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Yoga Teacher's Tips for a Strong Core: Let Your Belly Be

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At the age of 30, I am proud to say that I have a stronger, more stable, supportive core than I ever have before. Despite a major back injury this past year and moderate skeletal scoliosis, I began to sense a strong increase in core strength about 6 months ago when I started incorporating the tips that follow into my personal practice.

Now, I want to first note that a strong core does absolutely, under any circumstances mean a glistening six pack. First of all, many of us are not even genetically capable of achieving such physical results, despite a super low body fat percentage. I am one of these people, now I am not at my leanest now, but even when I am the best I can get is a faint line down my middle when I flex super hard and some superficial definition around my hip bones and ribs. That’s it - I used to do TONS of concentrated core work with barely any visible results but I did not have a full understanding of what I was doing and HOW I was doing it.

When I talk about a strong core - I truly mean your “core” - the deep, internal muscles that wrap around your spine and those that hold your digestive/reproductive organs in place. I do not mean the superficial look of your abs but rather the FUNCTIONAL strength, stability, mobility and flexibility that helps to protect your spine, correct your posture, and deepen your connection to your body. To me, your core is more of an action rather than a thing. The breathing, twisting, turning, gripping, releasing that happens in this part of the body - together these actions quite literally form your center. It is the point from which most movement begins - including everything from sitting comfortably to holding a killer handstand. 

Okay, enough already! Want to know my secrets? Stay tuned for the last tip - it will blow your mind!

Without too much more rambling, here are my top tips to increase your core strength so that you can feel stronger, fitter and more balanced in your body. 

  • before beginning any type of exercise, start with 3-5 minutes of core work (after warming up). I do this in each and every yoga class I teach (I demo along with my students). I think it has made the BIGGEST difference for both my students and myself because when we warm up your core BEFORE the rest of a workout, we become connected to those muscle groups and tend to engage them more throughout the rest of our time moving our bodies. This applies to any and all physical movement, not just yoga, and it’s a total game changer!!! 

  • When doing core work remember to BREATHE! It’s so easy to hold the breath in core work but it can be such a detriment and actually it can begin to take the “work” out of it. The general rule is to exhale when it’s “hard” and inhale when it’s “easy”. When you exhale, think about drawing your navel toward your spine. In my classes, I start with the breath first and then connect that to core movement and that seems to work well. Complete a few deep rounds of breath - feeling your belly rise and fall (as well as your back and side body expand) before beginning. 

  • To expand on the point above, start your core work with SLOW, small, subtle movements that are deeply INTENTIONAL and then build from there. Moving to fast too quick can cause low back injury and again, take the “work” out of your ‘core work’. Focus on truly feeeeeeeeling your way through the inhale and the exhales - squeeeezing and releasing your core through each and every movement. To take this further, you can hooooollldddd at the top of your inhale or bottom of your exhale as you deepen the movement just a teensy bit more.

  • As I said above, your core is not just located at the front of your body around your belly button, it is like a corset that wraps around your entire center, cinching and holding all of your valuable inner organs and spinal column - it’s a complex muscle group that needs 360* attention. When doing core (aka ALL) exercises don’t focus only on your abdominal wall,  pay attention to your obliques, your back body AND the base of your pelvis (for my yogis your MulaBanda) in addition to pulling your navel to your spine, energetically lift your pelvis up towards your belly for full core engagement. 

  • ALL body work is core work! Whether you are in your standing yoga poses, on the beach for a run, or sitting in a chair at the office- you have the opportunity to strengthen your core - when standing or even sitting, think about drawing your frontal hip points up towards your rib cage and then knit your ribs together while lifting your pelvic floor up and pulling your navel back - this will drop your tail bone down, release extra strain in the hip flexors and keep your spine supported. Of course it can become tedious to constantly remind yourself to this bit as you continue to strengthen, it becomes second nature 

  • Stretching your core is just as important as strengthening it. Stretch and strength are intrinsically linked - you can’t have one without the other. Make sure you are taking enough time to lengthen out the muscles around your belly, your spine and your sides

  • And finally....you’re not going to believe this one...(but I think it’s made a huge difference for me), is to LET YOUR BELLY BE SOFT MOST OF THE TIME. Think of your entire core as a ballon - it is meant to inflate and deflate - it digests our food, holds your guts in place, and if you’re female it can house our most sacred reproductive organs. If we never ever relax our stomach, if we are constantly “sucking in” our “pooch”, then we aren’t honoring our bodies and therefore creating resistance. Our bellies store fat and are naturally soft on purpose - a soft, expansive, and fully LOVED belly area will only help to deepen your connection to that part of you and help, in time to strengthen your core. Honor the the balance between your rigidity and your ability to remain open. I do not mean this as a threat but it is true - you can’t have strength if you do not also soften. Explore your belly with hands as you breathe - and accept it for all it is- it’s perfect and wonderfully yours. It is already strong, it does so much for you all day long.

Want to hear me talk more about your core while actually doing the work? Check out my most up-to-date teaching schedule here.

 

LOVE THROUGH YOGA, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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Adaptogenic Iced Matcha Latte

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I am not always a trend follower when it comes to all the fancy powders and potions in the world of wellness but as someone who has been looking for a less filling but sustaining breakfast to suit my get-up-and-go lifestyle of late (a-la bulletproof coffee) I decided to jump on the super-food fortified beverage bandwagon.

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This creamy, earthy, sustaining iced matcha latte is packed with all the things that make me feel my best plus a few new additions that I am still experimenting with. I love it because if I drink it in the morning before I run off to teach yoga it keeps me full and full of energy well after class without weighing me down (and if you practice hot yoga, you know how important that is). As always I encourage you to make this recipe your own - if you don't have all the superfoods I list below use what you have, what you know makes you feel your best, or heck, skip them all together - because as I say, " all plant foods are superfoods.".

Here's what I've got goin' on:

Matcha Green Tea Powder: Clean caffeine and rich in antioxidants. Unlike coffee, the energy you get from matcha is a slow build rather than a buzz. In my own personal experience I do feel better after drinking high quality matcha vs. coffee; it feels more "natural" and less intense.

TBH, matcha was never my favorite flavor but I've been enjoying baking with it lately (check out my matcha tea cake and matcha pancakes) so I decided to try my darnedest to make a delicious drink - and I hit it out of the park with this, if I do say so myself. I am not sure how lovely this would taste hot but I really enjoy it as a cold beverage.

MTC or Coconut Oil: MTC or medium-chain triglycerides is a type of fatty-acid most commonly found in coconut oil that helps to sustain energy and control hunger. Now, if you follow my blog you'll know I am not a huge fan of processed/refined foods - and yea, if you didn't know, oils are just that! I was interested in experimenting with MTC oil as I work to balance my hormones due to some long term symptoms I've been experiencing - more on that in a future post - but I do love how rich and creamy the oil makes this drink plus it adds a hit of calories which is what helps to keep me full. Due to the link between oils like this and certain popular means of weight loss I do want to say: I think the 'keto' diet  is absolutely absurd - you can't restrict an entire macronutrient group and expect to gain any long term benefits. Just eat real food. 

Ashwagandha Powder: This was another thing I incorporated into my diet in an attempt to balance out my hormones and reduce my bodies reactions to stress. It is relatively flavorless so it doesn't add anything there but I do love it's supposed benefits which include...

  • Supports a healthy immune system*1, 2
  • Calms mental processes*2
  • Fosters healthy sleep patterns*1
  • Benefits a healthy reproductive system in both males and females*3, 4
  • Supports sustained energy levels, strength, and vitality, including with physical activity*
  • Supports a healthy back and joints*3
  • Promotes thyroid health*
  • Promotes healthy functioning of the adrenals*

*info from Banyan botanicals

My personal jury is still out on if ashwagandha is helping any or if it's more of a placebo but with roots in ayruveda (a yogi's healthcare system of choice) I like to think it is.

Maca Powder: The yin to ashwagandha's yang. It's an adaptogen meaning it can help the body naturally adapt to stressors like a busy schedule, demanding job or illness. This root like vegetable in powder form is one of the most popular superfoods around and it's no wonder why with benefits like enhanced energy, mood, memory and it's help in boosting female and male sex hormones.

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As noted above, please take away or add anything you feel would make this latte something that feels good in your body - there's plenty of adaptogenic powders and superfood potions out there now and a recipe like this is a great way to experiment with them to see how/if they benefit you!


Makes: One 16oz. serving (or two 8oz. servings) • Prep Time: 5 minutes


Ingredients

  • 14-16 oz. unsweetened plant based milk (I used almond)
  • 1.5 tsp. ceremonial grade matcha powder
  • 1 tsp. MTC oil or coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp. ashwaganda powder (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. maca powder (optional)
  • Sweetener to taste (I used a bit of liquid stevia but maple syrup or agave are both great additions)
  • Dash of cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom or adaptogenic superfood powder (optional)
  • 4-6 ice cubes

Pro-Tip: For a slightly less filling beverage, you can cut the amount of plant based milk in half and sub water - the result will be slightly less creamy but still delicious.


Combine all of the ingredients in a blender, except for the ice and combine on high until well combined and frothy - apx. 30 seconds. 

Add ice cubes to a glass and pour your latte over- you should have a nice layer of foam at the top. Enjoy slowly!

 

LOVE THROUGH FOOD, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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Sage and White Bean Spring Detox Soup

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Sage and White Bean Spring Detox Soup

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I am SO excited to share this soup recipe with you! Of course we can feel run down and sluggish in winter but people sometimes forget that spring, and all the change it brings, can require a little detox of its own. Primarily, I like to detox with whole-plant foods. They get me feeling on track and fully vibrant. This time of year I like to start eating more uncooked fruit and veg but I also still crave warm, nourishing dinners - if you are like me, then this soup is for you!

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 I took a lot of time researching and selecting each and every ingredient in here to make sure I was selecting ingredients that aid in detox, reduced inflammation and increased nutritional diversity. I also wanted to make sure the flavors and textures matched the energy of the season. This soup is light & bright but still creamy (due to a technique I mention below) and comforting. 

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The recipe does take more time than my usual in-and-out style of cooking but it's worth it. Think of the process of making this soup as a devotion to yourself and the ones you love - or perhaps even the season itself. Take the time to move through this process slowly and make it from scratch (aka soak the beans) - as everyone knows, it makes all the difference when you put love into it. To make it worth your while, this recipe does yield a fairly large amount of soup - so be sure to share some with friends. Everyone I shared it with reported feeling full, nourished and light after eating. 

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In my posts I love to take the time to fill your brains with a little nutritional factoids and I could go on forever with this one. I think every ingredient plays a role in the healing power of this recipe but here are my key players:

White Beans: Aside from acting as a base and thickener for the soup, white beans are rich protein source (8g per 1/2 cup serving). Full of sustaining fiber. High in vitamins and minerals - magnesium, iron and B vitamins. 

Sage: Contains a whole slew of essential nutrients - Aside from amazing flavor benefits, sage is high in vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and B vitamins, plus healthy amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, and copper!

Dandelion Greens: I could go on and on with this one. Dandelion greens (aka literal weeds) are an awesome affordable spring-time alternative to your usual go-to greens - they are much more tender than kale and are slightly bitter like arugula ... these greens give the soup a dynamic flavor profile but beyond that they are are POWERFUL detoxifier and blood purifier. They are high in fiber and literally ever vitamin and mineral you can imagine.

Lemon: The ultimate alkalizing, detoxifying citrus that gives the soup a really pleasant brightness.

Onions + Garlic: How can you have soup without these two winners! Not to mention, they are both great anti-fungals! 

Celery Root AKA Celeriac: Never heard of this veggie?! That's kind of the point - incorporating new and diverse veggies into the soup will not only aid in your exploration of new foods BUT it also really helps your gut microbiome. Celery root (literally the bulb of the celery plant) is actually fairly easy to find in most grocery stores. It's an affordable, low-calorie, slightly-sweet, starchy veg that makes a refreshing alternative to potatoes or parsnips. High in B6, vitamin C and lots of healthy fiber.

As with all my recipes, I totally encourage you to customize! Can't find dandelion greens? Toss in some chard or kale. Don't like sage? Sub rosemary. Let me know if you make this soup and how you feel afterwards!


Makes: 10-12 servings (freezes well) • Prep Time: Overnight + 30 min • Cook Time: 2 hours


  • 1 16 oz. bag white/canileni beans, soaked overnight or with the quick soak method of your choice (OR sub 2 16. oz cans cooked white beans for shortened prep)
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 veggie boulion cubes
  • 1/4-1/2 cup dried mushrooms, any kind will do *optional
  • 1 small celery root, peeled and diced (or sub parsnips)
  • 6 small carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small bunch dandelion greens, finely chopped with tough ends removed (sub kale, chard, spinach, etc)
  • 2 small summer squash or zuchinni 
  • 20-30 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large bunch sage, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili flake
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • Salt + pepper to taste

METHOD

Soak your white beans according to the package instructions - overnight or quick soak method. Then, rinse and recover the beans in 8 cups of water and simmer for 1 hour in your largest pot until the beans are soft. 

In the meantime, prep all your your veggies. Peel and chop carrots and celery root and set aside with the onion and garlic. Wash and chop summer squash, danellion greens, tomatoes and sage and place in a separate bowl.

Once the beans are tender, add in the boullion, mushrooms, dried spices and root veggies - carrots, celery root, garlic, onion. Simmer until veggies are very tender - apx. 20 minutes

At this point, transfer 1/4-1/2 of the soup (depending on how creamy you want the base) to a high speed blender and blend on a slow setting until smooth. Alternatively, you could use an immersion blender to puree some of the mixture or simply leave your soup unblended with a less creamy finished product. Add the pureed portion back into the pot and stir to combine. You may need to add more water or broth at this point depending on how thick you like your soup - use caution though, over time the soup will thicken due to the starch in the beans.

Add the rest of the veggies into the pot and cook a few minutes more until they are tender. Finish with a garnish of freshly squeezed lemon and some green onion.

Serve hot. Reheats well - may have to add additional water or broth.

 

LOVE THROUGH FOOD, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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Featured on SivanaSpirit.com: Routines to Rituals

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With a long time interest in wellness, I was always the kind of person who sanctified the potions, products, and practices surrounding self-care. I bought all the essential oils, I invested in skin care products, and I read all of the top blogs. But when it came to actually performing my daily routines, I found myself dreading them. I had no patience for the precious, quiet moments in my own life.

When I finally began meditating I achieved the perspective to see how ....

From Routine To Ritual: 5 Powerful Ways To Make The Mundane More Meaningful

 

LIVE IN THE LIGHT, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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Copal Clean Beauty Giveaway!

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Copal Clean Beauty Giveaway!

Enter to win a slew of goodies from our friends at Copal Clean Beauty to help celebrate their launch! 

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My Whole-Food Plant-Based Pantry Staples

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As I prepare to move out of my current dwelling in Northern California I have started the arduous task of packing up my kitchen. Moving is crazy - it's exciting, scary, sad, happy, its so damn bittersweet. Mendocino county is the most magical, wild, healing place I have ever been. Visiting here two years ago I could not have expected my life to line up as it did - it has solidified my purpose, inspired my soul and ignited my spirit. With my vision clear I feel called back to the place where I was born, the Connecticut shoreline - to make a difference and share my purpose in the community that is closest to my heart. I could go on but I'll save the sappiness for another post.

As I clean out my pantry I wanted to share with you the things I have kept regularly stocked for the past two years to help inspire your own whole-foods plant-based kitchen. I want to show you that eating this way doesn't have to be expensive, complicated or full of mystery powders and potions - as you'll see below most of my pantry staples are cheap, easy to find and quick to prepare. I buy most of these items in bulk (either online or at the health food store) to cut down on waste - when I can I always try to buy glass containers as opposed to plastic and I recycle my cans and reuse my containers. The items below are things I use at least once a week and that I know you'll get frequent use out of, too! I've linked a lot of the items I love and buy frequently on Amazon for your convince. Check it out and then let me know - what are your favorite pantry staples?

Flours

I love experimenting with different flours which I always buy in the bulk section of my natural foods grocery store. In my pantry right now I have chic pea flour (great for savory pancakes), whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, rye flour (makes incredible bread), brown rice flour, almond meal (great in baked goods) and Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Flour. Experiment and find your favorites! 

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Sweeteners

A lot of people are scared of sugar, and I totally get it. While I don't do the whole processed 'white sugar' thing I do like my stuff sweet and I want to encourage you to keep natural sugars in your diet, but in moderation. As you reduce your sugar intake your taste buds balance out. Eventually, it will take less natural sugars to make things taste sweet and delicious; my friends always laugh at me when I remark how sweet a piece of broccoli or romaine is - but thats how I know my taste buds are in check!

  • Pure Maple Syrup - I buy this stuff in bulk because it is my #1 go to sweetener and I like my shit sweet. It can be expensive but purchasing a 32 oz. jar every 2 months is better than buying a tinyyyy little bottle for $10 every week. I love it's rich delicious flavor in breakfast, granola and even in my coffee.
  • Coconut Sugar - I sub any other form of processed sugar a recipe may call for for coconut sugar. It has a lower glycemic index and a slightly molasses-y flavor akin to brown sugar - YUM.
  • Blackstrap Molasses - This stuff is awesome. While it is a bit of an acquired taste it makes a great addition to spiced cakes and other treats. It also has a super dense nutritional profile including iron, vitamin A and much, much more.
  • Medjool Dates - Sticky, sweet, and the best little energy boost money can buy. I buy these babies in bulk. I eat them stuffed with cashew butter as a quick snack or use them in baking or raw treats.

Plant Milk

Almond, cashew, macadamia, hemp - whatever! Try them all and discover your favorite. You can buy them in the store or make your own (if you have millions of hours to do that kind of stuff). Store-bought unsweetened plant based milks are delicious, fortified, affordable and have no-nasties like hormones and puss (side eye, cows milk). You can get them flavored with vanilla for your cereal or buy them 'plain' to use in savory dishes as well.

Nut Butter/Tahini

  • Almond Butter - I use almond butter at least a few times a week - on toast, in baking, in smoothies, or honestly - by the spoonful. I love to make my own using whole almonds and my trusty food processor but when looking for store-bought wait for a sale and stock up as this stuff can get pricey!
  • High Quality Tahini - Do yourself a favor and get some high-quality authentic Middle-Eastern-style Tahini. The "Americanized" version does not compare. This pourable liquid gold makes for a great alternative to oil in baking or as the base for the most deliciously creamy dressing you could ever dream of.
  • PB2 Powder - If you love peanut butter, go grab this now! With 80% less fat, I find it must easier to work with when adding to smoothies, baked goods or savory Thai-style sauces. The flavor is strong and when you mix it with a little water and maple syrup it makes a great dip for sliced green apples.

Nuts/Seeds

I used to be afraid of nuts for their high fat content but as I spend more time experiementing with my diet I have made nuts a staple. They are versatile, delicious and they keep you fuller for longer. I buy my nuts and seeds raw and in bulk - this way I can use them in many applications and keep my costs lower. I often store nuts in the freezer so they don't spoil.

  • Cashews - High in nutrients and perhaps the most versatile nut. Sweet, creamy Cashews are great in so many applications - chopped up and added to rice dishes, in smoothies, over oatmeal. When I am feeling extra fancy I soak them to use in as a raw cheesecake base or blended with a little water, salt and garlic to make cashew cream. I also chuck them in the food processor with nutritional yeast and seasonings to make an incredible vegan "parm" that sprinkle over everything savory.
  • Walnuts - Rich in omega 3's, Walnuts are a close second to cashews in terms of versatility. You can use them in anything - they're my favorite nut to add to chocolate smoothies.
  • Almonds - My favorite nut. I love buying raw almonds in bulk when they're on sale and using them in baking or to make my own almond butter.
  • Brazil Nuts - High in essential minerals, I love to snack on brazil nuts wrapped in dates - they are the perfect pre-workout pick me up.
  • Pumpkin Seeds - Sprinkled over salads, add in granola, mix into baked goods. 
  • Hemp seeds - High in protein and super filling, I love the delicate texture of these little gems.
  • Chia Seeds - Ohhhhh chia. I use chia nearly every day - in smoothies, in overnight oats, and ground up with a little water in baking to replace eggs. I love these filling fiber-rich seeds.
  • Ground Flax Seeds - Flax is similar to chia in that it gels when added to water - I love the body that ground flax gives to smoothies. 

Beans (Canned or Dry)

In 'How Not to Die' Dr. Greggor states that research shows us that one of the best things you can do for your health is to eat 1 cup of beans a day because in short, FIBER. While I don't think I eat that much I do love beans - I always add them to salads and soups and often make my own hummus with a bit of tahini. Canned beans are convenient and fast - just make sure you give them a super good rinse!

My favorite beans include, garbanzo beans, kidney beans and black beans.

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Other Canned Goods

  • Coconut Milk - For use in curries, raw desserts and anything that you want to give a rich, creamy body.
  • Tomatoes - Pureed, diced, fire roasted, whole, etc. I ALWAYS keep a variety of canned tomatoes on hand for quick soups, sauces and stews. One of my go-to quick and easy dinners  is a can of fire roasted tomatoes, a can of chic peas and a ton of wilted greens spiced with red pepper flakes. 
  • Pumpkin Puree - While I may not use pumpkin once a week I do use it year round. It makes a great addition to curries, pancakes and even smoothies.
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Grains

Ohhhh, grains. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with these guys as some of them leave me feeling like a balloon animal (ugh) but they are so versatile, cost effective and full of energy so I think they should play a role in most any balanced diet. I love experimenting with different grains like farrow, bulghur and amaranth - there's something so ancient and human about grains; humanities' great civilizations were founded around their cultivation so yea, I am not on the paleo wagon. That said, I am not gluten free but I do notice I feel a bit better when I limit my gluten intake so here are my top grains...

  • Quinoa - You will never, ever find me without quinoa prepped in the fridge. I buy it in bulk and make a few cups every week to use for quick breakfast, lunches and dinners throughout the week. Quinoa, which acts like a grain, is technically a seed that is super rich in protein and other nutrients. It is my #1 go to "grain".
  • Rice - Personally brown rice (and lentils) don't digest great for me so I stick to white jasmine rice, black rice or my favorite, Japanese sushi rice (I make a lot of my own sushi). I don't cook it all the time (because I am impatient AF so when I do it's in bulk - I will often portion and freeze it once cooked so I have it ready-to-go.
  • Oats - I am a self admitted oats addict. For me, they digest so well and I love the texture - I could eat them for every meal. I often cook down old fashioned oats with cinnamon, mashed banana and a tablespoon of almond butter for an easy, hot breakfast or soaking steel cut oats overnight with cashew milk, chia seeds and maple syrup for the ideal on-the-go treat. I also use oats to make oat flour (great for baking and raw protein bites) and even in smoothies.
  • GF Quinoa/Brown Rice Pasta - Because every one wants pasta but not everyone feels great after eating the flour varieties. This brand is so easy on my digestion and it cooks up just like traditional noodles.
  • Buckwheat or Rice Noodles - I eat Thai/asian style noodles A LOT so this is something I always keep on hand. Noodles are generally are super cheap - I add a ton of veggies (fresh or frozen) and some peanut sauce and, voila,  I have an impressive, whole-foods plant-based dinner.
  • Buckinis - I like to add these crunchy little guys to granola or on top of smoothies bowls. 

Seasoning ... Spices/Sauces

When people tell me they love meat because of "the flavor" I am tempted to reply, "you know thats seasoned with ah, hem, vegan spices, riiiight?" Flavor is what makes food taste good, so here are my most commonly used...

  • Pink Salt or Celtic sea salt - anything but iodized table salt. Salt makes food taste good, we also need sodium to survive but we don't need to consume it in the amounts we so often do. I like larger flakes so I can really see how much I am adding to a dish.
  • Chili Powder - I like Mexican food a lot so this gets used often - mixed into beans, sprinkled over corn tortillas, and of course added to a spicy bean chili. 
  • Curry Powder/Paste - This mix of spices makes for a quick and easy veggie curry. I love trying different brand and varieties - red thai curry paste, yellow curry powder, garam masala, etc.
  • Garlic Powder - Because this lazy girl can't be bothered to peel garlic most days.
  • Smoked Paprika - This is my latest spice obsession. I sprinkle it into to everything - soup, salad, avo toast. Some varieties are spicy and others are sweet - read the label carefully!
  • Turmeric powder - I use this powder for it's color and health benefits. I love the hue it gives to vegan cheese sauces. In order to receive all of the inflammation reducing benefits, be sure to have it with a bit of cracked black pepper for max. absorption (thank you Dr. Greggor).
  • Cumin - I add paprika, garlic powder and cumin to potatoes to make THE BEST breakfast hash browns. It's kinda my holy spice trinity.
  • Red Pepper Flakes - The quickest way to add a hit of heat to your dishes.  
  • Cinnamon - As if I needed another reason to add cinnamon to everything (including coffee) it naturally regulates your blood sugar level. Heck yea.
  • Cardamom - I am OBSESSED with this sweet, spicy, totally unique flavor. I love adding it to anything sweet as you would cinnamon.
  • Vanilla Bean Paste - Worth the extra cash! This thick, rich paste is way more concentrated than it's liquid counterpart and it's flecked with real vanilla bean seeds which honestly makes all the difference. 
  • Spicy Mustard - I mostly use mustard in dressings - combine a little tahini, maple syrup and spicy mustard with some apple cider vinegar and you've got a super tasty sauce/dressing.
  • The Pepper Plant California Hot Sauce - This is my personal favorite hot sauce. When buying sauces, look for a small ingredient list with no added sugars and a limited amount of salt. 
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Misc.

Here's all the stuff I couldn't fit into the categories above but use ALL - THE - TIME - vinegars, powders and more! Check it out!

  • Nutritional Yeast - Yes, it looks like fish food. But, vegan or not, you need all the B-12 vitamin you can get and this is a super tasty source.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar - Here's another one I use nearly everyday. With a benefits list a mile long I love to use it as the base for dressings and sauces. I also like to add a splash or two to some cold water with some hibiscus flowers and a bit of maple syrup - it's like rose for people who don't drink. Make sure you buy a brand that includes "the mother". 
  • Rice Wine Vinegar - I love adding this slightly sweet, delicate vinegar to asian-style sauces.
  • Coconut oil - I generally avoid oil but when I do need to use it (in things like granola) I always opt for unrefined coconut oil. I honestly can't 'taste the coconut' like some people say, but hey, to each is own. BONUS: I have replaced all body lotions and hair oils with this same coconut oil - it works better, is more affordable, stop spending money on chemical laden skin products!
  • Coconut Aminos - I use this savory brown liquid as a dip for sushi in as an alternative to way-too-salty soy sauce or as a part of a delicious, savory dressing. 
  • Maca Powder - I know, I know. This is technically a 'superfood' - which I generally denounce (every plant food is superfood, AM I RIGHT?!) BUT I LOOOOVE the taste of maca - it has a nutty, malted flavor that is great in smoothies and baked goods...and if it increases libido and energy to boot - count me in. 
  • Cacao Powder - It's raw chocolate powder that you can add to literally anything, I mean, do I need to explain? I use it in smoothies, baked goods and raw treats. Love, love, love the stuff.
  • Coconut Milk Powder - I sprinkle this into curries when I don't want to use a full can or to make an incredible hot chocolate base mixed with a little bit of cacao powder and maple syrup - it makes everything thick and rich without the use of oil
  • Protein Powder - I love to change up my protein powder each time I run out because there are so many out there to try but this brand is my go-to. It doesn't bother my stomach and touts a great ingredient list. I don't think you need a protein powder to supplement a vegan diet ("But where do you get your protein?!") ... yet as an active person I do like to add them to my smoothies for that extra boost.
  • Dried Hibiscus Flowers - Ever get bored of regular water? Add a few of these gems to a pitcher and leave it in the fridge overnight - you'll get a gorgeous rosey-hued iced tea that has an addictively tart flavor and some great detoxing benefits. I find them super cheap at any Latin/Mexican Grocery store.
  • Dried Mushrooms - Add these bad boys to the base of soup and they will take it from 0 to 60. Everyone will wonder what the heck you did to get all that flavor in there.
  • Roobius Chai Tea Powder - I make a roobius chia tea with this powder and a little almond milk nearly every night, plus I add this to smoothies and baked goods for an extra boost of flavor.
  • Nori sheets - I make a lot of veggie sushi but nori is also a great snack. I love to tear it up into a salad for another layer of interesting texture.
  • Dried Fruits - I'd rather have my fruit fresh but I love keeping at least one of the following in my cabinet to use over porridge, in granola and as a snack - raisins, dried mango, sour cherries, dried blueberries or goji berries. 
 

LIVE IN THE LIGHT, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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7 Whole Foods I Eat Everyday: Autumn Edition

While I totally believe in "eating the rainbow" year round (no, I don't mean skittles, I mean a broad range of diverse plant foods) to feel balanced, sustained and healthy most of us are creatures of habit when it comes to daily meals. I love to experiment in the kitchen but if I am being honest, I have my "go-to" diet staples that help me feel nourished and fully satisfied day in and day out. I base my diet around these "bulk" foods and I keep things interesting by I changing up how I prepare them and what I eat them with. Doing this honestly and intuitively (i.e - changing it up when a food no longer appeals to you) is what makes eating whole-food-plant-based easy and effortless.

It is essential to find the foods you love and that make you feel your best in order to sustain a healthful lifestyle - it is my hope that sharing my go-to foods will help you identify your own and inspire how you can incorporate some of these whole plant foods into your diet. 

I have a few requirements for my seasonal staples... they need to be: 

  • affordable (because...student loans)
  • delicious (because...duh)
  • easy to prep in different ways (because I love to be in the kitchen)
  • nutritionally dense (because I like feeling good)
  • filling (because I like feeling full)

Now, if you're really listening you might notice your appetite naturally changes with the seasons according to what is fresh and available in your corner of the world. For instance in winter I crave warm soups and nourishing starches, in spring I move towards salads and lighter cooked food, in summer I need to eat tons of raw, fresh fruit and water rich veggies. In autumn (my personal favorite) I begin to add in more fats and "harvest-time" fruit and veggies.


Here are the seven foods I eat everyday during autumn:

1. Greens

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You will see greens as part of my daily diet year round. Greens are essential - they are full of micronutrients like iron and vitamin D and fiber and they are super filling. It is is easy to get your greens in - I eat them raw, steamed, blended up in smoothies and wilted into soups. I make sure to base my meal around greens at least once a day. My favorites in fall are kale, spinach, red lettuce and romaine. 

PRO TIP: I always keep a pack or two of frozen spinach in the freezer - it is the best for blending into smoothies and adding into soups. Plus you get so much more bang for your buck!

2. Apples

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"An apple a day...". Yes, I eat an apple every-damn-day. I usually opt for green apples as the pectin in their skin has the highest source of dietary fiber in the plant kingdom but around this time of year I love to try seasonal, sweeter varieties like pink lady, gala and galvenstein. I love to cut them up with banana, oats, raisins and chia seeds with almond milk to make a raw breakfast cereal. If I don't have one for breakfast, I'll always have one as a snack - usually spread with a bit of nut butter and sprinkled with cinnamon. 

INTERESTING FACT: You can eat the WHOLE APPLE, core and all. Bite the apple from the bottom to the steam - it's all good stuff! People usually look at me and horror when I do this but I am telling you, there's literally nothing to it. 

3. Chia Seeds

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As far as healthy fiber-rich fats go, chia seeds are my favorite - it took some getting used to but I love the texture they give to everything I add them to. I usually have them sprinkled over my breakfast or blended into a smoothie but if I am feeling snack-y but not hungry, I will add them into a bit of water for a filling boost. You can also use them in baked goods as an egg replacement or get creative with a quick and easy chia seed pudding. 

4. Nuts/nut butter

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For a while I cut nut butters out of my diet as I believed they were too high in fat but let me tell you - they are also full of protein and great mirconutrients we need! Nuts and nut butters keep me full for hours and help to supress my cravings for less than healthy foods. I spread them on apples, mix them into breakfasts, use them in dressings and blend them into smoothies. My favorites are tahini (great for savory dishes), cashew butter (pricey, but worth it), brazil nuts and almonds. 

5. Sweet Potato

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Sweet potatoes are my one true love. I can eat them for breakfast lunch and dinner as there are so many creative ways to use them. I love using them in curries, soups and stews but usually I just bake off 5 or 6 at a time in the oven until they are super soft and eat them straight out of the fridge throughout the week (don't judge me). 

PRO TIP: Make sure to eat the skin because that stuff is full of probiotics sexy older sister, prebiotics, and easy to digest fiber. 

6. Beans

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I try to eat some kind of bean everyday - admittedly sometimes that is store-bought hummus but more often than not is black beans, kidney beans or whole chic peas. I love mixing these filling little jewels into salads, soups and all different types of bowls. 

7. Chocolate

Okay, not a whole food, but I am just being honest...I have some form of chocolate everyday. I truly believe we should enjoy what we consume - I savor chocolate and it makes me happy so I make sure to enjoy it (responsibly) without restriction.

 

LIGHT & LOVE, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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How to Find the Right Way of Eating for You

Vegan, vegetarian, high carb, low fat, high fat, low carb, paleo, plant-based, keto, intuitive eating, intermittent fasting, IIFYM, bulking, cutting, organic, whole foods, non-GMO, gluten free, sugar free - it can all be so overwhelming!

With all of these words swirling around in your head and heart - how on earth are you to find the right way of eating for you? Many amazing looking people claim to have found the KEY, the answer, the holy grail but here's the truth - EVERYONE is different and one thing doesn't work for anyone all of the time

Now, for me, veganism is non-negotiable. I am passionate about animal rights and while I would love to live in a world where everyone could feel their best eating the way I do, I am the first to admit, that's just not practical. There's so many factors and personal choices that go into diet (diet meaning what we eat, not how much we eat) and I don't claim to have all the answers for everyone. I post my vegan recipes to inspire and encourage you to incorporate more plants into your diet but I don't take a rigid approach to veganism, because, well frankly - pushing, shaming or guilting people into a lifestyle ain't going to help the cause! I believe adopting a loving, welcoming, relaxed approach is much more appealing. 

But back to the point of this post - how do you know what diet or lifestyle change is right for you? Many people would believe a vegan diet is limiting in itself, but I don't agree... in the realm of veganism I have experimented with different macros from 80-10-10 to high fat, to high protein (now I average around 60-20-20 when I do count macros). Ive tried a fully raw diet, mono-meals of fruit, only eating bananas for days, intermittent fasting, actual fasting, you name it. Prior to finding veganism I tried juice cleanses, paleo, low-carb, keto, no sugar, etc.

I've learned a lot on this journey, I accept that I am now and always will be learning and changing but I think I have uncovered the most important principals to keep in mind when it comes to any diet or lifestyle, vegan or not...

Here are my tips:


1. ENJOY what you're eating and you eat mindfully.

If you associate stress, pressure and guilt with the foods you're eating - how do you think those foods are going to digest? You could be eating kale all day but if you're eating it mindlessly or under stress I can guarantee it's not going to give you all the potential nutrients your body needs. Emotion, mood and foods are related - take time selecting your meals, cooking them AND eating them. It makes all the difference.

Do you ever notice how satisfied you feel after eating a special meal with a loved one (think Valentines day)- you talk, you laugh, you eat slowly, you lick the spoon - now, everyday can't be Valentines day but make sure you're always in love with your food.


2. Keep the BALANCE.

 You don't have to be perfect all the time (yogis and fitness lovers can get caught up in that tail spin easily). Limit the extremes - the times we do the most damage to our body, our hormones, our weight is when we eat in extremes - *too* low fat, *too* high protein, *too* low carb. Balance is key, no one macronutrient is king.


3. Call it an EXPERIMENT, not a discovery.

 and never claim to have found the end-all-be-all answer. Try something new when what you're doing isn't working for you - your body is always changing...always be it's best advocate and listen.

4. LOVE YOURSELF ENDLESSLY.

and keep a record of how you feel physically, mentally, emotionally. This doesn't need to be in a journal or diary but just be sure to simply check in with yourself from time to time. We can often associate ending/changing up a certain meal plan or diet with guilt or failure but you need to let that go in order to truly find happiness with your food. 

5. It's NOT ONE THING.

Finding the right "thing" for you isn't just finding "one thing" - i.e diet. Again, its about balance. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you satisfied in your relationships? How do you feel about your living situation? All of these things are related to food and while paleo might work great while you're WOD-ing 6 days a week, while on rest for 6 weeks after a shoulder injury that much protein might not feel good.

6. Eat whole foods as much as possible.

This is the last thing I want to say because I don't want to put too much emphasis on exactly *what* you're eating in this post but I do believe that the more whole foods humans eat, the better they feel. So, if you are craving fries maybe consider making a healthy, oven baked version at home - same goes for cookies, ice cream and burgers. Never deprive yourself but rather shoot for the best choice available. 

 

LOVE & LIGHT, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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Your job...

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Your job...

(Drinking smoothies is also my job.) Photo by: Rachael Lee Stroud

(Drinking smoothies is also my job.) Photo by: Rachael Lee Stroud

 It isn't your job to work at something that brings you no joy, to feel stress, to be perfect, to do things because that's what's expected. It's not your job to say "that's not my job" or to work so hard that you completely burn out.  

Your job is to love yourself and those around you. 

Your job is to fill your body with good food and your mind with good thoughts. 

Your job is to move as much as feels good and breath deeply. 

Your job is to nourish your heart with laughter and to keep good company. 

Your job is to go outside and let nature sink back into your bones. 

Your job is to give without consideration of what you will receive. 

Your job is to create more things fearlessly and without limit. 

Your job is to sleep and take your time- as much as you need. 

Your job is to act in loving kindness and with an with open heart. 

Your job is to treat each day with an explorative wonder and to see each moment as a gift. 

Your job is to recognize yourself in others and to recognize others in you. 

Your job is to know that you are exactly where you need to be. 

Your job is to see yourself as whole, complete and at one with all that you love. 

"Work is love made visible." - Khalil Gibran 

 

 LOVE & LIGHT, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN 

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6 Tips for Eating Plant-based Vegan While On The Road

Two weeks ago I left my apartment, my job and life in Los Angeles to travel around California - staying with friends, camping and searching for a place that feels 'right'. I'd lived in LA for almost two years but that was enough to know that it was definitely not the place for me. Now the reasons for the decision to leave LA could be a whole different blog post completely but I wanted to share with you a few tips related to eating well that I have uncovered while traveling. 

 I'll confess I am a bit of a control freak and I really value my personal space, my alone time and a daily routine but I also have come to terms with the fact that that loosening my ties is the only way to grow. I think adopting a vegan lifestyle helped me come to the conclusion that I needed to take this trip amd make the most of it so therefore I really have made it a goal to eat as much whole plant based food as I can without the comforts of my kitchen. Making yourself uncomfortable is one of the few ways to truly learn about who it is you truly are and that, my friends, was the ultimate goal of this trip. 

After eating an entire package of dried mango on the intense Upper Falls Hike in Yosemite National Park. Carb up!

After eating an entire package of dried mango on the intense Upper Falls Hike in Yosemite National Park. Carb up!

Prior to this phase of gypsy life, I had driven across the country twice and have learned a thing or two about the struggle of eating well while on the road but I had never done it as a vegan and I have to say, so far, so good. I have only traveled through California this time around - and well, California, is ... California so eating vegan has been not-so-shockingly easy. A few of the hostels we stayed at in remote Yosemite-adjacent villages even offered fully vegan entrees but I believe the tips below will help you eat well even if you are traveling across the vast stretches of land that don't know the difference between almond flour and almond meal (scoff)! 

An amazing loaded baked potato that I got at a DINER 25 miles outside of Yosemite.

An amazing loaded baked potato that I got at a DINER 25 miles outside of Yosemite.

1. Make pit stops grocery stores instead of restaurants or gas stations. 

Grocery haul! 

Grocery haul! 

The first time I drove across the U.S I was not vegan and we made it a goal to only stop at local, family owned restaurants, no gas station grub, no chain restaurants. While this was successful and plenty of fun if you are traveling on the cheap as a vegan a better option is to stock up on staples at grocery stores instead of trying to find vegan options at restaurants and rest stops. If you do go the resturant route you will likely be eating unappetizing salads that won't fill you up or a lot of fries which can leave you feeling sluggish and drowsy. 

When you stop at grocery stores for sustenance make sure you aren't buying food that needs to be refrigerated right away, can bruise easily or that can go off in a day or two. Go for less delicate foods in their whole form and give them a rinse if needed with bottled water or in a public restroom. BONUS: Use the (usually) nicer bathroom facilities inside grocery stores instead of gas stations.

Some of my go-to items are:  

  • green apples & pears  
  • carrots  
  • Pre-washed heads of romaine lettuce or bags or baby kale
  • coconut water (hydration is key) 
  • Medjool dates  
  • oranges (cars cara are my favorite)
  • pre-cut watermelon - hydration! 
  • rice cakes 
  • low-fat granola
  • Mary's Gone crackers or the like
  • hummus (this can go bad without refrigeration, but I usually eat it within the day so it's fine)
  • vegan protein bars (I don't buy these often but if there is a brand like GoMarco available I do stock up)
  • maybe a little bit of vegan dark chocolate because...chocolate 
  • coconut water  

2. Buy fresh and local - roadside stands are your best friend. 

I don't know about the rest of the world but when driving in long distances in the U.S it is likely that you will stumble on more than one produce stand. Many of the interstate highways happen to stretch across the most fertile, high yielding farm lands making a road trip the ideal opportunity to access insanely fresh and ridiculously local produce usually at an amazing price. These farm stands can be easy to miss but keep an eye out when you start passing through planted fields. While driving up Highway 1 in California I counted more than 5 cherry/strawberry stands between Santa Cruz and San Francisco (about a 50 mile stretch). These road-side fruits and vegetables usually taste a million times better than their grocery store counterparts and you can feel good about directly supporting the farmers that grew them. 

3. CARB UP and keep your fats low! Eat dates or other high sugar fruit for when your feeling sluggish. 

A date with dates. 

A date with dates. 

Traveling takes a lot out of you, even if you are just sitting in a car with your foot on the gas there is something about it that can get exhausting. You might be tempted to eat fatty foods on the road but you'll get the best bang for your energy-buck if you stick to a mostly high carb diet. Aside from the fact that dates are better than any caramel I have ever tasted, they are truly little energy bombs - pure brain and body fuel. Instead of eating a candy bar to keep yourself from dozing or going stir crazy eat a few of these natural indulgences to keep yourself sustained. Plus they pack a punch of nutrition with loads of fiber, potassium, calcium and iron.

4. Stock up on jugs of water and drink it frequently. 

Yes this may mean more bathroom stops but on the bright side you'll be fully hydrated and you may come upon some off the beaten path beauty. Drinking enough keeps you from accidentally eating an entire bag of chips and regulates the bodies natural rhythms even when you are on an irregular  travel schedule. Aim for 3-4 liters a day at least! Dehydration on the road leads to poor digestion and irritability among many other not so enjoyable symptoms. I also like to buy coconut water from time to time for an extra-hydrating boost. 

5. Remember to move, stretch and breath.  

Playing around with the giant coastal redwoods inSanta Cruz, CA

Playing around with the giant coastal redwoods inSanta Cruz, CA

Feeding yourself properly on the road has everything to do with what you put into your body but also how often you move it. Covering vast distances is taxing on the body which is why its so important to remember to take breaks, move, stretch your body out and take some nice deep breaths. I promise you'll feel less worn down if you walk for at least a mile each day in the fresh air. Try and give yourself 8 hours or more of sleep a night, fuel yourself when you are hungry, listen to good music or informative podcasts and take time to relax and enjoy the scenery. 

How did my iPhone even take this photo? El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

How did my iPhone even take this photo? El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

 

6. If staying with friends, offer to cook for them.

I made a vegan bahn mi lunch for a friend while staying in San Francisco (best city for produce BTW). Lucky for me my friend is a talented photog and she snapped a few gorgeous shots.  Kristina Bakrevski Photography

I made a vegan bahn mi lunch for a friend while staying in San Francisco (best city for produce BTW). Lucky for me my friend is a talented photog and she snapped a few gorgeous shots. Kristina Bakrevski Photography

This way you can prepare whole plant based meals and thank your friends for their hospitality at the same time. In my opinion there is nothing more satisfying than sitting around a table eating good food with good company, and when food is prepared with love it makes everything better.

Make sure to explain to your hosts that you want to cook them a vegan meal, I would venture to guess most will be open to the idea but be sure to go over the menu with them to make sure there is something for everybody - my blog has some awesome recipes. If someone is giving you hell about there being no meat/cheese make the suggestion that they try the vegan version first and if necessary prepare their additions and add to their own portion (remember that you are in their home). But I'd be willing to bet that if you made them my vegan mac & cheese they wouldn't know the difference anyway. 

I've also been traveling with my Vitamix and friends are always interested in me making them the best smoothies of their lives (no exaggeration). 

Stawberry, pineapple, banana smoothie bowl. Gorgeous, isn't it?

Stawberry, pineapple, banana smoothie bowl. Gorgeous, isn't it?

 

BONUS TIP for coffee drinkers: I drink coffee and if you do too you'll want to listen up. I am trying to cut down but I have been so worn out from hiking my tail off and a good ol' cup-a-joe makes everything better. We have stopped in a few diner-like-places that don't offer soy or almond milk so I will drink it black if pressed but I have regretted not toting along the tiny 8 oz. tetra-packed almond milk containers like this. They aren't always easy to find but the next time I see them I am scooping them up! 

Do you have any tips you'd like to share for eating whole plant based vegan food on the road? I'd love to hear them and swap stories! 

 

LIGHT & LOVE, LIVECLEAN KITCHEN

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