Fig and Ricotta Pancakes

When I was a child, I took piano lessons in a sweet woman's home. Outside the door was a fig tree and I'm not sure which I remember more...the piano notes or the taste of freshly picked figs. I'm still debating on the idea of adding a fig tree to my tiny Brooklyn apartment. Maybe I will settle for fig pancakes instead.

_DSC0671.JPG

What's great about pancakes is they're REALLY hard to mess up. Dry plus liquid, add egg and baking powder, cook and there you have it...a pancake. What I'm trying to say is this isn't an exact science, so make them how you like them. Don't want figs? Fine, add another fruit. This your show. 

Ingredients
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 cup fresh figs, sliced 

Preparation
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add eggs, milk, and ricotta. Mix until incorporated. Heat a small amount of butter or oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add your desired amount of pancake mix to the pan and immediately top with sliced figs. Note: I pressed the figs into the pancake batter in the pan to make sure they didn't fall out while flipping. Allow to cook until slightly browned on one side. Flip and cook through. Makes about 6-8 pancakes (6in diameter).

Watermelon Feta Salad with Olives

I hear Labor Day is the signal for the end of summer, so naturally I'm obsessed with all of the summer produce. Watermelons, tomatoes, corn, berries. I want it all. With the recent move to Brooklyn and regular excursions to the New Jersey countryside, I've had plenty of opportunities to stop at farm stands, most of which are run on the honor system where you pay for what you take by dropping money into a bucket at the stand.

image1.JPG

The first watermelon was so delicious that I had to find a second. But I didn't want to make another watermelon, feta salad, I wanted something different. Luckily I remembered this insane (delicious) salad I had in New Orleans at the James Beard Award Winning Shaya on Magazine Street. (Check out their menu and definitely go if you're in town.) Watermelon, Bulgarian feta, green olives, chermoula. I left the fancy food for the award-winning restaurant and stuck to what I know which meant Whole Foods brand feta, a side of the road watermelon, Trader Joe's olives, and a modified version of chermoula. 

Lesson: You don't have to be fancy to make good food. Leave the fancy for the restaurants and experiment in the kitchen with what you have!

_DSC0067.JPG

Ingredients
1 small watermelon, cubed and seeds removed (about 6 cups)
3 tbsp fresh, chopped mint
1 tbsp fresh, chopped parsley
1 tbsp fresh, chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped olives*
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Preparation
Cube and remove seeds from watermelon. Chop herbs and olives. Add all ingredients to a bowl and toss.

*I used Trader Joe's marinated olives with lemon and herbs. If you don't have lemon marinated olives then add lemon juice and zest from 1/2 lemon to the recipe.  

_DSC0089.JPG

Why I'll Never Tell You to Drink Juice to Lose Weight

I love a good, green juice. I purchase juice from local juice bars and I enjoy it, I won't deny that, but I will never tell you to drink juice for weight loss. Nor will I tell you to drink juice to cleanse, detox, to cure your cold, or speed up your metabolism. 

The belief that juice can cleanse your body is a mainstay in the popular health conversation and many latch on to the idea with a type of emotional desire for juice to be the answer to every physical and mental problem they've ever encountered. (Like on Instagram when you see a post of a green juice paired with an inspirational quote and someone standing on the side of a mountain solving all their problems.) All joking aside, I understand how juice has a health halo. Walk into a juice bar and you just feel healthy. It's the kind of feeling you get when you walk into a farmers market or step foot on an organic farm. Maybe it's all the fresh produce, the colors, the smell, the fact that we rarely see that many fruits and vegetables in one spot in our day-to-day lives. But then you see the claims written on the wall (actually written on the wall) and in the pamphlets - "Juicing is a great way to lose weight!" or "Juicing will detox your body and increase your energy!" ugh. 

Let's break it down. Fresh juice is a concentrated source of nutrients. Logically this makes sense. You take a few pounds of any fruit or vegetable and press it into juice then yes, you will end up with a liquid that is packed with nutrients and some of those may even be more bioavailable. You'll also end up with a liquid that is a concentrated source of calories. The missing component? Fiber. Arguably one of the most important nutrients when it comes to weight loss. Fiber contributes to satiety, it helps to keep you full, plays a role in the prevention of chronic disease, and more research is showing the important connection between fiber and the gut microbiome. Curious to learn more? See links below:

Article 1: "...a high-fiber content diet stimulates variations in the gut microbiota towards performing several beneficial functions such as protection from inflammation, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure."

Article 2: "A handful of studies have shown that people who eat more fiber have a greater diversity in their microflora—and having greater diversity means these individuals have more varied types of bacteria strains residing in their gut..." 

Juice and the Promise of Detox

There is no scientific evidence to support the need to go on a juice cleanse to detox the body. What we do know is that there are toxins in our environment (exotoxins) and there are toxins created by normal processes in our bodies (endotoxins). Fortunately for us, the healthy human body is efficient in removing toxins via sweat, urine, respiration, and stool. We also have these important organs called the kidneys and liver that aid in detoxification processes.

A juice cleanse is not going to enhance the detoxification process and in fact, some argue it could hurt the natural detox processes already in place. For example, if we know that foods with fiber also contain prebiotics that are beneficial in feeding the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract then wouldn't it make sense that eliminating those sources of prebiotics may negatively impact the gut microbiome which in turn leads to impaired gastrointestinal function? 

Simply put, if you're concerned about toxins in your environment then begin to identify the ones of most concern and take steps to eliminate them. Are you eating too much added sugar? Then move away from the processed foods with added sugar and more toward whole foods. Do you drink too much alcohol? Do you smoke? Are you not exercising as much as you should? Do you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats? All of these questions are important when it comes to a natural detox. It's about supporting your health with the foods you eat and the life you live on a consistent basis. It isn't about going on a juice cleanse for five days and then right back to your toxic habits. Avoid the "cleanse" and work to build healthier habits to have a greater impact over the long-term. 

If I'm Not Doing a Juice Cleanse - What Am I Doing?

Now that we all agree to avoid juice cleanses, what's next? This may sound counter intuitive, but if you love juice, drink it! Just make it a part of your total diet, not the sole component. Even better, if you want a drinkable fruit then try a smoothie. Smoothies include the entire fruit (hello fiber!) and they're still packed with nutrients. You can add veggies like spinach, sweet potatoes, kale, or even squash for a nutrient and fiber boost. But be sure to avoid the added sugar like honey and other syrups and stick to the natural sweetness of fruit. The key is to make drinking juice and/or smoothies a part of your diet while still eating whole fruits and vegetables. 

 

 

Black Bean Vegetable Burgers

Veggie burgers are a meatless meal go-to. They're packed with fiber (read: filling), easy to make, and bonus(!) they freeze well making for a quick and easy lunch or dinner. These burgers could also be renamed "kitchen sink burgers" since many of the ingredients can be exchanged for whatever you have in the fridge or cabinet. No squash? No problem. Use zucchini or eggplant. No peppers? Use carrots or asparagus. Oats can be exchanged for bread crumbs and the cilantro can be swapped for parsley or even basil. Be sure to keep the ratios consistent for a burger that holds well in the pan and on the bun.  

Ingredients
2 tbsp.    olive oil or canola oil
½ each    large yellow squash, roughly chopped
½ each    red bell pepper, roughly chopped
½ cup      button mushrooms, roughly chopped
½ tsp       sea salt
1 tsp        ground black pepper
1 can        low sodium black beans, rinsed
3 each     garlic cloves
½ bunch  cilantro
½ each     lime juice plus zest
1 ½ cup     old fashioned oats
1 each       large egg

Preparation
In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil over medium heat. Add squash, bell pepper, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Sauté until al dente and most of the water has evaporated (about 15 minutes). While the vegetables are cooking, add black beans, garlic, oats, cilantro, lime juice, and lime zest to a food processor. Add cooked vegetables and pulse until all ingredients are combined. Add egg and continue to pulse until fully incorporated. Form into patties.  (makes 8 patties)
Heat 1 tbsp. oil in pan over medium heat. Add patties and cook 5 minutes on each side or until browned and cooked through. 

Build on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and your choice of spread.

Tip: Burgers can be frozen between layers of parchment paper. When ready to cook, simply thaw and heat oil in a pan to cook on each side until cooked through. 
 

Easy Herb Pizza Crust

Easy and bread are two words I rarely put in the same sentence, but there are exceptions to every rule. Case in point, this pizza crust. It's literally the procrastinators dream. No time to let a dough rise? No problem. Just put all ingredients in a stand mixer, turn on, and let form a dough ball. Roll it out, top, and pizza is in the oven.

Ingredients
3/4 cup lukewarm water plus 2 tbsp
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil

Preparation
Add lukewarm water and yeast to a bowl and let foam. About 5 minutes. Add flour, olive oil, salt, and herbs. Mix using a dough hook in a stand mixer or with a wooden spoon. If using a wooden spoon, dump all ingredients onto a clean counter and knead 5 - 10 times until formed. If using a dough hook and a stand mixer, mix until a dough ball is formed. Put onto parchment paper or a well-floured pan, roll, and top with pizza toppings. 

Note: This dough makes a cracker-thin crust.

4 Tips for Staying Healthy (and sane) on a Business Trip

I’m saying it – business travel can wreck your health. In fact, a major shift in your day-to-day has the potential to create a stress response that’s significant enough to damage your mental, physical, short-term, and long-term health. It’s all impacted. The question then is how to avoid the negative consequences of a hectic lifestyle. (Hint: it’s possible)


It has taken me a long time to figure out how to feel good while on the road. At first it was all survival mode. Make the flight, don’t get lost, and show up looking somewhat presentable. Repeat. It’s safe to say those early days of travel were not my high points. But, just like you become a pro at getting through the security line at the airport, you also become a pro of taking care of you while on the road. I’m sharing a few of my top tips to make healthy travel a reality. 


Pack with Activity in Mind
Exercise gear is not an option. I stick to a carry-on, but my sneakers are the first thing to go in the bag. Sometimes it may feel a little ambitious to throw an extra couple pairs of leggings or sports bras into the mix, but for me it’s important to have the gear available no matter what. Excuses are no longer an option.


Be Creative in your Food Choices
The food environment on the road can be a serious challenge, but I’m living proof that it isn’t impossible to eat well at any point during the trip. The key? Creativity. Whether you’re faced with a fast food restaurant, a gas station, or an oasis of healthy options, creativity is a must. Here are a few of my top tips:

  1. Pack snacks in your carry-on. This includes disposable containers or fruits and vegetables, granola bars, packets of peanut butter, etc. I’ve eaten fresh figs out of a Tupperware container while waiting to board a plane. Make it happen!
  2. If you’re driving, find a grocery store at your destination and stock the mini-fridge in the hotel with produce like baby carrots and tomatoes, and snacks like hummus, cheese, and yogurt. You can also stock-up on snacks suitable to leave in the car such as bars, dried fruit, trail mix, veggie crisps, etc. Check out the list below for a few of my favorite travel snacks.
  3. Eating dinner out every night can be a challenge for good nutrition, but it isn’t impossible. Think color. Vegetables must always make their way to your plate. Even if you order fries, ask for a side salad or opt for a veggie burger instead of a beef burger. It’s easy to look at a business dinner as an opportunity for a “treat” after a long, hard day at work, but be mindful of what you really want. Indulge on the food that sounds the best, but build the rest of your meal with nutrient-rich options.  


Get Moving
Cities are a perfect place to try new fitness classes. For example, some of the best spin studios are in the bigger cities and I’m always going to find a way to sneak a class into my travel schedule. Visiting a smaller town? Don’t stress. Find a park or a downtown space with sidewalks and head out for a walk or run. Finally, hotel gyms are always an option, so even if it’s not up to your gym standards just remember that it’s temporary. Put in your earbuds, find your favorite podcast, and get to it. 


Stay Hydrated
It’s easy to get caught-up in the day-to-day of business travel and forget to stay hydrated. Focus on unsweetened beverages throughout the day and be sure to limit the alcohol at night. Your body is already experiencing a change in schedule with sleep, activity, and food. When you add excess alcohol to the mix then things can really get out of whack. Plus, you’re lowering your immune system which will likely result in a sluggish or sick few days over your precious weekend back home. Be kind to your body, even during those business dinners when the wine is free-flowing. 

 

Allison's Top Picks for Travel Snacks

  1. Produce - baby carrots, tomatoes, bananas, apples, grapes, raspberries. Any kind of easy to eat fruit or vegetable is the number one snack to add to your list.
  2. Whole grain bread - this may seem ambitious, but if you're going to be in one place for more than a few days then a small loaf of whole grain bread is great for mini peanut butter sandwiches. Fiber plus a little fat helps to fill you up.
  3. Hummus - great for dipping veggies and is a source of protein and fiber. This is a great healthy snack for the hotel room.
  4. Mini peanut butter, almond butter, or sunbutter packets. Healthy fats plus a small amount of protein makes for an ideal addition to fruit or whole grain bread as a breakfast or snack.
  5. B'More Organic skyr is high in protein and low in sugar. If you have a mini fridge then stock-up on this drink for a probiotic boost which contributes to a healthy immune system (key for travel). Plus, it makes for a good snack of protein and carbs after you hit the hotel gym. 
  6. Kombucha - probitoics, here they are again. Keep your GI tract happy with the addition of probiotics however you can get them. Yogurt and fermented foods are the top sources. Kombucha isn't a requirement, but it is tasty!
  7. Granola bars - easy to throw in the bag for an on-the-go snack. Look for bars with 10g of sugar or less. If you can't find those then opt for half a bar and a piece of fruit as a snack. 

Disclosure: I have partnered with B'More Organic. I have no relationship with other products shown in this post.

 

Spicy Avocado Fries

Two of my favorite things just came together and the result is delicious. They're crunchy on the outside and oh, so avocado-y on the inside. Perfect for topping burgers, salad, or sandwiches or adding a twist of flavor for nachos, tacos, or burritos. These fries are exactly what you’ve been waiting for. 

Ingredients
2 avocados, sliced
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less depending on your taste)

Preparation
Mix bread crumbs, sesame seeds and cayenne in a shallow dish. Gently press avocado slices into the bread crumb mixture to coat on all sides. Once all slices of avocado are coated with the bread crumb mixture, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 425F for 15-20 min. or until golden brown. Flip 2-3 times while cooking. 
 

How to Spot and Avoid Added Sugar

Cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, nectar, honey, brown rice syrup. Would you be surprised to know that each is simply another name for added sugar? Added sugar is becoming increasingly difficult to recognize in ingredient lists, but knowing its existence and making a decision to avoid it, is important to longevity and health. Added sugar in the diet, especially at the levels Americans are currently consuming, is known to contribute to an increased risk for chronic disease - diabetes, heart disease, and obesity to name a few. It’s found in condiments, granola bars, cereals, breads, beverages, pastries, sweets, and more. It’s in so many of the foods we commonly eat that the average American now eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. The good news? Added sugars can be easily identified and reduced.

To start, you must recognize the difference between added sugar and natural sugar. Added sugar is the sugar added to a food during processing. Think sugar in candies and cookies. Similar to salt or coloring, it is a part of the processing of the particular food. Natural sugar is the sugar present in the food without processing. For example, fructose isn’t added to an orange or banana, but is found naturally in the fruit. Similarly, lactose isn’t added to milk or yogurt, but is found naturally in dairy. Where the added sugar comes in is when a fruit, for example, is sweetened by adding honey, sugar, or syrup, such as might happen with some fruit juice drinks or when yogurt is sweetened by the addition of syrup in fruit mix-ins. Another more common example of added sugar in a dairy product is chocolate syrup such as is found in chocolate milk.

The number one contributor of added sugar in the American diet is sugar-sweetened beverages. Consider that one can of soda has about 150 calories, most of which come from added sugar. That’s equivalent to 9 tsp of sugar (1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams sugar). Simply eliminating added sugars from the beverages you drink is one of the first steps in making a significant impact on the total amount of added sugars eaten per day. Other sources of added sugar in the American diet include candies, cookies, cakes, pies, and fruit drinks like fruit punch. Add to that the sugary cereals and quick breads along with ice cream and sweetened yogurt then you quickly see how a typical American diet can reach the 22 tsp mark.

Follow these steps to cut your added sugar intake to the recommended amount of 6 tsp per day for women and 9 tsp per day for men:

  • Skip sugar-sweetened beverages and opt for water, sparkling water, or unsweetened coffee/tea.
  • Limit cakes, cookies, pies, and pastries. Opt for dark chocolate covered fruit for a sweet treat instead.
  • Avoid yogurts and yogurt drinks with added sugars such as those with fruit on the bottom. B’More Organic yogurt skyr is flavor-packed without using added sugar.

Disclosure: I have partnered with B'More Organic and this content was originally created for and published on the B'More Organic blog.

Vegetarian Fajita Stir Fry

I'm often met with a confused look when I excitedly mention how tacos, fajitas, and burritos can be a healthy meal. Most think high fat queso and sodium-laden meats when thinking of the standard Mexican-style meal you're served in your local restaurant. But, when I think tacos, burritos, and fajitas, I think vegetables. It's the perfect opportunity to load up on veggie servings alongside fiber-rich beans. Add herbs and spices and you're well on your way to a flavor-packed, fiber-rich, veggie-loaded, tasty plate of delicious food that's sure to satisfy. 

_DSC0351.JPG

Packaged taco and fajita seasoning can be extremely high in sodium. One way to cut back on the sodium is to make your own fajita seasoning. It requires purchasing a variety of seasonings, but you can mix a big batch and have it as a go-to for future meals. Just store in an airtight container for as long as you would keep spices on the shelf (about 1 year). 

Fajita Seasoning
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)

Mix in a bowl and set aside for the following recipe. If using for a later date then double and put half in an airtight container. You will use all of the seasoning for the recipe below.

Vegetarian Fajita Stir Fry
Makes 4 servings (1 serving is two filled tortillas)

Ingredients
2 tbsp             olive oil
1 16oz can       low sodium black beans
2 each            bell peppers (orange and red preferred)
1 each             tomato (on the vine or roma)
1/2 each         red onion
1 4oz can       green chiles (I used Hatch brand)
8 each           corn tortillas (I used La Tortilla Factory 6in tortillas)

Preparation
In a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Slice onions, bell peppers, and tomato and set aside. Using a strainer, rinse black beans under cold water and set aside. Add sliced onions to pan and sauté until browned and slightly translucent. Add fajita seasoning, bell peppers, tomatoes, green chiles, and rinsed black beans. Stir and allow to cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes or until peppers are cooked through. 

If you'd prefer meat in your dish then chicken is a good option. Slice boneless, skinless chicken breast and add to pan with the onions. Cook until browned, but not cooked all the way through. Then add the remainder of the ingredients (beans optional) and saute until chicken is cooked through. 

Serve over tortillas and top with your choice of toppings.

ANEWtrition Tip: Turn leftovers into a fajita salad. Chop lettuce and spinach and add to a bowl. Top with the fajita stir fry and add salsa for a dressing.

Toppings Bar: 
greek yogurt, avocado, salsa, hot sauce, chopped cilantro, diced onions, shredded cheese

Lemon Roasted Asparagus

I've decided that if you roast any vegetable then you can turn even the toughest vegetable haters into true vegetable lovers. Test my theory. Take a vegetable you really aren't a fan of, drizzle it with oil and a bit of salt, and roast at 425F until browned and cooked through. Are you converted yet? 

Asparagus is one of those polarizing vegetables - you either love it or you hate it which is why it's a perfect candidate for roasting. When shopping for asparagus, look for thin stalks. The thicker stalks tend to be tough and woody. You should also make sure the color is a vibrant green.  

When you're ready to cook, simply wash with cool water and snap the tough end off the stalk. Preheat the oven to 425F. Spread the stalks on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Squeeze half of a fresh lemon over the asparagus. A sprinkle of kosher salt is optional. Roast for 20-25 minutes until cooked through and slightly brown.