Month: May 2015

San Diego: A Healthy Foodie’s Paradise & Top 10 Places to Eat

Eating healthy and traveling can be a challenge, but in San Diego, it’s almost effortless.

With juice and smoothie bars popping up on every corner and a commitment to serving sustainable, local, fresh and nourishing cuisine, San Diego is a healthy foodie’s dream.

(Especially for someone like me who is always looking for tasty dairy-free and gluten-free options!)

My husband Bill and I recently made our first trip to California and had an amazing time exploring the relaxing and beautiful coast and eating lots of delicious and energizing food.

hello san diego san diego pics

I have to give a shout out to my friend, Janna, who was kind enough to take the time to send me a few of the recommendations below. Bill and I did some exploring on our own, too, and came across some awesome food that we wish we could’ve brought home with us.

Check out my top picks below for places to try the next time you’re in sunny San Diego! I’ll give you more details about the vibe, what we ate, and what you have to try if you go there. Here’s the short list (in no particular order):

  • SOL CAL Cafe
  • Vitality Tap
  • Cafe21
  • Peace Pies
  • George’s at the Cove
  • Juice Crafters
  • Hillcrest Farmer’s Market
  • Plumeria
  • Burger Lounge
  • Jimbos….Naturally!

SOL CAL Café

910 J Street, San Diego; 619-255-2927, www.solcal.com

solcal cafe

The Vibe: With a tagline of “Healthy. Happy. Yummy,” I knew this place was for me 🙂 They serve cleanse-focused juices, smoothies, elixirs and modern vegetarian eats in a cheerful, contemporary setting. One morning we ran there for breakfast and walked home. The free cucumber water was refreshing and thirst-quenching after our run.

What We Ate

  • Lively Liver Elixir (detoxifying combo of dandelion, burdock root, red clover and cinnamon)
  • Happy Greens Juice
  • Om Sweet Om Smoothie
  • Lean Green Smoothie
  • Kelp Pesto Noodles with Mushrooms & Sundried Tomatoes
  • Waffle with Berries & Cream. Deliciously dairy-free and gluten-free, Bill had these for morning one day. Don’t they look amazing?! He cleaned his plate.

We could have eaten every meal there for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two weeks and eaten something different every time. I would love to go back and try the Cacao Oatmeal, Loaded Baked Sweet Potato, and the Sol Kale Salad.

You Have to Try…Waffle with Berries & Cream

Vitality Tap

650 1st Avenue, San Diego; 619-237-7625; www.vitalitytap.com

vitality tap

The Vibe: If you don’t know what to look for, you could easily miss this place. It’s inside of a nutrition store. They had a list of dozens of superfood boosters, including chaga mushrooms, chlorella, goji berries, and lucuma powder, that you could add to any smoothie. They encouraged us to post a review on Yelp to get a free detox shot. Free? Sign me up 🙂

What We Ate

  • Green Ingredient Smoothie (I was warned this was a pretty “intense” smoothie, due to the lack of sweetness, but I was ready for it). With a blend of greens, mango, lime, lemon, hemp seed, cucumber and spirulina, I knew it was an anti-inflammatory, detoxifying concoction that my body would love. Remember, medicine doesn’t always taste good, but people take it anyway 😉 This is true when food is medicine, too!
  • Flexin’ Smoothie (This was Bill’s favorite)
  • Avocado Bliss Smoothie
  • Undressed Greens Juice
  • All Day Energy Shot
  • Detox Shot

Cafe21

802 5th Avenue, San Diego; 619-795-0721, www.cafe-21.com

cafe21

The Vibe: Farm-to-table restaurant in the heart of the Gaslamp district that sources its food from local farmers and distributors and is committed to crafting creative, seasonal, and delicious dishes and drinks. There’s a Mediterranean vibe that I loved about this place, but their menu is eclectic and offers something for everyone. The chef was accommodating and creative when it came to my dairy and gluten-sensitivities, and any dish our servers recommended was a winner. We liked it so much that we went for dinner and brunch.

What We Ate

Dinner

  • Lentil, Cauliflower & Chicken Soup
  • Avocado, Mushroom & Eggplant Fries with Mediterranean-inspired Red Pepper Dip & Avocado Mousse (They made it dairy-free and gluten-free for me!)
  • Sangria-Marinated Short Ribs (Bill had these and they melted off the bone)
  • Black-Eyed Peas, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Onions & Peppers with Spaghetti Squash 

Brunch

  • Garden & Vegetable Omelet Skillet with a Strawberry & Mixed Greens Side Salad
  • Mango Sweetie Hot Tea (you have to try their homemade teas!)

You Have to Try…the Avocado, Mushroom & Eggplant Fries. Our minds were blown (hence Bill’s face in the pic above)!

Also, if you sign up for their newsletter, they’ll send you special deals, including a free meal on your birthday!

Peace Pies

4230 Voltaire Street, San Diego; 619-223-2880; www.peacepies.com

peace pies

The Vibe: I was super excited to check out this place when I saw their menu online. It’s a Bohemian café with a locally sourced menu of raw, vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free dishes. I’m pretty sure we went to Peace Pies three times for some combination of lunch/dinner/dessert. We loved it!

What We Ate

  • Magical Mango Curry Wrap with Kale Chips
  • Mediterranean Sampler
  • Voltaire Street Tacos
  • Majestic Mediterranean Wrap
  • Banana Chocolate Coffee Pie
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich
  • Stuffed Date with Maca Cashew Butter

You Have to Try…Mango Curry Wrap & Kale Chips (yum x100)…and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich!

George’s at the Cove

1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla; 858-454-4244, www.georgesatthecove.com 

georges

The Vibe: Talk about a view. Wow. Not only was our rooftop table overlooking the Pacific picture perfect, but so was our meal. After multiple people recommended we check out Georges, we knew we had to make it part of our trip.

What We Ate

  • Scallop Ceviche
  • Seared Yellowtail with Asparagus, Mushrooms and Red Pepper Puree
  • Fresh Fish Tacos (Bill ate tacos every day :))

You Have to Try…Scallop Ceviche. My co-worker, Gina, turned us on to this appetizer. She told us we absolutely had to have it, and we’re so glad we took her advice! Light, crisp and refreshing, it was a perfect start to our West Coast lunch on a breezy afternoon.

Juice Crafters

Multiple Locations; 935 Silverado Street, La Jolla; www.juicecrafters.com

juicecrafters

The Vibe: We stumbled upon this place when we were wandering around La Jolla and looking for something hydrating and energy-boosting before dinner. Juice Crafters is a family-owned cold-pressed juice and powerhouse smoothie bar whose approach is to “live well and be well.” That’s my kind of place!

What We Drank

  • Green Juice Plus

You Have to TryAnything on the menu! We only stopped by for something to hydrate us before dinner, but all of their smoothies looked good, especially the Chunky Monkey Smoothie they were advertising outside that day. 

Hillcrest Farmer’s Market

3960 Normal Street, San Diego, www.hillcrestfarmersmarket.com

hillcresthillcrest2

The Vibe: Held Sundays from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., this was our favorite of the three farmer’s markets we checked out while in San Diego. There are over 175 vendors there, so give yourself some time to explore. Take a look out all the awesome eats below!

What We Ate:

  1. Taste of Africa – This was one of our favorite meals of the whole trip…and the cheapest. For $11, each of us ordered a bowl served with jasmine rice and vegetables topped with rich and creamy (and dairy-free!) curried lentils and chopped and sautéed collard greens. Bill ordered the jerk chicken instead of the lentils, and both of us took our first bite, looked at each other and made “the face” we make whenever we’ve just tasted a little bite of heaven.
  2. Green Fix – They sell juices and smoothies that highlight vegetables as the star, unlike many smoothie places that load up on the sweet stuff. They have options that accommodate a wide range of taste preferences with varying levels of sweetness, so if you’re gungho, try a jug of the “Raw” version.
  3. Asana FoodsThey have lots of unique paleo options from granola to almond butters and are known for their killer acai bowl. We bought a jar of their cardamom goji berry almond “buddah”. They ship, too, so we can order online here.
  4. Happy Pantry – Best sauerkraut around. Fermented foods like sauerkraut (something I used to hate until about a year ago!) are excellent for our digestive health, skin, and overall immunity. We loved the variety of combinations and ended up with a jar of the Power Krautage. Bill loved the kimchi as well. Definitely check out this place. The people who work there are super friendly, too.
  5. B*tchin’ Bars & Dips – I’m not one to swear on this site, but that’s the name of the company! Their paleo-friendly bars, and gluten and dairy-free dips are OUT OF THIS WORLD. They’re made with almonds instead of beans, so people who have trouble with beans might want to try out this as an alternative. My favorites were the Pesto and Bombay curry flavors, but they are all amazing! You can’t help but laugh as the guys taking your order tell you to “have a b*tchin’ day.” Here’s to not taking life too seriously 🙂

Plumeria

4661 Park Boulevard, San Diego; 619-269-9989; www.myplumeria.com

plumeria

The Vibe: Described by Janna as her “favorite Thai restaurant in all of California,” we knew we had to check it out. On our last night in San Diego, we ventured to Hillcrest to check out this vegetarian restaurant. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the food there though, so don’t let that stop you.

What We Ate

  • Spearmint Tea, Spicy Ginger Tea
  • Zen Soup
  • Ginger, Tofu & Vegetable Stir Fry
  • 5-Spice Duck Stir-Fry

You Have to Try…Zen Soup (one of the most delicious, flavor-packed dishes I’ve ever tried!) 

Burger Lounge

Multiple Locations; Coronado Island, www.burgerlounge.com

burger lounge

The Vibe: Before we left for San Diego, we asked people about “must-see” places, and almost everyone suggested Coronado Island. We spent the morning at the beach and wandering around the island and worked up an appetite. When we saw the line in front of Burger Lounge and the signs for 100% grass-fed beef, we were sold. If only other fast casual chains would get on board with having higher integrity, quality ingredients that taste delicious like Burger Lounge. I’m hopeful it will happen the more we ask for it!

What We Ate

  • Turkey Burger on a Fresh Vegetable Salad with Basil Dressing
  • The Lounge Burger (100% Grass-fed Beef Burger)

You Have to Try…Turkey Burger with Basil Dressing (YUM!) The best turkey burger I’ve ever had. Period.

Jimbo’s…Naturally!

4S Commons Town Center, 10511 Commons Drive, San Diego, www.jimbos.com

jimbo

The Vibe & The Eats: Okay, so it’s not technically a restaurant, but I’m a sucker for cool grocery stores. I went to this place about every other day during the trip for drinks, snacks, immune booster packs (the time change wasn’t loving me), and even toiletries I had forgotten to bring.

It’s always nice to have a trusted grocery store to go to when you’re staying in a new place.

And last but not least, here are a few honorable mentions worth checking out!

Honorable Mentions

Seasons 52 (Focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients)

Puesto (Bill’s favorite taco place. Amazing guac and yummy tacos)

BarleyMash (Not exactly known for their healthy food, but their baby kale salad with lemon vinaigrette and chicken on top was deeeelish!)

So, that’s my list! We went to a few other places, too, but those were my top 10. Have you been to San Diego? What are your favorite healthy places to eat? Feel free to leave a comment below! 🙂

Top 10 Steps to Optimal Health: Go With Your Gut!

If you feel less than awesome in your body at this very moment, keep reading. What I’m sharing today could literally change your life!

Today, we’re talking about a topic that is near and dear to me because of my personal healing journey to identify food sensitivities, get myself off of a chronic disease medication, and heal my body.

What I’ve learned about the digestive system and its role in keeping me healthy has transformed my life. I have dealt with some form of sickness for most of my life, but addressing the underlying system and root causes has helped me feel better. 

For the longest time, I felt like what I was dealing with was “normal” because it was all I’d ever known. (Doesn’t everyone get ear and sinus infections and bronchitis and reflux??). On what seems like a daily basis, I either hear stories about, talk to people dealing with or read about frustrating struggles with health issues that SEEM to be “normal” because they are common.

Normal Commong

From indigestion, migraines, asthma, acne, irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn to depression, anxiety, diabetes, and constipation, we’ve grown to think of these things as normal because so many people we know deal with them.

So what’s the secret?

Good health begins in the gut, the digestive system.

Did you know that over 50% of our immune system lies in and around our digestive tract? And that’s being conservative. Some experts report that as much as 70-80% of our immune cells are in and around our digestive system!

That means EVERYTHING we eat and drink goes through that system and affects it. Everything.

There is a strong link between what we eat and drink and how we feel.

I’m excited to share some potentially life-changing information with you in today’s post. I had the privilege of learning from one of the best and brightest in the field of nutrition and gut health, Dr. Chris D’Adamo from the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine.

Check out his top 10 tips to optimize YOUR gut health to start feeling better today!

With Dr. Berman and Dr. Chris D'Adamo before his keynote

With Dr. Berman and Dr. Chris D’Adamo before his keynote

1) Acknowledge and believe that you don’t have to live with these symptoms just because you always have!

The body has a remarkable ability to be transformed and heal when we give it what it needs and take away what is hurting it.

Consider something like depression. It’s a complex condition without a sole cause or treatment. BUT, when you learn that over 90% of our “happiness hormone” (serotonin) production occurs in the GUT, it makes sense to look at healing the gut as a way to boost our mood and feel better. Aligning with functional medicine doctors can help you determine the true root cause of your condition, not matter what it is, and even it seems to have no connection to your digestive system.

2) See a gastroenterologist to rule out any serious gastrointestinal disorders.

I’m talking about Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcers, diverticulosis, infections, ulcerative colitis, gallstones, and colorectal cancer, among others.

If you’re looking for a gastroenterologist who has been recommended to me by Dr. D’Adamo, contact Dr. Jim Novick at GBMC in Towson. If you want to find someone near you, search for a provider at the Institute for Functional Medicine’s website here.

3) Try an elimination diet for at least 2 weeks.

Two weeks is NOT the same as forever. I promise.

Think of going through an elimination diet as “removing the tacks” you’re sitting on that are causing you pain/discomfort/less than awesome health. The ultimate goal is to remove as few foods as possible while optimizing your health.

Suppressing symptoms with medication is just like sitting on a sharp tack and holding an ice pack on the spot to numb it rather than removing the tack completely.

Remove the tack

Sometimes we are eating foods that are literally making us sick and causing us to stay there, no matter how much of the good stuff we add in. For me, those foods are dairy and gluten (the two most common allergenic foods).

Once I removed them from my diet, everything from congestion to sinus and ear infections and acid reflux went away.

Check out these AWESOME resources about how to do an elimination diet on the Institute for Functional Medicine’s website. Try it. These practitioners restore hope to health care.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 8.45.54 PM

4) Reduce or (ideally) eliminate artificial sweeteners (including Splenda).

Aspartame, found in Diet foods and drinks, and also known as Equal and Nutrasweet damages the healthy balance of bacteria in our digestive system that keeps us well.

Sucralose, the sugar in Splenda, has been associated with weight gain and potential involvement in irritable bowel disease. Sugar alcohols (anything ending in “-ol” like malitol) can have laxative effects and disrupt healthy gut function.

If you or someone you know is trying to get off of artificial sweeteners, watch the free documentary Sweet Misery. In the meantime, your best bet for a real sweetener (in moderation) is raw honey because it contains prebiotics and probiotics.

5) Wean off of acid-blocking medications (under doctor supervision).

antacids

I’m talking about the Prilosecs, Prevacids and Nexiums of the world. They have NOT been studied for long-term use and can often ultimately do more harm than good.

They are symptom “shushers.” Many of them (PPIs – proton pump inhibitors like what you see above) work by shutting off our body’s stomach acid production.We NEED stomach acid to break down our food, so we can properly absorb and use it. We don’t want to shut off this natural function of our body.

Believe it or not, many people who are diagnosed with acid reflux may actually have LOW stomach acid, which was the case for me. I rarely felt true hunger and often felt like my food was just sitting in my stomach after eating, taking its sweet time to digest.

As a result of taking acid-blocking medications for almost a decade, I messed up my body’s natural stomach acid and wasn’t breaking down proteins properly into amino acids or creating vitamin B12 (essential for energy and hundreds of other functions in the body).

Oops.

Guess what I’ve learned since then? We need the building blocks of protein to build everything from hormones and neurotransmitters to hair, skin and nails. I also learned I was deficient in stomach acid, so I had to supplement with hydrochloric acid (under the supervision of my nutritionist) to restore my digestive health.

Here’s my story of how I healed and got off of my medication….for good! Talk to your doctor before altering medication, and if your doctor is not open to doing this, find a functional medicine doctor, who will support you.

protonix

6) Heal the intestinal lining.

Bone broth and the supplement l-glutamine can both help us heal our intestinal lining.

Homemade bone broth contains amino acids that build and heal the gut lining. Here’s a link to learn about the health benefits of bone broth and how to make it yourself.

Buy yourself some bones* at your local market (MOMs Organic Market carries them), and make it yourself. Make sure they are from grass-fed, pasture-raised, humanely treated animals.

 

7) Choose fermented foods carefully.

They are a component of most traditional diets and naturally contain probiotics. Focus on miso, natto, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and fermented yogurt.

I find Farmhouse Culture sauerkraut (lots of varieties!) and Bubbies (both pictured below) at MOMs Organic Market. Hex Ferments in Baltimore is another great place to buy lots of different fermented foods.

I used to HATE sauerkraut, but now that I know how good it is for my health, I have tried several kinds and have learned to enjoy it.

I used to HATE sauerkraut, but now that I know how good it is for my health, I have tried several kinds and have learned to enjoy it.

A lot of people ask about yogurt for probiotics. Most processed yogurts in the grocery store are heavily processed and contain more sugar and additives than healthy bacteria. For a review of over 100 yogurts and a ranking from best to worst, check out this guide from the Cornucopia Institute. Dannon and Yoplait are in the bottom 5!

Check out your local natural or health food store (or Whole Foods and Wegmans) for healthy fermented food options.

8) Consume prebiotic fibers to feed the bacteria in the gut.

We hear a lot about PRObiotics these days but not too much about PREbiotics. Prebiotics are fermentable fibers that FEED probiotic bacteria.

We want the good guys to get the food they need to protect us and strengthen our immune system.

Sources of prebiotic foods include buckwheat, chicory, sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), burdock root, onions, garlic, asparagus, green tea, and blueberries, to name a few.

Prebiotics

Clockwise: onions and garlic, asparagus, sunchokes, burdock root, buckwheat groats

9) When it comes to probiotics, you get what you pay for.

According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are “live microorganisms that can provide benefits to human health when administered in adequate amounts, which confer a beneficial health effect on the host.

In other words, probiotics are “good” or “healthy” bacteria because they support digestive health. Not all bacteria are bad! And since 70% of our immune system is located in and around our digestive system, it makes sense that supporting digestive health will boost our overall health.

Choose products that specify the strains of bacteria in them and that have research behind them. You also want them to be shipped on ice/cold shipped to protect the delicate, living bacteria. A few that were mentioned in the workshop were Natren, Garden of Life Raw, Theralac, and VSL #3. I’ve been using one recommended by my nutritionist called HLC MindLinx by Pharmax.

Probiotics are most important for people who have been on antibiotics, have digestive or autoimmune issues, or who will be traveling out of the country.

Keep in mind that different people respond to the same probiotics differently, so just because something works for a friend of yours doesn’t necessary mean it will work for you.

10) It’s not just WHAT you eat that matters, it’s HOW you eat, too.

Eating mindfully (slowly, chewing thoroughly, without distractions) is key to healthy digestion.

There’s a reason we call the gut “the second brain.” The brain impacts the bacteria in our gut and our gut health impacts our brain. It’s a two-way street. When we eat under stress, our body processes food differently, and we don’t get the most out of our meals.

Prioritize food enough to slow down and savor it when you eat.

If you’re going to take the effort to eat well in the first place, don’t you want to get as much out of that nourishing food as possible? Optimizing our gut health is key to making that happen.

Homemade Pizza Combos {Paleo, Vegan}

If you grew up in the 90s or knew a kid who did, chances are you at least knew about the tasty snack gems known as Combos.

These little hollowed out pretzel logs were stuffed with all sorts of flavor-packed goodness, from cheddar cheese to pepperoni pizza.

I could house a bag of Combos in a matter of minutes, and my absolute favorite flavor was Pizza. They were addictive!

And after taking a look at the ingredient list, I can see why.combos info

As a kid, I couldn’t have cared less about the ingredient lists of the foods I was eating.

(Which would explain why things like Toaster Strudels, Gushers, Fruit by the Foot, Sour Patch Kids, Dunkaroos, Funyuns, and Little Debbie Swiss Rolls were perfectly permissible snacks on a regular basis :))

But, as an adult, who feels better than I’ve ever felt, I do care.

I don’t follow a strict set of “rules,” per se, but I do make sure that the food I eat is real (not a chemical concoction), whole (an avocado vs. a Cheeto), unprocessed (is a plant vs. made in a plant) and health-promoting.

I prioritize the “fuel” I put in my body and make sure it’s high quality, going to give me energy, and make me feel good…because I like feeling good.

Don’t you? 🙂

I was inspired to “upgrade” Combos and bring some of the same flavors to a healthy snack bite. When Bill and our friend, Brian, tried one for the first time, they said it tasted like Pizza Combos…YES!

One of the best parts is that they are no-bake, so they come together quickly. These are snacks you (and your kids) could have every day!

paleo poppers pizza bites

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes (I used Trader’s Joe’s jarred ones, since they were soaked in olive oil. If you only have dried tomatoes, soak them in hot water for about 30 minutes to soften them and add 1 teaspoon olive oil to the final recipe for moisture.)
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds
Some of the ingredients in this yummy recipe!

Some of the ingredients in this yummy recipe!

Coating (Optional but awesome)

  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

  1. Process almonds in a food processor until they reach a fine meal, about 30-45 seconds.
  2. Add remaining ingredients through hemp seeds and process for about 60 seconds, or until the mixture looks like this and clumps together.clump The longer you process, the longer the oils from the nuts and seeds release and bind everything.
  3. Form the dough into 1 inch balls and set aside.
  4. In a mini food processor (or the bigger ones you just used), make the cashew coating, and process until it reaches a fine texture.
  5. Roll the dough balls in the coating and store them in a glass container in the refrigerator.
  6. Enjoy!IMG_9367

    And this is what my kitchen looked like afterwards...:o)

    Aaand this is what my kitchen looked like afterwards…:o) It’s okay to make a mess. It makes me feel like a mad scientist!

From Teacher to Triathlete: A Story of Accomplishment

I love having this blog as an outlet to share what I’ve learned about food as healing, nourishment and energy as well as how to live a full and vibrant life.

I’m excited to share today’s post about my husband Bill (yes, the guy who voluntarily eats all this “weird food” with me :)). He knows that fueling his body with nourishing food gives him the energy and stamina to perform at his best, especially athletically.

Back in January, Bill and I continued our annual tradition of going to a New Year’s Day brunch, recapping all of the great things that happened in the previous year and talking about the year to come.

Rather than focusing on an uninspired checklist of “things to do,” we focused on how we wanted to FEEL. Using Danielle LaPorte’s book, The Desire Map, as a guide, each of us identified how we wanted to feel in 2015.

My words were Radiant, Flowing, Clarity, Connected, and Worthy. I wrote about why I chose them in this post.

Bill’s words and core desired feelings were:

bill's words

As an elementary school phys ed teacher, he has a purpose-driven yet “thankless” job. No matter how good they are, teachers are rarely given the appreciation, recognition, and gratitude they deserve. They’re in it because they love kids and want to help them grow and learn.

At the end of many school days, they can feel tired, frustrated and anything but motivated or accomplished.

Not only that, but since graduating from college, where he was a four-year athlete and played saxophone in the jazz band, he hasn’t had many opportunities to pursue things that made him feel energized, motivated or accomplished.

Bill said one of the things he wanted to do this year was to train for and complete a triathlon and that doing so would give him the core feelings he desired.

He was inspired and guided by the example of my dad, who is nearly 65-years-young and a 5-time Ironman triathlete; my 21-year-old sister, Jane, who has completed two Ironman triathlons; and my mom, who learned to swim in her 50s and has since completed several triathlons herself.

Volunteering along the Ironman 2014 bike route and then smiling with the finishers later that night!

Volunteering along the Ironman 2014 bike route and then smiling with the finishers later that night!

He signed up for the Columbia Triathlon – an Olympic distance race that starts with a 1.5k  swim (.93 miles), followed by a grueling 40k (24.8 miles) bike through hilly neighborhoods, and finished off by a 10k (6.2-mile) run.

His training began in March, and he diligently followed a daily workout regimen that included a combination of swimming, biking and running, sometimes requiring him to wake up at 5:00 a.m. before a long school day to train.

He spent Saturday mornings at Loyola University’s pool with my dad learning a new, more efficient and energy-conserving swimming technique called Total Immersion.

Bill’s first time on the road on his racing bike was less than six weeks ago.

My husband is a quick learner, especially when it comes to anything kinesthetic and athletic.

He can pick up on new sports or athletic moves faster than just about anyone I know, so I didn’t doubt that he could finish the race.

But this was the first time he would be fully responsible for his training, accountable to himself, and motivated not by his teammates, as has always been the case, but by his own desire to feel energized, motivated and accomplished.

I saw his mental toughness years ago when we first started dating, and he had torn his Achilles tendon.

bill boot

Bill at the top of Little Whiteface near Lake Placid. We had to take the gondola up because he was recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and was confined to a boot.

Told by doctors that he might never play soccer again – devastating news for a lifetime athlete – he was back on the soccer field within six months, determined to beat the odds.

He had trained diligently in a physical sense, but I also knew he’d have the mental toughness to do what it takes to complete a triathlon.

The night before the race, Bill couldn’t sleep and was up by 4:00 a.m. on race day, eager to begin.

IMG_9240

We were greeted by a humid and overcast morning and a forecast calling for a chance of rain – not exactly ideal weather conditions for a triathlon.

He and my dad headed to the race around 5:30, and my mom, sister, I and our friend, Tim, met them there shortly thereafter.

The triathlete community has a special energy about it.

These people are alive.

IMG_9249billdad

Making my way through the “buzz” and sea of energy, I found Bill, who appeared calm but ready to go, and my dad, who was his usual energetic self, ready to embark on yet another triathlon.

At the age of 65, he wasn’t even the oldest competitor, with nearly 10 people filling the bracket above him in the 70-74 age group.

Our friend, Tim joined us at the start, as the athletes lined up to enter the water.

IMG_9253

Because of the narrow entry point, the swimmers were grouped in pairs and entered the water by age group, with Bill’s group being one of the last.

He had to patiently wait nearly an hour to start after being revved up since 4:00 a.m.

We cheered him on as he finally entered the water just before 8:00 a.m.

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As we made our way over to the swim/bike transition area, we were joined by my sister, Jane, and arrived just as my dad, who started the race in one of the first waves, was coming out of the water and making his way to the bike.

We shouted and cheered as we saw Bill emerge from the water around 8:30.

We would later come to find out that a kayaker, who was pulling another swimmer out of the water, ran into Bill and rattled him a bit, but he continued on despite the distraction.

bill transition

He looked like he was a veteran at this, as he entered the swim/bike transition area and hurried up the hill to begin the 25-mile bike ride on what were now rain-slicked roads.

His parents and sister came down from Harrisburg and joined us as we waited for the athletes to come down the steep bend on their bikes before embarking on the last leg of the race.

We saw my dad come through and waiting with anticipation to see Bill’s red bike.

bill pic

When we finally saw him, we were thrilled!

He’d finished the first two legs and had what came most naturally to him as the final one – running.

The rain had given way to a hot and humid Baltimore day, and headed to the finish line to wait for my dad and Bill to make their final push.

Both finished strong and were smiling as they made their way down the final tunnel to claim their hard-earned medals.

finish line

Bill and my dad smiling after their finish

Bill and my dad smiling after their finish

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Bill and dad and their fan club!

Bill and dad and their fan club!

This summer, when we go to Upstate New York for our annual family vacation, Bill will be going with my dad to sign up for his first Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid for 2016.

That’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a marathon (26.2 miles). (Yes, people who do this race are the slightest bit crazy…and a different breed of human, but MAN are they fun to watch!).

We’ll all be there on the sidelines cheering him on as he moves another step closer to feeling energized, motivated and accomplished.

I wonder what his words will be when we have our New Year’s pow wow in January of next year.

Maybe these words will be on his mind, just as they’re on the wall of my dad’s office:

Some day you will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.

dad finish

My dad crossing the finish line at one of his 5 Ironman triathlons. Bill will soon be joining him!

Quick & Easy Mexican Black Bean Scramble {Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free}

“What should I eat for breakfast??”

I hear this question a lot and have an answer for you 🙂

When we crowd out things like bagels, bread, milk, and processed and sugary cereals and granola bars, it can feel like we’re not left with many options aside from smoothies (which are my personal go-to!).

I’m here today with some good news and a brand spankin’ new breakfast recipe that I think you will LOVE!Mexican Black Bean Scramble

When I was writing last week’s post about my favorite upgraded Mexican-inspired dishes for Cinco de Mayo, I was inspired to blend some of those ingredients together for a filling, satisfying and energizing breakfast dish.

As I’ve shared before, the key to all-day energy is to combine Protein + Fiber + Healthy Fats in our meals to keep our blood sugar stabilized. This is important because it helps us prevent blood sugar peaks and crashes, which lead to cravings and trouble controlling our weight.

Most of us, especially women, don’t eat nearly enough protein at breakfast (we’re not going to find it in a Nutrigrain bar or a bagel with cream cheese), so we end up feeling unsatisfied and with cravings later in the day. Eating adequate protein at breakfast is one way to combat that.

I love this dish because it combines protein (beans, eggs), fiber (beans, avocado), and healthy fats (eggs, avocado)…and it tastes AMAZING! My husband Bill liked it so much that he had it for dinner last night and breakfast this morning.

One ingredient in this recipe that I want to focus on is the beauty-boosting, health-promoting avocado.

I didn’t even TRY an avocado until I was 25.

As a picky eater, I had deemed avocados a “weird” and “gross” food, never having actually tried them. It’s so much easier to write off certain foods than give them a chance and run the risk of not liking them.

avocado

When I finally did, I was hooked! According to nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, here are just SOME of the many benefits we can get from eating avocados:

  • One of the TOP anti-aging, beauty foods, especially for supple skin
  • Powerful anti-aging effects on skin and joints
  • Rich in skin-smoothing vitamins – A, C, E, and K
  • Contain glutamine – an amino acid that helps protect our skin and curb cravings
  • Source of glutathione, a liver-loving, anti-aging antioxidant
  • Excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fiber

If you want to geek out a little more, check out the top 12 benefits of avocados from Authority Nutrition.

I’m going to dedicate a future post to why we NEED fat, but in the meantime, the bottom line is this: Stop fearing fat. Healthy fats are not making us fat. In fact, most of us don’t eat enough of them.

Refined and processed sugars and flours are the key offenders driving our weight gain and health issues. When we started making everything lite, low-fat, and fat-free, we started gaining weight.

Eat fat for beauty, health, and happiness 🙂 It makes food taste awesome, keeps us feeling full and satisfied, protects us, and helps us look our best!

Mexican Black Bean Scramble

Huevos Rancheros Upgrade {Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free}Mexican Black Bean Scramble

Serves 2 (cut recipe in half for a single serving)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon coconut oil, divided (you’ll use half at the beginning and the other half later)
½ cup yellow onion, diced
½ teaspoon cumin powder
1 cup black beans (drained and rinsed. We use Eden Organics)
4 eggs (from pastured, cage-free chickens. We buy ours from Hometown Harvest)
¼ cup salsa of choice (we like Drew’s)
½ avocado
A few sprigs of cilantro
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Add half a tablespoon of coconut oil to a medium skillet set to medium high heat.
  2. Add onion, cumin and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until onion is translucent but not brown. Add black beans and toss to combine. At this point, you can either set the bean/onion mix aside in a bowl, scramble the eggs in the same pan and then add the beans back in (pics above) OR just move to step 3.
  3. Add remaining oil to skillet with beans. Whisk eggs together in a bowl and pour them into the skillet. Add another pinch or two of salt and pepper to taste and scramble eggs with beans to your desired texture and consistency.
  4. Once eggs are cooked to your liking, put them on a plate and top with salsa, sliced avocado and cilantro. ENJOY!

An Inspiring Day of Hope, Happiness and Integrative Health in Baltimore

I first saw signs advertising the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine’s Health & Wellness Conference a few years ago.

The topics and speakers always sparked my interest, but the timing never seemed to work with my schedule, so I never went.

After spending the past three years learning how to listen to my body, help it heal from years of medication use and poor diet, and optimize my health, I’m more passionate about the power of functional, integrative medicine than ever before, and I knew I had to go.

For the first time ever, the conference was held downtown at the Institute for Integrative Health’s facility on Fleet Street in the old Broom Corn factory. The recently renovated building has been converted into an open, inviting, vibrant space designed to provide an environment for innovative thinking, convene leaders and visionaries to promote true health care, reverse the sick care crisis, and educate the community about integrative health.

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Attending events like this and being surrounded by such brilliant, passionate, like-minded people energizes and inspires me and reminds me of why I do the work that I do.

As I wrote back in January, there is a special gift that comes from being with “your people.”

The conference started with some mingling and breakfast provided by my go-to healthy and nourishing meal choice in Towson – Zia’s Café – and Belvedere Square – Plantbar.

Daniela Troia, who owns Zia’s Café and Plantbar at Belvedere Market, uses whole, unprocessed, nourishing, vibrant food as a platform to promote health and wellbeing in Baltimore and beyond.

Not only did they serve breakfast, but they also provided snacks of veggies and hummus, fresh cold-pressed juices, wraps and salads for lunch and a chocolate ganache brownie for an afternoon snack. YUM!

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Following the morning mingle, everyone convened for a Welcome to Wellness led by a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Brian Berman. He is the President and Founder of the Institute for Integrative Health and Director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine.

Dr. Berman has dedicated his career to researching and promoting complementary and integrative medicine, and in 1991 he founded the first U.S. academic medical center-based program for integrative medicine.

He started the conference by asking,

“What is wellness? What is health?”

Those two words have a range of meaning depending on whom you ask.

Dr. Berman’s comment about how integrative health can change the future really resonated with me. I share his vision:

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YES!

I firmly believe this to be true and am honored to be part of such a transformational movement that has already helped and will continue to help so many people restore and optimize their health.

We were then led through a centering morning chanting session with monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery, who will be at Baltimore Yoga Village in Mt. Washington speaking, singing, praying and creating a sand mandala from now until May 14th.

To learn more about these events, click here.

monks

The rest of the day was filled was passionate speakers sharing the latest research and life learnings about a variety of integrative health topics.

While we know food is important to overall health and is something I write about a lot on this blog, non-food nourishment is equally important.

The conference was filled with both forms of nourishment and truly focused on integrative health and the connections between our mind, body and spirit.

The first session I attended was about the science of happiness and forgiveness and was co-led by Drs. Delia Chiaramonte and Dahlia Hirsch.

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A whopping 50% of our happiness is hard-wired and inherited while a mere 10% is influenced by our circumstances. That means 40% of our happiness is changeable. We have the power to influence that.

The most fascinating thing I learned in the session on happiness was that writing and talking about negative things in our lives increases our happiness, while intentionally dwelling on and THINKING about positive things that happen boosts our happiness. Talking and writing about positive things doesn’t change our happiness, but dwelling on the negative decreases it.

So, when bad things happen, write or talk about them, but try not to mentally dwell on them. When good things happen, think about them over and over again.

We can actively increase our happiness by doing these things:

  • Identifying and using our strengths and making note of how we’ve used them each day
  • Looking for the good, even in tough situations
  • Purposely ruminating over positive experiences (instead of forgetting them and fussing over the not so good stuff)
  • Nurturing social connections
  • Committing to a gratitude ritual, whether it’s keeping a journal, reflecting on three appreciations before bedtime each night or writing a gratitude letter to another person and reading it aloud to them

As we shifted from happiness to forgiveness, we were challenged by Dr. Dahlia Hirsch to consider,

“What ideas are running your life? Your body?”

This resonated with me, as I’ve been struggling with some negative thought patterns lately and feeling “stuck” in my thoughts and my body. It can be so hard for us to forgive ourselves and other people.

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She reminded us that we CHOOSE what to focus on. We can either focus on being frustrated, stuck, annoyed or angry, or we can choose to forgive to free ourselves from those feelings.

The question that stuck with me the most was this:

“What do I have to give up to have peace?”

It’s something each of us can ask ourselves.

Whether it’s a feeling, a relationship, a job, a wrongdoing, or something else entirely, what are you holding on to that is preventing you from having peace in your life?

We transitioned from happiness and forgiveness to the healing power of touch. I’ve experienced this myself in the past through massage therapy, chiropractic care, and most recently, acupuncture. Donna Audia, the main speaker for the talk, is an integrative therapy nurse and team lead for the integrative Inpatient Care Team at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

She opened with talking about the anti-inflammatory response of shock trauma patients to acupuncture and had to make a shift in her own mindset from “intubating and sedating” patients to using healing touch to help and heal them.

Donna captured her patient philosophy in one brief statement:

healing patients

I LOVE that.

Imagine if every health care provider adopted that same mentality. The epidemic of health that Dr. Berman is calling for could be here sooner than we thought!

What stuck with me the most from our session was the knowledge that 20 seconds of continuous touch releases the bonding, trust, and safety hormone oxytocin – for both the giver AND receiver – assuming the touch is wanted.

As part of the session, each of us had an opportunity to buddy up with someone else at our table and alternate giving each other light back rubs. My partner was a beautiful young woman named Maura, who at the age of 19 is discovering what health means to her, as she has battled with weight and smoking, but is determined to change her life. I encouraged her that what she is going through and growing through will ultimately be used to help and inspire others.

It’s in our struggles that we become relatable and real and connect to other people. Imperfect people are the greatest inspirations.

I plan to stay in touch with her, so I can continue to follow her journey. She will be a voice of change one day, and her story will impact more people than she ever thought possible.

She said something so profound that I had to write it down:

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Wow. Wisdom from a 19-year-old. Isn’t it true for so many of us?

We’ve so deprived ourselves of genuine, meaningful, healing human touch and connection that we reach for other things to satisfy and fill us – from food to alcohol to cigarettes and even credit cards.

The next time you hug a loved one, see if you can hold it for at least 20 seconds or offer to give them a back rub for at least that long.

There is healing power in touch.

Before heading to lunch, I attended a session on increasing sustainable, healthy local food led by Louise Mitchell, who has worked with one of my company’s clients, Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown.

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Louise taught us about the importance of eating locally, which usually means the food has traveled under 250 miles from farm to table, whereas most conventional food has traveled anywhere from 1,500 to 2,400 MILES before it reaches us.

A lot of the tips she shared about how to make eating sustainable, locally grown food more affordable are captured in this blog post about how to eat organic without going broke.

She also shared great information about the harmful health effects of pesticide use (what is sprayed on conventional, non-organic produce to keep it looking “perfect” and bug-free):

pesticides

I learned about the work of Dr. Jim Duke, and the “green farmacy” he grows on his farm in Fulton, Maryland, where anyone can volunteer. I plan to check it out this summer! To learn more about his work and the farm, click here.

One of the most useful tips Louise shared was how to pick the highest quality and safest meats and poultry, so here you go. We want to eat:

  • Pasture-raised pork and poultry
  • Grass-fed and grass-finished cows, dairy products, and lamb. This means they are fed grass throughout their entire lives rather than being grain-finished, which is what helps “fatten up” and marble beef, but is not how cows are designed to eat. Check out the Eat Wild website to find sources for this type of meat near you.

Also, I teach this in the workshops I lead, but it’s worth reiterating that the word “natural” on a food label is unregulated and has nothing to do with how the food is produced. Don’t buy the marketing hype!

To learn more about sustainable farming, check out these resources:

After lunch, I was honored to attend a keynote presented by Dr. Chris D’Adamo, a nutrition researcher who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. He also teaches workshops at the Institute for Integrative Health.

With Dr. Berman and Dr. Chris D'Adamo before his keynote

With Dr. Berman and Dr. Chris D’Adamo before his keynote

We learned the top tips to optimizing gut health, which many of you know is a passion of mine because of my own healing journey. I’ll be sharing those tips in a separate post because there was just so much great information that I can’t do it justice by summing it up here!

Dr. D’Adamo shared how over 50% of our immune system activity is in our “gut,” which starts in our mouth and ends, well, you know where 😉

Because of poor diet, stress, alcohol intake, and years of antibiotic and medication use, many of us have compromised our health and immunity and are dealing with the consequences in the form of everything from bloating, abdominal pain, reflux, allergies, and colds to rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety.

According to Dr. D’Adamo, the bottom line is this:

symptoms

That’s right. We can heal and be well. The body is incredibly resilient. We just need to give it half a chance to do its thing.

Dr. D’Adamo will be teaching a series of workshops about What Science Says about Dietary Supplements in May and June, and I will definitely be attending! Click here to learn more and register.

After going through an energizing movement routine led by Lynne Brick, we finished out the day by attending a few more workshops.

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The first was a healthy cooking workshop led by Jennifer Helene, who emphasized the message that it’s not about deciding between being healthy OR enjoying food.

It’s about having it all.

Healthy food can be both nourishing and delicious, and I seek to constantly reinforce that point in every recipe post I share on this blog.

She said it’s about becoming the best version of ourselves and planning for the space between where we are now and where we want to be. It’s about making a commitment to our health and ourselves and not letting excuses get in the way.

As Jennifer said,

“Invest today to save tomorrow. Be in action every day without guilt.”

She shared some delicious recipes with us, and you can find more of them on her website.

The second part of the experiential workshop was led by Susan Weis-Bohlen, an ayurvedic expert, who taught us about the different doshas – mind/body constitutions that are reflected in our physical characteristics, temperaments and emotional traits.

My friend Susanna having her ayurvedic pulse points read by Susan Weis-Bohlen

My friend Susanna having her ayurvedic pulse points read by Susan Weis-Bohlen

I learned that I am DEFINITELY Pitta dosha, known to have a “fiery nature” in both spirit and body.

According to the Chopra Institute, “Pittas have a powerful intellect and a strong ability to concentrate. When they’re in balance, they are good decision makers, teachers, and speakers. They are precise, sharp-witted, direct, and often outspoken. Out-of-balance Pittas can be short-tempered and argumentative.”

#NailedIt

Want to discover your dosha? Check out this free quiz.

To learn more about Susan’s ayurvedic and vegetarian cooking classes at her home in Reisterstown, check out this link.

The day closed with a workshop that dove deeper into digestive health, specifically as it relates to adverse food reactions, allergies, sensitivities and intolerances led by Erin Peisach, a registered dietitian who sees patients at the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine. I’ll include the highlights from her workshop when I share the write-up about Dr. D’Adamo’s session in a future post.

Reflecting on the day, a few key insights stood out to me that summarize the mindset behind the day.

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Sue Berman, Dr. Berman’s wife and Executive Director at the Institute for Integrative Health, noted,

“It’s great to have a day to be nourished in so many ways.”

I wholeheartedly agree. I wish more people could experience what TRUE nourishment looks and feels like and how transformational it can be for our health and our lives.

So many of us look to a TV show, book, “expert,” or doctor to “fix” us and tell us what to do. Part of what I’ve learned along my journey to healing my body and boosting my health is that I have responsibility in the process. I had to start listening to my body and stop ignoring and suppressing the signals it was sending me about how I felt.

That’s the secret. 

At the close of her session on ayurveda, Susan Weis-Bohlen declared a truth that captures the essence of functional medicine and integrative health and the gist of the day. I hope it resonates with and inspires you to start paying attention to your body and take back YOUR health!

power within

12 Tasty Cinco De Mayo Recipes {Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free}

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone!

One of my earliest memories of Mexican food was celebrating Thanksgiving in a Mexican restaurant while I was studying abroad in Spain as a junior in college.

It was an experience I’ll never forget!

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I feel funny getting excited about this holiday because I used to hate Mexican food!

As a kid, I was partial to Chef Boyardee, Kraft, Rice-a-Roni and Tysons and pretty much didn’t eat anything that others might have considered to be “ethnic” food. I was very picky and unwilling to try anything I deemed “weird.”

Fast forward to my 30s, and I’ve learned to not only try but also enjoy Mexican food.

After returning from a recent trip to San Diego, Bill and I have both had our share of tacos, guacamole and salsa, so I thought I’d dedicate a post to all things Mexican and highlight the Cinco de Mayo-friendly recipes on this blog.

Like all of my recipes, they are dairy-free, gluten-free, and muy delicioso 🙂

CINCO DE MAYO

Make-Your-Own Chipotle Style Burrito Bowl with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Walnut Taco Boats with Cashew Sour Cream (Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it! My friends Sam and Jillian LOVE their sour cream and go nuts over this stuff!)

Mexican-Inspired Black Bean Quinoa Salad

Watermelon Mojito Salad

Cashew Queso Dip

queso dip

Mexican Brownie Bites

Salsa Fresca

Green Goddess Guacamole

Mexican Black Bean Scramble

Here are a few more Cinco de Mayo-friendly recipes to try:

Enchilada Stuffed Sweet Potatoes from Against All Grain

Avocado Crema from Against All Grain

Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken (great for tacos!) from The Gracious Pantry

Do you have any favorite Cinco de Mayo recipes? If so, feel free to share them below with all of us!

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