Monday, May 5, 2014

Recipe! Balsamic Strawberry Pizza

Over the weekend I went grocery shopping to stock up for week 2 of Tone It Up's Bikini Series (which you can read more about here) and while I had a ton of food, I had NO clue what I wanted to eat for lunch. I have been having a random craving for caramelized onions lately, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that, butttt how?!

Pizza. The answer is always pizza.

The next challenge was what else to put on it?! Balsamic glaze? Yes.  How do you even make a balsamic glaze?

Finally.. toppings?! I had eaten a balsamic fig flatbread type of pizza from my work that was AMAZING, but I didn't have any figs. Butttt I had strawberries. Why not, let's try it.

Put it all together..... *drumroll please*.....
Slightly time consuming, more so than I generally prefer, but worth it.

I ate a piece before I took the pic hehe

So here it is, my recipe for Balsamic Strawberry Pizza:

Caramelized onions
Side note: honestly. mine didn't turn out that well, I had JUST enough for the two mini pizzas I made after weeding out the severely burned ones, so feel free to google whatever recipe you think will turn out the best for you.

For the balsamic glaze:
1 Cup Balsamic vinegar
1/4 Cup brown sugar
(You'll end up with leftovers, so I poured the remainder into a small mason jar and stuck it in the fridge for the next time I make this because there definitely will be a next time.)

For the pizza:
2 whole wheat pitas, but next time I will make a bigger version and use Trader Joe's pre-made pizza crust (it's vegan)
1 Cup Trader Joe's Vegan Mozzarella Shreds (or adjust to your liking)
2 Large Strawberries sliced into several pieces
Big handful of arugula
1 Tbsp Olive oil

Directions: Start with caramelizing your onions, those take the longest. The balsamic glaze was super easy, in a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and stir until the brown sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350. One the balsamic glaze is done, get your pitas and lightly coat them on both sides with olive oil. Get about 1 Tbsp (or more!) of the glaze and spread it on the pitas. Then layer the cheese, caramelized onions, and strawberries. Put both pitas on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes. Cheese should be bubbly and edges should be lightly browned. Once out of the oven, cut into 4 slices, throw a big handful of arugula on top and nom on those bad boys because you'll definitely eat both of them, even though one was supposed to be for your boyfriend.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bikini Series 2014!!!

Good morning and happy Monday! Today is no ordinary Monday though, it is the first day of Tone It Up's annual Bikini Series!
I've talked about Tone It Up in the past, and how their nutrition plan has helped me shed over 20 pounds over the last several months. The Bikini Series comes around once a year, and is an 8 week health and fitness challenge to get you into shape come summer! The best part is that it is open to everyone, you don't have to purchase their Nutrition Plan to participate (although, I HIGHLY recommend it). Last year I joined Tone It Up right in the middle of the Bikini Series, and although I didn't participate, it looked amazing! I knew this was something I wanted to be apart of in the future, so I'm so happy to dive in head first this year. 
I wanted to share my goals for the Bikini Series to help keep me accountable, and to have a place to look back and motivate myself if need be!

Goals for the Bikini Series 2014:
  • Lose at least 10 more pounds
  • Complete 100 By Summer (or more!)
  • Follow Tone It Up's eating guidelines
  • Morning workouts (aka Booty Calls) 3x a week AT LEAST!
  • Stay on track through my vacation in Texas
  • Limit my processed sugar intake
  • Do more yoga
My biggest downfall when it comes to living an active and healthy lifestyle would be consistency. I'm great at starting out, but as time goes by I find myself getting more lenient about what I eat and when I work out.  I'm also notorious for hitting the snooze button one too many times. I want to break this habit and get up in the morning to get in that workout! I know how great I feel when I do, despite the actual process of waking up so early.

How I'm going to improve on these bad habits:
  • Plan out a weekly schedule that is relevant to me specifically.
  • Reward myself at the end of each week for sticking to all of my planned workouts with a healthy treat or small gift.
  • Meal prep! I'm more successful when there is less I have to do in the mornings.
  • Sleep in my workout clothes before my Booty Call workouts! This always gets me more excited about hitting the gym in the wee hours of the morning when I'm already dressed for it. 
  • Keep my phone  a good distance away. Like I said, notorious snoozer. My boyfriend hates it. So I'm going to keep my phone out of arms reach so that I HAVE to get up to turn it off, and if I'm up, might as well work out!
5 Things I Have Already Accomplished (so far!)

  • Lost 20 pounds
  • Completed my first cleanse
  • Stuck to a vegan diet for 5 months
  • Ran 1 mile in under 10 minutes
  • Got a raise at work
Listing out my accomplishments actually makes me realize how far I have come and the great things I can do when I set my mind to them. I want to really push myself over the next 8 weeks to complete all of the goals I set, and look fabulous come summertime! They don't call it the BIKINI Series for no good reason!

Today I'll be taking my "before" pictures, weight, and measurements so that I can compare my results at the end of the challenge. 

It is not too late to join me and the thousands of women across the world participating in this challenge. What is stopping you from looking your best this summer?! It is free and they offer so many chances to win amazing prizes. Plus, you'll never find a more loving, supportive, encouraging group of women anywhere else. This is where you want to be! Sign up here: BIKINI SERIES

I'll be doing daily check-ins on Instagram to document my journey. Follow me @plantbasedmelissa

Friday, April 18, 2014

Going Vegan: Resources That Helped Me Transition My Diet

In light of a few close friends and family members of mine deciding to give veganism a go, I thought I would compile some resources for them to have to ease their transition to this amazing lifestyle!
I was absolutely that person that said phrases like "I could never give up bacon!" "But I love cheese soooo much!" I never thought that one day out of the blue I would make the decision to stop eating animal based foods. My biggest reason for eliminating all of those foods was my health. I've read countless articles a few books that all determine eating a plant based diet is one of the healthiest things you could do for your body. There is no cholesterol to worry about, you will lose weight, ward of diseases, lower blood pressure, plus so much more. But for those who worry that it may not come so easy to them, here is some extra resources to help ease your transition to a plant based diet.

First and foremost, I would recommend doing your research. I'm not the kind of person who jumps in to things blindly, I like having my facts straight and being able to weigh the pros and cons of any decision. Also, as a disclaimer, if you have any major health concerns, always a good idea to consult with your doctor before making any major changes!

Here are several things that I have found useful as a new vegan :) 

Forks Over Knives
Food, Inc.

All of these documentaries primarily focus on the health aspects of veganism, but they do include graphic images regarding the nature of how our food is acquired. If that is part of your concern, I would also suggest watching Earthlings. I couldn't finish it because of how violent it was. I don't need more than a couple of minutes of watching that to know I made the right decision for myself.

Main Street Vegan

 I loved this book because it appealed to your every day person. The author approaches veganism in a way that anyone could relate to, vegan or otherwise.

I have also just started reading "Living Among Meat Eaters: A Vegetarian Survival Guide"

  I thought the title was silly, but it is actually very relevant. I won't lie, sometimes the social aspect of being a vegan can be difficult. Friends start apologizing for eating meat in front of you, family thinks you're totally bananas, people get defensive for no reason because they think you're going to lecture or judge them for their dietary choices. All of this comes along with the territory, unfortunately, so you need to find the best way to answer politely and not become "that vegan".
Here is the description provided by the author's website. 

"An invisible meat eater/vegetarian dynamic exists. Left unacknowledged it traps both groups in social interactions that can be painful and upsetting: conversations that become arguments; interactions that become confrontations; meals that exclude vegetarians; friends who sabotage them; nonvegetarian lovers who alienate them. Living Among Meat Eaters guides vegetarians through these sticky situations with friends, relatives, co-workers, waitstaff, and partners. Whereas meat eaters may be surprised that such a book is necessary, vegetarians will understand immediately. Nothing prepares us for the reactions our vegetarianism prompts from the larger meat-eating culture. Nothing, that is, until now."

However radical they are, have some great resources on their website for your viewing pleasure.

Vegan food and lifestyle bloggers save my life every day when it comes to finding delicious recipes to make that are totally vegan as well as providing other kinds of information and useful tools!
Oh She Glows
The Blonde Vegan 
Logical Harmony

NxtNutrio - Bar code scanner that you can customize to your dietary preferences, and will alert you if the product you scan contains any of the restricted ingredients you choose.

Is It Vegan?  - Similar to NxtNutrio, but not as extensive

VeganFinder - Locates vegan or vegan friendly restaurants near you! (SO handy!)

Cruelty-Free - Extensive list of companies who are cruelty-free 

 Looking at this list, I can see how it could be easy to get overwhelmed with the copious amounts of information your brain needs to process, but my best advice is to take it one day at a time. If you slip up at first, don't beat yourself up! You're learning a completely different lifestyle than one you have led your entire life. Do not get discouraged.

Do not let others influence your decision on way or the other. You're doing this for YOU and only you. However, DO be open and honest with those closest to you about your new adventure, and let them how much their support means to you and your success.

Know that you have OPTIONS! There are TONS of vegan alternatives to everything you love and hold dear. There are vegan alternatives to: cheese, chorizo, chicken, beef, milk, chocolate, cupcakes, cookies, ice cream, doughnuts, muffins, pastas, pizzas, and the list goes on forever. That doesn't mean you should eat all of this all the time obviously, though. Focus on eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans.

Finally, if someone offers you a bite of their steak, or your boss brings in doughnuts for the office, just smile and politely say "no, thank you :) "

For my fellow vegans, what helped you make the transition? I'd love to hear about it!

Friday, April 11, 2014

10K Training Plan

Back in December last year I ran my first 10K. I was in no way prepared for it because I lacked the discipline to train consistently. I paid for it dearly afterward because I was in so much pain! I decided that I'm ready to give it another go and I signed up for the Mermaid Series 10K scheduled for May 10th.

 I have almost exactly 4 weeks to prepare myself! Thankfully, I haven't totally been slacking since December and have been doing other races and jogging in my free time. It's time to kick myself into gear though and get ready for this upcoming challenge! (PR anyone?!)
Here is my schedule for the next 4 weeks, and I will be posting updates to keep myself accountable.
(Adopted from
Week 1:
Day 1: 30 min cross-train
Day 2: 2 miles easy run
Day 3: rest
Day 4: 2 miles easy run
Day 5: 30 cross-train or rest
Day 6: 3 miles long run
Day 7: 2 miles brisk walk or rest

Week 2:
Day 1: 30 min cross-train
Day 2: 2.5 miles easy run
Day 3: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 4: 2.5 miles easy run
Day 5: rest
Day 6: 4 miles long run
Day 7: 2 miles brisk walk or rest

Week 3:
Day 1: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 2: 3 miles easy run
Day 3: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 4: 3 miles easy run
Day 5: Rest
Day 6: 5 miles long run
Day 7: 2 miles brisk walk or rest

Week 4:
Day 1: 3 miles easy run
Day 2: 30 min cross-train or rest
Day 3: 3 miles easy run
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: 2 miles easy run
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Race day!

What is the best way you have found to prepare for a race? Let me know! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chocolate! Do I Need to Say More?

Hello Blog Universe!

It has been a pretty intense past couple of weeks. Between working two jobs, moving, running a 5K, and unpacking/shopping for the new place I have just been so overwhelmed! Finally we are getting settled and work has calmed down a bit. Last night was my first real night of being able to relax! I made myself and my best friend the Spicy BBQ Chickpea Burgers from Oh She Glows, and we chatted over some wine for a couple of hours. I feel lucky to have so much going on, but it really makes me appreciate what little down time I get! It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of your life, so it is extra important to find a balance and make sure you're taking care of yourself.

One of the ways that I look forward to treating myself with is, of course, chocolate! Not just regular ol' Hershey's milk chocolate either (yuck!) I'm talking about the wonders of cacao: chocolate's purer, healthier relative.  I have always had a major sweet tooth growing up, and throughout my whole journey of getting healthy and weight loss, I never lost it. When I found out that chocolate could be beneficial to your health (in moderation, of course), you know I jumped right on that train. I was able to find healthier ways to satiate my chocolatey cravings with the use of cacao. You can find it at any health food store in a variety of different forms.  By (one) definition cacao is: the dried seeds of a tropical tree that are used to make cocoa and chocolate. In the simplest terms, it is the raw base of what we all refer to as chocolate, before the sweeteners and preservatives are added.

In this form and in the minimally processed forms like certain dark chocolates, cacao provides a number of health benefits. I found this great little chart that explains it pretty well!

Now you're absolutely craving some yummy chocolatey goodness, aren't you?! I honestly add cacao nibs to a ton of things like as a topping on a smoothie, sprinkled on top of my waffle in the morning, mixed in with yogurt, the list goes on. Luckily for you, I've also found and tested some pretty amazing (and healthy!) recipes to curb my craving and provide me with all of these wonderful benefits.

Chocolate Chia Seed Superfood Pudding - Gluten-free and Vegan
serves 2 from Free People Blog
1 1/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (like almond or coconut)
1/4 cup chia seeds
3 tablespoons raw cacao powder
Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt
1 tablespoon organic maple syrup or raw honey
Dark Chocolate shavings for garnish

Add all of the ingredients to a large glass jar with a lid, give it a quick stir, then put the lid on. Shake it like crazy to mix it all up. Refrigerate until very thick and pudding-like, at least 4 hours or overnight, shaking or stirring occasionally. Serve the pudding chilled with whatever topping you’d like.

100% Raw, Clean, Guilt-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
recipe courtesy of The Blonde Vegan 
Serves 9-12 (depending on how big you make them)
Peanut Butter Portion:
-       ½ cup natural peanut butter
-       ½ cup natural almond butter (you can also do 1 cup of one or the other)
-       1 tbsp organic agave syrup (may substitute with maple syrup or honey)
-       2 tbsp organic coconut oil (melted)
Chocolate Portion:
-       ½ cup cacao powder
-       1 tbsp organic agave syrup
-       1/3 cup coconut oil (melted)
-       ¼ cup organic vegan chocolate chips
  1. Whip out your trusty muffin trays, and if you don’t have them, buy them, because they come in handy for just about every yummy treat.
  2. Combine the nut butters, coconut oil and agave syrup in a bowl and stir until the ingredients are well mixed.
  3. Place a spoonful of the mixture into each muffin cup until you have used it all.
  4. Place in the freezer until hardened. Now time to start on the chocolate portion!
  5. Combine the cacao powder, coconut oil, agave and chocolate chips in a bowl and stir until well mixed.
  6. Place a spoonful of the chocolate mixture over the hardened peanut butter mixture.
  7. Pop them back into the freezer and harden. Now comes the hard part – wait until they are hard so you can nom on those puppies!

Both of those recipes are certified delicious, and boyfriend approved. Just try typing in "cacao" on Pinterest, and you'll see how diverse this amazing superfood can be!

What recipes using cacao have you tried and loved?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Then and Now: My Journey Thus Far :)

Every once in a while, it's a beautiful thing to look back and see how far you've come from the person you were only a few short years ago.
My 21st birthday was a time of great joy and excitement. I had my own apartment, a great job, my amazing boyfriend, and a supportive family; life was really just beginning for me.  I was a point in my where I was just comfortable with everything around me and I let life take it's toll. Enter: alcohol calories, bar food, greasy hangover breakfasts, you get the idea. The weight slowly crept on and before I knew it, I was the heaviest I have ever been.

I'm not proud of the decisions I made back then regarding my health, but I am proud of the one decision I made that changed my entire life: Get healthy. I started a program in May 2012 that was a strict low-carb, nearly no carb diet. I avoided bread, rice, and pasta, and consumed only small portions of fruit and vegetables. My main caloric intake came from protein. Lots of lean chicken breast, turkey, salmon, cheese, and yogurt. In 6 months I had dropped 40 pounds simply from changing the way I ate. I went on the occasional walk during this time, but did little to no other form of exercise. As soon as I ended this program and began eating normally again, the weight began to come right back. Although this diet provided me with drastic results, I've come to realize that this is not a sustainable way to eat or live as a healthy individual. I spent the next several months trying to balance a social life, a full-time job, school, and everything else in between. I found myself stuck and unable to commit to eating right or working out.

Fast forward a few months later to May of 2013, when I found Tone It Up through Lauren Conrad's website. The founders of Tone It Up, Karena and Katrina, two beautiful, fit women had created an online community across the world of women who inspired each other to become the healthy and happy individuals I have grown to admire and draw strength from every day. After trying some of their workouts and recipes, I immediately purchased the Nutrition Plan and dove head first into one of their "Slim Downs". The wealth of information about health and nutrition they provide in the plan really gave me a strong base to start eating healthy again - the right way.  I learned to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats - even a few sweet treats as well! I discovered that being healthy is a daily commitment, and  you have to constantly work at it. Through Tone It Up, I have connected with like-minded women in my area who have become great friends, and an amazing source of motivation for those days when I just don't feel up to the task.

   2011                                           Today!
Since starting Tone It Up, I have not only began eating healthy again, (and going vegan!) I also started incorporating different types of work outs. I didn't want to just lose weight, I wanted to be strong and fit.  I began boxing at a local gym, jogging (yikes!), and strength training. I now have four 5k races, and a 10k under my belt, and this Saturday I'm doing a 5k obstacle course/mud run with a few girlfriends. In the coming months, I have another 10k lined up, and I also plan to sign up for a half marathon by the end of the year. Health and fitness has not only just become a daily part of my life, it is now one of my greatest sources of happiness. I've grown a lot over the past few years, and I've learned to fall in love with my body for the amazing things it has shown me I can do. I've managed to drop the 20 pounds I gained back last year and then some; plus now I've got some baby muscles!!

The past couple years have been a roller coaster, but I'm glad to say that I've found my stride. I've not yet reached my goals, but I'm a lot closer to them then I have ever been. Even when I do get there, I'll just be ready with some new, more challenging goals!  I've already come this far, and I can't wait to share the rest of my journey with you :)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Literally The Best Quesadilla, Ever.

I'm a huge fan of Mexican cuisine. Luckily for me, it is super easy to "veganize" many popular Mexican dishes. I was browsing Pinterest the other day and came across this super delicious looking quesadilla (sans the cheese) that I wanted to try immediately. The recipe is from Love My Vegan Life and she had it right; it really is the best vegan quesadilla!! The best quesadilla in general, for that matter. The hummus really gives it a creaminess so you don't even miss the cheese. You can definitely put all the vegan cheese you want on there, but I preferred it without :)
Anyway, I'll get right to it, here's the recipe:

The Best Vegan Quesadillas
 recipe and photo courtesy of  Love My Vegan Life 

What you'll need:
1 medium red onion, chopped,
10 scallions (green and white parts) chopped,
small bunch of cilantro (depends on your personal taste preferences) chopped
(I just threw all of this into my little ninja chopper so it mixed it all up and chopped it finely, you'll have leftovers of this to use on other recipes! )
Flour tortillas (I used Sonoma Traditional Organic Tortillas)
1 can of rinsed organic black beans (or other beans of your choice)
1 package of chipotle hummus (from Trader Joes, if you don’t have it, just add a ½ tsp of taco seasoning to a small container of roasted red pepper hummus) <-- That is what I did, I couldn't find chipotle hummus at Whole Foods.
1 tomato, diced (or fresh tomato salsa)
Onion/scallion/cilantro mix
Taco seasoning
Avocado (or guacamole)
Pre-heat a nonstick skillet with a tiny drop of olive oil. Take 2 tortillas, and spread a decent amount of hummus on each of them. Take one and gently placed on heated skillet hummus side up. Start loading – black beans first, tomatoes, onion/scallion/cilantro mix, and be generous with all the ingredients, you want this to be a hearty dinner! Sprinkle some taco seasoning and cover with the other tortilla, hummus side down. Let it sit on the skillet (on a medium low) for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden and warmed up inside.

I topped my quesadilla with fresh avocado and some vegan sour cream. It was so delicious, and I want another one so bad as I'm typing this. I especially loved that this took such a minimal amount of effort to make. If I see more than like 10 ingredients, or a long and tedious list of directions, I just kind of chuckle to myself because that is probably never going to happen. The best part about this recipe though is that it got the boyfriend stamp of approval :) He enjoyed it just as much as I did, and I'm honestly probably going to make it again tonight.

Let me know if you try it!
and I want to know, what other recipes have you successfully veganized?