Gluten-Free, Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

What better to accompany your Pumpkin Spice Latte (#PSL) than some protein- and fiber-rich Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix? Loaded with nutritious nuts, crispy cereal and oats, and chewy apples, this is the perfect fall snack at work, before the gym, or anytime you need a little pick me up. Also, with Halloween rapidly approaching this Friday, this trail mix is a great party treat that offers a more nutritionally, texturally, and gustatorily complex update on the classic party Chex Mix.

Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

Ingredients
1 ½ cup Cinnamon Chex
1 cup Honey Nut Chex
½ cup Brown Rice Crisp cereal (I used plain, no salt added)
½ cup GF granola (I used Love Grown’s Simply Oats)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup walnut pieces
½ cup pecan pieces
½ cup pistachios
¼ cup almonds
½ cup of dried apples
¼ cup vegan Earth Balance
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp vanilla

Directions

1. Combine cereals and nuts in a large, microwave-safe bowl.
2. Add ¼ cup of Earth Balance to a separate microwave safe bowl and microwave for about 40 seconds or until melted.
3. Add 2 tsp of vanilla, ¼ cup brown sugar, and 1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice to Earth Balance and stir well.
4. Pour liquid mixture over trail mix.
5. Microwave for 5 minutes, stirring every minute.

Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

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Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Fall is here, and what better way to cope with the cooling temperatures than to warm up with some hearty fall recipes? Now, I hate cold weather. Low body fat combined with poor blood circulation in my extremities leads to perpetual goosebumps and bouts of hypothermic shivering. Sometimes, when you catch a chill so severe it seems to creep into your bones, the only way to shake the cold is take a hot shower or eat something that warms you from the inside out. What better way to ready yourself for chilly days than with a festive fall soup? Your house will be filled with scents of roasted butternut squash caramelized with brown sugar, swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg, and warm, baked honeycrisp apples. This soup tastes just as good as it smells, and it smells like something straight out of a seasonal Yankee Candle store. Furthermore, it’s incredibly hearty and filling. Save for 5 cups of liquid, this soup is entirely pureed roasted vegetables. Indicative by its rich color, butternut squash is rich in carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Furthermore, this festive squash is rich in antioxidants, particularly vitamin C, fiber, potassium, vitamin B, and folate. Not to mention that it tastes delicious, with a rich amalgamation of sweet and savory. Because all of the ingredients in this soup are roasted, the fragrant flavors of every vegetable are detectable in each bite. This recipe makes quite a bit of soup (and you don’t need much in a serving because it’s so hearty!), so it’s a great recipe to make in bulk for the week for meal planning.

Ingredients
1 medium-large butternut squash
3 carrots
1 medium yellow onion
½ red pepper
2 medium honeycrisp apples
4 cups of vegetable broth
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
Cinnamon
Pumpkin pie spice
Nutmeg
Brown sugar
2 tbsp maple syrupO
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Directions

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
1. Cut the ends off of the butternut squash

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
2. Cut the squash in half

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3. Peel the squash. If you see green streaks, keep peeling

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
4. When the squash is done being peeled, it will be bright orange with no green stripes.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
5. Cut the peeled pieces in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut into 1 inch cubes

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
6. Coat squash with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tbsp brown sugar, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, and salt and pepper.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
7. Spread evenly on a baking sheet covered with foil. Place in preheated oven at 425ºF.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
8. Cook for 45 minutes, turning once midway.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
9. While the butternut squash is roasting, cut up 3 peeled carrots, 1 medium yellow onion, 2 honeycrisp apples, and ½ red pepper. Coat with 2 tbsp of olive oil, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper, and a dash of paprika. Spread evenly on a pan covered with foil.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
10. Cook for 25 minutes at 425ºF.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
11. Put all of your roasted vegetables into a large stock pot. Add 4 cups of vegan vegetable broth and 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk. Use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables (Or, alternately, pour the soup mixture into a blender, blend unit smooth, and then pour back into the pot. Turn heat to medium to warm soup, adding additional seasoning to taste. You’ll likely want to add more salt and pepper. I added a dash of paprika and chili powder to cut a bit of the sweetness, but it’s not detectable. I served my soup with some Harvest Pumpkin Tortilla Chips [gluten-free, vegan] from Food Should Taste Good…. and this soup certainly tastes good!

Enjoy and happy fall!
❤ Nika

Snickity Snacks: Nika’s Favorite Gluten-Free, Vegan Snacks

A snickity snack. A mid-day nom. A tid bit to tide you through. A morsel make your stomach stop grumbling. We all need them, whether it be the mid-morning munchies, the mid-afternoon hump, the pre-workout pump up, or the post-workout recovery. Some equate “snacks” with diet mishaps, a bingeful bag of chips gone in one sitting. Snacks are not diet disasters; in fact, they are essential to staying on track with your healthy lifestyle. However, choosing healthy snacks is crucial for keeping these mini-meals from turning into mishaps full of wasted calories, waistful calories. Snacks can be an excellent opportunity to fit some extra protein into your day or to squeeze in another serving of fruits and vegetables. Today I’ll be sharing with you some of my favorite healthy snacks!

Step one, cover everything in almond butter

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Apple slices and almond butter

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Banana and almond butter

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One slice of gluten free or whole grain bread topped with almond butter and ½ of a banana

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Gluten free or whole grain crackers with almond butter

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Plain rice cake with almond butter and banana slices

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Sliced apple, dipped in almond butter, and rolled in granola

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½ banana, covered in almond butter, and rolled in granola

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½ banana, covered in almond butter, rolled in vegan chocolate chips

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Baby carrots with almond butter

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Celery with almond butter and raisins (or dried blueberries, cherries, etc). Although, most of you know my hatred for celery.

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Whole grain tortilla and 1 tbsp of almond butter wrapped around a banana, slice into bite-sized pieces

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Literally anything + almond butter is delicious

Step two, cover everything in hummus

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– Baby carrots with hummus
– Celery with hummus
– Raw broccoli and cauliflower with hummus
– Sugar snap peas with hummus
– Cherry tomatoes with hummus
– Gluten free or whole grain crackers with hummus
– Gluten free or whole grain pretzels with hummus

Step three, get fruity

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Fresh fruit makes a quick and easy snack. Grab any of the following: apple, banana, peach, orange, or a sprig of grapes.

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Fresh fruit cup. This is one of my work lunch favorites, and it makes a great dessert. I’ll cut up an apple and some strawberries and toss with some blueberries, raspberries, and whatever else I may have on hand (some sliced banana, peaches, kiwi, etc). Usually I eat it plain, or you can top it with some granola.

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Frozen grapes- this makes a great snack or dessert, especially on a hot day. Wash fresh grapes and put them in the freezer for several hours, and they will turn into refreshing mini fruit pops.

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Fruit parfait- choose your desired vegan yogurt (in my opinion, soy is the best tasting out of soy, almond, and coconut) or Greek yogurt if you are not dairy free. If you can, choose Greek yogurt with minimal additives and sugars, as Greek yogurt contains much higher amounts of protein and beneficials probiotics. Top yogurt with your favorite add-ons: fresh cut fruit, nuts, gluten-free granola, vegan chocolate chips… whatever tickles your fancy!

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Fruit protein smoothie: see my classic smoothie recipe here. Choose your favorite frozen fruits, toss in a banana, sprinkle a scoop of plant-based vegan protein powder (Plant Fusion is my favorite), add some organic 100% apple juice, and blend.

Step Four, get salty and savory

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Chocolate Almond Butter Cookie Smoothie (recipe here): almond butter, almond milk, a banana, some cookies and cream vegan protein powder and you’ve got yourself a sweet and savory protein smoothie. Need an extra kick? Add some coffee to turn this into a mocha frappuccino with a protein punch.

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Protein bars/granola bars: Out of all the gluten-free, vegan protein bars out there right now, my favorite is probably the Strong and Kind bar. They taste delicious, have a short (and pronounceable) list of ingredients, and have only 6g of sugar and 230 calories for 10g of protein (whereas other protein bars have upwards of 17-20g of sugar and a laundry list of less-than-basic ingredients). I also like the Pro Bar Core bars (review here) and the Bonk Breakers (review here).

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Trail mix: Trail mix is probably my favorite snack right now, especially for a protein boost before my afternoon workout. My current mix includes: almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, gluten free granola, raisins, dried blueberries, dried plums, dried apples, and vegan chocolate chips.

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10 tortilla chips + salsa, hummus, or guacamole

These are a few of my favorite things… let me know what your favorite healthy gluten-free, vegan snack is! ❤ Nika

Making Smoothies in Bulk & and a Lesson on Adhering to a Healthy Living Lifestyle

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I love a good fruity protein smoothie. Not only are these frozen delights chock full of fruit, fiber, antioxidants, and protein, but they are also a refreshing treat for any moment of your day. Don’t have time to eat breakfast before you leave the house? Grab a fruit protein smoothie and a granola bar, and you’re out the door. Need a mid-day snack? Smoothie. Pre-workout boost? Smoothie. Post-workout recovery and treat to carry you over to the next meal? Smoothie. Dessert? Smoothie.

 TL;DR: Drink smoothies all day errday.

Herein lies the rub- smoothies can be a bitch to make. I follow the same standard recipe every time I make a smoothie- the “Nika’s Classic Fruit Protein Smoothie” (recipe here). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? This smoothie is, in my opinion, the best smoothie because it’s like all the smoothies combined into one- strawberries, blueberries, peaches, mango, banana, cherries, raspberries, apple juice, protein powder… It’s the “everything but the kitchen sink” version of the fruit smoothie. The only downside to this is the prep- simply gathering and preparing all those different types of fruit, most of them frozen, can be a pain in the ass. I’m already pressed for time in the morning, so there’s absolutely no way I’m going to be able to get all the ingredients out, make the smoothie, clean everything up, and drink my smoothie without being absurdly late. My solution to this? Making smoothies in bulk- how to enjoy smoothies all day, errday without blendin’ all day, errday.

My recipe (and I use this term loosely because I never follow a recipe when I make anything, everything is by eye) yields about four smoothies. I can increase or decrease this number by the amount of fruit or by the amount of liquid I add. Typically I make my smoothies in the evening, drink one as a post-workout recovery, enjoy one either in the morning or post-workout the following day, and then I have two more to enjoy. I’ll keep the one that I drink the following day in the refrigerator, but I will freeze the other two so they will keep longer.

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Initially, I was storing my smoothies in Lilly Pulitzer cups, as you can see in the recipe post linked above. Now, that option worked fine at home, but if I needed to transport my smoothies to work or to the gym, it was a mess when they began to thaw. I had thought about purchasing some mason jars in which to store my smoothies, but then inspiration struck- recycle!

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Introducing Argo Tea, my recent obsession. Not only do these teas taste delicious, they come in adorable glass bottles… that are the perfect size for storing smoothies. I haven’t tried all the above flavors because the selection is limited in my town, but I have tried the Hibiscus Tea Sangria (omg, my favorite), the Green Tea Ginger Twist, and the Mojitea (my least favorite, I think the mint tea was a little weird for me). I have a Carolina Honey in my refrigerator that I still need to try, but I’m sure it’s going to be delicious (tea and honey, how could this be anything but amazing?).

After I finish sipping these delicious teas, I remove the plastic label, wash them, and then use them for smoothie shenanigans! They’re great in the refrigerator, in the freezer, at home, in the car, at the gym, at work, in your backpack or purse…. literally everywhere.

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If you’re feeling extra crafty and cute, you could purchase some labels, such as these chalkboard labels, for your jars so you could write the type of smoothie, your name, the date you made it…whatever strikes your fancy!

Cooking in bulk and “meal prepping” are great ways to encourage and facilitate adherence to a healthy lifestyle. So much of healthy living is determination, planning, and foresight. Therefore, this is not merely “cheating” on your “diet.” It’s not like sneaking another dessert that Jenny or Atkins won’t know about… just your little secret right? You deserve/need/want that extra dessert because of whatever fill in the blank bullshit is going on in your life. We are always going to be stressed, pressed for time, running late, running behind, too busy, frantically bouncing through our days dealing with life’s drama and wishing there were more hours in the day. But it’s your responsibility as a person to take care of yourself. So even if no one sees you sneak that extra dessert, you will know- and so will your scale, your pants, your skin, your waistline, and your self-confidence. How many times have you eaten that little extra something and then loathed yourself for it? Berating and beating yourself up? How many times has that actually led to something productive, other than more cheating, more desserts, more missed workouts and poor choices? Being healthy is not a fad, it’s not a diet- it’s a lifestyle. For life. You cheat on your lifestyle and you’re only cheating yourself. Thus, there is no excuse other than your own poor planning for eating unhealthfully.

Oh you forgot to eat breakfast, so you’ll just stop somewhere on the way to work? Let me know how that greasy, artificial animal byproduct fluff claiming to be “egg” tastes cozied up to that plastic square of “cheese” and mechanized Wilbur butt “bacon.” How’s that going to make you feel the rest of the day? Let me know how quickly your indigestion and lethargy kicks in. Instead, keep smoothies in your freezer, protein bars on hand, steel cut oatmeal packets tucked away, and always keep extra food at work.

Oh you forgot lunch, so you’ll just go out to eat or grab something at the cafeteria? False. If you’re not already bringing your own lunches with you to work/school everyday, I am shaking my head at you. This little part of your day is crucial for healthy living. You either have the chance to replenish and refuel your body with something healthy and homemade, or you can clog up your arteries with whatever death du jour Hardees is serving up next door. Even a frozen meal (albeit a healthy, Nika-approved one) is a better option than anything you’ll find in a cafeteria or fast food restaurant.

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If you do have to go out, choose somewhere like Chipotle, where you can get a salad or bowl and choose your own ingredients. Notice how I said salad or bowl and not burrito? Getting a burrito adds 300 calories to your meal before you even put anything in it. On the other hand, lettuce adds a whopping 15 calories as base. For example, the salad I always get at Chipotle (brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, chicken, tomato salsa) weighs in at 550 calories, which is no problemo for me due to the amount of exercise I get in a day. That same combination in a burrito is 840 calories… at that point, you’re rivaling the neighboring McDonalds for a calorie count, and your cutesy elliptical jaunt is not going to cover that. Also, if you get cheese and sour cream… I just… I can’t. No. Just no. You’re adding an additional 225 calories that are completely worthless to you. If you’re trying to plan a lean meal at Chipotle, I would also avoid the corn salsa, which carries 85 calories, compared to 20 calories for the other tomato-based salsas.

Living at healthy lifestyle is really not that difficult. Challenging, yes. But really difficult? no. Nor is it some mystical, elusive treasure reserved only for the majestic, rainbow fitness unicorns that poop gluten-free vegan pellets between spinning and Pure Barre classes. With some determination, persistence, research, planning, and preparation, you can accomplish mystical unicorn status as well, and I’ll be here every step of the way to lead you out to pasture.

❤ Nika

‘Tis the season for Pumpkin Spice- or is it?

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Fall is officially here, which means gratuitous amounts of Pumpkin Spice paraphernalia is coming (also, winter is coming… But please, let’s not talk about that yet). The Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte has such a cult following that it even has an abbreviation (PSL) and countless Tumblr pages dedicated to capturing the fall-tastic essence of the PSL and various other fall things “white girls love.” Since I’m a Starbucks-drinking, Michael Kors-toting, legging and riding boot-wearing basic white girl, I thought I would embrace my inner basic bitch and indulge in the PSL. Turns out I’m not as basic as I thought- I found the PSL to be mostly hype.

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Gasp. I know, how dare I insult the Pumpkin Spice Life (err… I mean “latte”). I just wasn’t blown away by it- the flavor was meh, and I find most Starbucks seasonal drinks to be far too sugary for my liking. Plus, everyone knows that the Peppermint Mocha is the Queen Bey of seasonal lattes (even though it, too, becomes too sweet for me).

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So what’s a girl to do to get her fall swag on? Fear not, for there is a year-round solution to feed your latte addiction: the cinnamon dolcé latte… A skinny cinnamon dolcé latte with soy milk, to be exact. I’ve already blogged once before about the wonders of the cinnamon dolcé latte (CDL?). Not only does the soy CDL taste better, it contains much less calories and sugar (140 calories and 13g sugar for a grande soy CDL vs 310 calories and 48g in a grande soy PSL). Even more horrifying, if you don’t order your PSL with soy/nonfat milk and you indulge in whipped cream, you’re looking at 380 calories in your white and green cup. Too many of those and you’ll really begin to question if legging as pants is a good idea.

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So enjoy fall- pick pumpkins, wear riding boots and leggings, throw on that J.Crew blazer, rock a chunky scarf, whip out your cashmere tech gloves, but don’t fall victim to the PSL life. This has been a PSA against PSL by the Cinnamon Dolcé Coalition against Lumpy Legging Butt (CDC against LLB? Has a nice ring to it).

❤ Nika

My “I Don’t Feel Like Cooking Dinner” Dinner [Gluten Free, Vegan]

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Some days (most days?) you get home after a long day of working and working out and really have no motivation to stand over a stove after spending an inordinate amount of time chopping up ingredients. Worse still, you live alone or don’t have a S.O./bribable friend around to clean the cacophony of cutlery and cookware you’ve amassed while creating your culinary masterpiece (he who does not cook, must clean… right?). This was the case for me last night, when I arrived at home exhausted (from work), sweaty (from a killer workout at the gym), and pissed (from trying to be a good homeowner by mowing my grass before it got too tall (like last time)… only to find that my lawn mower pooped out on me after only 2 minutes). With a sizable mound of laundry on my bed waiting to be folded, eyes that could barely stay open at half-mast, and a desire to do nothing but collapse on my couch/bed/whatever soft surface I encountered first, I was determined to prepare (not cook) a quick, easy, yet healthy and nutritionally complete dinner. Here’s what I concocted:

– Schar GF multigrain bread with Justin’s Honey Almond Butter and one sliced banana

– Carrot chips with Hope Foods’s Organic Garlic Lentil Dip

– Cubed watermelon and one chopped peach

– Dessert (not pictured): one GF Vegan Schar Honey Gram (45 calories)

With bananas, peaches, watermelon, and carrots, this dinner is obviously very fruit and veggie heavy… just how I like it. I got some nice complex carbohydrates from the GF multigrain bread and enough protein to replenish my fatigued muscles from the almond butter and lentils, which are also a good source of fiber. This no-cook dinner was incredibly satisfying and delicious. The combination of bananas, nut butter, and bread is probably one of my favorites, and this blend was further ignited by the hints of honey in the Justin’s Honey Almond Butter. I love these carrot chips; I’ve always been a fan of baby carrots, but these chips have a great texture and crunch and a larger surface area to encourage dipping. Overall, I was very pleased with this meal- it was quick, easy, delicious, healthy, and required only minimal cleanup (a plate and a knife? I can handle that). Meals like this are proof that there is never an excuse to “cheat” or eat unhealthy- even just for one meal. No matter how pressed for time or tired you are, there is always a healthy solution out there, you just have to you have the strength, determination, and creativity to find it. Thankfully, you have me to help you along the way 🙂

❤ Nika

WIAW: Vegan Brown Rice Sushi and Spring Roll

Gluten Free Vegan Brown Rice Veggie Sushi and Spring Roll

What I Ate Wednesday (WIAW)

I picked up this gluten free, vegan sushi tray at Sushi Express inside the Good Foods Co Op. This vegan sushi roll is made with brown rice, which is higher in fiber yet lower on the glycemic index as compared to white rice, wrapped around avocado, carrot, and cucumber. This meal also came with a gluten free, vegan spring roll: vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with a plum sauce. While this tray came with soy sauce, I brought my own tamari sauce to work because regular soy sauce contains gluten (caution!). This meal was delicious and filling. I love sushi- it’s so light yet satisfying. Whenever I eat sushi, I get this lovely satisfied feeling without the heavy fullness associated with most meals. Plus it’s just so fun to eat! It’s like a little meal in a bite! I forgot chopsticks, so I had to eat this sushi with a fork, which is the first time I’ve ever done that. However, I think using chopsticks is, by far, the best method of eating sushi. Even if you’re not a master of the stix, you should give it a shot! It’s the perfect vehicle for getting those delicious rolls of heaven into your mouth while keeping the rice and nori roll intact.

Further, sushi is not only for fish lovers! If the thought of raw fish scares you or if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, there are still plenty of options for you! Which is hard to say for most restaurants or types of cuisine. I enjoy some fish in my sushi, but vegetable rolls are probably my favorite. Plus, you don’t have to feel as squeamish about raw fish and your sushi will keep better (if you’re buying trays like this). Lastly, this tray was about $5.75, which is cheaper than any meal you can find at a sit-down restaurant and far healthier than anything you could find in a chain restaurant or fast food joint.

I loved this lunch, especially paired with a cup of green tea. I will definitely start buying a tray or two of this sushi whenever I stop into the Co Op because they make perfect work lunches!

Meatless Monday: Mango, Avocado, and Black Bean Salsa Recipe (Gluten Free, Vegan)

Mango Avocado Salsa

Last weekend, I took my first ever solo road trip to visit my best friend, Carolyn, in Atlanta. Granted, in retrospect, a 6 hour drive is really not that bad, but for someone who had only driven a long distance solo once before, it was a bit daunting. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually love road trips, I just don’t like driving. Of course when I first got my license (omgg sweet 16, like #driving), driving was grrreat because, to a 16 year old, driving means freedom. But to a 23 year old, driving means dealing with idiots who don’t know how to drive, leg cramps, ass cramps, neck cramps, and road rage. I love being in the car… as a passenger. As a kid, my parents and I would take road trips all the time. In fact, as much as we traveled, the first time I was on a plane wasn’t until I was around 10 years old, and that’s only because you can’t drive to Paris. Therefore, I’ve perfected the art of being a passenger. I can sit silently and stare out a window for hours on end, although road trips are exceedingly more fun if you have someone to chat with (hence my dislike of solo road trips).

But road trips as a driver? As the only driver? I had always been ambivalent of such trips, even though this says nothing about my qualities as a driver- I’m a safe driver, an efficient driver, a smart driver… I just don’t like it. Furthermore, the thought of driving hours and hours alone always makes me fear falling asleep at the wheel (which I’ve, thankfully, never even come close too, but stress-over-everything Nika must always consider worst case scenarios… I get that from my mom) or dying from boredom, figuratively or literally (boredom=sleepy=peril). My brain is so optimistic, eh?

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Prior to this trip to Atlanta, I had one other solo road trip experience- driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Livermore (about an hour east of San Francisco). So you may be thinking “uh that’s a 7-8 hour drive, why did you even bat an eye about driving to Atlanta?” Well, for one, I split the trip into two days. And secondly, I drove on the Pacific Coast Highway, and driving alongside this was just awful, let me tell ya.

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Regardless, I made it Atlanta and back without a hitch. Well, except the Starbucks detour on my way down there that set me back an hour. Seriously, what is it about Starbucks that compels us to seek out the caffeine gods at all costs? At the midway point of my drive, I searched for nearby Starbucks, and my iPhone informed me there was one 30 minutes away in Athens. Awesome, lead the way, Siri. Except that bitch Siri led to me a random ass Family Dollar parking lot with no Starbucks (or major forms of Starbuck-like civilization) in sight. Le sigh. The nearest Starbucks then was another 30+ minutes away and was, naturally, no where close to the interstate. I had already wasted 30 minutes on this coffee endeavor and didn’t even really want it at that point, but it was the principle of the matter- I had already hemorrhaged precious travel time driving to find this elusive skinny cinnamon dolcé latté with soy milk, so I had to get one now, regardless of the cost. Long story short, I finally got my coffee, but lost an hour to this excursion. On the other hand, on the way home, I got my coffee before I even got on the interstate (ha! take that!) and then powered through, saving 30 minutes off my ETA. Now that I knew that I could handle a solo road trip, I pretty much felt like a BAMF, sup.

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Plus the whole thing was totally worth it because I got to be reunited with my best friend since 6th grade, Miss Carolyn, the lovely lady who brought you this recipe. This girl is my favorite, and even though we are now separated by six hours of interstate and state lines, she knows me better than anyone. Forget merely finishing each other’s sentences, we don’t even need to verbally communicate because we have mastered the art of the conversation via look, which was quite convenient in class during high school.

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Therefore, my trip to Atlanta to see Carolyn is the inspiration for today’s recipe. Carolyn introduced me to her avocado, black bean, and corn salsa, and I was hooked. I knew I had to make it as soon as I got home, and I wanted to add my own twist to her mouthwatering recipe- mango, red pepper, and cilantro. Other than those three ingredients, everything is identical to the Chef Carolyn original.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Ingredients
2 avocados
2 tomatoes
1 can of black beans
1 can of corn
1 mango
½ onion
¼ cup red pepper, chopped
1 lime
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (I used a pomegranate infused one)
Cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
1. Add 1 can of black beans and 1 can of corn to a large bowl
2. Dice 2 avocados, 2 tomatoes, 1 mango, ½ onion, and ¼ cup of red pepper and add to the bowl.
3. Add the juice of 1 freshly squeezed lime and 1 tbsp red wine vinegar.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cilantro (if desired).
5. Mix together well, evenly distributing the ingredients. Eat with chips as a dip, eat it solo as a salad, or use it as a topping! It’s delicious and versatile.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Beans and corn, the base to this delicious concoction.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Add two diced tomatoes. I was fortunate enough to be able to use some organic homegrown tomatoes from my mom’s garden.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Add diced onion. I used ½ of a medium-sized onion, or you could use a whole small onion.

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Now things are getting good. Dice two ripe avocados and add to the bowl.

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Time to get fruity- dice one ripe mango and add to the salsa.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Finishing touches: add the juice of one freshly squeezed lime, 1 tbsp of pomegranate red wine vinegar, and your cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well for an even distribution of delicious ingredients.

Mango Avocado Salsa

If you can manage the patience to not eat it straight from the bowl (this is the most difficult step of the recipe), plate as desired and garnish with some fresh cilantro.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Strawberry Mango Lime Infused Water

Strawberry Mango Lime Infused Water

Well, I have a new beverage addiction: infused water. I know, I know, I’m a little late on the infused water bandwagon. I always thought plain water was just fine by me; being a potable purist, I scoffed at the notion of needing anything other than simple H2O to dress up my water… until a TRX pal let me sample this lush libation, this rejuvenating refreshment, this sweet nectar of the fruit Gods. I should have known this combination would be Kryptonite for me: fruit and water? Basically all Nika needs to live? Sold. So, bored one day at work, I was browsing Target’s website for some new sulfate and fatty alcohol-free shampoo, conditioner, and body wash (more on this later… better for both your hair and your skin). Being a stubborn Taurus, I scoff at the notion of paying for shipping on online purchases. I am such a bull-headed brat on this issue that I will buy miscellaneous items that I don’t really need (but want haz) to reach the minimum for free shipping. Enter the $19.99 Fruit Infusion Pitcher à la Target.

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Bonjour mon ami, enchanté. Enchanted, indeed, was I with this little device. As soon as my Target box arrived on my doorstep, I did my happy package dance. Don’t you miss getting real mail? Sure, emails, texts, Facebook messages are just fine and dandy, but don’t you miss coming home to letters in your mailbox? Handwritten mementos? Picturesque postcards? I surely do. But, alas, the only thing I come home to is oodles of junk mail, bills, and the occasional J.Crew catalogue. Therefore, I have learned to love online shopping; it’s quite a cathartic and delightful experience. First, you get to online browse, which is honestly the most entertaining part of the whole process. I’m a nerd, so I love researching everything that I buy. Reading reviews, comparing prices, comparing items, reading ingredients… I do it all. Then, I create a joyous yet completely irresponsible and irrational wish list of MUST HAZ ALL THE THINGS. Then I take a glance at the total, throw up in my mouth a little, and begin to delete all the shit that can live without. But honestly, often the most fun part of online shopping is just toying with the thought of having all these things. Do I really need 3 new facial moisturizers? No, but I like the idea of getting to try them all. Do I really ice pop molds? Actually, maybe, but I’ll hold off on these. Do I really need two new pairs of shoes? …(crickets)… Nika? ….. Nika, really? Shhhh… Do you even have any more room on your shoe rack? No… but I can make room… So your actually going to get rid of some shoes? Well, maybe… No… but I can put them on the floor! And start a new rack! Mm, yeah, I highly doubt you even have room on the floor, considering this is what your closet looked like FIVE MONTHS AGO and I know you’ve collected another handful of new additions since then. Sadly, this isn’t even all of them…

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Shhh, rational part of my brain. Just think of My Precious….

My Precious Shoes Okay, well maybe I’m hopeless when it comes to shoes, but I digress. Then, after you finally decide on this Christmas list of items, you get to anxiously await Santa’s arrival on your doorstep. This equates to me obsessively tracking my package down to the minute, refreshing incessantly until that joyous “Delivered” checkmark appears next to my tracking number. Next, I rush home (after going to the gym, of course) to yank open my front door to gaze upon that glorious cardboard present courtesy of moi. Inevitably, I spend the remainder of the evening either staring lovingly at my new purchases, trying them on, using them, wearing them, eating them… whatever the case may be. 

Regardless of the circumstances, I received my infusion pitcher the other night, hastily ripped it from its cardboard confines, and began concocting fruity combinations to create. After being out of town for the better part of a week, my fresh fruit supply wasn’t as abundant as usual, but I was still able to gather a mango, some strawberries, and part of a lime to use in my infusion pitcher. I cut all the fruit up, placed it into the center container, and filled the pitcher with fresh water. I let this amalgamation of fruity flavors chill and infuse overnight in my refrigerator until the water took on a reddish orange tint, as pictured above.

The result? Delicious. All the fancy fruit flavor of store-bought flavored water without all the added sugar and weirdo ingredients and preservatives. In essence, my new obsession. Fruit and water? Well, that’s a much healthier obsession than my footwear fetish.

Mango Lime Guacamole Recipe (Gluten-Free, Vegan)

Mango Lime Guacamole

Sometimes the best creations come from a simple spark, a spur of the moment thought that ignites into creation. Quite often I enter the kitchen with no real plan, like an artist approaching an easel with no image in mind. I’ll stop, take a deep breath, and look out upon all the ingredients at my disposal- fruits and veggies poised like nature’s vibrant paints. Last night, I scanned the fruit bowl on my counter and spotted avocados and mangos that needed to be eaten quickly before the damn gnats creep in and take over. Hmm, avocados… well, guacamole, obvi. I love guacamole… Maybe I’ll do a whole Mexican theme tonight. But what about the mangos? I love mango salsa.. but don’t have any tomatoes. What about… mango guacamole? I consulted my fellow guacamole-loving friend, who was doubtful and, at best, ambivalent of this combination. I just nodded my head saying, no, no trust me on this. This is legit, I think this exists. Spoiler alert: it does exist, and it’s delicious.

Mango Lime Guacamole

Two avocados halved with the seed removed. I’ve found that the best way to remove avocados from their pesky shell and pit is to cut them straight down longitudinally (top to bottom) until you hit the pit. Next, twist the two halves until they separate, and one half will contain the pit. Pop the pit out. Lastly, if your avocado is ripe (like mine were), you can just peel off the skin, which is nice because you don’t have to deal with any fancy knife work.

Mango Lime Guacamole

Peppers and onion and avocados, oh my. I love to take pictures of my guacamole (or whatever dish I’m making) before I mash up all the ingredients because you can really see all the beautiful, vibrant colors.

Mango Lime Guacamole

 

Ingredients 
2 ripe avocados
1 ripe mango
⅓ cup diced red pepper
¼ cup diced onion
1 tbsp diced Anaheim pepper
Juice of ¼ lime
1 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Cut two ripe avocado and remove the seed. Add to bowl.
2. Dice ⅓ cup red pepper, ¼ cup onion, and 1 tbsp of Anaheim pepper and add to avocado.
3. Season with desired amount of salt and pepper.
4. Using a fork, mash the avocado and mix in the peppers.
5. Skin, slice, and dice one ripe mango. Add to the guacamole.
5. Add your tablespoon of cilantro and squeeze ¼ of fresh lime over the guacamole. Mix again to incorporate the mango, cilantro, and lime.
6. Serve with tortilla chips, gluten free crackers, raw veggies, or as a compliment to your entrée!