I’m a News Junkie, a Lather Addict & Cauliflower Tastes Like Chicken: Lessons Learned Week Two

Lessons Learned after Week Two of Upgrade Challenge
Lesson #1: Once you start reading the news it is awfully hard to stop.
It’s official, I’m a news junkie. Politics, economics, and current affairs – I read it all. I’ve become obsessed with my TIME magazines, my VICE online media, my daily media brief from theSkimm and my tried and true shows like Colbert Report & The Daily Show (yes, even with Stewart away, Oliver is holding down the fort nicely). So here are my recommendations for some awesome media sites:
• When you want to Skim:

I highly recommend signing up for the daily email blast from theSkimm. It gives you some nice, concise national and world headlines each day with plenty of links to investigate further into stories of interest.
• To detect a Vice:

With video titles like, “The Icelandic Skin-Disease Mushroom Fashion Fiasco” and “Fresh Off the Boat: Back in Taiwan” this investigative journalism meets online media meets pushing every boundary they can find website has become a favorite of mine. Every video introduces me in great detail to people and cultures and cities and events I have very little exposure to in my thoroughly easy, first world, Midwest American life – and I can’t get enough.

Lesson #2: Shampooing your hair can feel like heaven.
I endeavored for a full two weeks using the no-poo method of maintaining my mane. I washed less often and when I did deem it was time to purge the grease from my scalp I would use a mixture of baking soda and water to do the deed. Here are some of my reflections regarding the ‘no-poo’ method.
I like suds. I shampooed and conditioned this morning and it was like heaven to my hair. Do I need to wash my hair as often as I did in the past – absolutely not, this is a lesson learned. But when it comes time to lather, rinse and repeat between the smell of my shampoo and the silky feeling left by my conditioner it is akin to getting a pedicure or a massage – exhilarating and feels like a special treat.
I’m into the no-poo. I realize this statement might seem confusing considering I JUST professed my lusty relationship with shampooing my hair, but I’ve really learned a lot about my hair maintenance requirements during this journey. I don’t really need to shampoo as often as I had and even more so, taking showers almost daily really was doing some damage to my locks. I tend to work up a pretty dominating sweat everyday which is why in the past my desire to jump into the shower and rinse away the sweat from my head was so important. But I’ve learned some tricks of the trade which have assisted me in prolonging a necessary shower. One trick is using the dry shampoo on days when I haven’t sweated quite as much – would never work after a spin class. Another tip has become a ritual for me in the evenings. I purchased a bamboo/boar’s hair brush and brush through my dry hair in the evening. The brush redistributes the sebum from my scalp into the rest of my hair which I found really did help with keeping my scalp from becoming too greasy or the ends of my hair from becoming too dry. Sebum can keep your hair and skin supple (thanks wiki), by brushing you’re kind of helping your skin regulate the amount your scalp produces.
I love my hair! This process has been a victory for my overall appreciation of my hair. I’ve found a nice balance of keeping my scalp clean and healthy and toxin free while also giving myself some maintenance grace. I do love my curling irons and straighteners, but I have embraced my naturally wavy locks and there is definitely a time and a place when I can rock the wave – hello sunny weekends in the pool.
Now the fun begins. I’ve decided to make my own shampoo for the days in between my need for suds. On days when I just need to lather I’m currently shopping non-toxic, chemical free possibilities and I’m open to suggestions for anyone in the know! I’d also prefer they be vegan – something like the Unite brand my salon uses.  The first shampoo recipe I’m going to make is made of coconut milk (you can buy it organic in a can) and aloe vera gel. You blend the two and pour into ice cube trays and then freeze. You can pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag to have on hand when you’re ready to cleanse. I’ll report back on my results. I didn’t have many issues with an oily head while I was doing no-poo, instead my biggest struggle was really with how the baking soda mixture dried out my ends even when using ACV to provide some conditioning. I’m hoping this new shampoo option will keep the oil production on my scalp regulated without stripping my hair.

Lesson #3: The phrase, “it tastes like chicken” can even apply to cauliflower.

Crispy Cauliflower 5
I tried to get creative with one of my vegan recipes this week and was able to create a remarkably similar crispy, orange chicken recipe using cauliflower instead of chicken.  So the cauliflower still has its unique flavor, but when it softens a bit as you fry it in the batter and add the orange sauce with a kick it’s really the next best thing. Not to mention the added pleasure of knowing you are enjoying eating your veggies. You can read all about this recipe here and see photos too!


Crispy Cauliflower & Spicy-Orange Stir-fry

Crispy Cauliflower 5


In the past one of my favorite Chinese dishes was orange chicken. I love the battered and fried chicken soaking in a sweet, orange sauce. While I’ve been flirting with vegan dishes I have successfully taken some of my favorite meat dishes and created a delicious, vegan substitutes. Tonight’s recipe just be might be my  tastiest accomplishment to date.

This recipe I found on Pinterest inspired my creation, although I adapted the sauce to accommodate my spicier palate. 🙂

Crispy Cauliflower 1

Battered and fried cauliflower

To make batter soak 1 T ground flaxseed and 2 T water until it thickens, then whisk in 1/3 c water and 1/3 cornstarch and 1/4 c gluten free flour. Cut up a head of cauliflower into bite size pieces and dip into batter mixture. Drop the batter-covered cauliflower into a skillet with about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of hot oil. Fry until it is a golden brown and place to drain on paper towels.

Heat up 1 T of garlic with 1 tsp coconut oil in a clean skillet. Add in the juice from half an orange and chopped up orange pulp with 6-7 chopped green onions, 2 T rice vinegar & 2 T tamari.

Crispy Cauliflower 3

Spicy-Orange Sauce

Crispy Cauliflower 2

Add in 1-2 T ground ginger and 1-2 T chili paste. After the sauce starts to thicken and heat up put the cauliflower back into the skillet to soak up the sauce.

Crispy Cauliflower 4

Crispy Cauliflower in Spicy-Orange Sauce

I served up my spicy orange crispy cauliflower onto some cooked quinoa, which made it even more delicious! I cooked some pea pods, broccoli, carrots and red sweet peppers in some coconut oil to add some extra veggies to this dish as well.The real secret to making this dish rock is a second sauce creation to drizzle over the finished product right before consuming. For this sauce squeeze out the juice of the other half of an orange and whisk with 2 T ground ginger, 2 T chili paste, 1 T agave nectar, 1 tsp sesame oil, 2 T tamari and 1-2 tsp corn starch. Heat the sauce in the skillet just enough to thicken it up and drizzle over the cauliflower pieces and then top with sesame seeds and freshly topped green onions. It’s the perfect finishing touch!

Crispy Cauliflower 5

Spin Class Aversion, Stuffed Crust Pizza, and North Korea: Lessons Learned after My First Week on the Upgrade Challenge

Who has two thumbs and loves to run? This girl!

Who has two thumbs and loves to run? This girl!

Lesson #1: You can run, but you can’t hide…from spin class

I’m a runner at heart, I’ve successfully finished a full marathon and ran in several half marathons. I like to do speed and incline workouts on the treadmill and go for long runs over the weekend. A few years back I competed in some sprint triathlons. The run was always my best event, my worst was… the bike. Now I have to say when I competed in my second sprint triathlon and medaled third in my age group it felt really good. I had conquered a personal time goal and had survived (definitely not dominated) the bike ride with an old, borrowed road bike. I started to attend a spin fusion class in order to improve my bike performance. Spin fusion was a great bridge for me into the biking world. We ride hard up hills or have sprints and jumps for two or three songs and then spend time off the bike planking, doing push-ups or whatever else one of my favorite fitness class instructors can come up with (yes I’m talking about you Robbie Nartey). I stopped attending the spin fusion class about a year ago. I don’t know if it was my inability to get to the class on time or the treadmill calling my name, but I slowly just started running again instead of riding. but this week it was time to get back in the saddle. Wednesday night I set my alarm an extra 15 minutes early to make sure I got up in enough time to make it back to spin fusion. I had a goal this week to get outside of my workout box, or in my case get off of the hamster track, and I decided for week one spin fusion would be a great class to ease into. The alarm went off, I snoozed. It went off again, I got up and took my sweet time packing my gym bag as I played the mental justification game trying to decide if going for a run that morning would really be that big of a deal. By the time I got to my car I was running 5 minutes late, but determined to go to spin fusion. I walked into the class facing a new instructor and running late. I hopped on the bike, strapped in and was about two songs in when I started watching the clock. A 45 minute class, I had shown up 5 minutes late…yay, it was really only going to be 40 minutes! These are the kind of mind games I play with myself during a workout. About halfway through the third song I could tell this instructor was going to push us hard and I dug in, welcoming the external motivation. Running is such an internal sport, when I’m on the asphalt running around my neighborhood no one would be the wiser if I skip a block or two to get home a bit faster. But in the spin room there’s no mercy, and as much as my hamstrings or quads are on fire I’m an obedient trainee – you tell me to keep it at 120 mph or an 18 and I’ll do it. Just when I thought I could take a bit of a breath of fresh air, ready for our 3 minute time off the bike and out of the saddle the instructor looked right at me. “We decided to change up the class and stay on the bike the whole time, that’s okay right?” She must have seen my desperate glances at the clock wondering when we would get some reprieve. I gave a confident smile/smirk and a “yeah, of course” as if this is what I had wanted all along. I had never actually taken a spin class for the full 45 minutes before and I either had to strap in for the long haul or attempt to fake a cramp and run for the treadmills. My pride wouldn’t let me get off the bike, but I’m glad I didn’t. The class was brutally satisfying. I felt accomplished afterwards with a great appreciation toward people who attend their own spin classes as religiously as my feet hit pavement. It was a great start to my new workout experience challenge and even though I paid for it the entire weekend in sore and tender leg muscles it was worth it!

Lesson #2: Everyone has a soft spot for beer and Little Caesar’s pizza (with cheese stuffed in the crust).
I really enjoyed eating my raw and vegan meals throughout most of the week, but about midway through the week my roommate and I shared some slices of the cheesy pizza!, pizza! and it was delicious. When it comes to raw meals my go-to recipes are salads.  Yeah, I know, those aren’t really recipes are they? Usually I end up mixing up a bit of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, tamari and agave nectar to create the perfect dressing to add to my salads. Although by Friday I was getting bored with salads and in an effort to avoid splurging on the leftover pizza!, pizza! I whipped up some nori rolls full of freshly chopped veggies. It’s a very simple recipe: I sliced up red and green peppers, cucumbers, avocadoes, broccoli, carrots, and cabbage and piled them into a nori wrapper with mung bean sprouts. I finished it off by sprinkling some sesame seeds before rolling it up. I made an almond dipping sauce for the rolls which was made of some raw almonds blended with a bit of ginger, apple cider vinegar, agave nectar, tamari and crushed red pepper to add some much needed heat. (I’m disappointed with the photo quality of my nori roll, but just maybe I’ll learn my lesson and break down and buy an actual camera). These little suckers were incredibly tasty and I had some leftover veggies so I wrapped them up in rice paper and noshed on veggie spring rolls over the weekend too. Using the rice paper means the meal is not exactly raw – but it is gluten free and vegan and an incredibly easy and delicious meal so it’s a win, win, win in my book!

Nori roll

Lesson #3: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, this was true even for North Korea’s deceased Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.
In an effort to expand my world view I’ve been delving into articles in TIME. One of the articles I read this past week was about the Japanese sushi chef and Dear Leader confidante, who goes by the alias Fujimoto. Prior to reading this article my limited knowledge of North Korea and specifically Kim Jong-il primarily came from pop culture, including the comedic portrayal of him in the popular and inappropriate movie Team America. I had heard stories of his eccentricities and this article was fascinating because the story came from someone who served him personally for eleven years. This chef has revealed many facts previously unknown including the actual birthday of the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, he’s a mere 30 years old. The story is a short, but personal look at a man whose assertive and boisterous personality led to a unique friendship with Kim Jong-il. Friendship might be reaching; perhaps relationship is a better way to describe it as friendship implies they were on even terms. Its heart rendering when it alludes to the human rights atrocities completely overlooked by the “dear leader” and his entourage of weak people happy to live in forced ignorance celebrating an ostentatious lifestyle. It is just as troubling when it becomes evident this Japanese sushi chef is still lost in this troubling world. For anyone interested you can find the article on GQ’s website. As so often happens for me reading this article has made me want to research and delve deeper into North Korean culture and life. I’ve had friends recommend the Vice Guide to North Korea and I’ll be watching that three part series sometime this week, so I’ll hopefully have more to share next week.

Four Week Upgrade Challenge: Mind & Soul

I’ve decided to put the mind and soul explanation together because in general these goals are a lot less complex from the body section. When it comes to upgrading my mind I have two ways I’d like to expand my knowledge. I want to do a better job of keeping up with global news, and no I’m not talking about becoming a member of the Royal Baby Watch journalism team. My goals are to educate myself more on current affairs and to challenge my beliefs by reading books or watching documentaries which push the status quo.

Upgrade Mind Challenge – this section involves three different categories which relate to mind: Current Affairs, Books & Documentaries
Week 1: Read 1-2 news articles on any topics relating to current affairs, watch 1-2 documentaries relating to a new topic or one I have less knowledge about.
Week 2: Read 2-3 news articles on any topics relating to current affairs, watch 2-3 documentaries relating to a new topic or one I have less knowledge about.
Week 3: Read 3-4 news articles on any topics relating to current affairs, watch 3-4 documentaries relating to a new topic or one I have less knowledge about.
Week 4: Read 4-5 news articles on any topics relating to current affairs, watch 4-5 documentaries relating to a new topic or one I have less knowledge about.

I think journaling and giving of your time or things are really good for your soul. In this part of the challenge I want to take the time to tell people how important they are to me and find ways to try to give to others because I know I am so richly blessed. I was inspired to be intentional about donating things when reading the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.
Upgrade Soul Challenge – this section involves two different categories which relate to soul: doing for self and doing for others
Week 1: Journal for 3-4 days, write 1-2 thank you notes, go through my cabinets for items to donate.
Week 2: Journal for 4-5 days, write 2-3 thank you notes, go through my closet for items to donate.
Week 3: Journal 5-6 days, write 3-4 thank you notes, find an event to volunteer for and go through my drawers and bookshelf for items to donate.
Week 4: Journal 6-7 days, write 4-5 thank you notes, find an event to volunteer for and go through storage for items to donate.
Have you ever taken on the challenge to write thank you notes or volunteer more? Any tips for how I should go about finding a need in my community? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Four Week Body Upkeep Challenge: No-poo & dry brushing explained

I’m in the middle of the first week of my personal mind, body & spirit upgrade challenge. This first week has been pretty breezy so far, which was kind of what I had intended. I made most of my challenges progress to be harder as each week passed so when setting up my first week I chose goals which were already commonplace for me. In this blog I’m going to explain why I included no-poo and dry brushing in my Upkeep challenge.

NO-POO – I should start by saying the ‘no-poo’ phrase has nothing to do with your bodily functions, much to everyone’s relief right? No-poo has become more popular over the past few years in the natural/organic bloggersphere and after reading this article and this one my curiosity was piqued. People try the no-poo for several reasons, I’ve listed some of my own below. The basic idea is to stop shampooing and conditioning your hair – which does NOT mean you stop showering albeit you do shower a bit less often :). I like to workout in the morning so I think the biggest challenge for me will be resisting the urge to use the free shampoo and conditioner provided at the Fitness Center where I work. My lovely friend Betsy has been using the no-poo method for several weeks now and she brings her own bottled baking soda and apple cider vinegar (from here on referred to as ACV because I’m too lazy to type it again) to mix with water when she’s ready to shower. She’s brilliant and I’m going to be stealing her idea! Day 2 of my challenge I had already scheduled a haircut so my hair was shampooed there which means I will probably won’t be washing my hair (even with the baking soda mixture) for several days. I’m excited to get this started and even try some new shampoo and conditioning recipes I recently posted on my pinterest board! Doesn’t the Coconut Milk Shampoo sound divine?

* It’s cheaper than standard shampoos/conditioners * I want to use products more natural on my hair * Using natural products is better for the environment * It can conserve water which is also better for the environment * It can reduce scalp irritation and produce a natural shine *

My sweet friend Betsy taught me all she knows about experimenting with no-poo

My sweet friend Betsy taught me all she knows about experimenting with no-poo

DRY BRUSHING – I first read about dry brushing when reading Kris Carr’s book Crazy Sexy Diet. I’ve mentioned this book several times on my blog and if you’re interested in the reasons why I have chose this particular path to healthy living you should buy yourself a copy or checked it out from the library! Dry brushing boasts many benefits for your skin, as I’ve outlined below, and it is incredibly simple to do. You start with a body brush – there are several varieties available in almost any drugstore. Many will be labeled as wet or dry body brushes. Choose one in which the bristles are not synthetic and have a softness about them. You can control the amount of pressure put onto your skin as well, the idea is it shouldn’t lead to skin irritation but circulation.  You should brush your body in long sweeps towards your heart, I use some circular motions when I’m getting rougher areas (like my elbows), but the lymphatic system benefits stem from brushing towards your heart. I usually dry brush in the morning before my shower or at night before bed. If I do it at night I usually try to apply a moisturizer, like coconut oil, on the rough patches a few minutes after the dry brushing.

* It promotes tighter skin and can reduce cellulite * It sloughs away dry skin, improving skin texture and feel * It can increase cell renewal and blood flow * It helps your lymphatic system release toxins aiding in digestion & kidney function  *

Has anyone else tried dry brushing or a no-poo experiment? I love hearing what you think about your own missions to improve your life and your health!

Four Week Upgrade Challenge: Body, Mind & Soul – Part 1 Body

In the words of Beyoncé, ‘lemme upgrade you’. It’s time to upgrade and eliminate – but in a manageable progression. I’m sure everyone has heard you can make or break a habit by doing it again and again over an extended period time, i.e. 21 days, 30 days or 4 weeks. The science out there is usually based on experiences rather than clinical experiments, but we all know someone who started getting up early for 3 weeks straight and now, “it’s just habit”. In the spirit of this thought and the idea that practice might make perfect I’ve created a four week challenge for myself that will cover three different aspects of my life which I’d like to upgrade. Read more about creating and breaking habits here, I found the article very intriguing.
This first post is going to cover the Body part of this challenge. I started this challenge yesterday so I’ll be posting my progress as I go!

Upgrade Body Challenge – this section involves three different categories which relate to body: Diet, Exercise & Upkeep

Diet – I’ve broken down my eating challenges to progress as the weeks pass. My goals include cutting back on dairy, gluten, alcohol and increasing the amount of raw meals I eat each week. My challenges each week are broken down like this:

Week 1: Only consume dairy & gluten 3-4 days. Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks for 4-5 meals. Prepare 2-3 raw meals for lunch or dinner.

Week 2: Only consume dairy & gluten 2-3 days. Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks for 3-4 meals. Prepare 3-4 raw meals for lunch or dinner.

Week 3: Only consume dairy & gluten 1-2 days. Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks for 2-3 meals. Prepare 4-5 raw meals for lunch or dinner.

Week 4: Only consume dairy & gluten 1 day. Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks for 1-2 meals. Prepare 5-6 raw meals for lunch or dinner.

I’m really interested to see how my body will react to this slower progression of eliminating some of these foods from my diet. I don’t consider myself a big dairy or gluten consumer, but I am interested to see how hard it is for me to get through week three and four. I have done elimination diets which were much stricter and I do find eliminating dairy and gluten from my diet leads to a flatter stomach and less problems with stomach cramps and bloating. I’m never going to be able to keep away from bread and cheese forever, but I am willing to upgrade my eating habits and enjoy it less often. When I do eat it, it is going to be as close to the farm or as fresh from the oven as I can find. I’ll pay a bit more, but since I’ll be eating it less often the expense should even out.

Exercise – I’ve always loved to be active, I am an avid runner and an amateur swimmer and weight lifter. I enjoy yoga, pilates and spin classes and really think when it comes to exercising variety is the spice of life! My goals include getting a proper sweat and keeping my body toned while keeping a little jolt of something new into my exercise routine. I also have had a goal I’ve been working on for a while to be able to do the splits and so I’m including my split stretches in the challenge to keep myself on point. Over the entire challenge I’ll be doing some sort of exercise at least 5 days a week, reserving the 6th day for at least Yoga or Pilates workout.

Week 1: Exercise 5 days. 1 day swim or spin. 1 day yoga or pilates. Split stretches 4-5 days. Full body weights 2 days.

Week 2: Exercise 5-6 days. 2 days swim or spin. Yoga or Pilates 2 days. Split stretches 5-6 days. Full body weights 2-3 days. Try a new workout class.

Week 3: Exercise 6 days. Swim and spin 2-3 days. Yoga and Pilates 2 days. Split stretches 6-7 days. Full body weights 3-4 days. Try a new yoga class.

Week 4: Exercise 7 days (one day is light yoga or Pilates). Swim and spin 2-3 days. Yoga and Pilates 2 days. Split stretches 7 days. Full body weights 4 days. Try 2 new classes.

In general my goal is to make sure I do get my heart rate going at least once everyday, even if it is a gentle stretch yoga class or online video. Also, I want to incorporate more swimming or spinning into my routine and this challenge will keep me in the water or on the bike. Don’t get me wrong I love the pavement and running is always my go to, but this will be a nice change.

Upkeep – My love for life means I intend to live a long and healthy one. Which means I have to take care of myself and taking care of my outside is what this section is all about. My goals in this section are to be diligent with dry brushing, taking care of my skin and avoiding products which contain toxins that could be harmful to your body. Also – always wearing sunscreen! Throughout the blog posts I’ll get into more detail about dry brushing, no-poo project and cleaning out my cabinets of toxic products. Since I had already started to adapt these practices into my daily routine I’m not going to progress into these habits, but instead set them for the entire 4-week period.                                                                                                                                                                                                            4 Week challenge: Sunscreen every morning and before going out in the afternoon. Dry body brush and moisturize every night. Begin the no-poo project in lieu of shampooing my hair. Once a week do the coffee scrub detox. Purge all products which score above a 2 on the EWG Skin Deep website.

So I’m on day 2 of week 1 so there’s not really much to report just yet, this weekend I’ll have successes and road blocks to share I’m sure. Tomorrow I’ll blog about how I’m challenging my Mind in this three part upgrade 🙂 . Have you ever challenged yourself to make or break some habits? I’d love to hear what helped and what to avoid as I venture into this journey!

My very best,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     J’aime