Running: The Heart & “Sole” of it

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“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”– John Bingham

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Did you know that June 5th was National Running Day? I know that was a few days ago, but after social media started blowing up with everyone’s updates, tweets, and images from their “National Running Day runs,” it got me thinking about what it means to be a runner. So, in honor of this day, I too decided to take a break from blogging and devote some extra time to the road.

 

As I laced up my sneakers, powered up my iPod, and headed out to run my favorite 6-mile loop around the Charles River… I paused. Given the fact that it was National Running Day, it only seemed appropriate to use this run as a time to reflect upon what running really means to me—after all…I wasn’t always a runner. So I shut off my iPod and hit the streets in silence– ready to breathe in the warm spring air and stay in the present– a far cry from my usual plugged-in, zoned-out, training-driven runs.

 

Then, I did what I do best.

I ran.

 

With nothing to distract me– aside from the occasional biker or a small family of geese crossing my path– I had plenty of time to get lost in my thoughts and reflect. Around mile three, I was feeling pretty amazing– light, yet powerful on my feet– breathing hard,  yet slow and steady. With the warm sun on my face and the salty breeze in my hair I almost forgot I was in the middle of the city.

 

It was then that I started thinking about why I run in the first place. I began to think about how grateful I am that I even can run. I thought about the Boston Marathon and I thought about my first 5K….

 

Clearly running goes much deeper than a pair of snazzy sneakers, some fancy leggings, and a Lululemon zip-up. It’s something you grow to love deep down in your soul–and it’s a relationship you must nurture if you want it to love you back.

 

In fact, come to think of it… running has been one of  the longest relationships I’ve ever had. Growing up I was always a very active child. I spent my time running around and playing outside with the neighbors, taking multiple dance classes a week, and participating in organized sports, however, I didn’t get my first real taste of running until back in middle school when my Dad convinced me to join the cross-country team. I was a tiny little thing, so I guess running looked like it should come naturally, and, well, I suppose it did–in fact, I was quite good! I entered a few local races and  actually placed…or sometimes WON. Once I started a little collection of those gold, plastic trophies and race teeshirts…I was hooked. I was officially a runner. And that’s when I began to truly understand what it meant to be a part of the running community.

 

Running isn’t just a hobby–

It’s a character-defining sport.

 

I know this may sound far-fetched to some, but I truly believe I became the person I am today because of running—namely because of  my amazing track and cross-country coach, Mr. Estey, and my inspiring track and cross-country teammates who quickly became like a second family to me. From the very beginning I understood that running takes discipline, commitment, patience and perseverance– these traits have shaped my entire life and defined me as a person to this very day.

 

How so? Well, first of all I learned very quickly that when it comes to running, (or getting anything I want in life), no one will ever be able to put in the work for me. When you race or when you run, your soul is right out there for all to see—plain and simple. There’s no hiding on a race course or on a track, there’s no hanging out on the sidelines, there’s no passing the ball to someone else to take the pressure off your back, and there are definitely no timeouts.When you run, you’re showing the world what you’re capable of and just how badly you want it.

 

Talk about sheer pressure.

Not to mention sheer glory when you succeed. 

 

But just like any other relationship…my running relationship has certainly had it’s fair share of ups and downs. As I got a little older and headed off to high school, I (naturally) wondered what else was out there. I flirted with the idea of trying out a different sport in the past, but never made any moves…until I finally fell under the spell of something else–something that looked more attractive, more fun and more popular: cheerleading (much to my father’s dismay). I swooned over the adorable uniforms and the fleeting promise of teenage stardom, much like a 14-year-old girl crushes on the “bad boy” in school. Thankfully this was just a stint of adolescent rebellion, and soon enough I ran back into the comfortable arms (and ratty old sneakers) of my first love– running.

 

Over the next few years, running and I endured a lot together. We won some races, lost some races, set PRs, and suffered through shin splints, blisters, exhaustion, foot injuries, and a terrible bout of mono. I cried, I celebrated, and I cried some more over the stress and emotions that came along with running–yet we still worked through the hard times and pushed on. I trained well, qualified for a few State Championships, and ultimately became Captain of my high school cross-country team in my senior year. Then, like most high school relationships, we took a break when I went to college. I became too busy with classes, and studying, and meeting new friends. I traded my long, relaxing runs for fast-paced, interval-driven gym sessions. Staying fit wasn’t a fun hobby anymore–I worked out to forget about a stressful day and because I was petrified of the dreaded “freshman 15″ associated with the first year of dorm-living.

 

And then I got sick.

And for the first time ever I couldn’t run.

 

When I was sick I was put on 100% exercise restriction. For two years I wasn’t allowed to exercise at all…even walking up a flight of stairs or across campus (when I was well enough to return to school) was considered a workout. I was miserable. For someone as active of as me, it felt like a death sentence (as pathetic as it sounds). Eventually I recovered and became healthy enough to run again, but my body had become incredibly weak and sore and stiff and tired easily from all that time off. I could finally get back to my normal routine and yet for the first time ever I didn’t want to run– it had come naturally to me for so long, and now I could barely run a mile without my legs screaming in agony. I needed to rebuild my muscle from scratch in order to gain strength and flexibility– basically, I had to retrain my body all over again. So, I hit the gym instead.

 

The frustration with my body continued–this time because it just couldn’t do the things it used to. Gradually, I (sadly) started to lose that spark inside of me– the one that once defined me as a runner. Even though I slowly grew stronger over time (the resilience of the human body truly is amazing), running just wasn’t the same. The only time I would go out for a run was when I couldn’t get to the gym or when I was away for the weekend and needed to get in a workout. Essentially I only ran when I had to. I stopped timing myself and tracking my mileage on these runs– out of fear I wouldn’t live up to my own high standards. When I graduated college and moved to Boston, I immediately joined an expensive gym, created a vigorous workout schedule, and stuck to it. It was easier to take these classes, go on those machines, and work out for this long rather than be alone with my body and mind on the road. I was still afraid I wouldn’t be good enough for me– or for the runner I used to be.

 

But then something started happening at work…

 

As soon as the warm weather arrived, I noticed that more and more people were going out for a run during their lunch break or at the end of the work day– and for good reason. When it comes to running in the city, you can’t find a better location than my office. As I mentioned in a previous post, my company is located on the border of Cambridge and Boston right along the beautiful Charles River. This river route gives runners the option of running a 2-mile, 4-mile, 6-mile, or 8-mile loop– perfect for runners at any level. And that was just the beauty of it– whether someone was training for a marathon or starting to run for the first time,  people of all levels were hitting the road and giving it their best shot… and they were loving it.

 

Every time I saw an employee come back from a run, I couldn’t help but notice how happy and refreshed they looked. I mean, what better way to relieve stress while also energizing the body and mind? Science has already proven that exercise can do just this. According to the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, exercise releases chemicals (endorphins) that make you feel happy while also releasing chemicals that suppress stress and anxiety inducing hormones (adrenalin and cortisol).  Similar findings published in these two articles found in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine  have also discovered that exercising during the work day improves mood, health, and overall productivity (additional evidence was also presented at an annual meeting of the  American College of Sports Medicine).

 

Okay, so I’m sure most people know all this information already– exercise = a happy and healthy you!  However, doing the same old exercises every day can get pretty darn stale and take some of the fun, relaxing benefits of working out away. I was starting to feel pretty burned out from my gym-centered workout routines, and I knew I needed to do something else that exercised my mind as well as my body (yes, I know yoga is SO beneficial for the body and mind but I still haven’t warmed up to the idea of it yet– maybe that will be my next mission ;) baby steps, right?). For me, running was that “something” that used to do just this. Way back when–on the days when I wasn’t working on pacing or racing– it wasn’t rare for me to go out for a run with no idea where I was headed. I liked to call these “fun runs”– just enjoying everything around me and letting curiosity lead the way.

 

Finally.

I was ready to try it again.

 

So with nothing to lose, I laced up my sneakers, put the watch away, and decided to go for a nice, easy run along the river– enjoying the views until I felt like turning around. I wasn’t going to worry about pace, or mileage, or the number of calories burned. I was going to run to escape the world (if only for a few minutes) and to appreciate my body for all that it can do. And you know what happened when I put all the negative thoughts about being good enough aside?

 

I ran like the wind.

 

That’s right. I still had it in me after all :) . A year later, I’m still running whenever I get a chance (I’ve even entered a few races!). Yes, I still hit the gym on most days, but when I need a different type of workout– one for the heart and the sole (like what I did there? I know, I’m good ;) ), I lace up my running shoes and hit the road. And while I’m out there I make sure to thank the Universe for giving me strong and healthy legs that carry me through strenuous workouts–even though they never seem to get the breaks that they deserve. I thank them for putting up with the 5:00 AM workouts and the late night workouts when I know they’d much rather be resting in bed than hitting the gym or hitting the road. But most of all, I thank them for never giving up on me, and never letting me forget that once a runner…always a runner.

 

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“Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself.” – John Bingham 

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Sources: 

Exercising at Work

10 Reasons Play Can Make You Healthy and More Productive

Exercise May Make You a Better Worker

Does Exercise Make You Happy?

 

 

 

 


Blissful Blueberry-Baked Oatmeal

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“Have blueberries whenever you are low – destiny will change and you will be high.” – Adam Voichester

 

Last weekend was pretty yucky. Sure the weather was gorgeous and the sun was shining…but I still (somehow) managed to contract a nasty virus and a case of bronchitis that left me feeling the sickest I’ve felt in years. (Yes, only I would somehow find a way to become bedridden with a fever during the first official weekend of summer weather in Boston!).

 

So, while everyone else was hanging out at the beach sunbathing, day-drinking, and barbequing…I was curled up on the couch with the shades drawn, covered in cough drop wrappers, and drugged up on prescription cold medicine (Note: I typically avoid unnecessary medications at all costs, but at the rate that things were going, I was happy to get my hands on anything that would knock me out and allow me to sleep– even if only for a minute).

 

Between crying to my Mom (okay, I may be 26, but I KNOW I’m not the only one who still wants their Mom when they’re sick!) and forcing myself to sip on coconut water and miso soup… I couldn’t even bear to think about food… or recipes…or blogging. And you know something is seriously wrong when Ashley doesn’t want to blog!

 

Thankfully, I had my appetite back by Monday….

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And an extra dose of creativity to boot!

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My body was craving something hearty and wholesome yet light enough so that it wouldn’t be difficult to digest. After all, I needed something substantial to help me regain some strength and power me through the work day.

Oh, and if this meal could also be ridiculously easy to throw together,well, that’d be just peachy :)

 

The deliciously easy answer?

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BAKED Oatmeal.

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Baked oatmeal is a slightly denser and (in my opinion) a much cozier take on your typical oatmeal or overnight oats. Baking the oatmeal allows you to cut it into squares and serve it on a plate–or perhaps eat it straight from the baking dish itself with nothing but a fork and a smile on your face! (I won’t  judge you because I may or may not have done this myself…)

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And we can’t forget the best part of all…

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It’s healthy too ;)

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I’m talking LOW-FAT, GLUTEN-FREE, HIGH-FIBER, & LOW-SUGAR GOOEY PERFECTION.

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Plus…blueberries are just bursting with beauty-boosting antioxidants :)

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Perfect for rainy days, lazy mornings, or when hosting a healthy weekend brunch– I promise this dish will quickly become a breakfast favorite.

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Blissful Blueberry-Baked Oatmeal

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Dry Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup whole grain oats
  • Slightly over 1/4 cup blended oats (just toss oats in a blender until it turns into flour, or use store-bought oat flour if you’d like).
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (or nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice…)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Dash of salt
  • Optional: granola (I used this for topping), shredded coconut (I sprinkled this on my oatmeal before baking), chocolate chips (toss a few in the mixture if you want to make naughty oatmeal ;) ).

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cup almond milk (I like using unsweetened vanilla)
  • 2 tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup (or honey if not a strict vegan–molasses might also be an interesting choice! While I don’t use agave, that would also work. And if you are looking to keep it sugar-free, you could also sub in stevia to taste–just increase milk by 2 tablespoons).
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Heaping 1/2 cup of blueberries PLUS a few extra for topping (I used fresh blueberries, but frozen could also work. Don’t love blueberries? No worries! Sub in chopped apple, sliced banana, or your preferred berry of choice).
  • Optional: A tiny dash of almond extract (I just ADORE the sweet and nutty hint of flavor almond extract gives oatmeal, cookies, cakes, smoothies…anything really :) ).

Directions:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350º.
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

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  • Mix all the wet ingredients together and add to the dry ingredients. Mix well and stir in blueberries.

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  • Add in any fun extras (chocolate chips, coconut, etc…).
  • Pour oatmeal mixture into a pan or a dish (I used a brownie baking dish) and bake for 45 to 50 minutes (or until edges and top begin to lightly brown). It should look slightly underdone.

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  • Top with a drizzle of maple syrup, a handful of granola, extra blueberries, or whatever you’d like.
  •  Dig in and ENJOY!

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Just be warned…

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You may never want plain old oatmeal ever again!

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

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Reach the Beach 2013!

 

Photo credit: EF Education First

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“Unless it’s crazy, ambitious, and delusional it’s not worth our time.” –Anonymous

 

 

What could possibly be crazier than cramming 12 co-workers into TWO vans, for 24 hours, on ZERO sleep? How about cramming 12 sweaty co-workers into TWO vans, for 24 hours, on ZERO sleep– all while running 200 miles in between?!

 

I know what you’re thinking…

“That’s insanity! It’s pure MADNESS! It can’t be real!”

 

First of all, yes, it is real. And second of all you’re 100% right–it actually is just as insane as it sounds. But you know what? (And here’s the craziest part of all)…IT’S FUN! And that’s pretty much EF Education First (“EF” for short) in a nutshell…

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Crazy, ambitious, & FUN.

 

Just another day in the EF Boston office (Photo Credit: Facebook- Say Hello to the World)

 

It’s easy to be all three of these things when you consider what EF does. The Swedish-born company is the world leader in international education– and it specializes in educational travel, language training, academic degree programs and cultural exchange. And seriously, what’s more fun and exciting than TRAVEL?

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(Judging by my reaction to the Duomo in Florence… not much :) )

 

Now, for those of you who haven’t heard of EF, don’t worry– you’re going to be seeing a WHOLE lot more of us (and our signature color,“disruptive pink”) around the Boston area soon enough–the new Cambridge office (which will serve as the North American headquarters) is set to open in May of 2014. It’s located right along North Point Park on the Charles River where Boston, Cambridge, and Charlestown come to meet. Just check out the stunning design below…

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Opening May 2014

 

You see, EF has a knack for taking things to the next level–whether we’re building a striking new office (do you SEE that glass waterfall!), killing it in sales, or planning an extravagant summer party…maintaining a level of normalcy is one of the only things that EF doesn’t do well.  So, when a slew of fabulous and fit EF staff showed an interest in running, organizing a simple 5K just wouldn’t cut it for this young, hip, n’ happening (not to mention quite competitive) company. Instead, the EF Running Club was created! And it wasn’t long before EF staff started putting together running teams and competing with each other to see who could log the most miles during the work week. (In addition to bragging rights, the team that racked up the most mileage won some pretty sweet new running digs, compliments of EF;)).

 

It should come as no surprise, then, that EF jumped at the opportunity to participate in Reach the Beach– a New Balance sponsored relay race that takes running to a whole new level of extreme.

 

The RTB Relay is a 200-mile relay race that starts in Princeton, MA at the Mount Wachusett Ski Area and finishes at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Westport, MA. The relay consists of 12 person teams that rotate through 36 transition areas as they cover the full 200 miles. This means that each relay team member runs three legs of varying lengths and difficulty. For the super competitive runners out there, there’s also an Ultra Distance division which has a team limit of six members. The runners in this “elite” group rotate in a set order once the race begins and are obligated to follow this rotation until the final runner Reaches the Beach. For instance, I ran a total of 19.33 miles split into three legs– 6.71 miles, 5.97 miles, and 6.65 miles respectively.

 

Last year a few brave souls from the EF Boston office ran the relay race and absolutely LOVED it– in fact, some staff loved it so much that they even signed up for the New Hampshire relay a few months later. So this year, because our office is full of  crazy, athletic, and all-around awesome individuals (and a pretty cool CEO who also happens to be quite the athlete himself), EF decided to sponsor seven teams of our own and run the race as a company…

 

 

EF Boston RTB Group Shot! Sorry for the fuzzy image quality (Photo Credit: Norbert Lorscheider)

 

A WHOPPING 103 OF US.

 

And so the EF staff banded together, split into seven teams (by office floor), came up with silly team names, and decorated 13 vans (each floor had two vans, but the Elite team only had one since they’d be running all 36 legs of the race themselves–those crazies!). My team, the ninth floor, came up with the team name “Amigos Rapidos.” We decked out our van with sombreros, maracas, blow-up burros and cacti and hit the road (literally).  Thanks to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, all of the EF runners were able to document our journey for the full 200 miles. I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from the race below :)

Cool kicks. Cooler kids. #EFRUNS! (Instagram: jbarbato34)

Don't worry guys...I made plenty of peanut butter sandwich fuel for everybody--vegan and non-vegan (note the honey and Nutella)! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Just the EF Ultra Elite team mascot in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall at EF...no big deal--totally normal. (Instagram: onefoodguy)

Oh you know...just noticing how much EF is owning the roster ;) (Instagram: onefoodguy)

RTB starting line-- Ready to RACE! (Instagram: Alex Digregorio)

EF is ready to go! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

EF Elite team ready to kick off RTB. (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Just chillin' on the chairlift at Wachusett Mountain (starting line). (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Aaaand we're OFF! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Amigos Rapidos-- My awesome team van! (Instagram: prettyfitlife).

Amigos Rapidos' silly van decor. (Photo Credit: Katie Sullivan)

Just hanging out with the amigos (Photo Credit: Reach the Beach)

Ready for my first handoff! (Instagram: dwardlet)

Finishing strong! (Please disregard my ugly race face. K thx!) (Instagram: rhauck)

Van ride sing-a-longs (Instagram: iamdianabanana)

Ready to GLOW for our night runs! (Instagram: meaghanmurray)

EF staffers are hardcore. And epic. (Instagram: jbarbato34)

Getting ready for my (scary!) night run... (Instagram: iamdianabanana)

My awesome team (The Amigos Rapidos!) waiting for me to finish my final leg. (Instagram: dwardlet)

Both of our vans running across the finish line together :) (Instagram: meaghanmurray)

Time to celebrate! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

The "Amigos Rapidos" at an EF happy hour reunion (Instagram: dwardlet)

 

Running Reach the Beach reminded me how much I love to race. I guess years of competitive running (and the perfectionist-induced stress that accompanied it) made me a little wary to get back into racing once I hit my 20′s…but something about this race resonated differently. Sure, I’ll always have that competitive edge to me, and I’ll sure as heck be shooting for that next PR, but I also realized that running isn’t always just about getting to the finish–it’s about believing in yourself, believing in others, and having some fun making friends while you’re at it. Running is a community and I’m realizing it’s an awesome one to be a part of again :) . In fact…I’ve already signed up for two more races just this summer! (The City Sports Back in the Day 10k 80′s themed run & The Falmouth Road Race ).

 

What do you think? Maybe I can rack up a few more of these babies (and find a few new running buddies too!) before summer ends… :)

#RunningSummer

 

Reach the Beach Medals :) (Photo Credit: Reach the Beach)

 

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.” — John Bingham

 

He certainly says it best.

Keep running people :) .

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

 


Best Ever Oatmeal Cookies (with chia seeds!)

 

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When I’m bored, things can get pretty dangerous.

Particularly if I’m anywhere in the vicinity of a kitchen…

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You see, I don’t do well with being “bored.” I’m the kind of person who feels the need to be in a constant state of motion–always doing, creating, and working on something.

 

The bonus?

 

Boredom is pretty much an open invitation for some serious recipe experimentation– no matter what the hour (and you can’t put a time cap on inspiration people!). When I’m bored, I will literally rummage through every one of my cupboards and every inch of my refrigerator and try to create a masterpiece out of whatever I can find. And believe me, when you stock the kitchen like I do, It’s a Christmas miracle if I can pull a decent dinner together! But what can I say…I love  a challenge. “Chopped” has nothing on me.

 

Thankfully, what often starts off looking like a dangerous experiment typically turns into a delightful surprise – I’ve actually come up with some of my best recipes during these random bouts of boredness. So it’s a good thing I got a little ancy last weekend…because inspiration struck around, oh, 11:00 on a Saturday night when I suddenly found myself hell-bent on creating this quick and easy vegan oatmeal cookie recipe…

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You see, the boyfriend and I had just gotten back from watching the Red Sox game at a bar down the street when I decided it has been far too long since I’ve put up a recipe post (I know, I know. Please forgive me :( ?). Originally I had the idea to whip up some overnight oatmeal (don’t worry, recipe to come!) so that breakfast would be all set and good to go pre-spin class the next morning…but I had a little hankering for a midnight snack ;) .

 

Cookies and milk anyone?

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So.

There I was. 

11:30 at night. 

Baking…

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I starting tossing together a whole bunch of ingredients (eyeballing rather than measuring them) and in about 10 minutes, a dozen soft and chewy oatmeal cookies emerged on a plate ready for the boyfriend to taste-test…

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After a moment of hesitation and the “look” — that “how on EARTH did you bake something in 10 minutes?” look– he took a bite and declared “These are the BEST oatmeal cookies… EVER!” And the best part of all? Aside from being 100% delicious and 100% whole grain… these vegan cookies are lower in sugar and lower in fat than your traditional oatmeal cookies. Plus, the added chia seeds provide a healthy dose of omega-3s for good measure!

 

Betcha wonder where I got the name, huh? :)

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Comfy pj’s, ice-cold almond milk, and warm and cozy cookies?

Go ahead.

Tell me that’s not heaven.

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Needless to say, the first batch of oatmeal cookies didn’t last very long. And to be honest, since I tossed the ingredients together without doing any measuring, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to replicate this amazing recipe again…

 

But don’t worry!

EVERYONE REMAIN CALM.

Here it is :)

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Cookie on.

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Best EVER Oatmeal Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole-grain oats
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (regular flour will also work if you don’t have pastry flour. Looking to make these gluten-free? Sub extra oats for flour)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (for a lower-sugar version, feel free to cut back on the sugar and sub in a little stevia. Just be sure increase the applesauce by 2-3 tablespoons so the batter isn’t too dry)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional, but are a healthy way to get your omega-3s!)
  • 1/2 (heaping) teaspoon cinnamon
  • slightly over 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 (heaping) cup of applesauce
  • 1 & 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil (you can try to cut this out for fat-free cookies, but I cannot vouch for the taste/texture without it…plus, a little healthy fat is perfectly okay!)
  • 1-2 individual boxes of raisins
  • Optional: try adding in 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 1 tablespoon of shredded coconut,a small handful of chocolate chips or a few drops of vanilla stevia (for extra sweetness)

 

Directions:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350°.
  • Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

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  • Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl and add to the dry ingredients– mix well.
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  • Grease a cookie sheet with all-natural, non-stick spray or coconut oil.
  • Spoon batter into little balls (slightly smaller than a golf ball) and place them on the cookie sheet.
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  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (or until they start to brown around the edges).
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  • Note: The cookies will be very soft when you take them out of the oven and may not look done– don’t worry–they will firm up as they cool.
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  • Serve with an ice-cold glass of almond milk :)
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  • Store cookies in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days (if you don’t eat them right away that is!)
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Go on.

Show those late night munchies who’s boss!

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Healthfully yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Eating Vegan in Aruba

 

Bon Bini Aruba!

 

For those of you who aren’t up on all things Aruban, that means “Welcome to Aruba!” in the local creole language  known as Papiamento. The historical origins of Papiamento are still not 100% known, but their roots have been traced back to Portuguese, Spanish, and various African languages. All I know is, I can say “Mi por a hanja un glas di biña?” (can I have a glass of wine?) and that’s all that matters…right??

 

Right ;)

 

Have you ever been to Aruba? Well, if you haven’t been to this happy little island yet…GO RIGHT NOW.  Seriously. Get on a plane and fly away. Just beware…you will never, EVER, want to come back.

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I mean, COME ON….really?  This is real life. And some people actually get to live here. I know. It’s crazy.

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Crazy lucky.

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See, I’ve never been on an island or vacationed anywhere remotely tropical (aside from Florida back in the day) so there’s a chance I mayyy be overreacting a bit– but I’m pretty sure that if there are places BETTER than Aruba, I’m sending in my application to be a tiki bar girl NOW and I’m never coming back.

 

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Just 17 miles off the Venezuelan coast, Aruba is one of four constituent countries that form the kingdom of the Netherlands– meaning Aruba’s primary nationality is actually Dutch (Dutch is widely spoken on the island due to this tie). So aside from the sun, sand, and serene beaches, Aruba is also known for having some pretty diverse food.  Since the climate and land in Aruba are both pretty dry, the island isn’t able to support much farm land–therefore, most goods (including food) are imported. Aruba does have a booming fish industry however (shocker, I know being an island and all), and they’re able to raise livestock for export and for food.

 

Sooo… what did that mean for little old vegan me?

 

Well, I didn’t know much about Venezuelan, Dutch, or island food, but something told me that the combination of the three wasn’t exactly screaming “vegan-friendly!” Just check out these examples of traditional Aruban dishes below:

 

Appetizers include “sanger yena” (“Aruban sausage”) and “scabechi” (“marinated fish”).

Soups include “giambo” (“Aruban style okra bouillabaisse”–fish-based) and “sopi mondongo” (“tripe soup”).

Main courses include “keri keri” (“grated stewed fish”) and “keshi yena” (“filled cheese shell”).

Side dishes include “pan bati” (“Aruban pancake”) and “funchi” (“Aruban polenta” or “cornmeal mush” often made with chicken stock).

Snacks include “bolita di keshi” (“cheese balls”).

 

Oy. Not exactly my cup of tea. But I wasn’t about to let a little thing like food get in the way of an amazing vacation or fun, fancy dinners! Plus, I always find a way to figure it out  no matter where I go. (It’s pretty much like a vegan superpower :) ). This time would be no different. And who knows! Maybe I’d be pleasantly surprised– I mean, look at how great Italy turned out.

 

Of course, in the end, everything did work out quite perfectly (as predicted).  My boyfriend and I stayed at the Marriott Surf Club timeshare, which meant our room amenities conveniently included a small kitchen. So as soon as we were all settled into our temporary home, we went straight to the grocery store down the road and loaded up on fruits, veggies, hummus, edamame, rice cakes/crackers, peanut butter, jelly, pita bread and healthy snacks. We made breakfast and lunch at the resort everyday and then in the evening we would head out to explore the island and find a tasty restaurant for dinner. There was free wi-fi in the hotel lobby so occasionally we’d try to search for popular restaurants online before venturing out for the night, but most of the time we just ended up winging it and stumbled upon bars and restaurants as we walked by the high-rise hotels or explored the bustling Aruba strip.

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On our very first night, we were still feeling a bit tired after the flight, so we decided to stay close to the resort for dinner. As we walked towards the water hoping to find something in a neighboring hotel, we happened upon a beautiful restaurant (Hadicurari Restaurant) with tables right in the sand on the beach just steps away from the ocean.

 

Perfect.

 

The hostess gave us the best seat in the house– a cozy, romantic table much further from the other customers and the bustling (but super fun!) Moomba bar. I ordered a nice cold glass of chardonnay and salad with a side of guacamole and yellow rice to put on top of my salad. The boyfriend got a tall glass of beer with ribs and fries (opposites attract after all :)).

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Here’s a not-so-great picture of Moomba Bar –located right next door to the restaurant. We spent a lot of time here throughout the week :) . I wanted to show you the cool setup anyway. My apologies for the yucky quality…

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On our second night we decided to do something a little more fun and exciting, so we headed to the Westin Resort (located about a mile down the beach from our hotel) and went to a hibachi restaurant called Blossoms. My boyfriend and I absolutely love, love, LOVE hibachi, so I was excited to try it out and get a good hearty meal in me. The staff at the restaurant were fantastic and extremely accommodating when I told them that I was vegan. The chef made sure to prepare my meal first, and he cooked up my veggies and rice separate from everyone else’s. He also used a little bit of oil to cook my dish instead of oil and butter. The chef was very friendly and outgoing and had all sorts of typical hibachi tricks up his sleeve, but he had to tone it down a bit when the little girl across from us got scared of his onion volcano and cried through the rest of dinner– poor thing!

 

(Side note: Not sure if this is typical of most hibachi restaurants–none that I’ve been to at least– but LOTS of butter went into the regular fried rice at this place…so much in fact that one of the male diners at our grill told our chef “Please, No more butter!”).

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Please forgive me for not taking a photo of my food, but you see…my meal was so delicious that the moment the plate was put o the table in front of me… I couldn’t wait another second before scarfing it down. I did, however, manage to take a photo of our chef in action and another of our tasty mai tais before we tossed those babies back as well :) .

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On our third night (per my boyfriend’s request) we went to–are you ready for it?–a Brazilian steakhouse called Texas de Brazil. Now, I had no idea what a Brazilian steakhouse was before experiencing it myself, so for those of you who also aren’t familiar with this style of an establishment… let me clue you in. These types of steakhouses are called “churrascarias” and the meat is cooked “churrasco style” –which roughly translates to “barbecue” in Portuguese. Passadores, or waiters who serve the meat, come to your table with knives and large speared skewers displaying various kinds of meat such as beef, pork, filet mignon, lamb, chicken, duck, ham, sausage, fish, or any other sort of local cut of meat (the boyfriend might as well have died and gone straight to heaven. You should have seen his face).

 

Thankfully, my thoughtful, meat-eating guy knew not to bring me near such a place without checking to see if they served any vegan-friendly options first. He assured me that they had an amazing salad bar and low and behold…there was! Now, when I tell you this was quite possibly one of the BEST salad bars I’ve ever seen, I mean it– I couldn’t put enough food on my plate! I wanted to taste a little bit of everything, so I settled on a sample of marinated veggies, meaty mushrooms, tabouli, olives, rice, beets and pasta salad over a bed of arugula with some homemade dressings on the side.

 

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Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, most of you know I love a nice bottle of wine or a fancy cocktail when the occasion is right, but I do try to limit my drinking for overall health and wellness reasons (after all, I got plenty of that out of my system while in college ;) ). Sure we casually sipped drinks on the beach during out first couple of days on the island, however, I was ready to let loose a little bit. It was vacation after all! And I think that qualifies as a special occasion, don’t you? ;)

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Let’s just say I quickly realized that I am SO not in college anymore :( . I’m actually slightly embarrassed to admit, that our fourth night was a bit of a blur– and it all started right here at a pier bar with a little sign that read “Happy Hour from 4:00-6:00!” …

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You see, beach bars are tricky little things. Every hour is essentially happy hour, because every bar runs a different drink special at a different time! You could go from bar to bar starting at 10:00 AM and you’d easily find a different happy hour special at a different bar straight through to midnight (not that I suggest anyone try this). And with a view like THAT why would you ever want to leave? As you can imagine, after not having a single adult beverage for close to three whole months happy hour qualified as a little bit of a dangerous activity for me– especially when the drinks are two for $8.00…(oops!)

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After a few (too many) delicious drinks, we headed over to an incredible restaurant called  Amuse Bistro which was located right along the main boulevard in Aruba by all the shops, vendors, and other restaurants. I had the bright terrible idea to order a bottle of wine (really Ashley?) and for my main course I ordered the “Chilled Smoked Vegetable Salad”– a variety of smoked veggies (mushrooms, peppers, onions) tossed with lettuce and herbed vinaigrette. The salad was amazing (or so I was told) and the presentation was lovely. My boyfriend ordered a “fish of the day” special that he quickly proclaimed was “the best meal of the entire vacation.” I think we have to go back to Aruba just so we can relive this night again…(sans the happy hour this time ;) ).

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On our fifth day, we ventured into town to do some shopping after hitting the beach and found an adorable gelato shop. Nostalgic from Italy, I took a peek inside on the off chance that there’d be soy gelato like the kind I found in Rome. And wouldn’t you know…there was! I chose the hazelnut flavor (keeping with my Italian tradition) and my boyfriend settled on a Nutella flavor.

We took our gelato down to the beach just as the sun was setting…

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Watching the sunset in Aruba is like watching a movie– it’s the evening’s feature presentation. Everyone stops what they’re doing, congregates to the beach, sits down in the sand, and turns their eyes to the sky for 20 beautiful, peaceful minutes. I think this is what I miss most about the island–it reminds me how truly amazing Mother Nature is. Who needs all that technology and TV that clutters our lives when real beauty like this exists in the world?

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After watching the gorgeous sunset, we walked back over to the main strip in time for our reservation at an Italian restaurant called Gianni’s . We had heard nothing but wonderful things about the restaurant from other vacationers, but we must have caught it on a bad night because neither of us were impressed with our meals and the service was pretty terrible. I didn’t even take a picture of my dinner that night–and honestly, now I can’t even remember what I got. We did enjoy the steamed artichoke I ordered as an appetizer however (Nooo wine/drinks with this meal…after the happy hour festivities the evening before, we needed a break ;)).

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The next day, we vowed to pick a better place for dinner, so after our daily routine of tanning on the beach, lounging in the hotel’s serenity pool, and relaxing in the lazy river (please, don’t hate me!), we headed out to watch the sunset and find a prime dinner location.

I had a hankering for sangria and I really wanted to eat at a restaurant on the beach so we were on a mission to find a place that fulfilled both requirements. That’s when we walked by the Hyatt and spotted this beach-view restaurant (The Palms) surrounded by tiki torches, palm trees, and a stylish-looking bar crowd. As we lingered outside and checked out the menu two couples leaving the restaurant came up to us and raved about how absolutely fantastic the restaurant was.

 

Sangria was also on special for happy hour….

BINGO.

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I swear to you, this was the BEST SANGRIA OF MY LIFE. Life changing. Seriously. It puts all other sangria to shame. Oh, and it turns out the food was pretty incredible too :) .

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I ordered a yummy tomato-basil wrap spread with an herbed hummus and filled with roasted peppers, asparagus, onions, tomatoes, and radiccio. My boyfriend ordered a small plate of nachos for an appetizer and fish tacos for his main course– both of which he said tasted fantastic. I ordered a couple glasses of sangria (obviously ;) ) and the boyfriend ordered Amstel Bright– his favorite beer of the trip.

 

After dinner, we walked the beach and happened to pass a couple of beach weddings that evening. We were even lucky enough to catch an impromptu performance by a group of local dancers at one of the ceremonies!

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On our very last day of vacation on the island, we decided to give a different Italian restaurant a try since the last one we went to wasn’t so great. We saw a promising place called Azzurro overlooking the beach at the Playa Linda Hotel just few days before so we decided to give it a shot. I really wanted to have dinner somewhere that had a nice view of the sunset, but without reservations I wasn’t sure if we’d get in. Luckily a table for two opened up just as the sun was going down…

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Aside from the gorgeous sunset and the delicious food, the best part of the night was listening to the amazing violinist who played throughout dinner. It was a perfect way to end our trip! I kept my meal pretty simple — I ordered a plate of grilled veggies and a filling bowl pasta fagioli (not pictured because I couldn’t get a decent photo and didn’t want to annoy my fellow diners with 1,000 flashes from my camera). My boyfriend ordered chicken parmesan and pasta.

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This trip was everything I could have asked for and more–And it was even better because I could easily adhere to my vegan diet along the way. I’m thinking I should make this a thing…the whole traveling around the world and documenting my vegan eats along the way. Seems like a pretty great gig to me!

 

Thoughts? ;)

 

Anyways, for the time being I think I’ll go plan my next dream vacation thank you very much. But for now, I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite photos…

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Mi Stima Aruba! (I love Aruba :) )

 

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Fabulously Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Sources:

Brazilian Steakhouse

Food In Aruba

Cuisine in Aruba

About Aruba

 


A Vacation, a Tragedy, & Lessons Learned

Photo Credit: Photobucket.com

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“Seeds of faith are always within us;

sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” — Susan Taylor

 

(Once I was finished with this post, It took me a few days to decide to publish what I wrote–namely because I never intended something this personal to be seen by anyone’s eyes but my own– and it’s not the typical kind of post I put up on my blog. But finally, after giving it some more thought, I had a change of heart. You see, I know I’m not the only one who feels like they have a new appreciation of life after going through a tragic event. I hope you are able to find comfort in my words or perhaps you can even relate. Most importantly I hope this inspires you to do something to create your own peace. You don’t ever need to suffer alone.)

 

A person shouldn’t need a tropical vacation, a tragic death, or a catastrophic event to put their life into perspective–but that’s exactly what happened to many Bostonians and Americans this past week. The Boston Marathon Bombings took place just two weeks ago, and in the moments after those two explosions tore through the Boylston Street crowds, most of us felt the same flash of fear we experienced on that fateful September day back in 2001. It’s a fear we can recall far too well, and here we were feeling it all over again. In an instant, we knew our lives would never be the same.

 

I heard about the horrific news thousands of feet in the air on a flight headed back to Boston after spending a week-long vacation with my boyfriend in Aruba. We’d never been anywhere tropical before, so this romantic trip was quite the treat. After seven solid days of worrying about nothing but what time to get to the beach and which bar to go to for happy hour… our minds and bodies were thrilled to be rid of everyday worries and work-related stress.

 

For the first time in a very long time I felt relaxed.

I felt like I could breathe.

I felt I felt like I could see.

It was pure paradise.

 

As I sat there on the plane basking in happiness, recalling how how free and happy I felt lounging on the beach under the sun, and remembering how friendly, free, and happy everyone else seemed to be while on the island,  I made a promise to myself: I vowed to smile more, stress less, and choose happiness over anger whenever I could. I wasn’t going to let the little things get the best of me anymore. Finally it was clear to me–

 

Choose happiness and happiness will follow you.

After all, life is too short to be anything but happy.

 

Little did I know that while I was dozing in and out of sleep, terror was unfolding below me. I heard about the tragedy when the woman seated next to me on the plane gave me a nudge and told me there had been a bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line. I immediately started to panic about my friends, family, and co-workers who were running the marathon or planned to head to the finish line and cheer on the runners. Slowly, whispers turned to chatter and that chatter became louder and louder and more and more worried as everyone on the plane flipped off their movies and flipped on the news. Everyone just wanted to get back to Boston as soon as possible, but our plane was unable to land due to emergency  flight restrictions. We hovered above Providence for what seemed like forever until we got the okay to head to Logan.

 

The airport was crazy. People were understandably confused and on edge. We soon discovered that the MBTA had just shut down and everyone would need to wait in line to take taxis home. Luckily, we were able to share a cab with a student headed the same direction as us. I feverishly texted and called my friends and family the whole ride home. Thankfully, all were accounted for–but all was not okay. America had been attacked. My gut told me this was just the beginning.

 

It’s a strange feeling going from the highest of a high to the lowest of a low in such a short period of time, but as soon as I started to understand the magnitude of the bombings…I couldn’t even remember the beauty of Aruba or remember how I at peace I felt when I was there. In an instant, three people were dead and dozens more were injured and all I could think about was what an awful world we lived in lived in.

 

It felt like a bad dream, and it didn’t stop there. Boston and its surrounding towns went into lockdown last Friday after the bombing suspects murdered an MIT police officer in cold blood, hijacked a car, engaged in intense firefight and car chase with the police, (resulting in the death of one of the suspects) before staging an all out manhunt after the surviving suspect fled from his stolen vehicle on foot and hid in the neighborhoods of Watertown before being caught almost 24 (grueling) hours later. I didn’t know what else to do with myself in the days of nonstop television coverage that followed after last week’s events, but as soon as the investigations, car chases, shootouts, and lockdowns came to an end and the chaos momentarily subsided (and as soon as I could peel myself away from the TV for the first time in days), I knew I had to numb my mind with something that made me feel alive. After all, I’m lucky to be alive. We’re ALL so lucky to be alive.

 

And so I did the only thing I could do.

I wrote…

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Photo Credit: npr.org

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As I sit down at my computer and open up new, blank, blog post– ready to let the floodgates open after enduring one of the straight up scariest weeks of my life, I’m overcome with feelings of anger and frustration followed by a strange sense of self-awareness and peace. I hesitate to call these feelings an epiphany of sorts, because I can’t help but feel like that sounds WAY too preachy and dramatic– but perhaps it is a small miracle when you’re suddenly able to grasp onto new life meaning and see the soft, glow of hope and light through the heavy darkness. I suddenly saw my life through a different lens. But before I jump right into what changed, allow me to give you some background about me before all of this…

 

“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” –Walter Hagen

 

Those who know me best would most likely describe me as strong, friendly, committed, and dependable–but they would also probably label me as high-strung, hardworking, slightly obsessive, with perfectionist tendencies– aka “Type A” to the max. Don’t get me wrong, none of these traits are necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this “Type A” personality trait has been one of my greatest assets and has helped me to achieve many things in my 26 years– but at the same time, it’s also been my biggest curse.

 

My strong will and disciplined nature have helped me to study for exams, write 40-page papers, graduate Summa Cum Laude, exercise every single day, and start a blog…but it’s also been the reason why I don’t sleep in (ever), why I feel waves of panic when I can’t workout, why I’ve missed endless get-togethers and happy hours with friends (and probably missed making a few new best friends in the process), and why I pushed my body closer and closer to death as I struggled with anorexia.While fighting every day to be the very best version of yourself isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, when you take this addiction to success to an extreme level–to the point where it begins to take over the quality of your life–that’s when it’s time to change the routine.

 

Why?

Because the top is never going to be good enough.

That’s the harsh truth.

 

There will always be one more step to take, one more pound to lose, one more mile to run, one more “A” to achieve, one more hour to work… it will never, ever end. You’ll end up working your behind off to find happiness… but you’ll find that most of the time this cycle will ultimately leave you feeling isolated and alone. To be honest, it’s pretty damn lonely worrying about “perfecting” yourself all the time, and quite frankly it also sounds pretty damn vain as I type these words on the screen in front of me– embarrassing even. And yet, time and time again when I start to feel that internal stress and pressure building and the unhappiness sinking in…I’ve begged myself the same question: “What for?” My answer? “Because I HAVE to.” I’ve never allowed myself to know anything otherwise. I’ve been doing this for years.

 

I’ve been telling myself I’ll be able to do  a.) b.)  c.) or d.) when I’m a.) thinner, b.) richer c.) prettier and d.) more successful (etc… etc… etc…) and I’m sure many of you reading this can relate. Excuse my being blunt, but that’s pretty damn messed up, isn’t it? Not to mention extremely unhealthy. If you feel the same sentiments as me, you know exactly what I mean. The sad reality is, we’ll never be any of these things.  We’ll never achieve “perfection.” That’s because nothing will ever be quite good enough in our eyes.

 

I wasn’t always like this, however. I went though a period during my recovery from an eating disorder when I slowly began to come to terms with the harsh truth that I was living my life all wrong– and it was a pretty startling realization at that. I mean, I was one of the lucky people who struggled with an eating disorder, went in and out of hospitals and treatment centers for months on end, and still managed to come out on the other side in one piece. Sure my family and doctors helped put me on the path I needed to get there, but that hardworking little fighter inside of me also had a hell of a lot to do with it. Just when my doctors, and closed friends, and loved ones started to doubt me, give up on me, and throw in the towel…that’s exactly when I started to recover for good. I guess you could say my “type A” personality came through for the better at this point in my life.

 

The healthier I became, the more I began to realize the extent of my illness. that’s when the real scary truth began to set in–I was so close to death and didn’t even know it. Heck…I didn’t even care! And yet some way, some how I had been given a second chance– had to mean something, right? From that moment on I promised to live my life to the fullest, live it with passion and inspire others. And or a few years I did just that–I transferred schools and cut myself some slack. I allowed myself to have fun with my friends, do what made me happy, and forget about being perfect all the time. Miss a workout to go out with friends? Sure! Go out for dinner with girlfriends instead of study for 2 more hours? Okay! Take a nap and relax because I want to? Why not! I also made it my mission to make others happy, stay positive, and avoid all things (and people!) that were negative or would bring me down — after all, negative energy is draining.

 

Those were easily the BEST years of my life spent with the very best people. I can honestly say I was truly happy during this time… and it showed! I glowed :) . I also met my best friends and my boyfriend during these couple of years. After some time however, things changed. Over the years I slowly lost that spunky little firecracker inside of me again. My senior year in college became a year of stress and worry as I tried to figure out what my next move in the real world would be. Instead of going to my real friends, working and working out (once again) became my tactic of choice to help deal with the stress and uncertainty of the unknown. While other seniors were partying it up and living their last year of no responsiblity to the fullest, I was putting myself in the sidelines and becoming increasingly unhappy and falling back into old habits. After graduation, I immediately got a full-time job and fell into the same old pattern…

 

Work. Work. Work.

Workout. Workout. Workout.

 

I became so obsessed with wanting to be successful and get ahead (whether it be career-wise or image-wise) that it didn’t take long before I (once again) started avoiding all the fun things that used to make me happy. Sure, your mid-twenties aren’t supposed to be exactly like college…but they certainly aren’t supposed to be boring! Here I was living in the greatest city on Earth (I know, I’m biased) with my incredible boyfriend, right down the street from two of my best friends, working at an amazing, fun, young company and yet I still wasn’t satisfied. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, and over two years later I’m wondering where the time went.

 

Then came that tropical vacation, followed by the terrorist attacks on Boston. And that’s when the lights finally came back on. I realized I was doing it to myself all over again–going through the motions, missing out on everything happening around me, being too hard on myself…not to mention too hard on others. Was I depressed? No. But I wasn’t exactly happy either. And what’s the point of going through this amazing thing called life if you aren’t happy? Sometimes it takes a change or a wake-up call, or yes, a beautiful vacation or even a horrible tragedy to put things back into perspective and help you to realize life is beautiful– life is precious. We’re all people. We’re all in this horribly mixed up and confusing world together. We might as well get along, love ourselves and love each other while we can, because you never know when your time will be up– and shouldn’t the time we have be time well spent? Chances are most of you reading my post know this already. Life is short, so let’s make the best of it.

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Photo Credit: Photobucket.com

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Smile more. Love each other. Be kind. Open your heart. Be positive. Have faith. Breathe. That’s exactly what I intend to do…and this time for good.  I challenge you to do the same– I promise you won’t regret it :) . For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes…

 

Be content with what you have,
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
– Lao Tzu

 

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With love &  gratitude,

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Ashley Michelle

 

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My First NatureBox + a Coupon Code!

 

 

I love trying new things.

 

Especially when those things happen to be healthy and wholesome yet addictively tasty snacks!

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(Please Note: I am endorsing NatureBox and writing this review 100% on my own--I am not receiving any sort of compensation from the company).

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Put me in a Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon and you’re in trouble. I’ll walk down every aisle deciphering every label, reading every nutrition fact and inspecting every list of ingredients until my head wants to explode (in a good way). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the moment I heard about a monthly snack service called NatureBox, my interest level piqued big time. I mean…the latest guilt-free, nutritionist-approved, minimally processed, and super delicious treats conveniently delivered straight to my door for just $19.95 a month?

 

Hello.

How could I say no to THAT?

 

NatureBox’s mission is simple: Discover a healthier you with foods you can trust. And they want to help you accomplish this without  drastically changing your eating habits– that means snacking is allowed! (Can I get an amen to that??). NatureBox chooses to focus on snacks because they believe that snacking is the easiest habit to change. Considering the average American consumes roughly 25% of their daily calories from snacking alone, this seems like a pretty great place to start…don’t you think? And since NatureBox doesn’t like wasting calories on the bad stuff– they make sure every item in their box meets nutritionist standards. Just in case you’re not 100% convinced yet, when you sign up for NatureBox you’re also making a difference. NatureBox is partnered with Feeding America, meaning the company donates one meal for every NatureBox sold to help feed the over 14 million children in America who go hungry.

 

Finally.

Snacks you can feel good about eating :)

 

You can also feel good about the price. When you sign up for NatureBox for only $19.95 a month, you’ll get five full-sized, surprise snacks delivered straight to your door once a month– and shipping is always free! Not satisfied with your NatureBox? No problem. They’ll gladly give you a refund (though I highly doubt you’ll have this issue). You can also pause or cancel your membership anytime. The only downside to this surprise snack system? There’s no way to ensure all the snacks are 100% vegan– although many of them end up being so. Since it isn’t solely a vegan service (although rumor has it NatureBox may start to offer boxes based on dietary needs/restrictions) it’s a good idea to find a roommate or friend you can share with if you happen to get a box with a few non-vegan snacks thrown in ;) .

 

Now, anyone who knows me knows I LOVE a good deal (and surprises!), so you can imagine my delight when I discovered a coupon for NatureBox on DailyCandy last week (in addition to DailyCandy, NatureBox has also been featured on Rachel Ray and in Shape Magazine). For just $25, I was able to snag a three-month trial subscription to NatureBox. I figured this was a perfect way to test out the program–and if I’m satisfied after three months, I’ll officially sign-up to keep the deliveries coming.

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The verdict?

Let’s just say my first NatureBox did not disappoint.

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My first box came with five fabbbb-ulous snacks– Sunshine chips, Honey Mesquite Almonds, Roasted Kettle Corn, Granny Smith Apples, and Toasted Cheddar Sticks (I could not eat these because of the cheese, but my boyfriend gladly did! Strict vegans also should not eat the almonds or roasted corn due to the honey). Let’s break it down snack by snack, shall we?

 

Inside my NatureBox:

 

Sunshine Chips:

 

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BEWARE: These crunchy chips and sticks made of sweet yellow potato, squash, taro, carrot, green beans, and sweet purple potato are highly addictive. Not too salty, slightly sweet, and delightfully reminiscent of the true veggies themselves, this snack is a guilt-free way to satisfy your 3:00PM salty/crunchy cravings. I found it hard to stop at just one–and at only 4 grams of fat (none of which is saturated) and 130 calories per serving…it’s okay to go back for that second handful ;) . My favorite chips in the mix? The beet slices and the taro sticks!

 

Honey Mesquite Almonds (not for strict vegans due to the honey):

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Tired of plain old raw almonds? Then these smoked almonds are just the thing you need to kick your afternoon snack up a notch. The almond’s smoky taste is robust enough without being too overpowering (thanks to a touch of honey which sweetens these guys up a bit), and they taste just as good on their own as they do tossed on top of a salad. This snack reminds me of summer barbeques, warm weather, and campfires :) . Make your own trail-mix-to-go by tossing these almonds together with some golden raisins, dark chocolate chips, and your choice of cereal for an easy snack you can take along with you no matter where you go.

 

Roasted Kettle Corn (not for strict vegans due to honey):

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This snack is quite possibly the most addictive of them all. The ingredient list may be short and simple–Non-GMO whole kernel corn, sugar, sunflower oil, honey and salt– but the flavor is HUGE. Think kettle corn popcorn minus the whole “popped” part. This snack is extra crunchy and will easily satisfy those late night salty/sweet cravings. My boyfriend and I found ourselves noshing on a small bowl of these kernels instead of our usual air-popped popcorn during movie night last weekend. Feeling crazy? Sprinkle some kernels on top of a bowl of vegan vanilla, banana, or coconut  ice cream. Yum!

 

Dried Granny Smith Apple Rings:

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NatureBox has the right idea–why mess with a good thing? And that’s exactly why Granny Smith apples are the only ingredient in this snack. At 100 calories and zero grams of fat for 10 rings, this is just the treat you’ll need when your sweet tooth strikes. So put down the leftover Easter jellybeans people! Who needs candy when you can chew on sweet and tangy dried apple rings? No one. These treats are simply perfect.

 

Toasted Cheddar Sesame Sticks (not vegan):

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Take one look at the ingredients on the back of a bag of Cheetos and then take a look at the list of ingredients on the bag of Toasted Cheddar Sticks. NatureBox’s cheddar snacks are made of things like unbleached wheat flour, soybean oil, ground bulgur wheat, sesame seeds, cheddar cheese, salt, and buttermilk while Cheetos are made of all kinds of stuff like corn meal, ferrous sulfate, niacin, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, frolic acid, vegetable oil  (or corn or sunflower oil), whey, salt, cultured milk, salt, enzymes, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, maltodextrin, disodium phosphate, sour cream (cultured Cream, non-fat milk), artificial flavors, monosodium glutamate, lactic acid, artificial colors (including yellow 6), and citric acid. So. Which snack would YOU rather eat? That’s what I thought :) . While I didn’t get to taste-test these cheddar sticks, my boyfriend did. He said they were pretty good, but he still prefers plain, non-flavored sesame sticks to these cheesy ones.

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And juuuust when you didn’t think it could get any better…

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It does.

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For a limited time, use the coupon code SNACKHEALTHY and save $10 on your first NatureBox!

 

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So what are you waiting for?! 

Sign up for NatureBox NOW.

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After all…

Variety is the spice of life :)

 

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

 

 

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(Please Note: I am endorsing NatureBox and writing this review 100% on my own–I am not receiving any sort of compensation from the company).


Wake-up with Pre-Workout Chia Shots!

Photo Credit: discovergoodnutrition.com

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Wake up with determination.

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Go to bed with satisfaction.

 

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I’ve always been a morning person. I was that girl who signed up for those dreaded 8:00 am classes in college and gladly took an internship which required me to get up at 4:30 am everyday during the summer and senior year (I worked for a morning show at a TV station and I LOVED every second of it).

 

Yes, Some may call me crazy.

But I prefer to call it dedicated :) .

 

Fast forward a few years later and I’m still exactly the same. I’m very particular about what time I get up in the morning and I even set my alarm on the weekend (I consider sleeping past 7:00 am late– for me at least!). I’m suppose this is because I’m super particular about how I like my day to pan out–i.e. I’d rather tackle my errands and responsibilities as early as possible so that I have more time to relax (and blog!) later in the day as opposed to rushing around trying to get things done before bedtime. It probably doesn’t surprise you, then, that I was also the girl who finished her papers/projects days before they were due. No all-nighters in the library for me! I know. SUCH a dork.

 

I find that the same level of particularity can be applied to workout schedules–people tend to be either morning workout warriors or late night sweat sesh gurus. Some people like to hit the gym after dark to work off the stress of the day while I love to get in a hardcore workout first thing in the morning (shocker, I know) because I believe it sets a healthy tone for the rest of my day.

 

The problem with this?

Breakfast.

 

During the week, I get up at 5:00 am and I’m at the gym by the time it opens at 5:30. The last thing I want to do that early in the morning is eat, but halfway through my morning spin class… I’m always absolutely starving. Ironically, however, breakfast is my absolute favorite meal.  I find nothing more relaxing than waking up on a weekend, making a hot cup of tea, catching up on the news and preparing a healthy breakfast before I hit the gym. I’ve also noticed that when I eat a nice substantial meal… that’s when I get in my very best workouts. Still, during the week, it’s been difficult for me to make this happen.

 

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that people and breakfast are weird. For example, my boyfriend could be running 30 minutes late to work but he’ll still find a way to sit down to eat a bagel with cream cheese and leisurely drink two cups of coffee every. single. morning. Me on the other hand? I’ll spend the extra time doing my make-up, whipping up lunch, or ironing an outfit while I scarf down a handful trail mix and make a run for the bus. I also have a friend who prefers to eat an entire dinner and then go for a nice long run. The mere idea of running on a full stomach nauseates me, but it works for her. The real trick is finding what works (and feels) best for you. I clearly needed to find something that worked for me and my early morning workout routine, so that’s when I started brainstorming….

 

What can I eat first thing in the morning that’s easy on the stomach yet provides enough energy to power me through a workout?

 

Enter Chia Shots :)

 

 

 

Now, if you’re a frequent reader of my blog you know exactly how I feel about the powerful little guys known as chia seeds (you can read all about them plus get a pretty delicious recipe in my post here). To make a long story short, they’re amazing! Don’t believe me? Just check out all of these fabulous health benefits they have to offer below:

 

  • They deliver the max amount of nutrients with the least amount of calories.
  • Chia seeds have 2x the protein of any seed or grain.
  • They have 3x as much iron as spinach.
  • Chia seeds increase stamina and energy over long periods of time (they are becoming a favorite among marathon runners!)
  • They can aid in weight loss (chia seeds absorb up to 7x its weight, and expand to curb appetite/make you feel full).
  • They are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, also known as ALA.
  • Chia seeds can reduce overall cholesterol and increase good cholesterol (HDL)
  • They are heart-healthy in that they have one of the most concentrated sources of Omega-3 than in any other food (even salmon).
  • They also contain high amounts of Omega-6 (both Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids cannot be made internally and must be obtained through diet).
  • They contain the essential minerals such as sodiumphosphoruspotassium (2x as much as bananas), manganese, and calcium (5x more than in milk!).
  • They are FULL of antioxidants (3x as much as blueberries!).
  • Chia seeds have 11 grams of dietary fiber in one ounce (the soluble fiber improves digestion and helps to reduce glycemic spikes)
  • They do not need to be ground like flax seeds in order to reap their benefits.
  • Chia seeds have a long shelf life and do not spoil as quickly as other seeds (like flax-seed).
  • They soothe heartburn and calm the digestive system due to the gel-like substance they form when mixed with a liquid (this is especially helpful for people with IBS).
  • Chia can relieve itchy skin (in oil form)
  • They can help to balance blood sugar/prevent glucose spikes

 

Sounds like the perfect powerhouse food to me!

 

 

Now, I will be honest– chia seeds can take a little getting used to. When soaked in liquid, they expand up to 7x their weight and develop a gel-like coating. The consistency reminds me of tapioca pudding (I grew up eating tapioca and rice pudding, so it has never bothered me that much). Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to reap the benefits of chia seeds if you don’t love the texture in a pudding form (blended into a smoothie, sprinkled over a salad, mixed into my Weekend Workout Oatmeal–don’t worry, recipe to come!), but I urge you to give the soaked version a try– when you discover how great you feel after eating them you won’t be turning back :) . PLUS, the best part of all is that you can mix this recipe up the night before, toss it in the fridge, and voilà! It’s ready for you in the morning before you head to the gym.

 

Now you can have a quick and tasty-pre-workout snack that will power you through your gym sesh!

 

Pre-Workout Chia Shots

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup of unsweetened almond milk (add more or less milk depending upon how thick you want the consistency of the chia shots– i.e. do you want to drink it or eat it with a spoon like a pudding)
  • Slightly under 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract (or almond extract)
  • 1/2 packet of stevia
  • Cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice (to taste)
  • Optional: Add in some powdered peanut butter or cocoa powder (to taste), raisins, a spoonful of granola, a few chocolate chips, a drizzle of 100% maple syrup, or a some slices of banana.

 

Directions:

  • Measure out chia seeds in a small glass, mug or bowl.
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  • Pour almond milk over the chia seeds.
  • Add stevia, your extract of choice, and any other fun surprises you might like. Mix well.
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  • Chill in the fridge overnight (just give the chia pudding a good stir before you eat it in the morning) or wait 10 minutes and mix well if you want to eat it right away.
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  • For an actual “chia shot,” pour chia pudding mixture into shot glasses and shoot em’ back! (Actual shot glasses are totally optional– feel free to use a spoon if you’d like :) ).
  • Follow these chia shots with a small, healthy breakfast post-gym and you’ve set the groundwork for a nice, healthy day!
  • Note: Of course these shots can be eaten any time of the day for a healthy snack or even for some protein-rich post-workout fuel. And if you’re looking for a more substantial snack, breakfast, or a healthy dessert– simply double up the recipe for a bigger bowl of Chia Power Pudding.
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So eat up early birds!

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And never go hungry during a workout again. 

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Cheers to that! ;)

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Healthy Hangover Cures

Photo Credit: tumblr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

 

Let’s face it– no one can be a health-nut 100% of the time. And when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekend, there’s no denying it’s going to be tough to be good and not give in. So go on. Be safe. Have fun. Join in the celebrations. But be ready to face the consequences…

 

After a weekend of Irish bar hopping, dancing, singing and plenty of indulging in green beer (while you’re at it check out this list of vegan-friendly beers) your body is going to need some serious damage control. And as much as you’d like to stuff your face with greasy fries and a burrito at 9:00 AM the morning after the fun festivities…allow me to be that little conscious on your shoulder telling you “STOP!!! DON’T DO IT!”

 

Sorry… (not sorry).

You’ll thank me later.

Promise.

 

So, instead of eating unhealthy foods, wasting the entire day away in bed, and pretty much hating yourself for doing so afterwards… grab a tall glass of water and allow me to share some of my healthy hangover tips that will help to get you back on your feet and feeling better in no time :) .

 

Have a Healthy Hangover:

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Photo Credit: busanhaps.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Take your vitamins:

    Alcohol causes inflammation. Inflammation causes health problems (including hangovers).  Omega-3 fatty acids combat inflammation. So, the easy thing to do? Pop a couple of omega-3s to reduce inflammation. An added bonus? They’ll help with those questionable puffy, red eyes of yours as well. Another vitamin that helps with hangover symptoms is vitamin B. Vitamin B (which plays a key role in the functioning of the brain and nervous system) is known to speed up the metabolism of alcohol, so it’s a good idea to take a vitamin B complex before you go out and first thing in the morning when you wake up.

     

  2. Sip peppermint tea:

    Start your morning off with peppermint tea. Peppermint leaves have a soothing aroma and some pretty great therapeutic powers. When made into a tea, they settle the stomach and help with indigestion– two major hangover culprits. Peppermint also helps to cleanse and detoxify the liver, and by cleansing and detoxifying the liver you’ll able to speed up the hangover recovery process. Since the liver is in charge of filtering alcohol and other toxins from your body, it’s probably a good idea to give the poor guy a break (after all those green beers, it’s the least you can do). Lastly, peppermint tea contains antioxidants– while antioxidants may not help with your nausea, they do help to get your skin looking great–and chances are your skin could use a little boost after all that dehydrating alcohol anyways. So, drink up!

     

  3. Have a green smoothie:

    I know the idea of getting all the ingredients together to make a green smoothie is about as appealing as a shot of tequila right about now…but trust me on this one. You’ll feel 100x better after drinking this healthy concoction.  After a night out, your poor body is already working hard enough to process all that poisonous alcohol filtering through your liver– so the last thing you should do is make it work even harder by filling up your belly with greasy, fatty junk food that takes extra time to break down (Please don’t cry. I know that’s what you really want, but it will do you no good). The better option? A healthy smoothie. My Green Superstar Smoothie is crammed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and hydrating nutrients that will help you to kiss your hangover goodbye. Detoxifying ingredients like lemon juice, parsley, and cilantro will have you feeling refreshed and revived in no time, the banana will level out your potassium levels, the pear and apple will give your system a healthy dose of vitamin C to stimulate the liver (and potentially fend off any germs you may have picked up the night before), the spinach is also full of hangover fighting vitamin C as well as sulfur and folic acid, and the water will rehydrate your very dehydrated body.

     

  4. Order miso soup:

    After a night out on the town, chances are you’re dehydrated and devoid of the proper sodium, water, and nutrients your body needs due to the diuretic effects of alcohol. Miso soup, the popular soup you can order in Japanese restaurants,  is chock full of beneficial enzymes, nutrients and bacteria that can help to undo some of the damage you did the night before. Miso soup is also fermented and the healthy bacteria created through the fermentation process can help settle an uneasy stomach.

     

  5. Drink kombucha tea:

    Once again the Japanese have it right. Kombucha tea is that fancy bottled tea you can find at Whole Foods with weird stuff floating at the bottom. That weird “stuff” is actually a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, and when it’s fermented, the healthy bacteria created actually helps to settle a queasy stomach. It sounds a lot yuckier than it really is, and the slightly alcohol-y  taste may take a little getting used to (there are trace amounts of alcohol in the tea as a result of the fermentation), but this tea contains probiotics which are great for your gut, especially after it’s been stripped down and abused by booze from the night before. I like GT’s Kombucha Tea best.

     

  6. Brew a cup of green tea:

    Instead of making the trek to Dunkin Donuts or immediately reaching for that pot of coffee to get your caffeine fix, brew up a nice warm cup of green tea instead. Green tea is chock full of antioxidants that can help to fight free-radicals (which are released by alcohol) and the caffeine in green tea can help to ease your headache.  Another trick that may ease your hangover? Drink a cup of green tea when you get home from a night out and about and let those anti-oxidants do their restorative work while you sleep.

     

  7. Sweat it out with exercise:

    Okay people. I know you are probably rolling your eyes at me right about now, but hear me out. Exercise gets the blood circulating, and the sweat going which helps to eliminate waste and all of those nasty toxins produced by the alcohol that makes you feel so gosh darn awful in the first place. Plus, exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you feel happy. And let’s be serious–when you’re hungover, you need all the happy feelings you can get. (I also know I don’t need to remind you that alcohol isn’t exactly figure-friendly…so it’s a good idea to get moving in order to balance out those unhealthy calories).

     

  8. Crack open a coconut water:

    When you’re hungover, don’t reach for the Gatorade (have you read about the scary ingredient in the popular drink that’s also found in flame retardants?). Coconut water is nature’s sports drink. It’s low-calorie, fat-free, cholesterol-free and has far less sugar than other juices or recovery drinks. It’s also full of vitamins, minerals and those all-important electrolytes that the human body needs to function properly. Electrolyte imbalance (too much or too little) can cause the muscles in your body–including your heart–to malfunction. When this happens illness can occur. Thankfully, coconut water has five of the same electrolytes also found in human blood. Potassium, one of the most important electrolytes, regulates the body’s water level so you don’t retain too much water or dehydrate. Potassium also conducts electrical impulses for heart contractions, nerve conduction, and skeletal muscle movement. Just one serving of coconut water contains 250 mg of potassium (the recommended daily allowance is 2,000 mg). Need more proof that this stuff is amazing? Fun Fact: 100% coconut water has been used  intravenously when conventional hydration fluids were not available. Talk about healthy!

     

  9. Chew on some crystallized ginger:

    Ginger has been used to treat nausea, morning sickness, and inflammation for years, but its strong flavor may not be pleasant to everyone. If you like the taste of ginger tea, drink a cup first thing in the morning to settle your uneasy stomach. I’m not a huge fan of ginger tea myself, but crystallized ginger (which is sugar-cured ginger root) is a much more palatable way to enjoy the benefits of this potent spice, especially first thing in the morning. This is a much better alternative to drinking ginger ale, which often has caramel color and high fructose corn syrup– unhealthy ingredients that won’t help your overall health or ease your hangover one bit. You can find crystallized ginger in health food stores or the natural section of most supermarkets.

     

  10. Jump in a hot shower/bath:

    Peel yourself off the couch or roll out of bed and get into a steamy hot shower or a nice relaxing bath. Not only is it soothing for your feet, your head, and your belly, but maybe (just mayyybe) you’ll be motivated to get out of the house at some point during the day if you wash off the scent of booze from the night before. An added bonus? The steam will open up your pores, get your skin breathing, and increase circulation so you can get that healthy, pre-hangover glow back.

     

  11. Take a nap:

    PHEW! Aren’t you happy to see this fun activity on the list? Consider this one a gift. After you’ve worked out, eaten well, and taken a shower…GET YOUR REST! I’m giving you permission to nap and watch all the trashy TV you want (preferably anything on Lifetime, TLC, Bravo, The Food Network, or E!). Enjoy :) .

     

     

    Rest up, relax, and feel better soon everybody!

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    Photo Credit: Pinterest


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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

 

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Sources: 

Potassium Levels in Coconut Water 

Time Magazine: Coconut water is nature’s hangover relief

CNN: Hangover remedies

Wholesome Hangover Helpers

Livestrong: Crystallized Ginger

Glamour Magazine: Hangover cures

Hangover Cures You’ll Need for the Holidays

Bon Appetit: Healthy Smoothies

VegNews: Vegan Beer 

 


My Favorite Things: Vegan Grocery List Edition!

 

 

Photo Credit: yes-butno.com

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Shocker, right?

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So…what do I eat?

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Well, as you can imagine, I get asked this question all the time. Strangely enough people still like to assume that being vegan goes hand in hand with being deprived. I mean if we can’t eat meat, milk, and cheese… we must be starving, right??

 

Thank goodness both you and I know that’s just not true :) .

 

I’m pretty sure I’ve never walked into a grocery store and thought to myself “Oh weary me…there’s absolutely nothing that I can eat in here!” In fact, it’s quite the contrary. I could literally spend hours browsing around Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s discovering interesting new foods I have yet to try. More often than not, my cart becomes so full of fun and exciting ingredients that I have to force myself to put some things back! (i.e. raw cashews are how much? Too much. A girl’s gotta budget after all!).

 

However, while I love to try new things, I do have a few favorite grocery items that have become pantry staples and/or make their way into my cart each week when I go food shopping. So since questions about what I eat are in fact the most common questions I get on this blog, I thought I’d share 30 of my favorite things with you.

 

 

Your Revamped Vegan Grocery List: Ashley’s Favs

 

 

Photo Credit: alittlemarket

 

 

 

 1.  Almond Milk (unsweetened):

Even if I wasn’t vegan, I’d still be baking and making my oatmeal, smoothies, cookies, cakes, and ice cream with this stuff. The creamy consistency of almond milk seems far more decadent than the mere 35 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per 8 oz lets on (I buy the Whole Foods unsweetened kind). Don’t love almond milk? Try coconut milk instead! It adds a nice tropical flair to whatever you add it to while only clocking in at 50 calories and 4 grams of fat per 8 oz. May I also suggest using it in a nice curry sauce or a creamy pina colada?

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2.  Apples:

An apple a day keeps the munchies away! When I’m craving something sugary or sweet in the afternoon…a juicy apple is just the fix I need. Apples nix my cravings and fill me up thanks to a heavy dose of fiber (3.3 grams in just one medium apple). I like to slice up my favorite kind (either a Fuji or Gala) in the morning, toss it in a baggie or Tupperware container (for easy snacking) and store it in the fridge to keep the slices crispy and cold.

 

3.  Arugula/Butter Lettuce:

Arugula (a spiky-looking little lettuce) is a great addition to any boring old salad. The slightly spicy/peppery flavor pairs perfectly with a citrus dressing or topped with orange sections, dried cranberries and walnuts. Feeling crazy? Use arugula in place of basil for a fresh take on your typical pesto. Butter lettuce is another one of my snazzy salad staples. It’s sweet flavor and a smooth texture goes wonderfully with slices of ripe avocado and bites of crunchy apples or juicy pears. I also find this type of lettuce is pretty voluminous, so it fills up my bowl, and me, quite nicely :) . You can easily find butter lettuce in the refrigerated veggie section of most  grocery stores.

 

4.  Beets:

Beets are most definitely a love it or hate it kind of food. I for one happen to absolutely adore their deep, earthy flavor. Whether thrown on top of a salad or roasted in the oven and eaten on their own, beets are an antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory , detox-promoting addition to any veggie based meal. Just be careful when preparing…these babies stain! (Which actually makes for an awesome natural food coloring).

 

5.  Betty Lou’s Just Great Stuff (powdered peanut butter):

To say I’m addicted to this, well, just great stuff would be an understatement. Not only is Betty Lou’s powdered peanut butter a healthier, (figure-conscious) alternative to traditional peanut butter (and a godsend to pb-crazy people like me), but it tastes amazing too–especially mixed into oatmeal, spread on top of toast or scooped into a banana smoothie! Just mix a couple of tablespoons of the peanut powder with water and voilà! Instant peanut butter for a mere 45 calories and 1.5 grams of fat (and the chocolate peanut butter version only has 40 calories and 1 gram of fat :) ). You can find it in the health food section of Shaw’s, online, or at Whole Foods. And you just may never want regular pb again.

 

6.  Better N’ Peanut Butter:

This is another awesomely tasty peanut butter alternative. It has a stickier consistency than the real stuff, but it tastes just as delicious—I personally like to spread it on CocoLite crisps (see below) and top it with slices of banana or add a spoonful to my dessert hummus. Oh. And it’s only 100 calories and 2 grams of fat for 2 whole tablespoons! Guilt be gone.

 

7.  Cayenne Pepper:

If you read my last post, then you already know how much I love cayenne. Not only is it a metabolism boosting superfood, but it also has the ability to pump up all sorts of food, drinks, an even dessert. Sprinkle a little pepper on your salad or in your protein shake for an extra kick. Heck, sprinkle it in this chocolate bar recipe or a batch of brownies for an unexpected and spicy (yet tasty!) surprise.

 

8.  Chia Seeds:

You already know I’m obsessed with these babies. Not only are they full antioxidants, iron, calcium, potassium, and omega fatty acids (to name a few key nutrients), but these heart-healthy, energy-boosting seeds offer the most nutritional bang for their buck— 3 whole tablespoons go a long way and pack only 10 grams of healthy fat, 10-12 grams of protein for 160 calories. This makes it a great staple for anyone looking to stay fit and trim ans full of energy.

 

9.  Coconut Oil:

Chances are you’ve heard the hype about the stuff, but have you tried it for yourself? If not, buy it. BUY IT NOW. Use it anywhere you’d use butter (that’s why it’s a vegan’s dream) or oil.  It’s a perfect addition to any baked good and adds an exotic flavor to veggie stir-fries and noodles. And while you’re at it…slather some oil on your hands and lips– it’s fantastic for dry skin or as an eye make-up remover too! Check out the health benefits of coconut oil here (from Dr. Oz) and here (from Shape magazine).

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10.  Cucumbers:

Sliced cucumbers are the perfect snack, so I always make sure to have a container full of them in the fridge. There’s nothing more refreshing than a cool, crunchy cucumber dipped in hummus, sprinkled with pepper, or even spread with a dab of almond butter. Of course, cucumbers taste perfectly fine on their own as well! Long day at work? Give yourself an at-home spa treatment. Place a couple of slices on your eyes for instant realization and instant de-puffing. Glass of wine optional ;) . (Want to up the presentation factor? Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut your cucumber slices into pretty little hearts. Cute!).

 

11.  Dates (whole-pitted):

Dates are nature’s candy. They taste exactly like caramel! Trust me. I like to use dates instead of refined sugar for sugar-free baking and I like to snack on a few dates during the day for a satisfyingly sweet (yet healthy!) treat. Dates are also a good source of calcium, potassium, and fiber. Looking for a great pre-workout treat? Stuff three dates with an almond for instant energy on the go. You can find dates next to the raisins and other dried fruits in most grocery stores.

 

12.  Edamame:

Oh edamame. What would I do without you? I practically go into panic mode if I realize I’ve  run out of this Ashley staple. I consistently have at least four bags in my freezer (two bags of shelled edamame and two bags still in the pods). I like to cook up a whole bag of the shelled kind and keep it in the fridge all week-long so I’m just one handful away from a quick and easy snack, or I’ll add a few spoonfuls of the beans on top of salads. I also like to cook up a bag in the pods so I have a healthy appetizer to accompany my meals. Edamame is by far my favorite protein source ( ½ cup clocks in at 7 grams of protein for only 120 calories). Just be sure to buy organic—soybeans are often the victim of GMOs. Want some yummy edamame recipes? Check out my Toasted Sesame Green Bean and Carrot Salad and my Protein-Packed Confetti Quinoa recipes!

 

13.  Frozen Veggies:

Don’t have enough time to make a healthy dinner? Blasphemy I say! If you have frozen veggies in your freezer, the you have NO excuses. Toss those babies in the microwave and top with a zesty sauce or salsa and black beans and BAM. Instant dinner in 5 minutes. Done and DONE.

 

14.  Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas):

These beans are another pantry staple of mine—and at only 89 cents a can (from Trader Joe’s), it’s easy to keep plenty of them in your kitchen. I use these versatile little legumes for baked goods, dessert hummus, or to toss in a salad or stir-fry for extra protein. I’ve been dying to experiment with roasting chickpeas, so keep an eye out for a recipe soon! Looking for some healthy dessert recipes? Try my LOW-FAT Chocolate-Covered Cherry Dream DipNaughty Biscotti (Gluten Free!), Soft and Chewy Cinnamon Spice Cookies (Gluten-Free!), and my Healthy Cinnamon Apple Pie Squares (Gluten-Free!).

 

15.  Hummus:

If I had to name the one thing in this world I couldn’t go without every single day…hummus would be that thing. I often have at least three different kinds open in my fridge at any given time. Whether spread on Coco-Lite Crisps (see below), eaten with raw veggies, or topped on a salad in lieu of salad dressing, hummus is easily my best figure-friendly alternative to all those fattening dips, dressings and spreads out there. My favorite hummus tends to come from Trader Joe’s—be sure to try out their three-layer hummus (a multi-layer sampling of classic, red pepper, and cilantro hummus)  and their sundried-tomato basil hummus and be ready to get addicted.

 

16.  Kale:

I don’t know how it took me so long to discover this cruciferous green, but boy oh boy am I glad I did. Whether steamed with fresh veggies, sautéed with garlic and olive oil, or baked with nutritional yeast into crunchy little chips, once you start eating kale you just won’t want to stop. I legitimately get “kale cravings”—something all my fellow kale eaters will understand! For a tasty kale recipe check out my Post-Holiday Detox Salad and my Spiced-Up Cranberry Orange Stuffing.

 

17.  Lentils:

Lentils! Where have you been all my life?! These little guys also made their way into my kitchen a little late in the game…and now I can’t get enough of them. Lentils have a very bold and earthy flavor and taste especially nice with savory dishes like sautéed mushrooms or in a big ol’ bowl of roasted root vegetables. You can even mash them up to make vegan “meatloaf” or veggie burgers—they hold together quite nicely and amp up the protein in every dish. I like to buy the packages of pre-cooked lentils from Trader Joe’s in their refrigerated section.

 

18.  Nut Butters (almond, sunflower):

For those days when you’re sick of regular peanut butter (is that even possible?) or, if you’re just looking for a change, sunflower butter and almond butter are lovely stand-ins. The nutrition facts are pretty much identical to that of plain old PB but they each have completely different flavor profiles. Almond butter has a much more subtle flavor and a much grittier texture than peanut butter. It tastes fabulous topped on a bowl of steaming oatmeal or blended into an icy smoothie. Sunflower butter has a much stronger flavor and a thinner, smoother consistency which makes it a perfect spread for warm toast. Sunflower butter can also be blended into dessert hummus or used in place of peanut butter for a creative new take on peanut butter cookies. I like to buy the individual serving packets for easy packing and portion control.

 

19.  Nutritional Yeast:

Don’t be weirded out by the name—this tasty little condiment adds a slightly nutty and cheesy flavor to vegan dishes, plus it’s high in vitamin B-12 and protein. Nutritional yeast tastes great in a savory meals like macaroni and “cheese,” sprinkled on fresh salads, or mixed into warm sauces and stews. I usually buy it in tubs from Whole Foods or you can buy the Bragg’s brand it in the natural sections of most grocery stores.

 

20.  Pears (Bosc, D’Anjou):

When I’m getting a little bored with apples (or if I just want to mix things up a bit) I’ll turn to a similar fruit—pears!  Bosc or D’Anjou pears happen to be my favs. I’ll poach or sauté them on the stove and add them to a cinnamon-spiked couscous or quinoa instead of apples in my holiday stuffing, chop them up and add them to my Fruity Tutti Fruit Bowl, or slice them up and add them to a salad with my Very Berry Vitality Vinaigrette. Of course, pears taste amazing just on their own, if you’re not looking to get overly fancy.

 

21.  Pineapple:

Did you know pineapple settles the stomach? It’s true! Why do you think they always serve it at Chinese food buffets ;) . Aside from the fact that pineapple can prevent indigestion and stomach inflammation, it also tastes pretty incredible–sweet enough to eat for dessert, yet versatile enough to toss in a stir-fry or  blended up and added to a sesame ginger dressing/dipping sauce.

 

22.  Pumpkin Pie Spice:

If you want to make anything taste cozy and indulgent, this spice will do the trick. I used to put cinnamon on everything– sprinkled on fruit salad, added to protein shakes, mixed into peanut butter, added to cookie dough, dusted on toast…the list goes on and on– but as soon as I bought some pumpkin pie spice to make my vegan pumpkin pie, I realized it’s not just for Thanksgiving!  A mix of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, this spice gives you more bang for you buck and makes everyday dishes taste like the holidays.

 

23.  Raw Almonds/Sunflower Seeds/Soy Nuts:

Looking for a way to crush your hunger while getting  healthy dose of fat and protein? Nuts and seeds are the way to go. I’ll often grab a handful of soaked almonds for a pre or post workout snack or I’ll toss some soaked sunflower seeds on top of my lunch salad to fill me up nice and good. I recently started soaking my almonds and sunflower seeds when I learned that doing so results in increased enzyme activity, greater absorption of the food’s nutrients by the body, a reduction in tannins, and increased digestibility. Check out this simple tutorial on how to soak your nuts and seeds here. And don’t worry–if you’re sick of almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds, soy nuts are a tasty alternative. At 6 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of dietary fiber, and 145 calories per 1/3 cup, these little nuts (which are actually soaked, roasted soybeans) are a figure friendly version to most other nuts out there. Toss them with raisins and granola for an easy homemade trail mix or eat them by themselves for a satisfying snack (I like to buy the unsalted kind).

 

24.  Seaweed:

Okay. I know what you’re thinking but hear me out. I’m not crazy. The same stuff you find floating around in the ocean can also be found on the shelves of most supermarkets, and for good reason! Sea vegetables (including deep green kombu, dried black hijiki, chewy red dulse, emerald wakame, bright, leafy sea lettuce, and dark, toasted nori) have a variety of health benefits– they are high in essential amino acids and are an excellent source of calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine, potassium and vitamin B-12. You can often find seaweed in soups, salads, or wrapped around your sushi, but my favorite way to eat seaweed is toasted. Trader Joe’s makes awesome Toasted Seaweed Snacks in both regular or wasabi flavor for just 99¢! Personally, I like to eat the toasted wasabi seaweed strips with a dollop of hummus and a slice of avocado. Yum!

 

25.  Roasted Corn:

I always have a couple of cans of corn on hand just in case I want to make my famous Mexican Salad (complete with avocado, black beans, cilantro hummus, mango salsa, brown rice, and of course, corn–post to come soon!) but once I discovered this bag of roasted corn in Trader Joe’s frozen food section…I knew I wouldn’t be able to settle for anything else. This corn tastes almost as good as my Dad’s famous grilled corn on the cob…without all that extra work ;) . Use this corn in anything from soups and salads to chili and stir-fry. I promise you’ll be just as hooked as me!

 

26.  Shredded Carrots:

I love carrots no matter how you slice, dice or juice them, but just recently I’ve discovered a new way to eat these healthy orange root veggies–shredded. Shredded carrots bulk up a salad and cook up quite nicely in a stir-fry. Looking to get extra creative? Cook up some shredded carrots and mix them with spaghetti squash– top with marinara sauce and voilà! You have a healthy pasta alternative for dinner.

 

27.  Soyatoo (whipped topping):

Everyone needs a little whipped cream in their life, and yes, even vegans can enjoy this tasty treat every now and then. Thanks to Soyatoo, my puddings, pies, cakes, and hot cocoa don’t need to go naked all the time. Soyatoo is made from soy milk and has roughly the same nutrition facts as regular whipped cream. It’s a bit expensive ($4.99 a can) but it tastes amazing– it’s definitely worth the splurge for special occasions. Try it on my Cha Cha Chocolate-Hazelnut Chi Pudding or my Oh So Sassy Strawberry Shortcake :) .

 

28.  Tofu:

So clearly this is the stereotypical vegan shopping list staple, but only because it’s so darn versatile. Use silken tofu in protein shakes, soups, sauces, pies and puddings and use the firm kind to chop up and bake, grill or add to a stir fry. Tofu absorbs the flavors and seasonings cooked with it, so you can marinate firm tofu just like you can marinate meat, and use the silken kind in dessert recipes. Don’t believe me? Check out my pumpkin pie recipe.

 

29.  Quinoa:

Quinoa is another great way for vegans and vegetarians to get their protein. Not only does quinoa have all nine essential amino acids– making it a complete protein– but it has 10 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup. I like to make a big batch of quinoa on a Sunday night and store it in the fridge for the week. Make breakfast quinoa by mixing it up with a little cinnamon, vanilla, raisins, and chopped up apple or banana, toss a couple spoonfuls on top of your salad for lunch, or mix it with some steamed veggies for an instantly easy dinner. Looking to add a little extra flavor to that quinoa? An easy trick I often use is to cook the grain with low sodium vegetable broth instead of water (and sometimes a splash of carrot juice!). It makes all the difference. Looking for an easy recipe? Check out my Confetti Quinoa.

 

30.  Whole Wheat Coco- Lite Pop Cakes:

Put down the rice cakes people! You might want to prepare yourselves. You will be 100% addicted to these amazingly low-calorie and satisfying snacks at that very first crunchy bite. I first discovered Coco-Lite pop cakes while wandering around at Whole Foods last summer and they’ve been on my weekly grocery list ever since. Whether topped with peanut butter, hummus, ice cream or fruit– you don’t have to stop at just one cake. At only 16 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrates and 0 grams of sugar per 7-8 inch pop cake you can eat as many as you’d like without feeling the guilt. I usually buy the whole wheat cakes, but I just discovered that they have other fun flavors like Maui Onion, Blueberry Cinnamon, Original, Carrot, Strawberry, and Triple Green. Check out this link for some awesome recipe ideas.

 

So what are you waiting for?

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Get shopping! And get eating ;) .

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Photo Credit: Etsy

 

 

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 Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

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Sources:

Benefits of Soaking Nuts

Benefits of Soaking Nuts and Seeds

Health Benefits of Eating Seaweed