Halloweekend in the village of Oak Park, IL, which consisted largely of the following:

Making sandwiches, soup, and “autumn spice” pancakes

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Conversations about eyeliner

Being fascinated by Biscuit the bunny

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True Blood marathons

Facebook analyses

And trying to get the cork out of a bottle of Moscato

Other than that, we only left the apartment for three things: A trip to Trader Joe’s, a night of bizarre Halloween-themed flea market fun, and brunch at Munch.

Saturday night, we made our way to Wheaton, IL with two friendly Chicago accents, Shay and Brad.

Attack of the pleather jackets and scarves! Also note our stylish seatbelts.

We arrived at the flea market, and it was HUGE, with vendors spread across a vast lot, indoors and outdoors.

There was allegedly a pony running around, but I somehow missed it every time it passed by. The boys looked at baseball cards but didn’t buy anything. Jacque bought a Dracula DVD (the one with Keanu Reeves), which we watched later that night, and I made off with some super cool flea market earrings for $10:

Sunday Jacque and I went to brunch at a little vegetarian restaurant in Oak Park called Munch. It’s pretty funny whenever we eat together because I’m vegan and she’s allergic to everything, which makes us really high maintenance with our issues combined. But this place was awesome. We had a very zen server who was happy to point out options on the menu to fit each of our needs. Fortunately they had seitan bacon, which is wheat-based and not soy-based like tofu or tempeh, so Jacque could eat it. We both loved our meals. Jacque ordered the breakfast sandwich with egg, seitan bacon, spinach, peppers, and mozzarella, and breakfast potatoes and coffee (with almond milk).

I started with a delicious vegan pumpkin chocolate chip muffin and peppermint tea, then had the Groovy Tofu Scramble with mushrooms and peppers, sauteed greens, and mashed sweet potatoes, with a side of toast. Everything was incredibly satisfying.

And we were fortified for more episodes of True Blood.

All in all, an October weekend well spent. Thanks, Jacque!