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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Almond Butter Brownies (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Refined Sugar-Free) + How Sugar Is Wreaking Havoc & What To Do About It

I had a completely different blog post planned for today but I decided to switch it up last minute because this simple and tasty almond butter brownie recipe is just too good to keep to myself any longer. They really are decadent... in the best guilt-free way. Plus, I thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to dive into the sugar issue.

I have struggled to eliminate refined sugar from my diet over the past few years so much so that I even cut out fruit sugar for a time just to detach myself from the effects all types of sugar had on my physical, mental and emotional health. Whether it was raw honey or high fructose corn syrup, I had to cut it all out and treat them the same because no matter if it was unrefined or refined, they both had the same effect on my overall well-being. I had been reliant on it for so many years.

When I decided it was time to add natural sugars back into my diet, I was unsure how I'd go about enjoying dessert from time to time while still eating a clean, mostly plant-based diet. Fortunately, I've found tasty alternatives that don't disrupt my clean eating efforts. Even though healthier desserts should still be eaten in moderation, it's a relief to know that I don't ever have to feel like I'm missing out or worse, feel tempted to eat something that will make me bloated, drained and sick later. I now have healthier and tastier options. :-)

Understanding the health ramifications of excess sugar consumption is crucial. Centuries ago, the average amount of sugar consumed was 4 pounds a person per year. Now we consume over 140 pounds a person per year, and about 22 teaspoons a person per day. It's no surprise that Americans are sicker than ever before. Long-term consumption of excess sugar is linked to diabetes, heart disease, yeast overgrowth, autoimmune diseases, obesity, depression, and cancer. Cancer researcher, Don Ayer, PhD, says, "Data supports the general hypothesis that cancer cells are addicted to glucose and that, by restricting glucose metabolism, one can stop their growth." According to this infographic demonstrating 14 facts about sugar, "the American Dietetic and Diabetic Associations claim that increased sugar consumption is the leading cause of degenerative disease."

You see, our ancestors consumed naturally-occuring sugars present in fruit and starchy vegetables (squash, yams, sweet potatoes), in other words, whole foods, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber. So the sugar was digested slowly and provided energy for a longer period of time. Biologically speaking, we are designed to desire a little bit of sugar due to the lactose (milk sugar) in breast milk. The trouble is that our bodies were not designed to process the outrageous amount of added sugar we consume today. It's true, we need sugar for energy, but the difference between then and now is that our ancestors burned it right up. Americans live a much more sedentary lifestyle in this day and age, therefore any excess sugar is converted to and stored as fat and causes inflammation in the body. We're suffering the consequences of going against nature. 

Many studies have found that sugar may be addictive. I've experienced it firsthand. You binge, have withdrawals, crave and rinse, lather and repeat, just like drug addiction. There was a fog that overcame me when I ate sugar. It made me want to eat everything sugary in sight. I felt light and happy temporarily but then when it wore off, I felt down and craved more sugar to give me that same euphoric feeling the sugar high gave me, only to crash again. In the study, scientists found that sugar causes chemical changes in the brain the same way that cocaine and heroin do. I guess there's no coincidence that cocaine and sugar look quite similar, eh? Also, just like drugs, sugar stimulates the brain's reward/pleasure center causing the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes sugar all the more appealing and addictive.

Typically, when we think of sugar we think of a candy bar or cookies or ice cream. But refined sugar is hidden in everything, even sneaked into the least suspecting foods such as bread, sauces, cereal, yogurt, condiments, and salad dressings. Food manufacturers bank on the fact that we are addicted to sugar, so much so that it goes by a wide array of names such as: beet sugar, cane syrup, corn sweeteners, concentrated fruit juice, dextrose, fructose, glycerol, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, malt, malt barley, maltose, malt syrup, rice malt, sorbitol, sucrose, turbinado - and those are just a few of its many aliases. So beware! That's why it's always best to make most of your meals, strictly limit or eliminate refined or added sugars and eat as closely to a plant-based diet as possible. Also remember to avoid simple carbohydrates (refined starches), also known as sugars, such as white flour, white rice and white bread, which spike your blood sugar and deplete your energy. The best sugar substitutes to use in moderation are stevia, raw coconut nectar or coconut crystals, and organic pure maple syrup.

If you're sensitive to sugar, gradually cut out all sugars (even fruit) for awhile. For me, doing this helped to relieve and eliminate candida symptoms including acne, dermatitis, and other yeast related issues. Sugar is sugar, whether unrefined or refined. All sugar feeds on yeast so be wary of that. If you're trying to avoid a deeper issue by eating sugary foods to temporarily numb the pain, try to pinpoint those issues and deal with them first. 

Eliminating hidden added sugars from breakfast, lunch and dinner, including sodas and commercial fruit juices (the worst offenders), and allowing yourself a small amount of sugar in dessert is your best bet. As David Katz, MD, says, "you can subtract grams and grams of sugar out of your diet without ever touching dessert. You can systemically reverse-engineer the damage the modern food supply is doing to your body by simply making better choices." You don't have to get rid of every bit of sugar, but now you have the ability to make more informed decisions. And remember, it's about progress, not perfection, which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "what you do everyday matters more than what you do every once in awhile."

Enjoy these brownies as an occasional treat or take to a party or family gathering. They'll never suspect that they're vegan, gluten-free & refined sugar-free. ;-)

Almond Butter Brownies
YIELD: 8 servings

• 1 cup raw almond butter
• 3/4 cup coconut sugar
• 1 egg equivalent of Ener-G egg replacer or 1 flax egg *See note
• 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1/2 tsp sea salt
• 1/4 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 cup dark chocolate (best option - at least 70% cacao), chopped or Enjoy Life's dark chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a small (8x8 or 8x6) baking dish with parchment paper.
3. Combine all of the ingredients, except the chocolate chunks, in a bowl and mix well.
4. Fold in the chocolate chunks and spoon into the baking dish.
5. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.
6. Remove brownies from the oven and cool in the pan for 45 minutes before cutting or eating. **This step is important! Do not touch or cut them, as tempting as it will be. The only way they won't fall apart is to let them completely cool and firm up.

• A flax egg is made by mixing 1 Tbs ground flaxseed with 3 Tbs warm water. After mixing, let it sit for 10 minutes to thicken, and then add in.
• The brownies can be frozen but they didn't stand a chance being frozen in my house... we gobbled them up too quickly and I'm sure you will too!

Oh, also, I leave for Colorado this weekend. Weeee! :-) Sayonara Texas heat! Anyway, I was going to try to schedule for a post to go up while I was gone but it's not looking like that's going to happen. I promise I have some really awesome posts coming up. I was inspired today to write a post about how to stick to your healthy eating habits while traveling. I'm currently in the process of preparing to make sure I don't fall too far off the wagon. Preparation is everything!

I'm getting a bit off track here but I hope you all have a beautiful week and that you take time to breathe, slow down and relish in the ordinary moments of each day. All of the external circumstances going on around us are ever-changing and sometimes, okay let's be real, most of the time, we lose sight of what's important as we try to keep up with the demands we pile on ourselves. Take care of yourselves. Treat yourself with love, just like you'd treat a family member or friend - it all starts with you. You cannot possibly be your best self at work and in your relationships if you neglect yourself. That's how resentment develops.

That tangent came out of nowhere. Actually, it was probably harbored deep down within me and was screaming out to be expressed because in all actuality, I'm the one who needs to take that advice for myself.

Until next time! <3

"There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do, and mostly live." Dalai Lama

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Key Lime Pie Bars

I cannot bear to keep this recipe from you any longer. I am abnormally excited to share with you one of my new favorite guilt-free dessert recipes. And just like all recipes I share on my blog, it's vegan, refined sugar-free and gluten-free but you wouldn't even know it. These key lime bars are sooo creamy!

 Two mega important criteria to qualify as being one of my favorite desserts are simplicity and tastiness and this one passes by leaps and bounds. Best of all, raw coconut nectar has a lower glycemic index than table sugar meaning that it won't spike your blood sugar since it doesn't require as much insulin as refined sugar. Remember - our bodies are always trying to maintain stable blood sugar levels to support normal body functions.

I must confess, I couldn't stop eating the key lime mixture as I was making it. As impatient as I am, I probably could've eaten it just as it was blended without even freezing it but alas, I needed a pretty picture for my blog. Is it sad that I can't make it through a recipe without eating a good portion of it before it's done? ....Don't answer that.

This dessert recipe comes from clinical nutritionist, Kimberly Snyder, who I've mentioned before as being one of my greatest inspirations in the holistic health field.

For today's ingredient spotlight, I present to you...

• Limes - Much like lemons, limes are a great source of the powerful antioxidant and immune-booster vitamin C, which works to eliminate free radicals, a primary cause of illness and aging, from the body. They possess even more cancer-fighting properties due to flavonoids called flavonol glycosides that prohibit the division of cancer cells.

• Coconut Oil - Coconut oil contains healthy fats such as lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid, said to increase good HDL cholesterol and also fight viruses. It improves thyroid function, which increases energy and metabolism and in turn encourages weight loss. Applied topically, coconut oil is beneficial as a moisturizer and protectant for the skin due in part to the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps to fight free radicals caused by pollution and sun exposure. It's important that you use unrefined organic coconut oil as opposed to refined. 

Update: A quick word on honey (because I had originally included it in this recipe before I was 100% vegan)... The decline in bees is truly worrisome considering that they pollinate many of our food crops. According to a recent Purdue University study, bees are constantly exposed to pesticides that are sprayed on genetically engineered crops such as corn. Those chemicals have been found in dead bees near the hive and in pollen. Several countries have taken action to protect their bees and ban certain pesticides but the U.S. has not, since our risk assessment is different from countries like Europe. The U.S. regulatory agencies only step in when harm has been done; European agencies require substances to be proven safe first. Europe has also banned millions of pounds of contaminated honey that has unfortunately made its way from China into the U.S. and is loaded with heavy metals and chemicals linked to cancer. As author and activist Michael Pollan says, "you are what what you eat eats" meaning these unethical agricultural practices are not only threatening the health of animals and the environment, but human health as well.

Key Lime Pie Bars
Recipe from Kimberly Snyder

YIELD: 15 bars

• 4 cups cashews
• 1 cup organic lime juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
• 1/2 cup organic unrefined coconut oil
• 1/4 cup raw coconut nectar
Liquid stevia, to taste (I used about 30 drops)
• 1/2 - 1 cup filtered water
Organic coconut palm sugar, to garnish, and to taste (optional - I sprinkled it on top. It's an awesome low glycemic sweetener.)


1. Combine the first 5 ingredients, except for the water and coconut sugar, in a high-quality blender and blend on high until smooth. Add the water last and as needed to facilitate the blending process.
2. Pour the mixture in a pan/container and freeze for at least 4 hours.
3. Cut into bars and serve.

Let me know if you make them and how they turn out!

Until next time... <3

"Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will." Unknown

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Creamy Avocado Squash "Pasta" + How to Roast Spaghetti Squash

Because I grew up eating nutritionally bankrupt foods, "bad" carbohydrates made up a large part of my diet - white flour and table sugar in foods like cookies, cakes, pastries, and candy, refined pasta dishes, white rice, and soda. But carbohydrates are an important part of our diet and they should not be avoided, like many diet fads suggest. The key is to consume health-promoting complex carbohydrates - the carbs nature intended for us to eat.

Our bodies use carbohydrates as its main source of fuel. Essentially, all carbohydrates contain sugar. When sugar hits the bloodstream, it's converted into glucose, which our cells then use as fuel. This process of breaking down sugar molecules supplies us with energy to keep us going throughout the day and help keep our organs functioning optimally. The difference lies in how simple and complex carbohydrates digest in the body.

Carbohydrates fall under 3 categories: complex, simple and fiber. Simple carbohydrates are often called the "bad" carbs and complex carbs are commonly referred to as the "good" carbs. But it's a little more complicated than that. Some complex carbs are unhealthy, such as white bread. And some simple carbs are healthy, like fruit. It's all a matter of how quickly the carbohydrate boosts our blood sugar. The glycemic index is a numerical system that measures how quickly a certain food raises our blood sugar levels compared to consuming pure glucose. 

Fiber carbohydrates, insoluble and soluble, are undigested by the body but play an integral part in keeping us regular by moving food through our intestinal tract while regulating our blood sugar and lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Simple carbohydrates are made up of 1 or 2 sugar molecules, much shorter chains of sugar than complex carbs. The simple sugars enter the bloodstream quickly resulting in an rapid rise in glucose, or blood sugar. We experience a surge of energy and then we crash. But because our body is trying to maintain a stable blood sugar level, we become hungry again in order to raise our blood sugar. This leads to a vicious cycle of energy fluctuations and inevitably, weight gain. Simple carbohydrates are highly processed, which involves the removal of most of the nutrients that the food contained originally.

Fruit is an exception. It is considered a simple carbohydrate but due to its fiber content, it takes longer to digest and thus reduces the amount of sugar that reaches the cells. Plus, the sugars in fruit are naturally-occuring.

Because complex carbohydrates are made up of 3 or more sugar molecules and are woven within the food's fiber, they take longer to digest, which keeps us fuller longer and stabilizes our blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates are present in whole plant-based foods which are naturally unrefined, fiber-rich and contain essential vitamins and minerals. Food sources for complex carbs include: whole grains (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, steel-cut oats, oat groats, brown rice), starchy vegetables, beans, and lentils.

Aim to consume whole grains. Otherwise, the bran and germ have been removed from the whole grain kernel leaving only the endosperm. This refining process strips numerous key nutrients, present in the bran and germ, from the whole grain.

My whole point is... eating healthy doesn't have to be unsatisfying or tasteless. You don't have to give up one for the other. This is a case where you can have your cake and eat it too! There are limitless possibilities for reinventing your favorite traditional foods. Pasta dishes don't have to weigh you down. Choose whole grain pastas or even better, squash pasta, which will supply you with long-lasting energy and necessary nutrients all in one. 

This meal has a lengthy cooking time due to roasting the squash but once that's done, all you have to do is make the avocado sauce which takes literally 3 minutes. Long cooking time but hardly any real labor on your end - about 15 minutes or so, if that.

And most importantly, I got the stamp of approval from my dad. :-) It's safe to say that he's my guinea pig and a major food lover ... and not of the healthy variety usually. I have to say, though, that my healthy living and eating habits have had quite an influence on him since it has become such a major part of my life. In fact, he's changed many of his poor eating habits and has been pleasantly surprised with the vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free meals and desserts I've made. He even told me that he's so happy I've turned him onto healthier foods. That does my heart good!

How to Roast Spaghetti Squash Whole

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place the squash on a baking sheet. You may also use a silpat to place the squash on like I did if you have one. If not, no worries!
3. Pierce the squash in a few areas with a knife so that some of the moisture can be released. It's been said that it can blow up in the oven if you're not careful!
4. Roast for 1 hour and 20 min. The time will vary depending on the size of the squash. Mine was about 2 pounds.
5. Turn off the oven and open it a crack to let the squash cool for about 45 min. Or you can carefully take it out of the oven -- don't grab the squash though! Pull it out on the baking sheet or you will burn your hands.
6. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Save them so you can roast them in the oven later! They taste like pumpkin seeds. Yum!

7. Take a fork and drag it along the squash flesh to create strands that resemble pasta. 

8. Place the squash pasta on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, to taste.

That's it! Super easy, right? Some people cut the squash in half before roasting to cut down the time but frankly I couldn't cut my squash. My knife wasn't sharp enough and I wasn't about to cut my hand off trying. I've sliced my fingers too many times to risk cutting off a whole finger or my hand...

Depending on the size of your squash, you could save any extra pasta strands in the refrigerator and pull it out for a quick lunch or dinner. You could whip up the easy creamy avocado sauce again, use your favorite marinara sauce or any other sauce you desire.

Now onto the star of the meal... the creamy avocado sauce. It's bursting with flavor. So rich and creamy and garlicky. I imagine it would even be delicious as a salad dressing or on gluten-free whole grain pasta, like brown rice or quinoa pasta.

I found this recipe as I was browsing the popular vegan blog Oh She Glows. Like Angela, I had never eaten spaghetti squash before but oh man, I could've eaten it all by itself, which I can't believe I'm actually saying because I used to despise squash as a kid and would refuse to eat it. It's incredible how my taste buds have adapted to foods I used to avoid just by changing to a plant-based, whole foods diet. I am so, so glad I'm no longer missing out on such nutritious and delicious foods that make me feel better than I ever have.

Creamy Avocado Sauce
Adapted from this recipe

YIELD: 2 servings

• 1 medium avocado
• 1/2 lemon, juiced (or 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice)
• 1-2 garlic cloves (it was really garlicky with just 1 clove)
• 1/2 tsp high-quality sea salt
• 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• Black pepper, to taste & garnish

1. Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

2. Place the sauce on top of your pasta of choice and serve. The roasted spaghetti squash "pasta" is what I used and absolutely loved!
*See note below for avocado sauce storage tip.

• The serving size is assuming it's your main entree. I always start dinner with a big salad, so my portion size was a bit smaller and could've been stretched to 3 servings. My dad mentioned that he could see himself enjoying this dish as a side as well, which would stretch it even further.
• Because avocados don't last more than a day or two when ripe, any extra sauce will last in the refrigerator for up to a day. I didn't use all of the sauce when I first made it and used it the next day as a tasty dip!

Before I let you go, I wanted to let you know that I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to expand my knowledge of holistic health and receive certification as a health coach. My journey begins September 9th.

I came to a fork in the road. The left road led to a safety net full of predictability, confinement and conformity. The right road led me towards my passion of holistic health and nutrition. It also comes with uncertainty and requires unrelenting faith. My inner compass has directed me to the right. How can I decline my calling? It feels like I am aligning with my truth. So I'm following my bliss, trusting that doors will continue to open so that I am able to serve myself in order to ultimately serve others.

Until next time! Take care. :-)

"If you don't build your dreams, someone will hire you to help build theirs." Tony Gaskins

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Green Smoothie

Tip: Drink the green smoothie with a straw so it doesn't get
stuck in your teeth or on your lips... because it will!
The green smoothie catapulted me into a healthy lifestyle. I had not been accustomed to consuming greens growing up, unless they were in a can and then microwaved, so they lacked any nutritional value by the time they ended up on my plate. And if I were to eat a salad, more often than not it would be drenched in a dairy-laden dressing laced with chemicals (preservatives, artificial flavoring, etc.) and unhealthy fats, which essentially canceled out the greens I was eating. And by greens I mean mostly iceberg lettuce, which isn't nearly as nutritious as darker leafy greens such as spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, chard, and collard greens.

Naturally, it was difficult for me to get used to the idea of drinking vegetables since I couldn't bear the idea of eating them in a salad without a heavy dressing to counter the green taste. Nevertheless, I took the plunge. I decided that I wanted to be healthy long-term more than I wanted to be temporarily satisfied. I think that's the question you have to ask yourself when deciding whether or not you want to change your lifestyle and diet.

Even if I strayed from my healthy diet, I kept my green smoothie as a constant. I drank it every single morning for a year straight. It literally changed my life and my digestion so I didn't want to stop. The best part was, I was cleansing my body of toxins every day, even if I had cheated here and there by eating foods with refined sugar, dairy, or any processed food. And by cheating here and there, I mean weeks straight! If you're struggling with staying on track, find one healthy habit and stick to it daily - that way you don't feel so disappointed in yourself if you do backtrack a bit. That's totally normal and expected by the way. We're not trying to be perfect here and we're certainly not trying to stress too much over this, because stress can be hazardous to our health in and of itself. Life is too short for all of that. Occasional setbacks are inevitable... it's more important what you do/eat the majority of the time.

The most substantial difference I've experienced is that it has given me more energy than ever before. Whereas I used to feel tired even after getting 8 hours of sleep and then drained by mid-day, I am now able to sustain my energy levels all throughout the day! I've also avoided getting sick since changing my diet, and I have to attribute that to consuming an abundance of vegetables and strictly limiting my intake of processed foods. Vegetables have been the catalyst in strengthening my immune system. My nails have become stronger, my hair shinier, my skin more luminous. 

I now crave the green smoothie because not only does it taste amazingly delicious, but I know that it's nourishing me in every way! I can feel the difference. No better feeling than that.

With the rise in the green smoothie movement, we've seen many different combinations of vegetables, fruits, protein powders, nuts, and seeds. I keep it simple so that I'm not overloading my digestive system. Even too much of a good thing can be harmful.

The ingredient spotlight:

• Spinach - Rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A) which helps to slow down aging and in turn promotes beautiful, glowing skin. It's packed with antioxidants to fight free radicals, vitamins K & C, fiber, and key minerals iron, manganese, calcium, zinc, & magnesium.

• Kale - The buzz surrounding kale is completely justified. It's packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, C, and K, omega-3's, and fiber. Kale also has a high protein content.

• Lemon - Helps to support the liver in ridding the body of toxins, which is vital for those who suffer from acne. When the main detoxifying organ (liver) is overloaded, the skin acts as a backup to release the toxins instead, to ensure that the liver isn't compromised. Add fresh lemon in your beverages, dressings and meals throughout the day.

• Banana - Mood-booster due to its vitamin B₆ & tryptophan content. Also rich in vitamins C and A, potassium & fiber. Bananas are one of the sweetest fruits too, so it's the perfect addition to a green smoothie to counter the "green" taste.

• Apple - I used a green apple here since it's a low-sugar fruit. I've noticed that sugar (even natural sugar) throws me off balance and tends to cause breakouts. Nevertheless, all apples are loaded with the fiber pectin, which aids in digestion.

• Cucumber - Keep the skin on (only if organic)! It contains skin beautifying nutrients such as silica and vitamin C. Cucumbers possess a high content of naturally filtered, enzyme-rich water which provides us with ample hydration.

• Parsley - This herb packs a punch thanks to its powerful cleansing properties. It also contains vitamins A, C and E. I add it to my smoothies from time to time and frequently use it in various entrees.

Green Smoothie

YIELD: About 45-50 oz. *See note below for serving info. 

• 1 1/2 cups filtered water
• 2 cups organic spinach
• 1 cup organic kale, leaves torn in pieces
• 1/2 cup cucumber, sliced
• 1 organic pear, cored and chopped
• 1 organic apple, cored and chopped
• 1 or 2 organic bananas
• 1 Tbs fresh organic lemon juice

Optional add-ins
• 1/4 cup parsley (for extra detoxification)
• Ice
Liquid stevia, to taste (good for newbies)
Maca powder, wheatgrass powder, spirulina, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, 1/2 small avocado or 1/4 large avocado

1. Add the water, spinach and kale to the blender. Start on a low speed and blend until smooth. 
2. Move to a higher speed and add the cucumber, pear, apple, banana, and lemon juice.
3. Add in any optional ingredients, if desired.

• I use this recipe for 2 servings. I make it the night before and drink it for breakfast over 2 days. It will last for 2 days covered in the refrigerator. To save time and to increase your likelihood of drinking the green smoothie, you can double this recipe, freeze the smoothie in desired portions then take it out of the freezer the night before and let it thaw out in the refrigerator.
Investing in a high-quality blender is key here. Nobody likes a chunky smoothie! We spend loads of money on the latest skin care products, procedures, make-up, hair products, etc... most of which contain numerous chemicals and may be detrimental to your health. So why not invest in a blender that you'll use to improve your health? I recommend the Vitamix. The blender I had before was horrible, so I stopped making smoothies altogether. The Vitamix works quickly producing a super smooth consistency, plus it has so many other awesome uses too, other than just making smoothies. You can find reconditioned Vitamix blenders that are less expensive (but still expensive, I know...).

By the way, I hope you all had a fun and restful 4th of July!! My dad and I had some family over. I made my self-proclaimed famous guacamole, which my grandma said was the winning dish of the day. :-) That's the only opinion that matters when it comes to food, right? I also made brown rice & roasted butternut squash burritos with red bell pepper & cilantro. Those were a hit too! I'll be sharing that recipe very soon. We capped off the night with fireworks...

Even being pre-occupied making food and entertaining family, this 4th of July just wasn't the same. It was the first 4th without my mom. I'm learning to be open to feeling my mom's presence in other ways, but it's only been a little over 4 months since she passed, so I still find myself processing everything. I think she's with me more than I realize. 

Needless to say, spending time with my loved ones has become much more meaningful to me. It's unfortunate that losing someone would make you appreciate them more, but it does. There's always a gift to be found in your darkest hour, eh? 

I love you more, mom.

"They say people come and go. But the truth is, no one really disappears from your life. People never really leavetheir roles just change." Unknown
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