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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Introducing Avery Liska, the Auto Immune Diseased Vegan Maltese

Hi everyone!

Hope you have had a great week/weekend.  I have to say, having time off is such a blessing. I am literally high on life right now.  I am so grateful for everything I have, all of the wonderful people (and furry people :) I have in my life, and the opportunities I been given to fulfill my dreams.

One of my favorite presentations from IIN was about positive psychology.  The most important (and simplest) thing I left that presentation with was every night before going to sleep do a "gratitude journal".  Simply, write down (or even easier, say aloud) three things that happened that day that you are grateful for. This will help you to go to bed happier, and in turn wake up happier-- AND this, my friends, will lead to an overall happier life! So simple!  So wonderful! So powerful! One of the three (many times I have more, you will too) things that I am ALWAYS grateful for is my dog, Avery.  Not only because she is the cutest damn thing in my whole wide world, but because back in April (right around my 24th birthday), Avery almost died... so here is the story of Avery Liska, and how she became a vegan Maltese:

Avery Liska, our 8-years old, Maltese

I remember it like it was yesterday... It was March and John and I were cooking dinner while watching one of our favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother.  Suddenly on the side of my eye I saw Avery, our 8lb Maltese, throw her body on the ground as if she were having a seizure. John and I were in shock, we couldn't even think of what to do.  With such fear, we dropped everything we were doing and rushed to the animal hospital.  A few hours later Avery was returned to us, weary, scared, but okay.  They said it was not a seizure (apparently those are very rare in dogs), and that we could bring her back the following day for tests.  A few weeks earlier John noticed Avery becoming disoriented.  So, we called our vet, who got us in right away for blood tests, which came back fine.

After this "seizure like" episode, we met with a cardiologist. Her heart was fine.  We then met with a neurologist.  He believed that her brain was fine, and did not want to run the $2,000 MRI scan when from the outside, neurologically she looked fine.  A few days later she had a whole day of episodes... she could barely move.  She now had an obvious head tilt and was walking in circles.  The Neurologist said she is Vestibular and in order to find out why, we would need to do the MRI.  Unfortunately we could not afford the MRI, so we tried antibiotics which would cure the vestibular.  That night we came home and she was not moving... the antibiotics were not working. We were sure we were going to lose her...

The baby on my Birthday, after seeing my homeopathic chiropractor-- Dr. Salmon adjusted her, to make her more comfortable

Me and my baby, on my 24th birthday
The doctor said he believed she has an autoimmune disorder, so we put her on a low dose of steroids. After a lot of research, we  found out that dog food, even "Veterinarian recommended" brands contain preservatives that have been linked to many illnesses in dogs.  Also, that pesticide, a.k.a. that flee and tick treatment (which is a PESTICIDE), has adverse effects on her immune system.  Every single time I would give her that treatment, I would wheeze for days... hmmm!  Now, we do not know for sure the direct cause of her getting sick.  It could very well be something that was put on the lawn, or something she ate.  However, when her blood was tested, nothing came up... so we put her on a vegan dog food diet. We feed her a brand that is sold at PetsMart and Petco called Natural Balance, which is made with non-meat protein and nutrients that are to build the immune system. I read many reviews from people who have had dogs live years beyond what they are expected, on a vegan diet.

Reading up on a Vegan diet (Summer, 2010)

The very first day I gave Avery a green smoothie (see pictures below), she ran a straight line. Today, she eats a complete vegan diet: Natural Balance dry food,  lots of fresh vegetables, even salads, along with a probiotic and a little bit of magnesium to supplement what is lost with the steroids.  The doctor was sure Avery only had a few weeks to live... today, over 4 months later, she is back to herself (well, she walks in lots of circles-- that is until you call out "TREAT"-- then she can run a straight line!).  As you will see from the pictures, she is still adorable, has only had some thinning of hair due to the steroids, and best of all- she is still here!  I have heart-fluttering love for her,  and everyday I am so grateful to have her here!
Enjoying her first smoothie: Vegan protein powder, spirulina, flax oil, wheat grass, kale, and banana


I believe that Avery's miraculous come back is in great part due to her new diet.  If a vegan diet can help a dog (a natural born meat eater) recover from a life threatening disease, what could it do for us? Did anyone watch CNN Sunday night and see what it has done for Bill Clinton?

Back to her self... this is what I came home to after a Bikram class: Avery tangled up in the cooler bag trying to get the goods :)
Today, August 21st, all smiles (and messy!) after enjoying a smoothie with some organic peanut butter

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Helloooo Organic Garden!

Hi there, sweet peas :)

I am proud to say that this is the first official year of our successful organic garden! Ask anyone in my ball-busting family about our garden last year (or lack of), and there sure will be some jokes that follow! Now, I cannot take any credit for the gifts of my abundant garden, all of the credit is to my non-veggie eating boyfriend, John and his green thumb :) Yep, my boyfriend doesn't really like veggies, and I live off of them.  Well, after 7 years of dating I have succeeded in getting him to eat and enjoy peppers and onions (chopped very, very small!) and avocado, in the form of guacamole, annnddd other foods that he doesn't know I sneak into the food I make (the power of a food processor :)  Baby steps!!

It is so easy to grow an organic garden, and the payback is so much more delicious than that from a conventionally grown garden.  Not only is the taste SOOOO much better, has no yucky depleting toxins, but the size of the produce is surprisingly massive (see cucumber below)! I have had so much joy in eating fresh salads and making fresh juices straight from my garden.  Nothing beats organic, locally grown, FRESH produce. It makes me wonder why it is so difficult to have all produce be organic!  With a little mushroom compost tea for rich soil, mint plants to keep the buggies away, and a fence to keep the animals out, anyone can have a beautiful, tasty, organic garden.

My garden has produced so many cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers that have inspired me to cook more, and WOW have I been eating well :)

First pickings from the garden! Lots of cucs to juice!

Slightly longer than my forearm... :)

THE fattest cucumber I have ever seen!! Made three days worth of juice from this guy :)

My morning cup of joe :)
1 cucumber (or 1/2 of a massive garden cuc :),
1/2 lemon
2 stalks of celery
2 stems of collard greens
an inch of fresh ginger
1 apple
1 broccoli stalk

Fresh from the garden Cucumber Tomato Basil Salad

Last night I made stuffed zucchini... inspired by a colleague at work- so simple, so delicious, and a creative way to use those garden zucchini!
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Chop and saute vegetables of choice (I used broccoli, peppers, garlic, zucchini, and red onion)
Mix with bread crumbs (I use Gillian's vegan gluten free Italian bread crumbs)
Remove seeds from zucchini with a big spoon, stuff zucchini with sauteed vegetables
Sprinkle with "cheese" of choice (I use Daiya's Mozzarella)
Top with favorite tomato sauce (mmm Rao's!)
Bake in oven for about 30 minutes

And if you are such a lover of sauce as I am, top with more sauce and dig in to a DELICIOUS garden fresh, vegan, gluten free, super healthy meal :)

It has been an AMAZING summer, filled with laughter, great friends, amazing food, and some delicious well deserved drinks.  It is funny how the Universe works.  Last week I decided that this past weekend would be my last weekend of partying, and Monday, August 15th would be my first official day of vacation, and  time to begin cleansing my body of the excess weight and toxins that I have accumulated.  Sooo I go onto the CrazySexyLife website, and find that I am not alone. There is a whole group of women who are beginning the cleanse this Monday, too! There are NO coincidences ;) So, tomorrow I will begin the Crazy Sexy Diet Adventure Cleanse along with some Crazy Sexy Ladies.  This is my second time doing the cleanse.  The first time I did it was last February (after my new-teacher rut) and felt SO amazing! I lost all the excess weight gained in those few stressful months, cleared my skin, calmed my nerves, and adopted some life changing rituals (dry brushing, anyone?) Along with the cleanse I will be participating in the Chopra Center's 21-Day Meditation Challenge which "just happens" to begin on the same day I plan to do the cleanse...hmm. Anyway, meditation IS a challenge for me, ask my health coach! The only other time I stuck with meditation was back in February, again when I did the cleanse which just happened to begin the same day that the Winter Meditation Challenge began.  I am SO excited for this next 21 days, and would LOVE to have you join me on this amazing journey <3

If you are interested in doing the cleanse check out the group here, and if you need to be "challenged" to meditate (like me) check out the Chopra Center's Website here.  Be ready to transform your life and feel great :)

Lots of love and organic veggies <3

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The problem with gluten...

Hello Sunshines!

I hope everyone had an enjoyable week, savoring up these last few weeks of summer! I am very excited for the two week vacation I have coming up.  This Friday is the last day of camp (yeyy!) and I plan to spend the next two weeks focusing on me, in forms of green juice, abundant salads from my garden, going for runs in the woods, doing Bikram, some writing, and getting a lot of sleep :) Any last few weeks of summer plans for you?

Anyway, I have a confession to make... I love bread. I mean I LOVE love love bread! If I could live off of one food it would be toasted semolina bread dipped in olive oil with a dash of salt (particular, eh?). I am asked a lot about my feelings on eating gluten.  At first I shunned going gluten free, our bodies need (especially as a vegan) whole grains in the form of whole wheat pasta, bread, semolina bread, whole grain cereals, etc.  (or do we?) What else would we eat? However because of experience, my opinion on this topic has changed.

When I was hired last September as a teacher, I was bitching ball of stress.  I would come home and every day enjoy a glass of wine and a loaf of Italian Bread with my boyfriend's sister, Julianne.  It became a ritual, one that I enjoyed so, so much.  The more stressed I was, the more bread I ate... or was it the more bread I ate, the more stress I was? Well, about a few weeks after this ritual began, I went to my homeopathic chiropractor.  I was drained of energy, depressed, not sleeping well, gaining weight, and just flat out a grumpy bitch.  Dr. Salmon (his real name :) did his little test on me where he uses pressure points on the body and plays with my arms (hard explain!) and asked me what I have been eating differently.  I shrugged my shoulders.  He then said, "you are eating a lot of gluten, aren't you?" I thought about it, and yeah, in the form of fresh Italian bread... mmm just thinking of it now makes my mouth water.  He then explained to me that my lack of energy, motivation, depression, restlessness, weight gain (duh), and moodiness is because my thyroid is out of whack.  So he suggested I get a thyroid support serum, and stop eating gluten.  I did, and within a week I felt GREAT....

But, like I said, I LOVE bread. So of course this has been an uphill battle. I know when I avoid gluten I feel amazing. However when that bitch known as temptation, gets in my face, I sometimes cannot resist. Today I am doing much, much better, discovering new GF food substitutes, and some of my favorite restaurants now have GF items on the menu.  I now eat foods made with quinoa, millet, and brown rice, rather than wheat.

It was news to me that eating gluten does not just harm people who have Celiac Disease.  Gluten is found in soooo many things, and unfortunately many of us bread lovers have gluten sensitivities.  If you are curious and want to figure out if you have a sensitivity to gluten, I suggest you go on an elimination diet.  Eliminate gluten products from your body for a week to 21-days, record how you feel.  After 21-days (or if you only last a week), slowwwwwly add gluten back into your diet and once again, see how you feel. Do you wake up in the morning drained? Are you grumpy? gassy? what have you!

Just remember, we are only "spiritual being having a human experience"-- making mistakes is a typical human thing, perfection is just flat out silly and impossible.  I slip here and there and eat gluten (As you will see below, hint: vegan chocolate cake!), and save myself with a good digestive enzyme.  On good days I make yummmmy recipes like the one below, and dine at yummy restaurants like Good Karma Cafe that has GF Vegan food :) (see pictures below).  I will be posting many more GF recipes and my favorite items in the future.

So, like I mentioned, Good Karma Cafe-- it's a tiny gem located in Red Bank, New Jersey.  My best best friend, Erica, who is currently on a journey to wellness (aren't we all!) and is dipping her toes into the vegan world, joined me for a lovely vegan dinner last night.  I ate some of the best GF vegan food I have ever tasted.... and then there was the vegan chocolate cake (not GF, sorry, like I said-- only human :)

Yummm Live Lemonade: Fresh apple and lemon with ginger!  Who needs wine?

Our appetizer was delicious: "Whole Lotta Love" (which it certainly was!):  Made with their dehydrated buckwheat and flax bread, topped with shredded veggies (carrots, sprouts, cabbage), crunchy dehydrated kale chips (OMG!) and sunflower her cheese= Amazing and GF

Then for dinner I had a "Love Bowl" which had perfectly sauteed kale, brown rice, black beans, delicious tempeh (usually I am not a fan of the substitute meat, but this was just amazing!) and then I got my sauce on the side: Thai Coconut. SO delicious! I can't wait to eat the left overs tonight:)

Erica got this massive burrito that even her MEAT-itarian boyfriend liked :): Brown rice, black beans, guacamole, pico, homemade vegan sourcream and shredded lettuce (not GF, but vegan and really stinkin good)
Ahhh and onto my favorite course of the night, dessert.  This is not gluten free, but it is vegan and delicious! Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate deliciousness :)

Gluten Free Recipe of the Week:
Today we had our end of the summer staff party.  As a vegan it is nearly necessary to bring a favorite dish so not only you can eat, but you can "WOW" all of the skeptics out there :)
Recipe adopted  from Lorna Sass's Short-Cut Vegan cook book (great resource to have)
(FYI: I am Italian, I don''t follow exact measurements, it's in my blood, so this is the gist of what I did)
1 1/2 c. quinoa rinsed
equal parts water
2 c. fresh corn (Mmm Jersey Summer Corn!)
1 c. fresh basil (from the JMFECEL Garden)
1/2 c. Roasted Peppers
1/2 c. finely sliced red onions
3 tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 tbs. lemon juice

Directions: Boil quinoa until water has absorbed.  Boil corn until cooked (unless using can, in which case buy organic and BPA free :) Prepare peppers, onions and basil.  Cook corn and quinoa, then toss with remaining ingredients.  Serve chilled and enjoy this DELICIOUS and refreshing summer meal :)

Do you have any questions about Gluten? Any recipes you would like to share? Please do :)
Have a wonderful end of the week/weekend!

Next Post: Garden Love <3

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Vegan... who is ITALIAN (yikes!)

Hello all of my new followers/dreamers :)

I would like to start this blog off by thanking you for your support and kind words.  Having people like you who are like minded, motivated, and working towards becoming your best , is what drives me to my dreams.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3

This morning I called out of work because I was not feeling well... ever since giving up meat, dairy, and gluten, I rarely feel sick.  Regardless, I did this morning and I made a wonderful decision to listen to my body and go back to bed.  I woke up a couple hours later (yep, hours!) and was refreshed and ready for the day.  Isn't it amazing how sleep restores the body?  Anyway, I logged onto IIN (The Institute of Integrative Nutrition) where I am receiving my training to become a health counselor. I completed this week's module, and then lo and behold, the FIRST test posted.  Now, I have three weeks to complete the test... but I can be a tad impatient, and in situations like this I am grateful for the (sometimes annoying) quality I possess.  So, after doing two hours of work, I took the test and I passed! Well, I did more than just passing, I got a whopping 97%! It was almost like the Universe made me feel queazy this morning so that I could relax, kill it on my first test, and of course boost my confidence BIG time :)

So, onto my first official health and wellness topic: Veganism!  I will start by telling you a story, about why in the world I, an Italian-ravioli-meatball-semolina bread-loving girl, gave up cheese, meat, and gluten (which will be discussed in the following post). When I was a little girl, I was tiny... people would be in awe over the number of cheese ravioli's I could eat.  Usually followed by a big bowl of my favorite, chocolate chip mint ice cream (had to be the green kind!).  Sad part was, shortly after eating such high fat, dairy laden meals, I would get sick to my stomach.  Now as a child I was yet to have the understanding nor the self-control to never eat my beloved ravioli and chocolate chip mint again.  So, I went through my entire childhood being sick.  I just simply could not control myself.  I was a child, if my best friend Erica could eat it, why cant I?  I would not even think at the time about paying for these decisions later. It wasn't until I was a junior in high school, and I went to a gastroenterologist. After going through a few god awful tests, he told me that I do not have celiac disease, am not lactose intolerant, but do have a slight case of Irritable Bowl Syndrome and Acid Reflux.  So, he gave me a prescription for Zelnorm and a prescription for Prevacid.  Being a stubborn- know-it all 17 year old, and living with this my whole life, I could not imagine that my "attacks" were just slight cases of IBS, and that although every time I ate dairy I got sick, I didn't have a dairy allergy.  So I took the Zelnorm, skipped the Prevacid (didn't think my reflux was that bad), popped the pill 30 minutes before every meal, ate what I want, lost a TON of weight, looked pretty sick, and then bang-- two years later as a sophomore in college, Zelnorm was recalled.  I cried and cried! Was it because I was worried about being sick and not able to eat all the chocolate chip mint ice cream I wanted? Or was it that I really liked this miracle weight loss pill... hmmm, I'd say both.

So, once I stopped crying and being a ridiculous teenager, I spoke to my older sister, Lauren.  Now many of you reading this may already know, my sister has Crones Disease, and is maintaining her good health through a vegan, high raw diet.  Being my older sister who I always wanted to be just like, I took her advise which was simple: Eat flaxseed.  I was amazed how well my digestive system worked once I incorporated just 2 tbs. a day of ground flaxseed into my cereal.

Bob's Red Mill is my favorite, low in calories and price ($8.49 for this huge bag), high in fiber, Omega 3's and deliciousness!

Now, my digestive system was so much better, but not perfect.  Occasionally I would still get attacks. So about a year later I gave up meat. Meat is not easily digested by the body.  It can take days for it to become waste.  It contains no fiber, high in fat, dietary cholesterol, and makes us flat out sick.  Nutrients that meat does contain (amino acids, B12, protein) are easily supplemented by a whole food diet. Not to mention, unless organic (which is a better option, however can be very pricey), meat contains hormones, antibiotics, and other substances that we probably should not have in our bodies.  During this transformation for me, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Nearly every woman dead or living, in my family has had some form of cancer or disease.  Did you know that cancer cells can be manipulated with use of animal protein and vegetable protein?  In other words, animal protein turns cancer tumors on, while plant protein turns them off... more about this in my post on the viewing of Forks Over Knives. Thankfully my mother caught her cancer early, and was able to have a lumpectomy and radiation.  She will be two years cancer free this November.

A BIG part of me did not just give up meat for my health, but for my love of animals and our planet (warning: this paragraph is a bit of a rant! Never the less, it is super informative!).  I have a maltese, she is the cutest thing in the world to me! I could never imagine eating another animal! If you love animals, why do you eat them? Would they eat you?  Maybe some would, but usually not. The animals we usually eat are docile, think the little chicken, the cow, the dirty pig.  They have feelings too.  In addition, all this talk about global warming and hunger: Did you know that most water pollution is the result of run off from cattle? Those antibiotics that go into the cattle run off into our water system, therefore affecting our crops, OUR BODIES!  If Americans just slightly reduced our consumption of meat, the grain fed to the cattle could feed 60 million starving people in the world. Giving up just 1lb. of meat a year could conserve as much water as not showering for SIX months.  Do you know what the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon is from? You guessed it, cattle ranching (who needs those trees anyway? :/ ).

A year after I gave up meat through crowding out by using vegetables like legumes, whole grains, and protein powder, I finally gave up my beloved ravioli, mozzarella cheese, and chocolate chip mint ice cream.  This decision drove my Italian family wild, they could not understand how me, who does not have Crones disease like my sister, would give up cheese.  Aside from my biggest critics, just weeks after eating my last Pastagina (a yummy cheese filled dish my grandmother makes every New Years Day), my skin cleared, my eyes whitened, my energy soared, and my digestive system hummed.  I was not perfect in giving up dairy, it took me about 6 months until I completely rid it out of my diet.  However, I know if I didn't allow the imperfection then I may not have been successful. Today, I am going on 3 years of no meat, two years of no diary, and two years of no IBS or Acid Reflux.  While in Paris last year, I had one attack, after eating fish that was cooked in butter... no Zelnorm necessary, just get rid of the dairy and add flaxseeds. (How do I possibly get my calcium, you ask? Stay tuned... that will certainly be a post)

My favorite (not green) Coconut Milk Mint Chip Ice Cream.  This dairy free ice cream is sure to make a vegan out of a dairy queen :)

I am not 100% vegan.  I know some vegans would be up in arms if they knew that I call myself a vegan, and then eat fish, bee pollen (in smoothies-- more on that!), and wear my leather Frye boots when I go to the Farmers Market in the Autumn (I bought these before this journey began!)... However, if I were to give it a number, I would say that I am about 95% vegan.  Occasionally, I will eat fish, usually when visiting my boyfriend's mother in the Virgin Islands, where the fish is fresh, the water is clean, and my body is craving it.  You need to listen to your body, and if it is craving something, it probably means you are missing something.  For me, when I crave fish I believe it means that I need the protein and the Omaga's.  I never get sick after eating it (unless it is cooked in butter), so, a few times a year I allow myself to not be a perfect Vegan, and enjoy some fresh fish. I understand that small amounts of animal protein will most likely not give me cancer.

Going vegan may not be for everyone.  Through my education at IIN, I am learning how we are all what they call "bioindividuals".  What works for me, may not always work for you.  However, with that said, I do think it is important that we listen to our bodies.  If you are having digestive issues, are chronically ill, what have you, then it may be a good idea to try and crowd out dairy and meat, eat less of both, see how you feel.  If you feel wonderful-- awesome, if you don't, adjust for your individual needs. Do what makes YOU feel GOOD.

I would love to hear some vegan substitutions.  In the future I will be sharing many of my favorite items and recipes, and would love to hear what your favorites are. Until then, here are two garden fresh vegan meals I made this past week using Vegan Pesto Sauce:
Gluten Free Quinoa Pasta with Vegan Pesto Sauce.  I also made this recipe (picture not shown) with Vegan Ravioli from Whole Foods.
Basil from my schools garden: Joseph M. Ferraina Early Childhood Center's Organic Garden

Pesto Recipe (adopted and adjusted from, recipe of the week):
3 cups of tightly packed fresh basil leaves (recipe originally called for 2, I like more basil)
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp. of blond or miso chickpea paste
1/4 Red Star Nutritional Yeast Flakes (Recipe called for a 1/3 c. I felt the too much of the yeast flakes too away from the delicious basil taste)

Directions: Toast pine nuts in a pan until lightly brown and releasing their delicious smell.  Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until creamy.  You may want to add a little bit more olive oil.  Delizioso! No cheese necessary :)

Pesto is easy to freeze, scoop spoonfuls into an ice tray, freeze, then transfer pesto cubes to baggie. Enjoy on many vegan dishes!

Garden Veggies with Quinoa GF Spaghetti and Pesto Sauce
Pick veggies from the garden (Eggplant, Peppers, Red Onion), toss with light Olive Oil and a dash of Himalayan Sea Salt. Heat Cast Iron Skillet, saute until slightly brown and soft. Add Frozen Pesto Cube....
 Prepare pasta according to package (Gluten free pasta should be rinsed after cooking), and ENJOY! An easy, low budget, vegan DELICIOUS meal packed with local organic produce :)

My next post is about continuing this journey, and why and how  this Italian-bread-lover is giving up gluten.

Ciao belle!