Eating My Way Through Austin Texas

I travelled to Austin Texas recently, the land of music and food, where people like to keep things weird. I was forewarned that my visit would be filled with live music, open mic nights, and delicious food, from food trucks and of course the health food mecca itself, the original Whole Foods Market. My best friend requested my banana strawberry oatmeal, so of course I had to deliver! And man did it come out tasty!

My first few days were a bit chilly and cold, but before the rain set in, I managed to fit in a hike on the Greenbelt. An urban natural area away from the busy city, that provided a bit of peace and quiet.

From here my hunger set in and food adventure commenced. Let me just say, vegan-friendly spots were not hard to find, and many restaurants offered gluten-free and vegan options, so I felt right at home.

The first place I visited was called Casa De Luz "House of Light," and man do they know how to ignite a light in your soul with their balancing macrobiotic food. The short walk on the pathway through the tranquil landscape filed with bamboo shoots, and butterfly art pieces hanging from trees on the war to the restaurant only prepared you for the quiet and relaxing self-service experience at Casa De Luz. For $12, you receive a  soup, salad, and entree, as well as filtered electrolyte water, and cleansing iced and hot teas. Yeah all this for $12, I wasn't in New York City anymore… The best part about this place were the fresh flavor. The soup of the day was a sweet potato and tamari soup, and the salad was lettuce with what tasted like a tahini dressing. The main was simple, and my favorite part were the beans, they were cooked perfectly!

Now let me give you a close up...

Naturally, you need something sweet for dessert. Well my friend knew about this vegan ice cream place called Sweet Ritual, and the location we went to was actually connected to a juice and smoothie place, both of my favorite things combined! Can I move in?

After trying almost every flavor they had, I decided on a scoop of the peanut butter chocolate and the mint chip. What was great about their ice creams was that they were all made with different bases and categorized as such; coconut milk, peanut butter, cashew, or almond based. There was a variety of flavors and nothing was overpowered by the base of the ice cream. The flavors were rich and creamy, just like ice cream should be. What I loved about their mint chip was that they made it green with spirulina, for added superfood goodness..I mean come on..who could feel bad about indulging in that!? So I dove in head first and ordered a scoop of each, and proceeded to go back to Sweet Ritual twice more throughout my trip. Hey, Austin got warm ok?! A girl needs to cool off…and ice cream thats vegan, say no more!

Well I was in Austin, the land of Whole Foods, where the health food mecca came from. There was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to visit. I was like a kid in a candy store, didn't know which way to turn or look, and wanted absolutely everything. Especially when I made my way over to the salad bar/juice bar/stir fry/just about anything you could ever want to eat stations. Now thats when confusion and panic set in, "Do I want the pho, curry, salad, a mixture of things?!?! What should I get?!?" After walking and walking around the food stations to absorb all my options, I decided to go for a variety of things at the salad bar with a fresh green juice on the side. Although, I wish I had enough room in my belly to have tried it all! I've never seen so many options inside of one Whole foods before. Everything was fresh, full, and met all the Whole Food standards of healthy delicious food.

One cute thing I loved, was upon entering the store they had a free fruit stand for kids! I mean what a way to promote health and provide kids with a fun snack while shopping. I thought to myself, "hey, I'm a kid at heart, can I have one?" hehe. Only a thought though guys…I of course left all the fruit there for the kids. ;-)

I also went to a local farmers market nearby where I was staying. Farmers market hold my heart. Especially ones filled with homemade kombucha, pesto, sauces, Indian food, gluten free baked goods and fresh fruits and veggies galore! This one did not disappoint, and it was a beautiful sunny day! Perfect weather for wandering through food stands, and eyeing everyones cute puppy dogs. Too bad they weren't giving any of those away!

The friend who I was staying with also hosted a potluck dinner party where everyone brought a dish. I decided to make two, because when else will I have an excuse  to make a few recipes I've been wanting to make for a while. I think you all know by know my obsession with peanut butter, so I was practically obligated to make a peanut butter recipe, and I chose Kris Carr's no bake peanut butter cup pie recipe. I also made a rainbow coleslaw with raw mayonnaise recipe from Fully Raw Kristina's website. Because you gotta balance the peanut butter pie out, right? Both were a hit, but I have to say the peanut butter won the cake [no pun intended ;-)].

What I really loved about grocery shopping in Austin, were the prices! Everything was so cheap, compared to New York City prices! If only I could bring those prices back to NYC with me, just today I almost bought 2 organic peppers for $7, thats $3.50 each! I mean..really New York.

I saved  the best for last, and this says a lot, me being a sweets girl and all. But mexican food holds my heart, especially mexican done right. The Vegan Nom serves up vegan taco creations, sure to make your taste buds wanting more, even when your stomach disagrees. I'm still dreaming about these tacos, and am currently salivating thinking about them! I am telling you now, hands down, best mexican food of my life, and for a foodie this means a lot. So if you live in Austin, Texas, get your booty out of your chair and drive over to this food truck now! You will not regret it, and please remember to thank me after your first bite. I ordered the Grilled Avocado Reale, because who doesn't love avocado? And the Bean Diablo both on a corn tortilla accompanied with their homemade spicy and flavor filled hot sauces, I could just eat those straight! Is that crazy!? No, thats just how CRAZY good their food was. All of this heavenly deliciousness stowed  away in a food truck..

We did more than just eat though, we found a great yoga studio, called Practice Yoga and went to a bunch of great classes, with fun music and inspiring and motivating teachers. FYI its donation based yoga, SCORE! I'm happy to say I've continued practicing yoga every day since returning to NYC and I'm loving it. The relaxation, breathing techniques, and stretching. I want to be super flexible like I sued to be when I was little, so thats my goal, and man, yoga is tougher than it looks! If you're a yoga fan and have a wanderlust soul like me, you should look into attending Anzan, a yoga and meditation retreat I'll be co-hosting this April 2015 in one of the most beautiful places to visit in the world, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

My last morning in Austin we went to Juiceland, the juice and smoothie bar attached to Sweet Ritual. And I of course ordered a peanut butter smoothie with almond milk, dates, goji berries, and cocao nibs. It was delicious! Probably one of the best smoothies I've had outside of my kitchen! 

Austin was a great city filled with young creative people, a plethora of bars and restaurants, and talented musicians. Didn't hurt that the weather is spot on during the winter either. I'll be back Austin, I'll be back...

Improve Your Health With Gratitude

After recently returning from my trip to Guatemala, where I visited beautiful rural areas on Lake Atitlan, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and happiness. Happiness from visiting such a welcoming country with friendly and loving people. Gratitude for being where I am today and having the opportunity and means to travel and see as much as I have. Many of the indigenous people living on Lake Atitlan don’t have much in life. They may not have an education, much money, or food to feed themselves and their children, or real homes to sleep in and protect them from the cold or rain, but they laugh, have families, and communities to support one another. The timing of my trip coincidentally fell before Thanksgiving. As I reflected about my my trip  over the holiday it gave me time to think about all the things in my life I’m grateful for. Gratitude is such an important part of life. It’s humbling, reflective, and provides a sense of peace and calmness.

Life can be overwhelming at times, and it’s so easy to take little things for granted, like having a warm bed to sleep in, and food on your table. It sounds cliche, I know, but without these kind of thoughts and without realizing how much we have, its easy to create a little bubble where only your small petty problems matter. This way of thinking unravels into selfishness and sadness most of the time. Not being able to see outside the walls that you have caged yourself in will only allow you to see the insignificant things compared to the big picture of life.

One way that I like to incorporate gratitude into my everyday life is keeping a gratitude journal. This not only allows me to have “me time” but it also allows me to reflect on my life and put things that may be stressing me into perspective. Okay, I know I have to work on a new project and do a number of meticulous tasks, then go to work at night, and run errands in between, but I also have so much to be grateful for at the same time. Like being able to have such opportunities and work for myself. You see, instead of feeling bad for yourself you can change your attitude to having a more positive outlook.

Living with gratitude has a multitude of health benefits. In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Also, those who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.*

Gratitude is also linked to sleeping better.* Researchers have also done studies and found that writing 15 minutes before bedtime about what you are grateful for, will allow you to fall asleep more easily and sleep for longer.

How else can you incorporate gratitude into your life? You can thank your friends and express how much you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Wouldn’t you like to know if you affected someone in a positive way? I know I would, and your compliments and positivity will spread. It will make your friend more happy and you will feel better for just doing that.

Another way is remembering the good times. Look back on experiences, people you’ve met, you’re childhood, and anything that will help reconnect  you to where you have been, what you learned and whom you have loved along the way. I always find myself reflecting on my childhood, when I had no worries about paying rent, and ran around knocking on my friends houses to see who could play outside with me. Remembering allows me to never forget and to forever be grateful about my past and upbringing because it has molded who I am today.

Place gratitude reminders around your room, house, office, anywhere you will see these notes throughout the day. Use visual cues that elicit feelings of gratitude and happiness. Putting them in different places where you will see them throughout the day and constantly be reminded of these good warm feelings will help support your feelings of gratitude.*

Gratitude’s value is intrinsic, but it also has many health benefits. Those who take time to be grateful may enjoy improved sleep, lower stress levels, enhanced overall well-being and even improved heart health. Practicing gratitude has also been linked with stronger personal relationships, higher self-esteem and greater life satisfaction.*

As the holidays are approaching I think we should remember to be thankful for what we have and give to others more than wanting so much for ourselves. Whether it be giving  toys, a hot dinner, or just some advice, it all is meaningful and appreciated, and whoever receives your gifts will be filled with gratitude.