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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Superstar Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin + All Skin Types & Current Skincare Routine

Let me start by saying that I have oily skin, so moisturizers have always scared the heck out of me. Are my oily skin friends with me on this one? I feel like I can hear you loud and clear! Even still, I have learned that it is mega important to use a moisturizer regardless of your skin type. Without one, your skin will become imbalanced and will produce more oil to make up for the moisture it is lacking.

Surprisingly, I use organic Argan Oil to moisturize my face, which I know may sound insane. It took a mighty long time to convince me to use an oil on my face. Combatting excessive oiliness with an OIL? Come again? I had a difficult enough time being convinced to use cream or gel moisturizers, now I'm using an oil?! Yep! 100% pure, unprocessed argan oil is so wonderful because it is a multi-purpose product. I use it on my face, neck, under the eyes, on the ends of my hair to hydrate and treat split ends, and on my cuticles. It works like magic. People have complimented me on the health of my hair for a long time now and I always tell them the secret is argan oil (and very little heat, non-toxic shampoo & conditioner, but mostly argan oil has made the biggest difference!). This incredible oil is healing, hydrating without being greasy, and has anti-aging properties as it contains vitamin E and essential fatty acids to condition, repair and nourish the skin keeping it supple and youthful.

Argan oil is especially beneficial for oily, acne-prone skin because it replenishes the skin with just enough moisture and has anti-inflammatory properties (vitamin E) to reduce the redness that comes with acne. Most acne products dry out the skin. That is precisely what I experienced with Benzyol Peroxide. It was awful! Though it dried out existing pimples very well, it didn't prevent them the formation of them. As a result, I had extremely dry skin and extremely oily skin at the same time. Talk about imbalance! Argan oil has provided my sensitive acne-prone skin with balance and relief, which is what I have been seeking for years.

Argan oil is typically all I use in the spring and summer months but for drier months such as fall and winter, I couple it with an even more moisturizing product to combat dryness and flakiness. I love Sally B's Skin Yummies' Antioxidant Daytime and Nighttime Serum. I mix 3-4 drops of argan oil with those serums for extra moisture and nourishment. I also love their Carrot Facial Dream Cream when my skin feels and looks especially dry.

These products are pricey but long-lasting. A little dab will do! I have only bought one full-size product so far because I started out with The Traveler sample pack, which is so lovely because it has given me the chance to try various products in small amounts. I am happy to report that I still have a lot left of each sample product. It also comes with the Tamanu Luxury Facial Cleanser that I love and use daily. I bought the full-size of this when I ran out of the sample. I particularly love that it is made with over 95% certified organic ingredients and is very light but cleanses my skin completely. 

The serums, moisturizers/oil, cleanser, and once-a-week baking soda exfoliation have worked together to help clear my skin, even out my skin tone, restore moisture, and reduce redness, inflammation and hyper-pigmentation. I have tried countless skincare products over the past several years hoping to improve the condition of my problematic skin and nothing has worked quite like these products. I am overjoyed and relieved to say that I have finally found my tried and true skincare crew! Nothing worth having comes easy, eh?

I am a huge supporter of Sally B's because they use high-quality non-toxic ingredients that are cruelty-free and effective. Most of their products are suitable for vegans, too. This company truly cares about the health of people and the planet. Sally B's recognizes that cosmetics and personal care products are minimally regulated by the government meaning that manufacturers can use any ingredient no matter how harmful, and pre-testing or review is not required before a product hits the market. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only steps in after it has entered the market. What good does that do?

Also, manufacturers do not have to list all ingredients used on their packaging. This means we have to self-police! Many of the toxic ingredients used are carcinogens and hormone disrupters, which have been shown to be very damaging to our health when accumulated in our bodies over time. These ingredients are absorbed into the skin and into the bloodstream. According to The Cancer Prevention Coalition, The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety have found that 884 of the chemicals available for use in cosmetics have been found to cause cancer, genetic damage and biological mutations. They reported this to the government but no action was taken.

The Environmental Working Group, an environmental health non-profit organization, just released an awesome mobile app for iPhone and Android called Skin Deep that you can use to investigate the ingredients of any personal care product no matter where you are. You're even able to scan the barcode of an item for easy access. This app (and their Skin Deep website) provides consumers with safety ratings for nearly 80,000 products. It essentially helps us to make smarter decisions while shopping so that we can ensure that we're in charge of our health because we cannot rely on the government or cosmetic companies to look out for us.

At some point I will put together a blog post of my skin journey with pictures. I am just not quite ready to reveal that sensitive part of my life yet. If you have read my "My Story" section, you'll know it's been a trying three years. Changing to a vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar-free plant-based diet and incorporating moderate, enjoyable exercise such as yoga, stress management techniques such as meditation, self-care, and a non-toxic natural skincare regimen has completely transformed my skin which therefore tells me that I am successfully healing myself internally since outer symptoms are our bodies cry for help. Collectively, these changes got my digestion moving and grooving (largely due to green smoothies), my cycle regulated, major increase in energy, greatly reduced stress and anxiety, eradicated infections, and my hair and nails strengthened as well.

You won't see an improvement overnight, probably not even for several months, and it is likely you'll fall back into old habits and patterns along the way, but as long as you know why you're doing what you're doing, have your own back and keep your commitments to yourself, there is no way you won't get to where you want to be, and you will eventually heal yourself and come out of the "darkness" feeling and looking lighter, brighter and healthier than you could've ever imagined. If you need any help or encouragement, please know I am here for you! Contact me at any time. We're in it together. <3

Happy Thanksgiving, loves! Wish me luck for my first gluten-free vegan holiday. ;-)

"Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open." ~B.K.S. Iyengar

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Avocado Enchiladas (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free) + Importance of Healthy Fats

 How genius is the concept of avocado enchiladas and why hadn't I found them earlier? I was inspired to create this recipe thanks to one of my favorite dishes at a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant called Blue Mesa Grill. I had never heard of avocado enchiladas before discovering this restaurant but it makes so much sense for a vegan because it gives bulk to a meal and a creaminess much like cheese, not to mention all of the fantastic health benefits of avocado. 

This meal is incredibly simple to put together on a day when you don't feel like spending a lot of time preparing a meal ("Claire, that's most days!" - I hear you) but you also don't want to settle for a frozen dinner, takeout at a restaurant or worse, a fast food establishment... gasp!

I actually made these avocado enchiladas several days in a row because they're so darn tasty, filling and easy. I usually eat a salad beforehand or steam some veggies to accompany this entree. You could also serve with a side of brown rice or sweet potato fries.

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

Avocados - Ohhh, beloved, avos! These creamy delights are in my top 5 favorite foods of all-time and it is not hard to see why. Not only are they filling, creamy and silky in texture making them an excellent substitute for recipes calling for dairy, but they are also bursting with nutrition. Avocados are a great source of healthy monounsaturated fat, which is easily burned by the body and also helps in the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein. In addition, 1 medium Hass avocado contains twice as much potassium as a banana and has 3 grams of protein. They also contain vitamin E, fiber, B vitamins, and folic acid [source]. Studies have also shown that avocados can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

The other wonderful thing about avocados is that experts say that they are one of the fruits that you don't have to buy organic because the skin protects the inner flesh from pesticides. Hooray!

I do want to mention that just because someone follows a vegan diet doesn't mean that they're healthy. There are lots of processed vegan (and gluten-free) junk foods out there that when compared with a person who does consume animal products, the vegan who eats in this unhealthy manner is not any healthier and is oftentimes more unhealthy than someone who consumes high-quality animal products in moderation.

I personally found myself eating a lot of high-fat foods often, even though they were healthy sources of fat. Healthy fats can still be clogging if eaten in excess and can cause health problems. Just be wary of it. I still cook/bake with coconut oil often, use extra virgin olive oil sparingly, and eat avocados, nuts and nut butters, but I am now more conscious of the amount, though I don't count calories. I base much of it upon how I feel. If I've eaten too much healthy fat, I feel so bloated and weighed down and I get cranky because of it. I swear to never do it again because I feel so miserable. 

Remember that a low-fat diet isn't necessarily healthy either. We need fat for energy, healthy skin, healthy cells, optimal brain function, to cushion our organs, for fat-soluble vitamin absorption, and to make hormones [source]. Plus, healthy fat containing whole foods like nuts are not only high in protein and vitamins and minerals, but also contain fiber which keeps us full and as a result can keep us from overeating to assist in weight loss. Not to mention, on a low or fat-free diet, people may tend to consume low-fat or fat-free processed foods which contain health depleting ingredients. Read labels - you hold the power.

The daily recommendation is usually 1-2 oz. of nuts (1 oz. = 24 almonds 6g protein & 16-18 cashews 5g protein) or 2 Tbsp nut butter and 1 small avocado or 1/2 of a large avocado. Don't deprive yourself of coconut oil and nut butters. This type of restriction may cause you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Focus more on what you do daily than what you do every once in awhile. For instance, many gluten-free vegan desserts are high in fat but as an occasional treat, you'll be just fine. Enjoy in moderation, friends!

TIP: Portion your nuts (1-2 oz.) into baggies and keep them in the fridge for easy access so you're not tempted to eat from the bag they come in when hunger strikes. Or measure out 2 Tbsp nut butter instead of eating directly from the jar.

I recommend to consume mostly whole foods in a balanced way with little to no junk food of any kind. And remember, the occasional setback won't kill you. Progress not perfection. I'm still working on it too! But I am proud to say that I am 100% vegan now. :-) I'm in the process of changing out all of my cosmetics/personal care products and apparel with respect to this lifestyle as well. I've never felt better physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Avocado Enchiladas

YIELD: 2 servings (1 serving = 2 enchiladas)


• 2 small avocados
• 4 organic corn tortillas *make sure they're organic to avoid GMOs
• 2/3 cup tomatillo sauce (bought mine at Whole Foods)
• 1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
• 2 Tbs, coarsely chopped
• 3 Tbs, diced
• 1/4 tsp chili powder
• Few pinches of cumin
• Pinch of sea salt
• Vegan cheese (such as Daiya), to top (optional)

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the corn tortillas on a baking tray/pan and heat in the oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the lime juice, cilantro, red onion, chili powder, cumin, and sea salt and mix well. Cut the avocados lengthwise around the pit, twist each half in opposite directions to separate then remove the pit. Slice the flesh crosswise.

3. Assemble the enchiladas by scooping 1/2 sliced avocado into each corn tortilla (1/2 avocado per tortilla) and distribute the cilantro/red onion filling mixture equally per each tortilla. Fold each tortilla and place each with the fold side down on the baking tray and top with the tomatillo sauce. Place in the oven and cook for 12 minutes.

4. Remove the enchiladas from the oven and top with cilantro, red onion and vegan cheese (as I did above), if desired. Serve and enjoy! :-)

What is everyone doing for Thanksgiving? What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? I keep asking myself, "how on earth will I make it through without eating any animal products?! Will I just starve myself all day? Eat a huge breakfast to keep me full most of the day? What if I eat something made with animal products?"After much contemplation, I think I may have to bring my own personal Thanksgiving dinner, despite how ridiculous that sounds and how nuts I will look. But luckily I don't really care about looking like a looney tune anymore because I always keep in the forefront of my mind the reasons a gluten-free vegan lifestyle is so important to me both ethically (first and foremost) and nutritionally. 

The more I learn about changing to a vegan diet, the more I learn the importance of standing by your beliefs and values wholeheartedly and not compromising or becoming small just to please others or to avoid confrontation. I think overall, people respect those who have strong beliefs and believe in them with their whole being and stand by them even when they're challenged. Even so, I also strongly believe in open-mindedness, being educated on both sides of an issue and listening to what others have to say with an open heart and with love. Ignorance is the other option but I'd rather keep my distance because it certainly hasn't solved any problems.

Anyway, before I carry on too long, I just want to wish you all a love-filled Thanksgiving and I hope you are all fortunate enough to spend it with your family and friends, with nutritious and delicious food on your plates, and that you keep those who aren't as fortunate in your thoughts or better yet, volunteer time, money and/or goods this holiday season in any way you can. <3

"View your life with kindsight. Stop beating yourself up about things from your past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking: "what was I thinking?" Breathe & ask the kinder question: "what was I learning?"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Icing (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, & Refined Sugar-Free) + Sugar Addiction is Real!

I usually play music while cooking, baking and while cleaning the aftermath of my creations. You can always determine how my cooking/baking efforts turned out by how I clean the dishes afterwards. I'm either having a dance party/concert or cleaning dishes with Aaliyah's song "Try Again" or Beyonce's "Best Thing I Never Had" playing in the background. True story.

So yesterday, after much anticipation and crossing my fingers that these cupcakes would come out blog-worthy, (I hold everything I make to a high standard to ensure I only give you the creme de la creme - and believe me - many things don't work out, so in the trash they go and my inner child comes out as I have a pity party, instead of a dance party, with myself and all the stupid dishes I have to clean), I had a mega dance party in my kitchen - just me, myself and I + the two loves of my life, my yorkies. Of course I didn't wait 30 minutes for the cupcakes to cool before trying them. I have no patience when it comes to the all important reveal. After waiting a long and torturous 5 minutes, this was the outcome: these vegan, gluten-free & refined sugar-free chocolate cupcakes came out better than the cupcakes that meet me in my dreams!

I had a legitimate concert going on in my kitchen. Singing with the whisk as my microphone and twirling my dogs around. I sang to my reflection in the oven as if I had a sold out show. I even busted into "the dougie" at one point. I can't believe I'm even exposing myself like this, but I had to paint the scene to help you understand how big of a feat this was!! Gluten-free vegan baking can be very challenging to get just right. It typically consists of many failures before finding the winner. But that's why I'm here - to save you that time and frustration. This cupcake recipe will not disappoint and will fool everyone who isn't vegan or doesn't eat a gluten-free or refined sugar-free diet!

An added bonus is the refined sugar-free component of this recipe. I have been so determined to exchange all refined sugar for unrefined sugar. I've talked about this before and probably won't ever stop talking about it because sugar is what triggers a negative response in my body immediately and causes all sorts of inflammation that manifests in different forms such as acne, dermatitis and/or infections, and other things we may not notice immediately like weight gain and high LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Sugar also provokes a psychological response as it stimulates the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that make us feel happy, but then those levels plummet after a short period of time and thus we crave more sugar and then eat more sugar to feel good again. I know it has this affect on many others too.

These neurotransmitters are also released in the brain when other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, are used. When we continue to put our bodies through this vicious cycle of ups and downs, the brain doesn't think it needs to produce these neurotransmitters anymore. This results in the depletion of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins (natural pain relievers), and norepinephrine (keeps us alert and energized). When we're deficient in these neurotransmitters, which are necessary for cell to cell communication to regulate our mood and appetite, all kinds of illnesses can crop up - addiction, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hormonal imbalance, candida overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, hypoglycemia, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer

Other imbalances can also cause neurotransmitter deficiency such as caffeine, alcohol, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, chronic stress, prescription drugs, food sensitivities, but all of these can ignite sugar cravings, not just consuming sugar itself. Excessive sugar consumption has been shown to cause illnesses and many illnesses cause sugar cravings leading to serious illnesses. It's a never-ending cycle unless you decide to stop it.

If you know you can't handle sugar, even unrefined sugar, whether it's shown through physical symptoms or psychological or both, stay away from it for awhile. Consume low sugar fruits like berries and green apples, lots of green leafy vegetables, stevia, and practice yoga and meditation to reduce stress. If you don't know how it affects you, try avoiding sugar for a week. See if you have withdrawal symptoms (headaches, brain fog, fatigue, lack of concentration). That'll give you your answer!

Sugar and desserts have always been my vice and it's been a struggle trying to kick the refined sugar out of my diet and keeping all dessert to a minimum, even those that are vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar-free a.k.a healthier desserts. Because I realized that even though I've said goodbye to desserts containing eggs, cow's milk/cream/butter, refined sugar, and gluten, it was like I was looking for another "acceptable" way to eat sugary foods. Just because what I indulge in now is healthier without all of the dairy, refined sugar and gluten doesn't mean it won't take a toll on the body. These healthier desserts tend to be high in fat, albeit healthy fats (from the coconut products), and sugar even though unrefined, which can still congest our digestive systems and cause inflammation if eaten in excess. Also, we're led to believe dried fruits are healthy but most have an incredibly high amount of sugar since it's been concentrated. Read more about how excessive sugar consumption wreaks havoc on our health on this blog post.

All in all, I'm working to keep these healthier desserts as a treat every once in awhile. And let me just say, it makes it that much more special and enjoyable when it's only an occasional indulgence.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Icing

YIELD: Approx. 14 cupcakes
Cupcakes adapted from this recipe
Icing adapted from this recipe

For the cupcakes:

• 3/4 cup tapioca flour/starch (they're the same) *See note below on where to find these uncommon flours
• 3/4 cup sorghum flour
• 1/2 cup cacao powder
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp xanthan gum
• 1/2 tsp high-quality sea salt
• 1 cup regular unsweetened coconut milk *See note below if allergic to coconut
• 3/4 cup raw coconut nectar
• 3 Tbs virgin coconut oil, melted *See note below
• 1 Tbs vanilla extract
• 1 Tbs raw apple cider vinegar

For the icing:

• 1/4 cup coconut butter

• 1/3 cup thick coconut cream from the top of a full-fat coconut milk can (don't shake or stir to ensure the thick cream at the top and liquid at the bottom remain separated)
• 3 Tbs raw coconut nectar
• 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• Unsweetened shredded coconut, to top cupcakes (optional)

For the cupcakes:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners and if you have another cupcake pan, line 2 more or just wait until the first batch comes out and bake the last two cupcakes separately.

2. Sift all of the dry ingredients (tapioca flour, sorghum flour, cacao powder, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and sea salt) into a large mixing bowl. Mix well. *As you can see above, I combined all these ingredients in a smaller bowl and just sifted everything together into a larger bowl.

3. Whisk all of the wet ingredients (coconut milk, raw coconut nectar, coconut oil, vanilla extract, and apple cider vinegar) together in a medium mixing bowl. *Those aren't all of the ingredients in that bowl. Just two. I took the picture in the middle of combining all of the ingredients. Call me Ms. Scatterbrained. 

4. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.

5. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners about 2/3 of the way full. Smooth the top of the cupcakes with a wet spoon (to avoid sticking). *In the picture above you can clearly see I didn't smooth the tops of them, but when I baked the last 2 cupcakes separately, I did and they looked much prettier after they were baked. You also see the white coconut oil chunks that solidified while mixing but they melted in the oven.
6. Bake for 20 minutes. If you didn't make the icing ahead of time, make it while the cupcakes are baking. Directions are below.

7. After 20 minutes, make sure a toothpick comes out clean before taking them out. If so, take them out and let them cool for 5 minutes in the cupcake pan. Then, let them cool on a wire rack or just on the counter for another 25 minutes before frosting them. *You can see in the picture above the top center cupcake is the sole smoothed cupcake. Much more visually appealing but they'll taste the same regardless.

For the icing:

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. Mix until smooth. Pour into a container with an airtight lid and let the icing chill for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator. Then, ice your cupcakes, top with unsweetened coconut flakes, if desired, & enjoy every yummy bite without the refined sugar high! :-) *See note below about blender

*Store the cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature. Store the icing in the refrigerator. You may ice them all at one time or ice them as you eat them.

I found all of the ingredients above at Whole Foods. I found the tapioca flour/starch in the bulk aisle to save money. I bought the Bob's Red Mill sorghum flour because I didn't find it in bulk. Other health food stores (Trader Joe's, Sprouts) should have these items too but your typical grocery store (Walmart, Target, Kroger, etc.) won't have all of them. Otherwise, you can find them on the companies' website or on Amazon - I provided the links above.
• My coconut oil is always really thick at room temperature so I have to melt it in the oven, so when it's combined with the other wet ingredients which are either at room temperature or cold from the fridge, the warm melted coconut oil can clump up. Don't worry about it! It'll melt when the cupcakes bake in the oven. If your coconut oil is already melted at room temperature without having to heat it up, you may not run into this problem.
• If you're allergic to coconut, you can substitute the coconut milk for almond milk or any other non-dairy milk. Instead of coconut oil, you could use grapeseed oil. Instead of coconut nectar, you could use pure maple syrup. It's hard to avoid coconut in the icing to get the same effect but these cupcakes are delicious without icing as well because they're a bit more dense than your typical cupcake so it's like a hybrid of a cupcake and a muffin. You could even spread some vegan butter on top. I'll be sure to come up with a coconut-free icing at some point.
• See this blog post for my thoughts on my favorite blender, the Vitamix, and you'll even find a small discount if you're interested in purchasing one. I also received a note in the mail from Vitamix saying that for the month of November, the reconditioned Vitamix blenders are being sold at exclusive prices ranging from $279-$349. Check that out on (I'm not affiliated with this company - just a big fan!). I'm not sure how the coconut icing will turn out using another blender. I'm curious so let me know if you try it!

"Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." Carl Jung

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Easy Tex-Mex Style Quinoa (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)

I simply cannot go too long without a mexican style dish. And by too long I mean 2 days. Tex-mex cuisine, which I realize isn't authentic mexican food, was a huge part of my upbringing so mexican flavors run in my blood. I've consumed more chicken fajita dinners and cheese enchiladas than you could imagine. That's an easy fix as a vegan now though. Veggie fajitas are stellar as are avocado enchiladas!

Most tex-mex dishes are loaded with meat, cheese, GMO corn, hydrogenated oils, and white flour tortillas. Luckily, it is pretty simple to recreate tex-mex cuisine with the help of some superstar spices, cilantro, salsa, and avocados. If you love mexican food as much as I do, I think you'll fall in love with this simple dish loaded with mexican food flavor. Plus, you're covered in the protein department thanks to the quinoa, which is a complete protein. 1 cup cooked provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Not to mention it's a good source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, and other minerals as well as B vitamins. Find out more about my favorite whole grain on this post!

It is blowing my mind that Thanksgiving is in a few weeks. I've gotta get myself together guys. I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about how I'm going to handle myself around the spread of traditional Thanksgiving food, considering that this will be my first time as a gluten-free vegan at Thanksgiving. I cannot ask my family not to eat animal products or else they'd throw me outside to fend for myself on plants and flowers. So, I shall come prepared, well-equipped with a bullet-proof vest in tow and ready to impress with my gluten-free vegan cooking that will taste just as good as the other... *gasp*... offerings. And then they'll wonder what my magic ingredient is that makes you NOT slip into a food coma after eating it. What will I miss most you ask? Stuffing & honey biscuits. But that kind of thing only motivates me to find/create healthier, gluten-free vegan alternatives. Bring. It.

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

• Cayenne Pepper - I have to start out by saying this: use this fiery spice sparingly! It can ruin a dish if it's overdone and believe me when I say it's easy to overdo it. A pinch will do to start and work up from there in "pinch" increments until you reach your limit. If you don't like spicy foods or if your body doesn't agree with them, stay away! Cayenne pepper's benefits are outstanding, however. First off, it is a good source of vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K as well as calcium, potassium and beta-carotene. This potent spice is beneficial for heart health as it improves blood circulation by dilating blood vessels. In addition, it has actually been found to lower high blood pressure quite quickly and effectively and thus may reduce hypertension. It also breaks up mucus, removes toxins from the body and improves digestion.

Even more impressive, cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which this study found destroys cancer cells in a process called apoptosis. Lastly, it possesses anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce arthritis pain. It can serve as a major health booster in nearly any dish with just a pinch. ;-)

• Cilantro - This herb is truly a gem. It is best known for cleansing out toxic heavy metals in the body such as mercury, arsenic, aluminum, lead, and others. Heavy metals are accumulated through vaccines, metal teeth fillings, non-organic food, fish, contaminated water, smoking cigarettes or second-hand smoke, deodorants, and cooking food in aluminum foil, and have been linked to cancer, heart, kidney and lung disease, weak bones, and emotional illness. The organic acids in cilantro support cardiovascular health by helping to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase good (HDL) cholesterol and thus reducing hypertension. It's also great for diabetics as it stabilizes blood sugar levels. Because of its antioxidant content, it helps to protect our cells from free radical damage, which can cause chronic illness down the road and premature aging.

For someone who has suffered from dermatitis, I was pleased to find that cilantro also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, which also benefits those who have eczema. If all of those amazing qualities weren't enough, cilantro also acts as a natural deodorant due to its high chlorophyll content, which helps to remove toxins and excess bacteria through the liver and kidneys instead of through sweat.

I have to incorporate cilantro in all mexican style dishes I make or it's just not the same! It lends a wonderful flavor and as described above, incredible nutritional value. You can also juice it along with other veggies or add it to smoothies and in salads.

Tex-Mex Style Quinoa
Adapted from this recipe

• 1 cup quinoa, soaked overnight
• 1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
• 1/3 cup yellow onion, finely diced or 1 shallot, minced
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 Tbs chili powder
• 1 tsp cumin
• 1 tsp paprika
• 1/2 + 1/4 tsp sea salt, divided
• Pinch of cayenne pepper
• 1 red bell pepper, diced
• Juice from 1/2 lime
• 2 Tbs cilantro, coarsely chopped (add more for topping)
• Avocado, for topping
• Mushrooms, lentils, eggplant, or tempeh (optional)

1. Transfer the quinoa to a strainer and thoroughly rinse off the soak water. In a small or medium sauce pan, bring the quinoa, vegetable broth and 1/4 tsp sea salt to a boil. Turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Set aside uncovered for 5-10 minutes to cool. Fluff with a fork.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, sauté the onion, garlic or shallot and optional ingredients (mushrooms, lentils, eggplant, or tempeh) over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, or until tender. You may use 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (coconut oil doesn't quite work with this dish unfortunately) or water sauté, like I do, with 1-2 Tbs water.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and 1/2 tsp sea salt and mix well. In another small bowl, combine the lime juice, red bell pepper and cilantro and mix well.
4. Add the sautéed onions, garlic and optional ingredients, spices and "salsa" mixture to the quinoa and mix well. Top with avocado and cilantro and serve.

"A ship in port is safe but that is not what ships are built for." Grace Hopper

This quote really resonates with me. Vulnerability, to be exposed, truly seen and open, is incredibly terrifying because most of us feel ashamed or insecure about who we really are but vulnerability strips us down and gives us the chance to experience connection with others that we would never have otherwise. Brené Brown speaks to this so beautifully. I encourage you to check out her TED talk if you're not one of the millions of people who have seen it already. :-)
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