A Dietitian’s Perspective on Vices, Balance and Healthy Living

Photo: Lewis Malka

Photo: Lewis Malka

In my early twenties, after years of eating processed food, drinking way too much beer (I was in college) and partaking in a slew of other less than healthy activities—sick of being run-down and way too susceptible to colds and hangovers—I decided to have a major lifestyle overhaul. I cut out the booze and began studying up on diet and exercise. My newfound health kick ultimately ignited a passion that eventually led me down the path of becoming a dietitian. 

Though I have received a degree in nutritional science and am now registered as a dietitian, I still find myself thoroughly enjoying a stiff drink (or two) and happily devouring a decadent brownie (à la mode) every so often. And while my younger self might have been hard on herself, my 32-year-old self, (I know…I’m so mature…she says with a sarcastic smirk on her face,) has learned to wholeheartedly accept that it’s okay to be human. Sure, we should all walk our walk if we’re going to talk our talk, but I’ve never been one to buy into the whole all-or-none thing. 

I have my vices...everyone does, but I’m mindful of when, where and how often I allow myself to give in to them. For me, healthy living means listening to my body, trying to do my best on a daily basis, and understanding that no one (not even a nurse, doctor or dietitian) is perfect. We’re all human (thank goodness) and everyone’s journey to reach their ultimate healthiest self is different. I choose to have a balanced approach, to be accepting and forgiving, and to never give up trying.

If you’re looking for the lowest calorie meals, the highest calorie burning exercises, and a list of supplements you need to take in order to be your leanest, most muscular self…this might not be the blog for you. I'm someone who enjoys being active, being outdoors, and likes to eat healthy meals (most of the time). Recipes Inspired is where I journal my adventures in cooking and personal journey in health, happiness, and balanced living. Some recipes are healthier than others, but hey, that’s what balance is all about! 

Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any vices you’d like to get off your chest? What are your health goals? How do you find balance? 

Coping With a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Photo: Alamy

Photo: Alamy

"It’s cancer.” This last November, my family received the inconceivable news that my mom had breast cancer. And while I’m not the one who is physically battling the diagnosis, I wanted to share what I’ve experienced as the loved one of someone who is. 

  1. Complete Disbelief: A cancer diagnosis never makes sense. For me and my family, it was incredibly perplexing. In my head all I could think was—but my mom is active, she doesn't smoke or drink, she mostly cooks at home—she just didn't characterize what healthcare professionals would deem as high-risk for any kind of disease, let alone cancer. Then I heard the statistic—every 2 minutes, a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer. Can you believe this staggering number? As horrific as it is, we felt strength in numbers. We found comfort and support in all of the different women who were going through the same battle, women who were just as dumbfounded as we were from their own baffling diagnosis.
  2. Fear of the Unknown: Knowledge is key—researching, talking to doctors and finding support in others who’ve been touched by cancer really helped. We learned fast that arming ourselves with as much information as we possibly could was the best way to manage the anxiety that comes with the diagnosis.
  3. Do What You Can: Each member of my family is doing what we can. We all have different strengths and have found our own way to utilize them. Whether it’s finding doctors, contacting insurance companies, tracking bills, cooking, cleaning or just being there by her side—we’ve all found our own way to be supportive.
  4. Give Space and Take Time for Yourself: Just like the airplane safety instructions say, put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others. It’s hard to do this, but absolutely essential. In the beginning I wanted to do everything for my mom, I wouldn’t let her lift a finger. Then I realized 1) I was hovering 2) she probably needs to move around and 3) I just might burn out. All I want is to be there for my mom. Help her in any way that I can. Selfishly, it actually made me feel better. But there came a point where I was hurting more than I was helping. My mom who is very self-reliant, always cooking up a storm and taking care of the house, wanted to feel normal, and I was taking that away from her. So I backed off, gave her the space she wanted and needed, and took the time to recharge and find my own balance. Now, I stay with her immediately after she receives her chemo treatment and only provide help for however long she wants me to.
  5. Learn and Grow: As a nutritionist, this diagnosis really shook me. While I have worked with cancer patients in hospitals before, having it hit so close to home really made me pause. What more do I need to know? What more can I do? It jump-started a drive in me to learn more, not just about what to cook and eat, but to find out what else we can do in our lives and in our environment to help prevent this disease from affecting us again.

Facing this diagnosis has definitely been a challenge, but it’s really helped that my mom has chosen to see the brighter side. Each time we see her she lovingly says, “I feel so lucky I have each of you. I’m so happy we're together.” I really believe that it’s her positive outlook that’s keeping her healthy and getting her through each hurdle, (the diagnosis, double mastectomy, and chemo). And though we’re still going through chemo and have a ways to go in her recovery, we’ve all definitely taken something away from this experience—life is full of surprises, it truly is precious, and thank goodness we have each other to help get through the rough patches.

Sweet and Tangy Sriracha and Lime Baked Salmon

I love food and I love to cook, but I too have those frustrating, head-scratching—what should I make for dinner—days that I'm sure everyone can relate to. My surefire remedy is to make something fast, simple and easy to clean-up. I also try to use the highest quality ingredients I can find to ensure maximum impact with minimal effort. 

Fresh and flaky wild-caught salmon is perfect for such a day. Not only is it full of flavor, this wonder fish also has the added benefit of being a super food. Add a spicy sriracha and lime sauce and you'll have a no-fuss dinner that is delicious, nutritious and ready to enjoy in no-time. Pair this dish with steamed rice and a simple sauté of your favorite vegetables, and your family will never guess your struggle over dinner that day.

Note: This recipe received my 5 and 7 year old nephew and niece's seal of approval. After helping me in the kitchen and taking on the ultra important job of taste tester, they tried a bite and enthusiastically responded, "this is delicious!"

Serves 4:

Ingredients:

  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon agave
  • 2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tsp sriracha sauce 
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/4 pounds salmon fillet, skin removed
  • optional: green onion for garnish

Method:

  1. Line a baking dish with parchment paper and heat oven to 425°.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together juice, zest, agave, honey, sriracha, salt and soy sauce. Place salmon in the baking dish, pour the lime and soy sauce mixture over top. Roast salmon until cooked through and flaky, 15 minutes. 
  3. Garnish with thinly sliced green onion.

Burrata Bruschetta and Prosciutto Wrapped Melon

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This light and refreshing bruschetta dish is inspired by my friend Lisa. Beautiful, sweet, and an amazing cook, Lisa likes to use fresh and local ingredients to create her mouthwatering and healthy meals at home. She created this dish after watching one of our favorite movies Julie & Julia. Simple and full of flavor, this bruschetta is so juicy and delicious one bite will make you feel like you’re dining al fresco on the cobblestone streets of Italy.

Excited to recreate this dish at home, I stopped by the local farmer's market to pick up the key ingredient—fresh heirloom tomatoes. After selecting a colorful array, I perused the remaining aisles until I came across one of my absolute favorites…creamy and decadent burrata cheese. Ripe heirloom tomatoes plus buttery burrata equals out-of-this-world yummy! As if things could get any better...add sweet and salty prosciutto wrapped melon, pour a glass a crisp pinot grigio, and you have a fast, light and flavorful meal special enough for company and easy enough for a quick everyday meal.

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Note: I tested different variations of this bruschetta. One way was to place warmed prosciutto slices on the toast then top it with the marinated tomato mixture, omitting the burrata cheese. This variation was also super tasty and one my husband really enjoyed.

Ingredients:

  • A loaf of fresh baked french bread sliced into four 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 1 clove of garlic cut in half
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • fresh basil
  • optional: agave 
  • buratta cheese (sliced into 4 thin slices)
  • 4 strips of thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 4 slices of a ripe melon (heirloom recommended)

Method:

Bruschetta

  1. Dice the tomatoes and place in a medium sized bowl. Rinse off a handful of basil leaves (discarding the stems) and give a rough chop or tear by hand. Place the basil in the bowl with tomatoes. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of good olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let it sit for 30 minutes. Taste the tomato mixture, if extra sweetness is desired add agave (about 1 teaspoon).
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a fry pan and place over medium heat. Once hot, toast the bread on each side until golden brown. Set aside and rub the sliced garlic halve over the bread to infuse with garlic flavor. Top each piece of toast with burrata cheese. Season liberally with salt and pepper then top with the tomato mixture.

Prosciutto Wrapped Melon 

  1. Choose a ripe melon (any variety will do). I opted for an heirloom cantaloupe. It was super sweet and juicy. I like to smell the fruit to check for ripeness—the stronger the aroma of the fruit the sweeter. Slice into 1 to 1 1/2 inch slices.
  2. Wrap with prosciutto, cold or slightly toasted. To toast, simply heat up a pan with a light drizzle of olive oil and place the prosciutto slices in the pan. Let it come to a slight sizzle and turn over (1-2 seconds). Avoid overcooking to prevent the prosciutto from becoming tough. 
  3. The heated prosciutto can be used to wrap around the sliced melon or placed directly on top of the bruschetta.

Fast and Easy Oven-Baked Huevos Rancheros

Today's recipe is coming to you from Bend, Oregon. Eugene and I have been visiting our friends here for the past week and it has been such a wonderful ride. From walking around town, hiking along the Deschutes River, and the topper—standing underneath a breathtaking roaring waterfall...Bend's beauty and conservation of nature has been astounding and beyond anything we could've imagined. Not only is this town a nature-lover's paradise, it's also insanely awesome for food lovers too! With organic produce stands and gourmet butcher shops...the array of specialty stores and independently owned restaurants is like none other I've ever experienced before.

This recipe for huevos rancheros is inspired by the deliciously fresh and locally farmed eggs here in Bend. And because our party of four has been thoroughly enjoying eating outside in the fresh Oregon air, I thought baking up a batch rather than frying each individual egg separately would be best. This dish is great for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner—just serve it with a side of beans and you have a fast, festive, and easy meal that's full of flavor, healthy, and perfect for entertaining.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped canned green chiles
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (1 cup)
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted, and sliced
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
  • Optional: 1 small tomato diced for garnish

Method:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain tomatoes in fine-mesh strainer set over bowl, pressing with rubber spatula to extract as much juice as possible. Reserve 1 3/4 cups tomato juice and discard remainder. Whisk sugar and lime juice into reserved tomato juice and set aside.

2. In separate bowl, combine onion, chiles, oil, chili powder, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and drained tomatoes. Transfer tomato mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread in even layer to edges of sheet. Roast until charred in spots, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring and redistributing into even layer halfway through baking. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.

3. Transfer roasted tomato mixture to 13 by 9-inch baking dish and stir in tomato juice mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then spread into even layer. Sprinkle pepper Jack over tomato mixture. Using spoon, hollow out 8 holes in tomato mixture in 2 rows. Crack 1 egg into each hole. Season eggs with salt and pepper.

4. Bake until whites are just beginning to set but still have some movement when dish is shaken, 13 to 16 minutes. Transfer dish to wire rack, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let sit for 5 minutes. Spoon avocado over top, then sprinkle with scallions and cilantro. Serve with warm tortillas.

TO MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be made 24 hours in advance. Microwave until hot, about 2 minutes (stirring halfway) before transferring to baking dish and proceeding with recipe.

Inspired By: Cook's Country

Cold Asian Soba (Buckwheat Noodle) Salad

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Soba or buckwheat noodle is a Japanese staple and can be served both hot or cold. As a child I would often order Zaru Soba (cold buckwheat noodles) whenever my family decided on Japanese for a Friday night out on the town. Zaru Soba, which consists of chilled noodles and a cold dipping sauce is served with just a few toppings on the side—chopped green onion, grated radish and wasabi (spicy horseradish). This was the type of food I liked as a kid, minimal with very few veggies. As an adult I can proudly say that I have successfully overcome my fear of variety, and in fact now believe that the more colorful and diverse the veggies the better!

Today's recipe is an evolution of a childhood favorite. Loaded with a ton of crunchy vegetables and tossed with a light zesty dressing, this recipe is far from your typical pasta salad. It's jam-packed with flavor and the rainbow of bright beautiful colors makes it just as much a feast for your eyes as it is for your taste buds. Enjoy this cold soba salad on a hot summer day for a sweet and tangy, refreshing and vitamin-packed side. I paired it with these Sweet and Savory Soy Ginger Baby Back Pork Ribs, but I can't wait to try it again with a piece of nicely seasoned pan-seared salmon.

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Ingredients:

  • 12 oz buckwheat noodles
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • 3 green onions, sliced

Dressing:

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Method:

  1. Boil the buckwheat noodles according to package directions, for about 6-7 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
  2. Prepare the dressing while the noodles are cooking. In small bowl whisk together the rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, sriracha, and sugar until sugar is melted. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and set it aside.
  3. In a large bowl, toss all the vegetables until it's all combined together. Then add the buckwheat noodles and salad dressing and toss together.

Inspired by Sweet and Savory

Sweet and Savory Soy Ginger Baby Back Pork Ribs

My husband's family joined us in Lake Arrowhead for the weekend and to say our family get togethers are of epic proportions is an understatement. We love to cook and eat, and after the quality time spent (often in the kitchen) chatting and nibbling away, I always find myself returning home rejuvenated, inspired and ready to channel it all into a new dish.

Today's recipe which blends Korean flavors with All-American barbecue is a new spin on what one might expect when they hear the words "baby back ribs." The soy ginger dressing is inspired by my mom's Korean pork barbecue marinade. The marinade consists of pineapple which helps break down the meat making it super tender, honey creates a thick and sweet sauce, and ginger adds the perfect amount of complexity and spice.

Give these ribs a try at your next Asian-inspired party for a fun twist on a summer barbecue classic. I finished mine off under the broiler for a caramelized crust, but you could easily throw them on the grill to give them a nice smoky char. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 (approximately 3 1/2 lbs) rack of baby back pork ribs (also referred to as pork loin back ribs)

Marinade

  • 3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp minced pineapple with juice
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp fresh minced ginger

Method:

  1. Combine ingredients for marinade in a bowl and set aside. 
  2. Prepare two large ziplock bags. Cut rack of ribs in half. Place half of the rack in a bag with half of the marinade. Place the second rack in the other bag with the rest of the marinade. Zip up the bags and make sure that all sides of the racks are coated in the marinade. *Tip: Remove any excess air in the ziplock bags so that the bags lie flat, meat side down so that the marinade can coat all of the ribs. Marinade in the refrigerator for at least 3 hrs or overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap the marinated ribs separately in two pieces of foil. Place the two sets of ribs side-by-side on a baking sheet, meat side down. Bake for 2 - 2 1/2 hours then unfold the foil and broil for 5 minutes. Flip the ribs over and broil for another 5 minutes. Cut the ribs into single portions, place on a serving platter and serve warm.

Rustic and Fork-Tender Korean Short Rib Stew

We are visiting my brother in Lake Arrowhead, California for the week and boy has the kitchen been busy. With a mother and brother who are both incredible cooks, you can bet that the cabin has been filled with a steady stream of mouthwatering aromas and delectable dishes. Enjoying the tasty mix of traditional Korean and contemporary American food—it's been an inspiring week of cooking, catching up with family, and taking in the fresh mountain breeze.

This recipe for a traditional Korean stew was the perfect rustic one-pot dish for our family reunion in the mountains. Using soy sauce, brown sugar and Japanese cooking wine (mirin)—the sweet and savory flavors blended nicely to create an ultra satisfying and well-balanced meal. Cooked low and slow, the short ribs were hearty and fork tender. Just be sure to allow enough cooking time for the meat to become soft and buttery, (the longer you cook it the softer the meat will be). The carrots, potatoes and fluffy white rice provided the perfect base for slopping up all of the finger-licking good sauce. 

Try this rustic dish at your next family get-together for a warm and satisfying meal everyone will love.

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 3 lb ribs (trimmed of any excess fat)
  • 8 tbs low sodium soy
  • 2 tbs mirin
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 of large onion or 1 small onion sliced
  • 2 1/2 cup water
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sesame oil
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 2 large potato
  • 2 carrots
  • Optional: Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallion

Method:

  1. Soak short ribs in cold water in a large bowl for at least 30 minutes and change the water a few times.
  2. Boil water in a large pot. Put in the short ribs and boil for 5-10 minutes. Take out the ribs from the boiling water and wash them with cold water to remove unnecessary fat or floating bubbles. Throw away the boiling water and clean the pot. Place the clean beef short ribs back into the pot.
  3. Prepare a bowl to make seasoned water. Mix 2 1/2 cups of water, 8 tbs low sodium soy sauce, 8 cloves of minced garlic), ½ sliced onion, 2 tbs mirin, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and 3 tbs brown sugar. Add it to the short ribs (meat side down) in the pot. Boil it over medium heat for 20 minutes then reduce heat to low simmer for 1 hour.
  4. While it simmers, you can prepare the other ingredients. Cut the carrots and potatoes into 5 cm-size cubes and round the edges to make several balls (the size of the balls should be like ping pong balls). I used a vegetable peeler to round the edges.
  5. After an hour, open the lid of the pot and taste the sauce at this point. If you'd like it to be more sweet or salty add additional sugar or salt here. Then add the carrots and potatoes to the pot. Let it simmer for an additional hour over low heat. Stir the ribs and other ingredients with a wooden spoon from time to time, spooning the liquid from the bottom of the pot over the top of the meat.
  6. After another hour has passed, open the lid and check if the meat is cooked fully. Use a chopstick to poke the meat. The meat is tender enough when the chopstick passes through smoothly. 
  7. Once the meat is tender add 1 tbs sesame oil, ½ tsp black pepper, and heat it up over high heat. Mix it well until liquid evaporates. Transfer stew to a platter before serving.

Crispy Baked Lemon Pepper Chicken Drumsticks

Summer is without a doubt my favorite season. And after spending the last week at my sister and brother-in-law's house, I remembered just how this came to be. The kids are on summer break and mom is keeping them busy with all of the fun summer activities I couldn't wait to do growing up—getting to sleep in, swimming at the pool with friends, road trips to visit family, and a slew of other super fun activities. Seeing the season through the eyes of children, I was reminded of its wondrous magic. It's when lemons are picked, grills are fired, and eating outside under the warm summer haze is a luxury that can be indulged in day after day. 

Today's recipe is perfect for such an outdoor meal with bright fresh flavors and no utensils required. It parboils the drumsticks in heavily salted water which helps retain moisture and prevents undercooking. The parboil also renders out the fat, resulting in the crispy skin we all look for in our drumsticks. This is a versatile dish that would be great topped with whatever seasonings or sauces you desire. I kept mine light with some fresh lemon and seasoning powders which added just the right amount of salty, lemony goodness—but I could definitely see myself slathering on the barbecue sauce and finishing it off on the grill for some added smokiness.

We enjoyed these crispy and tender drumsticks with sweet potato wedges and corn—baking everything in the same oven at the same temperature (the corn should be wrapped in foil and placed in the oven for the last 20 minutes). The result was a super easy, tasty, and carefree meal that is just right for a warm summer day.

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Ingredients:

  • 5 raw chicken drumsticks
  • Table salt and pepper to taste
  • Onion powder (1 tbsp)

  • Garlic powder (1 tbsp)

  • Nutmeg (1 tsp)

  • Olive oil

  • 1 lemon quartered

  • Garnish with cilantro (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven with a baking sheet placed on the middle rack.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt to the water and stir. Add drumsticks and parboil drumsticks for 7 minutes.
  3. Once parboiled, remove drumsticks and place on a cutting board. Using paper towels pat the chicken dry.
  4. Drizzle drumsticks lightly with olive oil. Spread the oil using a brush or the underside of a spoon. Season all sides of drumsticks with onion powder, garlic powder, nutmeg, a squeeze of 1 lemon slice, salt and pepper to taste. (I placed each seasoning in the palm of my hand and eyeballed.)
  5. Open the oven and using a towel or mitten pull out the rack and the baking sheet. Using tongs, place the drumsticks on the baking sheet making sure to leave about a 1/2 inch between each drumstick.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Turn over halfway through to brown the under side. Once the drumsticks are a golden brown remove from the oven. Be sure to keep an eye on them. Depending on how many you cook and your oven, the time for them to get golden brown may vary. Cooking too long can result in dry drumsticks.

Spread the Awareness: Dangers of Rinsing Raw Poultry Prior to Cooking

As a public health dietitian, one of my daily responsibilities was to survey families on their knowledge of food safety. A question often incorrectly answered was in regards to poultry. "Do you rinse your chicken prior to cooking it?" With an air of I know this one, I would often hear a confident "yes, of course!" After all, our mothers, grandmothers and even great grandmothers all rinsed their chickens prior to cooking, didn't they? It was what we were all taught to do and doing otherwise was considered dirty and unsanitary. 

Why is washing your poultry prior to cooking considered dangerous? The main concern is the increased risk of spreading the bacteria Campylobacter. Watch this video to learn more about the long-term diseases that Campylobacter can lead to and how you can lower your risk of exposure to this foodborne illness inducing bacteria.

Whether you decide to take the warning of this video to heart or choose to continue your current rinsing practices, here are a few of the steps I always take to protect my family after preparing raw chicken:

  1. I wash my hands with hot soapy water immediately after handling.
  2. I make sure to wash and sanitize all surfaces with hot soapy water and non-toxic cleaners during cleanup.
  3. Then I throw my sponge and plastic cutting board into the dishwasher to ensure they are adequately sterilized and ready for when I prepare our next meal.