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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Apple Berry Power Protein Smoothie (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Refined Sugar-Free) + Benefits of "Superfood" Spirulina

This might seem strange, but when I think of smoothies, I think of internal fireworks going off. I feel like our digestive system jumps for joy and shoots off fireworks every time we consume a nutritionally dense smoothie, like a... nutritional explosion with all of the colors of the various fruits and vegetables and other "superfoods" shooting out, dispersing into our cells, and lighting up like fireworks... Did I lose you? LOL.

The apple berry power protein smoothie is bursting with beautifying and health-promoting nutrients. The plant protein comes from a few different sources including the spinach, kale, berries, chia seeds, and spirulina powder.

As I talked about in my last post, for those of us who abstain from eating animal products, ensuring that we receive an adequate amount of plant-based protein is ultra important. It really couldn't be simpler to accomplish that if you consume an abundance of vegetables, fruits, sprouts, nuts, seeds, and moderate amounts of beans and legumes. If the aforementioned foods make up the majority of your diet, you're golden in the protein department. High plant protein foods include broccoli, spinach, kale, avocado, sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, figs, romaine lettuce, brazil nuts, and almonds.

Considering that apples are a main component in this recipe, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that fall = apple season! I found the most beautiful apple at Whole Foods called Pink Pearl. It was developed in 1944 by Albert Etter in northern California from an older seedling called "Surprise." And who doesn't like surprises? This one will leave you in awe. Underneath the pale green skin of the pink pearl apple lies a rosy pink, marbled flesh. These unique apples ripen in late July and are at their peak in August. It's best to enjoy them in the early stages when its taste is tart to sweet-tart [source]. Below is a picture that I posted on Instagram a few days ago. Insanely gorgeous.

Fall is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year. The weather is delicious, the leaves begin to change into rich, lively colors, boots and sweaters come out of hibernation, and pumpkin becomes a mainstay in nearly everything, but most importantly in the category of food. :-) As soon as September hit, I had pumpkin on the brain. As a matter of fact, I'll be making a pumpkin pie smoothie topped with whipped coconut cream this evening to kick off the season. Vegan pumpkin french toast, anyone? Let me not play coy... I have a whole list of pumpkin flavored dishes I plan to tackle this season.

I am more excited than ever to experiment with different recipes now that I'm at a place where I'm much more comfortable in the kitchen. Cooking is considerably more enjoyable to me now that I'm able to get creative with healthy, vegan and gluten-free dishes while knowing that nearly every ingredient is working to prevent illness and improve and maintain good health and the health of my loved ones. Like my dad says, "you cannot fully understand the affects of a healthy diet until you actually make the changes and FEEL the difference." It couldn't be more true.

Today, we shine the ingredient spotlight on...

• Spirulina - Considered one of the most ancient "superfoods" around today, spirulina is a freshwater blue-green algae grown throughout the world. It is comprised of 60-70% protein and contains all 8 essential amino acids making it a complete protein source. Comparatively, beef only contains 22% protein. Spirulina is rich in chlorophyll, which helps to purify the blood. It contains essential fatty acids like GLA, which possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Studies have shown that spirulina boosts the immune system, stabilizes blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and supports kidney function. It also contains a wide array of essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and enzymes.

It's important to mention that it's impractical to eat a diet of highly processed foods and merely add in spirulina expecting it to cancel out the damage being done by a poor diet. Combined with a mostly plant-based diet without refined sugars, starches, other processed foods, and minimal, if any at all, animal products, consistent exercise, and stress management, spirulina will only enhance your health further... promise!

Be sure to buy organic spirulina from a reputable company to avoid any heavy metals or other contamination. I use the HealthForce brand. I bought it from Whole Foods but you can also purchase it online. It may seem pricey but because I don't spend money on meat or other animal products, it's more than worth it for me. Plus, it lasts a good while. You can also find it in bulk to save money. I have to warn you about the smell - I personally don't like the smell because I've always despised seafood, even before I was a vegetarian, but when it's mixed in a smoothie it doesn't bother me! I'm also still getting used to the taste so it may be an acquired taste for some people.

*Do not consume spirulina if you have a seafood or iodine allergy. 

Being that I am a vegetarian and currently transitioning to 100% veganism, I feel compelled to add that consumption of animal protein wreaks havoc on our health, the environment and causes unnecessary harm to animals. Essentially, animal protein creates an acidic environment in our bodies due to the by-products uric acid, ammonia and purines created by digesting animal protein. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and professor at Cornell University, conducted a study that lasted for almost thirty years called The China Study, which found an astounding link between disease and animal protein: "Plant-based foods are linked to lower blood cholesterol; animal-based foods are linked to higher blood cholesterol. Animal-based foods are linked to higher breast cancer rates; plant-based foods are linked to lower rates. Fiber and antioxidants from plants are linked to a lower risk of cancers of the digestive tract."

If you do eat animal protein, I suggest keeping it to one meal a day or ideally, only a few times a week and make sure you choose organic (hormone-free & antibiotic-free), ethically raised animal protein. The antibiotics given to animals for infections as a result of the tiny holding areas and fecal contamination, and the hormones given to speed up their growth and production to meet consumer demand, end up in your food and in your body too. Not to mention the pesticide-sprayed feed given to the animals, which also ends up in your system and can contribute to disease as it accumulates over time.

Check out the documentary Food Inc. available online if you want to delve deeper into this important issue. It changed my life by changing the way I think about food, where it comes from, how it's produced, changed, and the horrific conditions of factory farms.

Apple Berry Power Protein Smoothie

YIELD: 46 oz. or 2 servings (23 oz. per serving)

• 2 cups non-dairy milk or filtered water, or 1 cup non-dairy milk and 1 cup water *See note
• 1 cup spinach
• 1 cup kale
• 2 apples, your choice, cored (I used 1 Pink Pearl & 1 Gala apple)
• 1 cup frozen berry blend *See note
1 ripe banana
2 Tbs chia seeds
• 3 heaping tsp spirulina *See note
• Liquid stevia, to taste (I used 10 drops)
• 1 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice (optional)
Ice (optional)


1. Add in the non-dairy milk and/or water, spinach and kale and blend on low speed until smooth. Gradually increasing the speed, add in the rest of the ingredients and blend on high until smooth.


I used unsweetened coconut milk. It gives the smoothie a nice creamy texture and taste! I'm sure unsweetened almond milk would be yummy too.
You can find a pack of blackberries, strawberries & blueberries at WholeFoods in the frozen section, which is what I used, or just freeze fresh berries if you'd rather.
• If you don't have spirulina or if you just don't like the taste, you can use any other raw protein powder like hemp. You can find these at health food stores. I recommend staying away from soy and whey protein powders as they are typically highly processed.
• Share the 2nd serving with someone else or save it for up to 2 days in the fridge for yourself!

What is your favorite thing about fall? I'd love to know! And if you happen to make this smoothie, pretty please send me a picture and @ me on Instagram or Twitter. :-)

"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." Unknown

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Banana Pancakes & Whipped Coconut Cream (Vegan, Gluten-Free) + Dangers of Agave Nectar

If you have a hankering for a sweet and filling but nutritious breakfast, super pancake-fanatic-lady is here to save the day! Though it's important to stick to a mainly plant-based diet full of whole, fresh, organic, disease-fighting, energy and mood-lifting foods, the occasional dessert or pancake, in today's case, won't kill you. In fact, it will help to keep you on track so you're less likely to revert back to your old ways. Even better, have a green smoothie beforehand to aid digestion. Okay, did I just kill the mood? Eek. Sorry!

You see, pancakes are one of my favorite foods in the history of ever and I've been searching high and low for the best vegan, gluten-free, most nutritious pancake recipe out there. Since I no longer participate in IHOP's unlimited pancake breakfasts, I decided I would stop at nothing to find a healthier alternative, which is what my journey has really been all about - finding/creating healthy recipes that are as tasty (and more often than not they're more tasty) as the energy draining, blood sugar spiking, illness-causing version. I feel light and energized after eating these pancakes, not weighed down and bloated like the other variety. I've experimented with a few recipes and I'm happy to say I've found a winner! I'm so stoked to share it with you.

Now, gluten-free, vegan baking is a bit different than what you may be used to. Because there's no gluten or eggs to bind all of the ingredients together and give it that light and fluffy texture, these pancakes are more dense. All that means is that you'll get fuller faster and your energy level will be stable throughout the day. Say adios to blood sugar spikes that cause you to feel high and mighty and then hungry and down soon after.

I am also beyond elated to share a delicious whipped cream alternative. Whipped coconut cream is the new whipped cream, didn't you know? If you like the taste of coconuts, you'll never go back to the clogging, chemical-filled dairy whipped cream. I show you how to whip this baby up in a snap here.

The ingredient spotlight for today's recipe goes to...

Raw Coconut Nectar - Unless you're living under a rock, and I don't blame you if you're hiding from the disaster of a food/pharmaceutical industry, products derived from coconuts are in high demand these days and for very good reason. It happens to be a perfect replacement for those who don't consume dairy products due to coconut's creamy texture and rich nutritive value. We've got coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut yogurt, coconut milk, coconut water, coconut flour, coconut shreds, coconut crystals, and coconut nectar. Take your pick!

Raw coconut nectar is made from the sap that is tapped from the coconut tree. It has a low glycemic index (GI of only 35), meaning that the glucose enters your bloodstream slowly and thus will not spike blood sugar levels, cause energy fluctuations or hunger. It is comprised of only 10% fructose and is abundant in minerals, amino acids, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Unlike other highly processed sweeteners, raw coconut nectar is minimally evaporated at low temperatures. It has a mild, sweet flavor and can be used as a 1:1 substitute for any other liquid sweeteners.

On the contrary... And this is *muy importante*... Many people consider agave to be a health food thanks to deceptive marketing. I see agave everywhere now, even used at raw and "healthy" restaurants. It does have a low glycemic index, which is likely the reason why people assume it's healthy, but GI should not be the only factor in determining what's healthy and what's not.

Agave nectar is highly processed and consists of 70-90%+ fructose. Even high fructose corn syrup has less fructose than agave, about 55%. It exists in most processed foods found at the grocery store and in restaurants. When consumed, fructose passes the gastrointestinal tract and is directly transported to the liver. This process causes a lot of strain on the liver and can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver scarring, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. High fructose intake has been linked to weight gain, obesity and high triglycerides (associated with increased risk of heart disease), according to a study conducted by Princeton researchers. Excessive fructose consumption has also been linked to type 2 diabetes as it has been shown to cause insulin resistance.

Fruit (and honey) is also made up of fructose but it contains small amounts that the body can handle. Fruit also contains fiber and an abundance of other health-promoting nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes that agave, crystalline fructose and high fructose corn syrup do not. Avoid agave and tell everyone you know about its dangerous effects! Kimberly Snyder, celebrity nutritionist and New York Times best-selling author, has a really great blog post on the difference in how fructose and glucose affect your body.

Banana Pancakes
Adapted pancake recipe from Love and Lemons

YIELD: 4-6 pancakes

For pancake batter:
• 1 ripe banana
• 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon
• 1/8 tsp (a pinch) high-quality sea salt
• 2-3 tsp unrefined coconut oil, to cook

For pancake batter:

1. In a food processor, mix together the banana, almond milk and vanilla extract until well combined and liquified.

2. In a medium or large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients (oat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and sea salt) and mix well.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

4. In a large skillet, heat a few teaspoons of coconut oil over medium heat. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop the pancake batter into the pan. Flip the pancake after a minute or so. Heat the other side for 30-60 seconds and remove pan from heat.
5. Serve your pancakes with homemade vegan & refined sugar-free whipped coconut cream, raw coconut nectar (my personal favorite), pure maple syrup, or chocolate sauce and top with a dollop of whipped coconut cream. Enjoy!

All ingredients can be found at Whole Foods if you don't want to purchase them online.

If you try these pancakes or any of the yummy toppings, send me a picture or leave me a comment! You can find me on TwitterInstagram and Pinterest. Can't wait to hear from you. :-)

Sending you love and light,

"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it's the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow'." Unknown

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rainbow Quinoa Salad + Roasted Butternut Squash (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

   I am a super fan of the "superfood" quinoa. In fact, it is one of my very favorite foods. Quinoa dishes are so wonderful because they can be so versatile. Consider this recipe a rough blueprint and make it your own. The recipe I've come up with below is my favorite combination of textures and flavors but I've made it several different ways. Below are a few pictures of the various combos of quinoa salad that I've come up with in the past...

Quinoa Salad #1: Red bell pepper, roasted butternut squash, slivered almonds, basil, lime, and dried cherries. The quinoa I used here is the royal rainbow (white, red & black quinoa) variety, which is what I used for the recipe on this post. This is my 2nd favorite combination because I love red bell peppers & dried cherries!

Quinoa Salad #2: Broccoli, roasted butternut squash, yellow bell pepper, cilantro, lime, and dried cherries. It looks a lot like my favorite combination that I'm sharing today!

Quinoa Salad #3: I used a red/purple quinoa for this dish because it was all I could find at the store. It was certainly more expensive and it also had a more chewy, crunchy texture than the usual creamy off-white quinoa texture. I've read that the red quinoa is higher in protein and contains 3 grams more fiber, which explains the heftier price tag. I added in roasted butternut squash (can you tell I'm obsessed?), cabbage, parsley, lime, and avocado.

Quinoa Salad #4: This is almost the same as the one above except I used the off-white, golden quinoa. On the side is my wildcard salad that I start lunch and dinner with.

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

Quinoa (KEEN-wah) - This nutritious grain-like crop has been cultivated in the Andes for over five thousand years! It was referred to by the Incas as "chisaya mama" or "mother grain." Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, and is part of the same family as spinach, beets and Swiss chard. Researchers refer to it as a pseudocereal since it is not a part of the grass family like other grains such as wheat, rye and barley [source].

We see it growing in popularity today largely due to its subtle, nutty flavor and impressive nutritional profile. Quinoa is rich in minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc as well as B vitamins. In addition, this superfood is high in fiber to help keep us regular, which in turn helps to release toxins from the body. It is naturally a gluten-free grain, perfect for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or those avoiding gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt) altogether by choice.

A great source of protein, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, essential meaning that we can only obtain them from our diet as they are not manufactured by our bodies. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are vital in maintaining strong bones and muscles and is also vital for tissue growth. As a vegetarian (and almost vegan), it's so important that I ensure that I am getting enough protein from plant-based food sources. Kimberly Snyder, celebrity nutritionist, author and one of my most trusted and favorite people, notes in her book, The Beauty Detox Foods, "many of the largest, most muscular animals on earth - gorillas, wild horses, hippos, rhinos - are vegetarians. They efficiently build up the protein and muscles in their body from the amino acids in the greens they eat." Amino acids are stored in your body and are used throughout the day so as long as you're consuming a wide variety of plant-based foods in abundance like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, you shouldn't have to worry about protein deficiency as long as your daily caloric intake is adequate. 1 cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

Keep in mind that cooking foods destroys about 50% of the protein and is therefore not useable by the body, according to research done by The Max Planck Institute for Nutritional Research. Strive for a well-balanced diet consisting of both cooked and raw foods. The best way I've found to incorporate raw vegetables into my diet is to eat a large salad full of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, romaine, and swiss chard with other veggies such as carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, etc. before lunch and dinner. It also helps enormously with portion control. Kale and spinach are a great source of amino acids, by the way. You can find my recipe for the wildcard salad I eat daily here. :-)

1 cup of dry quinoa yields about 3 cups cooked. It has a 2:1 liquid to quinoa ratio, so use 2 cups for every 1 cup of quinoa. You can cook it in vegetable broth to amp up the flavor or keep it simple with water. What makes it an even more appealing grain is that it is super simple and quick to cook. You can even make a big batch of it for the week and use it as a breakfast porridge, in salads, soups, stir-frys, or as a main entree. Just add a few teaspoons of water when re-heating on the stove. 

You can find quinoa in the bulk aisle of health food stores or in packages in the grain/bean aisle. I recommend buying foods in bulk to save money! 

Butternut Squash - The fall is the perfect time to welcome winter squash into our homes and bellies, especially butternut squash, since it is one of my all-time favorite vegetables. Even though its name may suggest otherwise, winter squash is actually grown and harvested in the summer months and is picked in the fall and kept until spring. Other winter squash include acorn, spaghetti, kabocha, pumpkin, buttercup, and delicata.

1 cup of butternut squash cubes provides 457% of the RDA for vitamin A and about half the RDA for vitamin C [source]. Vitamin A is a powerful cancer-fighting nutrient and is also important for skin and eye health. This winter squash contains no saturated fat or cholesterol and is often recommended by dietitians for lowering cholesterol and weight loss [source]. Being that it has a nutty, mildly sweet flavor, butternut squash can also help to satisfy cravings for sweets. It's also high in fiber so the glucose will enter the bloodstream slowly, avoiding blood sugar spikes, and in turn will keep you fuller longer.

My favorite way to cook butternut squash is roasting it in the oven because it's more flavorful due to the caramelization that occurs. To preserve more of its nutrients, you can also steam it on the stove for up to 7 minutes. Don't throw away the seeds! They have their own set of health benefits. Butternut squash seeds are full of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Click here for directions on how to peel, cut & roast butternut squash.

Rainbow Quinoa Salad

YIELD: 3-4 servings

• 4 cups butternut squash, cubed
• 1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil, melted*
• 1 Tbs dried rosemary
• High-quality sea salt, to taste + 1/4 tsp for quinoa
• Black pepper, to taste
1 cup dry quinoa, soaked overnight & rinsed well*
• 1 1/2 cups filtered water or vegetable broth (veg. broth gives added flavor)
• Juice of 1 lime
• 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
• 2 1/2 Tbs basil or parsley, minced
• 1/4 cup currants (or dried cherries, raisins or dried cranberries)
• 1/2 avocado, pitted and sliced (flesh), to serve

• 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (some may like the added moisture but it's up to you! You can start with a little and see how you like it. Sometimes I'll just add a drizzle or none at all.)

1. Peel, cut and roast the butternut squash. Directions here.

2. While the squash is roasting, transfer the quinoa to a fine mesh strainer and rinse off the soak water thoroughly with cold water.
3. In a small saucepan, add the quinoa, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 tsp sea salt. Bring to a boil.
4. Once boiling, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is soft and fluffy. Don't peak while it cooks! Leave it be.
5. Take the pot off the burner and set aside covered for 5-10 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.
6. In a large mixing bowl, add the quinoa, extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, bell pepper, basil or parsley, currants, and roasted butternut squash and mix well. Season with sea salt and/or black pepper, if desired. Top with avocado slices.


• To melt the coconut oil, you can put it in a small glass bowl and place it in the oven while it's pre-heating. It'll melt quickly so don't leave the oven area until it's melted or else you might forget it's in there. I find this is much quicker than pulling out a pot and melting it on the stove top and you definitely want to avoid heating anything in the microwave, if possible.
• Soaking quinoa for 12-24 hours is important because it removes the saponin from the quinoa, which is an outer coating on the hull that creates a bitter taste. Even more important, soaking grains removes the phytic acid that blocks the absorption of minerals and protein. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that make them difficult to digest. Some use 1-2 Tbsp of an acidic medium like apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or yogurt and add it to the soak water but I usually just fill the bowl a few inches covering the grains with warm water. Soak grains to ensure you're obtaining all of its nutrients and also allowing for better digestion!
Buy organic ingredients as much as possible, especially bell peppers, since they are one of the top most contaminated vegetables. With that said, it's better to eat conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables than none at all, so I encourage you to use EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list to help you decide which fruits and veggies you should buy organic and those you don't necessarily have to buy organic.

If you make your own quinoa salad, send me a picture on Twitter, hashtag your picture #healthyfare #rainbowquinoa on Instagram so I can find it, or leave me a comment here telling me what you put in yours. :-)

With love & care,

"When you say 'yes' to others, make sure you are not saying 'no' to yourself." Paul Coehlo

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Carob Chia Oatmeal (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free) + Vegan Food Adventures: Austin, TX

This breakfast recipe comes from one my favorite vegan blogs, Oh She Glows. Carob chia overnight oats has become one of my new favorite breakfasts because it's very reminiscent of cocoa krispies cereal, a childhood favorite no doubt. This is cocoa krispies 3.0, the healthy gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free, additive-free, stomach ache-free -too much? sorry- version.

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

• Carob - A healthy alternative to chocolate, carob is full of nutrients and health benefits. Unlike chocolate, it is caffeine-free, naturally sweet, does not contain the stimulant theobromine, which has a diuretic affect meaning that it makes you have to use the bathroom and can therefore dehydrate you; on the same token, it can be beneficial for releasing toxins. Also unlike chocolate, carob does not contain oxalic acid, which is known to inhibit the absorption of calcium and zinc in the body. People are also surprised to find that it has 3 times the amount of calcium of milk and cocoa powder! Carob contains Vitamins A, B, D, and E, plus potassium, copper, manganese, nickel, and iron. Additionally, it has shown to be effective in increasing metabolism, lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar. Carob is also high in fiber and antioxidants and is a great source of protein [source]. Compared to chocolate, it has a more nutty flavor and frankly it doesn't appeal to everyone but I encourage you to try it for yourself. :-)

All of that isn't to say that cacao doesn't have its own set of health benefits, because it does, but carob seems to be healthier. If minimally processed, cacao powder packs a nutritional punch as well. The problem is that the commercial varieties of chocolate have denatured the pure cacao with high heat processing and the addition of refined sugar, milk and other less than optimal ingredients. It does contain caffeine so the recommended intake is less than that of carob powder. With that said, cacao is one of the greatest sources of antioxidants and is also rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc. Consuming cacao actually lifts our mood and promotes mental clarity due to the endorphins that are released when eaten. Other benefits include its ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

• Chia Seeds - These tiny seeds were considered a superfood in the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures and were thought to have extraordinary powers. Chia seeds were seen as an endurance food. After all, the Mayan word for "strength" is chia. They are high in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, B vitamins, manganese, potassium, and calcium. As a matter of fact, one serving provides 18% of the recommended daily allowance for calcium and contains about 5 times the amount of calcium in milk. 2 tablespoons of chia seeds provides 3 times the amount of iron in spinach and 3 times the amount of antioxidants in blueberries. Research has also shown that they regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. Because of their high fiber content, they keep us fuller longer and help to improve digestion - great for weight loss. For all of my vegetarians and vegans, chia seeds are also a complete protein. When combined with a liquid, they form a gel as they expand up to 3 times their original size! [source]. Chia seeds have a very mild flavor and are a perfect addition to smoothies, soups, yogurt, desserts, and oatmeal. 

Carob Chia Oatmeal (Vegan Overnight Oats)
Recipe from Oh She Glows

YIELD: 1 serving


• 1/3 cup gluten-free oats
• 2 Tbsp chia seeds
• 1.5 Tbsp carob powder(Or cacao powder- See note)
• 1 cup almond milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
• Sweetener, if desired* (See note)
• Berries or other fruit

1. In a bowl, mix together the oats, chia seeds and carob powder (or cacao powder).
2. Whisk in the milk and sweetener, if desired, and stir until smooth.
3. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

• If you're not a fan of carob or would just prefer to use cacao powder, use 1-2 teaspoons, or to taste, to substitute. Carob doesn't have as intense of a flavor as cacao, which is why it's recommended to use 1.5 to 2 times more carob.
• Carob is naturally sweet so you may or may not need any extra sweetener. I personally like to add in 10-15 drops of liquid stevia.
•  You can find organic chia seeds in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods. Buying in bulk will save you money!

This past weekend, my dad and I took a mini vacation to Austin, Texas. I hadn't been in my adult life (go ahead... gasp in disbelief...) and have been curious for awhile to see what the buzz is all about, because every time I told someone I hadn't been since I was too little to remember, they gasped and said I was missing out. Well, I was tired of feeling like I was missing out! And I'm at a point in my life where if I want to do something, I do it as soon as I can because time is precious and fleeting and there's no time like now. 

Austin is known for its vegetarian/vegan health-conscious restaurants, live music and of course the nightlife on 6th Street. I've never been much of a party girl but the healthy restaurant establishments and live music reeled me in. The Whole Foods headquarters is located in Austin too. Needless to say, we had an absolute blast. Before we went, we planned out all of the restaurants and other entertainment festivities we wanted to check out (thanks, Yelp!). I'll take you through our trip with pictures and commentary and maybe  give you some ideas of what you can do if you ever find yourself in the "Live Music Capital of the World..."

Our first stop was Mother's Cafe & Garden. One of my friends recommended we try this restaurant. They offer many tasty options for those that follow a gluten-free, vegetarian and/or vegan diet. Mother's has an unpretentious and old-school feel, which I loved. I started off with a salad accompanied by their popular cashew tahini dressing. I can see why people rave about it - it was that good. 

For my entree, I opted for the vegan enchiladas verdes with tomatillo sauce and vegan cheese. I could tell that they used Daiya mozzarella cheese because it's the same one I buy from Whole Foods and used in my last post for the Mexican pizza! The enchiladas were mighty tasty. And as you can see in the bottom picture, my dad enjoyed his veggie burger. I thought it was just okay but having said that, I just tried the patty by itself, without all of the toppings and bread. You can see he took off the top part of the bread... he prides himself on doing that. ;-) In case you were wondering, my favorite veggie burger is still Spiral Diner's in Oak Cliff. 

For dessert we shared their vegan chocolate cake. It was moist, perfectly rich, and downright decadent! As usual, we found ourselves asking, "how is this vegan??" It just proves that you can eat meals free of animal products and still be more than satisfied, and even more so, in my opinion, knowing that no animals were harmed in the process. Overall, we were impressed with Mother's and will definitely go back again!

Later that evening, we had tickets to the Esther's Follies musical comedy/magic show. It boasts high marks from everyone who has been so we had to give it a go. I am proud to say I'm now a part of their fan club! That's saying a lot because I don't find many things funny, or at least the things that everyone else thinks is funny. Their skits are mostly centered around political satire and also current events to keep everything fresh and relevant. We were laughing the whole way through. A magician also makes several appearances throughout the show. He was our favorite!!! I think the coolest part about Esther's Follies is that there's a huge window behind the stage and they incorporate random people walking on 6th Street into the show. Must-see if you're ever in Austin!

We then went to the Driskill Hotel bar for a drink and to enjoy some live music in the lounge area. The Driskill is located on the famous 6th Street. It is beautiful beyond words! It's a legendary landmark in Texas and one of the world's finest hotels. 

The picture on the left is me on 6th Street. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into but 6th Street is madness! I've never seen anything like it, probably because I've never been to New Orleans, but there were crowds of people partying and dancing in the street. The street is actually closed off after a certain time because there are so many people. 

I would've been happy spending all night at the Driskill bar/lounge but we had to experience 6th Street at least once and I'm glad we did. We did see a few really talented musicians playing in bars. My dad and I love, love, love music so it was inspiring to see people pursuing their passion and paying their dues with dreams of making it big. 

Our last stop was a bar down the way on 6th Street called Easy Tiger. I loved the atmosphere of this bake shop & beer garden. Even though it was on 6th Street, it was far removed from the chaos. It was a welcome departure. People were playing ping pong outside and enjoying the outdoor bar with pretty lighting. There was a river flowing to the right of the restaurant. Inside downstairs in the bar and seating area, it was cave-like with rustic decor. The one downside was that it was super loud. Also, we had a pretzel and ... beer cheese. I had to. And it was amazing. It was my only non-vegan food on the trip so I think I did pretty well all things considered.

Saturday morning we went to Bouldin Creek Cafe for breakfast. It has several gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. I decided on the tofu scramble and sweet potato tamales. It was my first time eating tofu! I liked it but it was mixed with several different ingredients and spices so I don't know if that counts. I thoroughly enjoyed this meal! It kept me full all day. We also ordered a vegan chocolate espresso cupcake and a gluten-free vegan ginger whoopie pie to-go. They were both delicious! Any time I find vegan and gluten-free desserts, I can't pass 'em up. Desserts are my weakness after all...

After breakfast, my dad and I headed to Barton Springs Pool, which is a man-made pool filled by water from Main Barton Spring, the 4th largest spring in Texas. The water is super cold but refreshing on a sweltering hot day, and you can bet it was... 100 degrees to be exact. 

Afterwards, we ventured to Juiceland and had ourselves a few refreshments to cool off and fuel up. It's such a charming juice & smoothie place! I felt like I was in a tropical destination. I had a green smoothie (surprise, surprise) with kale, spinach, apples, peaches, chia seeds, and spirulina and my dad had a mango, acai and banana smoothie. We also had to try the coconut water which we drank straight from a young Thai coconut. It doesn't get more beautiful than nature in its purest form! I adore this place. If you're ever in the area, go!!

Dinner on Saturday night was at a holistic wellness center's dining hall called Casa De Luz. It's an oasis tucked away from the rowdiness of Austin's nightlife. The menu is fixed meaning they serve one set meal for one price (tax included, no tips) for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it changes everyday. It's self-serve for salad and soup then they bring out your main entree. 

They offer dessert as well, which was divine. We had the pecan tort and coconut pudding. The meals are all plant-based, vegan and gluten-free with no processed food in sight. This was like heaven for me! And surprisingly enough, it was my dad's favorite meal and experience. I was a bit worried thinking it might be too weird or bland for him and he was skeptical too but Casa De Luz far exceeded his expectations. I loved the vibe here... so serene and calm. You don't want to leave. It's another must-see if you're ever in Austin. 

Afterwards, we went to The Elephant Room downtown to listen to some live latin jazz music. This was a definite highlight of the trip. It's an underground bar/lounge in an intimate setting. The band was called The Brew and they were exceptional!

We went back to the Driskill bar and lounge afterwards, walked 6th Street again but decided that we couldn't handle another night of craziness so we retired early. 

After checking out of the hotel Sunday morning, we went to brunch at The Steeping Room located at The Domain, an outdoor shopping center in Austin. Their main offering is teas and tea sandwiches but they also serve other lunch and dinner dishes too. Everything sounded delicious. We waited an hour to be seated but luckily the food was worth the long wait. I had the vegan "B.A.T" (tempeh bacon, arugula, tomato) with a basil veganaise sauce, a salad and a vegan currant scone. My dad enjoyed his mixed veggie quiche. Outstanding overall!

Phew. So, we didn't pack a lot of activities in our 2 and a half day vacation or anything. Ah, I'm a planner, what can I say? I had the whole trip planned, tentatively of course, but everything went seamlessly. There was only one miss and that was a restaurant called Frank's. It's a hot dog joint but it had great reviews and I wanted to try their veggie dog but it was terrible. The vegan chili pie was okay but it was made from TVP (textured vegetable protein - bleh). My dad liked their pale ale beer though. I'm not a beer drinker and I even liked it. I should've known though. Their specialty is pork, not veggie dogs. I'll try The Hot Dog King next time. I hear they have the best veggie dogs in town!

"If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present." Lao Tzu
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