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Give Me All the Upside Downs (Inversions!)

I love inversions. I mean, honestly I’m like a little monkey when it comes to certain asanas. While inversions bring both levity and varity to your flow, they also build upper body strength. This is a major plus, since a great deal of our yoga work is more from the core down.  In addition to being (in my oh so humble opinion) ridiculously fun, inversions have major health benefits.To clarify, an inversion is any asana (pose) where the head is below the heart. Here are just a small handful of the significant health benefits of inversions:

1. Reverses blood flow and improves circulation: this in itself is a huge heart-helper, because the heart spends all day long pumping blood against gravity to get blood to the body’s limbs. By getting yourself upside down, it actually takes strain off the heart.

2. Gives a great boost the the immune system: going upside-down allow lymph to move easily through the lymph nodes, picking up toxins and bacteria and cleaning out the body. The lymph system is an essential part of staying healthy and energetic.

3. Can both relax and invigorate: poses like legs up the wall and standing forward folds are very relaxing. Legs up the wall are great for insomniacs, because it’s such a relaxing pose for both the internal and external body. Handstands and forearm stands really creating energy, without getting the body overly amped up. 

So here are some great inversions to try:

yoga inversions

1. Shoulder stand: I love this relaxing asana, because it comes at the end of the ashtanga practice. That’s usually the moment when I feel all the feels: extreme peace, gratitude for what my body can do and for the investment my teacher has made in my journey, and relief that I made it to the end without dying! Real yoga isn’t “easy,” and it often feels uncomfortable as it stretches us past our physical and emotional comfort zones.

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2. Shoulder stand with eagle legs: this adds in a little bit of a twist, and for people with short attention spans like mine, you can add this variation on your should stand to stay up a little longer.

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3. Sirsasana (Headstand): one of the traditional Ashtanga moves, you can amp your headstand by piking up and down. To pike up, walk your feet in as close as you can to really activate the core. Once you’re up in the air, to pike down and hold, shift your hips back over the head. Lower feet until you can see them, and hold to build core strength.

headstand

4. Tripod Headstand: the key to this pose is the chatarunga your arms. Keep them tucked in, and really activate your core.

headstand

4. Iron cross headstand: a more advanced version of the headstand is to enter from wide legged forward fold. Place hands flat near feet, then pike up to full handstand. This really takes a great deal of control and core strength. Be sure to keep neck engaged and apply the forth bandha (jalandhar bandh/neck lock). Lift the chest and sternum up while lengthening the back of the neck, by pulling the chin toward the back of the neck. Neck, throat and face muscles remain relaxed. This will prevent neck injuries.

Regardless of where you are at with your inversions, as with all things yoga related, practice makes progress. There’s a fine but definite line between pushing your body too hard and challenging yourself to learn and grow in your practice. Listen to your body, and let your practice feed your soul. Much love!  

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One Pot Scrumptious Rice Noodle Soup

One Pot Noodle Soup

I am a soup fanatic. It’s basically an entire life source for me. I just love, love, love soups of all kinds, colors, and varieties. As winter settles in DC, the weather is turning more gray and dreary. It’s the perfect kind of weather for curling up on the sofa under a blanket while sipping on warm soup.

The challenge with vegan and vegetarian soups in finding a mix that’s hearty but soothing. I can only do so many bean variations, if you know what I mean! My mom makes a should-be-famous chicken noodle soup that unquestionably is good for the soul. I have so many happy memories associated with a big bowl of that soup, and while I don’t miss most foods in lou of being a vegetarian, I definitely miss a good old fashioned bowl of my mama’s chicken (noooo!) noodle (gluten! Save us, sweet baby Jesus! Kidding! But seriously) soup. So, after chatting on the phone with my mother, I took the heart of the ingerdients and reworked it several times till I came up with a soup that warms both the heart and the body on chilly days. And my mother said (for serious, she did) the absolute most important ingredient is love. Well, of course it is. So let’s get to it!

One Pot Noodle Soup

There are a fair amount of ingredients but don’t panic! It’s a quick and easy one pot wonder soup. I am so serious. Throw in and GO do your thing, and you’ll have this soup done in no time! Well, other than the time it takes to cook, but my point remains valid!

I like to use Thai rice noodles (I get the ramen style because apparently, I haven’t grown up yet and love twirling the noodles on my fork. Hashtag: noshame my friends, no shame.). You can use other gluten free, but these hold up beautifully when cooked and you can reheat without problems. Other kinds tend to break down and get mushy.

SEASONINGS/BROTH 

8 cups vegetable broth or organic chicken broth (more if you prefer broth-dominant soups)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons Celtic salt (or to taste)

2 tablespoons onion flakes (can substitute 1 tablespoon onion powder)

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional, but a great health benefit and adds vibrant color!)

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon wasabi powder (optional)*

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon coconut palm sugar or Stevia

Full confession, these are approximates, because I always season by sight and taste. I just recommend tasting as you go, but these standard measurements should work.

SOUP

4 nests Thai rice noodles cut into smaller pieces 

1 cup shredded carrots (from about 2 medium carrots)

Handful of cilantro

4 cups of kale

1 cup squash (optional)

1 cup red cabbage (optional)

1 cup shredded carrots

4 teaspoons gluten free soy sauce

2 tablespoons gluten free miso paste (Please make sure your brand is 100% GF if you have an allergy)

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/4 chopped scallions or green onions

Directions:

Mix all the seasonings with broth, then add the rest of the ingredients. You literally throw that massive ingredient list in a tall stock pot and set to med-high and go do your thing. It takes about a full hour to cook, but I also like to let it simmer for a while after to really soak up the flavors. Other than the occasional stir, this soup cooks itself. I use that time to food prep and clean the kitchen, because I can multi-task like nobody’s business (and a person with severe ADHD!)

I do like to add the carrots and cabbage towards the end so they’re more lightly cooked, but this is a person to person preference.

One Pot Noodle Soup

One Pot Noodle Soup

Gluten-Free Strawberry Pancakes with Vegan Whipped Cream

MORNINGS ARE THE WORST.

And if you don’t agree with me, I do not even understand what kind of super-powered human being you are. Does your heart pump pure caffeine into your veins? Are you the product of a crazy scientific experience? I DON’T GET IT. Mornings are the literal worst. I pretty much feel punched in the face the second my eyes slowly, very begrudgingly peel open. My first thought is usually, NOOOOO! Or just like a moan of agony.

My husband is one of those (disgustingly) disciplined people who wake up everyday at 5:30am, and therefore by proxy, my fat cat and I are forced to wake up at the same time. UGH. WHY, GOD. Even though my body might be awake, my mind doesn’t operate until at bare minimum around noon. Brunch is basically God’s gift to all the people who stoutly reject mornings. Let all those early bird’s catch all the worms they want; I choose pancakes and mimosas. I love hosting brunch parties, because it’s such a perfect way to connect with friends. It’s impossible to be cranky and eat pancakes. I mean, honestly, it just is.

Pancakes are sooooo easy to make, and they’re always an easy crowd-pleaser. What I love about this recipe is that it’s gluten-free AND vegan. I mean, whaaaaat? Can such a thing exist? Yes, fellow Brunchers. It can and it does. GLORY HALLELUJAH. Great things come in little pancake packages.

So let’s get to it, because it’s the freaking weekend, and you need to get you some pancakes. And maybe a pitcher or mimosas…I won’t judge.


PREP: 10 min
COOK: 15-20 minutes
YIELD: 12 pancakes

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups Pamela’s Baking & Pancake Mix.
  • 2 large egg (or equivalent egg replacer)
  • 3/4 cup cashew milk.
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled or grapeseed oil
  • coconut oil, for greasing
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • FOR SUPER STRAWBERRY STACKS: 1 extra cup of thoroughly mashed strawberries, added to the pancake mix

VEGAN WHIPPED CREAM:

  1. Refrigerate can of coconut milk, 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Place metal mixing bowl and beaters in the refrigerator or freezer 1 hour before making whipped cream.
  3. Open can of coconut milk, taking care not to shake it. Scoop coconut cream solids into cold mixing bowl. Reserve remaining liquid for another use.
  4. Beat coconut cream using electric mixer with chilled beaters on medium speed; turn to high speed. Beat until stiff peaks form, 7 to 8 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla extract to coconut cream; beat 1 minute more. Taste and add more sugar if desired.

THE METHOD:

  1. Heat a large electric griddle or nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add a few drops of vegetable oil and a pat of butter.
  2. Ladle a full 1/4 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Place a small handful of sliced strawberries on top of the pancakes.
  3. Cook until the bubbles begin to burst on the surface, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook until the second side is a nice golden brown, about 2 more minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter; put the finished pancakes on a sheet tray and keep warm in the oven as you finish.
  4. Arrange the pancakes on individual plates and serve with the syrup.

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Anti-Aging, Fat Blasting Blueberry Smoothie

All these low-carb/no-carb diets are giving fruit a bad rap, but the truth is carbs aren’t evil. It just depends on the kinds of carbs you’re consuming. The brilliant thing about berries is they have a lower sugar content than other fruit, so you can eat them without experiencing a potentially drastic sugar spike. Blueberries reign supreme as a not only a power food, but also a beautifying food.

When you eat beautifying foods, the ingredients work from the inside out, creating total body change. You can slather the most expensive lotions and potions and magical ingredients on your skin, but the saying “skin deep” exists for a reason. These ingredients literally mask the results of poor health and/or an unhealthy diet, but it’s impossible for those expensive ingredients to really penetrate the deeper layers of skin. All the creams in the world don’t do anything for your total body wellness.

Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity of all commonly consumed fruits and vegetables. 

If that’s not enough to convince you to try out this delicious smoothie, there are actually a ton of other fantastic reasons.

Benefits of blueberries

  • Low in calories, but HIGH in nutrients
  • Major source of antioxidants to combat aging
  • Blueberries reduce DNA damage, which protects against not only wrinkles but also cancer
  • Boost the Brain function and memory
  • Support Digestion
  • Promote Heart Health
  • Aid Weight Loss

Plus a TON of other benefits. Can you believe all this goodness is crammed into one tiny berry?!

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Blueberries as a Beautifying Food

Blueberries contain high levels of both vitamin A and C are necessary for the health of collagen, your skin’s support structure. Eating foods rich in these nutrients may help slow the development of wrinkles, sagging and dark circles. The berries also contain water, which keeps skin hydrated and young looking.

They are a also good source of vitamin K, fibre, manganese and other antioxidants (notably anthocyanins), which all aid in keeping the skin looking GORGEOUS.

Smoothie Time

Smoothies are a no brainer for the busy person on the go. It takes like, 0.0005 seconds to make an incredibly nutritious, energy packed breakfast.This recipe is fantastically delish and chocked full of nutrients that will make your skin glow brighter than high wattage LED Christmas lights. I’m talking G-L-O-W, baby, glow. This particular recipe contains blueberries + raw spinach=mega beauty food for your skin.


PREP: 5 minutes

TIME: less than 5 minutes

SERVES: 16 oz smoothie


Ingredients

  • 2-3 cups of baby spinach
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce
  • 1 banana
  • 2 cups of blueberries
  • 2 cups of water or nut milk of your choice
  • Stevia to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Add liquid to your blender, then throw in all the other ingredients. I cram as much greens in as possible, but if you’re new to green-smoothies, error on the side of less greens until your tastebuds shift to a more alkaline diet.

Press the blend button and let the blender do all the work! BOOM! DONE!

That’s it, literally. How easy was that? SO EASY, I KNOW! If you want to make a larger batch, you can store smoothies for about two days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them. Just be aware that liquids expand as they freeze, so you won’t end up with broken containers and a big ol’ mess. Don’t ask me how I know this, but you can assume I learned the hard way.

You can add or subtract any ingredients, but I’d definitely encourage you to steer clear of dairy products. They taste delicious, but are high calories and mucus forming. Dairy also does a number on your skin and your intestines, so do your body a favor and use a nut milk. I actually just use water, but that might not be for you.

After a couple weeks of drinking this smoothie, you’ll notice a crazy difference in not only your skin, but also your energy levels. Now, that’s a total win in my book!

 

Eat Your Way to Youthful Skin

We live in a society that’s pretty obsessed with beauty—outer beauty that is. The makeup industry is a multi-billion dollar corporation, and the average medicine cabinet is overflowing with lotions and potions and concoctions promising to make up more beautiful. More youthful. More desirable. Beauty is a business, and booming one at that. Somewhere along the way though, health and beauty became two very separate entities. The ingredients in these “anti-aging” and “beautifying” products often cause way more harm than good.

Recently, I went to my dermatologist for the good old Let There Be No Skin Cancer checkup (all good in the hood; all those years of drenching myself in SPF and assiduously hiding under an umbrella at the beach like a stowaway vampire have finally paid off). I had just run out of the nighttime essential oils I use, so I asked about moisturizers and an anti-aging cream. She gave me two products and sent me on my merry way. Both creams cost around $200 (JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL) and what’s worse, when I looked at the list of ingredients, they were decidedly bad for my body. In fact, one warned me not use if I were pregnant as the ingredients might cause cell mutation or disruption to the fetus. UM, WFT. Why would I want to put that on my FACE? Obviously, I returned the products, but it made me realize what great lengths we as a society go through to achieve and maintain youthful skin, when the actual solution is….simple. Natural. And, yup, plant based.

We can slather on the most expensive creams and serums in the world, but if we have a rotten diet, we’re aging our skin faster than we can preserve it. The good news is the reverse is also true. A thoughtful, intelligent diet can also combat the effects of aging. And you know what? It’s hella cheaper, too.

The literally beautiful thing about investing in healthy foods for our bodies is that not only does a whole foods, plant based diet transforms us from the inside-out. It also provide much needed fuel to feel our best and keeps us more hormonally balanced. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to look our best, but I personally believe it’s more important to feel and be our best Self that we can be.

What ages your skin?

Free radicals are the major cause of aging. They’re found in the environment, in processed foods, in just about everything—and they damage cells. This leads to, among other things, premature wrinkles. Other factors contributing to wrinkled, spotted skin include normal aging, exposure to the sun (photoaging) and pollution, and loss of subcutaneous support (fatty tissue between your skin and muscle).

Don’t get depressed yet. The good news is that the ingredients in plant-based foods can both protect and reverse the effects of aging. I know this to be true. Over the years, my skin has aged backwards. I don’t naturally have the best skin ever, but I’ve witness a radical change since I changed my diet and lifestyle. My skin looks younger and healthier now than when I graduated from college. I’m not kidding. I should also add I don’t use any expensive products or wear makeup other than blush and tinted moisturizer and a natural tinted lipgloss. I used to never be able to leave my house without layers of foundation on, but now I can keep my beauty and skin routine simple and natural. Again, some people are blessed with naturally gorgeous everything, and I am most definitely not in that category. I credit plants with keeping my body vibrant from the inside-out.

Spinach

Raw spinach is so crazy good for you, that you should just think of it as an all-around power beautifying food. It’s loaded with beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A. This beauty vitamin helps retain proper moisture, eliminate wrinkles, and removes dead cells so your skin glows.

This power food has a long list of other essential vitamins and minerals, but one of the most surprising things about spinach is that per calorie, spinach has more protein than ground beef. 100 calories of ground beef has 10 grams of protein while 100 calories of fresh baby spinach has 12 grams. 

Spinach also has concentrated health-promoting phytonutrients which provide mega powerful antioxidant protection against free-radicals. In other words, spinach for the win. Popeye the sailor was on to something smart, folks!

Avocados

Let’s get one things straight: avocados are delicious AF. I could eat guacamole by the bucketful…wait, I have. When I’m cooking, I make it rain avocados and basically put them on anything and everything. They’re pretty much the bacon of the vegan world. Need to make a sandwich taste better? Add avocados. Wimpy salad? Throw in some avocados. Suffering from dry, lackluster skin? A.V.O.C.A.D.O.S.

Avocados are not only God’s gift to any menu, but they have powerful anti-aging effects on the skin and joints. The high monounsaturated fat content instantly rejuvenates and moisturizes skin from the inside-out, which prevents premature wrinkling. They’re also rich in beauty vitamins K, A, C, and E. But wait! There’s more! Avocados contain a ton of minerals and antioxidant enzymes. The amino acid glutamine helps protect your skin from environmental damage, and is a key contributor to preventing aging. So now you can go to Chipotle and order that side o’ gauc and call it your shot of anti-aging treatment. Forget the botox. Eat guac.

Oh, and if you’re freaking out about the fat content, don’t. Yes, they’re high in fat, but it’s healthy fat. In fact, it’s the exact kind of fat that your brain uses for fuel and your cells require for rejuvenation.

Red Bell Peppers

This is one of my favorite snacks. I sprinkle a small blizzard of salt on them (bad, I know) and eat raw red peppers by the dozen (good). This beauty food is low in calories but insanely high in vitamin C. Why is this vitamin so essential? Well, obviously, it helps get you through the dreaded cold and flu season with nary a scratchy throat, but vitamin C is also your best friend when it comes to maintain gorgeous skin.

Vitamin C helps repair and regenerate collagen, which is a protein that provides firmness to your skin. As we age, we lose collagen, and our skin begins sagging and becoming wrinkly and dry. Another benefit of red bell peppers is that they contain silicon, which is a mineral that gives you supple, youthful skin by strengthening the collagen and elastin of your skin.

Tip—> Eat your red peppers raw or barely cooked, because heat denatures the enzymes and strips veggies and fruit of their healthy benefits. 

Blueberries:

Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity of all commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.

If that’s not enough to convince you to try out this delicious smoothie, there are actually a ton of other fantastic reasons. Some other benefits:

  • Low in calories, but HIGH in nutrients
  • Major source of antioxidants to combat aging
  • Blueberries reduce DNA damage, which protects against not only wrinkles but also cancer
  • Boost the Brain function and memory
  • Support Digestion
  • Promote Heart Health
  • Aid Weight Loss

A great way to get your blueberries and spinach in is by trying out my anti-aging fat-blasting blueberry smoothie recipe.

Final Thoughts

Eating your way to beautiful skin not only delivers amazing results, but those anti-aging benefits help the entire body. One of the biggest signs of aging is not only seen in our skin, but also in our lack of vitality and robustness. Combat all signs of aging from the inside-out by adding more beautifying foods to your diet.

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How to Do: Side Crow

Arm balances just makes me soooo happy, I can hardly stand it. I mean, honestly, every time a yoga instructor calls out an option for an arm balance or an inversion, I’m literally like, YAAAAAS GAWD. Unless I’ve eaten all the things right before class and feel as though I’m made of bricks. Then I’m like, WHHHHYYY, make the lambs stop screaming!!! Yoga is cruel to the gluttonous, just so you know. But when a girl’s gotta eat, she’s gotta eat. Even if it’s right before class.

Here’s the thing I like to tell my own clients regarding the oh-so-tricky art of arm balances and inversions: it should be fun. Sure, it’s difficult—really difficult. After all, you’re both balancing and holding yourself up on a tiny portion of your body. But this isn’t the time to go Type A or let your perfectionism kick in. This is the exact moment to practice patience and give yourself grace.

Before you even start, lay your ego at the door. Hey, I know you just skimmed that sentence! Back up Buttercup! I know it, because those are the exact types of phrases that often go one ear and out my other ear. Yeah, yeah. “No ego, ok whatever…now show me the five steps to do those Instagram worthy poses!” That was definitely my mentality when I first started yoga. If you’re not at this point now, awesome. You might find yourself there one day. If you don’t, bless your lucky little ego-less stars.

Removing our ego from our practice is difficult, but necessary. Ego and joy cannot easily reside together, any more than perfectionism and peace can co-exist. So before you even hurtle yourself into any challenging asanas, take a moment and remember what it was like to play. To be a child. To chase the thrill of crossing those monkey beams simply for the pleasure of being a badass mamba-jamba. So I would like to invite you to set perfectionism aside and just play. Let go of perfectionism and grab on to joy.

Now that I got that little bit out of the way, let’s dive into the steps. First of all, I do highly recommend checking out a Youtube video to watch side crow in action. I’ve found for myself and my clients, it’s helpful to see, read, and do. The combination really helps everything gel together.

STEP ONE

Dip into chair pose as you lengthen your spine. Pull your belly in and twist over to the side and hook your arms as if in prayer. Crouch down on your toes and plant hands on the floor. As you do this, remember to keep a long spine! LOOOOONG SPINE! The natural instinct is to round the back and let the belly hang out, but this is not the time to go Hunchback of Notre Dame. A long spine will help you hook your armpit over your leg so you can firmly press your arms against your thigh.

Plant hands firmly in front of you, about shoulders width apart. I think it helps to form an “L” with the thumbs and pointer fingers, because it gives me guidelines.

Prepare arms: bend like you’re going into chaturanga (a 90 degree angle). This helps stack your bones appropriately so you can balance your weight on basically just an elbow in the full expression of the pose.

Tip—> This triangle base is how you set up for headstand, handstand, crow, and many other arm balances and inversion

Key Points:

  • Lengthen your spine before you rotate, exhale as you twist over. Think side prayer pose
  • Create triangle base with hands and gaze.
  • Arms should be set in chaturanga form, tucked in against your body
  • Gaze should be slightly in front of hands. Think of a triangle; your drishti (gaze) is the top of the triangle. Again, this helps form a solid base for you.

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Step Two

Enjoy the glooooooorious view of my tush. J/K. Here, you can see I’m going into chaturanga arms, pressing my base arm/arm pit firmly against my leg. If you do not want to do a one arm version like I’m doing in this pick, simply shift hips over and press BOTH arms/elbows against the leg.

Key points:

  • Keep chaturanga arms firmly pressed in towards the body. This is your base, and if your arms splay out, you’ll lose your foundation.
  • Do NOT let all the weight hit your wrists. That’s a great way to get injured. Grip from the finger pads. You actually almost push off from the tips of the fingers, which helps distribute weight.
  • Do keep steady breathing throughout this asana. Yoga is breathing. Everything else is a stunt.

Step Three

Inhale as you lift off toes and shift your weight onto your arm. The inhale helps, I swear by all the best yoga mats in the ENTIRE WORLD. Remember to continue breathing in this pose.

Key points:

  • Keep core, arms, and legs engaged to help maintain balance
  • Set your drishti (gaze) to ensure better balance. The body gets overwhelmed if our gaze is moving all over the place
  • Continue to press from the fingertips to take pressure off the wrists
  • I cannot say this enough: Yoga is about breath; everything else is acrobatics.

     


 

Final Thoughts

The crazy, wonderful, horrible thing about arm balances is that some days you will feel like a rocket man blasting off to the moon, and other days like an elephant firmly and determinedly planted on the ground. Emotional weight and exhaustion is a real thing in yoga.

If your body feels heavy, honor your Self by focusing more perhaps on nourishing stretches and gentler asanas. Muscle fatigue and overtraining is also something that will haunt your practice, especially if you’re the type who’s just a little bit addicted to working out. Take what the body gives you, and receive it with gratitude.

Strength drills that help with this arm balance:

  • High plank
  • Forearm plank
  • Crow/crane
  • Revolved side angle pose
  • Meditation: strengthen the mind, and the body can achieve amazing things

Sunscreen Swaps: the Best Picks for Children

Currently, my husband and I are spending the week in Vegas. I’m not into the casino scene, but we are having such an amazing time together. I’m convinced that you can have the time of there life wherever they are, if you’re with your Person. We got to put this to the test when our flight in was bumped, and we chilled at the airport all day…and had a ball. I’ve always been a big believer that you can make extraordinary memories from the most ordinary of days, and so far, life has proven that to be true.

Meanwhile, Vegas is literally hotter than crawling into an oven, and now all those crimes on CSI make so much more sense. People are probably going crazy from the heat! Surprisingly, we adapted to the weather pretty quickly (read: we stay inside/poolside), and I’ve been pile on a bottle of sunscreen per day to protect my oh so fair skin from this desert sun. That’s an exaggeration…but just barely.

If you’ve read my post/rant about sunscreens for adults, you know I find the whole shebang about toxic ingredients in our sunscreen incredibly infuriating. The fact that well-meaning parents are unknowingly slathering carcinogenic ingredients on their children makes me want to go postal-pants for them. You would think we would be able to rely on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to oh, I don’t know, KEEP US SAFE, but au contraire, mon ami. The vast majority of sunscreens are anything but safe for your skin. They contain both toxic and carcinogenic ingredients that are harmful to both children and adults.

According to the EWG, the Food and Drug Administration does not set any criteria or additional requirements for sunscreen and body care products marketed to children. In fact, the EWG has not identified any systematic differences between the types of products marketed to children and the general population.

Children Are Not Mini Adults

So why is this such a big deal? Skin is skin, whether on an adult or child, right? Nope. Children are not mini adults, and they are more susceptible to environmental threats. What is toxic for you as an adult is even more potent for the neonatal and pediatric populace. This is due to several factors:

  1. Due to their size, babies and kiddos have what we call “a lower dosing weight.” We all have that teeny tiny friend who cannot handle more than two glasses of wine (I’m more of a by the bottle kind of girl myself).
  2. Children metabolize ingredients differently than adults (and yes, ingredients are absorbed into the body through skin.) This is why you don’t give a child the same amount of Tylenol when he’s sick as you would give yourself.
  3. Children have a different surface area to volume ratio than adults. The body’s surface area is a measurement of the skin that covers your body, and although children are smaller than adults, the ratio of surface area to mass is much larger for babies and children than for adults. I know this sounds like a boring math class, but basically this surface area to volume ratio means our little ones have a dramatically higher absorption rate and reaction than adults.
  4. Children are in a dynamic state of growth and development, meaning their little bodies are continuously developing. Many toxins actively interfere with healthy neurological and physiological maturation.

So now that we got that depressing bit out of information out the way, here is the good news: There are numerous healthy options you can use to protect your child from exposure to both sun and toxins.

Because children are particularly susceptible to certain toxic chemicals during developmental years, the EWG scrutinized children’s sunscreens even more closely in 2017.

Worst Sunscreens for Kids

The EWG specifically named the following brands for earning the worst scores, though other popular brands also received low scores. I’d encourage you to check out their full list, but here are the “winners” for the lowest scores.

  • Banana Boat Kids Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 100
  • Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100
  • Coppertone Foaming Lotion Sunscreen Kids Wacky Foam, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Sunscreen Continuous Spray Kids, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Kids, SPF 70
  • Coppertone Sunscreen Lotion Water Babies, SPF 70+
  • Coppertone Sunscreen Stick Kids, SPF 55
  • Coppertone Sunscreen Stick Water Babies, SPF 55
  • Coppertone Sunscreen Water Babies Foaming Lotion, SPF 70
  • CVS Health Children’s Sunstick Sunscreen, SPF 55
  • Equate Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 70
  • Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 60+
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70+
  • Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Sticks, SPF 55 (8)

Best Sunscreens for Kids and Babies

Here is the list of kid friendly sunscreens that you can use to protect your little ones:

Adorable Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30+
All Good Kid’s Sunscreen, SPF 30
All Terrain KidSport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 50
Babytime! by Episencial Sunny Sunscreen, SPF 35
Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30
Bare Republic Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Baby, SPF 30+
BurnOut KIDS Sunscreen, SPF 35
California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Caribbean Sol Sol Kid Kare, SPF 30
Goddess Garden Organics Baby Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
Kiss My Face Organics Kids Sunscreen, SPF 30
Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 50
Sunology Natural Sunscreen Kids, SPF 50
Sunumbra Sunkids Natural Sunscreen, SPF 40
ThinkSport Kids Sunscreen, SPF 50+
Tom’s of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30

Summertime is such a fun season for children, and many of my favorite memories revolved around family vacations and beach trips during those long summer months. Although sunscreen should be a product we use all year, it’s even more important during the months when children are running around playing in shorts and tees and swimsuits. Make sure you stock up on a safe, nontoxic sunscreen, and don’t forget to apply it on yourself and your little one about 30 minutes before going out into the sunlight. Play in the shade whenever possible, and reapply frequently during pool time or sports. Most importantly, remember that summer flies by, so make memories and have fun in the sun.

Use This Not That: Sunscreen Swaps

Summer is officially here, and according to my Siri, it’s going to be a million degrees with a UV ray index of off the charts. This is what happens when you don’t recycle, people! Mama Earth gets angry at us all and then gets hotter than Hades!

All that aside, I’m a delicate little flower when it comes to the sun. My skin is so white, I glow in the dark like a ghost. I really do; true story. I could effortlessly play a Walker on The Walking Dead, especially if I didn’t get any coffee when I woke up. 

I’ve never been into tanning (read: the sun and I are genetically incompatible). It takes a lot to keep this Walker skin ridiculously young-ish and protected from the sun’s death rays, so I used to pile on the sunscreen. Then I found out most sunscreens might cause as much damage as sun exposureI can’t even. 

The reason sunscreens are harmful is because most are laden with toxic chemicals. These chemicals get directly applied and then absorbed into your body’s largest organ: your skin. Disturbingly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved at least nine popular sunscreen ingredients that are known to be endocrine disruptors. (Your endocrine system does enjoy being disrupted, by the way. Just thought I’d throw that out there.)

In addition to this, many sunscreens are linked to various cancers, which is just ridiculous, because we’re all wearing sunscreen to prevent cancer in the first place. UGH! I hate life! But I digress.

When it comes to chemical sunscreen is also very environmentally unfriendly, so for the sake of our bodies and Mama Nature, it just makes good sense to switch to a better product. Fortunately, if you know what to look for, there are quite a few excellent options.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SUNSCREEN:

  1. Zinc oxide + titanium deoxide: I KNOW! I’m beginning to have flashbacks of my chemistry classes (which I was uh-mazing at, thank you very much. #HumbleBragThatOnlyNerdsAppreciate). These two ingredients are crucial to a good sunscreen. 

–> Zinc oxide offers superior broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, so it’s a win-win. Titanium deoxide adds additional coverage from harmful rays, so this is a powerhouse combination. They sit on the skin, so they repel water and rays better.

  1.  EWG Rating: A good sunscreen will have an EWG (Environmental Working Group) rating of a 1-2
  2. Antioxidents: many quality sunscreens will add a natural antioxident, which is like gold for your skin. It’s not necessary, but it’s a major bonus.

(see below for my list of the good, the bad, and the ugly)

THE BAD INGREDIENTS:

We know sunscreens contain so many potentially hazardous chemicals, the ingredient list reads like a recipe for the ooze that teenaged mutant ninja turtles’ came from (that was for fellow geeks everywhere. Gotta stick together, peeps). But what exactly are these ingredients we need to avoid?

  1. Oxybenzone, the Big Baddie: this horrible chemical is a known endocrine disruptor linked to reduced sperm count in men and endometriosis in women. Extra scary fact: A recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found 96 percent of the U.S. population has oxybenzone in their bodies.10 Aside from oxybenzone — which is found in 70 percent of sunscreens — here are some of the other commonly used chemicals that can enter your bloodstream and can cause toxic side effects:
  2. Cinoxate
  3. Dioxybenzone
  4. Octisalate
  5. Octocrylene
  6. Octyl methooxycinnamate (OMC)
  7. Octinoxate
  8. Homosalate
  9. Para-aminobenzoic (PABA)
  10. Phenulbenzimidazole

BEST AND WORST SUNSCREENS FOR ADULTS

You can find a comprehensive list detailing good and bad sunscreen on EWG, but here is their highly reliable best of lists: http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/best-sunscreens/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/

The Best Sunscreens of 2017, Beach & Sport

  • All Good Unscented Sunstick, SPF 30
  • All Terrain AquaSport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
  • aromatica Calendula Non-Nano UV Protection, SPF 30
  • ATTITUDE Family Sensitive Skin Care Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 50
  • Badger Sunscreen Cream, Unscented, SPF 30
  • Bare Belly Organics Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen, SPF 30+
  • Drunk Elephant Umbra, Sheer Defense, SPF 30
  • Goddess Garden Organics Everyday Natural Sunscreen Lotion, SPF, 30
  • Jersey Shore Cosmetics Anti-Aging Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 35
  • Just Skin Food Natural & Organic Sunscreen, SPF30
  • Kabana Organic Skincare Green Screen Sunscreen, Original SPF 32
  • Kiss My Face Organics Face & Body Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Poofy Organics The Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30
  • Sunology Natural Sunscreen, Body, SPF 50
  • Sunology Natural Sunscreen, Face, SPF 50
  • ThinkSport Sunscreen, SPF 50+
  • Waxhead Sun Defense Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30
  • Zebs Organics Sunscreen, SPF 20 (4)

The Best Sunscreens of 2017, Moisturizers

  • Andalou Naturals, All-in-One Beauty Balm, Sheer Tint, SPF 30
  • Badger Damascus Rose Face Sunscreen, SPF 25
  • Block Island Organics Natural Face Moisturizer, SPF 30
  • CyberDERM Every Morning Sun Whip, SPF 25
  • Goddess Garden Organics Face the Day Sunscreen & Firming Primer, SPF 30
  • Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer, SPF 30
  • SanRe Organic Skinfood Shaded Rose-Solar Healing Facial Cream, SPF 30
  • Suntegrity Skincare 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen, SPF 30 (5)

Most Toxic Sunscreens to Avoid

Now that you have this list, you can bask in the sun without worry! Happy first official day of summer and International Yoga Day!

 

 

 

 

 

When Dairy-Free Milk Wreaks Havoc on Your Gut

Many people switch to nut milk in pursuit of healthier options, completely unaware of some companies using ingredients that are highly inflammatory for your intestinal tract and harmful to your gut microbes.

It seems like everyday, more people are ditching cow’s milk and switching to healthier options, like nut milk. With increased demand comes increased supply, so many mainstream food brands are now marketing nut milk of every variety. Many people switch to nut milk in pursuit of healthier options, completely unaware of some companies using ingredients that are highly inflammatory for your intestinal tract and harmful to your gut microbes.This should be a good thing…but it’s not. While you’d might think consumers should be able to waltz into any grocery store and not have to worry about what the hell is in our food, that world just doesn’t exist anymore. The food industry is a massive business and, like many other businesses, it’s more concerned with product sale than people’s health.  The simple truth is not all dairy-free milks are created equal, but there’s something you can do about it.

GET CHOOSY: NOT ALL INGREDIENTS ARE CREATED EQUAL:

The fact that we can’t count on the food industry to provide 100% healthy ingredients in our food literally spins me into Rage Monster mode. I used to blindly assume larger companies put their products through higher standards of testing, packaging, and producing. Guess what, Buttercup? There’s a long list of harmful ingredients that have the green-light go from the FDA. While these ingredients are massively damaging to your body, they make production of food cheaper and easier.  So how do you make sure your dairy free milk isn’t doing a number on your gut microbes? Here are a few steps to follow:

PLAY DETECTIVE: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR NUT MILK

1. Organic vs. nonorganic: it’s a no brainer these days that organic is best. The reason isn’t just so we can avoid crazy chemicals and other horrible things that end up in our food. Organic soil tends to have a significantly higher percent of minerals and nutrients that end up in our food.

2. Water quality: Don’t even get me started on city tap water. It’s so vile, I can practically taste the hundred year old pipes and other gross things you know have just seeped right into the water. Most companies are not making their nut milk in the pristine hills of Wyoming, so unless your brand of nut milk specifies using filtered water, you can assume it’s vile city tap water. Nut milks are predominantly of water, so choose a brand that uses filtered water. If you make your own but milk, definitely avoid tap water.

Oh, and here’s a completely random side tip: use filtered water for your coffee and it will taste magical. A barista told me the secret to a great cuppa joe (under duress, of course. Those barista’s guard their coffee secrets like a dragon sitting on gold).

3. Free of sweeteners and sugar: an appalling amount of dairy free products use massive amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners. While most of us might not want to cut sugar out from our diet entirely, we can certainly be savvy about when we consume it and how much we put in our bodies.

AVOIDANCE IS SOMETIMES A GOOD COPING METHOD:

Some of the ingredients in nut milk that will do a number on your gut health. And since we all know now that gut health > everything, it’s crucial to find nut milk free of the following:

1. Soy anything, (including soy milk) unless it’s specifically GMO free. Even if it is, be aware that soy products can increase estrogen in both men and women.

2. Gum: avoid gummy ingredients like that crazy ex you had back in college. I mean, throw that carton back on the shelf and turn tale and RUN. But do it subtly so the people at Whole Foods won’t think you’re a lunatic.

3. Xantham Gum, Locust Bean Gum, or Gellan Gum: these ingredients  are used as thickeners, and they can drastically alter your gut’s health. Not ALL gum is bad for you though, as studies have shown ones like Organic Guar Guam doesn’t seem to harm the body.

4. Carrageenan: this ingredient is sneaky and gets by a lot of health savvy people, because it’s “natural.” It comes from a red algae plant, and it’s is used to thicken nut milks. Here’s the bad news: carrageenan is not only highly indigestible, but it’s a known carcinogen. Carrageenan also wreak havoc on the body by creating ulcerations and inflammation of the intestinal tract. I mean, honestly people, what’s a girl gotta do to get a decent cup o’ nut milk?!

HEALTHY OPTIONS:

Don’t worry, I won’t throw all that cancer/inflammation talk at you and then leave you stranded. There are two options for ensuring your nut milk is healthy AF:

1. Make your own: this is surprisingly easy and homemade nut milk tastes like…well, the milk of the gods. I don’t know. It tastes magical, that’s what I’m getting at. Try my favorite recipe and see for yourself.

2. Choose a reliable brand:

  • Forager Project
  • Silk
  • Califia Farms
  • So Delicious (NOTE: not all of SD’s products are carrageenan-free, but they are actively working on removing this ingredient from all their products. Read labels to be sure. At the time of this post, their desserts still contain carrageenan.)

While it can be frustrating that not all food brands are reliable, it is also empowering to know we have a choice about what we put in our bodies. Stay savvy and be smart about what you purchase. You only have one body, so treat it right.

(Best Ever) Gluten Free Chicken Noodle Soup

I’ve had a lot of chicken noodle soup in my day, and I do believe nothing cures the common cold except a big bowl of hot soup. That was before I went vegetarian, of course, but I still make it for the carnivorous people I heart. My husband is about 80% vegetarian, and what meat he does eat is usually more in the style of Asian cuisine, where the meat is an accent–not the main dish. Whenever he gets sick, he always special requests my chicken noodle soup.

I love cooking up a big batch of this soup whenever I make it. It smells soooo good, and it takes me back to so many happy childhood memories. To me, childhood smells like coming in from a snowy day and finding a big pot of chicken noodle soup simmering away on the stove. My mom is pretty awesome, for sure. Except she refused to let my sister and I eat Captain Crunch, which I think is ethically questionable and highly cruel. Aaaaaanyway.

I can’t take credit for the recipe though: it’s my mom’s and it’s fail-proof. It’s also southern as a belle, and like all great southern recipes, it takes time to cook. The prep time is a breeze, so you can either throw this in a crock pot or set it on the stovetop and let it have a nice, long simmer. Also, my mother believes love is the secret ingredient to all southern dishes…who am I to argue with that? All this time, I thought it was butter. It really is butter, isn’t it? Just ask Paula Dean.

I adjusted my mother’s recipe to make it gluten-free and a bit healthier, but obviously I kept the main ingredient in there;) No wonder my husband loves eating a bowl o’ chicken noodle soup when he’s feeling under the weather!


SERVES: 4 (I double this recipe though and makes a large stockpot full of soup)

PREP TIME: 15 minutes

COOK TIME 3-4 hours simmering on cooktop


INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2-3 bags of baby carrots
  • 2 celery ribs cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 quarts chicken stock or bone broth
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed chicken—> season and sear for most flavor
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 ounces dried wide egg noodles
  • 2-3 TBS Organic Better Than Bouillon chicken (MSG/GF)
CHICKEN STOCK
  • 1 whole free-range chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), rinsed, giblets discarded
  • 2 carrots, cut in large chunks
  • 3 celery stalks, cut in large chunks
  • 2 large white onions, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic, halved
  • 1 turnip, halved
  • 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

METHOD

Lightly sauté your diced carrots, onions, and celery with your garlic. This really opens the vegetables and brings out the flavors in the soup. It makes a world of difference, I swear. You’re goal isn’t to pre-cook the veggies, just enhance the flavor profile, so it only take a couple of moments. Likewise, I like to season and sear my chicken, but this is optional. A nice, slow cook will ensure really delicious, tender meat no matter what.

Pour in the pre-made chicken stock (I use bone broth for mine), and toss in all other ingredients except the noodles. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and let it simmer for about 3-4 hours, or until baby carrots are soft. Trust me, don’t rush the timing. A slow (torturous wait for sure) cook really lets all the flavors marinate and every spoonful will be layered with rich, scrumptious flavors.

TIP: sauté the ingredients and then throw everything in a crockpot (exceeeeeept the noodles) and cook

The noodles: GF noodles turn to horrible, terrible, no good very bad mush if cooked for too long. They’re the delicate, temperamental orchids of the noodle family, that’s for darn certain. They also soak up liquids, so prepare according to the package instructions, and then add them individually to each bowl you serve.

TIP—> The key to gluten free noodles is do not overcook them. Most types of GF noodles cook in about 4 minutes using a gentle, rolling boil. I find the best way to get a true al dente texture is to soak them in very hot water for about 20-25 minutes in the style of many Asian dishes.

Even though this isn’t an insta-ready recipe, it’s actually crazy-easy to make. Best of all, it makes for delicious left-overs, because it only gets better the next day, which is why I usually make a big pot of soup. You  can add whatever veggies your heart desires: my mom sometimes adds potatoes (because what goes better with love than a little starch?), and I always pile on the carrots because that’s my favorite part of the soup. Obviously this isn’t a vegetarian recipe, but I do like getting a bowl of the broth, noodles and veggies. I top the soup with some fresh basil and other herbs like cilantro, because I love sneaking in fresh greens however I can:)

And that’s it! The best ever gluten free chicken noodle soup, made with minimum effort and a lotta love!

Nutrient-Dense Delicious Pho Recipe

The only good things about winter are snowboarding, snow, hot chocolate and soup. In no particular order. Everything else is just meh.

Ok, ok, those aren’t the only good things. Some people hate on winter (like the Starks a la Game of Thrones…I’m still weeping over Ned Stark. Oh, and Rob Stark. And Catelyn Stark…basically, all the Starks and the long list of characters which fell prey to the GOT bloodbath), but I actually love all the seasons. I’m a hippie at heart, and each season brings with it some amazing outdoor playtime. D.C. winters are pretty mild (now that I’ve written that, the weather gods are probably going to send a raging snowpocalypse on the DMV area), but my husband Samuel and I get our fill of winter, because we usually go skiing at least two or three times a month to some of the surrounding resorts in-between our trips to Colorado. We love the snow so much, we would build an igloo and camp out if we could.

I’m probably going to be featuring non-stop soup recipes since 1) I live on a steady diet of soup and wine in the winter (the Wine Diet is year round, let’s be real) and 2) my sweet husband was hit by a pretty bad cold this week, so  I made him homemade chicken noodle soup (I’ll feature the recipe later this week or next). I always use the leftover bones of the chicken to make a big batch of bone broth, because the health benefits are cray.  


I made this authentic pho recipe with beef bone broth, which is NOT vegan or vegetarian. If you don’t want to use bone broth, sub homemade vegetable stock instead. I personally make an exception on this, because bone broth is so beneficial for autoimmune diseases.

What are the health benefits of bone broth?

Bone broth is rich in minerals that support the immune system and contains healing compounds like collagen, glutamine, glycine and proline. The collagen in bone broth heals your gut lining and reduces intestinal inflammation. Beyond that, here’s what research shows:

1. Immune support.

This is huge for me, because I’ve been able to control my Lupus through natural measures for years. I personally feel a difference when I consume bone broth and take tumeric daily. Why does bone broth boost the immune system? Due to the high concentration of minerals, bone broth is a “superfood.” A Harvard study even showed that people with auto-immune disorders experienced a relief of symptoms when drinking bone broth, and some achieved complete remission. 

2. Protect your joints.

This is a big winner for athletes and people with autoimmune diseases. My husband and I are pretty extreme athletes: we ski, snowboard, do HIIT classes and other intense workout training, run…I mean, these things are great, but they can be inflammatory for the body. Taking glucosamine supplements to help with joint pain has been common knowledge for years, but it turns out that bone broth has glucosamine too. Bone broth is so beneficial, it’s a diet requirement for the LA Lakers.  So why broth and not pills? The broth  includes a host of other benefits that help keep your joints happy, healthy, and pain-free. The chondroitin sulfate in bone broth has been shown to help prevent osteoarthritis.

3. Heal and seal your gut:

According to Jill Grunewald, a holistic nutrition coach and founder of Healthful Elements, a cup a day works miracles for leaky gut syndrome but it’s also good for protecting non-leaky guts. The gelatin in the bone broth helps seal up holes in intestines. This helps cure chronic diarrhea, constipation, and even some food intolerances like Celiac and Crohn’s disease.

4. Look younger:

PRAISE BABY JESUS. I’m down! Bone broth is a rich source of collagen. You can find collagen in all kinds of “plumping” products these days. Drinking it is not only cheaper, but it can make your hair and nails look just as radiant as your skin.

5. Stronger bones:

The phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium in the bones seeps out into the broth and gives your body the building blocks for healthy bones.

6. Sleep better, function at a sharper level:

The glycine in bone broth has been shown in several studies to help people sleep better and improve memory.

There are a slew of other benefits, but those are some of my favorite. Anyway, my dear friend from Vietnam taught me this authentic recipe, and she shared the tricks of the trade to really nail it. Did you know pho is actually a breakfast food? True story. It’s so delicious, I could eat it morning, noon, or night.

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SERVES: 6+

PREP TIME: 15 minutes (if using pre-made bone broth)

COOK TIME: 10-15 minutes


INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 1/2 to 4 quarts of bone broth or vegetable broth (homemade or bought ready-made)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt
  • 1/4 cup of fish sauce (leave out if going vegan route)
  • 1 to 2 pounds small (1/8-inch wide) dried or fresh “banh pho” or rice noodles (these are gluten-free)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 4-inch piece of fresh ginger, halved lengthwise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 6 star anise
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 black cardamom pod (see note below)
  • 1-inch piece yellow rock sugar OR dried coconut sugar

 

OPTIONAL: 1/2 pound raw eye of round or sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain. It’s traditional to add to bowl raw, and to pour hot broth over it, which cooks it. I don’t eat meat, so I can’t really testify to how this portion tastes. 

FOR THE TABLE

  • Sprigs of fresh mint and/or Asian/Thai basil
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cilantro
  • Thinly sliced red chilies (such as Thai bird)
  • Lime wedges
  • Hoisin sauce

METHOD:

  1. If you are using dried noodles, add noodles to a bowl then cover with hot water and soak for 15 to 20 minutes until soft and opaque. If you are using fresh, add to a colander then rinse with cold water
  2. While noodles soak, move an oven rack to a high position then turn broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place quartered onions and halved ginger onto baking sheet then broil for 10 to 15 minutes, turning onions and ginger occasionally so that they become charred or browned on all sides. You can also sauté them, which is faster and does the same thing. TIP: An added bonus: you can throw in a dab of butter and lightly sauté your rice noodles afterwards to give them maximum flavor in the soup. 
  3. Add cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cloves and the black cardamom pod to a dry frying pan. Place onto low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant. About 5 minutes. Place toasted spices into a cotton muslin bag/herb sachet or cheesecloth then tie with butchers twine to seal.
  4. Pour bone broth into stockpot and bring boil. Add charred onion and ginger as well as the bag or sachet of toasted spices, then bring to a simmer. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, a 1/4 cup of fish sauce and the rock sugar. Continue to simmer broth, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
  5. Pour broth over noodles (and beef, if used), top with fresh basil, bean sprouts, etc. and serve.

Note: The secret to great pho is two parts: a delicious stock, and charring the onions/toasting the spices. This really enhances the flavor profile of the soup.


After you’ve made this soup a few times, it’s easy to prep and serve within 15 minutes if you multi-task. Making your own bone broth takes TIME. And I mean several hours worth of it. It’s not difficult to make, however, and you aren’t tied to your stovetop like you’d expect. Most grocery stores and markets sell ready-made bone broth, or you can even buy it on Amazon.com. The online prices range from inexpensive to very pricy, so I’d encourage you to do a little research about whichever brand you select.

If you love soup as much as I do, I definitely recommend this recipe. It’s light, delicious, and it absolutely hits the spot.

img_8849

Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese Two Ways

I don’t know about where you live, but the weather is moody AF here in Washington, D.C. What’s up, mama nature?! While I tend to prefer meals that are heavily plant-based, sometime life calls for some good old Southern comfort food.

My mom has a collection of the best southern dishes, and while they taste ah-maaaazing, they certainly aren’t healthy. The good news is just about any recipe can be modified to fit your dietary needs.

I adjusted my mom’s mac & cheese recipe two ways: 1) gluten free noodles using organic milk and cheese, 2) vegan using creamy cashew sauce

Both of them tasted so delicious, I almost forgot we’re in the clutches of winter. Almost. But not quite.

img_8834

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MAC & SMOKED GOUDA CHEESE 

_________________________________________________________________

SERVES: 6

PREP TIME: 10-15 minutes

COOK TIME: 35-40 


INGREDIENTS:

4 cups dried GF macaroni
1 whole egg
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups ORGANIC whole milk
2 heaping teaspoons dry mustard (more if desired)
1 pound Gouda cheese, grated (not pre-grated cheese)
Seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


METHOD:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Salt water and bring to a boil. Add GF noodles and cook per instructions. If you have trouble with soggy noodles, try boiling the water and taking off heat, soaking the noodles till they’re soft. Drain and set aside.
  3. Make the white sauce: melt butter over medium heat. Stir in enough flour to make a roux. Add milk to roux slowly, stirring constantly. Stir in cheeses, and cook over low heat until cheese is melted and the sauce is a little thick. Put macaroni in large casserole dish, and pour sauce over macaroni. Stir well.
  4. Grate the cheese into the white sauce and stir till it melts in.
  5.  Mix in noodles and stir till their thoroughly coated, then add to a casserole dish.
  6. Put in oven and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until top gets golden brown.

TIPS: Try different cheeses, or mix several cheeses. For non-vegetarians, bacon pairs gloriously with smoked gouda (what the heck, bacon pairs beautifully with LIFE…how I miss you bacon) and pepper-jack cheese. Want your mac to have an extra kick? Add jalapeno peppers. More texture? Top with breadcrumbs for a bit of a crunch. Play around with the ingredients.


VEGAN MAC & CHEESE:

I know, I know. It seems like an contradiction of terms to include vegan and cheese in the same sentence. I always like to be quite clear that under no conditions do certain vegan substitutes “taste just like the real thing.” What a good vegan recipe will do for you though, is give you a really satisfying substitute so you won’t even miss the alternative. This one fits the bill for me.


SERVES: 4-6

PREP TIME: 10 minutes

COOK TIME: 10-15 minutes


INGREDIENTS:

  • 10 ounces dried GF macaroni (or about 2⅔ cups)
  • 1 cup peeled/diced yellow potatoes (or russets)
  • ¼ cup peeled/diced carrots
  • ⅓ cup chopped onion
  • ¾ cup water (preferably use liquid from pot of boiled veggies)
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¾ to 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 pinch paprika

METHOD:
  1. Cook macaroni according to package instructions, drain, and set aside.
  2. Bring several cups of water to boil in a small pot. Place chopped potatoes, carrots, and onion in the boiling water, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and soft enough to blend. Cooking time will vary slightly, based on how small you have chopped your veggies.
  3. When veggies are soft, use a slotted spoon to remove them from cooking water, and place them in your blender. Add ¾ cup of that cooking water to your blender, along with your remaining ingredients.
  4. Blend until smooth.
  5. Pour sauce over your cooked macaroni noodles in a casserole dish mixture, sprinkle with bread crumbs, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, or until crumbs are turning golden brown.

TIP: I personally found using GF noodles AND zero cheese was just a little too much…ah, faux mac & cheese tasting for my liking. I used GF in my recipe, and found I liked it better.

img_8835
 Want to know how to make a killer white sauce? Check out Gordan Ramsay, my all time favorite oh-so-bad-tempered chef, whip up a quick sauce: