Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Back to Basics: My After-Holidays Oatmeal Bake

shelled walnuts
I like adding walnuts to my oatmeal.
Image: Shutterstock
If you traveled like I did during the holidays, you may be feeling a little bit guilty about all those delicious cookies, glasses of eggnog, and carb-heavy meals. I generally follow the principal of living a generally healthy life; most of the time, I fix meals that are full of healthy ingredients and try to avoid overindulging on things like sweets and carbs.

Going into the holidays, though, I knew that I would be making some exceptions. I traveled home to Idaho for a week and a half, and we ate several meals out, had rich Christmas Eve and Day dinners, and drank a good amount of eggnog. I love allowing myself to indulge once in a while, and last week was definitely one of those times.


Now, it’s back to real life. While those rich foods were oh-so-delicious while I was on vacation, they left me feeling heavy and bloated. I missed simple dinners and yoga. And now, it’s time to get back to that. This week, I’m back to cooking at home, and I started with making myself an oatmeal bake for breakfast this week. I find that breakfast is the easiest meal for me to eat unhealthy during because I  am slow moving in the mornings. Luckily for me, this oatmeal bake was super easy to make—and I can just microwave it each morning for a wholesome meal! Here’s what I did:

raw cocoa / cacao nibs
Cocoa nibs add a wonderful nutty taste and tons of antioxidants.
Image: Shutterstock
2 cups rolled oats (I generally prefer steel-cut, but they take much longer to prepare)
2 cups milk of your choice (I used whole)
1 egg
1 cup fresh berries (I used raspberries)
1 ripe banana, sliced
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
½ cup honey
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
Handful of cocoa nibs (optional)
1 tbsp mini semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix dry ingredients in a 9 x 12 casserole dish.
Stir wet ingredients (milk, vanilla, egg, honey) in a large bowl and pour over dry ingredients.
Mix it all up!
Place in a 375 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes.

The result? YUM! The honey and banana make it sweet, but not too sweet. The nuts and cocoa nibs also provide a wonderful texture, keeping the oatmeal from feeling “mushy” like it sometimes can. I’m not much of one for eating the same thing ever day, but this I can handle J

Check out other healthy whole grain breakfasts here. I haven’t tried these, but they sure do look good. Maybe next week, once I gobble up the rest of my oatmeal bake!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Essential Ingredients for a Healthy Meal… Anytime!

I know I’m not the only one who’s suffering from holiday-itis. I’m exhausted. Are you exhausted? A few days off for the holidays feels long overdue. Whether you’re worn out because things have been crazy at work or school or you’re just ready for a break, there’s one thing that I find gets particularly difficult when I’m tired: eating healthy.

Have you ever noticed that when the stress levels rise, suddenly a frozen pizza or dinner at the local pub out sounds so enticing? When I’ve had a long day (or week), it’s hard to rustle up enough energy to think of a healthy meal (much less cook it). Plus, with the holidays just around the corner, delicious sugary treats like cookies and sweet breads are around in abundance.
Christmas holiday treats
This season is full of stress and sugar--but it's still important to keep eating healthy as much as possible!
Image: Shutterstock

So what’s a girl to do? Sure, sometimes I’ll give in and eat that frozen pizza (it’s okay to live sometimes!)—just don’t let it become a habit. The best advice I have is to keep healthy basic ingredients in the house, so that when you don’t have the time or energy to get creative, you still have a healthy meal to eat.

I’ve found that the following ingredients enable me to whip up a quick meal in just a few minutes—and it’s tasty to boot!

Frozen Chicken Breasts or Salmon (you can buy these fresh and freeze them yourself if you prefer)

Just defrost in the microwave or with warm water and then bake, grill, sauté, or stir-fry them as you feel fit. For chicken, I always keep lemon pepper on hand (it really livens the flavor up), and salmon goes well with a simple glaze like honey lemon.

Frozen Vegetables

Frozen veggies certainly aren’t as good as fresh produce, but they can be lifesavers. Choose a medley or particular vegetable that you enjoy, and then on those busy nights you can just steam or sautee them back to life. Add in a little garlic powder, olive oil, and pepper to give them a kick.

Whole Grains

I love wild rice. It takes a little longer to cook, but it’s not exactly work to cook rice. Pairing wild rice with a baked lemon-pepper chicken breast and veggies on the side is a fiber-and-flavor filled meal that’s super easy to boot. If you’re not a fan of wild rice, you can also try cous cous, whole grain pasta (in moderate proportions), or brown rice.


I know, eggs are typically a morning food. But, hey, there’s nothing wrong with breakfast at dinner from time to time. Whip up a quick omelet with those frozen veggies and pair it with a side of whole-wheat toast.

 Salad Fixings

I tend to think that dinner should be more complicated than a salad, but that’s not true. When I remember, I try to keep some dark leafy greens (like arugula, spinach, or kale) on hand. Mix those together with some dried cranberries, nuts, cheese, and a tiny bit of dressing and you’ve got yourself a lovely little dinner salad!

Frozen Meatballs and Marinara

I discovered this lovely combo when living with roommates. If you can find lean chicken or turkey meatballs (try Trader Joe’s), this is a super fast meal to whip up. Just cook the meatballs over the stove with some marinara sauce—no pasta necessary! Add some veggies on the side, and it’s a perfectly sized meal.

During the holidays, it can be particularly difficult to keep up a healthy eating regimen. How are you handling the extra excitement, and how do you plan on staying healthy?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Oh Coconut Oil, Where Have You Been All My Life?

coconut oil uses
What can you use coconut oil for? Oh, let me count the ways!
Image: Shutterstock
Perhaps I’m a bit behind the times, but I only just recently discovered coconut oil. Actually, I was introduced to it about a year-and-a-half ago during a vegan cooking class, but I didn’t make an effort to really try it out until a few weeks ago. And now, I can’t help but wonder why it’s only just crossed my radar—because it’s kind of amazing.

While I tried it out cooking acorn squash (with this salad, which I want to eat ALL THE TIME), it can pretty much be used for, well, anything. Here are just a few ways in which you can utilize this amazing oil, which is extracted from ripe coconuts (Note: you’ll want “virgin” or “refined” coconut oil because it’s non-hydrogenated):
  1. As cooking oil. It can be cooked at very high temperatures, with a smoke point of 450°F. It’s also has medium-chain triglycerides, which are easier on your digestive tract.
  2. As a daily energy supplement.
  3. As coffee creamer.
  4. As lotion.
  5. As makeup remover.
  6. To prevent stretch marks or lighten age spots.
  7. As a topical treatment for yeast infections.
  8. As a hair de-frizzer.
  9. As a natural conditioner.
  10. To soothe skin conditions like eczema.
  11. With apple cider vinegar as a natural lice treatment.
  12. In homemade sunscreen.
  13. In various (delicious) recipes, savory and sweet.
  14. To help regulate the thyroid.
  15. As a natural diaper cream.
  16. To condition and soften shiny leather.
  17. In a salt scrub.
  18. To help soothe a sore throat.
  19. As a natural deodorant.
  20. To soothe skin issues and hot spots on pets.
These are just twenty examples to show you a wide variety of possibilities. Check out this blog entry on WellnessMama.com for a list of 101 uses of coconut oil. It’s really amazing what one natural product can provide! Have you tried coconut oil? How do you use it? Are there any of the above options you’re planning on trying?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The 5 Biggest Reasons I Exercise (Hint: It Has Nothing to Do With How I Look)

yoga at sunset
Exercise benefits move way beyond being fit.
Image: Shutterstock
When I first started getting back into exercising, I’ll admit it was because I was tired of being out of shape. I was jealous of my friends that actually had upper body strength. I wanted flat abs. I felt self-conscious in tight clothing. In short, I was unhappy with my physical appearance.

It’s the same reason many people start working out. But somewhere along the way, I discovered that, though it’s nice to be in shape, it was no longer my priority or main reason for exercising. Working out comes with so many other, often more important, benefits. If it were just about getting fit, I probably wouldn’t have such a strong drive to continue exercising; but it’s not. It’s about these five things instead:
  1. Exercising lifts my mood. I love my job, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have days when I leave in a bad mood. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned and I end up stressed out. And though I’m tired and tempted to just go home and sleep it off, I work out instead—and end up feeling happier and more relaxed by the time I’m done. The hardest part is getting there—once the blood is flowing, the good juju is happening.
  2. Exercising helps me feel more creative. Do you ever feel completely brain dead at the end of a long day or week? I know I do. Brain tiredness is just a fact of life, but exercising helps me regain some of that creativity. It awakens and freshens my brain, and for that, I love it.
  3. Exercising gives me more energy. I know, I know: exercise should make me more tired, right? It does make me tired, initially—but the next day, I always feel like I have more energy, a little bit more of a spring in my step, and can face the world with a smile.
  4. Exercising gives me confidence. It makes me feel powerful. Sure, I can’t do inversions or crazy yoga moves yet, but the fact that I’m trying and getting closer each class makes me feel so strong. I believe in myself mentally and physically, and instead of criticizing my faults, I find myself congratulating myself on my strengths. It’s a wonderful feeling.
  5. Exercising strengthens my immune system. When you exercise, you’re not just building up your physical muscles—you’re promoting overall health, too. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help us fight off sickness. It’s nice being the only one in the office not to catch that nasty bug.
These are the top reasons why I exercise. What about you? What, besides getting more fit, keeps you going back again and again? I’d love to hear your comments below!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mount Sinai Feels the Holiday Cheer with $21 Million in Donations

Mount Sinai Hospital is in New York City.
Mount Sinai Hospital is in New York City.

Hospitals are aging. Unfortunately, patients are, too. As the baby boomer generation ages, hospitals are seeing a huge influx of patients that are older, sicker, and need more care. The problem is that many hospitals themselves are running short on funding and have been for some time. This means that facilities are becoming outdated and are less able to afford quality care in times of need (which, these days, is pretty much all the time).

Mount Sinai Hospital is an internationally acclaimed tertiary-care teaching facility and hospital. It is joined with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai in the overarching Mount Sinai Health System. The hospital is supported by a number of prestigious businesspeople, including James Tisch, Henry Kravis, Carl Icahn, and Kenneth Mehlman.

Luckily, thanks to generous individuals, hospitals like Mount Sinai are able to update their facilities. Mount Sinai recently received a generous $6 million donation from Jay and Barbara Hennick, money that will go toward updating the hospital’s 40-year-old building. The hospital will build a brand new healing and respite area with six new floors, 19 state-of-the-art operating rooms, eight modernized inpatient unites, and even a new neonatal unit.

Donations to Mount Sinai Hospital
Generous donations from Reisman, Schwartz, and the Hennicks
will allow the hospital to update its facilities and research programs.
Image: Shutterstock
And more recently, the hospital received a $15 million donation from Indigo Books founder Heather Reisman and her husband, Gerald Schwartz, who is founder and CEO of Onex Corp. This donation will enable the hospital to more than double the space of the emergency care center and make it much more senior friendly. Both the $6 million and the $15 million donations are a part of the hospital's campaign to raise $500 million for upgrades to the facilities and research programs.

“We are looking after patients that are sicker than before and we are dealing with more complex issues than before,” said vice-president of patient experience Matthew Morgan. “We’ve had to begin modernizing our building to deal with the volume and complexities of our population.”

Mount Sinai is one of many hospitals planning for the future and putting generous donations to good use. Recently, I wrote about another amazing hospital donation—a $20 million gift from the Dalio Foundation to the New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Weill Cornell Medical College. In that case, the money will be used to launch a brand new cardiovascular center.

Despite the fact that times have been hard on hospitals in recent years, it’s good to see that at least a handful are able to put money to good use and create better and more innovative care facilities.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why I Love Writing, and How You Can, Too

I love writing. From a very young age, I’ve enjoyed the simple practice of putting pen (or pencil) to paper and just letting my thoughts flow. The first time I can really remember writing was in third grade, when my teacher would put daily writing prompts up on the board for us to complete. They would usually be something like this (with my answers looking something like this):

“I opened the box, and inside I saw…” 
(a giant, hairy spider)
“My favorite thing is… because…”  
(my dog, Tequila because she likes to snuggle and loves me a lot)
“The door opened, and in walked…” 
(my dad. He just came home from a business trip and brought me a new necklace!)

We always started out the day with about ten minutes to complete our journal entries, and each week our teacher would collect and review our notebooks. This simple activity is something I now believe to be a genius idea. Not only did it promote creativity, but it also made writing an informal event that we all got used to. Plus, when she would review the notebooks, she’d gently correct grammar and spelling and always wrote comments at the end. She connected with us. When my dad came for back to school night, I got to write him a note, and he wrote me one back. It’s one of those memories I will always cherish. Oh, and I still have that notebook.

Writing can help relieve stress, improve mood,
and even physically heal the body.
Image: Shutterstock
When I was in junior high and high school, I mainly wrote for school—both creative and academic pieces. I kept journals on and off (I would love to say that I’m an avid journaler, but I’m really terrible at it). When in college, I wrote poetry and short pieces that really delved deep into my emotional state and helped me reflect on what was happening in my life. When a friend attempted suicide, I wrote about it. When my grandfather died, I wrote about it. When I saw incredible acts of kindness, I wrote about it. When I saw a pretty leaf dancing in the rain, I wrote about it.

The important thing is this: I wrote. And I completely believe that it has helped keep me sane all these years. As I’ve delved deeper into career life, it’s become harder to keep up with personal writing, but whenever I do manage to sit down and write something, it has an incredibly therapeutic effect.

I am a perfectionist by nature, so when I read over my infrequent journal entries, my creative works, and even my third-grade journal, part of me wants to lament over the bad grammar and spelling, the awkwardness of phrasing, the way it just isn't as good as [insert famous writer]. I know that’s an impulse lots of people have—and it’s often what keeps people from writing. But it shouldn’t.

Writing has been linked to a multitude of benefits for both the mind and body. It can promote emotional healing through expression of emotion (rather than bottling it up). You can always talk to paper, even if you can’t talk to a person. It can also improve attitude, especially in people battling potentially terminal diseases like cancer. And attitude, studies have shown, can affect everything from whether you actually get better to how much you enjoy your life.

Writing can also help us remember what we’re thankful for in life. It can get things off our chest before we go to bed for the night—meaning that sleep could be more restful as well. Improved mood, lower stress and depression levels, healing and more have all been linked to expressive writing.

You don’t have to be “good” at writing to love it. You just have to do it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eating Healthy Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive

Fun fact: Junk food is often actually more expensive than healthy food.
Fun fact: Junk food is often actually more expensive than healthy food.
Image: Shutterstock
Our society is being misled, and it’s a tragedy. For years, many people have been under the impression that eating healthy is expensive, and that eating, well, crappy, is cheap. And while, yes, you can buy a fast-food meal for fairly inexpensive, the truth is that eating well isn’t nearly as expensive as it’s often made out to be. In fact, it really doesn’t have to be expensive at all.

In a recent article on the Huffington Post, author Nate Morrow demonstrates beautifully how eating healthier, fresher food is often actually cheaper than eating fast food or junk food. Looking at food from a price-per-serving perspective, Morrow shows us that though junk food has a lower price per calorie ratio, fresh produce still gets you more bang for your buck:

Image: Nate Morrow / Huffington Post
Morrow goes on to provide a sample meal plan that cost him less than $6 per day, about 17% below what than the average American spends on food. And all the food is gloriously healthy, especially compared to Twinkies, Doritos, and fast food meals. Plus, Morrow says, “this daily plan is for a 6-foot, 3-inch, 200 pound man, so I’m not exactly skimping on calories here.”

Indeed, Morrow’s plan provides more food than I could eat (which means leftovers for lunch the next day!). He also provides his full shopping list, complete with the full price for the items, and then broken down by price per serving. Check out his article to see the meal plan and shopping list!

One thing I do want to note is this: choosing to cook healthy food at home does require an investment. Initially, buying the ingredients you need may cost a little bit more, but the overall price is cheaper in the long run. For example, two dozen eggs might cost $4 up front as compared to a $1 serving at the local fast food joint, but you’ll get twelve servings of two eggs as compared to one. That makes the “cheap” fast food three times as expensive overall!

Here in Seattle, I go shopping about once per week, and on average spend $200 per month. I cook nearly all my meals at home, and try to keep them healthy. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive, so let’s stop using that as an excuse not to!