three ways I practice mindfulness

Aside from food, cats and reality TV, this is one of my favorite topics.

I know I'm mixing it up on S & S today with a non-recipe post, but I've been wanting to write this for a while and am so excited to share it with all of you.

Like many people, I've struggled with anxiety my whole life, and only within the last few years have learned healthy ways of dealing with it. When anxiety strikes, it's easy to feel helpless and like your own emotions are out of your control. I've found three mindfulness tools that not only enhance my life overall when practiced daily, but also put me back in the driver's seat in the middle of a crisis. Because I feel so passionately about each tool, I'll be breaking this up into a series of three posts so I can delve into each topic. Here's the first and stay tuned for my second and third coming up within the next couple of weeks.

Daily Meditation with the Headspace App
This popular app begins with a series of foundation courses, which are guided meditations ranging from 10 to 20 minutes. Once you've finished the foundation, you choose from a selection of courses that focus on a variety of topics from relationships to depression. The app also includes mini S.O.S. sessions to use if you're in the middle of something really stressful that I've found helpful for dealing with moments of extreme anxiety.

It's a common fallacy that you're supposed to stop thinking while you meditate. What's really happening is when thoughts pop into your mind, you redirect them to a point of focus, such a your breath or sensations in your body. What you're doing here is actually rewiring your brain circuits and strengthening your ability to have control over your thoughts and emotions, which is both fascinating and incredibly empowering.

I love this app because it makes meditation for beginners, like me, very attainable by guiding them through it and allowing them to customize the amount of time they want to spend. I mean just 10 minutes out of your day is nothing, right?

So far, I've completed the foundation courses, anxiety series, and am currently doing the sleep series. With each series, I learn new tools I use throughout my entire day, not just during meditation, that keep my anxiety under control and allow me to be a more peaceful, mindful person. 

cirali soy sauce noodles

It's hard to believe a simple noodle dish with soy sauce and veggies could be so satisfying.

But these noodles are both out of this world and the easiest thing to throw together. In this post for zucchini noodles with oli-free roasted pistachio pesto, I mention my recent trip to Turkey. After exploring Istanbul for a week, my sister, brother-in-law, and I traveled to Cirali, which is a beautiful little beach town along the coast.

The Turkish beaches have become very trendy, and thus many of them are incredibly touristy. When I travel somewhere new, I want to get a feel for the culture and the way people actually live there, which is why we avoided the most popular beaches and instead choose Cirali, which has an authentic feel that's free of large, commercialized hotels.

Laying on the Cirali beach, you can gaze out at the crystal clear, warm ocean right next to these incredible, green mountains, which made this the most unique and beautiful beach I've ever been to (I include some images of my trip below but head over to my Instagram to see more). Right off the beach are several restaurants and bars with amazing food, which brings me to these soy sauce noodles.

My sister and I had these noodles for dinner one night and I was struck by how simple they were and yet still completely delicious. It seems like an odd combination, soy sauce and spaghetti, but it works surprisingly well. You could, of course, substitute the spaghetti for ramen or buckwheat noodles, but I love the ease of using regular spaghetti, requiring no special grocery trip.

A couple days after returning from my vacation, I had these noodles on my mind and recreated them with a few changes. I added tahini to the soy sauce for creaminess, red pepper flakes for spice, and crispy tofu for a protein kick. I also finished it off with a squeeze of lemon for some bright, fresh acidity, and was happy to find this recipe is even better than the original. 

Although this is hardly a traditional Turkish dish, every time I make these noodles I'm transported back to Cirali. The relaxed feel of this meal is a direct result of the casual beach vibes of Cirali, reminding me to keep things simple and that less is more.

Cirali Beach
Dining at our Bed & Breakfast

Ingredients (serves 2):
- 4 oz whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 cup broccoli
- 1 cup cauliflower
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 oz tofu, cubed
- 4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 lemon

- Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, drain, and set aside.

- While the spaghetti is cooking, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauteé pan, adding garlic once heated. Sauteé garlic for about 30 seconds over medium-high heat before adding the vegetables, stirring to coat, adding more olive oil if needed, and seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook the veggies until tender (about 7 minutes), remove from pan and set aside.

- Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil on the sauteé pan, adding the tofu once heated. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until golden brown.

-  Add the cooked spaghetti, veggies, and tofu to a large bowl and stir to mix. Whisk together the soy sauce, tahini, and red pepper flakes before pouring over the noodle mixture. Divide into bowls and top with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon.

5 seed strawberry smoothie

This smoothie is a nutritional goldmine.

A coworker of mine walked into work so energetic and bright-eyed on a recent Monday morning, I just had to know what had gotten into him. It turned out he had stopped by the Juice Shop on his way to work and gotten one of their 5 seed juices. 

I was in total need of a pick me up that morning, so I went out and got one for myself and it did not disappoint. Not only was it delicious, but I felt a surge of energy that carried me throughout the rest of my day. I knew immediately I wanted to recreate this juice at home.

It's no secret seeds are good for us. Flax and chia seeds are common smoothie toss-ins, but let's talk about what happens when you get the benefits of five different seeds all at once. Starting with hemp seeds, it may sound like I'm channeling the 70's, but hemp seeds are one of nature's perfect super foods. They're a complete, easily digestible protein; even easier to digest than meat, eggs, cheese, and milk. They are also an excellent source of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and enzymes, while having a relative absence of sugar, starches, and saturated fats.

Next up, pumpkin seeds, which are nutritional powerhouses wrapped up in very small packages. Just one ounce contains seven grams of protein, 23% of your daily iron needs, and a healthy dose of Vitamin E and B. Pumpkin seeds are also full of several minerals including magnesium and zinc, which are important for immunity, regulating muscle and nerve function, and maintaining energy levels. As if that wasn't enough, pumpkin seeds also contain L-tryptophan, which can improve mood naturally and may even be effective against depression.

Also in this smoothie are sunflower seeds, which are a dense source of vitamins, minerals, and essential oils. They contain Vitmain E and folate, which promote cardiovascular health and help neutralize free radicals to protect brain health. Sunflower seeds are also potent sources of copper, which your body uses to make melanin, a pigment protein that helps maintain skin and hair health by absorbing ultraviolet radiation from the sun, protecting you from tissue damage as a result of sun exposure.

Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are also among the most nutritious foods on the planet. They're loaded with fiber, protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various micronutrients, all while containing very few calories. Because of all the fiber in chia seeds, they can absorb up to 10-12 times their weight in water, which increases fullness and slows absorption of your food, therefore promoting weight loss.

Finally, we add flax seeds, which you can read a bit more about in this post for my favorite green smoothie. It's also good to know that flax seeds benefit your skin and hair health by providing essential fats as well as B Vitamins, which can help reduce dryness and flakiness. Although we can all use some help with this in the winter, it's especially good news for people with acne, rosacea, and eczema.

So there you have it! This smoothie is packing some serious health and vitality, and yet super simple to throw together. Give it a try any time you want to feel like you can take over the world.

Ingredients (serves 2):
- 1 banana
- 1 cup strawberries
- 1 cup coconut water
- 1 cup almond milk
- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons flax seeds
- 1 cup ice

- Throw everything in a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

chili chickpea, honey almond & popcorn mix

This snack has all the bases covered.

San Francisco is known for its unique craft cocktails and creative bar snacks, which is one of the reasons I love living here. One evening after work, I went to a wine bar near my office for happy hour called Press Club and ordered a popcorn mix that was to die for. It was so good, it inspired me to up my snack game from standard chips and dip to something more creative and a bit healthier, which is why I created this recipe. The spicy chili and cilantro roasted chickpeas, sweet honey and sea salt almonds, and salty popcorn all mixed together create the most delicious combination of flavors with so much satisfying crunch.

I love this snack not only because it's so delicious, but also for the way it can amp up any average night at home. With so many amazing bars and restaurants just steps away from my apartment, it can be tempting to go out every time I want a drink or bit to eat, but there's something so special about putting in just a bit more effort to create that dining experience in my own home that I love even more than going out sometimes.

This is the perfect snack to pair with homemade cocktails, whip up for movie night, or make for watching football games, including the Super Bowl coming up, to make the whole experience feel that much more special and fun.

Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon of chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cilantro, finely chopped
- Olive oil spray or olive oil
- 1 cup almonds
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Sea salt
- Popcorn

- For the chickpeas: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread chickpeas out in a single layer. Lightly spray with olive oil or drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and stir to coat. It is very important to not use too much olive oil here or they won't crisp up, that's why I like using the olive oil spray to just get a light coating (I use the one from Trader Joe's). Sprinkle with chili powder, cilantro, salt and pepper. Bake in oven until golden brown and crisp, about 30 - 40 minutes.

- For the almonds: Heat honey in a large frying pan over medium low until it thins, about 3 minutes. Add almonds to pan, stir to coat, and sprinkle with sea salt. Stir continuously until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Lay almonds out on parchment paper in a single layer and sprinkle again with sea salt.

- Once the almonds have cooled completely and the chickpeas are done, mix both together with popcorn, finishing with a sprinkle of chili powder and cilantro.

the best baked mac & cheese

There's no such thing as a healthy diet without a little indulgence.

And I can't think of anything better to indulge on than this baked mac and cheese. The cheesy, coconut milk sauce is mixed with al dente shells, covered in panko breadcrumbs and then baked to perfection to get that delicious crispy topping with the gooey, cheesy shells beneath. So. Good.

I've been getting some questions about nutritional yeast, which is a big component of this recipe, so I want to take this opportunity to give a bit of info about it.

So what the heck is nutritional yeast? When I first started cooking vegan recipes, I would usually skim over nutritional yeast when I saw it on ingredient lists thinking A) it's probably not that important to the flavor of the dish so it won't matter if I leave it out and B) I'm never going to be able to find it anyway. Everyone who gets into vegan cooking encounters nutritional yeast at some point and asks themselves, "What is it?" "Why should I use it?" "Where can I find it?" "Why should I love it?"

Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast meaning that it doesn't grow like baking yeast and has no leavening ability. It comes in the form of either flakes or powder and is an excellent source of B vitamins, which help you extract energy from food. Some brands, including the one linked to below, provide a day's worth of B vitamins. Nutritional yeast is also a complete protein, good source of fiber, and low in calories. Although it doesn't have the most appetizing name, nutritional yeast has a deliciously nutty, cheesy flavor that makes it a very popular ingredient. One of the most common times I find myself reaching for it is to sprinkle on top of popcorn.

So it turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong about both my assumptions. Nutritional yeast is super important and adds so much flavor, that's why I list it as one of my all time favorite ingredients here. It's also really easy to find since it's always stocked at Whole Foods and is available in bulk on Amazon (this is the one I buy).

So hopefully that clears up what nutritional yeast is and feel free to leave any questions in the comments. Nutritional yeast is a staple in my kitchen and has already appeared in several of my recipes including this one, this one, and this one. Once you try it, I know you'll love it and a great place to start is with this baked mac and cheese.

Ingredients (serves 6):
- 1 lb pasta shells
- 2 tablespoons Earth Balance (vegan butter)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups low fat coconut milk
- 2 cups vegan Daiya cheddar cheese (found at Whole Foods)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to directions until al dente. While pasta is cooking, heat Earth Balance in a large pot over medium heat until melted. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.

- Add coconut milk to pot and cook on medium high until simmering. Reduce heat to low and stir in Daiya cheddar cheese and nutritional yeast. Heat stirring continuously until the cheese is melted and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

- Add cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to coat. Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes finishing under the broiler if the breadcrumbs haven't yet become golden brown.

creamy tomato, basil & rice soup

Could it be any more soup season?

Anyone catch that Chandler from Friends reference? ...But really! Soup is such a staple this time of year and this one has become one of my favorite easy lunches. Working in the Financial District of San Francisco, there are so many tempting lunch options just steps away from my office like made-to-order salads and fresh veggie sandwiches. Although it's fun to eat out every so often, it's not something I feel good about spending money on every day.

On the flip side, the last thing I want to do at the end of my work day after already preparing dinner is make my lunch for the next day. That's where this soup comes in. Ever since it has cooled off, I've loved making big batches of soup on Sundays and then enjoying them for lunch throughout the week.

Minimal time spent cooking on the weekend and no cooking during the week has made it super easy to stick with bringing my own healthy lunches with me to work. This tomato, basil, and rice soup has become one of my favorites and it's actually so ridiculously easy that even if you don't make it on the weekend, making it during the week can be done with minimal effort. Meaning that, if one of your New Year's resolutions was to start bringing your lunch with you to work, this fail-proof recipe is going to really come in handy.

I was inspired to create this recipe as a remake of a classic I loved to eat when I was a kid - Campbell's Old Fashioned Tomato Rice Soup. Did anyone else used to love that as well? It was so good but full of preservatives and sodium, and never made me feel that great. That's why I created my own version with fresh basil, brown rice, and coconut milk in place of cream and it's so much more delicious.

Ingredients (serves 2): 
- 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (full fat, not low fat)
- 1 cup basil
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional for a cheezier flavor)
- 1 cup brown rice, cooked

- Blend or process all ingredients besides the rice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
- Transfer to a pot and season with salt and pepper. Heat on medium-high until simmering.
- Divide rice between two bowls pouring soup over the top, stir to mix. 

soba salad with miso tahini dressing

So excited to ring in 2016 with this deliciously beautiful soba salad!

The mix of flavors and textures in this salad is just amazing. The kale and cilantro provide a fresh crispness, the carrot and edamame add the perfect crunch, and the earthy soba noodles bring all the elements together. Everything's tossed in a miso tahini dressing that gives each bite a creamy tang and then adding the rich, velvety avocado just takes it to a whole other level. Have you ever heard someone say, "Bacon makes everything better?" thanks, how about "Avocado makes everything better?" YES. That's more like it.

Not only is this rainbow salad beautiful and delicious, but it has such a wide variety of healthy vitamins and minerals as well. Soba noodles provide lean protein and magnesium, which aids in energy metabolism and promotes a healthy nervous system. Avocado has 20 different vitamins and minerals, and is loaded with fiber and essential heart-healthy fats. Edamame is high in fiber, protein, and iron; and it's no secret that kale is among the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, being packed with antioxidants. Tahini and miso are two more superfoods that you can read about in this post for a kale and sweet potato salad with orange tahini dressing and this post for a healing miso soba noodle soup.

All those yummy, healthy ingredients and still this recipe is so simple, it only takes about 15 minutes. It's also the perfect on-the-go lunch because it transports wonderfully well in a mason jar and, if you use only kale instead of the lettuce mix, it won't be soggy by noon if dressed in the morning. It's also perfectly in keeping with resolutions to eat delicious food that's kinder to your body and the planet. Happy New Year everyone!

Ingredients (serves 2):
- 1/2 avocado 
- 1/2 cup edamame, shelled
- 2 carrots, shredded or spiralized
- 4 tablespoons cilantro
- 2 handfuls mixed greens
- 2 large kale leaves, spines removed
- 4 oz soba noodles
- Sesame seeds for garnish

For the dressing:
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons miso paste
- 3 tablespoons vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles according to the package directions (about 3 minutes). Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

- To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly.

- Assemble the salad by tossing all ingredients in the dressing and garnishing with sesame seeds.

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