Strawberry Banana Muffins with a Cashew Crumble {dairy free + gluten free}

Day-to-day eating habits can be very individualistic. For instance, some people stick to three square meals a day, while others prefer smaller meals and a few snacks throughout the day. Though I have a set of general eating “rules” that I recommend for everyone, when I get asked what’s best in terms of frequency of meals, my answer is whatever really feels best for your body.

Personally, I’m a smaller meals and snacks kind of girl. I feel best eating something every 3-4 hours, rather than having big meals. The latter leaves me feeling like I can’t digest my food easily. I’ve definitely mentioned this before on the blog, and it’s the reason why I’ve shared so many snack recipes!

As for my go-to snacks, I like whipping up a smoothie, or eating a yogurt or fruit with nut butter. I also have protein and granola bars in every possible place in case hunger strikes.

It’s also a regular thing in my kitchen for there to be either freshly made muffins or energy bites. I like to whip up one or the other every week, then have them around as a quick healthy snack all week long.

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My 7 Favorite Hikes in San Diego County

Since I moved to California 7 1/2 years ago (cannot believe it’s been that long!), I’ve become an avid hiker. Hitting the trails offers a workout, stress relief, time in nature, and exercise for my dog all at once.

Cedar Creek Falls in Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

I’ve realized that hiking is also a spiritual experience for me. It leaves me feeling centered, grateful, and connected to the earth. I believe in the interconnectedness of everything in life, and hiking seems to always remind me of that. It’s also a lovely chance to practice mindfulness. I can only describe it as losing myself for a few hours to really find myself.

Hiking at Joshua Tree National Park

Hiking just with my trail buddy, my pup, also gives me time and space to clear my head. There’s always so much going on – lots of noise, distractions, and busyness – but on the trails, everything sort of slows down. I begin at the trailhead analyzing something in my life, and by the end of the hike, I have found the answers.

I’ve lived in a few different parts of San Diego County for most of the time I’ve been in California, and I’ve done more than my fair share of hikes in the area. In fact, I’ve visited the vast majority of local hiking trails! Finding new trails has gotten tougher in the past year or two because I’ve already explored so many of them.

I thought it’d be fun to share a post that compiles my favorite hikes around here. Without further adieu, here are my 7 favorite hikes in San Diego County!

Kwaay Paay Summit at Mission Trails Park. It’s only right that I start off my list with one of the first hikes that I really loved in San Diego. This was around the time when Harley was around a year old, and I was looking for fun ways to tire my energetic puppy out. In fact, my first blog post mention of Kwaay Paay was all the way back in 2012 when I first started my blog!

Shots from the last time I hiked Kwaay Paay with my friend Trish last fall

Kwaay Paay is a trail within the beautiful Mission Trails Regional Park. It’s about a 90-minute, 2.5 mile out-and-back trail, but don’t think that because it’s not long, it’ll be a breeze…For a bit there it’s a heart-pounder! I also like it because it isn’t as crowded as some other hikes in the area (like Cowles Mountain). There have been many times when I barely see another soul around throughout the hike.

On the Iron Mt trail just a few weeks ago

Iron Mountain. Offering sweeping SoCal views, this trail sits a bit inland in the town of Poway. Iron Mountain is about a 5 1/2 mile hike with a 1,000 ft elevation gain.

I’ve done this hike a handful of times over the years, and it’s a goodie! I actually just recently took my cousin to do this hike when she was in town because it’s a great hike that’s a very solid workout without being too exhausting. It’s also perfect if you want to get out in nature to hit the trails, but don’t want to spend your entire day doing so. The hike always takes me 2 1/2-3 hours to complete.

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Now’s the Time to Take Control Of Your Health

Hi friends!

Today we’re focusing on the topic of health. Time for some real talk: In both working in the health & wellness industry and just randomly talking to people in my life, one thing that I’ve noticed is that people love to make excuses when it comes to their health. There certainly may be obstacles in taking charge of your health, and sometimes eating well and exercising often are not easy, but when it comes down it, they’re excuses used to justify why people are giving up on themselves.

The other day my neighbor and I were talking. He’s a middle-aged guy, and was telling me how his sister just passed away. She was in her 60s and died of a heart attack.

“People in my family just don’t live long. We don’t usually make it past 60, it’s just the way it is,” he said.

I thought about our conversation afterwards, trying to understand the notion that it’s inevitable in the year 2017 in the United States of America that you and everyone in your family will probably drop dead of a heart attack 15 years before the average lifespan. There is something wrong with this picture.

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Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana French Toast

One of the things that I love so much about connecting with other foodies and bloggers that are passionate about delicious eats is getting inspiration from them.

So often I’ll see a food combination in a recipe and think ‘What a great idea!’ and sometimes it really helps to spark creativity in my kitchen. I adore that I can get tips about eateries to check out via people I follow on social media, or fall in foodie love with pictures of a fellow food blogging friend’s recipe. I love food as it is, but this connection makes cooking, baking, eating, and recipe creating even more fun!

One of the food bloggers that I’ve been reading for years is Sarah from Making Thyme for Health, who I got to meet at Natural Products Expo West last year. Her and I share a passion for healthy, plant-based food, animals, travel, and the list goes on…and I always enjoy reading her blog. In fact, I have a birthday trip booked for this summer, and I was just on Sarah’s blog over the weekend reading her travel guide to this certain city as part of my research.

Recently Sarah shared a recipe on her blog for vegan French toast with lavender syrup, and I immediately was smitten with the idea of making French toast without the use of eggs. Instead, Sarah dipped the bread in a chickpea flour + non-dairy milk… and I knew that I had to try this out ASAP.

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5 Fun Ways to Experience Los Angeles

Hi friends! How’s your week going?

I’ve been having fun hanging out with my cousin Noelle and her boyfriend, who are in town from the San Francisco area. It’s kind of funny how Noelle and I grew up in Jersey together, and now we are both Californians! I’ve been having fun playing host taking them to do some fun activities around San Diego, including a hike up Iron Mountain yesterday.

And speaking of doing fun touristy things, today I want to talk about a very touristy area of California: Los Angeles.

Admittedly, LA has, at times, underwhelmed me. It’s a city that is hyped up so much, I imagine that there are a lot of people out there that have felt this way. Another cousin of mine, Michelle, was living there when I first moved to California, and in visiting her, I’ve spent some time in the LA area.

Most often, I’ve driven to LA just to pass through it during road trips to other areas of Cali. But I just made a trip up to La La Land a few weekends ago with my hubby. We were heading up that way primarily for the Eat Drink Vegan festival at Rose Bowl, and decided to make a whole day out of it.

Without any traffic, LA is a 90-minute drive from my house in northern San Diego County – which really means it most often will take 2 1/2-3 hours to get there. The traffic in Los Angeles County is one of the downfalls of the area.

Michelle once told me that she often leaves 3x the amount of time it takes to get to a place without traffic, so for something that is a 20-minute drive, she’ll leave an hour in case she gets stuck in bumper to bumper action on the highway. San Diego has its fair share of traffic, no doubt, but LA traffic is something I always dread when I’m driving to or through it!

Donut Friend is a vegan donut shop in LA

Although LA is far from my favorite area of California, over the years I’ve done some things in the area that are worth their touristy hype. Today I thought I’d share a few of them.

Admittedly, I haven’t done too much scoping out of the food scene in LA. I think that the LA food scene offers something for everyone and there’s a lot to explore in that area, but this post focuses on activities more than food. Let’s get to it!

1.) Hike Runyon Canyon. I just visited Runyon Canyon for the first time during my last LA visit, and I totally understand why it’s a popular spot. You get sweeping views of the city from the start! It’s also a nice way to check out some gorgeous LA homes, see the Hollywood sign from afar, and drive on the scenic street of Mulholland Drive.

My husband enjoying the view

There are a few routes you can do at Runyon Canyon. Dogs are allowed here, so it’s a popular spot for dog owners to come with their pets for some exercise. The trails aren’t all that extreme (the bottom route is paved) and it’s not far from the city, so it’s a nice place to come if you’re visiting and want to spend a few hours out in nature without being totally tired out from the hike.

Note: Be prepared for it to be busy. If you’re looking for a quiet hike deep in nature, this isn’t it. And parking is a total bitch! 

At a Lakers game with my cousins Michelle & Noelle, circa 2012

2.) Head to a major sporting event. From the NHL’s Kings team and MLB’s Dodgers to the NBA’s Lakers, LA has its share of pro sporting teams worth catching a game for. Pretty soon the Rams and Chargers will also be playing in LA. I’ve found that attending a Lakers game is just a really fun way to do as the locals do!

If a pro game is too pricey for your taste, college football is another neat way to see LA sports action. I’ve loved getting to go to a few USC games.

3.) Gawk at houses in Beverly Hills. If you’re like me, ever since you watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a kid, you’ve pictured what the mansions in the LA area are like.

A $36 million home for sale in Beverly Hills | Image via Zillow

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10 Blueberry Recipes to Make This Summer

I loveeeee me some blueberries. And now that it’s June, we’re in peak domestic blueberry season!

Blueberries are awesome for a lot of reasons: They’re packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants and full of vitamins, including iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Basically they’re full of good stuff that has been shown to help ward off heart disease, promote healthy digestion, maintain healthy bones, and lots more.

I find that a handful or two of blueberries is the perfect little something to eat while I’m waiting for my dinner to cook. I also often throw some of them on top of my cereal or smoothie bowls in the morning for a nutritional boost. While I love the fruit all on its own, I also love to incorporate it into recipes. Here are recipe ideas from myself and a few of my food blogging friends to try this summer while blueberries are at their peak!

1.) Baked Blueberry Coconut Oatmeal Bites. Made with oats, shredded coconut, almond butter, and hemp hearts, this is one of my recent recipes developed for Shape. They make for a great little bite or on-the-go breakfast!

2.) Blueberry Pistachio Coffee Cake via Cook Nourish Bliss. I have a hard time turning down a slice of delicious coffee cake, and this blueberry + pistachio combo sounds just too interesting to resist.

3.) Mixed Green Salad with Blueberries, Goat Cheese & Honeyed Walnut -n- Hemp Seed Clusters. This one’s an oldie but a goodie on the blog! I love these clusters so much, I think I might need to create another recipe with them sometime soon.

4.) Blueberry Chia Oatmeal Bars. These oat bars are great to make for a leisurely morning brunch!

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My Evolution as a Meatless Eater + the Eat Drink Vegan Festival

When I first became a vegetarian, I was 10 years old. I was raised in a family of meat eaters (my sister has since become a vegetarian and my mom is mostly one), but I knew from early on that eating animals wasn’t for me. I can remember so clearly sitting at my parents’ kitchen table for dinner, poking at a pork chop looking at the veiny colors, picturing the pig running around at a farm, and not feeling right about eating him. I was probably 7 at the time.

Once I went meat-free, I never went back. But I do remember feeling almost embarrassed if I was at a friends’ house or a BBQ and had to tell people that I wouldn’t be eating a hamburger. I think I mostly didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was different, or be a pain in the ass to have over for dinner for that matter. My brothers relentlessly teased me about my diet, and my grandma asked me how I would ever cook for a boyfriend one day (In her defense, as an old Italian lady who cooked for people every chance she got, I think this may have been a real concern of hers!). It felt like everyone else thought it was normal to eat the hamburger, but I just never did.

As I got older and learned more and more about factory farming and the environmental and health implications associated with mass producing and consuming meat, my convictions strengthened. Learning about the Blue Zones – the areas of the world where the people are living the longest – and that one commonality was that the people in those communities ate little to no meat made a big impression on me. I saw family members like my grandpa get quadruple bypass heart surgery due to clogged arteries – which is largely caused by too much cholesterol in the diet building up and blocking your arteries – and realized more and more the role that diet can play in living a long, healthy life.

And so, I became confident in my vegetarianism. I also became more conscious of where my meals and ingredients were coming from, and in the last few years, I’ve reduced my dairy intake a lot and eat vegan most of the time. I realized that I didn’t have to justify my plant-based lifestyle to anyone, and if people want to be judgmental about it, that’s on them, not me.

I focused my energy into turning my love for meat-free food into a passion, and I began this food blog. I got to meet other vegetarian food bloggers, who I drew inspiration and learned a lot from (still do!). I went to nutrition school and became a certified health coach, where I get to share my healthy living tips and tricks with clients and support them in their health challenges. These days, I also get paid to be a food writer, and sharing recipes is something that lets me be creative and makes me happy. I know in my heart that I’m eating a diet and leading a lifestyle that adheres to my values, and I feel good about that.

So while my belief in a meatless diet has never wavered, I feel like I’ve come a long way.

What else has come a long way is the popularity of plant-based eating and the prevalence of veg-friendly eateries. Not only are there more options for vegans and vegetarians at grocery stores and restaurants, veg-friendly events have become more popular in recent years too. It’s pretty amazing!

Last weekend marked a first for me: my very first vegan food festival! The event was called Eat Drink Vegan, and it took place at Rose Bowl in Los Angeles.

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10 Recipes to Try This Memorial Day Weekend

Who else is looking forward to their holiday weekend? Today’s post shares some healthy summery recipe ideas to try! 

If you’re a blogger that shares a lot of your personal life and adventures, having a blog is like having an online diary of travels and fun (…ya know, a diary that other people read that is!), and sometimes it’s neat to look back at what I was doing at this time in another year.

Floating around an infinity pool in Cabo last year with my hubs

Looking back at past Memorial Day weekends, I went on vacation to Mexico last year (surprised my love for his 30th with the trip!), spent the weekend with friends during a deployment of my hubby’s another year, and went on a wine tasting getaway to Napa and hiked around at Muir Woods when I was living in the Bay Area.

Wine tasting in Napa, circa 2013

This year, I have some fun things planned for Memorial Day weekend, including a road trip up to Los Angeles for a day of hiking + a vegan food festival. I’m excited! I also will be getting some time at home, and I’m sure I’ll be doing a bit of cooking & baking.

Since many of us Americans will be attending family gatherings, relaxing in our backyards, and getting a bit more time to cook & bake over the long weekend, I thought today it’d be fun to share some Memorial Day recipe ideas.

Of course, let’s not forget that the holiday is meant to honor the men & women who have died serving in our military. THANK YOU to all of our service members protecting America.

Let’s get to the food!

1.) Orzo Caprese Pasta Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts & Spinach. This is a recipe I created for Shape recently, and it kind of screams summertime party. It’s a crowd pleaser, and it’s easy to make!

2.) Loaded Mediterranean Avocado Toast [vegan, can be made GF]. AKA the best avocado toast ever! Perfect for breakfast on a leisurely morning, or as appetizers if you’re having guests over.

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Chocolate Chip Cherry Almond Muffins {vegan + gf}

Hello, hello!

How was your weekend? With temperatures in the 80s, mine was a summery few days! My outdoorsy weekend activities included a few hours relaxing at the beach, tennis workout with my hubs, long walk at the park with my pup and gardening work.

Snacking on a Zing bar & reading a travel magazine at the beach on Saturday

Indoors, I  did some blog and photography work, and the hubs and I watched a movie and a few episodes of our current TV obsessions, House of Cards and Westworld. Who else is into those? We just recently started watching both, so we have a lot of episodes to keep us entertained during low-key nights for awhile!

I also got some baking and recipe creation experimenting in, including the recipe I’m sharing today: chocolate chip cherry almond muffins. 

Actually, over the past week I’ve been a recipe creatin’ machine! It seems like I tend to go a week or two where I don’t come up with any new recipes – whether because I’m traveling, super busy, or just lacking ideas (oh, and also if I’m having recipe fails!) – and then all of a sudden I’m hit with recipe inspiration and come up with a bunch of new successful creations. I love that when that happens.

But anyways, let’s talk about these muffins!

In the past I’ve only used dried cherries in muffins, but I decided to give it a shot with fresh ones, and it came out great! Pitting and chopping the cherries is a little tedious, but a nice way to use up some sweet cherries that are in season (and delicious!) right now.

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Cashew Cake Batter Fruit Dip {Vegan + Gluten Free}

With the summer produce starting to pop up in markets around town, I’ve been loving all of the fruit lately. Sweet cherries, strawberries, and peaches have been my favorite. Nature’s candy is the best!

A strawberry banana protein smoothie bowl topped with locally grown cherries, shredded coconut, mini chocolate chips & cinnamon oat granola clusters

So naturally with all of my fruit consumption in recent weeks, I had to make fruit dip. Dipping fruit into a decadent tasting dip is one of my favorite desserts, especially when it’s healthy like today’s recipe!

I’ve been making a lot of cake batter recipes lately, including a few batches of energy bites, smoothies, and now, this fruit dip. I also think that cake batter cookies may be in my baking future.

To get that cake batter flavor, I combined cashew butter with shredded coconut, maple syrup, vanilla dairy-free yogurt, vanilla extract and cashew milk.

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