The Anatomy of a Fun and Healthy Road Trip

When my New Yorker brother makes the trip to California each summer to visit the family, there’s nothing we look forward to more than piling in the car and visiting a new town together. Our trips have taken us anywhere from Portland, Oregon to Big Sur, California. These trips are planned around the attractions but actually end up being all about the food. We haven’t even had the final bite of our breakfast when we are already thinking about what’s in store for lunch. Needless to say, it’s the experience of eating that truly brings us together.

The food we choose is not the typical diner and gas station chips and snacks that you would normally see Americans nosh on when on a road trip. With everyone in the family being vegetarian and very conscious about GMOs and pesticides, we take a few extra steps so that the food that we eat is up to the standard of the fresh organic fare that we enjoy at home. Here are insider tips from our healthy road trips that you can take on your next trip:

  1. Bring a cooler and stock it up with simple wholesome food for when you get snacky on the road. Include: washed organic fruit, raw almonds or walnuts, mini carrots or cucumbers, a small container of organic hummus or a healthy protein bar.
  2. Bring your own personalized water bottle from home filled with filtered water. When buying bottled water on the road, choose brands of spring water instead of filtered water. Good brands are Fiji, Volvic and Evian. Also plan for extra restroom stops.
  3. To make the most of restroom stops, use this time to follow billboards that will lead you to the local flavors of the town “Free Chocolate Samples This Way” or “Cheese and Nut Samples Ahead” is a good invitation to get a nibble and use a clean bathroom. Also use this time to stretch your body before getting back in the car.
  4. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination and use that extra time to make unplanned stops at places that look enticing. A roadside farm stand to restock the cooler or a scenic view to snap a few pictures are always a good bet.
  5. Research local restaurants with any of the following descriptions: slow food, organic food or farm to table. You’ll be sure to find restaurants with menus that have healthy and nutritious food that will fuel the rest of your trip instead of putting you into a food coma.
  6. When you arrive, plan some walking or biking tours. These are usually a great way to see a city and be active at the same time.

If all your planning fails or you find yourself in an area that offers nothing but greasy diner fare, talk to the server and see if they can make something special for you. Most servers are very accommodating and will put something together that you can enjoy and feel good about. Don’t be shy to ask!

If you have any tips on how to feel your best when you’re on the road, please share them below. Id love to hear from you!


Why you don’t need to always buy organic produce

Although organic produce is said to have less pesticides and more antioxidants than conventional, its not always affordable (or necessary) to buy all organic all the time. I started looking into this when I was a student at the University of San Francisco. I cared about my health and wanted to eat as few pesticides as possible, at the same time, I was on a budget and wondered if some of the produce I was buying was overpriced for no reason. Did I really need to venture to whole foods to pay double the price for a mango that I was going to peel anyway?

I was glad to learn that the answer is “not necessarily”  I discovered a report that took all the guesswork out of whether there were toxic pesticides lurking in my food. The Environmental Working Group is a non profit that tests conventional produce each year and reports on which foods are safe to eat and have the fewest number of pesticides, called The Clean 15, and also the foods that have the highest number of pesticide residue, called The Dirty Dozen.

It turns out that some fruits and vegetables have few or no pesticides to begin with. So why pay more for an organic label? On the flip side, other produce has as many as four different pesticide residues and should definitely be purchased organic.

You can take note of the items for each list and decide where to splurge and where to save during your next trip to the supermarket or farmers market:

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 2.18.17 PM

The list is updated every year so you can look at the EWG site for updates or to download the list to your smart phone.


Why You Should Skip the Gym For a Better Workout

It’s no wonder you don’t feel like going to the gym. Being crammed in a building with fluorescent lights and a bunch of sweaty strangers breathing heavily next to you is not my idea of a good time, either. Although I keep my gym membership year around, I’m able to be consistent about my workouts because 80% of the time, I lace up my sneakers and go outside, skipping the gym. I look forward to the fresh air, the sounds of nature and the freedom to move about.

There has always been something more inspiring to me about running a trail or even walking at the park or in my neighborhood than getting on an elliptical machine or a treadmill. Maybe you’re the same?

Here are 4 reasons why heading outside for your workouts is better than running that hamster wheel at your local gym:

  1.  You get a better workout—when you’re outside, there are natural gradient changes in the road that boost your calorie burning power. Also, you don’t have the option to end your workout at anytime by pressing a button.
  2. The air is better—as long as you’re not running alongside a busy road and breathing in car exhaust, the fresh air outside is much better than what you will find in a gym. Airborne germs from other people, dust and chemical laden cleaning products are all lurking at your gym.
  3. You can tune in—to the changing of the seasons, the feel of the air on your skin and the sounds of nature. We spend so much of our lives indoors that we can lose touch with the natural rhythms of nature.
  4. You have more freedom—to choose your route, to sing at the top of your lungs, and to never wait again! We all know one of the biggest drags at the gym is when you’ve gotten yourself there and have to stand in line to get on the treadmill.

Now, I’m not saying its a good idea to ditch your gym membership altogether. The gym is still necessary for weight training, classes and those times when it’s too cold or dark to head outside for your run.

At the same time, choosing to head outside for your next cardio workout may just give you the inspiration and the type of experience you’ll want to have again and again. And with any good workout routine, it only works if you feel compelled to stick with it.

Do you have a reason that you prefer exercising outdoors instead of at the gym? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


3 Food Hacks for a Healthier (and Leaner) Summer

Yawn, stretch and come out of hibernation. The heat is rising and its feeling like summer across the nation. Ready or not, its time for less clothing and if you think you’re not quite ready, I’ve got you covered. I’ve put together a list of foods that will help you stay trim and healthy while enjoying all the grilling, potlucks and poolside lounging your heart desires.

Summer is one of my favorite seasons for cooking and eating because there is a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. Did you know that pineapple and watermelon taste amazing after coming off the grill! Yup, just try it out and  after that, put some green grapes in the freezer and see how satisfying and delicious those are. Loading up on fruit will keep you hydrated and since they are loaded with antioxidants your skin will literally glow!

Also, try these 3 hacks to cut unnecessary calories and fat without cutting flavor:

1. Switch out mayonnaise for vegenaise--you don’t have to be vegan to love vegenaise, it boasts less fat and less sodium than traditional mayonnaise and is made with grapeseed oil which is healthier and contains more omega 3s than soybean oil. In my opinion, it taste better, too.

How: use vegenaise anywhere you would use traditional mayonnaise, in coleslaw, potato salads and in dips for vegetables. For a vegetable dip to die for try combining 1/2 cup vegenaise, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon of spicy sriracha sauce. No crudite will be left behind with this recipe.

2. Switch out a traditional burger for a portabella mushroom–okay, I know you carnivores love your meat but once in a while, you can change out your beef burger for a portabella mushroom for variety sake and in the process load up on vitamin D which portabellas are chocked full of.

How: marinate the portabella mushroom and grill it the same way that you would a regular hamburger. Being vegetarian, I’ve perfected the marinade over the last 2 summers. Use 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard.

3. Alternate beer and sparkling water— its easy to get carried away drinking beer (or any type of alcohol) on a hot day especially when you’re socializing and having a good time. At the same time. you’re loading up on empty calories and becoming more dehydrated with each drink.

How: drink one glass of sparkling water for each beer that you drink. As an extra bonus, bring a light beer like Amstel Light or Corona Light to the party which will save you anywhere from 40-60 calories per beer and you don’t have to skimp on taste. Alternating water will literally cut your calories in half.

So, here is to a happy and healthy summer for all my readers!

Are there any healthy food hacks that you love during the summer season? If so, please share below.


Are You Confused About What You Should Be Eating?

Do you ever get confused about all the information out there on the web about the “best diet” for your health? It seems like some of the popular diets these days are in direct opposition to each other. One school of thought says that we should eliminate whole grains and load up on protein by following the paleo diet. I went to nutrition school with a girl who was absolutely THRIVING on this diet, losing weight, having increased energy and feeling better than she had her whole life now that she was in her mid 40s. The direct opposite is the vegetarian diet that excludes all meat and is rich in whole grains. Also, a great diet to follow for many people helping them to lose weight and increase energy.

Then theres the whole issue of soy. Should we be eating it like many Asian countries have for centuries or should we avoid it because of possibility of wreaking havoc on our hormones? The same goes for wheat and dairy.

Never have people been more confused about what it is they should be putting in their mouths. And why do you think that is?

My theory is that we simply have more options now than we ever did in the past. There is an abundance of different types of food. Strawberries in the middle of winter, tomatoes year round. Anything we want at any time, we can get access to. By being given too many choices, the confusion sets in. Think about your great grandparents. They likely ate traditional food from their own country that was in season and the only thing available at the time. Cutting out gluten or meat wasn’t even an option.

During my schooling at IIN we were introduced to dozens and dozens of different dietary theories and several of our instructors, who were dieticians, doctors and nurses, presented the biological evidence why each diet was the absolute way to go to reach optimal health. The problem was, the diets couldn’t be any more different from one to the next. Was the school playing a mean joke on the students?

Actually, they were helping us to understand the concept of bioindividuality. The fact that each of our bodies are different and therefore, we have our own set of foods that we thrive on. We were encouraged to experiment with our own diets and see which changes we could make to pick a diet that worked with our own bodies. There is no one way to eat for everyone, its all dependent on your own biology.

In my nutrition coaching practice, I don’t have a set diet for my clients but strive to help my clients to structure their diet around foods that are natural (not sugar laden or processed), wholesome and that they enjoy eating.

In your own journey of finding the ideal diet to help you feel your best, I encourage you to listen to the wisdom of your body and structure your diet accordingly.


The Real Benefits of Meditating and Why We Should Be Doing More

Meditation is one of those practices that, like flossing, we know we should be doing but rarely are. Terms like “mindfulness” have become so mainstream now with meditators gracing the cover of Time magazine and huge corporations like Google offering courses to their employees so they can learn how to meditate. And all for good reason, there is plenty of research being done at major universities showing why meditation is good for your mind, your health and your life.

So why are we so reluctant to take the time to sit on a mat and just close our eyes for 20 minutes? Is it the mental racket that will inevitably ensue each time we slow down? Or maybe we just don’t have time. It seems like one more thing to do each day and there just simply is no space for it. I’ve heard all the excuses and cycled through them myself.

My meditation practice had been on and off for some time until 2012 when I decided to start a daily meditation practice to see if it had any real benefits. As you know, we don’t ever do something just to do it, we want results! And 10 minutes everyday of putting my butt on my cushion, turning my phone on silent and going inward have had some noticeable results:

  1.  Feeling less stressed—meditation is a proven method to reduce stress from the body and mind. It removes physical tension and mental anxiety. Starting my day with meditation helps me to have a more calm stance when situations that are not so Zen come up. I can approach them and deal with them from a calm and relaxed state.
  2. Having better health—mediation strengthens the mind/body connection prompting us to make better choices when it comes to what we choose to put in our mouths. It also allows us to tune in to the signs that our body gives us when we are getting sick or when we’ve over exerted ourselves. As a bonus, meditation also normalizes our blood pressure and strengthens our immune system.
  3. Having more energy—people who have stuck to their meditation practice long term were found to have reduced signs of biological aging and higher energy levels than non meditators. They also had faster reaction times, a stronger immune system and significantly better eyesight and hearing. I have definitely found meditation to be more energizing.
  4. Being better at work—the concentration that is necessary to keep your attention inward during meditation has noticeable effects on the brain contributing to neuroplasticity and increasing gray matter in the cortex of the brain. This results in the ability to focus and think more clearly. After my morning meditation practice, I’m able to prioritize my day and keep my focus on the things that really matter instead of constantly feeling distracted and pulled in different directions.
  5. Honing in to your intuition—meditation quiets the incessant flow of thought and activity and allows us to access our intuition, which is always there but oftentimes ignored. Since meditating, when my intuition whispers something to me, my mind is quiet enough so that I can listen.

As a reminder–yoga, doing artwork, cleaning, or listening to music or doing any sort of activity when you don’t have to think much is NOT meditation. Sitting still in one place, closing your eyes and bringing your focus inward is how meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. There is really no reason to go and mess with a practice that has been working for that long!

Think of it as an experiment and challenge yourself to start a meditation practice of just 10 minutes a day. I think you will start to see profound changes in your life. I cant wait to hear how its helped you!


Lessons from the Tassajara Zen Monastery Kitchen

The last few days, I had the absolute privilege to live and work alongside a dedicated group of zen monks while visiting Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a buddhist monastery set deep in California’s Ventana Wilderness. Our days would begin early with a wake up bell at 5:20 am. After putting on layer upon layer of dark clothing, I would step out into the twilight and crisp morning air and line up in front of the zendo (meditation hall) for an hour of silent meditation. The peaceful quiet of the zendo was calming yet intimidating at the same time. After sitting on my cushion, I once opened my eyes slightly to get a peripheral peek at the wrinkled monk assembling his robes and preparing to sit beside me. I took a deep breathe knowing there was a lot I could learn from him.

Although there is an option to stay at Tassajara as a guest, I opt year after year (this was my fourth visit) to stay as a student. This allows me to really integrate with the community by meditating and working alongside the monks and students. The most rewarding experience of all is working in the Tassajara kitchen which is famous for its healthy vegetarian cuisine. I aspire to use what I learn in their kitchen and bring it home to my own food prep and cooking. The Tassajara kitchen despite being a commercial kitchen who feeds hundreds of people each day–guests, monks, staff and students, is absolutely immaculate. Everything is labeled, there is a set place where each thing in the kitchen goes. They have a system for ensuring safety with sharps, for making sure there is no cross contamination and keeping everything hygenic. The kitchen runs like a well oiled machine and has run this way for years.

In my opinion, the best part of working in the tassajara kitchen is the mindfulness we are taught to exercise when preparing  the food. We are encouraged to bring our zazen (meditation practice) into the work and focus on bringing concentration, patience and generosity while cutting and preparing. The tasks given to each student are simple–dicing an entire case of tomatoes or just peeling cucumbers. You can be given a single task like this to do for 2 hours at a time. We were encouraged not to rush but also not to be concerned about the end result. Much of the time, we would not know what dish the ingredient we were chopping was for but were instead reminded to remain present and focus on the task before us.

The work in the kitchen, the first 15 minutes of our meals and much of the time spent at Tassajara is in silence. People travel to Tassajara from all over the world, and my natural curiousity had to be contained at most times to not want to talk and learn more about them. After a few days it became very natural to just smile or nod my head to communicate with others. The silences were anything but akward.

Here are some lessons I brought back from the tassajara kitchen. These are taken from the Tenzo Kyokun, the instructions to the main cook written by Dogen, the founder of the zen buddism soto school. I found many of the teachings to be relevant not only in what we are doing in the kitchen but how we choose to conduct our lives.

  1. Take complete care of the task before you and focus all your attention on that one thing.
  2. Do not complain about the quality or the quantity of the ingredients before you.
  3. Regard each ingredient with reverence and respect. Do not regard one ingredient as superior or inferior to others.

Next time you are preparing a meal at home, try saying a small blessing before preparing the food. Make the food preparation a special experience, light a candle or play some relaxing music. Take care to do one thing at a time in preparing your meal. You will find that even the most simple meal, prepared with mindfulness will have a special quality to it.

Are there any practices you do at home before preparing a meal? If so, please share them below.


The Choice to Eat Meat Part II

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. My month long adventure into meat eating after 14 years of vegetarianism is best described as an experiment. I never thought it would be easy but I also didn’t realize that meat eating would cause me such emotional havoc and stress. The week I made the decision to eat meat I decided that I would only eat organic, grassfed meat that was cooked at home. Finding organic grassfed beef at the right grocery store is easy, there is a small section where its available at double the price of the conventional meats. Nevertheless, I decided that I would splurge for the good stuff. I was on a mission

Read More


The Power of Choice

Last week I was listening to a talk by author and speaker Gabrielle Bernstein and one of the audience members asked her a very personal and profound question that had me reflect on my own beliefs about destiny. The audience member stood up and asked, “do you believe in the concept of fate, that our destiny is predetermined or do you think that we have personal power over our own lives?”

This question brought me back to one of the pinnacles in my own life. I remember being 18 years old and sitting in my doctors office waiting for my lab results. With a look of pity, my doctor concluded that I had an autoimmune disease called lupus, that there was no cure and that I would be on medications the rest of my life. Since I trusted my doctor and saw him as an authority figure, I took this, at the moment, to be my fate. I thought that for some reason that I couldn’t understand, God had given me this illness and the rest of my life would be carried out taking medication, dealing with their side effects and whatever else that would come my way as a result of having lupus. I stewed about this fate for a while feeling pretty powerless and isolated.

Well, feeling sorry for myself got old pretty quick and I started searching for another way. That’s when I came across a tiny

Read More


Coastal Kale Salad Recipe

How many times have you heard people raving about the benefits of kale and picked some up with the best intentions only to have it wilt and turn yellow in your refrigerator drawer? I know I did more times than I care to admit UNTIL I adapted this recipe from a  kale salad that I picked up regularly at New Leaf Market in Santa Cruz. My version uses fresh avocado and sea salt to get the kale from that rough dry texture to something not only soft and palatable but actually pretty darn delicious. There are a lot of different flavors to this salad and the bell pepper and tomato offset the “earthy” taste of the kale. My boyfriend, Amir, who is quite the opposite of the health freak that I am asks me to make him this salad on a regular basis and that’s saying a lot!

Be ready to get your hands messy and share this yummy salad with your family or at your next potluck. Trust me, even if they don’t know how good kale is for them, they will still LOVE this salad.

Coastal Kale Salad

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

15 cherry tomatoes, sliced

1/2 cup of sunflower seeds

1/2 small avocado

1 bunch of curly kale

4 tablespoons of liquid aminos

1 tablespoon of sea salt

2 tablespoons of truffle oil (or olive oil)

1. De-stem the kale pieces by firmly gripping the base of the kale leaf with both hands. Now hold the stem in place with your left hand and without loosening your grip on your right hand, slide your hand all the way to the end of the leaf. This should leave the stem in your left hand and the torn pieces of kale in your right. Add these to a bowl and repeat with all the leaves of kale.

2. Thoroughly wash the bowl of kale pieces 2-3 times to dislodge any dirt attached. Use a salad spinner or paper towel to make sure the kale is fully dried. Discard the kale stems.

3. In a small bowl add together the bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, liquid aminos, and olive oil. Mix and put in refrigerator at least 5 minutes to marinade.

4. Now get ready to get messy and have fun! Add the sea salt and half the avocado to the kale and “massage” the ingredients into the kale with both hands. Keep massaging the kale until it wilts down to about 1/3 of the volume it was at before. Now its soft and moist.

5. Add the bell pepper and onion mixture to the kale and toss.

Enjoy!

Id love to hear how you enjoyed this recipe and if you made any adaptations of your own. Please share your comments below.