Monthly Archives: August 2009

Vegan Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

Vegan Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

While in Chicago, my family was not only cool enough to throw me a belated birthday party, but my sister even surprised me with a vegan chocolate and zucchini cake served with whipped soy cream and berries. Folks, this cake was incredible. We were all blown away. The combination of chocolate and berries was delicious, and the soy cream really rounded everything out.

She started with the recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini, then veganized it using some special kind of magic intuition I only wish I possessed. Luckily, she sent me the recipe. I hope I get a zucchini in tomorrow’s organic box so I can try making this for myself.

Vegan Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

Vegan Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

For Cake:
2 cups Whole wheat flour
1/2 cup Cocoa powder
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 cup Canola oil
1/4 cup Unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1/2 cup Light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon Instant coffee powder
1.5 bananas (to replace 3 eggs)
4 Tablespoons Water
1/4 cup Soy Milk
2 cups Zucchini, grated
1 cup vegan dark chocolate chips

For Topping:
3 Tablespoons Light brown sugar
1/2 cup Slivered Almonds, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 360F/180c for 15 minutes.
  2. Grease and flour a 9 inch cake pan. You can use cocoa instead of flour.
  3. In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour,cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  4. Mash the bananas. Once mashed, add the water and mix together.
  5. In a medium bowl add oil, applesauce, sugars, vanilla extract and coffee powder. Using a hand mixer beat the mixture at a medium speed for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Add the banana liquid and mix. Now also add the milk and beat until well combined.
  7. Reserving half a cup of the flour mixture, add slowly the remaining flour to the wet ingredients, while beating it in at a low speed. Combine the grated zucchini, chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of flour. Add this to the batter and mix it well. Note that the batter is thick at this stage. So don’t worry.
  8. Pour the batter in the prepared cake pan and smooth it out using a spatula.
  9. Prepare the topping by mixing the brown sugar and almonds. Sprinkle this mixture evenly on the batter. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.

The Well-Rounded Vegetarian Barbecue

Vegan BBQWho says vegetarians can’t enjoy a barbecue just as much as the rest? Last Saturday’s barbecue was one of my most successful grilling attempts yet, thanks mostly to the Hot-Sauce Glazed Tempeh, one of my favorite recipes from the Veganomicon. This stuff is AWESOME on the grill, and I really nailed it this time. It seems there are a few secrets for working with tempeh:

  • Boil the tempeh for 10 minutes before you marinate it
  • Use a yummy marinade, something with a fairly strong flavor
  • Marinate the tempeh for a good long while (at least an hour) before you cook it
  • Cook it on a hot grill if you have one
  • Baste the tempeh constantly as it cooks

But the tempeh was only part of the picture. Add to that grilled onions, peppers, runner beans, sweet corn and potatoes (the only part of the meal that wasn’t grilled), and I wound up with a pretty well-rounded, delicious and filling meal. Thus more proof that there’s more to vegetarian grilling than veggie burgers and sweet potatoes.

Food and Exercise Log | Saturday, August 29, 2009


Toast with Almond Butter and Fresh Fruit

Breakfast: Toast and Almond Butter with Apples and Bananas


Butter Bean Salad, Green Salad and Quinoa

Lunch: Bean Salad, Green Salad and Quinoa

Recipe: Essential Bean Salad, Italian Style


Chocolate Beetroot Cake with Strawberries


Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Beetroot Cake


Grilled Tempeh, Peppers and Onions with Sweetcorn, Grilled Runner Bean Salad and Potato

Dinner: Grilled Tempeh with Peppers, Onions, Runner Beans, Potatoes and Corn


Hot Sauce Glazed Tempeh
French Green Beans with Chili Vinaigrette (made with grilled runner beans)

Resisting Fizzy Temptations

I just got back from a trip to the grocery store. We were at the end of our list when I felt a sudden impulse to buy soda. I must confess, during my recent travels to the US I indulged in my fair share of fountain soda, a guilty pleasure that I don’t get in England (a country that still doesn’t seem to “get” ice).

I’m trying not to be an absolutist about this whole soda thing. A fizzy treat once in a while won’t kill me. But that’s the trick – “once in a while.”

So I was in the pop aisle, looking at the cans of Fanta Zero, and even went so far as to put a 6-pack in my cart. Then Tim went off for some milk and I had a moment to myself to think things over and have a little conversation with myself:

Now Monica, you had your soda bomb in the US with the intention of cutting way back when you returned to the UK. You don’t really want to drink soda – it’s full of chemicals. And if you skip it, your entire basket will be comprised solely of whole foods. You’ll feel good about it. PUT THE FANTA BACK.

So I managed to resist the soda and break the habit, which wasn’t so hard I guess. Somehow having those couple of minutes to myself managed to save me from disaster. For some reason, when Tim was there, I couldn’t have that conversation with myself. Instead I was too fixated on feeling “caught in the act” to actually think rationally about what I was doing. It’s like I needed those moments to myself to decide, for myself, that I didn’t want to buy soda.

Believe it or not, there’s a point here. When it comes to being healthy, there’s no doubt that people can be a powerful support for maintaining good habits. But having some alone time is just as important because in the end, the choice to change is a completely individual choice and we all have to get there on our own, at our own pace.

Now, my soda addiction is in no way solved – I will always be tempted to buy soda if I’m in a shop that sells the magical elixir. So what do you guys do to talk yourself out of bad decisions? I need all the coping strategies I can get!


Monica age 10: caught in the act!

Photo credit: 201cigarettes

Reader Mail: Protein Percentages Explained


One of the most popular posts on SmarterFitter is my list of 100 most protein rich vegetarian foods. The table is based on values in the USDA National Nutrient Database and lists protein amounts in grams and percentages, with leafy cowpea tips having the highest percentage of protein at a whopping 85%.

Recently, one of you wrote to ask how I calculated these percentages. Something didn’t quite add up:

1 gm of protein or carbs contains 4 calories, and 1 gm of fat contains 9 calories. Using these measurements, the percentages of protein listed next to each food are unrealistically high. I used a calculator to double-check my estimates, calculating both % protein by weight and % protein by calories.

Take the cowpeas for example. According to the USDA database, cowpeas have about 4.6g protein, 0.1g fat, 2.8g carbs and 22 Calories. But if you calculate calories based on the 4-9-4 rule, you get

4.6*4 + 0.1*9 + 2.8*4 = 30.1 Calories

This is much higher than the 22 Calories listed in the USDA database (the value I used to calculate the percentages in the table, thus giving higher percentages than my reader expected).

So why the discrepancy? The USDA website has a helpful FAQ that explains part of the story:

Calorie values are based on the Atwater system for determining energy values…The Atwater system uses specific energy factors which have been determined for basic food commodities. These specific factors take into account the physiological availability of the energy from these foods. The more general factors of 4-9-4 were developed from the specific calorie factors determined by Professor Atwater and associates. For multi-ingredient foods which are listed by brand name, calorie values generally reflect industry practices of calculating calories from 4-9-4 kcal/g for protein, fat, and carbohydrate, respectively, or from 4-9-4 minus insoluble fiber. The latter method is frequently used for high-fiber foods because insoluble fiber is considered to provide no physiological energy.

So the Calories that come from insoluble fiber aren’t included in the Calorie value listed in the USDA database. It still doesn’t tell me what values I should be using to calculate percentages.

To get a definitive answer, I sent an email to the USDA. To my amazement, they actually got back to me within 12-hours of sending the email. Here’s how it went down:

My email to the USDA:

Hi there,

I would like to calculate the percentage of protein in food based on the data in the USDA database. I know that the basic formula is (calories from protein)/(total calories), however, I’m not sure what value I should use for “total calories”. Do I use the value listed for “Energy” or do I calculate total calories from the values listed for protein, carbs and lipids? I assume I use the value listed for “Energy”, as the latter calculation would include calories from insoluble fiber, but I’m really not sure. Please help!

Many thanks,

Response from the USDA:

Dear Monica,

Thank you for contacting

The correct value that you would use to calculate “total calories” would be the value listed as “energy”. To calculate the percentage of protein in a food, you need to know the grams of protein (which is usually how the food label provides the information) and the number of calories per serving.

For example, you have a food that has 5 grams of protein and 200 calories. You will multiply the 5 grams of protein by 4 because there are 4 kcal/gm of protein. Then you will take that number (20) and divide that by 200 calories. This will provide you with the percentage of protein per serving of a food.

The Nutrient Data Laboratory also has a section on frequently asked questions with background information that you may find helpful. The question, “I multiplied protein, fat and carbohydrate values by 4-9-4, but my energy value is different from USDA’s. Why?” may be found here:

I hope you find this information helpful. Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.


Laryessa Worthington, MS, RD
Nutrition Information Specialist
Food and Nutrition Information Center
National Agricultural Library, USDA
10301 Baltimore Ave., Room 105
Beltsville, MD 20705
Phone: (301) 504-5368

In a nutshell, the percentages listed in my table of 100 most protein rich vegetariain foods ARE correct. And the way to calculate the percentage of protein in food based on the USDA database is

Percentage of Calories from Protein = (4 * Grams of Protein) / (Energy)


Non-Mushy Vegan Burger Secret Revealed

Dinner: Sweet Potato Burger and Cabbage Slaw

I’ve been experimenting with vegan veggie burgers over the past few months with mixed results. My main obstacle is the mush factor – almost every burger I’ve made failed to stay together in the bun, but instead oozed out the side with every bite. Traditional veggie burgers rely on egg to bind everything together. So how do I make a vegan version that doesn’t use any weird egg substitute?

I think I stumbled upon the answer with this recipe for sweet potato and black bean burgers made with quinoa. I’ve made a few variations of this burger with great success, and I think I may have figured out the secret to non-mushy vegan burgers:

  • Potato – Potato makes a great substitute for egg as a burger binder. I’ve only used sweet potato so far, but I look forward to trying these with regular potato. Just bake the potato, scoop out the insides and you’re sorted.
  • Bread crumbs (or oatmeal) – On this point I have failed in the past. Adequate bread crumbs or oatmeal are required to soak in the moisture from the potato, beans, veggies, and whatever else goes into your veggie burger. Skimp on the bread crumbs and you’ll be met with mush (I know from experience!). To minimize the use of bread crumbs, avoid using super moist beans and veggies in your burger assembly. Then add enough breadcrumbs until the mix is firm enough to form patties.
  • Refrigeration – After you’ve formed your patties, refrigerate (or freeze) them for an hour or two. This will give the breadcrumbs time to absorb some of the moisture in the burger, making them more apt to stay together during cooking.
  • Good beer – A good general rule for cooking, particularly when a bbq is involved. But vegans beware: not all beers are vegan friendly (including Foster’s, Murphy’s, and Newcastle). Check out Barnivore, a vegan wine and beer guide, to find out if you’re beer is vegan.

The technique takes practice (what good burger doesn’t?) and I’m sure I still have a lot to learn. So if you’ve got some vegan burger tricks up your sleeve, please share! In the meantime, here’s a recipe for the lentil burgers pictured above. I served these at a recent bbq and they went down well among a crew I consider to be veggie burger aficionados.

Lentil Quinoa Sweet Potato Burgers

They are inspired by Cupcake Punk’s sweet potato and black bean burgers and Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burger.

2 tablespoons oil
2 onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, grated finely
1 cup kale, finely chopped
2 cups cooked brown lentils
1 baked sweet potato, scooped out of skin
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups oats
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon chili powder (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon curry powder (or more to taste)
1/2 fresh cup cilantro, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and lower heat. Cook until lightly browned, several minutes. Add carrots and kale and cook an additional 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat. Add lentils and mash slightly in pan, until lentils are half crushed.

Place skillet mixture in large bowl with remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. USE YOUR HANDS to encourage everything to mush together. Add enough oats so that it’s easy to form the mix into patties.

Form into ~10 patties. Pan-fry with a little oil for 5-10 minutes on each side. Serve on a bun with all the fixins and enjoy!

Makes about 10 burgers. Per burger: 237 Calories; 10.1g Protein; 5.1g Total Fat; 38.7g Total Carbohydrates; 0mg Cholesterol; 44mg Sodium; 10.1g Fiber.

Mercury Levels in Fish

This recent bit of fishy news kind of freaks me out:

According to a recent study by the US Geological Survey, every single fish sampled from 291 streams across the United States between 1998-2005 was contaminated with mercury.


A quarter of the sampled fish contained levels of mercury higher than those deemed safe for human consumption and more than two thirds contained levels exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s level of concern for the protection of fish-eating mammals.

Most of the mercury comes from coal power plant emissions, where the mercury in the atmosphere gets precipitated down, then converted to methyl mercury, the toxic stuff polluting our waterways.

Now I know I’m a veggie so I don’t need to worry about my own safety, but there’s the planet and the rest of its fish-eating species to worry about – people included. Barbara Scudder, a scientist with the USGS, advises that people should eat more fish species lower down the food chain, such as perch, bluegill or crappie.

Elsewhere, Ward Eldred asks a few interesting questions that I wouldn’t mind knowing the answers to:

The question I want answered is how much mercury was in the streams and fish 30 years ago? 50 years ago? Has it increased? The article says it comes from coal-fired power plants. Oh, and it comes from areas mined for gold and mercury. Does it perhaps just naturally leach from the earth? And has it been doing it for millions of years?

Even the Salad Bar Requires Self Control

Salad Overload

I’ve been graced with two salad bars this trip to Chicago: the first at Sweet Tomatoes, the second at Jason’s Deli. A good salad bar is a god-send for veggies and vegans. What do I mean by “good”? I’m talking anything that goes beyond the realm of wilted iceberg lettuce and potato salad. A good salad bar will have all the fixins – spinach, broccoli, beans, corn, carrots, nuts, seeds. But most importantly, the food will be FRESH and, preferably, organic.

Both Sweet Tomatoes and Jason’s Deli seem to fit the bill. There’s only one draw back (and this is my own problem entirely): the requirement of self control.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to overdose on vegetables, as I learned at Sweet Tomatoes earlier this week (see picture above). Not only did I load up on tons of veggies, but I topped those veggies with a mountain of dense foods like beans, corn, peas and sunflower seeds. I mean, it wasn’t the food itself, but the sheer quantity. In a way I should be proud – I really got the most out of that salad bar (the salad plates of those around me were not nearly as grand). But at the same time, I wasn’t hungry until lunchtime next day. I don’t think my digestive system was quite equipped to deal with the sheer quantity and variety of vegetables I fed it. It seemed to totally shut down!

This is why I don’t like buffets. Sure, it’s a good deal, but there’s too much risk of overdoing it (I learned this lesson the hard way at an indian buffet in 1994).

What’s your take on salad bars and buffets? Love em’? Hate em’? Any good ones I should know about?

Food Log | Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Toast with Almond Butter, Yogurt and Fruit

First Breakfast: Yogurt, Berries, Apples, and Almond Butter on Toast


Tomato and Hummus on Toast

Second Breakfast: Homegrown Tomatoes and Hummus on Toast


Salad Bar at Jason’s Deli

Lunch: Jason's Deli Salad Bar

Had lunch with mom and grandpa in Oak Lawn – gramps looooves Jason’s deli. We all got the salad bar. I was fairly impressed – Jason’s Deli has improved greatly since my last visit in Beaumont, Texas about 5 years ago. Their veggies were all organic, and the line-up featured tasty vegan treats like hummus and bean salad, plus the obligatory boiled eggs and cottage, neither of which are vegan, but do a very decent job of rounding out the protein portion for lacto-ovos and omnivores.

Grandpa ate his cauliflower with a side of chocolate pudding – it was funny.


Vegan Breakfast Taco with a Kale Salad

Dinner: Vegan Breakfast Taco with a Kale Salad

Recipe: Vegan Breakfast Tacos

Great Trips for Staying Fit

If you’re looking for a holiday that will allow you to eat as much as you want without gaining a pound, I highly recommend visiting Interlaken in Switzerland where you can work off all that Rösti and Rugenbrau by walking up crazy high (and crazy beautiful) mountains all day long.

Tim and I were in Interlaken last week for a fabulous (and fabulously expensive) long weekend. Legs and wallet have recovered adequately and I’m now able to reflect on the trip untainted by sore quads and sticker shock. In a nutshell: definitely worth every step.

I’m still uploading photos, but here’s a quick vid to give you an idea of the kind of altitude we’re talking:

The trains all over the mountains are almost as cool as the mountains themselves:

Gearing Up for the Country

I’m back in the US for a spell, currently living it up in Chicago. My trips to the States always seems to necessitate a concurrent trip to the local REI. What brought me there this time?

Ever since moving to the countryside, I’ve been thinking about backpacking in the Cotswolds. My recent trip to Switzerland convinced me that I need to get on this whole backpacking thing asap, so today I made the plunge and bought a pack.

My choice? The REI Flash 65:


The Flash 65 was Backpacker Magazine’s 2009 Editor’s Choice Pack and I’m excited to see how I fair on my first expedition. Stay tuned for a review…

Off to the land of Bircher and Basel 2

Breakfast: Bircher Muesli with Apricots and Pecans

How exciting is this? Tomorrow morning I head to Switzerland, the birthplace of my beloved Bircher muesli! I’m flying into Basel airport then heading to Interlaken for a long weekend of mountain walking and jaw dropping at the great Eiger. I’m very excited, and have two bowls of Bircher on the soak for the trip in. I’ll be back next week with stories of cereal and Swiss Alps. And in case you don’t get the Basel 2 reference, don’t worry about it – it’s a reference to my previous life as a banker. Can you imagine?