Yoga for Better Sleep

I’m thrilled to bring you this wonderful guest post from my dear friend and certified yoga teacher Stasia Holmes. She went through a rigorous training and presented on yoga and sleep as a part of her thesis. Aside from my normal daytime practice, I have used yoga to help me chill out right before bed, especially during particularly stressful times. It’s something so simple and accessible for most people and all we really need is a little instruction and motivation to incorporate this powerful practice into our routines. I hope to continue bringing you insightful guest posts from yoga experts!

I suffered from insomnia for well over a decade, and it is tied to my earliest memories of sleep. I didn’t realize for many years that I was experiencing disordered sleep, because I had no reference for healthy sleep. It was only when I started inquiring about the sleeping habits of family members and friends that I discovered how abnormal mine actually were. But this discovery only led to increased anxiety over inadequate sleep, which began a perpetual cycle. I had resigned myself to poor quality of sleep and its effects: decreased immunity, mood instability, decreased focus and memory loss.

When I began practicing yoga, my sleep habits began to change. It was unexpected — I came to the practice for different reasons and had no awareness of the relation between yoga and sleep. It was also gradual — like the practice, which unfolds slowly and steadily, my experience of sleep changed over months and years.

Quality of sleep and quality of life are so intimately related, yet few people get the recommended amount of rest each night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18-64 should sleep 7-9 hours every night. However, over half of Americans suffer from symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week, and women are more likely to be affected than men. In addition to disordered sleep, lack of sleep is increasingly prevalent, and can be equally detrimental to health.

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Whether you experience disordered sleep, or simply struggle to get enough hours of rest each night, I’ve curated a list of the most practical applications of yoga for improving sleep quality. These are simple concepts to apply to a regular yoga practice to calm the nervous system and still an overactive mind:

•    Seated or reclining meditation (use bolster or blocks as support)
•    Extended exhalation (inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts)
•    Seated poses (simple twists, side stretches)
•    Grounding, calming sequences (cat/cow, moon salutation)
•    Forward folds (head-to-knee pose, butterfly, straddle)
•    Passive or reclining poses (supine crescent moon, supine pigeon,                 happy baby)
•    Passive inversions (legs up the wall)
•    Long holds (90 seconds or more)
•    Long savasana (wear warm clothing, use heavy blanket, cover eyes)

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Limit or avoid:
•    Vigorous breathing techniques (breath of fire, holding after inhalation)
•    Exerting poses (chaturanga, arm balances)
•    Active sequences (sun salutations A, B, or C)
•    Energetic poses (deep backbends, inversions)

Additionally, simple lifestyle changes such as creating an evening routine, and going to bed and waking at the same time every day can regulate the natural rhythms of the body.


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Stasia Holmes is a yoga instructor and wellness advocate based in Chicago. She received her 200-hour certification through Moksha Yoga and is currently completing advanced certification through Yoga to Transform Trauma. Register for her in-depth workshop on The Yoga of Sleep and Dreams taking place September 30, 2016. Connect with Stasia on her website for public classes, private sessions and special events.

3 Strategies for Making Quick + Healthy Meals

With back-to-school season arriving, families are busier than ever. Good nutrition is imperative for brainpower, energy and adequate growth & development. But it doesn’t have to be complicated or suck up all of your time!

Pssst! I’ll let you in on a secret to healthful eating—it doesn’t require recipes for every meal you eat! With a little knowledge, a dash of creativity and some prior planning, you can create meals ahead of time or in a flash for easy + delicious eating all week long.

Understand basic food categories
When it comes to simple nutrition, follow these concepts: fill half your bowl or plate with vegetables and fruit, one-quarter with protein-rich foods and one-quarter with whole grains or a starchy vegetable. Make sure you have a good source of calcium and heart-healthy fat too.

Ginny Messina of TheVeganRD.com created a beautiful representation of this with her Plant Plate:

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Buy what’s on sale; buy what you like
People tend to get overwhelmed in the grocery store, but here’s the thing: remember the basic components of a healthy plate and buy what’s on sale and what you like from those departments of the grocery store. Also, aim to portion your grocery cart like you would assemble your meal. Half of your cart should be filled with colorful produce, the other half with whole grains, starches, legumes, tofu, plant milks, nuts and seeds, etc. Toss in a treat or two if you feel like it—dark chocolate bars are on my “staples” list.

You may have heard that you should only shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is not an entirely successful strategy. While you should mainly shop the produce department and bulk bins which are typically on the perimeter, diverging into the inner aisles for staples like whole-grain pasta, canned goods, olive oil and spices is necessary. Just make sure you’re going there with a purpose so you don’t find yourself meandering down the snack aisle on an empty stomach.

Do some meal prepping
You don’t have to spend your entire Sunday in the kitchen slaving over seven different pots, pans, slow cookers and steamers. But be smart about setting yourself up for success and minimizing the time you have to spend each morning packing lunches and making dinner when you get home from work.

For instance, buy canned beans or cook them from dried ahead of time. Store cooked beans in the fridge for a few days or the freezer for a few weeks (I’m a big fan of freezer goodies!). Cook grains like rice and quinoa ahead of time. Wash and chop sturdy greens like kale and romaine so they’re ready for salads, stir-frys and smoothies. Basically envision what a meal-ready fridge and freezer would like for you and then create that.

Here’s an example of how I might stock my fridge and briefly brainstorm the week’s meals:

  • I have a green protein smoothie for breakfast pretty much every day—bananas, spinach, kale and almond milk are always on my grocery list.
  • Before heading to the store, I take stock of pantry items to make single-serving oatmeal jars for my daily mid-morning snack—I head to the bulk bins for quick oats and walnuts.
  • For lunches to take to work, I buy whatever fruits and veggies are on sale, along with vegan yogurt. I’ll add a sandwich on whole-grain bread or perhaps lentil soup or bean chili. Maybe I’ll whip up some homemade hummus for veggie dip if I’m feeling like it.
  • I take stock of what’s in my freezer when considering what to make for dinners. Sometimes I’ll have a couple meal ideas in mind when I head to the store (and have those ingredients on my list), other times I’ll let the sales steer me. I think in terms of food categories—if I know I have grains and veggies prepped in the freezer, I just need to figure out my protein-rich foods.
  • I typically don’t buy anything that isn’t on my grocery list, with one exception: fruits and veggies that are on sale that I know I’ll eat or can freeze for a later time.

 

What tricks do you use for throwing together easy, healthful meals?

Oregon Backpacking & Food Adventures

Lengthy post alert! Many photos and tales from the trail lie ahead. Unfortunately I’ve experienced quite a few technical difficulties getting the photos to load to this post — oh the joys of being a blogger! Alas, it’s finally up!

This trip has been the highlight of my summer and I already can’t wait to go back to the beautiful state of Oregon! A few of you have been asking about my itinerary and for more photos — well here you go!

I highly suggest a trip to the Pacific Northwest (AKA Cascadia) if you haven’t been (and even if you have, there is so much to see and do). It’s one of the most beautiful regions in our country!

We first visited the PNW last year on a quick weekend trip to Seattle and absolutely fell in love.

Our 8-day trip went like this: Portland -> Mt. Hood -> Bend -> Crater Lake -> Eugene -> Portland

Portland: Part One

We started and ended our trip in Portland for ease of access to the airport as well as all of the amazing vegan food options! I wish we had more time to eat and drink around this free-spirited city — we will definitely be back in the future.

Our first meal was at Portobello Vegan Trattoria — an entirely vegan Italian spot! Everything was so delightful:

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Kale Caesar salad

 

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Beet tartare atop cashew cheese (amazing!)

 

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Pesto gnocchi

 

 

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Mushroom ravioli

 

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Tiramisu (one of the best vegan versions I’ve had)

The next day we enjoyed some espresso at Courier Coffee Roasters and Stumptown, did a little shopping downtown (obviously stopping @ Powell’s bookstore), noshed on pizza and took part in some tourism of the local area. We ended our day dining al fresco with some cheap but insanely delicious Mexican food and beer.

Vegan slices from Sizzle Pie
Vegan slices from Sizzle Pie

 

Very happy girl with cold brew coffee soft serve in hand (from Food Fight)
Very happy girl with cold brew coffee soft serve in hand (from Food Fight, an all-vegan grocery store!)

 

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The beautiful 620-foot Multnomah Falls near the Columbia River Gorge – a little day hike not too far from Portland

 

An Oregon brew and vegan tacos from Los Gorditos
An Oregon brew and vegan tacos from Los Gorditos

The next morning we made sure to fuel up before hitting the road to the trailhead:

Breakfast at Paradox Cafe before driving to Mt. Hood.
Breakfast at Paradox Cafe before driving to Mt. Hood.

Mt. Hood: Timberline Trail

The main purpose of our trip was backpacking — we try to go on one big backpacking trip each summer and after our Colorado trip last year, I was itching to get to Oregon this year! I can’t express how beautiful it was to hike the 40-mile Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood. We trekked through a variety of striking ecosystems, forded terrifying glacial rivers and survived the closed portion of the trail around Eliot Creek.

I’m no backpacking expert but I have gotten upwards of 60 backcountry miles under my belt in the past two years.

A few notes about vegan backpacking: it’s not impossible to find gear made without animal products such as leather, suede and down, even in mainstream recreational equipment stores. Look for shoes and sleeping bags with synthetic materials and choose cruelty-free versions of insect repellent, sunscreen and lip balm. This could be an entirely separate blog post!

Vegan dehydrated food is surprisingly easy to find, with many varieties sitting on shelves in your local outdoorsy stores. While you can go the homemade route and dehydrate and pack your own goodies, I’ve gone mostly pre-packaged for convenience.

While eating on the trail likely won’t be the most nutritious or well-balanced stretch of days, it’s pretty easy to consume enough calories and nutrients. For breakfast we had oatmeal with nut butter and coffee while lunch and dinner were rehydrated meals. Many of these meals included a grain plus a legume in a tomato-y sauce, perhaps with some veggies. We brought (and ate) loads of snacks such as energy bars, vegan jerky and protein cookies. We also split a little treat every night after dinner. I’m always craving a cool, crunchy salad whenever we’ve been on the trail for awhile!

Water sources on this trail were plentiful. We crossed countless creeks, streams and rivers at which we’d fill up our four 1400 milliliter bottles and pop in chlorine tabs which took four hours to produce safe drinking water.

It’s imperative to stay hydrated and fed on the trail, even if you don’t feel thirsty or hungry. How else will you trek 10-15 miles a day, traversing up and down several thousand feet of elevation with 40 pounds on your back?

For those who have low appetite or nausea issues on the trail, frequent, small snacks and meals are the ticket. If these issues are due to altitude sickness, the only fix is moving down to lower elevation (learned that one the hard way). Also remind yourself that you must eat enough if you’re going to cover the miles you planned to cover in the allotted time frame — a lot of the challenges of the trail are “mind over matter” situations. It’s a good idea to build up to longer backpacking adventures rather than jumping right into a long thru-hike. Training for the trail is like training for a marathon–you need to train with the gear, hydration and food that you intend to use on your longer adventure. Not to mention training your cardiorespiratory system, back and joints!

 

We reached the trailhead around 1:30 PM. I love that the PCT follows the Timberline Trail for awhile.
We reached the trailhead around 1:30 PM. I love that the PCT follows the Timberline Trail for awhile (me so many times: Cheryl Strayed has been HERE!)

 

Heading west from the Timberline Lodge (trivia: it served as the exterior for the shots of hotel in Stephen King's The Shining), the trail was mostly dry and the sun mostly HOT.
Heading west from the Timberline Lodge (trivia: it served as the exterior in shots of the hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining). The trail was mostly dry and the sun was HOT.

 

We hiked 10 miles the first afternoon, which was fairly mild in difficulty, except for the first difficult (terrifying) river crossing at the end of the day.
We hiked 10 miles the first afternoon, which was mild to moderate in difficulty, except for some steep portions of the trail and our first difficult (terrifying) river crossing at the end of the day. Unfortunately I managed to sprain my ankle on the first day — it was sore that night and was killing me the next morning. But when you’ve got 30 more miles to go, what can you do?

 

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Ah, the wilderness.

 

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Gorgeous scenery from the southwest side of Mt. Hood

 

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The trail through Paradise Park was the most strenuous stretch of our first day — steep incline for almost a mile straight — but at least we were surrounded by beautiful flowers!

 

Dinner = rehydrated bean chili by the fire at the end of a long first day.
Dinner = rehydrated red beans and rice by the fire at the end of a long first day. This was our favorite meal that we ate a couple times (“This is so good, I would eat this at home!”)

 

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Breakfast on the trail: a rock for a kitchen and a pot of boiling water for oatmeal and coffee (we ground up beans before we left and brought a plastic Hario V60 and natural paper filters for pour overs). Plastic baggie (which was inserted into a larger, odor-proof bag) for leave no trace.

 

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We passed the beautiful Ramona Falls shortly into our 12-mile hike on day 2.

 

Day 2 involved lots of fog, which was super enchanting and a welcome reprieve from burny sun.
Most of our second day on the trail was misty + foggy, which was quite enchanting and a welcome reprieve from the hot sun.

 

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So magical!

 

I was delighted by all of the beautiful wildflowers along the trail!
I was delighted by all of the beautiful wildflowers along the trail!
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The view from our campsite on night 2! I was so excited to get out into the wilderness and see the stars (a big deal for us city folk), but we were so exhausted that we always fell asleep before it got dark!
A portion of the trail was closed a few years ago due to the washout of the Eliot Creek crossing. As you can see, the creek is actually several hundred feet below. Hikers have fashioned ropes to help others get down the loose side of the gully. The steep hike up to even get to the point where the rope is was actually the most challenging part. Using the rope was a little scary and it took as while to actually cross the creek as it was pretty wild and there weren't any super safe areas to ford. Alas, we made it!
Day 3 was all about surviving the portion of the trail that was closed a few years ago due to the washout of the Eliot Creek crossing. As you can see, the creek is actually several hundred feet below. Hikers have fashioned ropes to help others get down the rocky, loose side of the gully. Just hiking up to this point was exhausting. Using the rope to slide down was a little scary and it took us while to actually cross the creek as it was pretty wild and there weren’t any super safe areas to ford. But we made it!

 

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After crossing Eliot, we took a break to make lunch and then got lost and wound up on a summit trail (uhhhh, why are we going up the mountain?) before scaling down a dune and hopping back on the Timberline. A few miles of the trail stretched across the rocky east face of the mountain, glacier crossings and all.

 

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We were totally dead at the end of the third day. It was our longest day (from about 9 am to 7 pm) and my ankle was really bothering me by this point. No matter how exhausted I was, I was still so in awe of my beautiful surroundings. This cute little stream is where we filled up water after crossing Newton Creek and  before setting up camp for the night.

 

Small luxuries on the trail: splitting a treat each night.
Little comforts on the trail: taking your boots off and splitting a treat at the end of each night.
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What a luxury — breakfast in bed on our last morning!
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The scenery changed back to meadows and forest on day 4 (and I’m pretty sure that’s Mt. Jefferson off in the distance).
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Then it was back to a dry environment as we covered the final miles of the loop. Definitely got sun burnt on this stretch of the trail, oops.

 

The last day was pretty rough, especially declines. We had to dig into our first aid kit to wrap this sucker. Boy did it feel good to get to the car and take off my boot!
What your feet look like when you finish hiking 40 miles in 4 days.

This hike was amazing! It was challenging, no doubt, but the scenery and experience were worth it! We were lucky not to run into too many mosquitoes and the sun was only an issue for me on the last day. No bears or mountain lions, but plenty of deer, ground squirrels and a beautiful golden eagle. We saw many tracks and scat along the trail but were never face to face with any predators. Water was plentiful and our food supply was sufficient. If it weren’t for my sprained ankle, I’d say it went pretty swimmingly!

Bend

After three nights on the trail, it was amazing to shower, eat and sleep in the beautiful town of Bend, Oregon!

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We thoroughly enjoyed hummus, salads, tofu burgers, fries and beer at Deschutes Brewery!

Crater Lake

Also a top destination on our trip, Crater Lake National Park was absolutely stunning, as to be expected. What I didn’t expect were the hoards of tourists and restrictions on backcountry camping (you can’t actually camp with a view of lake, but either in a few limited campsites a bit of a hike off the road or at least 1 mile away from the rim in the backcountry).

By this point my sprained ankle was just NOT having it in any shoes with a back so I had to hike around with my left foot in nothing but an ankle brace and flip flop! Hey, making memories, right?

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One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been!
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The blueness of the water is insanely gorgeous.
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I wasn’t about to let this bum ankle stop me from enjoying Crater Lake!

Eugene

We stopped in Eugene purely to eat at Cornbread Cafe on our way back up to Portland. I was blown away. First, the drive between Bend and Eugene was spectacular. Then, the food was some of the best vegan brunch I’ve had in my life.

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Nothing but beautiful forest!

 

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Omelette, biscuit and potatoes — if only you could taste this photo!

Portland: Part Deux

We were only back in Portland for one night and went out with a bang at Farm Spirit. Founded by chef Aaron Adams, Farm Spirit specializes in horticultural tastings of Cascadian cuisine in an intimate setting — all vegan, of course!

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A summary of what we enjoyed — everything was so delightful! All ingredients are locally sourced (up to 100 miles), even the grains, so no exotic flavors (i.e citrus).
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How cute is this place? Guests are seated at a bar and the chefs plate each course and serve you from the other side.

Here are snaps of some of the goodies:

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Savory carrot cream and carrot mousse
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“Concentrated tomato” — this was one of the most flavorful things I’ve ever eaten.
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Fermented turnip cream base, snow pea and nasturtium
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This was unreal! Artichoke-stuffed padron peppers.
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Sprouted barley, braised lobster mushrooms, pole beans, corn and a black garlic crisp
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Quinoa cracker with a cauliflower-coriander topping, garnished with mint
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This dish was served in tomato water — so genius and insanely delicious!
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Alice in Wonderland? This was our palate cleanser before dessert.
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Hazelnut cream, raspberries and marigolds in a hazelnut tart

They even sent us home with a little breakfast bread wrapped up to enjoy the following morning! I highly recommend making a reservation at Farm Spirit the next time you visit Portland.

Sadly, it was time to head home the following day, with little time for much other than stuffing our faces before heading to the airport:

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Our last morning started with a final latte from Coava (our favorite coffee place in Portland!) and doughnut from Voodoo.
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Curry brunch bowl at Blossoming Lotus. It was so yummy, but I could hardly eat half of it because I already had a doughnut in my belly, oops!
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Farewell, PDX. ‘Til next time!

 

Tell me — where are some of YOUR favorite places to travel in the US?

Summer Recipe Round-Up

Helloooo, summer!

Insert sunshine and watermelon emojis here.

I hope you all have had wonderful summers so far — can you believe it’s almost JULY?! In the spirit of Independence Day cookouts and weekend picnics, I bring you this round-up of colorfully enticing summer recipes!

Grilled Pineapple Black Bean & Jicama Salad from Lively Table 

My mouth is watering at this recipe! Crunchy, refreshing jicama plus super sweet grilled pineapple, protein-rich beans and zippy lime and cilantro. So simple, so perfect. This just may be your new summer go-to dish.

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Grilled Tofu Spring Rolls from A Cozy Kitchen

I have a serious love for fresh spring rolls and could eat them every day. These grilled tofu rolls are perfect for a summer picnic because they’re refreshing, contain protein + veggies, and they carry well.

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BBQ Seitan Skewers from Vegan Yack Attack

Jackie lets us in on a little secret—if you want seitan that looks like steak, use black beans in the dough! Making seitan is really quite simple; if you haven’t tried it out yet, you totally should.

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Smoky Chickpea Burgers with Cilantro-Lime Apple Slaw from Dishing Out Health

These patties are held together with flaxseed and quinoa and are hearty enough not to fall apart when grilling. Plus, the citrus-y slaw with fresh cilantro is ultra refreshing.

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Homemade Hamburger Buns from Snacking in Sneakers

If you’re an overachiever and want to make everything from scratch, try this recipe to make hamburger buns in under an hour!

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Grilled Corn with Sriracha Aioli from Minimalist Baker

I’ve been drooling over this recipe for days. It just looks and sounds so darn delicious. I mean, look:

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Best Dang Vegan BBQ Baked Beans from Brand New Vegan

Who said slow cookers are only for the winter? Sure, making baked beans from scratch is an all-day process but the flavor is oh-so-worth-it!

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Fingerling Potato Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Vinaigrette from The Clever Carrot

This recipe is super simple but that’s why I love it. I’m not into creamy salads and this one is so perfect, dressed in sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil — just what the taste buds ordered.

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Mango Mojito from Vegan Richa

Getting a little parched from all that delicious food? Wash it down with a fruity beverage! Add some rum if you’re into that or keep it virgin and enjoy the refreshment of mango, mint and lime on a hot summer day.

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Red, White and Blue Vegan Watermelon Cake from Abbey’s Kitchen

OK, how genius (and cute) is this cake?! Juicy watermelon “cake” covered in coconut yogurt “frosting” and decorated with antioxidant-rich berries plus some shredded coconut and almonds for a little crunch. Have your cake and eat it too!

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Vegan Nectarine Upside-Down Cake from Yup It’s Vegan

And because I’ve been eating so many perfectly ripe nectarines lately, I had to include this recipe. Made with spelt flour, coconut oil, coconut sugar and warming spices, this cake is sure to satisfy your summery sweet tooth.

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What’s on your holiday weekend menu? Have any favorite picnic eats you care to share?

The Kitchen Appliance You’re Likely Not Using to its Fullest Potential

The humble freezer. The kitchen appliance almost all people have yet the one that usually goes unloved. Sure, it’s not the trendiest, sexiest, most impressive appliance in your kitchen, but I think it’s the savviest!

If you crack open any food magazine or read foodie blogs you likely hear about fancy new gadgets all the time. But like many other things in life, sometimes simpler is better and the more minimal we can be, the less stress and anxiety we feel.

That’s why I’ve totally fallen in love with my freezer. It’s taken my meal prep to a new level and is my dependable kitchen sidekick. Here are five ways to use your freezer to its fullest potential.

1. Start with a clean freezer.

OK, this isn’t super fun. But it sure beats having goop and unidentifiable food particles getting stuck to all of your lovingly frozen food. Plus, a dirty freezer can harbor pathogens that can become harmful once your food is thawed. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria, it just inactivates them (‘night, ‘night, bacteria).

Begin by shutting off your freezer if you can, then take everything out, place it in a cooler and clean your freezer from top to bottom. I like to sweep out all the debris first (where does it all COME from) then get scrubbing with warm, soapy water (using an eco-friendly dish soap or just vinegar or homemade cleaner). Remember to get all the crevices, drawers and seals. Wipe it dry with a clean, dry cloth and return everything to its clean and organized home.

2. Go back to basics.

There is nothing glamorous about the contents of my freezer. Here’s my secret to whipping up well-rounded weeknight dinners: frozen basics. With a combination of fresh, frozen and pantry foods on hand, you can throw together a meal in no time!

Whenever I’m cooking on the weekends, I usually put on a pot of quinoa or brown rice. I portion it out and then freeze it so I always have cooked whole grains on hand. I also freeze cooked legumes, such as beans and lentils, burgers, lentil loaves and snack bars made out of dried fruit and nuts.

This method also prevents me from feeling like I need to purchase another appliance, such as a pressure cooker, to quickly cook grains and legumes. If I let them cook the old-fashioned way while I’m busy doing other things and then freeze them, I’m not losing any time and I’m not cluttering my kitchen with more stuff.

3. Don’t toss it, freeze it!

Aside from batch cooking and freezing basic meal components, I also freeze extra homemade sauces, soups, fruits and veggies I have from the week, as well other foods, such as shredded vegan cheese, that I know I won’t use up before they go bad.

Did you only use half that can of tomato paste? Instead of throwing it away or letting it get moldy in the fridge, freeze it! I do this ALL the time with pasta and pizza sauce.

I’ve also been known to make a fresh sage-infused buttery spread, strain out the herb chunks and then freeze the butter for later use. Comes in handy when I don’t have any fresh herbs!

And obviously we have to talk about bananas. If you’ve been to my home you can’t miss the giant collection of bananas ripening in my kitchen. By letting bananas get very ripe at room temperature (hello, sweetness!) and then freezing them, you have the key ingredient to cold, creamy smoothies on hand at all times! Not to mention banana ice cream, mwahaha.

4. Portion before you freeze.

By pre-portioning your food into single or double servings (depending on if you’re creating a meal for just yourself, your partner and you or more), it makes it substantially easier to create a healthful dinner on a whim. It’s safer to freeze smaller quantities as they freeze quicker (this also helps maintain quality) and they are also easier to defrost (do this in the refrigerator or heat thoroughly right away—never defrost at room temperature).

Try using small or divided food storage containers, or individually wrap items in parchment or foil. One trick the Internet recently taught me to remove excess air from food storage bags is to stick a straw in it, zip it as tightly as you can, suck out the air, then quickly remove the straw and close the bag. TADA!

5. First in, first out.

FIFO is a good rule of thumb to prevent freezer burn and build-up of old food in your freezer. The point of freezing is to use food, not waste it. Be sure to date and rotate your frozen food to keep everything moving.

What are your freezer hacks? Share in the comments!

More information:

FDA: Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart
The Kitchn: How to Clean the Freezer
NDSU Extension: Food Freezing Guide
TreeHugger: How to Freeze Food Without Plastic
USDA: Freezing and Food Safety

3 Ways You Can Help Reduce Food Waste

It’s guest post time! Food waste has gotten out of hand and there are actions we can all take to mitigate this colossal problem. I couldn’t think of a better person to pen a guest post on food waste than my good friend, dietitian and sustainable food crusader Chris Vogliano. Read more about his great work in his bio at the end of this post.


Americans are throwing away 40% of all of the food grown. How could we possibly be discarding close to half of all of the food we produce? What are the consequences of throwing away food?

Throwing away food has three major implications: 

  • Financial – Throwing away food is expensive. The average consumer throws away 23 pounds of food each month. This adds up quick. In fact, the average family of four throws away an estimated $190 of food per month.
  • Humanitarian– When we toss food, we miss an opportunity to divert food from the landfill to the 1 in 6 Americans who are considered to be food insecure – meaning they often times do not have enough food to feed themselves or their families.
  • Environmental – Agriculture covers a huge portion of the globe’s surface, consumes 80% of the world’s fresh water and pumps a significant amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – jeopardizing our ecological biodiversity, causing the destruction of rainforests and contributing to the extinction of countless species.

Wasted food happens along the entire food supply chain, but consumers are among the highest contributors. That means we all share the social, economical and environmental obligation to waste less food.

So wasting food is bad for my wallet and the planet – what can I do to help?

  1. Read labels – Over 90% of consumers report that they throw away food because they are confused about the expiration dates of foods. Most foods don’t actually contain an expiration date – the date you see on the food packaging is a best by, sell by or use by date. These dates are not safety dates; they indicate when the food passes it peak quality. Check out stilltasty.com to see how long foods are safe to eat after these dates (assuming the food is stored properly). Pro tip: Avoid guessing games by writing the date the food was opened directly on the package.
    package dating
  2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – Often times we buy in bulk (think big box stores like Costco). Sometimes this can seem like a great deal, but many times we end up wasting more food than we otherwise would have if we purchased a smaller amount to begin with. Notice what you discard most often and try to buy less of it. This will save you significant amounts of money. Pro tip: If you have a variety of produce that is going to spoil in the next few days, make a stir-fry or soup or freeze your produce to toss into a smoothie later!

    USDA food waste
    Photo Credit: USDA
  3. Help a neighbor – If you have extra food that is safe to eat but will not be eaten, donate it to your local food pantry or food bank. You can locate your nearest food collection center at feedingamerica.org. There are many hungry neighbors in your area that would gladly eat your extra food. Food banks specifically are seeking healthier foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein foods such as beans and lentils. Non-perishable foods are best, and these can include items like peanut butter, dry beans, brown rice and canned fruits and vegetables. Pro tip: If you don’t have food to donate, but want to help out a neighbor, donate money to your local food bank. Monetary donations allow food banks to purchase exactly what they need and in bulk pricing. 

Check out these great resources for more information and thanks for reading!  #nofoodwaste

  • The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook. Written by The Natural Resources Defense Council staff scientist Dana Gunders, this essential guide—packed with engaging checklists, creative recipes, practical strategies and educational infographics—offers easy ways to save food and money.
  • Love Food Hate Waste. This UK-based nonprofit has a mission to end consumer driven food waste. Its website provides a variety of free ideas and resources to help curb wasted food.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture has created a variety of free, consumer-friendly resources to help reduce wasted food in our homes.
  • C. Central Kitchen, LA Kitchen, and Campus Kitchens are nonprofit organizations that focus on recovering food and turning it into meals for low-income community members.

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Chris Vogliano is an environmentally-focused registered dietitian who is creating a more sustainable, waste-free, and equitable food system. Chris has created programming for food recovery non-profits, drafted legislation, published scientific articles and has given numerous presentations to follow the notion that food can be healthy for both people and our planet. In 2014, Chris was selected to be the first Agriculture, Nutrition, and Health Research Fellow with The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Chris was awarded “Young Dietitian of the Year” by Washington State, and was also recognized as “Today’s Dietitian Magazine’s” 10 RDs who are making a difference. His extended bio can be found on his website Ethical Food Warrior

3 Simple Tips for a Healthier Barbeque

It’s the end of May already?!

Commence grilling, backyard activities and enjoying warmer weather.

I love this time of year–it’s actually getting warm (on some days…) and Memorial Day weekend gives us an excuse to spend more time with friends and family while honoring those that fought for our freedom.

When it comes to healthfully enjoying a long weekend of cookouts, picnics and family gatherings, remember these three simple tips:

Get active

Let the focus of the day be on spending quality time with loved ones rather than on food and drink. Round up the gang for a game of anything and get moving! Bring whatever balls, frisbees or outdoor game equipment you have. No gear? Go for a walk or a hike in a nearby park. Better yet, bond with the kiddos and they’ll be more than happy to make up a game that involves running around after them.

Knowing you’ll be active can also help prevent overeating. My extended family likes to gather for a game of backyard volleyball after we’ve eaten. Some of us aren’t so skilled so we end up getting lots of extra exercise from chasing the ball into the nearby woods.

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Let seasonal veggies and fruits steal the show

When it’s time for food, start by loading up half your plate with fruits and veggies. The easiest way to do this healthfully is to stay away from the creamy bowl of lumpiness and head for the fresh veggie tray or grilled veggies. If you’re hosting, always have a veggie tray and either a fruit salad, fruit tray or assortment of whole fruit available. If you’re a guest, offer to bring the veggie or fruit tray. Juicy watermelon for dessert, anyone?

Fill the other half of your plate with protein-rich foods and whole grains or starchy foods. Think veggie burger on a whole-grain bun, baked beans, nuts, legume or grain salads and potatoes. Resist getting second helpings until you’ve allowed your food to digest for about 20 minutes and then reevaluate if you’re still hungry.

One of my aunts makes a cold quinoa salad for our family cookouts–it always contains quinoa and kale and she mixes up the rest of the ingredients. One of my favorite versions included pomegranate seeds and edamame–no recipe required, use whatever you’ve got on hand!

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Keep tabs on alcohol

We all like to kick back and enjoy an ice-cold brewski from time to time. But let it stop there. Not only is drinking too much detrimental to health, it can put a damper on an otherwise active and refreshing afternoon. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend females limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day and males to no more than two drinks per day.

Over-consuming alcohol can cause you to consume more food (or types of food) than you may have otherwise and it can hold you back from enjoying physical activities. Not to mention possible dehydration and feeling cruddy later in the day or the next morning.

Aim to enjoy one adult beverage and then switch to seltzer water, fruit-infused water or plain old H2O. It’s important to stay hydrated and energized for all those fun outdoor activities!

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Wishing you all a relaxing and enjoyable holiday weekend!

 

 

 

 

Weightlifting for Women

As I mentioned in part one of this post series, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend “adults do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week”. Lifting weights is just one form of strength training–you can also satisfy strength training recommendations through basic calisthenics and other activities.

Today, we’re talking weights.

This post is dedicated to anyone who is hesitant to add weightlifting to their routines or who wants to lift heavy but is afraid of “bulking up”.

I reached out to some wonderful women to gain their insight and words of wisdom on this topic and I am happy to share it with you!

First, I connected with Nancy Clark, a board certified specialist in sports dietetics. Nancy shared that she’s witnessed women in particular benefit from incorporating weight training into their exercise routines–it “helps them lose weight, feel stronger and feel proud of their new strength.”

Let Nancy put your fears of getting huge to rest, ladies. She explained that women do not have the testosterone needed to “bulk up” and that instead, weight training produces the “tightened and toned” look many women are going for.

So what might a beginner’s weightlifting routine look like?

“A woman can get benefits from light weights twice a week. In 20 minutes, she can do a total body workout (1 set of 9-12 reps to fatigue). Not a huge time-drain but an effective investment in health and weight”, Nancy explained.

Then, I chatted with two inspirational women who fell in love with weightlifting and went on to gain fitness certifications. They were kind enough share their stories with me:

Amanda Williams-Henderson, a certified CrossFit trainer, calls herself a “former cardio bunny”. Amanda’s personal experience with weightlifting includes lower body fat and pushing herself in new ways. “I felt my goals shift from caring about the numbers on the scale to caring more about how much I could add to my deadlift or back squat. Lifting has also helped me become a faster runner. It’s all about finding that balance.”

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Tricia Byers, who became a personal trainer after a significant weight-loss journey, shared how strength training played a pivotal role in her transformation and inspired her to become a fitness coach to help empower others. “When I took my first step on this journey, I, like many other women, was greatly misinformed about fitness and weight loss. I thought I had to spend hours on the ‘dreadmill’ in order to lose the weight. In addition to helping with my weight loss and overall change in body composition, weightlifting has become a sanctuary and extremely rewarding experience.”

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Each of these ladies stressed the importance of working with an exercise professional to gain the foundational knowledge of form and safety for weightlifting. Investing in a handful of personal training sessions will pay off big time in effectiveness of your workouts and preventing injury. It also helps boost confidence if you’re wary of stepping into the weight room or aren’t sure how or which equipment to use. This doesn’t exclude home exercisers–let a professional show you the best exercises for you and then you can apply what you learned in the comfort of your own home.

Are you a female weightlifter? How has lifting weights had an impact on you?

Why Everyone Needs to Do Strength Training

This is a long-overdue post and I am excited to finally share it with you! There is so much to say that I am dividing this up into two separate posts. First, this general introduction to the benefits of strength training and a second post to come including lots of wisdom from fitness professionals and other female fans of weight training.

Note: while any activity is better than no activity, I’m writing this specifically to emphasize that strength training is necessary for optimal health and that women need not fear getting “bulky” by adhering to strength training recommendations. However, especially for those just starting out, go slow and listen to your body. If you’re interested in starting a weight-lifting routine, work with a fitness professional and honor the process.

Strength

What is strength training?

Strength training comes in a variety of forms. It does not mean that you have to perform heavy dead lifts and biceps curls (even though those are fun, especially when you listen to Beyonce). Strength training includes push-ups and sit-ups at home, doing rigorous gardening, moving furniture, using resistance bands and even yoga. Find activities you enjoy and do them often, with or without a gym membership. The point is to put stress on your muscles to help them (get and) stay strong to support a long and healthy life.

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Kettlebell fun!

 

Everyone should incorporate strength training into their exercise routines at least twice per week

Our national physical activity guidelines recommend adults engage in at least 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (commonly expressed as 30 minutes of activity on 5 days of the week) plus moderate- or high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on at least 2 days of the week.

I think many people know about the aerobic activity recommendation but may not be aware of the strength training recommendation. Some people think strength training is only for body builders. When in reality, strength training is for everyone. You will not reap the maximum benefits of physical activity through aerobic exercise alone. It’s like brushing and flossing your teeth—you have to do both!

Strength training isn’t about getting big muscles

It’s great to be strong. It’s empowering, it’s fun and it’s actually really useful for everyday life. However, strength training recommendations do not exist to make us all look like bodybuilders (see point #3); they exist so we have strong bones and muscles to support our daily lives. This becomes especially important as we age–to maintain our functionality, fight natural muscle loss over time and prevent falls.

In fact, a recent study found that older adults who did strength training twice a week had  a 46-percent lower risk of dying than those who did no strength training.

Additionally, weight-bearing exercise is crucial for preventing osteoporosis. Did you know that 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis? Do what you can to not be one of them by making strength training a habit now.

Strength training also helps lower our risk of:
-Diabetes
-Heart disease
-Hypertension
-High cholesterol

Increasing lean mass helps us stay trim

Have you heard that muscle burns more calories than fat? It’s true. Muscle is metabolically active and fat is not—meaning even at rest, muscles are burning calories. Most of us tend to slowly put on weight over time (which may pose a health risk) and maintaining ample lean body mass helps prevent this.

Having a good foundation of muscle mass is also important for anyone who needs to lose weight. It’s impossible to lose only fat when we lose weight, we also lose lean tissue. So to ensure as much precious lean tissue as possible remains after losing weight, you’ve got to start with a good amount of muscle mass.

To get giant muscles you have to do a lot more than lift weights a couple times a week

The impetus for me finally writing this post is I heard one young lady express to another in the elevator recently, “I don’t want to lift heavy weights because I don’t want to bulk up. I want to be skinny.” My heart sank. First of all, “bulking up” is a totally misguided assumption related to females and weight lifting. Secondly, I was really saddened by her expressing her motivation for exercise as a means to a skinny end. And third, acknowledging that she wanted to get smaller, her statements didn’t make sense as weight training helps tighten up the body.

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I’ve been lifting weights regularly for years and am still waiting for the “bulk”…

 

Part two of this two-part strength training post series will address this last item in more detail, and include snippets from interviews with sports dietitians and female weight-lifters.

Until then, I hope this post encourages you to make your strength training activties of choice a permanent part of your routine.

As always, talk to your doctor about safe physical activity and work with a fitness professional to determine the appropriate type, duration and frequency of exercise for you.

Resources:

HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults

American College of Sports Medicine: Resistance Training for Health and Fitness

American Heart Association: Strength and Resistance Training Exercise

National Osteoporosis Foundation: Exercise for Strong Bones

Additional reading:

Evidence for exercise training in the management of hypertension in adults

The effects of exercise training on the traditional lipid profile and beyond

Metabolic Effects of Exercise Training Among Fitness-Nonresponsive Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: The HART-D Study

Strength training helps older adults live longer

What is Matcha?

Trend alert! Have your social media feeds been clogged with green recipes promising benefits of clean energy without the crash? Enter matcha.

Matcha is a powdered green tea, traditionally served in Japan. What makes it unique is that instead of the leaves being steeped in hot water and then discarded as you would when making a cup of green tea, matcha contains the whole tea leaf.

While it has been growing in popularity in the West for years, it seems to have exploded onto the mainstream market rather recently, leaving some to wonder, is matcha the trendy miracle food of 2016?

Because matcha imparts a bitter flavor, it is usually combined with something sweet. For instance, if you order a green tea latte at Starbucks, what you get is a powder that is primarily sugar with some matcha powder mixed into steamed milk.

Nowadays unsweetened matcha is easy to find in U.S. stores, with many major tea brands carrying matcha powder (as well as matcha “concentrate” and “charcoal”, among other things). As with anything, be sure to read the ingredients label to know what you’re purchasing.

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Some matcha products available on grocery store shelves.

 

So what’s all the buzz about? I chatted with some fans of matcha and here is what they have to say:

“I love matcha because of its robust flavor and versatility. It comes in a powdered form, and the opportunities to incorporate it into dishes are endless!”
Chris Vogliano, environmentally-focused registered dietitian and blogger at EthicalFoodWarrior.com

“I dig that it gives me an energy boost that’s less jittery than coffee.”
Ashlee Piper, eco-lifestyle expert, media personality and founder of TheLilFoxes.com

“Preparing matcha provides a similar ritualistic gratification to preparing coffee, and the tea has more body to it since you are consuming the full powdered leaves. One of the best parts is that the caffeine doesn’t affect me the same way [as coffee]. I feel energized but not panicked.”
Joshua Katcher, founder of Brave GentleMan and editor of TheDiscerningBrute.com

And here’s what they like to do with matcha:

JK: “It’s versatile (lattes, shots, iced and various combinations) which makes it ideal for the coffee-drinker (or former coffee drinker).”

CV: “I’ve tried it in dishes such as matcha ice cream, matcha muffins and even matcha yogurt breakfast bowls. It’s a great way to add a floral flavor and boost the antioxidant power of your dish!”

AP: “I like to make a latte with coconut milk and lemon essential oil with matcha. Or add a touch (too much and it makes everything bitter) to a green smoothie. And I add it to banana nice cream.”

While you’ll find loads of claims of the miracles matcha works on human health scattered around the Internet, the evidence is lacking. The Natural Medicines Database does not yet have a professional monograph on matcha (a go-to credible resource to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of various foods and supplements), likely because a literature search of matcha in humans turns up next to nothing.

The matcha studies that populate in PubMed were conducted in animals, save for two old studies from the 1980s and 90s looking at how lifestyle factors affect one’s risk of bladder cancer (one study suggested matcha intake decreased the risk, the other one found no link).

So while it’s too soon to make health claims specifically about matcha, we do know that green tea is healthful, antioxidant-rich and is rated by the Natural Medicines Database as “likely effective” for helping to lower high cholesterol and “possibly effective” for preventing coronary artery disease, endometrial cancer, high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease.

What’s the verdict? Consume matcha because you like it, not because it’s trendy. To go beyond matcha tea and lattes, here are a few fun recipes to try:

Matcha and Coconut Date Truffles from Dietitian Debbie Dishes

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Matcha Chia Pudding from One Ingredient Chef

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Mango Green Tea Pops from Minimalist Baker

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Matcha Overnight Oats with Summer Berries from Oh My Veggies

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Have you tried matcha? What’s your favorite way to enjoy it? Share with us in the comments below!