Tag: baltimore

HEX Ferments: The Difference, The Flavor & The Future

This is the second part in a two-part series. Did you miss the first post? To learn about the start, the art and the heart of HEX Ferments, click here

I had the privilege of interviewing Meaghan Carpenter, one of the founders and owners of HEX Ferments, a fermented food and drink company located in Baltimore. I was drawn to her story because of how her company embodies the core of my food philosophy – to connect with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel; to savor our food, prioritizing quality and taking time to enjoy it; and to nourish our bodies with vibrant, life-giving food.

The Difference

So, what makes HEX Ferments different than other fermented foods and drink companies? Meaghan had a lot to say about that and was passionate about the quality of what they create.

We source and ferment for peak flavor. […] We work with layering flavor. Our staff are all trained in the culinary field. We’ve hired people that know how to work with flavor. We don’t use a lot of dried spices. We use a lot of fresh herbs and spices and we source from local farms for about 90% of our produce. That helps us to get the foods that are the freshest and at the peak of their flavor and nutritional profile.

The health benefits of HEX’s products vary greatly from most products on the market, especially in the case of something like pickles. Most pickles on the market are made with vinegar, which acts as a preservative to make them more shelf stable. It’s used as an instant acidifier.

hex-picklesUnfortunately, most vinegars are denatured or killed, so the nutritional benefits of fermented food are lost; there’s no probiotic component to vinegar pickles. The way HEX produces their products preserves the nutritional integrity and gives us the host of benefits we expect.

HEX naturally ferments their products through the process of lactic acid fermentation, which creates the beneficial microbes that characterize pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. The next time you’re in the market for a jar of pickles or sauerkraut, make sure you read the label. You want it to be a “living food” with live cultures, no heat and no vinegar.

Not only does HEX prioritize using high quality ingredients and best in class fermentation practices, but they are also particular about the vessels in which they make their products. Unlike most large companies, they don’t use plastic barrels lined with plastic to ferment. When you’re creating a food that acidifies itself, you’re creating a lot of microbes that are really powerful that can eat away at plastic. Because of that concern, the team at HEX ferments in stainless steel, which also helps to keep their products tasting the same as well. That is considered the gold standard for how to ferment.

What I was surprised to learn next gave me another reason to take pride in having HEX Ferments as one of our own. They are the only fermented food company in the U.S. that makes and sells everything at their storefront. This gives their customers a unique experience and the ability to taste and smell everything and talk to the people who have a hand in making the food.

The Flavor

People often come up to the stand and aren’t shy about their feelings toward fermented foods, “I hate sauerkraut.”

Instead of being flustered or offended, Meaghan responds gently, “I’m sorry to hear that. That just means you haven’t had really good sauerkraut. You can learn to like sour.”

If you’re new to fermented foods, it can take a little while to adapt to their naturally sour taste, but Meaghan gave me some suggestions that could help.

  • Pickles are a great way to start because most of us are already familiar with them and have tried them before. Try some cucumber pickles or other pickled vegetables.
  • Try kombucha. It’s an easy entry point because it often has a bit of sweetness to balance the sour, and people tend to like its fizziness.
  • Their carrot confetti made with pickled carrots is a good starter and converted a former sauerkraut hater into a weekly customer.
  • Mix and eat things like sauerkraut with food. If you eat salad, instead of adding dressing, take a few tablespoons of the kraut, chop it up, mix it into your salad and add some olive oil.
A few bottles of HEX's brightly colored kombucha

A few bottles of HEX’s brightly colored kombucha

So, how much sauerkraut should you eat? What amount of kombucha is best to drink?

Start small. Keep in mind it is a living food and you’re introducing billions of bacteria into your system.

Meaghan suggests starting with one tablespoon of kraut or kimchi a day with food (i.e,. chopped up on a salad, as a condiment, mixed in with grains and beans, on a sandwich, etc.) and see how your body reacts. Her stepmother swears by breakfast consisting of an English muffin with peanut butter and HEXs juniper caraway sauerkraut. I can’t say it appealed to me, but Meaghan’s enthusiasm about it might get me to try it!

fullsizerender-1

Sauerkraut pairs nicely with tacos in this dish with Clavel’s tacos and watermelon radish pickles

For kombucha, Meaghan recommends starting with four to six ounces on an empty stomach in the morning. This has helped her and others with chronic constipation.

As with any food, slow down and pay attention to how your body responds and then increase the amount you’re eating or drinking or stay where you are. Over time, it’s likely you will be able to eat more.

The Shop (Where to Find It!)

To learn more about HEX Ferments and their upcoming events and for locations where you can find their products, check out their website at www.HexFerments.com.

Locally, you can find their products at MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Graul’s, and Eddies Market as well as at the Waverly Farmer’s Market in Baltimore on Saturday mornings.

fullsizerenderIf you’re in the DC area, swing by Each Peach Yes! Organic Market at Capitol Hill, or the Arlington MOMs Organic Market for a jar of their famous kraut or kimchi. Hex also has a presence at the Silver Spring Farmer’s Market and Bethesda Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

If you’d rather skip the trip to the store or market and order online, you can order their products through Washington Green Grocer, Relay Foods, Hungry Harvest, and Hometown Harvest.

The Future

HEX Ferments is experiencing a ton of growth and will be expanding to a larger production space just down the road from Belvedere Square, where their storefront will remain. They will gain over 1,000 square feet of space.

A sneak peek at the new space

A sneak peek at the new space

They have plans to teach a few workshops in the fall and look forward to introducing more people to the art of fermentation. I’ll be sure to keep you updated about those events through my Facebook page and this blog.

Over the years, Meaghan and Shane have grown to appreciate and embrace all that Baltimore has to offer. They look forward to continuing to build community through HEX Ferments, as they invite us to connect with our food, how it makes us feel and where it comes from; appreciate food as beauty and art; and nourish our bodies with living, healing food that will leave us looking and feeling our best.

Have you tried HEX Ferments products? Do you have a favorite? Feel free to share below!

HEX Ferments: The Start, The Art & The Heart

I had the privilege of interviewing Meaghan Carpenter, one of the founders and owners of HEX Ferments, a fermented food and drink company located in Baltimore.

I was drawn to her story because of how her company embodies the core of my food philosophy – to connect with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel; to savor our food, prioritizing quality and taking time to enjoy it; and to nourish our bodies with vibrant, life-giving food.

The Start

What is this place?

Aside from what she had seen in John Waters’ movies, Meaghan Carpenter knew little about Baltimore when she moved here on a whim 12 years ago. The heat and humidity of Charm City in August and her cockroach-infested apartment weren’t the welcome she had anticipated when she picked up her life in Minneapolis to relocate here. She says “a boy” brought her here, but she stayed for a different boy, Shane, who’s now her husband.

hex-ferments06

Over the years, Meaghan’s initial impression of Baltimore has faded, as she has grown to appreciate and embrace her new home.

I feel like Baltimore is this really incredible city that is this melting pot that never seems to fully merge. People come from all over the place. But everybody has a pretty strong identity here. It doesn’t feel like a homogenous city at all.

Meaghan always loved food, grew up spending time in the kitchen with her parents, and worked in restaurant kitchens for years but never considered food for a career.  Both she and Shane have been connected to fermented food since childhood. They grew up eating the harvest from their parents’ vegetable gardens and learned the art of canning at a young age (“You can only eat so many cucumbers, zucchini and carrots” Meaghan confessed.).

They were raised eating sour foods, a taste most Americans have not developed. It was their early introduction to sour, fermented foods that would eventually influence the business they formed together nearly four years ago, a fermented food and drink company called HEX Ferments.

When Meaghan was in college, she was part of a natural foods store co-op and learned how to make simple kimchi and sauerkraut. She noticed it helped the digestive issues she had in college that stemmed from her very poor diet. When she started sharing simple meals of rice, beans, steamed veggies and sauerkraut with the co-op staff, she noticed by how much better she felt. She carried that with her and it would come in handy years later.

schlossmanhex0422It would take two transatlantic trips to the U.K. before Meaghan and Shane would delve more deeply into the art of fermentation. Both she and Shane spent some time separately in Ireland, where Shane worked on organic farms in Wales and saw a different side of fermentation – wines, meads and preserved foods – the side most of us are more familiar with here in the States.

It was in Ireland that Meaghan first learned about the sour, tingly, fermented drink called kombucha. She fell in love with it, and as soon as she got back to U.S., she put out a flyer asking who had the culture needed to brew kombucha. Meaghan was in luck. She learned the simple instructions for how to do it and has been making kombucha for the past 15 years, well before the recent kombucha craze started.

Years after Meaghan’s introduction to kombucha, she and Shane quickly realized that when they got together, they loved playing with flavors and having food experiments. They had a garden and had an overabundance of cabbage and decided to make sauerkraut. So Meaghan dug out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, a book she first learned about through the co-op, and they got to work. Since then, they’ve visited Sandor’s farm in Tennessee and have been mentored by him along with another husband-wife fermentation team from the Cultured Pickle in Berkeley, California.

hexplusculturedI loved what Meaghan had to say about what happened once they embarked on the journey to come together and explore the art of fermentation:

We instantly got rehooked into it all. Once you make fermented foods and you learn about it, there is the potential to get bitten by its mystery and magic, and there’s no turning back. Once you’re hooked into it, that’s it. It’s an obsession. We became totally and immensely obsessed.

Their friends loved what they made and suggested they open a business, but Meaghan and Shane were hesitant. They were enjoying their hobby and didn’t think they wanted to have a business doing it, even though Shane had been in business for himself since the age of 17.

But sometimes your calling finds you, and if you’re meant to do something with your life, it can be nearly impossible to escape. Meaghan was working at a desk job where she was “totally bored”. She was also teaching and making art, but she was not satisfied and found herself researching how to start a fermented foods business. Fueled by their newfound obsession and bolstered by Shane’s entrepreneurial skills, they decided to go for it and start HEX Ferments. It’s been nonstop ever since.

The Art

Meaghan designed the HEX Ferments logo and partnered with a fellow MICA alum to render the logo and set the vision for their brand. The inspiration for the name comes from Hexology folklore, which uses signs and symbols to protect relationships, secure the harvest, and ward off the unwelcome. In the same way, fermented foods protect and support our body, digestion, immune system and overall health and well-being.

hex-logo-web-01

Through her work, Meaghan has the opportunity to combine her two loves – food and art. She doesn’t see a separation between the two and credits her art education at MICA with her visual, creative problem-solving skills, which have served her well in business.

I see what we do as art. We get to play with flavors, and textures, and colors and beautiful objects and we get to put them together and let them slow cook, also known as ‘ferment’.

The inspiration behind unique flavor combinations, like Juniper Caraway Kraut, Carrot Confetti, Lover’s Truce Kimchi, and Butterfly Lime kombucha, often stems from whatever is in season.

The HEX team scours articles, recipes, and books for inspirations as well and considers their experiments a form of play. Meaghan said naming them is like naming a child and she and the team come up with names together.

hex-kraut hex-kraut-jarsFor Valentine’s Day, an abundance of local beets inspired the creation of a complex kimchi called Lover’s Truce. And when Meaghan was given green tea and saffron tea from Afghanistan by her brother-in-law, it wasn’t long before Saffron kombucha was born.

Meaghan flavor preferences vary seasonally, so she didn’t have a go-to kraut or kombucha. If she had to pick, the plain sauerkraut that is currently at the peak of its ripeness and the Carrot Juniper kombucha were at the top of her list.

Customer buying habits are more particular. Some customers shop by color (i.e., “I only buy things that are red.”) while others have their standby flavors like Garlic Oregano and never waver from them. At times, Meaghan and Shane will come up with make something that’s “super crazy” in a small batch, and people will eat it up and come back months later looking for it. They like to keep things fresh, fun and seasonal.

The Heart

When I have the opportunity to talk to people about food and hear their story, what I gravitate toward most is their food philosophy and the language they use around food.

My approach toward food is to invite people to be curious about eating – to connect with why we eat, how it makes us feel and where our foods comes from; to savor food and make eating a joyful experience; and to nourish our bodies with energizing, life-giving, real food, so we can look and feel our best.

When I asked Meaghan about her philosophy around food, I discovered that we share a similar approach and both prioritize being connected to our food along with nourishment:

I see food in different levels. I see food as culture. I see food as commodity and food as nourishment. The level that we operate in is all three. HEX sees food and our food system in a holistic approach. We need to address the entire system of what brings food, nourishment and culture to our plate.

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a privilege to have a company right here in my hometown that is so committed to upholding the integrity of their food and nourishing people every day.

Stay tuned for the second post in this series to learn more about what makes HEX’s products different from everything else on the market, get some tips for how to incorporate these foods into your diet, and get a sneak peek at some plans for HEX’s future.

Join Me LIVE for 2 Cooking Classes in Baltimore in October

Fall has always been my favorite season.

I love the colors, the weather, the crisp air, and, of course, the food.

image

Laura Toraldo Photography

But fall hasn’t always been a time of optimal health for me.

I used to suffer from seasonal allergies, which meant taking Claritin or Zyrtec, and I couldn’t make it through the fall and winter without dealing with multiple bouts of congestion, post nasal drip, sore throats, and bronchitis. I always had a steady supply of Mucinex, Throat Coat, and Advair inhaler discs. For a third of my life, I also dealt with acid reflux, which meant popping pills at Thanksgiving and Christmastime, in particular, because of all of the rich food I would overeat and then pay for later.

Because I know what it’s like to feel sick and not at my best, I’m passionate about sharing what I’ve learned and experienced as my health has been transformed over the past five years. I no longer take any medications, can get through the whole winter with NO congestion, and don’t deal with post nasal drip, allergies, reflux, or bronchitis.

If you had told me five years ago that that was possible, I would have been skeptical and cynical, but because I now live that reality, I know that it’s true and possible.

Changing my diet has been at the root of why my body has begun healing and continues to heal.

For centuries, food has been used to prevent illness, relieve symptoms, and even cure disease. I’m now in a position of optimizing my health, so that I can continue to feel energized, have glowing skin, and build a strong immune system.

I will be teaching a two-part cooking class series about Healing Foods at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore on Thursday, October 6th and 13th from 6:00-8:00 pm, and I would love for you to join me LIVE

REGISTER HERE

Laura Toraldo Photography

image

Laura Toraldo Photography

We’ll explore the power of food and discover how it can be used to prevent and alleviate inflammation, strengthen our immune system, and enhance our energy and vitality. Through recipe demonstrations as well as nutrition and cooking tips, I will show you how to eat for optimal well-being. Everything will be dairy-free and gluten-free, and you will find out why during the class.

University of Maryland nutrition researcher Chris D’Adamo, PhD, will be joining me for both classes to offer commentary and answer your questions. He’s a wealth of knowledge and it’s an honor to partner with him again.

Want to join us? Click the button below.

Register_Now_Button

**There are a limited number of spots for these classes, and they are filling up, so if you want to snag your seat, click here to register! The early bird discount of $50 for BOTH classes ends on September 15th, when the price will go up to $60 for both classes. This is the best deal you are going to find for this type and quality of class in the area!**

If you have any questions, please email me through this link, and I will get back to you. I hope to see you there! 🙂

image

Laura Toraldo Photography

8 Great Healthy Date Ideas for Summer

Making time to connect with each other is one of the keys to being well and feeling nourished (in every sense of the word!). As adults, it can be easy for us to stick with what we know and do the same activities over and over again, especially in the summertime.

I love hanging out poolside as much as the next person, but if you’re looking for fun and nourishing things to do in the summer to change up the typical routine, I have some great ideas for you, your friends and your family.

Spending the past weekend with my friend, Jessica Yeager, a fellow culinary nutrition alum and blogger, inspired me to write this post. We don’t see each other that often, so I planned some healthy and fun activities for us to do when she came to visit me in my hometown of Baltimore.

If you live in or near Baltimore or plan to visit at some point, these are places and things I highly recommend checking out and trying. If you live elsewhere, use these ideas as inspiration and the links I provide within each tip as resources for fun things to do where you live!

date-ideas-cover

#1 Visit a Local Restaurant that Serves Nourishing Food

Where We Went: One of my favorite places to have lunch, dinner or brunch just outside of Baltimore is Great Sage restaurant. They specialize in plant-powered vegan dishes and offer lots of gluten-free options, so I know I can go there and eat a delicious meal without any concern that my body will feel unwell afterwards. I had just been the week before to celebrate my birthday but knew we had to go back when Jessica came to town.

We met up with our friend and fellow culinary nutrition alum, Katie Hussong, for dinner and were greeted by the friendliest and most hospitable restaurant manager I’ve ever met, Scott Carberry. My husband, Bill, had taken me there the week before for my birthday dinner, a tradition we started last year.

great-sage-collage

We started our meal with refreshing ginger-ades and a rich and creamy spinach artichoke dip that you’d forget didn’t contain cream or dairy. The Avocado Pink Peppercorn salad with roasted beets and sliced watermelon radishes on a bed of Bibb lettuce was the highlight of my meal and one of their most popular summer salads. The bean and lentil burger and hearts of palm crabcake rounded out our meals, and we had to order dessert. Great Sage’s carrot cake is to die for and is gluten-free and dairy-free.

You Can Do It, Too! If you’re looking for healthy places to eat in and around Baltimore, check out this post on the subject. If you’re not local to the area, use these tips to find healthy places to eat near you. The Happy Cow website/app are my go to resources for finding healthy eateries and the app Food Tripping is worth checking out, too.

#2 Pick Your Own Fruits or Veggies at a Nearby Farm

Where We Went: Just outside of Baltimore lies one of the best kept secrets where you can pick your own organic berries – Hybridoma Organic Fruit Farm. I found out about a few years ago from friends at church, who love to take their kids there, and it is worth the trip every time!

From blueberries to black raspberries and blackberries, this beautiful farm is the place to come for Baltimore’s best berries. They also harvest bunches of lavender, which you can purchase as well.

Grab a bucket and get picking! You pay by the pound and may end up with more than you intended. If that is the case, I just lay them out on a baking sheet in the freezer WITHOUT washing them, wait until they freeze and then put them in a freezer-safe bag or container to use for smoothies, fruit crisps, pancakes and other goodies later.

hybridoma

You Can Do It, Too! Want to learn more about Hybridoma? Click here to visit their website. To find a pick-your-own farm near you, check out LocalHarvet.org and search by zip code.

#3 Grab a Quick & Healthy Lunch {& Try Something New!}

Where We Went: There are so many places to find a healthy lunch in Baltimore, but one of my favorite places is the Naked Lunch cafe inside of MOMs Organic Market (my favorite grocery store) in Hampden. MOMs and Whole Foods Market both have great options for a quick, affordable and nourishing lunch when you’re on the go, but the Naked Lunch wins out for me.

Jessica tried the jackfruit BBQ (one of the trendiest foods on the scene these days!) with a side of the cauliflower steak. I had the cauliflower steak bowl, which was served on a bed of brown rice, tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach tossed in a chimichurri sauce. Talk about flavor!

cauliflower-steak-moms

You Can Do It, Too! The MOMs in Hampden, DC, Rockville and Bryn Mawr (PA) all have Naked Lunch cafes, so if you are near any of those areas, check one out. If you’re outside of those areas, use Happy Cow, Food Tripping or Yelp! to find a healthy lunch near you.

#4 Hit Up a Local Festival or Event

What We Did: Each year in the summer, Baltimore hosts Artscape, America’s largest free arts festival that attracts over 350,000 people over three days. There are dozens of artists, musicians and food vendors to visit, including quite a few that are health promoting. Rhythm Superfoods was there giving away free bags of kale chips and considering how hot it was, we knew we had to grab one of the frozen fruit pops made with local and organic ingredients from Pop Couture. Jessica tried the Banana Coconut and I had the Mint Lemonade. So refreshing and delicious!

We made sure to stop by the tent with what I think is the most beautiful art on the planet – watercolor food art done by Marcella Kriebel from nearby DC. Her artwork is stunning and is hanging in several areas in my house, including my new kitchen. Check out Marcella’s work on Etsy. I snagged a picture with her at her booth at Artscape, and I’m going to interview her for a future blog post, so stay tuned!

artscape-2016

You Can Do It, Too! Check out websites like Everfest, Eventbrite and Eventful to find local festivals, concerts, and events near you. These websites are great to check out if you’re going on vacation and want to know some fun things to do where you’re staying.

#5 Go Where the Locals Go

What We Did: My #1 favorite place to spend time in Baltimore is Belvedere Square Market. I grew up going there on Saturday mornings with my mom and now go to see “my people” and eat some of my favorite foods. We stopped by Plantbar, a juice and smoothie bar with other grab-and-go meals and treats, that specializes in gluten-free, dairy-free options. My friend, Daniela, opened it a few years ago after the success of her other restaurant with the same vibe, Zia’s Cafe, in Towson. We had a Daily Greens juice with some ginger added. It was refreshing and energizing, perfect for a pick-me-up after walking around in the heat at Artscape.

From there we stopped by Hex Ferments, a fermented food shop that uses local, organic ingredients to make create fermented food combinations, including sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled vegetables, and kombucha. The Butterfly Lime kombucha was our favorite that day…probably because it was purple! We each grabbed a pickle and sat down to enjoy a snack before our last stop at my absolute favorite chocolate place in the world – Pure Chocolate by Jinji.

belvedere

I wrote about her story and her chocolates here, but all you need to know about this place is that you have to try it. She specializes in making incredibly decadent, beautiful and creative combinations of chocolate treats that happen to be raw, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Every person I’ve ever taken there raves about it, and it is a highlight of living in Baltimore. We had the peanut butter stuffed Turkish figs, peanut butter and jelly fudge, and the blueberry tobacco (quite unique!) and lemon cranberry Pucker truffles.

You Can Do It, Too! To learn more about Belvedere Square, visit their website here. They also have a summer concert series on Friday nights that is a lot of fun, too! To find where the locals eat near you, check out the LocalEats website.

#6 Shop Local and Make Dinner At Home

What We Did: It would have been easy to find another place to go out to eat, but we were ready to relax a bit and keep dinner simple. We stopped by MOMs Organic Market again and grabbed some fennel, leeks, and Cappello’s paleo-friendly chocolate chip cookie dough.

We came home and started chopping up our veggies, adding in some garlic and broccoli. We roasted the fennel, broccoli, and onions in the oven at 400F for about 40 minutes total, taking the broccoli out halfway. We sautéed the leeks and garlic on the stovetop, adding in a can of cannellini beans just before we were ready to eat. We tossed the roasted and sautéed veggies and beans together in the pan and topped it with a few squeezes of lemon juice and salt and pepper and had ourselves a locally grown, quick and tasty meal.

dinner-jess

We finished off the night with some of THE best gluten-free, grain-free, paleo-friendly chocolate chip cookies from Cappello’s. You can eat the dough raw (we may have done this) and/or bake it into cookies!

You Can Do It, Too! Hit up the farmer’s market or grocery store near you to grab some foods that are in season. Roast, steam or sauté them and then toss everything together with a plant- or animal-based protein and top with a vinaigrette or simple homemade sauce. Keep it simple 🙂

There were two things we didn’t get to do that we’ll plan to do the next time we hang out, so here are two more ideas for you…

#7 Take a Hike!

What You Can Do: There are so many peaceful and beautiful hiking and walking trails nearby, and you can find some where you live by visiting AllTrails.com. I’m stoked for the hiking I’ll be doing during my upcoming trips to Upstate NY and Portland, Oregon! It’s a great way to move more, talk and enjoy the beauty around you.

#8 Go on a Groupon Date

What You Can Do: My husband and I and our friends have used ideas on Groupon to explore fun activities we might not think of on our own. From cooking lessons and paint nights to yoga classes and sporting events, you can find some fun ideas for things to do on Groupon…and save money at the same time!

So, there you have it! Those are a just a few ideas for how to upgrade your summer plans to include health, community and wellbeing and have fun at the same time.

Now, I’ve got a question for YOU! 🙂

What are some of your favorite healthy activities to do or places to go in the summer? Let me know in the comments below!

Sweet Tooth Truths Part 1: Why We Can’t Get Enough of Sugar

This is the first part of a 4-part series recapping the recent Sweet Confessions event I was part of at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore! Part 2 will take us through how to cut cravings and eat for energy, and in Part 3 we’ll cover which sweeteners to avoid or minimize and which ones are the best choices.

———————————————————————————————

Earlier this year, I wrote in my journal that one of my goals this year was: To speak at the Institute for Integrative Health.

This past Thursday, I had the honor and privilege to do just that!

The night started with a Healthy Happy Hour and was supported by some of my favorite food vendors, including Zia’s Cafe/Plantbar, Jinji ChocolatesMamma Chia, and KIND, as well as other local advocates of wholesome food and health education, such as Real Food Farm and Mission Thrive.

Tiih picstiih eventTIIH

I had my own Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen table and was giving out samples of my homemade Snickerdoodle Cookie Dough Bites, which were a HUGE hit!

A little 3-year-old girl came back for thirds 🙂

They’re made without refined sugar and use natural sweeteners, including Medjool dates and raw coconut palm sugar.

They also contain blood-sugar stabilizing cinnamon and satiating sources of protein and healthy fats. We’ll talk more about why that’s important in the second post in this series!

me table tiihdonutholes tiihSnickerdoodle Bites

You could feel the energy in the room as everyone mingled and sampled the delicious eats.

We made our way into the main room for the Sweet Confessions presentation with Dr. D’Adamo. I was excited to see friends, clients, and peers there!

I started off talking about how I’ve always had a sweet tooth and grew up loving Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, Fruit by the Foot, Gushers, Mike & Ikes, and everything in between.

I had fruit snacks in my lunch box, Little Debbie treats as part of an after-school snack, and loads of candy for every holiday.

We watched a funny clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show that shows just how strong our emotional connection to sweets is.

Check it out for a laugh 🙂

We love sweets because they taste good and make us feel good. But most of us don’t realize how biologically wired that preference is!

Our taste system has an important job – to decide whether to accept a food; it serves as the gatekeeper. Michael Moss writes about this in his book Salt Sugar Fat (a highly recommended read!).

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had very little access to sweet foods, but “sweet” meant that a food was safe to eat and would provide energy, something that was unpredictable and hard to come by at that time.

The sweetest thing they likely had access to were berries – a far cry from the Sour Patch Kids and fruit snacks I loved so much as a kid. In our talk, our goal wasn’t to vilify sugar. We simply wanted to raise awareness around how much most of us are eating and to consider how it might be impacting our health and how we feel. Rather than “telling” everyone to avoid sugar entirely, we talked about how to make the best choices when it comes to sweeteners, so we can still enjoy them.

So, how much sugar are we eating? Let’s take a look.

In 1822, we consumed an average of 45 grams of soda every 5 days – that’s about the amount of sugar in one 12-ounce can of Coke.

coke

Fast forward to 2010, and the average American is eating 765 grams of sugar every 5 days – the amount of sugar in 17 cans of Coke! That’s about 22 teaspoons a day or 130 pounds of sugar per yeara person worth of sugar.

Our bodies haven’t adapted to how much sugar we’re pouring in on a daily basis. And it’s not just in the form of sugary candy. Sugar is hiding in foods we may not even suspect.

One of the most helpful tips I’ve learned about how to spot sugar in food is to memorize this simple stat:

day-6-tsp-to-grams

Once I started paying attention to that, it totally changed how I shopped for any packaged foods.

I was shocked to find out how much sugar was in seemingly “healthy” foods like yogurt, granola bars, and even smoothies.

Take a look at one of the comparisons below and find many more on the Sugar Stacks website.

FedUp-Fact7

WHOA!

Yogurt and a pack of Gushers fruit snacks have the same amount of sugar?

What’s going on?

How did we get here?

A lot of our current eating habits can be traced back to the introduction of the first dietary guidelines in the U.S. in the late 1970s.

The initial recommendations that were set to be released were to significantly reduce sugar intake along with consumption of red meat and dairy products. The sugar, meat, and dairy industries were infuriated by these recommendations and lobbied to have them softened, which is exactly what happened.

So, instead of cutting back on sugar, the release of the McGovern report villainized saturated (and ultimately ALL) fat.

The result was that our intake of refined, enriched and processed carbohydrates skyrocketed beyond anything we’d ever seen with the introduction of low-fat, no fat, fat-free, and lite products.

We stopped eating fat, starting eating refined flour and sugar, and we started gaining weight.

low-fat-guidelines

It’s not just that we’re now suddenly weak and don’t have the willpower to resist sweet temptations that seem to surround us at all times. It’s that we’re trying to resist a biochemical drive on a daily basis, especially when it comes to foods like sugar.

One study done in rats was designed to test their preference for sugar-sweetened water compared to intravenous cocaine. 94% of the rats preferred the sugar-water, suggesting that rats can become sugar dependent under certain circumstances, which may translate to human conditions.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist and founder of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, explains how this process of dopamine release happens in the human brain.

When we eat sugary foods, the brain gets flooded with the pleasure chemical – dopamine – and starts reducing its number of dopamine receptors in order to keep things balanced. This is called downregulation. In other words, we need MORE to get the same effect or “high.” This is known as tolerance.

When drug addicts become tolerant to the effects of a drug, they start increasing the dosage to get the same effect. Lustig suggests we’re doing the same thing with food in this video.

Many of us experience sugar highs and lows throughout the day that affect everything from our energy levels to mood and even weight.

So, if this drive to eat these foods is so strong, how do we address it in a way that doesn’t center around deprivation and dieting?

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the secret to cutting cravings and controlling blood sugar instead of letting it control us!

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.

IMG_8908

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!

IMG_8961

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:

IMG_8954

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.

IMG_8959

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.

IMG_8885

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:

IMG_8953

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.

IMG_8897

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.

IMG_8924

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.

IMG_8956

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

From Under Armour to Belvedere Square: Jinji’s Inspiring Journey to Pure Chocolate Bliss

In case you missed the first post in this series about my favorite chocolates (and my #1 indulgence), click here. This post tells the story behind the chocolate and its inspiring owner and creator, Jinji Fraser!

——————————————————————————————————————

Born in Germany (her dad was in the military) and raised in Baltimore, Jinji grew up without any particular interest in food.

She credits her uncanny smell memory with many of her creative inspirations.

Her first food memory is one that she draws on a lot for inspiration and is a key part of one of her favorite treats – Chocolate-Covered Date Poppers stuffed with raw honey, crunchy cacao nibs and sea salt.

date popper

The inspiration? Honeysuckles.

As a child spending her summers in Alabama, she and her brother would spend hours lying by her grandmother’s endless chain link fence, interwoven with honeysuckles, pulling them off one by one and soaking in the sweet nectar.

Inspiration can literally come from everywhere […] Inspiration is everywhere all the time.

As we sat at the table during the interview, she saw a bag of popcorn lining the counter of one of the food vendors and told me it made her think about her new corn-infused chocolates and how they would taste different if she incorporated popcorn instead of corn flakes.

Her creative wheels are always turning; she’s open to being inspired.

Jinji’s start in the chocolate business came in a rather unexpected way.

IMG_8238

The Turning Point

After graduating with a college degree in Communication and Culture and completing her health coaching training through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she returned to Baltimore, eager to become a nutrition counselor and teach classes.

Her first corporate job after college was working at Under Armour. At that point, she had no inkling she would a) have her own food business and b) have anything to do with chocolate.

One of her roles at Under Armour was designing nutrition and fitness programs for kids with Living Classrooms, a non-profit organization based in Baltimore.

living classrooms

As she was doing that, she had her first “aha” moment:

You know what? I’ve gotta do food. This is what I want to do.

With nothing holding her back or tying her down, Jinji left her corporate job and went out on her own. She started organizing events around food and got connected to the local healthy food and chef community, including Daniela Troia, owner of Zia’s Café & Plantbar (another favorite place of mine at Belvedere Square).

The turning point in her career came one night during an event she had organized at The Black Olive that centered on creating a delicious raw food dinner to introduce people to that way of eating.

Throughout the night, Jinji kept stepping over a postcard that was turned over on the ground. Eventually, she heeded the urge to pick it up and flip it over (after all it was her event and she knew she should at least pick up the trash). The card was advertising raw chocolate workshops.

I can’t imagine what compelled me to actually look into this thing. This is totally not me to go do this thing.

But she did, and it changed her life and career forever:

I went to this workshop that wasn’t very good. It didn’t need to be good. All I needed was to see this thing, to see chocolate being made and to see that process of making it and the amount of work that goes into it. I just needed to see that. And once I did, I said, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m going to do.’

Jinji has been “completely in love with chocolate ever since.”

Her father, Guy, who retired from the military after 38 years of service, came on to help her with the finances and logistical and administrative details.

Jinji and her dad

Jinji and her dad

He’s a big heartbeat of the business,” she says. He’s also a welcoming, friendly face. I always look forward to seeing and chatting with him when I’m looking for my chocolate fix 🙂

The Path

Like most successful people, Jinji’s path has not been an easy one. I asked her what barriers she’s faced in business.

“ALL of them,” she said.

Her greatest challenge was figuring out how to work with chocolate and turn it in to decadent and carefully crafted bites of bliss.

chopped chocolate IMG_0308

Chocolate is so emotional. You have to get that in order to work with it […] It’s never the same from one day to the next. […] It takes on whatever energy you have. I swear it does. It knows how you feel, and it reacts to that […] When I was starting out, I don’t know that I really understood that. I thought it was just like candy, like everyone else does […] but I didn’t really get that there’s something much deeper to it than that.

When she first started, she would get stressed out trying to make the “perfect” piece of chocolate.

Eventually, she learned that if she was patient, wasn’t in a rush, took her time, and just loved the process of what she was doing, it was so much easier to work with.

melted hazelnut

I’ve found the same to be true in my career and life. When I feel like I’m forcing things to happen, it’s exhausting. It doesn’t feel easy. And often, it doesn’t feel quite right.

When I’m patient, enjoying the process and allowing myself to be “in the zone,” on the other hand, I feel alive, and I’m fully present and being the best and truest version of myself. I’m all of me, and things just flow. Whether I’m teaching a workshop, leading a cooking class, or speaking to a room full of people about WHY health matters, it comes easily to me, and I shine.

Think about what makes YOU feel most alive. What comes easily to you? What feels right and natural? Pay attention to that. Do more of it. Be open to what “ease” is trying to tell you.

The Future & “The Nod”

I asked Jinji what’s next and how she envisions her future, given the success she has had in such a short period of time since opening her business.

She wants to travel, see the world, and most importantly, connect.

I feel like enough people love chocolate that they could be connected by chocolate. I feel like enough people would be open to this world that I’m creating right now. There’s just so much happiness in it.

I really just want to travel. I want to get other kinds of inspiration. I want to taste things. I want to share with people the things that I’m doing. I want to keep teaching and doing workshops and talking to people and really just connecting people with chocolate.

chocolate class

But don’t worry, Baltimore, Jinji’s chocolates will always have a home here.

In some capacity, the chocolate will live on in Baltimore because I love Baltimore and I love what I’m doing here, but that’s not my story, that’s not the end of my story at all.

It is so much bigger than Baltimore. It has to be. It just has to be. I really have this dream of just seeing the entire world and all of the people out there […] I love what I’m doing. I love people.

Jinji loves what she does and is grateful for it.

I come and I make chocolate all day long. As bad as life could ever get, at the end of the day, I make chocolate for a living.

One of the greatest joys of her career has been meeting so many chefs and other people who truly love food, including her crew from Belvedere Square.

We have this saying, a couple of chef friends of mine: ‘At the end of the day, we do it for the nod.’ When someone eats something that we’ve made and they just nod, we’re like,

‘That’s the moment, that’s the thing, that’s why we do it.’

If you want to try Jinji’s chocolates, here’s where you can buy them, but to get the best of the best, visit her shop at Belvedere Square Market.

box of chocolate

I Met The Food Babe: 6 Lessons I Learned About Living On Purpose

When a once in a lifetime opportunity comes along, we don’t want to miss it.

Last week was one of those moments for me.

I had the privilege, honor and joy of meeting Vani Hari AKA the Food Babe and spending one-on-one time with her.

I met her earlier in the day in the press room at the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore – an event showcasing the up and coming trends and products in the natural products industry. I had wanted to go for years, but it’s expensive, and prior to this year, I didn’t have the credentials needed to get in to the event.

IMG_5742

As a blogger, I found out that I’m considered “press” and got to attend for free! 🙂

I was like a kid on Christmas, brimming with excitement about what I would learn and thrilled that I would be spending the day with other like-minded people who share my passion. (Stay tuned for a post on my favorite food finds at the expo!)

About a week before the event, I saw a post on the Food Babe’s Facebook page about an exclusive fundraising dinner for GMO-labeling that would be held in Baltimore the Thursday of the expo.

Had I read that right?

I couldn’t believe that one of THE leaders, mover shakers and change agents in the health and food industry was going to be in my hometown of Baltimore…and that I might have the chance to meet her!

Millions of people have rallied behind Vani in what is known as the Food Babe Army to support the charge she is leading to get the junk out of our food supply and demand that the food industry be transparent about and remove the harmful chemicals they’ve put in our food.

Subway, Kraft, Chick-fil-a and most recently, Starbucks, have felt the restlessness and discontent of the Food Babe’s followers and the collective power they have to spark change.

Despite my initial reservations about the cost of the dinner and the fact that I wouldn’t know anyone, I had a feeling it would be worth it, so I bought my ticket to what would ultimately be a sold out event.

It was a perfect late summer night, as all of the attendees gathered on the rooftop level of The Inn at the Black Olive restaurant with a delicious, local, organic spread laid out before us.

We listened intently as several of the speakers shared updates about what is happening in the movement to demand labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply.

As dinner was winding down, I finished my conversation with my neighbor and looked to the other side of the room where Vani was chatting with a few other people.

I met the Food Babe!

I met the Food Babe!

Hoping I might have the chance to talk with her one-on-one, I lingered a bit. She signaled to me that she wanted to talk with me as she mouthed, “Are you leaving?” from across the room. I turned to the side, assuming she must have been talking to someone other than me.

I realized she wasn’t.

“Who, me?? Nope, not going anywhere!”

I was beyond thrilled that she was going to make time for me.

For the next 20 minutes or so, Vani sat with me, giving me her undivided attention, as she graciously listened to me recount some of my health journey and share my passion for why I do what I do and how I pursue my calling to help others transform their lives through food.

I asked her if she had any words of wisdom to share with me, any lessons she had learned along the way.

I tried to take in what she shared and store it in my memory for later, as I wasn’t writing anything down while we talked. I’ve captured the gist of our conversation below.

6 Lessons I Learned from The Food Babe

tell you no rnk

Vani experiences this first hand just about everyday.

Whether it’s Starbucks telling her they don’t want to meet with her or a grocery store kicking her out, she doesn’t let rejection or dismissals like that dismay her.

They just fuel her fire even more and give her yet another reason to keep fighting for what she and many others know is right.

No matter what you’re going through or what fight you’re fighting, be encouraged that you are doing it for a reason. Don’t let anybody tell you no if you’re fighting for what’s right.

go for it - 2

and

getreal - rnk

One of the things Vani told me was that she held herself back more than anyone else.

Prior to going into blogging and activism full-time, she was working at a bank but was repeatedly encouraged by family and friends to drop the corporate gig and pursue her passion for food and health as a career.

She had been reading the book The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte at the time and developing clarity around her purpose and what she really wanted to do with her life.

Vani said the book asks questions that help you “get real” with yourself about what you’re meant to do, which is exactly what she was trying to do two years ago in the midst of a career transition.

After going through the questions in the book, she said she felt SO clear about what she was supposed to do with her life. She just hadn’t taken that next step to make it happen.

IMG_5954

The tipping point came on New Year’s Eve two years ago when she and her husband were at the top of Machu Picchu in Peru. Her phone (which hadn’t been working for days) suddenly came on, and in her email inbox was a notice from her job indicating that her current contract was about to expire.

She had to let them know whether she wanted to renew it.

With encouragement and affirmation from her husband, Vani made the decision in that moment not to renew her contract and to go after her passion as an activist and consumer advocate full-time.

If there’s something that makes your soul come alive and fuels your passion, go after it! You have been given that desire and that fire for a reason.

Following Vani’s recommendation, I ordered the book and am already loving what I’m reading! You can find it on Amazon if you want to order it for yourself to help you develop clarity about what you’re meant to do.

betterplace - rnk

Vani got a little choked up when we got to this part.

In her corporate job, she said all she was doing was making more money for the bank. That wasn’t cutting it – not for someone as purpose-driven and intentional as she is.

She wanted to do something that would impact people’s lives and make the world a better place.

“How do we want to be remembered when we’re gone?” she asked.

“I do this because I want to help people. I want to make a difference.”

Whatever you do with your life – whether you’re raising the next generation as a stay-at-home parent, nurturing and training kids as a teacher, guiding and coaching people through challenging areas of life, like finance or health, or simply serving people with kindness and humility – commit to making the world a better place just by being in it.

Haters - rnk

I took some creative liberty with the exact wording on this one, but here’s the gist of what Vani said in a speech earlier that night:

“The more progress we make, the more haters come out.”

All the more reason to keep fighting.

Vani shared with me that one of the challenges she runs into is that people question her credibility and qualifications to do what she does.

“I’m not a doctor or a food scientist,” she acknowledged.

But, you don’t have to be a doctor to impact people’s health and change their lives.

I face a similar feeling of inadequacy at times. “I’m not a dietitian or a nutritionist,” I tell myself. Some could use that as a reason to dismiss what I have to say about food and nutrition.

My dad? He’s an organizational consultant who is an expert at helping people and businesses get “unstuck.” He’s so good at what he does, he could have his own TV show and easily write a book. His background? Secondary Education and American History.

People come to us for guidance, advice or a listening ear because they can are inspired by our passion, know how voraciously we pursue knowledge and see our commitment to excellence.

But, most importantly, because they know we genuinely care.

So, no matter who we are or what our training is or isn’t, here’s the truth:

We know enough to help someone.

We don’t have to have a particular title or training to make a difference in the world. 

What we do need are passion, intellect, a desire to relentlessly pursue TRUTH, and persistence to “stick with it” when times get tough or we’re discouraged.

share rnk

It’s going to take all of us coming together to make change happen.

It can’t be up to one person.

Sharing information is how we spread messages about what is true, right and good. Share what you learn with your friends, family, workplace, community, etc.

The Food Babe knows that much of her reach and success are due in large part to the Food Babe Army rallying behind her on social media and in their communities, doing their part to get the message out to their circles of influence.

The more we share information intended to make the world a better place and help people, the greater our likelihood of having an impact.

If you have information or a skill or tool that can help another person, share it!

My hope is that you walk away from this post inspired and ready to stand up for whatever you believe in,  whatever fuels your fire, whatever makes you come alive.

One person can make a difference. The more we support each other, the greater the ripple effect each of us can have on the world.

IMG_4676

A Healthy Foodie’s Dining Guide to Baltimore

Dining out + healthy choices. Is it possible to have both?

Fortunately, the Baltimore area has lots of great, convenient, delicious AND healthy dining options. Many of them source high quality, often organic, fresh, and nourishing ingredients from local farms. At the very least, these restaurants offer much healthier, fresher options than what you’d find at a typical fast food joint or deli.

Whether I’m cooking for myself or dining out, a simple food rule I use to guide what I eat is: “Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants.”  (Thanks to Michael Pollan. To learn more about my food philosophy, click here.) One thing all of these restaurants have in common is that they make eating more plants easier, tastier and even exciting!

Some of the restaurants are geared toward vegetarians, vegans, and those with food sensitivities and allergies, while others are not. I’ve indicated the best options for vegan and gluten-free diners below. Most of these places cater meals, too, so if you’re looking to bring some healthy options to your workplace or event, be sure to check out their websites for catering options!

Don’t live in/around Baltimore? Scroll to the bottom and check out how to find healthy dining options near you!

Baltimore-cover

sweetgreen (Baltimore, MD – Harbor East; Multiple locations in DC, VA, PA, NY, MA, CA)

I’ve been waiting for almost 7 years for this place to make its way up from DC and open an location in Baltimore. I first found out about them at a client health fair in DC years ago and loved their food. Since then, I’ve made it a point to go there almost every time I’m in DC for lunch.

Started by three guys who were seniors at Georgetown University at the time, sweetgreen now has over 30 locations nationwide and will continue to expand. Their farm-to-table, sustainable, passion + purpose philosophy is totally aligned with how I live my life and what many of strive to do. Their food is second to none, and they rotate their menu seasonally, too. In the fall, my #1 pick is the Roasted Turkey & Brussels Sprouts Salad with roasted sweet potatoes and a cranberry vinaigrette. You have to check them out!

IMG_2835

Naked Lunch Cafe (Inside MOMs Organic Market Baltimore, Rockville, Washington, DC locations)

When the new MOMs (My Organic Market) opened in Baltimore City earlier this year, I was stoked to check it out, even though we live within walking distance of the Timonium store. I was most excited about the addition of the Naked Lunch Cafe, which sells a variety of plant-based dishes for lunch, dinner or just a snack! Their butternut squash and chickpea soup is one of my favorites, and their bowls will cover you for two meals. My favorite bowl is the Crowder Bowl, which is made with brown rice, cashews, fresh veggies, tofu and a coconut curry dressing that is divine! You have to try their cauliflower steaks and vegan cauliflower nachos, too, because both are delicious. You’ll never look at cauliflower the same way again. They also sell fresh pressed juices and rotate their specials seasonally.

Stall 11 (Baltimore, MD – Remington @ R House)

You know an eatery is good when you’ve eaten about half of the items on their menu, and they’ve only been open for a few months. I LOVE THIS PLACE. It’s a hot spot for vegetarians and has lots of gluten-free options. Some of my favorites are the carrot bean smash with raw veggies, Korean BBQ Cauliflower (addictive and incredible), Kale Caesar Salad with Black Garlic Dressing, Kyoto Bowl, and any soups they serve.

Everything is fresh, delicious, colorful, and flavorful. You need to know about this place!

Harmony Bakery (Baltimore, MD – Hampden)

I was bummed when I first found out that Breathe Bookstore in Hampden was closing but was excited to find out about this bakery and cafe that has some similar menu items for lunch. Their kitchen and products are 100% gluten-free. They have lots of vegan options and change their menu seasonally, a sign of a true farm-to-table restaurant, which is something I look for when I’m picking a place to eat.

Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen (Baltimore, MD – Locust Point)

You know you’ve arrived at a cool spot when you meet the CFO – Chief Falafel Officer – on your first trip there. When we’re in the mood for Mediterranean, Baba’s is where we go. Whether you’re in the mood for a hummus platter (order the veggies instead of the pita), kabobs, or platters with a gluten-free base of quinoa, this is the place to go. It’s a hole in the wall, so don’t expect to find a table, unless you’re there off hours, but make sure you check out this place. It’s one of our favorites!

Atwater’s (Baltimore, MD – Towson, Belvedere Square, Catonsville, Bare Hills)

If you’re looking for an amazing cup of soup or a beautiful fresh salad, look no further than Atwater’s. I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of their Towson location, so we love walking there for dinner on warmer nights (or on snow days – which we have done multiple times before!). All of their meals are made with fresh, often organic and seasonally local ingredients. They usually have vegan or at least dairy-free soup options, too, which is a huge plus for me and any others with food allergies or sensitivities who still want delicious food.

Zia’s Cafe & Plantbar (Baltimore, MD – Towson & Belvedere Square)

Zia’s Cafe focuses on local & organic ingredients and has healthy choices for meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans & gluten-free eaters. They serve fresh fruit & vegetable juices and smoothies, fair-trade organic coffee, and a variety of delicious lunch options, including salads (Moroccan is my fave), soups (SO good), sandwiches, and black bean burgers. Their dairy-free desserts, especially the fruit-inspired dairy-free cheesecakes, are incredible. Zia’s also caters corporate meals and special events

Zia’s opened a sister location called Plantbar in my favorite place in Baltimore – Belvedere Square! Plantbar focuses on fresh pressed juices and smoothies but also carriers Zia’s signature line of delicious gluten-free, vegan eats. (Ideal for vegans, vegetarians, and dairy and gluten-free diners.)

Alma Cocina (Baltimore, MD – Canton)

My friend, Jinji, who owns an award-winning chocolate shop in Baltimore (seriously the best chocolate of your life), recommended this place to us. We’ve been back about 5 times since because we love it so much! They serve authentic Venezuelan food, and their arepas (think pita pocket but not) are gluten-free, so we always get at least one each. Their salads, ceviche, soups, entrees, appetizers and sides have always blown us away and are beautifully and artistically presented.

You have to try the cassava bread (gluten-free) with three dips. It’ll blow your mind 🙂

Great Sage (Howard County – Clarksville, MD)

IMG_9833

Celebrating my birthday at Great Sage!

This is the BEST vegan restaurant in the Baltimore area. We stumbled upon this place a couple of months ago, and it has quickly become one of our favorites! The restaurant is located just outside of Columbia in a place called Conscious Corner and serve amazing plant-based meals. Everything from their Israeli hummus appetizer to their seasonal salads, soups, sautéed greens, smoothies, and rich, dairy-free desserts are phenomenal. (Ideal for vegans, vegetarians, and dairy and gluten-free diners.)

Sweet 27 (Baltimore, MD – Hampden)

This cafe, bakery, bar and restaurant combines the best of all things, and they ‘re open late, too. Featuring a completely gluten-free menu and lots of options for omnivores and vegans alike, Sweet27 serves brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert. Their multi-cultural flare means you’ll find a variety of unique options inspired  in South Asian and Caribbean flavors.

Woodberry Kitchen (Baltimore, MD – Clipper Mill)

This is our absolute favorite restaurant in Baltimore when we want to have a date night or are just looking for an amazingly delicious meal. They cater to the gluten-free and dairy-free crowd, labeling their plates with clearly labeled stickers to identify dishes as GF and DF. They partner with local farmers and value sustainability and top notch ingredients. Their head chef, Spike Gjerde, was the first Baltimore chef to win the prestigious James Beard Award.

The atmosphere is super cool, too. If you’re visiting Baltimore, this should be on your list!

Whole Foods (Baltimore, MD – Harbor East, Mount Washington, Annapolis)

Sure, the stigma is that Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck, but they’re trying their hardest to debunk that mentality. They have an awesome salad bar and a prepared foods counter that serves lots of healthy, tasty AND affordable options, including seasonal kale salads, slow roasted sweet potato wedges, and a variety of delicious proteins. The best part? All of the ingredients are natural or organic and as many as possible are locally grown. That means no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives or heart-clogging trans fats. 

Nalley Fresh (Baltimore, MD – Hunt Valley, Downtown, Towson, Timonium)

Think Chipotle in terms of the “make your own” approach…and then think of every salad topping you could possibly imagine, and that sums up Nalley Fresh. I’m a fan of their “SuperBowls” that feature either proteins, sweet potatoes, or brown rice as a base followed by your choice of dozens of veggies and finished off with broth, if you choose, or dressing. You can even order online and pick up to avoid the long lines at lunchtime.

The Flying Avocado Cafe (Owings Mills, MD)

I used to live just up the street from this cafe, and it’s my go to spot whenever I meet someone for lunch in Owings Mills. I love their roasted vegetable salad with balsamic vinaigrette and roasted salmon. They also have smoothies, soups, homemade guac and hummus, salads, a variety of vegan dishes and a huge selection of herbal teas.

One World Cafe (Baltimore, MD – Near Hopkins)

With a variety of gluten-free, plant-based options that are both “planet and wallet friendly,” this popular spot near Hopkins’ Homewood Field is a great option for breakfast (yummy smoothies), lunch or dinner, and they’re open late (until 2:00 a.m.), so no matter when you’re looking for a healthy option, you can find one there.

A few others worth checking out:

  1. Grind House Juice Bar in downtown Baltimore
  2. Liquid Earth in Fells Point
  3. The Land of Kush in downtown Baltimore

Don’t live in Baltimore? Check out this post about five apps and websites to use to find healthy options near you!

What are your favorite healthy dining places where you live or have traveled? Feel free to share below!

How Functional Medicine Has Transformed My Health & Life

My goal in writing this post is to introduce you to a new way of thinking about health and approaching health care.

One of the keys to my healing journey has been partnering with healthcare professionals who are trained to understand my body as an integrated system rather than a series of disconnected symptoms.

Today, I feel better than I’ve ever felt, and you can, too.

doctor_of_future

For most of my life, I was diagnosed and treated by multiple physicians, who prescribed me medications of some sort at least once a year – medications that, over the span of several decades, damaged my body and compromised my health.

Because of my painful, chronic ear and sinus infections, I started seeing specialists when I was four years old and was prescribed countless doses of antibiotics over the next decade. By the time I was in high school, I had been through a half dozen ear and sinus surgeries. Scarring caused by all of the infections eventually resulted in a 40% hearing loss in my left ear, which I still have today.

At the age of 19, I started seeing a gastroenterologist for digestive health issues and was put on the acid-reducing medication Prilosec. I ended up staying on a variation of that medicine to control my reflux until I was 28 years old.

The odd thing about all of this? I thought it was normal.

I had bought in to the idea that I needed to see a specialist for every symptom and take “a pill for every ill.” No one was asking what was at the root of my health issues. I was frustrated.

What if it didn’t have to be that way?

What if I could figure out the underlying causes of my discomfort and pain? Was it possible that my ear and sinus issues were related to my digestive problems? Could what I was or wasn’t eating be at the root of why I was sick?

Until recently, I didn’t know that 70-80% of the immune system resides in and along the wall of the digestive tract. Since everything we eat goes through our digestive system and, therefore, interacts with our immune system, how can what we eat not affect our health? 

Like so many people, I figured all of the specialists I was seeing would have made connections between what I was eating and why I was sick and in less than optimal health.

Unfortunately, traditional medical school training is focused on diagnosing and treating illness with relatively little education about the significant role of proper nutrition.

In fact, the 2010 Nutrition in Medicine project, which surveyed all 127 accredited medical schools in the U.S., revealed that doctors receive about 20 contact hours of nutrition education in medical school, down from 22.3 hours in 2004. Only about 25% of schools required a dedicated nutrition course.

The bottom line? Nutrition education in medical schools is inadequate, especially given all that is known about the role of food as medicine.

I’m optimistic that this will change in the coming years as prestigious institutions like the University of Maryland, Harvard, Duke, and Yale serve as leaders in preventive, integrative, and functional medicine and nutrition. While less familiar to the general public but widely respected in natural healing circles, I hope students hailing from schools like Bastyr University will play a greater role in our future healthcare system.

In addition to the changes I’ve made on my own to heal my body and restore my health through nutrition, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from reading books and hearing lectures by dozens of renowned physicians and nutrition experts, including Drs. Mark Hyman, Joel Fuhrman, John LaPuma, David Katz, and Alejandro Junger along with nutritionists, Tom Malterre, Kasia Kines and Kimberly Snyder.

A new wave of medicine that looks at the system, not just the symptom, is coming. Health care professionals who know that a focus on diagnosis and treatment isn’t enough if we want to have vibrant health and be well are pursuing training in functional and integrative medicine.

Are you curious about functional medicine from the perspective of a medical doctor? A doctor who has used this approach to heal dozens of his own health issues and thousands of people who were sick and tired of feeling sick and tired? This video could change the way you look at health forever:

I’ve been fortunate to partner with several health care practitioners who are trained to understand and have experience healing patients by tapping into the diet-disease connections. They are helping me heal my body and undo years of damage.

For the first time in my life, I’ve gone a full year without taking a prescription medication or even so much as an Advil.

For the first time in my life, I’m able to understand the underlying causes of why I was sick for so many years.

For the first time in my life I’m hopeful, no longer in the dark about my health, and inspired to continue my healing journey and help others do the same.

We can be well and stay well. Health and vitality can become the new normal.

Want to find a functional medicine practitioner where you live? Check out this link!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: