Springing to life with Vitamin D

I have a confession to make. I’ve been overdosing on vitamin D all winter.

How does one get extreme doses of the sunshine hormone? One way is spending lots of time outside in the light. Five to fifteen minutes of midday sun exposure can be enough to meet many people’s vitamin D needs. That is the other part of my confession. I’ve been wintering in our Florida bungalow, walking, biking, and paddling outside for much more than 15 minutes each day. I must admit, it’s been nice—except that I didn’t even see snow this winter.

Sunshine indulgence is not without its effects. The immune system greatly benefits from healthy doses of vitamin D, which is not just a vitamin. Vitamin D is a hormone the kidneys produce that controls blood calcium concentration and elevates the immune system.

Our friends at The Physicians Committee tell us that vitamin D consumption and supplementation may reduce the risk for viral infections, including respiratory tract infections, by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body. Increased vitamin D in the blood has been linked to the prevention of chronic diseases including tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cardiovascular disease.

Food sources of vitamin D include mushrooms, fortified cereals, plant-based milk substitutes, and supplements.

As we emerge from what some have called a dark winter, and bounce into the season of renewal—ripe with opportunities to enjoy nature—we might feel like we are springing to life.

Wishing you all a beautiful spring and Easter to those who celebrate. May the recipes I share with you liven up your holiday tables!


Makes 4 servings

All mushrooms contain some vitamin D, but mushrooms have a distinctive ability to increase vitamin D amounts with UV light or sunlight exposure. Like humans, mushrooms naturally produce vitamin D following exposure to sunlight or a sunlamp. For the maximum amount of nutrition, eat the darker varieties.

This dish is a cross between Thai drunken noodles and stroganoff. I was recently inspired to create this recipe when I had leftover lasagna noodles, lots of portabellas in the fridge and not much else.

8 ounces of pre-cooked noodles (I cut leftover lasagna noodles into strips.)

1 medium onion, chopped

8 ounces of mushrooms, chopped (about 4 portabella mushroom caps)

3 garlic cloves, chopped (3 teaspoons minced garlic)

1 cup warm vegetable broth in a medium jar or bowl

3 tablespoons liquid aminos

1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder

1 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon basil

½ teaspoon pepper

Salt to taste, optional

Vegan sour cream, optional

Heat vegetable broth and liquid aminos in a small sauté pan or add to a medium bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch or arrowroot powder until it has dissolved. Then add the sage, basil, pepper and salt, if using. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, cook onions for three to four minutes or until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Stirring often, add the seasoned broth and cook down until the liquid evaporates. Once the vegetables have caramelized, add the cooked noodles and mix thoroughly.

Serve with vegan sour cream, if using. (It adds creaminess, but I skipped
this option.)


Makes 4 servings

This is not only a wholesome sweet treat, the fortified soy milk in this recipe will boost the sunshine you hold inside.

1 ½ cups plain or vanilla soy milk

1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder

2 cups cooked brown rice

¼ cup maple syrup

1/3 cup raisins

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

Pour soy milk into a medium saucepan and add the cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Add the rice, maple syrup, raisins, and cinnamon, and cook over medium heat.

Cook the rice pudding for three minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and add the vanilla and almond extracts.

Serve hot or cold. Top the pudding with sliced bananas for extra flavor and nutrition.

Food for Fitness

When it comes to exercise, leaning out, and building muscle, the proverbial nutrition plan in modern history has been akin to Rocky Balboa’s. For those of you too young to remember in the 1976 movie, Rocky, Sylvester Stallone plays a lovable loan shark debt collector with a dream. In this rag to riches story, he gets a shot at the title of the heavyweight championship of the world. He ruthlessly trains in a “no pain, no gain” style, using sides of beef as punching bags while eating lots of meat, washed down with pints of raw eggs.

Spoiler alert! He wins.

These days, fitness is a bit kinder. Some athletes no longer subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” theory: as it can lead to too many injuries. Others have stepped away from the “ham-and-egger” approach: as it can result in too many heart attacks.

Enter plant fitness. In 2018, The Game Changers, a different kind of fight movie, hit theatres. It’s a documentary film starring James Wilks, an elite Special Forces trainer and winner of The Ultimate Fighter. His quest starts as he’s recovering from an injury and looking for ways to heal faster. He comes across information about the remains of Roman gladiators found in a burial site. It turns out the remains of these fighters show that they ate a predominantly vegetarian diet. He travels the world on a quest for the truth about meat, protein, and strength.

Spoiler alert! Plants win.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a plant-based diet provides supreme nutrition for training sessions and competition. An optimal sports diet for performance, recovery and health is found in the Power Plate—grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits. By choosing generous servings of these nutrient-dense foods, your body will reap the benefits. Watch the movie, The Game Changers, to learn about the stunning results today’s elite athletes are experiencing.


Whole grains: Choose whole-grain bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. They are rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, zinc, and B vitamins. A single serving also provides about two to three grams of protein.

Vegetables: Choose a variety of colorful red, orange, and yellow vegetables, in addition to leafy greens for vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants that will protect your body from the stress of exercise. These foods also provide iron, calcium, fiber, and a modest two grams of protein per serving.

Legumes: Choose a variety of beans (chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, great northern beans), as well as soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein. They are not only high in protein, (about seven to ten grams per serving), but they are also rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, calcium, and B vitamins.

Fruits: Choose a variety of fruits and fruit juices for extra vitamins, especially vitamin C. By choosing fruits of different colors, you can ensure a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin B12 supplement: A multivitamin/mineral supplement or vitamin B12 supplement can be taken daily or every other day to cover nutritional needs. Fortified foods, such as fortified breakfast cereal or fortified soy and rice milk substitutes, may also contain the active form of vitamin
B12, cyanocobalamin.

If you are an athlete looking for extra protein, top salads with a variety of beans, including chickpeas, kidney beans, great northern beans, and black beans. These legumes have as much as seven to ten grams of protein per serving. Blend non-dairy milk substitutes or soft tofu with your favorite fresh or frozen fruits for a thick, delicious, creamy high-protein shake. Marinated tempeh or veggie burgers, grilled on a bun or added to pasta sauce, offer a quick protein boost to any meal.


Makes 3 servings

Fruits are antioxidants that help muscles to repair after a workout. Blueberries and raspberries have the highest antioxidant levels. They are a great source of carbohydrates and sirtuins. Sirtuins modulate cellular death, inflammatory pathways in the body, metabolism, and assist with recovery. This enchanting bowl will help you reach your fitness goals.

1 ½ cups frozen blueberries

1 cup frozen raspberries

1 cup sliced frozen or room-temperate overripe banana

2 cups baby spinach leaves

1 tablespoon orange juice

2 to 3 tablespoons vegan vanilla protein powder, optional

1 cup plus two to three tablespoons water or non-dairy milk substitute, for a creamy texture

½ cup sliced ripe banana

½ cup seasonal fruit, such as sliced kiwi, sliced strawberries, chopped pear, or clementine segments

Chia seeds, to taste, optional

Coconut flakes, to taste, optional

In a blender, add one cup of the water or milk with the blueberries, raspberries, banana, spinach, juice, protein powder (if using), and puree. Add the remaining water or milk one tablespoon at a time, if needed, to thin. Only add as much as is needed to be able to blend, so the mixture stays very thick. Divide among three serving bowls and top with ripe banana, seasonal fruit, coconut flakes, and chia seeds.


Congee is a rice porridge that reminds me of risotto. It’s the Asian version of American chicken soup. It’s what I make for people when they’ve got a cold or flu. Congee is also a great source of restorative healthy carbohydrates. It’s like a warm hug on a cold winter day. Fear not, spring is almost here.

4 cups water

4 cups vegetable broth

1 medium onion chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced (or 4 teaspoons of minced garlic)

1 cup jasmine or brown rice

2 inches fresh ginger, minced

2 carrots, chopped

1 medium sweet or russet potato, cubed

10 ounces mushroom, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Greens for serving, optional

Optional toppings (use your favorites):

Green onions


Tangy/spicy sauce of choice
(I like Tiger or sweet chili sauce.)

Soy Sauce


Sesame seeds

Shelled edamame

Tofu cubes

In a six-quart pot or larger, add all ingredients, minus any of the suggested toppings and greens. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for at least one hour and up to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the rice to break down to a creamy porridge. Once cooked, add salt and pepper to taste.

Wilting greens upon serving will add vital nutrition. Toppings are optional but highly recommended. I enjoy plain congee, but it’s more delicious with sauces and additions.

High Vibe Foods

Welcome to February, the month where we celebrate the heart—in health and in love—with both Valentine’s Day and National Heart Health Month! In Feb. 2016, I spent the days by my sister’s side as she recovered from open heart bypass surgery. It was her 52nd birthday.

In the year leading up to this event, I inquired with her medical team about the impact of a plant-based diet on her heart health and asked the team to consider food as a way to heal. My attempts to support my sister in recovering her health more naturally were dismissed. I can’t lay blame on health care providers. Given that our current medical system receives little training in nutrition, why would they view food as medicine?

Life eating the Standard American Diet (SAD)

My sister had the surgery, endured a painful recovery and ended up back in the same boat just a year later. This time she made a different choice. These same doctors were shocked to learn that, although her first heart bypass had failed and she was facing another, she chose to refuse surgery and heal with food instead.

Several months into her plant-based journey, she met with her cardiologist. Upon examination, after a nuclear stress test, it was confirmed that she no longer needed the surgery. The cardiologist was so shocked and so impressed with these results he later went plant-based too.

Life eating HIGH VIBE foods

Eating a highly raw, whole-food, plant-based diet did for my sister what pharmaceutical drugs, five stents and invasive surgery could not do. She healed her heart disease and many other medical conditions by avoiding meat, dairy and eggs, and replacing them with fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.

My life transformation was more emotional than physical. When I gave up meat nine years ago, I noticed a greater sense of peace and my “vibe” was higher. I was more joyful and loving. I’ve come across many others, including my sister, who have had similar experiences.

What is the magic of plant-based eating which not only helps heal the physical body but also helps to heal the emotional body too? How does it help to heal our hearts?

I believe it has to do with love. When we make food choices from a higher perspective, vibration or intent, such as self-love, self-care, love of animals or for the planet, we are compassion in action. We are living love. We vibrate higher on all levels. This can only lead to a healthier heart in every way.


1 cup water or plant-based milk substitute of choice

½ cup frozen cherries

½ cup chopped raw beets

½ cup frozen strawberries

1 banana

1 handful of spinach (optional)

Ice, as needed

Add liquid to the blender. Then add the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth.


Makes 4 Servings

2 medium green zucchini squash

2 medium yellow squash

2 medium shallots

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

10 halved cherry tomatoes

4 tablespoons (or more) water
for sautéing

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Fresh basil, to taste

Scallions, for garnish

Wash and dry the squash and zucchini. Cut off the stems and cut the squash and zucchini in half. Use a vegetable spiralizer to turn the squash and zucchini into spaghetti-shaped noodles. Peel and cut shallots into thin rounds.

Add water to a 24-inch skillet and heat until smoky. Turn heat down to medium and add shallots, garlic, and zucchini and squash noodles. Stir with a wooden spoon for two minutes. Add cherry tomatoes. Cook for five minutes while stirring.

Finish by seasoning with salt, pepper and fresh basil. Serve hot in a bowl with scallions.

A Year For New Holiday Traditions

A holiday tradition in our family has been to create narrative poems that weave in the events of the year. The following poem from me to you is an ode to creating new holiday traditions on the heels of a transformative year.

One of the ways we transformed in 2020 is that we cooked more. Americans got back into the kitchen and plant-based eating grew over 400%. Will these trends become more traditional? Only time will tell, but here is some food for thought.

We are drawing a close to a most unbelievable year

And the holiday season is finally here!

We withstood being told to change how we live,

And while we’re in our discomfort zone,

Why not change for good?

As we were nesting all in our homes,

We found ourselves eating differently with less choice
and freedoms.

When going out to eat was taken off the table,

Americans started cooking at home more, and that’s not a fable.

We continue to do so at levels not seen before

And the trend is expected to continue beyond this year,

While these adjustments have been wildly inconvenient,

Changing our habits can take on a new meaning.

A more intentional, conscious way of living can emerge,

Allowing us to shift from rituals that no longer serve.

A time for fresh traditions to be formed

That become comfortable, the unexpected “new norm.”


Makes 4 to 6 Servings

In our family, my mom’s “Serbian Spinach” was a traditional holiday dish. It was gooey and full of cottage cheese, egg and Velveeta. It also was full of cholesterol, chemicals and hormones. But to us, it was as festive as the lights on the Christmas tree. This version is much healthier, yet keeps an old tradition alive.


1 package firm tofu

Juice of 1 lemon

3 cloves garlic or 3 teaspoons minced

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon pepper, or to taste

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour or gluten-free flour

¼ cup nutritional yeast

2 cups chopped onion, approximately 1 large

1 pound frozen spinach, thawed

1 cup cubed or shredded vegan cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut tofu into cubes. Add tofu, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, flour, nutritional yeast to a food processor and blend until creamy. Set aside.

In a large skillet, dry sauté onion for
four to five minutes. Add water, if needed, one tablespoon at a time to prevent sticking. Add spinach and
mix thoroughly. Add the cream sauce and mix again. Adjust seasonings to taste. If desired, mix in the optional vegan cheese at this time. Transfer to
a casserole dish and bake for 35
to 40 minutes.


Makes 20 Servings

Gingerbread houses and cookies have long been a Christmas tradition. Their popularity grew when the Brothers Grimm published the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. These treats are not scary in any way, and can ring in notes of tradition in a healthier manner.


1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons rolled oats

1/3 cup almond meal (or unsweetened shredded coconut)

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon sea salt

2 cups pitted dates, lightly packed

¼ cup raisins

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup coconut butter

3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 ½ tablespoons non-dairy milk

A couple of pinches of sea salt

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest, optional

To make the bars:

In a food processor, combine the oats, almond meal, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Pulse a few times to get the oats crumbly. Add the dates, raisins and vanilla and pulse a few times to start to incorporate. Then begin to purée steadily, continuing until the mixture becomes cohesive. It will form a large ball on the blade. Remove the dough and press it evenly into the prepared pan.

To prepare the icing:

Combine the coconut butter, maple syrup, non-dairy milk and salt and gently warm. You can do this in a bowl set over a hot water bath or in an oven-proof bowl in the oven/toaster oven set to low heat. Be careful not to scorch the coconut butter, just warm it until it softens. Once softened, mix it until smooth and add the lemon zest, if using.

Pour the icing over the dough and spread to distribute. Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and then cut into bars.

* Recipe and photo credit: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)