Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries: Magical Moments and Improv Play

Magic Things Print on Etsy

Magic Things print on Etsy

There are some moments in life that just feel so perfect it’s unreal. Last night, as I was walking home from a day filled with friends, laughter, love, and great new experiences, I glanced up to see the first few snowflakes falling past the streetlights. Yes, it’s been a long winter and I’m a little sick of snow, but I could still appreciate the beauty of that moment. Then, just when I thought the evening couldn’t get anymore magical, a bunny hopped out of nowhere to lead me down the alley to my apartment. Perfection, right?

The sad thing is that there have been times in my life that I might have missed the magic of these moments. I have a tendency to live inside the labyrinth of my mind, forgetting to pay attention to the outside world. I overanalyze, over criticize, and just generally bring myself inward to the point that I sometimes forget to play and appreciate the simple things. So that’s my new motto: play more. I’ve been reminding myself of it every day and pursuing new interests that encourage it in the hopes that it will become a habit.

For instance, after avoiding it for nearly 5 years, I finally signed up for a Second City improv class. I’m a by the book, highly prepared, and planned out performer so the idea of doing improv has always terrified me to the core. Of course, I also know that some of the greatest opportunities for growth in life come from doing the that thing that scares you most. So a few weeks ago, I took a deep breath, made my payment, and tried not to throw up on my way to class. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was a lot of fun.

Since that first class, I’ve started attending a few improv jams and mixers around the city. I’m still such a newbie in this world that I love observing everything. One of my favorite characteristics about my new hobby is the lingo. When all is said and done and the evening is about to end, no one says “thanks for acting with me” or “it was great working with you,” instead they say “thanks for playing.” Because that’s exactly what improv is at it’s best: we’re just a bunch of kids getting together on the playground [or in some cases at The Playground] and playing pretend together.

Don't Forget to Play print on Society6

Don’t Forget to Play print on Society6

As for other areas of play in my life, I’ve made a point to break up the serious studies of my yoga teacher training [3 weeks left!] with a little project pose playtime.

Most of the inspiration for these poses have been found on instagram or in the challenge pose section of the Yoga Journal blog. It feels great to dare myself to grow in my practice as I photograph my progress along the way. If you’d like to follow along in my playtime, you can find me on instagram: @michelleshea.

And speaking of instagram, I’ve been posting a lot of photos of my new favorite cherry cheesecake smoothie lately so, as promised, here’s the recipe:

Life is Just a Glass of Cherry Cheesecake [inspired by Mind Body Green’s recipe]

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 3.25.45 PM

Ingredients

2 tbsp raw cashews
2 tsp Sun is Shining powder [or a few handfuls of greens like spinach]
1 tsp maca powder [optional, but good for you!]
1/2 banana, frozen
a handful of cherries, frozen
a splash of vanilla
1/2 c So Delicious coconut milk [more or less for desired thickness]
1 tsp cacao nibs [optional]

First, place cashews, green powder [or greens], macs powder, and coconut milk in blender. Process on high until smooth.
Then, add in the remainder of the ingredients & process on medium until smooth.
Add more coconut milk as desired to assist in blending or to make a thinner smoothie.
Serve in your favorite pretty glass & top with cacao nibs for a chocolatey crunch.

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Sweet Potato Quinoa Bites w/ Vegan BBQ Mayo

Even as a health coach with a pretty clean diet, sometimes a girl just need a little comfort food. It’s rare that I get to participate in a greasy bar-food binge…someone needs to make an entirely gluten-free & vegan bar and I’m there. So for now, I’ll settle on making delicious finger foods at home like these too-good-to-be-healthy sweet potato quinoa bites:

sweet potato quinoa bites

Tastes like a guilty pleasure, but loaded with healthy ingredients.

Ingredients [adapted from Hope for Healing‘s recipe]

For bites:
2 c cooked quinoa [2 c water or vegetable broth w/ 1 c quinoa]
2-3 small sweet potatoes, baked, skinned & mashed
1 c gluten free flour
1/2 c nutritional yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp each of paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, tumeric, cumin, sea salt and black pepper
2-3 green onion stalks, chopped

Prep Work:
Cook your quinoa by boiling 2 cups water or vegetable broth w/ 1 cup rinsed quinoa. Cook until liquid is absorbed.
Bake your sweet potatoes by poking a few holes in their skin with a fork & placing in the oven for 30-50 minutes, or until softened.
Remove skin from sweet potato & mash together in a large bowl.

In the bowl with your mashed sweet potatoes, add cooked quinoa, flour, nutritional yeast, olive oil, spices, & green onions. Stir until combined.
Using your hands or a rounded spoon, form your mixture into bite sized balls & place on a lined cookie sheet.
Bake @ 375 F for 30 minutes or until outer layer is crispy.

For dip combine:
2 parts vegan mayo
1 part BBQ sauce

Serve with BBQ mayo or your favorite dipping sauce. Enjoy.

To Keep Your Balance You Must Keep Moving

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you’re spending the first day of 2014 doing things that cause you joy. After all, the superstition says that whatever you do on the 1st of the year will set the tone for all the days that follow.

bicycle

For me, I want 2014 to be all about balance. These past few years I’ve developed some extreme habits and quirks that I’ve been slowly breaking down. I’m trying to be less dogmatic and extremist about my health & my relationships. There is good and bad in everything so we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves or those around us. It’s all about simply moving forward and finding the fun along the way.

My 1st started out with a little sesame tofu at an asian cafe near my apartment:

sesame tofu

Yum! But lots of soy & fried food [not to mention white rice], not the healthiest way to kick off 2014.

So for dessert, I whipped up a chocolate/cherry superfood smoothie:

chocolate cherry smoothie

Frozen cherries have become one of my favorite smoothie additions & of course they pair perfectly with chocolate.

Ingredients:

1 banana, frozen
5-6 sweet cherries, frozen
1 tsp cacao powder
1 tsp Sun Is Shining green superfood powder
1/2 tsp maca powder
1/4-1/3 can light coconut milk

Place all ingredients in blender & process until smooth. Add more coconut milk for a thinner texture, if desired.
Enjoy.

Happy 2014!

Almond Butter Oatmeal w/ “Caramelized” Bananas & Coconut Sprinkles

It’s getting cold outside in Chicago. Winter has reared it’s chilly head & won’t be leaving us again for months. Frankly, once the temperatures drop below 20 outside, the last thing I want to have for breakfast is an icy green smoothie. So instead, I’ve switched to oatmeal for my go-to morning meal.

Too bad my old favorite apple/cinnamon/date combo can get a little old when it becomes daily occurrence.

That’s why this weekend, I decided to mix things up a bit with almond butter, stove-top oats, and bananas sautéed in coconut oil. Top it all off with a few sprinklings of shredded coconut & I had a tropical-flavored breakfast with still plenty of warmth to send me out into the day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

almond butter oatmeal with caramelized bananas & coconut sprinkles

For more yummy food photos, follow me on Instagram @michelleshea.

Ingredients

2 c water
1 c gluten free rolled oats
a pinch of salt
1 ripe banana, sliced
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp almond butter
approx. 1 tsp unsweetened, shredded coconut

In a small to medium saucepan, bring 2 c of water & a pinch of salt to boil.
Add oats to water & reduce heat slightly to avoid boiling over. Let cook for 10-20 minutes.
In a medium skillet, heat coconut oil until melted & evenly distributed around pan.
Over medium heat, add banana slices to coconut oil & sauté until soft.
[Note: this is my lazy-girl’s version of “caramelized” bananas, if you’re looking for the real thing, drizzle some agave…or honey if you’re bee-gan…on top of your bananas while they sauté.]
Once your oatmeal has cooked, add your almond butter & maple syrup while still over heat & stir until combined.
Place your cooked oats into a bowl, top with sautéed bananas & sprinkle your shredded coconut on top. Enjoy.

A Detox Drink for the Day After Halloween

For those of you without a calendar or access to the outside world, last night was Halloween. As an occasional actress and everyday costume fanatic, it’s one of my favorite holidays. For my boyfriend Nick, it is THE HOLIDAY of the year [I mean, come on, he teaches about zombie survival for a living]. Because of this, we tend to go all out: parties, candy, decorations, drinking games, festive food…you get the idea.

This year, we conspired together and decided to dress up as Margot & Richie Tenenbaum.

margot and richie halloween 2013 copy

“I think we’re just gonna have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that.”

I’d actually started planning my costume about a month before Halloween, but it became a whole lot more popular after this amazing sketch from last week’s SNL:

Our party was so much fun, it was hard to remain Margot-stoic for the camera all night. I broke character on more than one occasion.

margot and richie halloween

Notice the wooden finger on my right hand…Nick MADE that. He’s handy like that.

For our party guests, we prepared my favorite vegan chili & some pumpkin oatmeal cookies [with Enjoy Life chocolate chips added].

The chili was so delicious I ate about five bowls, along with several cookies & a taste of some vegan chai snickerdoodles made by Alicia of Big Vegan Affair [they weren’t gluten-free, but I just had to try them]. Add to that a dirty martini, some Chicago Diner nachos and a few too many pieces of vegan halloween candy & I awoke this morning looking for a dietary re-set button.

So, in the spirit of recovering from your halloween cocktails & candy overdose, here’s a yummy day after halloween detox drink made with kale & carrots to kickstart your body’s cleansing. The fact that it’s festively orange is just a happy halloween accident.

day after halloween detox drink

Pink skeleton approved.

Ingredients [approx. 2 servings]

8 carrots
4 kale leaves
4 celery stalks
2 fuji apples
2 limes

Juice all ingredients together for a vitamin-rich, detoxifying cocktail that’s sweet with just a slight tang. For best results drink immediately & on an empty stomach.

Make Something Monday: Vegan, Gluten-free Sum’Bitches [inspired by How I Met Your Mother]

There are some sources for recipe inspiration that are simply too good to pass up. Last week’s premiere episode of How I Met Your Mother was one of them. If you’re not a fan, first of all, you should be, but you should know that this is the season in which we, the audience finally get to meet the long-anticipated “Mother.” There’s a lot of pressure for this character to be the absolute perfect girl for Ted & her first official scene of the season did not disappoint.

sumbitches scene

And with that scene, my love for the Mother character AND the inspiration for vegan, gluten-free Sum’bitches [with chocolate AND peanut better AND caramel!] was born.

How was my first batch of Mother-worthy comfort food? Legen…wait for it…

…Dary. Legendary!

Ingredients

For the cookies:
2 c Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/2 c brown rice flour
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 c coconut oil
1 c maple syrup
1 tsp molasses
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 c applesauce
3/4 c peanut butter
3/4 c Enjoy Life chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients [from the flours to salt].
In a smaller bowl, mix together wet ingredients [from the coconut oil to the peanut butter].
Pour wet ingredients into dry & stir until combined.
Fold in chocolate chips until distributed throughout batter.
Spoon tablespoon sized mounds of dough onto a prepared cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until cookies are a light golden color.

For the caramel sauce:
Confession: I made about 3 versions of caramel sauce trying to get the consistency just right, but the recipe I ultimately settled on was heavily inspired by Angela’s over at Oh She Glows.
I recommend you eliminate the trial and error from my version & just go straight to her recipe.

Once your cookies have been removed from the oven, immediately spoon caramel sauce over top of them & let cool. The residual heat from baking will melt the caramel and it will then cool into a nice glaze. Enjoy them on a train with Ted’s future wife…or while watching the rest of HIMYM’s final season.

Make Something Monday: Gluten-free Blueberry Cinnamon Muffins

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can take a recipe from “Oh, that’s good.” to “Oh My God!” Cinnamon is often one of those things. So, the other day when I was searching for a slightly healthy breakfast, but craving the slightly less healthy blueberry streusel cake, I decided to marry the two & make some cinnamon blueberry muffins [gluten-free, of course].

cinnamon blueberry muffins

Ingredients

2 c Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/4 c brown rice flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 c coconut oil
2/3 c maple syrup
2/3 c So Delicious coconut milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice or lemon extract
2/3 c blueberries, fresh or frozen

Optional [but delicious!] cinnamon topping: Mix together 1/2 cinnamon, 1/2 coconut sugar.

In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients [flours, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, xanthan gum].
In a separate bowl, stir together wet ingredients [coconut oil, syrup, coconut milk, vanilla, lemon].
Combine wet ingredients with dry & stir until smooth. Fold in blueberries.
Pour batter into prepared [read: greased or lined] muffin tins til 3/4 full.
Bake at 325 for approximately 30 minutes, rotating pan & sprinkling cinnamon topping on each muffin at around the 10 minute marker before returning pan to oven.
Enjoy with a little soy-free Earth Balance and/or naturally sweetened strawberry jam.

Health is Beauty Bonus: Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants which are all kind of good for your skin, protecting you from certain cancers, and keeping that healthy glow. Cinnamon, for it’s part is anti-inflammatory, helping to fight the body’s main cause of wrinkles, acne, & disease.

Dinner & A Movie: Eat Pray Love

While I’m a certainly a girly, girl fashionista at heart, sometimes I like my movies to have a touch of spirituality & depth. After reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love & feeling fully inspired by her spiritual journey of self-discovery, I was super excited to see the movie of the same title starring Julia Roberts.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

I’ve heard that many fans of the book disliked the film version, but I wasn’t one of them. Yes, the book allows for greater exploration into Liz’s internal journey as she grows & changes during her year of travel, but the movie is still beautifully shot & inspirational in it’s own right.

Julia Roberts as "Elizabeth Gilbert" in Columbia Pictures' EAT, PRAY, LOVE.

Image via Pinterest

Eat Pray Love has a special place in my movie library, I put it on for a pick me up anytime my heart gets weary. The beauty of the landscapes, the excitement of travel, the meditation, the healing of a broken heart, & the finding of one’s self…it’s all like vegan soup for my soul.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think we’re all looking for that same balance Liz hopes for: earthly pleasures, spiritual fulfillment, & a love that throws you just the right amount off balance.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

So, in honor of Liz’s Italian stop on her journey of self discovery, here’s a pasta-based recipe rewind: Vegan Lasagna. It too has a special place in my heart because it’s the meal Nick made me for our first Valentine’s day together…a part of my own eat pray love story, if you will.

Ingredients [from AllRecipes.com]

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 tablespoons minced garlic
4 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package gluten-free lasagna noodles
2 pounds firm tofu
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

In a large, heavy saucepan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Place the onions in the saucepan and saute them until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic; cook 5 minutes more.
Place the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil and parsley in the saucepan. Stir well, turn the heat to low and let the sauce simmer covered for 1 hour. Add the salt and pepper.
While the sauce is cooking bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil. Boil the lasagna noodles for 9 minutes, then drain and rinse well.
Place the tofu blocks in a large bowl. Add the garlic, basil and parsley. Add the salt and pepper, and mash all the ingredients together by squeezing pieces of tofu through your fingers. Mix well.
Assemble the lasagna: Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch casserole pan. Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles, sprinkle one-third of the tofu mixture over the noodles. Distribute the spinach evenly over the tofu. Next ladle 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce over the tofu, and top it with another layer of the noodles. Then sprinkle another 1/3 of the tofu mixture over the noodles, top the tofu with 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, and place a final layer of noodles over the tomato sauce. Finally, top the noodles with the final 1/3 of the tofu, and spread the remaining tomato sauce over everything.
Cover the pan with foil and bake the lasagna for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve hot and enjoy.

Make Something Monday: Pumpkin Spice French Toast

This time last week, I transformed my fall weather wishes into pumpkin waffles, hoping the spices would somehow manifest a change of temperature. Today, there’s a cool breeze and crisp autumn smell in the air, so it seems even more appropriate to break out the canned pumpkin once more. Inspired by the Vegan MoFo mastermind herself, I based my gluten-free, corn-free version of this pumpkin french toast on Isa’s recipe in Vegan Brunch. Add to that a little extra fall spice & a dash of agave sweetness & I found a recipe that perfectly satisfied my craving for fall [and, for that matter, my unexplainable recent craving for french toast].

pumpkin french toast

And since I can’t seem to talk about french toast without quoting Leslie Mann’s character from The 40-Year Old Virgin, here’s this:

Ingredients

1 c canned pumpkin [preferably organic]
1 1/2 c So Delicious coconut milk
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tbsp agave
1 tsp vanilla extract
6-8 slices Food for Life gluten-free bread*

Place all ingredients except for bread into blender & process until combined.
In a large bowl, soak bread pieces in mixture for at least 10 minutes on each side.
[For more flavorful french toast, soak pieces for several hours before preparing.]
Lightly grease a medium to large skillet with coconut oil or spray.
Fry each pre-soaked slice over medium heat until golden brown on each side.
Top with real maple syrup & a sprinkle of cinnamon. Enjoy.

*Tidbit of Truth: The awesome thing about making this recipe gluten-free is that, while normally it calls for slightly stale bread, even the best gluten-free bread already seems slightly stale even when it’s fresh out of the package. Not hating, just saying…it’s perfect.

Make Something Monday: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Waffles

So it’s pretty hot here in Chicago lately and, like Daria, I have to ask, “Is it fall yet?”

But rather than complain [too much] about the heat, today at breakfast, I decided to pretend it actually was fall. I figure, if Starbucks can have their pumpkin spice latte already, I can make pumpkin spice waffles.

Health is Beauty” bonus: Pumpkin is high in vitamin A & carotenoids to make your skin glow & help to keep it wrinkle-free.

pumpkin waffles

Ingredients

1 1/2 c Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 c brown rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 c melted coconut oil
2 1/2 c So Delicious coconut milk
3 tbsp agave nectar or maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla
1/3 c canned organic pumpkin
1/2 c gluten-free vegan chocolate chips

Preheat waffle maker until hot.
In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients [fours, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, salt, & xanthan gum].
Add coconut milk, coconut oil, agave, vanilla, and pumpkin.
Mix ingredients together until smooth.
Fold in chocolate chips until distributed throughout batter.
Grease waffle maker with vegan butter, coconut oil, or a vegan non-stick spray.
Pour approximately 1/2 c of batter onto waffle griddle and bake until desired level of crispiness has been reached.