Finding Balance ……and Berries🍓

️Spring is finally here in Middle Tennessee after a long, harsh winter. Proof was at the 12south farmers market yesterday where fresh local strawberries were on display.  There’s no going back now…….imageThat is a theme in my life right now- no going back.  As I have navigated my way the last couple years between career moves and lifestyle changes I’ve found myself wondering about what propels us forward. Sometimes we choose to move, sometimes we are forced, but either way there is movement. Just like the seasons our lives change constantly. And for every ending, there has to be a fresh sweet beginning- like the berries.

My my life now is centered around trying to find BALANCE. Usually that means trying to find more time, but for me it’s more internal.  Balance between past and future, self and others, work and play, physical and spiritual…….

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Local strawberries will be around for just a few short weeks. The sweetness and goodness they offer is fleeting so enjoy them to the fullest. The present moment is like that too. I try to not get caught up in the future or dwell on the past, but instead relish the ripe present moment.

Nashville’s BEST Hot Chocolate

Since before Christmas I’ve been a little obsessed with hot chocolate. For me, it was about finding the perfect hot chocolate; dark, sweet, but not overly sweet, steaming and comforting. Since giving up coffee, I have been drinking only tea which I love, but something about cold, grey, wintry days makes me crave the rich sweetness of hot cocoa. I set out on the quest to find the best.

I started in my own neighborhood that has lots of great coffee shops.

Portland Brew. I love the quiet atmosphere and the industrial decor. They take their coffee very seriously here too. The hot chocolate was mildly disappointing. It was chocolate syrup pumped into a cup of steamed milk. Too sweet, too bland. I enjoyed the whipped cream on top but couldn’t finish it because it was too sweet.

Eighth and Roast is another newer coffee shop that we go to a lot. In the summer they make home made fresh strawberry lemonade that is to die for. I ordered hot chocolate and had to ask for whipped cream on top. It turns out they just heat up chocolate milk and serve. Bummer. Not what I was looking for. The whipped cream was freshly made from a local creamery which was a treat.

I was getting frustrated. 2 great coffee shops and 2 very mediocre hot chocolates. I did some research……

Bang Candy Company: When I googled “best hot chocolate” this is the place that came up. Known for making marshmallows and candy, I was pretty excited to see what they offered for hot chocolate. I ordered a medium hot chocolate and got my choice of marshmallow flavor- I chose spicy cinnamon. Sadly, I was disappointed at the weakness of the chocolate flavor. My drink literally tasted like hot milk. The marshmallow was bangin’ but the cocoa not so much. Cute shop and super nice people!

Starbucks: I don’t like going to starbucks. I don’t like the corporate feel or the food they serve that’s been pre-made and shipped in. In my opinion, they are the Wal-Mart of coffee shops- BUT I had a gift card which trumps integrity. Plus the BF loves his caramel macchiato’s. I asked how they made their cocoa and was told “Dark syrup, vanilla, and milk” The Dark Syrup piqued my curiosity. Again, I had to special request whipped cream- I thought that was a given??? The cocoa was oh sooooo disappointing. Watery, sweet, blah. I was ticked off that I wasted my gift card on it.  I threw a tiny fit in the truck and left it sitting there and to be fair, it actually tasted a little better after it cooled down.

I took a few more passes at more shops, a bakery, and friends well-meaning suggestions. My eyes glazed over as I envisioned finding my perfect cup of cocoa. I wanted to stumble across a little thatch-roofed shop where people wore cute hats and wooden shoes as they shaved curls of bitter dark swiss chocolate into gently boiling milk,  stirring it up with a long handled spoon. I wanted exotic spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and REAL vanilla sprinkled lovingly into the hot goodness. I wanted a big white fluffy cloud of fresh whipped cream cooling my mouth from the top of the cup………….

Fantasy over. I took matters into my own hands. I’m a good cook, why couldn’t I make the perfect cup of hot chocolate exactly like I wanted? On a rainy afternoon I made the city’s best hot chocolate in my own humble kitchen. And I wasn’t wearing wooden shoes.

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I cup milk (I used lowfat but almond/coconut could be used)

2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large scoop unsweetened cocoa

dash of cinnamon or nutmeg

Bring all ingredients to a slow simmer (just til milk begins to bubble) over medium heat, stirring constantly. I think the stirring really blends the flavors together perfectly.

I topped mine with Peppermint Whipped Cream- from a can. We can’t have it all…..

Natural Naked Beauties

OK I used the title to get your attention, but real food really excites me! Especially right now when all the produce is so boastfully and beautifully displayed. Wearing no stickers, labels, or plastic wrap; they proudly sit, unabashedly baring themselves for us to admire. And I do.

The market this week was so beautiful with ripe, local produce that I wanted to buy one of everything. But I am leaving town and that wouldn’t be a good idea. I did, however, get my blueberries and a couple cucumbers which I knew I would eat quickly.

homegrown cucumbers

I am reminded how nature always knows what’s best for us and what we need- if you follow her, you will never have to over-think how to be healthy.

A bright rainbow of colors gives us all the nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins we need- no supplements necessary!

peppers and tomatoes

This is the time of year when just about everything is bursting with “readiness”- Do you feel that way at all? Our bodies and energy are meant to be one with the seasons and now is the time to show off your ripeness like these beautiful juicy blackberries-

local blackberries

It’s the season to relax and enjoy life’s offerings without caring so much about perfection- like these beautiful heirloom tomatoes, imperfectly perfect

heirloom tomatoes

Summer provides us with balance to the heat with these cooling greens and refreshing herbs- we can also find balance emotionally by enjoying quiet downtime amidst the sometimes overheated pitta energy of summer. The greens below are amaranth, the seed can be eaten as well like millet or quinoa.

cooling summer greens

And summer has special things that we don’t get other times of the year, like this okra. I try to enjoy it as much as possible before the season is up. Check out my recipe that was featured on “Freshly Pressed” I think they are tiny works of art!

okra

Summer is a great time to experiment with new produce and to try out new cooking techniques. Keep it simple and make it about the vegetable, not the “add-ins”. Simple steaming, grilling, or gentle sauteing is usually all that’s necessary.

What is your favorite summer fruit or vegetable?

Summer Grilling Love

This is not a “how to” post on grilling, there are much better grillers out there than me who take it very seriously, especially in Texas.  I don’t pretend to know that much about it other than I love the taste of grilled foods and I love keeping my kitchen cool in the summer by cooking outside. I don’t really even have the proper tools, I just get out there with my fork and poke away until the food looks done. I like to keep it simple!

Tonight I grilled chicken breast seasoned with cumin, chili powder, and pepper. I had a large zucchini left from last week’s farmer’s market so I sliced that up thick and drizzled with olive oil before setting on the grill. I find that chicken breasts need about 8 minutes on each side depending on the thickness.

grilled chicken and zucchini

I made some whole wheat pasta after whipping up some pesto from my basil plant outside in my mini food processor. Can you tell I’ve been working out a lot since I’m craving lots of protein and heavier carbs? I can feel the difference in my body from all the push-ups this month.

I tossed it all together and put in some halved cherry tomatoes and feta cheese. It was SO good and I think it will be great chilled too.

grilled chicken pasta salad

We had a GREAT workshop last weekend at Marathon Fitness Co. The gym was transformed with chairs, tables, and even an essential oil diffuser.My friend made a huge variety of raw foods to sample and I made my homemade granola and vegan brownies. So much great information was shared and one lucky person won a free month of nutrition counseling with me!

nashville nutrition workshop

raw food workshop nashville

I can’t wait for the next one!!!

As I was eating my dinner my ipad camera took this cool shot.  I found these books today when I took the kids I work with to a bookstore. I’m always in the health or cookbook section and cannot leave the store without buying something. I have SO many books on health! I love surrounding myself with things that make me grow, expand, and become the kind of person I want to be. Take a look at your surroundings and see if you like what you see!

healthy eating books

Farmer’s Market Love + a really big a** peach!

July is one of my favorite months; things are in full bloom, veggies are ripe, and the colors of all plants and flowers are spectacular. I am a pitta so I love the intensity of the weather this time of year- especially the powerful, hot thunderstorms which we’ve had lately. I enjoy a soft spring rain like everyone else, but there is nothing like the energy in the air before and after a mid-summer storm. It makes everything feel witchy and magic!

My neighborhood farmer’s market is showcasing all of the seasonal produce right now.  I’m so glad I volunteered there this year, I’ve met some awesome people. This week I was lucky enough to be given a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) box from the incredible and organic Delvin Farms. For someone like me, that is like winning the lottery. I wanted to cry like Miss America as I carried the heavy box overflowing with veggie goodness to my car.

Lots of tomatoes- all different shapes and sizes. I must make a sauce or something with these.

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Lots of squash, including this patty pan squash that always reminds me of a little cheerful UFO. Treat it like any other yellow squash, slice it and steam or grill.

pattypan squash

A-Mazing local berries!!!!!!! I wasn’t sure what to do with the blackberries so I am just eating them like candy from my fridge. They are a bit tart but the blueberries are like sugar drops…..

blueberries and blackberries

How ’bout these softball size peaches fresh from Georgia, the official Peach state?? I’m a lucky girl that I got these right from the farmer who picked them that day! I’m just gonna say: that’s a big a** peach!

georgia peach

And I was able to grab some organic celery before it sold out. I’ve been wanting to try homegrown celery for my juicing. It’s got a pretty strong flavor and it’s smaller than the pumped up conventional stuff.

organic celery

If you do anything else this summer PLEASE go find a local farmer’s market and indulge in local, seasonal produce! Use this link to find one in your area. The experience of picking out your produce, talking to the farmer, and preparing it for your family that night is priceless. We so seldom have the opportunity to use our “hunter-gatherer” skills anymore, and the drive-thru at McDonald’s does NOT count.

PS It’s my Blog Anniversary this week!!! 1 year and it’s been so fun! Thank you for reading!

Best Zucchini Bread Ever + July Push-Up Challenge

I have been determined to make amazing zucchini bread since I messed up the muffins so bad a few weeks ago. I want my bread sweet, but not full of white sugar. I want it light and fluffy, but made with good whole wheat flour. I want to see the zucchini pieces in it and feel the different textures of the ingredients. This 4th of July when everyone was out watching fireworks I perfected my zucchini bread! I started with a basic recipe from king arthur flour and modified it to suit my taste, but not TOO much like last time!

Start with fresh, organic zucchini squash. Commercial zucchini and yellow squash come from genetically modified crops so I definitely avoid these in the grocery. I bought these at my local farmers market and spoke with the guy who had just picked them that morning.

summer squash

Ingredients:

2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup turbinado or brown sugar (I combined them)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 oat flour (made with whole oats in blender)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini
4 chopped up dates
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Combine eggs, molasses, sugars, vanilla  in separate bowl.

Stir together and add zucchini, nuts, and dates.

Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

It was PERFECT!!!! And NO white sugar or white flour. I enjoyed it this morning with my angry bluebird cup of tea.

whole wheat zucchini bread

MY JULY PUSH-UP CHALLENGE: Dating a trainer has many benefits and getting good workout tips is one of them. He has challenged me to 30 days of 100 push-ups a day every other day. At first I was like “WHAT???” But then he told me they can be broken down into sets of 10-20 spread throughout the day. I can handle every other day like that. I am on day 5 already and it’s really fun to feel so strong, especially at the end of the day when I know I’ve done 100! And these are not “girl” push-ups on my knees, they are arms wide apart, toes on floor push-ups. Who wants to join me??

Summer Love at the Farmer’s Market

I love my neighborhood farmer’s market SO much and this time of year I fall deeper and deeper. Each week the tables get fuller, the produce more colorful, and the offerings more plenty as the season deepens and transitions from root veggies to vine vegetables. We are in the Pitta season!

root vegetables

It’s great to finally see tomatoes every week. I always buy the little cherry tomatoes and eat them like candy. I swear I though I was eating berries they were so sweet!

delvin farms at 12south market

I cannot remember the name of these little black and red beauties?

homegrown tomatoes

Today the market showed off the colors of summer with ripe, delicious berries, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, peaches, squash, and even squash blossoms!

12south farmers market

georgia peaches

The huge variety of greens make me happy-

delvin farms

I even bought more zucchini to try after my recent muffin disaster!

summer squash

Wildflowers in a glass jar….one of my favorite things

wildflowers

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