NikujagaEntering the winter months, we can’t go wrong in preparing healthy stews and soups for ourselves, our family, and our friends. I had a nightmare last night in which a nurse held me down with a flu shot needle/syringe in her hand. No joke. I recall screaming at her “just because I passed up the free flu shots at CVS…doesn’t mean I want your injection”. Oh, the horror. My dream state (a futuristic, fantastical version of real life) mandated flu shots in an Orwellian sort of way. In other words, Big Brother finally caught up with us. I have nightmares over flu shots as a result of the time I traveled to Mexico to work and the employer required vaccinations. I was 19. As a vegan of 4 years at the time, the fact that the hospital exclusively used egg-based up-the-nose vaccinations (which I later found is also legal in the States) freaked me out. The thing was–if I didn’t comply and go through with this vaccination I would lose the opportunity to work and travel abroad. The verdict? As I predicted, I got sick. I stayed in bed for a week, suffering from influenza. In other words, I got sick from the flu vaccine.

…Moving on to the point of this post, which describes and documents my decision to eat soup every day as opposed to subjecting myself to the terror of flu shots:


I first discovered the traditional recipe for Nikukjaga whilst perusing the shelves at an Asian market. I experienced this recently, and found that the market in question sells shiritaki noodles for a fraction of the price it goes for at Safeway, Lucky, Fred Meyer, HEB, or other brand-name stores. The purchase I made influenced me to study happiness economics, or the economics of happiness. As a person on a limited budget, I can identify with many other individuals in the USA, I assume. So, to avoid over-intellectualizing things–I’ll continue with the ways in which you can make this dish in a paleo-vegan fashion.Nikujaga (2)
Nikujaga or 肉じゃが is a Japanese dish of meat, potatoes and stewed in sweetened soy sauce and vegetables. Potatoes often make up the bulk of it, with meat mostly serving as a condiment. The stew typically boils until at least 90% liquid reduces.

Nikujaga is a common home-cooked winter dish, often served in place of or to accompany miso soup.

To Veganize Nikujaga:

First off, we will of course eliminate the beef. Second, make sure you have carrots, onions, green beans on hand. Preferably, you will have ginger, garlic, and onion. The paleo-vegan “cheat” I used in this recipe is diakon radish to substitute for additional potatoes. Also, daikon is often used in Japanese cuisine. The recipe for Nijujaga that I found on a package of shiritaki noodles from a Korean market did not call for it, but in my adaptation it eliminates 20 carbs per serving. If you don’t have access to that type of radish, use any other radish. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

PaleoVegan Nikujaga:


2 x 4″ square pieces kombu seaweed
2 cups water
1 small red potato, chopped
4 green beans
1/2 large diakon radish, chopped
1 onion, minced
1″ piece ginger, minced
1 tsp red chiles, granulated
1 medium carrot, grated
1 package shirataki noodles, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups water
1 pkg. stevia granules (equivalent to 1 sugar packet).
1 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce


Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add the kombu seaweed, cover the pot, and reduce heat to medium-low.

Drain and rinse shirataki noodles. Heat 1 Tbsp coconut oil (or your oil of choice) in a wok or soup pot over medium heat. Saute the potato, onion, carrot, ginger, red chiles, and diakon radish. Once you’ve sauteed the vegetables, reduce heat to low.

Remove kombu from the water and add water to the soup pot. Now add the drained and rinsed shirataki noodles, the 2 Tbsp sake, and 1 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce. Stir. Cook until most of the water evaporates, or when the texture begins to resemble a stew.
Nikujaga (1)Enjoy frequently, especially during flu season. Add fresh-cut lime as a garnish, to improve the flavor and increase the Vitamin C content.

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Mineral Makeup 101 #NaBloPoMo

Nov 14 National Blog Posting Month prompt: Do you enjoy growing old or do you fight against it?

I don’t fight against it. I don’t consider myself old. I think that age is relative, at least to a certain extent. In fact I’d like to turn that question in the opposite direction–to propose the idea that we can actually lose age, to suggest that age could equal wisdom. In other words, sometimes I feel as if I’ve lost wisdom–and therefore with each un-wise experience I become younger. That’s probably fruit for an over-analyzation or existential debate, so in the case of this answer I’ve decided to write in a more practical tone.
mineral makeupOver a decade ago, mineral makeup revolutionized conventional ideas about concealer and foundation, forever changing the cosmetics industry. The first major contender in the mineral makeup industry was Bare Escentuals, but according to Leslie Blodgett–who would later rebrand the line as bareMinerals, “…the shades Bare Escentuals had created weren’t working. They were gross.” Blodgett, an FIT-trained now-CEO of the company with a bootstrap-ethic backstory (as explained in a 2010 interview with Inc. for the column “how I did it”) redesigned the pigments used in Bare Escentuals and relaunched the line as bareMinerals.

With the rebranding of Bare Escentuals as bareMinerals, the idea that chemical-free, paraben-free, 100% natural makeup could contend with big-name designer and drugstore makeup brands seemed far-fetched to many, and perhaps can explain why the bareMinerals name took almost 2 decades to harness the spotlight and force every major player in the cosmetics industry to follow suit. In other words, back when bareMinerals launched, the market for natural makeup pertained to more of a niche audience.

I saw bareMinerals as a revolutionary new take on makeup. After a facial/skin treatment in Northern California in 2006 I was sold, merely because I’d finally found an alternative to Neutrogena and Clinique liquid foundations and powders (the two labels that caused only minor breakouts as opposed to full-on dermatitis on my face). I used bareMinerals for years before I discovered alternative brands at natural food co-ops, marketed without the hype or glamour of the bareMinerals brand. I didn’t want to make the trek to the mall in order to purchase refills from Macy’s, so I started to buy the “knock-off” brand sold at the co-op in town. About 2 purchases in, it hit me: why not make it myself? After a bit of research I found online retailers that sold every ingredient for cheap, and soon learned that mixing pigments did not require rocket science.

Why Make Your Own Mineral Makeup?

Over the years, when the cosmetics industry caught on that its lack of success in marketing had something to do with the chemicals in its formulas–coupled with the surge in popularity of all-natural, mineral cosmetics–the market exploded. Tried and true brands/manufacturers began to market what is essentially the same product, with each of their respective labels. Take for example, the newly popular drugstore brand e.l.f. (stands for eyes, lips, face). At a drugstore, online, or even at Grocery Outlet, you can buy loose powder mineral foundation, concealer, and other products like “primer” and “mineral veil”, for $3-5 per individual piece, or a starter kit for $12. The ingredients and pigments mimic those present in bareMinerals, a more expensive brand that I highly doubt you would ever find on the shelf at a bargain/discount grocery store.

Here’s the thing: Loose powder mineral makeup is sold online, in bulk. It is purchased by companies that market it as their own. There is nothing wrong with this, but even the brands you see at natural foods stores that look as if they were lovingly created via mortar and pestle in the home of a toltec shaman in New Mexico…are actually made in a factory in China (unless specified otherwise).

Take a look:

Net weight: 8.5g
Cost per gram: $2.94
Ingredients: titanium dioxide, iron oxides, zinc oxide, bismuth oxychloride, mica, ultramarines

Purely Cosmetics
Net weight: 6g
Cost per gram: $3.67
Ingredients: titanium dioxide, iron oxides, zinc oxide, mica, ultramarines

Laura Mercier:
Net weight: 9.6g
Cost per gram: $3.65
Ingredients: titanium dioxide, iron oxides, zinc oxide, mica, bismuth oxychloride, pearl powder, ultramarines

Net weight: 10g
Cost per gram: $3.50
Ingredients: Titanium dioxide, bismuth oxychloride, mica, iron oxides

Net weight: 7.9g
Cost per gram: $1
Ingredients: titanium dioxide, iron oxides, zinc oxide, bismuth oxychloride, mica, ultramarines

The above brands list their ingredients. Other brands that claim to use only natural ingredients and don’t test on animals have failed [or decided against] revealing their formulations or company policies regarding animal testing. Natural and paraben-free brands that do list ingredients but contain other ingredients past the basic formula as listed above include Physicians Formula and freshMinerals, among others. The ingredient bismuth oxychloride has raised alarm among certain individuals such as breast cancer survivors. This concern has led to deliberate avoidance of that particular ingredient by established and up-and-coming brands. One notable example is Afterglow cosmetics. Brands including Loreal, Cover Girl, Revlon, and others found at drugstores have jumped on the mineral makeup bandwagon due to the high demand for mineral makeup. However, what isn’t widely understood is the fact that the original demand did not stem from a widespread interest in “mineral makeup” per se. Rather, it’s the absence of chemicals and simplification of formulas–in essence, a product that will not harm the skin or contribute to future breakouts. Considering the toxins we breathe and absorb through our skin (and often our food) every day, the last thing need is to wear them on our face.

The above brand comparison sheds light on the fact that despite very minor variances in ingredients–some come with a hefty price tag and others do not. Something else to take note of is the difference in brushes between companies like bareMinerals, e.l.f., and EcoTools. I’ve purchased face brushes from each with neither complaints nor significant observances of difference among any of the aforementioned brands, yet the contrast in price is extreme.

Kabuki Brush: $28
5pc Starter Brush Set: $49

Kabuki Brush: $6
5pc Starter Brush Set: $10

Kabuki Brush: $6.99
5pc Starter Brush Set: $12.99

*Afterthought: From personal experience, I recommend EcoTools over e.l.f. in terms of brush quality.

Next post: Mineral Makeup DIY

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Raw Vegan Japchae

skinny-japchae-featured (1)


Japchae, jabchae, chapchae, chop chae, or chap chae is a Korean dish traditionally made with sweet potato noodles aka dangmyeon (Korean: 당면) stir-fried in sesame oil with very thinly sliced aka julienne-cut carrots mixed with fresh spinach and thinly sliced shitake mushrooms and onion…topped with toasted sesame seeds and garnished with hot chili flakes. Served hot or cold depending on the season, japchae is vitamin-rich and considered medicine in a number of cultures within Korean society. The flavor profile of japchae is important, so I adapted it to the best of my ability to suit the diet(s) of raw foodists and the paleo inclined.

Developing this recipe proved less challenging than I’d expected, since shirataki noodles easily replicate sweet potato noodles* or vermicelli** (bean thread) in all recipes. The noodles I used for this particular recipe do not contain certain additives present in commercial brands of shiratakI. The type I buy fresh costs approx. $1.25 USD per 8oz package fresh–so for this recipe, if you choose to use fresh as opposed to dry shirataki you will spend $5 on noodles if cooking for 4-6 people. Obviously, all ingredients are vegan.

*The nearly carb-free noodles used in this recipe are made from Konjac yams as opposed to conventional yams or sweet potatoes–and often at Korean or Vietnamese grocery stores the labels do not provide translations in other languages. For this reason, I have provided the following images to assist you:

clear-shirataki-noodle clear-shirataki-noodle1 konjac-yam

**Also called bean thread noodle, vermicelli is as high in calories as sweet potato noodle but looks the same and tastes the same. For those with an aversion [regarding flavor] or lack of availability [to purchase] shirataki noodles I recommend kelp noodles as an alternative.

Now that we’ve established* that…let’s get on with it, shall we?

*Ask in the comments or shoot me an email if certain things don’t make sense.

Raw Vegan Japchae Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings


8 ounces dried shirataki noodles or
8oz pkg fresh or reconstituted shirataki noodles
4 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
1/4 tsp stevia powdered extract or 6 to 9 drops liquid extract
4oz fresh or reconstituted shiitake mushroom, stems trimmed, thinly sliced
1/3 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh raw carrot, very thinly sliced (julienne-cut)
1/2 cup baby spinach or chopped spinach leaves
1/2 cup scallion or green onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

skinny-japchae-featured (2)


Step 1: reconstitute and/or marinade:

*To reconstitute dried shiitake mushrooms: Cover 1 ounce dried whole shiitake mushrooms with warm tap water. Let sit until softened, at least 6 hours or overnight.

**To reconstitute dried shirataki noodles: See above.

In a small bowl, combine the tamari/soy sauce with the stevia powder or extract, lemon juice, and chili garlic-sauce. Consult the stevia conversion chart. If using powder or granules, stir until dissolved.

Soak the sliced onion, carrot, scallion, fresh shiitake mushrooms, and baby spinach with the tamari/stevia blend for 2 hours or overnight. If using reconstituted shiitake mushrooms, you can do this step overnight at the same time. Just add the mushrooms to the mix after they hydrate.

Step 2: Drain shirataki noodles and return to bowl. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil. Drain excess stevia/soy sauce marinade from vegetables and toss with noodles. Top with scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

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Vegetable Broth + Paleo Vegan Pho

National Blog Posting Month, Nov 10 prompt: What knowledge do you have that others don’t? Write a “how to” post about anything you’ve got skills for, small or large.vegetable-broth-101Sure, you can buy it by the carton. It’s less of a hassle than running around the produce department, gathering carrots, parsnips, celery, etc., only to return home and realize you’ve forgotten the onions or another key ingredient. We’ve all been there with some recipe or another. However, store-bought vegetable broth contains too much salt in my opinion–while the low-sodium kind lacks flavor. With a bit of planning and mere minutes of prep time, it’s easy to make your own. I guarantee you’ll notice an improvement in the flavor and body of soups and stews. More elaborate recipes might have ingredients you don’t recognize (which won’t be the case at the end of this tutorial. More on that later). We’ll start with a basic, unintimidating recipe that utilizes everyday ingredients for use as a prototype for more complex broths and stocks in the future. When I’m short on time, this is my go-to recipe:

Basic Vegetable Broth

Makes approximately 2 quarts
Tip: Don’t peel anything or discard the scraps. Things like the tops of carrots or celery, stems, etc. contribute to the flavor and nutritional value of the broth/stock. Obviously, discard any spoiled or rotten parts.


1 gallon water
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, minced
1 cup carrot, chopped
2 cups tomato, quartered
1 medium bell pepper, cut
2 cups parsnip, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
2 whole peppercorn
1 tsp red pepper flakes (like the kind they give you at pizza restaurants)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Add all ingredients to a large stock pot. Bring to a full boil and reduce to simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low to continue cooking (covered, to maintain the flavors and vitamin content of the vegetables) until the liquid is reduced by half.

Pour broth through a filter/sieve/colander, with a bowl or pot underneath it that is larger than the circumference of the filter (to avoid wasting any broth).

Asian-Style Vegetable Broth

Using the basic vegetable broth recipe as a base, you only need a few more ingredients to emulate the flavors of a Chinese-style noodle soup or traditional Vietnamese pho. You can experiment with combinations of different ingredients, so the following are merely suggestions or guidelines. I recommend using ginger in all combinations if you can. As with any broth recipe–you don’t need to peel the root since you’ll remove it before serving/adding the noodles and toppings.


1 x 4″ piece ginger root, unpeeled, sliced
5 star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups vegetable stock (see above recipe)
2 cups water


Simmer 20 minutes on medium heat

Paleo Vegan Pho



6 cups Asian-style vegetable broth (see above recipe)
2 x 8oz package fettuccine-style shirataki noodles.


4 scallions or green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
3 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced. Remove the seeds for less heat.
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
4 Tbsp vegetarian “fish sauce”, found in Asian markets, natural food stores, some conventional grocery stores, and online. *However, many of these brands contain preservatives and food coloring/caramel color, and even the natural brands contain sugar. Vegetarian “fish sauce” is very easy to make with all natural ingredients & no added sugar:

Combine 1/4 Tbsp pure powdered stevia extract OR 12-18 drops Stevia Liquid Concentrate (for more info, see the Stevia Conversion Chart) with 1 cup warm water + 1/4 cup canned pineapple juice (if you use fresh, I’m totally impressed) and 1 cup 2 Tbsp low-sodium tamari or 1 Tbsp regular tamari. You can also use conventional soy sauce like Kikoman brand if you’re not worried about the additives. When I’m traveling or living abroad it tends to be the only thing available, anyway :)

fresh cilantro, shredded
fresh Thai basil leaves
lime wedges
chili garlic sauce


In a large pot over medium heat, add the ginger, star anise and cinnamon sticks to 4 cups vegetable broth (diluted with 2 cups water) and simmer about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare shirataki noodles according to package instructions.

Reduce heat to low and remove the ginger, star anise, and cinnamon. Stir in 4 Tbsp vegetarian fish sauce and let simmer on low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Drain shirataki noodles and divide among 4 bowls. Top with broth, scallions, cilantro, basil leaves, jalapeno, red onion, and bean sprouts. Serve with chili garlic sauce and lime wedges.

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BlogHer NaBloPoMo November 3

nuestra-cabana-kids This is my answer to the BlogHer NaBloPoMo November 3rd prompt: Write about an amazing imaginary brand or organization you’d love to work with. What would their pitch to you look like? What would your post say?

This is my first time engaging in something like this. I launched this blog in November 2012 and since my birthday is the last day of November and I skipped November 2013 during a hiatus from both blogging and celebrating my birthday, I decided the perfect time to try my hand at NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) would be now. To answer the Nov. 3 NaBloPoMo question I’d have to begin with a list of ideas, at the risk of deviating from the guidelines.

1. I’d love to create an amazing brand or org with a like-minded person or small group of people.

2. Could something more amazing than Apple exist? I’d love to collaborate in the process of the company’s evolution. I also hear they have treadmill desks.

3. I’d love to return to Mexico, Ecuador, and/or Guatemala to work toward improving the circumstances for poverty-stricken children, chemically-addicted women and men, at-risk teens, women and children, the elderly, stray dogs and cats, animals raised for food and kept in inhumane conditions. I would also like to return to work as a medical translator at the Centro de Salud in Guatemala, to visit the children I worked with in Ecuador and Mexico and the at-risk teenage girls in Mexico…in short, the unfathomably lengthy list of people I met and worked with, and regret losing contact with, in the aforementioned parts of the world.

5. I’d love to redesign WordPress to eradicate the White Screen of Death.

6. I’d love to be in a position of power regarding the regulation of dog and cat food so as to eliminate instances of cannibalism among both species–and make it illegal and punishable by law for euthanized cats and dogs, zoo animals, circus animals, and sick livestock to be re-purposed as cat food and dog chow.

7. I’d love to write for VegNews.

8. I’d love to redesign PETA’s vegan starter guide, in order to work toward dispelling the myth that vegan dishes must imitate ‘traditional’ staples of the SAD (Standard American Diet).

9. I’d love to write for Adbusters.

10. I’d love to start a revolution. I’d love it if the paradigm could shift and people could wake up from the illusion that eating animals is healthy. I’d love to do it in a way that offended no one but empowered everyone.

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