Healthy Reviews

Healthy Mind, Healthy Reviews

The Joys of Being a Girl at LUNAFEST

March 2, 2014

I absolutely love my boyfriend to death. We have this crazy relationship where we actually enjoy spending time with each other. He’s one of the most energetic people I know, and it never ceases to amaze me how he can take an unplanned Sunday afternoon and turn it into a crazy adventure. On top of that, his endless knowledge of current events, and my passion for deep conversation, could keep us talking for hours. We spend A LOT of time together. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because of this wonderful man in my life, I often forget the importance of girl time. You know, chit-chatty, dream sharing, clothes obsessing, emotionally charged, GIRL TIME.

Take that as a warning that I’m about to get pretty mushy on you.


The film festival put on by women, for women, and about women. It is, of course, sponsored by that delicious nutrition bar, we all know and love that is specifically formulated for women (LUNA Bars).

This past week I got the honor of attending LUNAFEST as a health food blogger. Besides attending the event itself, I was also provided with LUNA gift packs to giveaway to you guys (see MAKE IT UP MEAL CONTEST!).

I’d like to play it cool and act like this happens all the time for But it totally doesn’t. So can I just say, in all seriousness…YAY!!!

LUNAFEST was established in 2000 by LUNA to simultaneously promote women filmmakers, raise awareness for women’s issues, and support women’s nonprofit organizations. Best of all, 100% of the net proceeds go to charity.

I felt good vibes from the moment I stepped through the door. The room was absolutely packed with women and healthy food and drink and laughter. After an hour or so of mingling and eating (including food from LYFE Kitchen – a place I’ve been dying to blog about; it is so nutritiously good), we sat down for the film festival portion.

There were 9 films total. From a team of women in their 70’s playing competitive basketball, to an adorable story of unrequited love with the mailman, each story made an impression on me. But my favorite one would have to be Flying Anne.

Flying Anne is a story about beautiful 11-year-old Anne, who is lanky and awkward just like we all were at that age. But her discomfort with her body is triggered by more than just puberty; Anne suffers from Tourettes Syndrome. Throughout her day, she twists and twirls and even licks nearby objects because of an uncontrollable function of her brain.

Her favorite thing to do is “fly.” Flying could mean riding her bike, climbing the monkey bars or shimmying up fences. It’s only when she’s up high or gliding through the air that she feels free because nobody is around to judge her.

Ever since I saw this film, I can’t help but think about the long and hard road to self-confidence. I am 28 years old, and I am JUST NOW feeling comfortable in my own skin. I love the way I look, I love the way I feel, and I know how to treat my body to keep it that way. But holy shit did that take a lot of work (and I still continue to work on it). If I had to add an uncontrollable twitch or twirl in to the mix, or any physical or neurological disorder, I’m not sure I would have made it.

As the film progresses, you see how this little girl copes. You see her pain and embarrassment, but you also see her happy moments (including an adorable little boy with a big crush on her). At the very end, she is asked if she could get rid of her Tourettes, would she? And she oh-so-maturely says, “No, because then I wouldn’t be Anne anymore.”

Wow. I’m impressed. This 11-year-old just schooled me. It’s taken me a lot of years to figure that out for myself. But I know now, with all of my flaws, anxiety and weird idiosyncrasies, that I wouldn’t want to be anybody else.


But this is what I’m talking about. Every once in a while, we need to get emotional and mushy and be girly. So if you’d like to join me in this girl time, I’ve compiled the websites of the films here so you can see them for yourself. Not all of them had a website, so a few are just links to articles or website mentions. My top recos would be Sidewalk (animated story of a woman's changing body), First Match (heart-wrenching story of a young girl determined to wrestle with the boys and impress her father), and Tiny Tiny Magic (sweet story of an unexpected love connection with the mailman). 

Last but not least, thank you so much to LUNA Bar for hosting my MAKE-IT-UP MEAL recipe contest. Congratulations to the winners…

  • Maggie Bronny for her Bowl of Randomness
  • Margaret Hutson for her Mega Sandwich
  • Michelle Fairbrother for her Vegetarian Roasted Mediterranean Salad

So go watch a rom-com, make a healthy lunch and eat a chocolate brownie LUNA Bar. In the words of a wise group of scantily-dressed British women:


Healthy Reviews

Sensory Overload: A Guide To New York Dining From A Girl With High Expectations

December 26, 2013

The moment I stepped foot outside my hotel in New York, I became Buddy The Elf. I could not stop ogling the sights, giggling at the simplest things (oh my god, there really are hot dog stands on every corner and shoe-shiners outside every building) and taking pictures at every step.

I found beauty in buildings….

Helmsley Building on prestigious Park Avenue, only a block from our hotel room.

Helmsley Building on prestigious Park Avenue, only a block from our hotel room.

I found art in shopping…

Window at Bergdorf Goodman; the holiday theme featured every holiday imaginable - from Valentine's Day to Christmas.

Window at Bergdorf Goodman; the holiday theme featured every holiday imaginable – from Valentine’s Day to Christmas.

I found talent in hidden places…

Breathtaking opera singer underneath a bridge in Central Park - I wish I had a recording because

Breathtaking opera singer underneath a bridge in Central Park – I wish I had a recording because “Wow!”

But more than anything, I found food. Yes, the first thought of every day was – what am I going to eat and where? I must fit it all in – food trucks, coffee shops, Greenwich Village cafes, and at least one fantastic mind-blowing dinner. And guess what? I did. I did just that. 

I’ve recorded all my memories, as best as I can remember them, for you here. If any of you ever visit New York, you’ll most likely feel the same anxiety I did – there’s so much to do, and so little time. You’ll think, I want to only experience “the best” spots. But guess what? You will. And you can’t worry about what you’ve missed when you leave. Because New York is about following your senses, and finding what speaks to you. It was built to serve all tastes, diets, ethnicities, and yes, even pocket books. Remember this and I promise you – you’ll have an unforgettable time. Because it’s inevitable.



Swedish coffee shop. Known for their espressos, fresh ingredients and decadent chocolate truffles. I had an egg salad wrap and an espresso. The egg salad was incredibly fresh. The espresso, anti-climactic. They assumed I wanted it to-go. And when a tiny shot of espresso is served in a paper to-go cup, it really ruins the taste and the effect. The best part was how close it was to the Plaza Hotel, where I discovered….


The Tartinery

The real Tartinery is actually a fine French cuisine restaurant located in Nolita, but this location is more of a wine bar/juice bar/breakfast bar located in the open-area Food Hall of the Plaza hotel. I ordered a Healthy Elixir mixed with carrots, kale, ginger and some other good stuff. It was smooth and refreshing and totally hit the spot after my mildly disappointing espresso. But more than anything, my eyes got to experience gourmet food heaven. The Tartinery was one of many food bars. It sat amongst a lobster bar, a coffee bar, a chocolate bar, a frozen yogurt bar, a sushi bar, and countless bakeries with beautiful pastries lit-up in elegant glass cases. It was bright and lively and decadent – a casual yet luxurious environment that made me wish I was a real guest of the hotel, but also happy just to bask in it for a little while. 

Joe The Art of Coffee

The next morning, I was determined to spend the day in Greenwich Village, walking every street and poking my head in every boutique and cafe. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain. I consulted my Fodor’s Guide, which took me straight to Joe’s for their works-of-art-lattes. I was so excited to get out of the rain and enjoy one that I ordered quickly without thinking. Of course, the default-order for any latte is whole milk based. I took one sip and knew – even if I was on vacation – that I couldn’t stomach rich, creamy whole fat milk. I exchanged it for a soy latte, apologizing profusely and offering to pay for it, and they refused to accept it and quickly made me another masterpiece. It was most definitely beautiful, and did taste good, but I must admit, didn’t blow my mind. With no egg sandwiches or substantial breakfast food in sight, I also had an Apricot scone on the side. I left hungry for real food (exactly what I was hoping for).

Alice’s Tea Cup

My encounter with Alice’s Tea Cup was true serendipity. I never would have went there had I not run into a lady from London named Suzy. I was lost and a little flustered when I found an older, well-dressed, kind-faced woman on the street. My experience with New Yorkers so far had been wonderful in helping me find my way so I didn’t hesitate to stop and ask this lady for directions. Ironically, I found out that she was actually more lost than me, looking for a place called Alice’s Tea Room. After hearing her accent and her gentle demeanor, I felt compelled to help her find her way. And hell, I was curious about Alice’s Tea Room too (my Mom is British and I knew she would love a picture of it). By the time we had found it, Suzy decided to invite me to join her for a spot of tea. I enjoyed Apricot Brandy tea and shared the most amazing scone I ever had in my life with Suzy (Pumpkin Caramel Glaze). We talked about England, family, and the scary similarities between her daughter in Los Angeles (also an only child) and me. By the end, I felt I had just made a good friend. We exchanged emails and have actually corresponded since my return. Suzy, also enamored with the scone, took it upon herself to get the recipe from Alice’s. I promise, if you are a scone-lover, or even if you’re not, this will put you over the edge. Just contact me and I will send you this life-changing recipe.



Hummus Place

By day three, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t consult a travel guide, a friend’s suggestion or Yelp to find my way. Just my senses. After walking in the rain around Greenwich Village for the better part of the afternoon, passing cafés, wine bars, combination café/wine bars, lobster bakes, sushi bars and organic hot spots, I finally settled on the Hummus Place. And I couldn’t have been happier with my decision. As a former vegan, I can still whole-heartily appreciate a really quality ingredient vegan meal. I ordered the Eggplant sandwich, which came with side salad, with a homemade lemon vinaigrette, a side of falafel and spicy dipping sauce and a glass of red wine – all for a measly $12. The eggplant sandwich was soft, savory, pickled, full-of-flavor and compacted into fresh-baked pita bread. The falafel was crunchy on the outside with a soft, green center on the inside. But my absolute favorite part was the green dipping sauce – spicy, herby, lemony, and did I mention spicy? In conclusion, it was a perfectly paired, gooshy concoction that was ridiculously satisfying and probably the healthiest meal I had had since I’d arrived (there’s only so much decadence I can handle). I took my time eating it at the best spot in the house, positioned in-between two tables of good friends on lunch dates and in place for the perfect view of 7th avenue and Bleeker street to watch West Village-ians in their natural habitat. 


Comme Ci Comme Ça

On day one, I searched high and low for the perfect lunch spot. I went so far as to step inside one bustling organic cafe, sit down with a menu, and get served water by a waitress. But after being left alone too long, I hesitated that it wasn’t going to be the perfect New York lunch. So I kept walking, and I am so glad I did. Because if not, I would never have accomplished this true New York experience – ordering delicious truck-made food on-the-go. Comme Ci Comme Ca was fifth in a line-up of trucks on 52nd street at Park Ave. There was a gyros truck, a taco truck and even a lobster food truck, but when I saw the brightly-colored Comme Ci Comme Ca truck with the words THINK DIFFERENT printed across the side, I knew I had found the one. I ordered a Vegetarian Cigar – grilled seasoned vegetables, marinated in soy sauce, wrapped in fried, crunchy filo dough. I literally ate it with one hand, and held my umbrella with the other as I ran through the pouring rain all the way back to my hotel. The intention was just for one bite until I got to my room, but it barely made it to two blocks. Quite simply, it was relatively good-for-me awesomeness.



Seasonal Restaurant and Weinbar

I feel that I am doing this restaurant a great disservice by reducing its review to a short paragraph in a sea of other reviews, but it most definitely belongs on my list of New York dining experiences. The gist: Five courses, four of them to die for, and one sommelier that made my night. The theme is Austrian cuisine with a twist – all of it in season and will change the moment it is not. This meal was one of those in which you wish you could recall what you ate in the days following – but when asked, all you know is that it was heaven in your mouth. Bright orange liquids being poured over crunchy seeds, an egg mixture of some sort atop lobster and sprinkled with crumbs of pumpernickel, cauliflower that you didn’t realize was cauliflower until you asked because it was disguised as an earthy, crumbly base to a porkbelly so soft and juicy it must’ve been marinating for days, and textures that ranged from creamy to crunchy to crumbly. Best part was, the incredibly educated yet unpretentious sommelier overheard me rave about the taste of coffee beans in my duck. He stopped in his tracks to tell me, “I’ve worked here for five years, and I’ve never known anybody with the palate to detect coffee. You’re absolutely right, there is coffee in that dish.” Night: made.

Note: I made a “no pictures promise” to myself during this meal so I could enjoy the experience without distraction.


Freeman’s Restaurant

This cocktail bar/restaurant came highly recommend to me by my foodie boss who takes his dining very seriously so my boyfriend and I knew we had to try it. Freeman’s is the epitome of the New York hidden gem, literally tucked in an alley in the Lower East Side. If I hadn’t been told about it, I NEVER would have found it. We were greeted by a beautiful, flowy-skirted hostess, sat at the bar till our table was ready, served toxically delicious cocktails by a midriff-showing, curly haired, tough-as-nails bartender, and eventually sat in a very dark corner where taxidermy hung over our heads. Our waiter served me a honking piece of silvery trout and my boyfriend pork loin with roasted apples. To be completely honest, the food was good, but did not blow me away – my trout had bones in it and was slightly tougher than I like it. But the experience was so fantastic that I walked away incredibly satisfied that I just experienced the night of a true, in-the-know New Yorker.



Andaz 5th Ave/The Bar Downstairs

My boyfriend and I were whisked away on our first night out by an old friend who took it upon herself to show us a good night in New York. Besides feeling blessed to reunite with this friend, if only for a night, she really knew her stuff and I am forever grateful for her taking us under her wing while we were there. In the hospitality industry herself, she knew the best restaurants and bars in midtown (beyond the tourist traps). Andaz 5th Avenue is a hotel that happens to have one of the coolest bar/restaurant setups I have ever seen. We first went to The Shop – Andaz’s main restaurant – where we enjoyed a glass of wine and appetizers. A look at their farm-to-table menu made me want to stick around here for the rest of the night. It was so cozy, even with a packed house, and our waiter was very friendly. But before I knew it, we were called for our table at the Bar Downstairs. Which quite literally took us downstairs, through a hallway with glass walls, and into a bustling underground with large open kitchen and drink space. My friend knew the bartender, told him to serve us something special, and from then on, I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else. My drink consisted of ginger (my favorite), orange peel and deliciousness (since it was made up by the bartender, I have no idea what it really was). We then ordered crinkly, fire-roasted peapods (my friend is vegan) and house-smoked pork belly for my boyfriend. The place was packed and full of energy, but still allowed for good conversation with my old friend and my boyfriend. It was the perfect first night in New York (thank you again, Pami).


Amuse Wine Bar

The best part about Freeman’s (dinner review above) is where it took us afterwards. After learning our love of good wine, our hostess took it upon herself to poll the restaurant on the best wine bar in town. She slipped my boyfriend a piece of paper with the word Amuse scribbled on it, and we promptly followed her direction. We sat front and center at the bar where we were greeted by our laid back, Chicago-loving bartender who, of course, was an actor on the side (or rather an actor first, and a bartender on the side). We talked Bears, wine, acting and traveling for the rest of the night. We closed the place down, only to be joined by the owner who was just as friendly as the bartender, and in no hurry to kick us out as soon as he heard we were from Chicago. The wine as I remember it was very tasty, but at that point, I was countless drinks in so I don’t feel I can give an honest review. All I can say was that Amuse confirmed this night to be my most unforgettable New York experience.



99 Cent Pizza

Oh wait! How could I forget? The night did not end there. As previously mentioned, my boyfriend and I were countless drinks in, and that meant we needed something to soak it all up. It was time for my first SLICE. We jumped in a cab and told the cabbie to take us to his favorite New York pizza place that was still opened at this hour. Without hesitation, he took us to 99-Cent Pizza. I honestly think that was the name of it – although I really can’t be sure at this point. We felt that the line of people confirmed that it was a popular choice. We each got a slice to go and literally ran with it down the street in the rain. When I finally opened the piping hot, personal pizza box and bit into it, I discovered, hands down, the best pizza I’ve ever had. I know you’re not going to believe me here. One, because I already told you my judgment was clouded by countless glasses of cocktails and wine. Two, it was 99 cent pizza. But I swear to God, it was chewy, doughy, fresh, cheesy, toasty goodness. I’m not going to say it out loud because I don’t want to be a traitor to Chicago pizza, but Damn.


Healthy Mind, Healthy Reviews

New York Here I Come

December 11, 2013

I wrote this the day I left for New York. At this point, I had not even laid eyes on the City That Never Sleeps. But let me just tell you that I had the trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait to tell you all about it – Health Nut style. I am gathering together pictures and writing reviews as we speak. But until then…

Map of Chinatown, West Village, Greenwich Village and more

Map of Chinatown, West Village, Greenwich Village and more

I am sitting in the airport terminal waiting to leave for New York. Always one to ask for others’ advice, I have my Fodor’s guide to New York and a stack of papers with bulleted restaurant suggestions from all of the people I know who are from, or who have ever been to New York. I am so excited, but so overwhelmed.

As much as New York has never been top of my list for a place to live, it in fact embodies everything that I love about city living. Long-run businesses, run by locals, serving food, drink and gifts you can’t get ANYWHERE else. As much as I’d like to think that Chicago could wear the same badge; it doesn’t even begin to compare (don’t hate me Chicagoans; I’m not a traitor, just a lover of shiny things).

Lately in fact, I’ve noticed an onset of big box stores and restaurants popping up all over downtown Chicago – retailers that usually belong in the suburbs. Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Applebees, Chili’s, PF Changs, and boatloads of Starbucks. These places have their benefits, but what I want in a city is an original.

So now I’m off to the birthplace of “the Original.” Coffee shops that double as small concert venues, tiny cafes with incredibly fresh ingredients, food stands and taco trucks, local artists and subway musicians, boutiques filled with sample sizes from fashion houses, cocktail bars where the bartender is pseudo famous, and the world’s most fantastical dining opportunities that are just as much exhibitions, as they are restaurants.

I have four days, but really more like three since I am leaving so early on Saturday morning. I don’t know how I am going to possibly squeeze everything I want to see in to my memory, and everything I want to eat into my stomach. But I figured my best bet is just to take a leap of faith – no real plan, just a stack of suggestions and a desire to explore. 

Reviews and pictures to come…

Healthy Reviews

What Your Starbucks Order Is Missing (Hint: It sure as hell ain’t sugar)

November 12, 2013

Yesterday morning when I excitedly waited in line at Starbucks for my half-caf with the just-released Thanksgiving Blend in my red holiday cup, the lady in front of me impressed the pants off me with her breakfast and drink order. It was as follows:

  • Grande Green Tea Latte – no syrup, extra scoop of matcha
  • Oatmeal – no brown sugar, just nuts and cranberries
  • A banana

Wow. Now there’s a lady who knows what she wants. (There are a lot of those at Starbucks). I was so curious about the “no syrup” request on the Green Tea Latte that I asked her what that meant. Like the Chai Latte, I had always assumed that a syrupy mix was the main ingredient besides milk.

But she told me that it’s actually a combination of macha powder, syrup and milk. They add the syrup of course because that’s what makes this healthy choice taste “good.”

I loved hearing this because I, like her, am a big believer in stripping food of their added sugars and either adding flavors of my own, or letting the food speak for itself. It inspired me to look into a few other things you can do with your Starbucks order to make it a little healthier. Warning: This list does not include sugar-free options because I actually believe sugar-free is worse than sugar (sorry to disappoint! I’ll talk about this in a future post).

Starbucks Red Cup

  • Tea Bag Lattes* – Choose any one of the Tazo tea bags and ask the barista to make it a Tea Latte. They will steep the tea bag in steamed milk (I request soy); or do half hot water and half milk. You can ask for two bags to make it stronger and add one pump of syrup if you’re craving something sweeter. But without it, it’s a full-flavored tea bag steeped in milk that warms the heart and totally satisfies. I highly recommend the Joy Tea or, if it’s not the holiday season, Vanilla Roibos Tea.
    *Props to my friend Monica for introducing me to this idea 2 years ago
  • Iced Tea – Green, Passion, Black, or a mixture of them all. This is my go to summer drink. It’s incredibly refreshing and I think the flavors speak for themselves. Again, if you absolutely must, sweeten it yourself with a packet of raw sugar. But try resist when they ask if you want it sweetened – a couple of pumps of syrup brings it up to 80 calories (from 0) and 21 grams of sugar (from 0).
  • Coffee with a Pump – I love the seasonal flavors and look forward to them every year, but I am not a Peppermint-Mocha-with-chocolate-shavings-and-whipped-cream type of girl. That doesn’t mean that I can’t still get a taste of the season in my morning coffee. Instead, I just ask for a coffee with soymilk and ONE pump of (fill in the blank – pumpkin, peppermint, gingerbread, etc). You’d be surprised at how satisfying this can be. I dare you to try it at least once. Now that I’ve weaned myself off of the “normal” 2-3 pumps that come with lattes, I honestly can’t handle them anymore – they are too sickeningly sweet for me.
  • Any Frappuccino/Mocha/Latte – I realize that sometimes, you just need a real-deal Starbucks indulgence. But I’m going to get on my soapbox here and I ask – instead of the “light” option (i.e. artificial sweetener), just get the regular with nonfat milk and don’t add the toppings. That takes the sugar and calories down by as much as 120 calories and 12 grams of fat. I realize that anybody who is a “diet/light” fan will not take this lightly (pun intended). But believe me (or believe this letter from Starbucks), the calories you get from the real sugar are much better for you that anything that’s entering your body from fake sugar.
  • Espresso – Have you ever had a real espresso before? Because of the way it is brewed (extremely pressurized hot water and coffee beans), the flavors are much stronger than normal coffee (and so is the caffeine). To me, it tastes like Europe in a cup. It’s rich, caramelly and smoky. And guess what? It’s only 5 calories for a short, 10 calories for a tall – 0 sugar, 0 sodium.

Does anybody have any satisfying Starbucks orders they’ve discovered that don’t depend on sugar or fake sugar?