Healthy Holiday Tips!

I’ll admit it, I love all the rich dishes and cut out cookies the holidays bring. In fact, I love them so much that I have to remind myself not to sabotage all the hard work I do throughout the year. While the temptations might seem endless (I’m talking about you peppermint bark & pumpkin pie), I’m positive a balance can be struck. This year, I have a game plan in place so I can indulge without the added bulge!

Workout. I know, I know … However, I refuse to go to hell in a hand basket this year and spend my winter break fitting back into my skinnies. Yoga is my mainstay and I enjoy my weekly run club, but, it’s easy to “oversleep” on the holiday or punt due to day after coma. While I’m not advocating a massive workout session, use this opportunity to take a walk with a loved one and enjoy the fall foliage or join a local turkey trot like this one. Not only will you feel better for it, that pumpkin pie will taste all the more sweet!

Eat a healthy snack. I already know I am going to be tempted to pile on an extra spoonful of my mother-in-law Mia’s fantastic mashed potatoes that are reserved specifically for Thanksgiving. Chances are good I’ll make a few fruit kebabs like these (minus the mini brownie, though I LOVE that idea) to throw in the car for my husband and I to snack on before dinner. If you don’t want to snack before dinner, a few tall glasses of cool H2O should do the trick!

Bring a healthy dish. If you’re worried that Thanksgiving dinner may be a bit too rich for you with all that butter and cream, bring a healthy dish with a bit of decadence like this acorn squash. I like that the author includes a savory option as well as a sugar & spice version. Your host will appreciate the contribution to the dinner table and you can feel good knowing you contributed a healthy touch to the day.

Remember if you overindulge one or even two days, it’s okay. Don’t beat  yourself up and don’t use your overindulgence as an excuse to fall of the wagon for the rest of the holiday season. Just get back to your healthy eating habits the following day and move forward. Feel like you need a jump start? Try replacing one or two meals with a healthy green smoothie. They’re incredibly filling and super nutritious!

Let the festivities commence!


Nutritional Yeast

Though I am pretty adventurous when it comes to food, it took a bit for me to hop on board with the sadly named nutritional yeast.

A favorite amongst the vegan crowd, nutritional yeast can be added from everything to veggie stir fry and mashed potatoes to popcorn. Nutritional yeast is slightly tangy and adds a nutty/cheesy flavor to cooked dishes. While the cheese flavor is an added bonus, nutritional yeast is also a reliable source of vitamin B12. I like to add a heaping tablespoon to my favorite veggie, kale, and mix in a small amount of steamed brown rice. This meal to me is my updated version of the comforting cheesy rice and broccoli dish my grandmother made growing up.

Vitamin B12 naturally occurs in animal and dairy products, so practicing vegans and many vegetarians must supplement this vitamin through other means such as nutritional yeast or fortified cereals. Nutritional yeast can be found in the bulk food bins of your grocer or in the supplement section and comes in either flakes or powder. I like Bob’s. Make sure to purchase nutritional yeast, not brewer’s yeast, which does not contain vitamin B12.


Delicata Squash

Wednesday is my favorite day of the week and that’s not just because the weekend is almost here. Each Wednesday when my husband comes home from work, he brings me a present … a big box of beautiful produce from Riverdog Farm. I never know what’s in store for me until the box arrives — it’s awesome!

This week we received a bounty of beautiful fall produce including one of my all-time favorite veggies, kale (excellent in green smoothies or have you tried kale chips — delicious!) as well as lots of yummy greens (spinach and arugula) and fingerling potatoes (toss with fresh garlic, olive oil, salt & pepper, and roast — yum!). I really could go on and on … how much produce gets packed into this weekly CSA box never fails to amaze me.

Which brings me to … squash!

Delicata squash.

While many of us out there (myself included) are quick to pick up a familiar squash like butternut, for its excellent ability to dual as both a delicious roasted vegetable side or pureed into a thick and creamy satisfying fall soup. It turns out by passing over these “decorations” I have really been missing out.

After a quick trip online to research recipes for this (new to me) winter squash, I decided to keep it easy, choosing to simply roast the squash. Once I got to work, the squash was super easy to manage due to its small size, making it a snap to clean, chop, and roast. The skin on the delicata squash is thin and edible, so I chose not to remove the skin, but instead to keep it on for its added nutritional benefit.

Nutritionally, delicata is about 30 calories per 3/4 cup serving and contributes almost 3/4 of the daily nutritional requirement for vitamin A, which is excellent for eyesight, especially nighttime vision as well as vitamin C, which aids in immune support and wound healing.

To prepare the squash, I chopped it in half lengthwise, removed the seeds and then sliced the squash into thick, beautiful half-moon slices. I then lightly tossed the slices of squash with some fresh rosemary and thyme I had on hand, salt and pepper, and olive oil. I also sprinkled in about a teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes for a little extra added spice! I laid the squash in a single layer on a sheet pan and roasted the squash for about 30 minutes (turning occasionally) in a 425 F oven. The finished product was perfection, a beautiful crisp golden exterior with a rich and creamy mouth-feel.

I always thought late spring through summer were my favorite for local Bay Area produce. This weekly box sure has me changing my tune fast!

What are some of your fall favorite veggies? How do you feel about the “decorations?”

photo credit

Lean, Mean & Green

Smoothie that is!

I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little run down lately. I won’t lie, school is stressful and it has begun to take a toll on what I would consider a relatively healthy diet. Luckily, I’m pretty tuned on with what’s going on in there and knew my body needed a rest and reset. This week, which I call “green week,” it’s time to clean house. I have been giving my body just what it needs by enjoying a raw diet devoid of anything other than strictly delicious vegetables and juicy fruits, kicking my unhealthy cravings to the curb!

I have found green smoothies to be an awesome and very satiating part of my reset. Green smoothies are quick, highly nutritious, and very affordable. I like to have one for breakfast and have found them to be an excellent, filling dinner as well. You don’t need a fancy blender to make a smoothie — mine is almost 10 years old and still runs like a pro! Make sure to rinse your veggies and fruits as well as chop them small enough so your blender can process them easily. Also, I find if I add the greens very last, nothing gets caught up in the blender. I feel light, healthy and refreshed already!

Here are a few recipes I came up with this week which are all vegan, raw, and gluten free. Enjoy!

1/2 cucumber
handful blueberries
1/2 cup to 1 cup H2O
1 small banana
4-6 kale leaves

1 beet
1 cup H2O
1/2 lime (juice only)
2 beet greens
4 kale leaves

1/2 cup melon
1/2 cup H2O
6 kale leaves

1/2 pear
1 small banana
1/2 cup to 1 cup H2O
4-6 kale leaves

What kind of nutritional changes do you make to your diet when you’re not feeling at your best?

Canary Melon

Today, we received a beautiful, bright yellow melon in our weekly CSA box from Riverdog Farm. Intrigued by this unusual piece of produce, I consulted the newsletter. “It’s a canary melon,” I announced to my husband who in return pointed to the sad face he had drawn on the melon. You see, we aren’t really a melon household. My husband Erik, since his early childhood has had an aversion to melon. Though I will give credit where credit is due. Recently while traveling, we were treated to a delicious plate of refreshing watermelon after our meal, and while he tried it, the look on his face said it all. We’ve decided melon is just not his thing.

So what does one do with said melon? I waited until he went back to work and wasted no time diving right into this (new to me) treat. Also, knowing this snack is packed full of goodness, I could indulge practically guilt free! Melons are low in calories (about 80 calories per quarter cup serving) and happen to be an excellent source of dietary fiber as well as vitamins A & C.

The canary melon (aka Spanish melon), named for its vibrant color, not the island, is an oval shaped melon that turns bright yellow when it is at its peak ripeness. The flesh is a rich creamy white framed by pale green edges, firm in texture, and deliciously sweet. A sure way to to knock out any of those midday sugar cravings! While some melons can be quite musky, I didn’t find this melon to be so in the slightest.

Act fast! If you’re at the market and happen to see one of these beauties, pick one up now as the season in Northern California is almost over. The melon, though delicious as is, would be wonderful topped with some low fat tangy Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of granola for breakfast.

Tip! Before cutting into a melon (or any produce for that matter), wash the rind well under hot water to prevent bacteria from contaminating the flesh as you slice through the rind.

If you are interested in knowing more about our CSA, Riverdog Farm, delivers high quality produce to multiple sites throughout the Bay Area. You can find out more about Riverdog Farm by clicking here.

SFSU Farmers Market

I absolutely love that my school has an all organics farmers market every Thursday and appreciate that promoting health is an important aspect of student life at San Francisco State. While the market is rather small (it’s still growing!) the vendors who participate are friendly and the goods they offer are reasonably priced. In addition to fruits and veggies, the market also has pantry staples including bread and spices as well as some healthy snack options like hummus. For me, the weekly market makes quick work of dinner as I am able to pick up fresh produce on a rather long day in between my classes.

If you’re in the area, the farmers market is every Thursday, 10:00am – 3:00pm in front of the Humanities building. Stop by, pick up something healthy and support the community in which you live.

Tonight, I’ll be roasting beets!

Today, I picked up bunches of bright red and deep golden beets that were piled along beautiful green bell peppers, cauliflower and squash. Beets are pretty special. They contain phytonutrients called betalains that have been shown to provide excellent anti-inflammatory and detoxification support to the systems of the body as well as dietary fiber that may aid in colon cancer prevention.

Also, don’t toss aside the tops! Beet greens are easily prepared like other greens such as kale. The tops are rich in nutrients such as carotenoids, which are responsible for giving beets their rich red and golden color. Carotenoids are a powerful antioxident that may protect the body’s cells from damage by free radicals. Beets should be in season through October in Northern California.

Here is a recipe for my easy roasted beets.

Preheat oven to 375 F

Scrub the beets under hot water and trim them of their leafy tops. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 45-60 minutes or until tender. When the are beets cool, use a pairing knife to remove the peel, then quarter, reseason, and serve at room temperature. These beets are served excellent alone or toss with whatever fresh herbs you may have on hand and a little bit of feta or goat cheese for extra flavor. Enjoy!

Look for more “seasonal” posts as I continue to explore the weekly market and what the vendors have to offer. Is there a seasonal vegetable or fruit you would like to know more about nutritionally? How about a new recipe? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

Quinoa – Gold of the Incas

This past summer I was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity. While I was disappointed, this explained a lot — especially the nap I so badly wanted to take everyday after my turkey on wheat! Essentially, I have trouble digesting the elastic protein composites known as prolamines which includes glutenin and gliadin (wheat), secalin (rye), and hordein (barley). While gluten sensitivity isn’t as severe as celiac disease, being diagnosed meant many common staples in my diet such as whole-wheat pasta and bread had to be eliminated if I wanted to feel better.

Enter quinoa. Although not a common pantry staple in the United States, quinoa is a remarkable food. Rich in amino-acids, the ancient grain is often referred to as “the gold of the Incas,” as well as is a complete protein which includes all nine essential amino acids and is especially high in lysine, an essential amino acid that aids in tissue growth and repair. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus.

Quick to prepare, quinoa has a slightly nutty taste and can be used in a variety of dishes. I often use quinoa in place of rice and meat in quick, healthy veggie stir fries and use the leftovers the following day to make stuffed peppers. I love two-for-one dishes.

Do you have any food sensitivities? If so, what do you use to substitute for those foods?

Seasonal stuffed peppers

Serves 4

Preheat oven to 375 F

1 cup quinoa
1.5 cups vegetable stock
1T extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion
4 bell peppers
2 ears yellow corn
2 tomatoes
1/4 cup parsley
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 lemon
2T parmesean cheese (optional)


Place one cup quinoa into a sauce pan along with one cup of water and one cup of vegetable stock. The vegetable stock is completely optional, but helps to really bring out the richness in the quinoa. Bring to a boil then drop to a simmer with the lid on for 25 minutes. As cook times vary, please note that the quinoa is done when all the liquid is absorbed and the spiral-like germ has separated from the grain. When cooked, set aside. You will later add the vegetable mixture to the quinoa to stuff the peppers with.

When I’m in the kitchen, I like to work as I go, hence the following instructions below. However, if you are new to cooking or just prefer a more mellow approach, prepping all the ingredients beforehand works fine too!

Heat 1T extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. While the pan is heating, dice the red onion, split & seed the bell peppers lengthwise and dice the removed tops. Saute the onion and peppers over medium heat along with the oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes for about 5 minutes. Now, slice the corn off the cob and add to the saute pan. This is easily done by removing a small portion of the end, essentially making a top to balance on while you slice. Continue cooking over medium heat for a few minutes while you slice the tomatoes and chop the parsley. Add the tomatoes along with remaining 1/2 cup of stock to the pan and simmer until the liquid is half absorbed.

You will want a small amount of liquid to keep the stuffing mixture moist. Turn off the heat, add the parsley and juice from half a lemon. Mix the vegetables into the quinoa and gently stuff each pepper, mounding the mixture on top. If you like, top the peppers with parmesean cheese. The cheese will add a lovely texture and an added layer of flavor to your peppers.

Bake in an oven safe dish at 375 F for 30 minutes.


Photo credit: Erik & Maryann Smitt

Recipe note: you most likely will have some of the mixture left over. This makes a healthy light lunch or side dish for dinner another evening.

Lentil Soup with Kale

With school back in session and cool, foggy nights becoming the norm around my neighborhood, quick, satisfying recipes are now in order. My delicious lentil soup with kale features easily accessible ingredients (all from my local Trader Joe’s), hits the dinner table in around 30 minutes (yep, that fast!), and, if you’re not opposed to leftovers, makes a satisfying school lunch for the next day. While the soup is simmering away, a quick green salad can easily be tossed together or toast a hearty slice of whole wheat bread to round out the meal.

Tip! Lentils, part of the legume family, pack a mighty nutritional punch! Lentils are high in fiber which help to sustain blood sugar levels as well as do an excellent job of filling you up. Lentils may also lower cholesterol, provide an excellent source of protein, and are low in fat and calories. If you haven’t already, give these yummy legumes a shot, you know you want to!

What are some of your favorite quick and healthy recipes?

Lentil Soup with Kale

Serves 4

2T extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
pinch hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (no salt added)
2 cups pre-cooked lentils
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock (low sodium)
a few generous handfuls of kale
1T red wine vinegar (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. While the oil is heating, dice the yellow onion, carrots, and celery, taking care to dice the vegetables about the same size to ensure even cooking. Add the diced vegetables along with 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of hot red pepper flakes (these are optional) to the pre-heated soup pot. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After 5 minutes, add the canned tomatoes, along with the juice, and simmer over medium heat for another 5 minutes, allowing the vegetables to further soften and the flavors to develop. Next, stir in 2 cups of lentils and 2 1/2 cups of vegetable stock. Now, bring the soup up to a boil and drop to a simmer. After the soup has simmered for 15 minutes, stir in 3 good sized handfuls of kale.

Allow the soup to simmer for another 5 minutes or until ready to serve. Before serving, adjust the seasoning. I like to add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar to the soup here to brighten up the flavors a bit as well as a tiny sprinkle of parmesean cheese on top. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Erik & Maryann Smitt

Labor Day Weekend easy & delicious grill recipes!

I’m a big fan of chicken and often joke with my husband I should write a cookbook with the myriad of recipes I have come up with over the years. This bird is my go-to protein much of the week for its ease of preparation and seemingly endless recipe possibilities. In my grilled chicken recipe, meyer lemons and a variety of fresh herbs mingle together creating a light, fresh marinade, resulting in a juicy bird with a crisp, succulent skin (if you so choose to indulge). I’ve also included a bonus recipe for my grilled peach and avocado salad. This lovely salad makes a great first course or easily works as a light lunch or dinner. Fresh peaches (at least in northern California) should be available at farmers markets through late September.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Maryann’s Grilled Chicken

Serves 4


1 whole bone-in organic cut-up chicken
1 small bunch each rosemary, sage, & thyme, plus additional for garnish
3 meyer lemons, plus additional for garnish
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1T kosher salt
1T fresh ground pepper


Place chicken into a large ziplock bag. Mince rosemary, sage and thyme as well as zest and juice 3 meyer lemons. Place the herbs, lemon zest and juice into the ziplock bag along with 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, and 1 tablespoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Allow to the chicken to marinade for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours, in the meat drawer or coolest, lowest shelf of the refrigerator.

Heat a gas grill to high heat. After the grill is heated to temperature, place the chicken on the grill, cover and turn down heat to low. Grill the chicken on each side for 10 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F for 15 seconds (off the heat). Allow the chicken to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Please note: I do allow chicken to come up to room temperature for about 15-30 minutes before grilling as I believe doing so results in a juicier bird. However, please use your best judgment here. If you are serving any person who may be immunocompromised, children, or the elderly, use caution.

Grilled Peach and Avocado Salad

Serves 4


2 fresh peaches
2 ripe Haas avocados
5 ounce baby spring mix
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper


Wash lettuce, set aside and allow to dry (I like to use a salad spinner which makes quick work of this step). Heat a gas grill or grill pan to medium heat. Wash fresh peaches and halve, removing pits. Rub the entire peach with extra virgin olive oil and place flesh side down onto the grill. Cook with grill open for 2 minutes each side, finishing with an additional minute, flesh side down. While peaches are cooling, slice avocados, carefully remove flesh, dice and place on top of salad greens. Dice peaches when cool and place on top of salad greens and avocados. Sprinkle the salad with extra virgin olive oil (about 2 – 3 swirls of the salad bowl), balsamic vinegar (about 1 – 2 tablespoons). Add kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Toss together and serve.

Please note: The extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper can all be adjusted to suit your taste.  Flavored balsamic vinegar also works well with this salad. I like to use a blackberry balsamic I discovered recently with my mother-in-law, Mia, at a local wine festival.


Photo credit: Erik & Maryann Smitt

Please feel free to use photos and recipes from my site, but, please be kind enough to link back to ground happiness as your source.