Lately (the Summer Edition)

Every once in awhile I love writing a "lately" style post that features a whole bunch of random favorites at the current moment. It's fun to read these on other blogs because I always learn a few new things. Make sure to leave me a comment with some of your favorite summer finds!

The Perfect Beach Read

 the rules do not apply

In terms of personal goals for this year, reading more was one of the big ones for me! So far I've read nine books this year and The Rules Do Not Apply is one of my favorites! It's a memoir written by a reporter from The New Yorker and it's raw and heartbreaking, and I could not put it down. Here's the first paragraph of the inside cover that lured me in:

When thirty-eight-year-old New Yorker writer Ariel Levy left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and successful on her own terms. A month later, none of that was true. 

I would highly recommend this for a beach read because it's quick (I finished it in two days) and compelling. 

Road Trip Podcast

There are a few new podcasts I have recently added to my rotation but my current favorite is Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. First of all, I was totally obsessed with Parenthood and he interviews several people from the cast. Secondly, I just love that he's married to Kristen Bell.

Armchair Expert is essentially a recorded conversation between Dax and one of his friends and it's really funny, lighthearted and genuine - kind of like you are getting a behind-the-scenes look at their lives. Some of my favorite episodes that I would recommend starting with are Kristen Bell, Ashton Kutcher, Jimmy Kimmel and Zach Braff (hilarious). If you have a longer road trip coming up, definitely save some of these because the episodes are usually around two hours long. 

 armchair expert podcast with Dax Shephard

Seasonal Eats

I've been feeling really inspired lately with all of the new summer produce, which has been great! Most notable are these chickpea salad radicchio cups that we'll be serving at my Summer Entertaining Made Simple event this Wednesday. P.S. All attendees will get access to the recipes that we showcase. This one is so good!

Two other recipes on my radar that I'm making ASAP: Walnut Chorizo Tacos with Pineapple Salsa and Grilled Carrots with Avocado and Mint

 chickpea salad in radicchio cups

Summer Beverages

Besides water I am loving all of these mocktails... and usually an actual cocktail if it's the weekend. My go-to adult beverages of the summer are been Infinite Monkey Theorem canned rosé (the cans are so fun!), Stem Ciders Salted Cucumber (so unique and amazing), and Epic Los Locos Mexican Lager. All of these are local to Colorado so you may or may not be able to find them if you live elsewhere. 

 Infinite Monkey Theorem canned rose

Warm Weather Movement

On the exercise front I'm still loving ClassPass (affiliate link) for the flexibility it offers. Especially in the summer, since I don't like being tied to a membership at one place (I would much rather get outside to walk or run). I am currently on the lowest membership level which equates to about one class per week and it's been perfect! I use it most often to go to my favorite Barre3 studio but love that I can pop in to a new place with friends once in awhile too.

Also worth noting, ClassPass just added wellness services like facials, massage and acupuncture to their schedule in select markets. I tried out my very first facial over the weekend for the same amount of credits as a class (a total steal) and had a fantastic experience at Glow Facial Bar in Cherry Creek. It was super relaxing and my skin was all dewy and glowing afterwards. Definitely a fun treat!

What are you reading, listening to, eating, moving to? 

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Some Thoughts on Alcohol (+ mocktail ideas)

 cocktails at Craft and Commerce in San Diego

Oh alcohol. I've loved you at times, and I've sworn off you at times. As with most things in life, we know moderation is key. But what exactly does moderation mean and what will happen if we don't pay attention to it? What if we balance the empty calories by just cutting back on food for the day? Isn't wine healthy?

If you have ever had any of these questions, I think you'll find value in this post, so read on for some thoughts on alcohol and some alternatives that taste so good, you won't miss the real thing (at least some of the time). 

New Research

I'm personally a huge fan of visiting with friends over a drink (see also: my upcoming Wine & Dine event!) but I have certainly learned the value of being cognizant of my limit over the years. This post was inspired by something I read in one of my email newsletters last month (the True Health Initiative which is fabulous, by the way!). The feature article posed the following question: 

What effect does drinking alcohol have on how long we live?

The authors went on to discuss that new research looking at alcohol consumption and life expectancy showed an association between drinking 100 grams of alcohol (which equates to just over five drinks) per week and shorter life expectancy and higher risk for chronic disease. This is less than one drink per day, which as you probably know is less than what is currently recommended as "moderate" (1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men). 

Normally association data wouldn't be a huge deal but the sample size was really large (a review including 600,000 people) so the question is, should the guidelines for moderate alcohol intake be adjusted? 

I think it's important to always consider context and amount. In other words, there's a difference between someone having one glass of wine over dinner with friends and someone slamming a cocktail sans food to get drunk. We also know that individuals have different reasons for abstaining or partaking in alcohol consumption (cultural/family norms, health history, genetics, preferences to name a few) and I think the intention behind drinking would be nearly impossible to measure, yet extremely telling of it's impact on health.

The Blue Zones

If you are familiar with The Blue Zones, a novel by Dan Buettner that outlines his experience visiting the world's healthiest regions, you know that regular and moderate alcohol consumption is a recurring theme among the populations with the greatest longevity (with the exception of Loma Linda, California). His theory is that a glass of wine with dinner might help decrease stress and also adds a social component to shared meals in addition to it's potential beneficial effect on heart health due to the polyphenols. 

All that being said, excessive alcohol consumption also has both short-term (injuries, risky behavior) and long-term risk involved (increased risk for some cancers, heart disease and stroke, dependance). Since drinking tends to be very socially acceptable in our culture, these negatives don't tend to be a major part of the discussion all that much (source). 

The Bottom Line: there are several variables to consider. 

Based on all of this, my basic recommendations haven't changed but I think it's always a good idea to assess how alcohol fits into your life and what purpose it serves.

If you seem to always resort to a drink after a bad day, it would probably be helpful to find another coping mechanism and really get to the root of the issue that keeps nagging at you. If you constantly feel crappy on the weekend because of overdoing it on drinks the night before, then you might not be reaching your personal and professional goals and making some changes could help you do that. Here are some general takeaways.

If you don't currently drink, don't start for health reasons.

The research is not strong enough to support doing so. 

If you do drink, keep the following things in mind:

  • Keep it simple: think wine, beer and cocktails with basic fresh ingredients versus the sugary pre-made concoctions and mixers, whipped cream studded ice cream drinks or oversized fish bowls. Most drinks can be made simply and taste just as good if not better in their unadulterated version and in a normal serving size.  

  • Drink something you actually enjoy. I know it's tempting to switch to vodka/sodas to save on calories and sugar, but do you even like the taste? If not, you might be more likely to overdo it. I like to think of this as similar to the diet dessert paradox. You know, like when you eat an entire pint of Halo Top ice cream since it's low in calories. Have the real stuff and enjoy it.
     
  • Watch the amount. A serving of wine is 5 oz and some glasses can make it tricky to keep track. A serving of beer is 12 oz (not a pint) at 4% alcohol content. Keep in mind that a lot of the craft beer that's popular now has a WAY higher alcohol content (in some cases more than double) so in those cases, this would be more than one serving. In terms of the hard stuff, a 1.5 oz shot is one drink so a "double" would count as two, and so on. 
     
  • Don't skip meals to compensate. Back in college, I remember thinking this was a smart strategy but now I'm older and wiser, and so are you. Not having food in your stomach means the alcohol is absorbed faster and can lead to all sorts of negative side effects (like dehydration & headache or you know, getting wasted and then eating the entire bowl of tortilla chips that was supposed to be for everyone). Trust me when I say that the end result is probably not going to work out like you planned, so try your best to maintain a normal eating routine and everybody wins. 
     
  • Try out mocktails. Mocktails have gotten a lot more interesting since the kiddy cocktail days. I have found that sometimes I crave the ritual of having a drink for the fun of it while making dinner, but it's not really the alcohol that I want. Plus I know that if I have a drink every day of the week I don't feel all that good. In these situations, grab something that still feels fancy minus the alcohol. 

Mocktail Ideas

Need some suggestions? Here are a few options that are simple if you stock your kitchen with a few basic staples.

Spindrift. I still love basic seltzer water, but this is something new that I throw into the rotation every now and again. It has just a touch of fresh-squeeze juice added for a bit more flavor. My favorite flavor is cucumber and you can jazz it up with fruit or herbs. 

Kombucha (I am semi-obsessed with this one).

LaCroix over ice + slice of lemon, lime or cucumber. Could I BE anymore of a millennial? But for real, just pouring it in a tumbler and adding a garnish makes this feel fun. 

Ice water topped off with Simply Lemonade. I love the taste of lemonade but I don't always want something so sweet so I dilute it with water. You could also do a 1/2 and 1/2 style drink with iced tea. 

Iced tea with a sprig of mint (like this one or this one - both local to Colorado). 

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Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing

 blueberry farro salad with creamy fresh herb dressing

Can I just eat this for lunch every day for the rest of the summer please? Okay so maybe I would get tired of it after a week or so but add of side of watermelon and an ice cold beer and this Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing is what summer dreams are made of. 

All About Farro

What exactly is farro?

Farro, which is actually pronounced "FARE-oh" (I just found out I've been saying it wrong for years! anyone else?) is an ancient grain - meaning it has been consumed for thousands of years and has been largely unchanged over time (1). It falls into the same category as some trendier counterparts such as quinoa, millet and sorghum, all of which pack a big nutritional punch and are typically purchased unrefined.

Health Benefits of Whole Wheat

Farro is whole wheat, which means it is not suitable for the gluten-free folks out there. And although I find that wheat gets a bad rap these day, the health benefits are well established and include reduced risk for many chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke (2, 3). The high fiber content is likely responsible for these benefits since as we know, fiber acts like roughage going through the digestive tract pulling in water and waste while keeping things running smoothly. Fiber is also highly satisfying (i.e. hard to overeat) and promotes a healthy gut microbiota in addition to its many other amazing beneficial qualities. 

The Process

Let's Talk About That Dressing

Should I rename this blog, "all things tahini"? Just kidding. Although I'm back with another way to use it in this fabulous dressing recipe. The cool thing is that it's luxurious and creamy but still vegan and dairy free for those of you with dietary restrictions. Balsamic vinaigrette is great and all, but sometimes you just need something creamy, amiright? 

For this particular version, I mixed in copious amounts of fresh herbs for flavor along with some lemon juice for brightness. Something sweet is usually a good thing with tahini, even if just a drizzle so there is a touch of maple syrup to balance out the bitterness. 

Another nice thing is, you can make it ahead of time and use it on just about everything from traditional salads to grain bowls. It should last for about 5-7 days in the fridge. I know the blender is a little bit high maintenance, but trust me when I say you will thank me later! 

The Other STar Ingredients

Pictured below are the core ingredients you need to bring the actual salad together. Now, I love a simple whole grain salad as both a side dish or a light lunch in the summertime heat. My basic no-fail formula is grain + fruit + flavorful cheese + nut + dressing to bring it all together. Beyond that, you can get creative and make it your own based on what you find at the farmer's market or what you need to use up in your fridge at the moment. I also keep color and texture at top of mind. Experiment with different whole grains to find your favorite!

 blueberry farro salad ingredients

The specific brand of farro that I purchased (see above) cooked in just 10 minutes. I thought that was pretty awesome because this made for a really fast lunch. While it cooks, you can seed and chop the cucumber (no need to peel). Note: I used a Persian cucumber here. I love them because they are small and less watery than the larger, traditional cucumbers. An English cucumber would also work great. 

Small dice the onion (really small) and then soak it in some cold water to take some of the bite away. This is a simple step that makes a huge difference in the final product!

Pro tip: Use the soak method on any traditionally bitter vegetable when using it raw. You would be surprised how well it works. Beware of using raw onion in salads because you might be risking onion breath for the rest of the day. Just sayin'. 

 ingredients chopped up and ready to go in bowl
 blueberry farro salad ingredients chopped and in bowl

Once all of your ingredients are ready to go, add them to a medium-size bowl and mix until well combined. At this point you can add the dressing and I would highly recommend chilling if you have the time. When ready to serve, garnish with walnuts (or any other favorite nut or seed) and serve as a side dish or over some mixed greens for a light lunch. 

 blueberry farro salad with creamy fresh herb dressing in a bowl

Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing

Author: Leanne Ray, MS, RDN
Yield: 4 servings | Prep time: 15 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes

Salad ingredients

  • 1 cup farro
  • 1/4 red onion, small diced
  • 1/2 pint blueberries
  • 1 small Persian cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts 

Dressing Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • Juice from one large lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chives
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley
  • 2 tsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

instructions

  1. Put a medium saucepan of water on the stove and bring to a boil.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, make the dressing by adding those ingredients (tahini through garlic powder) into a food processor or blender and running until mixed thoroughly. Slowly stream in warm water while the motor is still running until consistency is smooth and creamy (should drip from a spoon). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a jar or other airtight container and put in the refrigerator to chill.
  3. Once water is boiling, cook farro per package directions. 
  4. Meanwhile, prep the onion, blueberries and cucumber and add to a large bowl along with the farro. 
  5. Add about 1/2 cup of the dressing to the salad (or per preference) and mix well to combine. Top with walnuts just before serving. 

Sources:

1. Whole Grains Council. Whole Grains 101 (Wheat). Retrieved from https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whats-whole-grain/ancient-grains. 

2. Zong G, Gao A, Hu FB and Sun Q. Whole Grain Intake and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Circulation. 2016; 133(24):2370-80. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25646321. 

3. Dagfinn A, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016;353:i2716. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2716.