Dead Week is upon me and it’s hitting me hard. I swear, even though I’ve been sleeping for more than eight hours as of now, it legitimately feels like I’ve been running on three. However, I can gladly say that for a day that I’ve been looking forward to since the start of 2016, not just my birthday, but the whole week of my birthday was a mad success that I did not expect. I’m even tempted to question if I was truly deserving of such a blessed time to indulge in my celebrations!
While not everything may seem to be concerned with health and fitness, I don’t think that my blog could possibly be complete without me sharing parts of my birthday week! Here’s the thing: you’ll find a lot of food photos, but my week demonstrates that the aspects of health and fitness transcend the plate you eat on and the gym you visit. Health and fitness are both about improving the quality of your life. If you’re a fitness junkie who finds that eating clean and exercising are setting you back from being truly content, then the real connection between your desires and your actions are not aligned.
In certain ways, I took a few breaks during this week. I didn’t always stick to my sleeping schedule. I may have indulged in one too many brownies, spoonfuls of vegan cookie dough, oily Indian food and salt. I still exercised my booty off every day, but not to a point where I’d dread the workout. I didn’t obsess about exceeding my 10,000 a day. Taking my time, just living in the present and enjoying the celebrations enabled me to escape the “future” mentality that I constantly adopt in times of stress. There are no regrets. I’ve never felt healthier and happier with everything.
Anyways, let’s get back into the subject at hand as I guide you through the main highlights of my birthday, and share how they’ve contributed to my journey in gaining happiness and health in my life. Yes, the journey never ends. You learn something new every day. I chose to only elaborate on a select few highlights, because this post would take days for you to read if I discussed the entire week! Plus, I feel as if it would be better to pour my heart and soul into quality parts of this amazing time rather than half-assing the whole week. But without further ado, let’s get started!
SWEET POTATO BIRTHDAY CAKES
Now I tried HARD to experiment with something besides making dorm-friendly sweet potatoes. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE them, but it’s not easy just stabbing a sweet potato with a candle and calling it a day. I wanted to revamp an old favorite that I’ve loved for the longest time a while ago: the one-ingredient cake, except upside down, yet totally right-side up if you know what I mean. At least on a theoretical level.
On Monday, I decided to treat myself with time and effort by mashing a baked Japanese sweet potato to make my first one-ingredient birthday “cake”, which turned out so incredibly amazing that even I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t able to light the candle on top, but it still looked absolutely beautiful! I garnished the cake with chocolate two-ingredient protein “frosting”, campus-made olallieberry jam (which is DELICIOUS but a little high in sugar), a cinnamon bun cashew + pea protein spread, cinnamon, turmeric, maca powder, chocolate almond granola, Sea Stars cereal, muesli, superfood crumbles, peanut butter superfood bar pieces, superfood chocolate chip + fudge protein bar pieces, complete birthday cake cookie pieces, and cereal bowl edible cookie dough (for brands used, see this link)! The toppings are complex, but the recipe is so unbelieveably simple that you could have cake for breakfast every day. And it’s a freaking AWESOME recipe on top of that! It was unfortunate that I couldn’t enjoy this same delicious breakfast on Tuesday or Thursday due to schedule conflicts, but I easily compensated on Wednesday and Friday!
Pictured above is Wednesday’s MEGA-epic sweet potato birthday cake! Why do I say mega-epic? It’s because it’s made of two layers: the first being a large mashed jewel sweet potato, and the top and second layer being a mashed Japanese sweet potato! Hands down, this was my favorite birthday “cake” of the week! The toppings are the same as those of the Monday cake, but I also added Joe’s Pumpkin O’s–aka my latest obsession–and used the Bhu Foods peanut butter + chocolate chip vegan protein bar, which I prefer over the fudge bar! The protein frosting looks more like I poured chocolate milk on top of the sweet potatoes, but the result was still delectable. I could even dip some sweet potato that wasn’t covered in any goodies! Again, the Instagram post of the cake with the brand accounts are linked here.
For Friday, I indulged in the last one ingredient cake to cap off the PERFECT birthday week before the weekend! The way I made everything, including the toppings, were pretty much identical to Monday’s cake, except I used pieces of the Bhu Foods peanut butter + chocolate chip vegan protein bar, Elemental Superfood currant cacao + hemp seed crumbles, and parts of the vegan brownies my friends and I made, which you will read about later in this post! As usual, the tastes were absolutely bursting with sweetness, richness and just pure magic. I wish I had the time to create and enjoy this every day!
THE BEST ROOMMATES
On Thursday, December 8th, my actual birthday, I woke up to what I would say were the most wonderful surprises from my apartment-mates! After arriving back to my bedroom to retrieve my backpack by my sneakers, I was shocked to see a gift wrapped by my amazing roommate on my bed.
Truth of a matter is, I didn’t know how she found the time to think of me in such a meaningful way, and the fact that she even took the extra mile to grant me any present is already so significant. But on top of that, I unwrapped the package and was stoked to find that the gift was not just a vegan cookbook, but the edition from one of my favorite documentaries, which is none other than Forks Over Knives!
When I came out to the kitchen to fill up my reusable water bottle right before Nutrition class, I saw a Happy Birthday string banner hung up by the rest of my roommates as well, which only made me that much happier.
CONQUERING THE LAST OF CHEM WITH CHOCOLATE CRAVINGS
On my actual birthday schedule was the last introductory Chemistry lecture and laboratory, where we ended up learning about gas stoichiometry and demonstrating a lab procedure with titration. Ending the period was both a sad yet relieving moment of the day. I love my classmates and I genuinely look forward to this course, but of course, most people I know, including myself, do not consider themselves Chemistry junkies. On the other hand, I am, like most people I know, are chocolate and peanut butter junkies. Therefore, right before the class, I demolished a NugoSlim crunchy peanut butter vegan protein bar to satiate my sweet cravings!
Offering 17 grams of protein at 180 calories, 3 grams of sugar and 7 grams of fiber, it is a wonderful snack for offering optimal macronutrients. But to be honest, it was a mediocre bar at best in terms of taste. I expected a much stronger peanut butter flavor and the chocolate did not add much amplification to the underwhelming mildness of the “meat” of the bar. I liked that there were a few chunks of peanuts in the bar and the texture of the bar was a nice medley of crunchiness and softness without tasting too chalky or gritty. This is a bar that I would purchase if it were on sale or if it were the only vegan option, otherwise it would taste much better with a little spoonful of peanut butter to compensate for the dull flavor of the peanut taste.
VEGAN SLUDGE BROWNIES FOR DUMMIES
Remember when I planned that I would make a brownie recipe with sweet potatoes in my last post? Well unfortunately, time nor any of my campus markets did not permit me to purchase more sweet potatoes, hence I could not create thebigmansworld’s recipe (sorry Arman!) at the time being. I ended up snatching an extra box of gluten free brownie mix to take up the extra space in my large brownie tin that my friends and I would use to bake the brownies after class!
Despite that my friend’s gluten free brownie mix was from Bob’s Red Mill and mine was from Hodgson Mill, and both mixes called for different measurements of eggs and water, we all went with the flow and tried to match each ratio of ingredients to the best of our ability, but also without being too serious about everything. For two boxes of brownie mix, which both made 16 servings, we used 4 flax “eggs” (1/4 cup flax seeds + 12-15 TBSP water), 1 cup of Earth Balance vegan butter, 2 tsp maple syrup, and gradually added warm water until a very thick, rich and sticky batter was yielded. Waiting for the brownies to bake was the most dreadful part of the process, but we ended up talking about amazingly random things while the room was filled with the best aroma of chocolate goodness.
My friends and I ended up taking the brownies out of the tin after twenty minutes, and cutting and eating some brownie squares–or brownie mud puddles in this case–after ten minutes. Hey, we were SUPER impatient and hungry! Even though nothing was followed to a T, the brownies tasted perfect! The fudgey gooeyness and stickiness that everybody looks for in a brownie were present, as was the taste of the rich chocolate and slight sweetness from the maple syrup. I couldn’t even get the brownie to fall off the spoon! I ended up having two brownies and had no regrets, even though this was before dinner!
Unfortunately, the farmers market got cancelled because rain decided to pour on my birthday. However, this did not stop my friend and I from visiting our favorite vegan restaurant in downtown SLO: Bliss Cafe! I swear, this place has become my second home in downtown SLO aside from the farmers market booth that sells Japanese eggplants, sweet potatoes and purple yams!
Both my friend and I had to steal the Buy One Entree and Get The Second 50% Off deal, so we ordered two entrees! While my friend ordered the Curry Style burrito and Protein Buddha bowl, I ended up choosing the Seaweed Avocado Roll (my favorite item on the menu!) with tempeh and a Curry Style bowl for takeout! As shown, the Seaweed Avocado Roll is basically a raw vegan-style (minus the tempeh and almond nutritional yeast dressing) sushi wrap made with Nori, cucumber, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, and a side salad of Romaine, carrot and more alfalfa sprouts! Personally, I love the addition of protein in my meals, and the tempeh was the best touch of nuttiness and extra satiation. Everything tasted divine and capped a rainy birthday night on an extremely high note.
INDIAN FOOD BABIES
Before an intense study session at a coffee shop downtown, me and my friend (who also went to Bliss with me!) took the transit to Shalimar, one of the most popular Indian restaurants in SLO! Unlike Thursday, the weather was the perfect temperature with a nice fog that complemented the winter season. Upon arriving to the restaurant, we were greeted by a kind gentleman (I believe he was the owner?) who guided us inside where we were seated for the………wait for it………BUFFET! My friend and I were elated to see that there were so many vegan options–in fact, more than half of the dishes being served were vegan! I had to make myself comfortable and help myself to the delicious foods that were offered.
Round 1 of the buffet consisted of kidney bean curry over iceberg lettuce alongside aloo gobi, both of which tasted so flavorful, warming and comforting for the chilly weather. I also garnished my food with tamarind chutney, which instantly became one of my new favorite Asian sauces!
The second plate was loaded with iceberg lettuce as a cleansing palette for my chana dahl, second helping of aloo gobi and some eggplant pakora, which my friend recommended I try. No surprise, I absolutely LOVED this round as well. I tried the mint chutney with my chana dahl and ended up not liking it at all, so I used the same tamarind chutney to segue-way into Round 3.
Third collection of servings: half kidney-bean curry and half-chana dahl all over iceberg lettuce with aloo gobi and a piece of eggplant pakora, aka ALL of my favorites. I ended up leaving the buffet with a solid food baby, but one that didn’t come with a heartburn, food coma or sick feeling to my digestion, which made me oddly yet happily proud of myself. ❤
Last week, I’ve asked almost a hundred people if nineteen is an age to look forward to. Not a single one gave me a direct answer. I didn’t understand why nobody was straight-forward. Eventually, however, I came to the realization that this was an answer I couldn’t learn in words. I can only do so through experience.
From developing a healthier relationship with my body image, exercise routine, diet and self-esteem, 2016 has been a whirlwind of ups, downs, golden epitomes and disastrous catastrophes. However, they have all been opportunities for me to grow as an individual for the better. I learned something extremely important from the good, bad, beautiful and the ugly all alike. Taking the extra mile can be extremely rewarding, as much as I sometimes dread doing more work. Flat abs aren’t always worth passing on the extra helping of cereal and vegan ice cream. You need to be honest with yourself. A cup of green tea after 3 P.M. is probably NOT the best idea. And lastly, it’s okay to be selfish and not apologize sometimes.
Here’s to eighteen years of hard work that ended up placing me in my dream college. Here’s to eighteen years of utter failures, from missing work shifts to 20%-grade tests (Yes. Asians fail too.). Here’s to eighteen years of endless passion for learning about the coolest things, from the best exercises to toning, sustainable agriculture to alternative methods to health besides medication. Here’s to eighteen years of Indian buffet food babies and Ethiopian injera babies. Here’s to eighteen years of taking photos in the sunshine. Here’s to eighteen years of fueling up on sweet potatoes, dark chocolate and peanut butter. Here’s to eighteen years of Cassie craziness.
So bring it on, 2017. I’m ready for you. I’m coming for you. And I cannot wait for you all to join me as I continue to document my journey here on this blog. Thank you all for being a part of this amazing birthday. 💕