Simple Pleasure of the Week: Dinner by candlelight

This is a simple pleasure I often forget about. Candlelight makes dinners just a bit more special. There's something about dim light, the smell of the candle wax after the flames have been snuffed out, the dark that surrounds you as you sit around a table. It's such a simple task to light candles, but there's something about the act that signifies your meal as an experience. When I was little, we would have candlelight dinners once in a while, always when my mother cooked something special. It's something I'll never forget, and a simple pleasure to enjoy with a loved one, your entire family, or alone as an act of self-love. Happy Weekend!

Raw Lemon Vanilla Coconut Cheesecake

We always like to try out raw, vegan, gluten free recipes. It's pretty amazing how plants can replace sugar, cream, and butter. When it was our dear friend's birthday last month, we decided to try our hand at a raw birthday cake that was completely plant-based, gluten-free, vegan, and processed sugar-free. This cheesecake was not only delicious but also a big hit at the celebration. I altered this recipe to decrease the sugar and swap out a couple of ingredients. 

Ingredients

Crust

  • 12 pitted medjool dates
  • 2 tbls water (to help bind everything together)
  • 2 cups of your choice of nuts (I did a combo of cashews, walnuts, and hazelnuts)
  • Pinch of salt

Filling

  • 2 cups raw soaked cashews
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 2 cups coconut oil liquified
  • 2 tbls maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Directions: First thing's first. Soak those cashews in water for 2 hours or longer. You want them to be soft and plump when you are ready to use them. Grease a pan with coconut oil. I used a 9' spring form pan. Springforms make raw desserts much easier and I can't recommend them enough. For the crust: add the pitted medjool dates, nuts, and salt to a food processor and pulse until mixture is chopped, then add the water and pulse a few more times until the mixture takes on a sticky consistency. Spread the crust evenly into the bottom of the pan and place into the freezer. For the filling: drain the cashews, then add all the contents to a high speed blender or food processor and blend away until everything is smooth and creamy. We used our Vitamix and it mixed everything like a dream. Once the filling is smooth, pour filling into your pan on top of crust and spread out filling evenly. Garnish with lemon zest, then place cheesecake into your freezer for 1-2 hours to set. Done. 

When you're ready to eat the cheesecake, take it out of your freezer and let thaw for 30 minutes or so. You can decide what temperature you prefer your raw cheesecake. Frozen, it will be harder, and as it thaws it gets softer and softer. I prefer mine to be about 30 minutes defrosted. This is such an easy dessert to make, the only drawback is the amount of time it takes with the soaking of the cashews and the freezing of the cake itself. The actual assembly is quite simple and the finished result is beautiful, delicious, and healthier. It's also a nice treat to serve with berries. 

Happy Weekend!

There are many things that unite us but one of those things is the fact that we all suffer. We are all working on something. We are all being shaped by hardships, fears, stressors, by overcoming obstacles. We are all forging ourselves, striving to become better than we are. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we want better. We want to be better. We want to figure out life's uncertainties. We want to find our home, our tribe, our place in the world. We are placed in others' paths to help them evolve and they are placed in our path to help us evolve. We are all just walking each other home. Remember that the next time someone flips you off at an intersection. Have compassion for others. Have compassion for yourself. We are all just trying to find our way in this world. We are all just walking each other home. I'm sending love to all of you as I type this. Happy Weekend!

5 Reasons to Eat Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds a.k.a. hemp hearts, are the seeds of the hemp plant. They are neutral in flavor, add great texture to any meal, and pack a lot of nutrition in a small amount. Seeds should not contain any THC though there is a possibility they could have trace amounts from exposure during processing. Hemp seeds are my new, can't-live-without kitchen staple. Below are my top 5 reasons to eat hemp seeds:

  1. Protein: 3 tbls of hemp seeds have about 10g of protein which is pretty amazing. Protein and fiber help to keep you full longer, so adding hemp seeds to your meal will give it staying power to stave off the hangries.
  2. Fiber: Fiber is super important for digestion, feeding healthy bacteria in your gut micro biome and promoting colon health. More and more research is turning up confirming the importance of fiber in the diet for preventing multiple types of cancer. 
  3. Weight Loss: Hemp seeds have healthy fats, fiber, and protein. Added fiber, healthy fat, and protein promote satiety which means you'll eat less snacks, get less hangry, and will be less likely to overeat at your next meal. 
  4. Full of amino acids: Hemp seeds contain all 20 of the amino acids, including those that our bodies can't produce. For vegans and/or vegetarians, this is a very big deal.
  5. Promotes balance in the body: Full of Omega-3, and Omega-6, the nutritional profile of hemp seeds have been shown to help balance the body with regards to hormones, inflammation, and immune system. While hemp seeds aren't a 'cure all' they definitely support overall internal balance in the body. 

We have been adding them to something everyday. Hemp seeds are perfect for adding to salads, soups, oatmeal, tacos, rice or lentil dishes, smoothies and smoothie bowls. 3-4 tbls is a typical serving so you don't need much to get the full benefits. You can buy at bag at your local health food store. We purchase ours online here and here.  Enjoy : )

Mindful Minute: Pocket Stone Exercise

I always carry a stone in the pocket of the jacket I wear on walks. When I slip my hand into my pocket, it always finds the stone. You can use this stone as a mindfulness reminder. Carry a stone in your pocket and every time you feel the stone with your hand, take a mindful moment, breathing slowly and deeply, checking in with your body, checking in with your mind, checking in with your energy and tuning into your full experience in the moment (e.g. sights, sounds, smells). Another way to use the stone is to feel it with your hand in your pocket, really studying the texture of its surface, the shape of the stone with your hand. Notice the way the stone feels on your fingertips, in the palm of your hand, and as you close your hand over it. Either of these pocket stone exercises help to bring you back into the present moment, and force you to tune into your full sensory experience. Perhaps this weekend could involve a fun excursion where you find the perfect pocket stone....perhaps in nature : ) Happy weekend!

4 Breathing Techniques to Lower Anxiety in Under a Minute

Okay, disclaimer: I can't guarantee these techniques will lower your anxiety in under a minute but I'm fairly certain you will feel calmer and more grounded after trying these in 1 minute or less.

Our breath is our only way to control our autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two parts: 1. the sympathetic nervous system (fight flight or freeze) 2. the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). When we are stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed the sympathetic nervous system turns on and gets us ready for danger. This is the part of the nervous system that releases adrenaline, cortisol, and all the bad stuff associated with stress. Breathing techniques turn on the parasympathetic nervous system which is the part of our nervous system responsible for calming us down, bringing our body back to homeostasis, and turns off the fight flight or freeze mode. Deep breathing lowers heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Breath is powerful guys!! Below I've compiled 4 breathing techniques you can try to decrease anxiety/stress in under a minute: 

  1. Deep Diaphragm Breathing: This is just a fancy word for deep breathing, but trust me it works. When we are stressed we often take shallow, rapid breaths from our chest which perpetuates the stress cycle in our body, keeping the sympathetic nervous system turned on (our body's fight flight or feeze response). The diaphragm muscle is a dome-shaped muscle right under our rib cage. You can usually find it by placing your hand right above your belly button so that your pinky finger just grazes the top of the belly button. Take a slow deep breath in and feel your hand raise as your diaphram muscle expands. Exhale a long slow deep breath and feel your diaphram contract. Repeat until you feel better.
  2. Ujjayi Breath: Pronounced (oo-jai). This is a form of breath often practiced in hatha and vinyasa yoga. It's said to support the mind body connection within the yoga practice by linking the breath to your movement in asanas. Ujjayi breath can also be helpful during times of stress as it connects you to your autonomic nervous system, more specifically the part of the nervous system responsible for regulating and calming the mind/body. Ujjayi is practiced by breathing in and out through the nose, but constricting the back of the throat to make your breath audible. This constriction is the same you use when fogging up a mirror with the "ha" sound. The only difference is with ujjayi, your mouth is closed instead of open. I've heard it called ocean breathing, or Darth Vader breathing because it sounds like both. Still confused? Check out this short ujjayi video tutorial here.
  3. Alternate Nostril Breathing: This is one of my personal favorites. I've mentioned it here in a blog post on managing anxiety. In this method you take a finger and place it on the side of your nose, pushing against your nose until you plug the nostril. Breathe in so that you are only breathing in through the unplugged nostril. Once your lungs are full, remove your finger and switch to plug the other nostril. Breathe out so that you are only breathing out through one nostril. Continue this way, alternating breathing in through one nostril, then out through the other until you feel calm and grounded. Still confused? Read further instructions here
  4. Square Breathing: This is called square breathing because you breathe in for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, and then hold for 4 counts. If you were to draw a picture with this breathing, it would look like a square. Repeat this square breath until you feel calm and grounded. My suggestion would be to set a timer for 1 minute and practice it until the timer dings. 

Seriously, try all of these while you read this post so that you'll know how to do them in the future. Practice these breathing techniques on a regular basis to prevent anxiety and to decrease anxiety when it rears its head. The more you practice when you feel good, the more likely you are to be able to recall them when in crisis. Happy breathing : )

Why I quit the Apple watch

My husband loves Apple products so when the watch came out, I knew he'd buy it. After he brought home the box, slowly unpeeled the wrapping, and pulled the watch out of its package, I wanted one too. It was surprising because I never pegged myself for an Apple watch user, but seeing Matt enjoy his so much made me envious. I loved my watch when I bought it, secretly reading text messages on it when it would otherwise be socially inappropriate, tracking heart rate and calories burned at every hot yoga class, and checking mileage on weekend walks. So what happened? Well, my husband and I went on vacation for 10 days and decided to leave the watches at home. We returned home feeling present, mindful, and totally balanced. When I put my watch back on and went about my routine in the days following, its former absence made me acutely aware of every notification, and how they took me out of the present moment. The watch made it impossible to unplug, quiet everything, get fully present. I realized the constant stream of notifications felt distracting, and increased my anxiety. Group texts were the worst as the watch would be constantly vibrating on my wrist every 10 seconds or so. I didn't find the watch fashionable enough to wear without the notifications feature though so then what?

I started out leaving the watch home when I went to yoga class and felt this space open up in my psyche, mind, life, as I no longer had to worry about turning on the exercise app at the beginning and end of class, feeling it in certain postures, or seeing the screen flash as I rotated my hand during class distracted by the calorie count illuminated on the screen. I also realized, for me, the calorie count didn't matter. The information tracked at the end of my yoga class wasn't truly necessary as I would have been taking those classes regardless. I wasn't 'doing' anything with the information gathered, so why was I gathering it? Was the watch using me, instead of the other way around? In the very least, I wasn't using my watch intentionally. Fastening it to my wrist had become a habitual part of my morning routine, but I never stopped to think more deeply about the 'why' I was tethering this piece of technology to my body day after day. I wasn't stopping to weigh if what I gained from this accessory was greater than what it took. After this realization I stopped wearing it completely, trading it out for a lovely simple gold watch my dad had given me. My mind had forgotten what it was like to get lost in work, free from distractions, completely in flow with whatever you're focused on. It was lovely. Interruptions kill productivity and I found that the Apple watch, with all of the notifications, felt like interruption after interruption. I know I could turn off the notifications, but then why wear it at all really? Did I truly need to track my calories burned, and heart rate every day? Nope. Did I need to get my text messages, emails, and social media 'likes' in real time? Nope. What I needed was simplicity. What I needed was to get back to living life as close to nature as possible, without the distractions, and 'improvements' technology tells us we need. Is my life free from distractions now? Absolutely not, but I have felt calmer, more grounded, and present since setting the watch aside. I may pick it up again from time to time, but before I do strap it on, I will be clear about what its job is, and how I plan to use it with intention. This was just my personal experience with the watch, and I realized I didn't need the features it had to offer in my day to day life. For others, however, the information provided may add value so it's definitely a matter of personal opinion. The important point, however, is the act of thinking critically about the 'why' you would be using/or buying a product, whether it adds value to your life, and using it intentionally so it doesn't end up using you.

Happy Weekend!

Evolution knows what it's doing. If we do it right, we can live in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with nature. It's not a coincidence that we are drawn to mountains, beaches, majestic views, the smells of pine trees, the sunlight in the early morning, and the feel of a cool breeze on a hot day...What if the earth is drawn to us in a similar way? Rumi says "what you seek is seeking you". What if the very fact that we love nature, means that nature loves us? Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair.  Happy Weekend!

Sweet Potato Kale Salad

We spent the weekend in San Francisco this weekend and had the most unique, delicious kale salad. I thought I would try to recreate that salad but in a simpler recipe. Below is my take on a sweet potato kale salad with olive tapenade. This salad is vegan, gluten free, and so delicious. 

Ingredients: (2 servings)

  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • Salt & pepper
  • Dried cranberries
  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Olive tapenade
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 6 tbsp Hemp hearts

Dressing:

  • 2:1 ratio of lemon juice:olive oil

Directions: Preheat oven to 450F and then bake sweet potato wrapped in foil for approx 1 hr, or until soft. While potato is baking wash and chop kale, pour dressing over kale and add generous portions of salt and pepper. Dressing the kale while potato is baking allows kale to marinate and soften a little. After sweet potato is finished, let cool, cube and add to salad. Add cranberries, pepitas, hemp hearts, and olive tapenade. Enjoy!! 

This salad is a wonderful balance of flavors and textures with the salty tangy tastes from the tapenade mixed with the sweet from the cranberries, the crunchiness from the pepitas, and the texture from the hemp hearts. Hemp also adds a nice dose of protein (11g/salad from hemp hearts alone).We only used about half of the sweet potato and plan to use the remainder for another salad later this week. 

Hope you enjoy this salad as much as we did.