I turn 30 on Sunday.

I turn 30 on Sunday. I do a double take every time I say that out loud. It doesn’t seem like that much time could have feasibly passed. And let’s just say the festivities have already started and they are thrilling. For example, I got a birthday card in the mail from my investment firm AND today was the day my mortgage company mailed my $50 escrow surplus check. Exciting stuff.

All jokes aside, I am feeling oddly content, which is a feeling that I can’t say I’m used to. While there are parts of my 20s that were fun and enjoyable, I’m not overly nostalgic or eager to relive any of them.

College was fun. It was the time where I made most of my current close friends. But college was also stressful. Endless hours of studying and worrying about if I was setting myself up for a successful career and life. Was I choosing the right major? Was I interviewing for the right jobs? Was I moving to the right city? Was this the right answer to the Heat and Mass Transfer problem set? Too much. Would not recommend.

My early post grad years were fun too. Having disposable income for the first time and having a large network of friends and other young professional acquaintances to experience life with was exciting. But post grad was also scary. Could I manage living alone? Hundreds of miles away from my family? Was I good at my job? Is my job meaningful? Do my co-workers think I’m competent? Does Corporate America value my skills? Is being introverted, okay? Do my new friends like me? Why do I feel anxious all the time? Am I fun? Am I interesting? Is there anything that I’m the best at? Too much. Would not recommend.

The last few years I’ve really started to let go of most of the things that have historically kept me up at night. I still have things that make me anxious, things that stress me out, and things that I question. I have good days and I have bad days, but I worry less about what other people think about me and less about the existential questions. I try to focus on the things in life that bring me joy and feel grateful for those.

One of my close friends recently told me that his favorite thing about me was that I was “unapologetically myself” and that I know what I like and what I don’t like. I’ve had a few other friends allude to the fact that they appreciate my bluntness in this aspect as well. I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t try to take opportunities to still push myself out of my comfort zone especially in social situations, because I still think that’s important. But I am proud of the fact that I am old enough to know, I don’t like loud crowded bars and I don’t need to go to one just because that’s what everyone else is doing. I can see my friends another time, when they are doing an activity that I like, and it’ll be just fine. I know that I don’t like staying up past midnight and I know that I don’t have to do it! My fear of people I barely know thinking I’m boring has severely dissipated. I know that I don’t feel like eating meat anymore and haven’t for the past 7 years and I don’t care if people think it’s weird. As a recovering Valedictorian, I know that I value work-life balance and I don’t need to work insane hours for an arbitrary measure of success. I know that materialistic things aren’t important to me, and I don’t care if every time I drive with some of my friends, they ask me why I haven’t washed my car or fixed the dents on the side. The 2014 Nissan Rouge Select is at 104,000 miles and still kicking babyyyyy. Anyways, the point is I’ve become much more comfortable simply accepting things about my personality.

I’ve also spent the last 10 years really curating the people I spend my time with. I actually think I have always been good about my approach to friendship emphasizing quality versus quantity. However, there were times where I felt self-conscious about the lack of quantity. But in the past 10 years, I’ve surprisingly been able to have both! Despite the inevitable ability to not be able to frequently keep in touch with everyone, I still really appreciate the quality friendships I have added to my life over the years. It’s nice to feel loved and to have different people to go to depending on the need. Between the handful of high school friends, the crap-ton of college friends (a technical term), the large group of Houston friends, the select friends from work, and the guy I met on a dating app, I almost have more important people in my life than necessary. A good problem to have.

Over the last decade, I’ve also proven to myself that I am very capable of doing things on my own. It’s not scary to live alone, I’ve been doing it since I was 22. I even bought a house. I’ve hung pictures on my wall without help. I’ve traveled solo. I’ve climbed several mountains alone. I’ve cooked elaborate meals for one. I still value all the help, support, and companionship I get from people in my life. But it’s not a necessity, just a nice to have!

In conclusion, life is good. Thirty is fine. Would recommend.

How to Take Your Outdoors-Adverse Sister on a Hiking Vacation

If you know anything about my sister and me, you’ll know we are very different—from socialization, to hobbies, to wardrobe, to willingness to live outside of Pittsburgh. However, we are still best of friends. Living 1,400 miles apart, we like to keep in touch by visiting each other and meeting up somewhere at least once a year for a sister vacation. Our interest in different things does pose a challenge on finding a vacation destination that will appease both of us. In the past we have gone to Boston/White Mountains, Sedona/Grand Canyon, and Denver. I’m slowly running out of ideas, this year we had two options to pick from—Santa Barbara with a day trip to the Channel Islands or Salt Lake City. We ultimately landed on SLC. Salt Lake City is a moderately sized metropolitan area with eateries and shopping. In addition, it’s 45 minutes from the Wasatch Mountains. This is a summary of how I got my outdoors-adverse sister to go on a hiking vacation.

Day 0

Fly into the Salt Lake City International Airport Friday evening. Coming from Houston, this direct flight is reasonably priced (<$400) and just over 3 hours. Unfortunately, your sister flying in from Pittsburgh may choose a non-direct flight on the way there. It may get delayed causing her to arrive to the hotel in the middle of the night. This will make her sleepy the next day, so keep this in mind when managing your expectations on tomorrow’s hike. A sleepy sister who doesn’t really like hiking could be a recipe for disaster.

Day 1

Start off the first day by getting complimentary breakfast at the airport hotel. We all know continental breakfasts are very lack luster, but you can eat a bowl of oatmeal, half a waffle, and almost all the cantaloupe that they served and be good for the day.

Head to the grocery store to pick up items for lunch while on the trail. It’s important to remember that you agreed to be the hiking pack mule. Your sister will refuse to borrow, buy, or be gifted a hiking backpack of her own. Everything you bring on the trail needs to fit in your backpack, including her water.

The first day of hiking should be the longer hike. Try Lake Blanche—an approximately 7 mile out and back hike that steeply climbs up to offer stunning views and ends at a beautiful alpine lake. You will have looked up the trail on several different sources before proposing it to your sister. Each source attributes varying difficult ratings, choose the one that only lists it as moderate to show your sister. When you get to the trailhead and see a sign that suggests the route is actually shorter than your trail map, don’t correct her.

As you begin the nearly four mile uphill climb, you may be tracking your progress on the Hiking Project app. This app shows you how far you’ve gone and the steepness of the upcoming trail. Under no circumstances are you to share this information with your hiking companion. It will only discourage her; continue to say, “I think we’re almost there”.


Don’t forget to stop and take pretty pictures for the ‘gram.

One of the consolations to hiking all day is letting your sister pick the restaurants for the trip. Unfortunately, you might be a vegetarian which restricts your options. But if your sister is open to new foods and accommodating this won’t be a problem.

Try Zest—a vegan/vegetarian locally sourced eatery. It’s great for sharing small plates including a vegan cheese board, stuffed mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and a mac and cheese skillet.

Day 2

After a tasty dinner and a good night sleep you’re ready for Day 2 of hiking. However, your sister will be a little grumpy from yesterday since you lied to her about the hike distance and difficulty. In no way will she be open to another steep 7 mile hike. You’ll have to save a shorter hike for the second day. You will certainly not get away with the same tricks two days in a row. This day, you can show her the app and the reviews and convince her the hike won’t be as bad.

Make a quick stop by the restaurant Pulp for pre-hike smoothies. I recommend the Grasshopper.

The Day 2 hike will be Bell’s Canyon Lower Waterfall Trail. This 5 mile round trip hike features 360 degree views of the canyon and ends at a scenic waterfall. Despite this only being a 5 mile hike, on the way back your sister will complain. You shrewdly make the comparison that how she is feeling at the end of the hike is how you felt every shoe and clothing shopping trip as a child. This is how you know 2 days of hiking in a row is the maximum you’ll ever be able to do with your sister. However, she will admit the she does enjoy getting a workout and getting nice pictures but maintains that she is annoyed that her shoes are dirty and that her hair got messed up.

This evening’s dinner selection is Eva. While getting ready for dinner, you’ll be reminded of how different you are again –your sister curls her hair, wears heels, and accessorizes her outfit while you throw on something casual, slip on van sneakers, forget make up, and let your hair air dry.

Dinner is tasty; shared plate selections include harissa carrots and spinach and potato gnocchi.

Day 3

Today is still an outdoorsy day but not a hiking day, so you can get away with it. Since the day isn’t jam packed, you’ll have a relaxing morning getting a sit-down breakfast at Mollie and Ollie. They serve hearty breakfast bowls.

After breakfast, you’ll finally head to Antelope Island State Park to see the eponymous Great Salt Lake. Drive through the park, stopping at the scenic overlooks. Don’t forget to stop at the “beach” area. You may get frustrated that the walk from the car to the waterfront is deceivingly long and rocky. You may also be simultaneously grossed out and fascinated by the brine flies at the water’s edge. Make sure to wade into the calm water so you can claim that you’ve been in the saltiest body of water in the United States at 27% salinity. Try to get some action shots of skipping a rock and fail miserably-both because the rock skipping is mediocre and because your camera sensor is covered in dirt.


Following the lake adventures, you’ll head to the East side of the park in your quest of finding a buffalo. Unfortunately, the buffalo will not come as close to your car as you will like.

After an eventful morning, spend the late afternoon relaxing at the hotel pool. The Sheraton Salt Lake City is a reasonably priced and reasonably located hotel that has a cute little pool slightly better than most crappy hotel pools. Of course, you’ll hide in the shade while your sister basks in the sun. You’re different, remember.

Next, head up to the ski town of Park City. At this point in the trip, tensions are running high for whatever reason. It’s a DeVito thing. Your sister may get frustrated because of a sign that says there is a forest fire 60 miles North. Try to ignore the frustration. Check out Yuki Yama—a sushi restaurant that also serves vegetarian options. Your sister may get annoyed again when you don’t split the bill evenly this time because you didn’t do shared plates and the vegetarian sushi and water combo was much cheaper than the regular sushi and cocktail combo, but I digress.


Day 4

This is the last day of the trip, which is arguably a good thing. You’ve agreed to get massages. I mean you’re excited about the massage too, but it has become a staple of the sister trips. Another consolation for requiring her to hike and be outdoorsy the whole time. I would recommend Basalt Day Spa. The staff are very friendly and it’s about as expensive as you’d expect a massage to be.

Spend the rest of the morning exploring the actual city before making your way to the airport. Luckily you both have direct flights back. Try a local walk-up lunch vendor Buds. Buds serves vegan and vegetarian sandwiches and salads. Sit outside at a picnic table and enjoy the last few hours of no humidity. Walk around the Capitol building and admire the architecture.

And there you have it, a sister vacation—complete with hiking, scenic views, good food, and relaxation. Something for everyone. Any suggestions for what to do next?



A Year in Food: 2017

It’s that time again. Just kidding, it’s way past that time. I’m finally getting around to creating my “Year in Food” wrap up for 2017. 2017 was another year eating a vegetarian diet and another year explaining it to perplexed co-workers.

I have significantly less photos and recipes to share compared to 2016. My meal prep for this year repeated a lot of old favorites, so refer to the original Year in Food for more inspiration. But I also tried some new and yummy recipes!

Without any further ado, here are the breakfasts, snacks, and meals I tried in 2017 that turned out well. (This excludes the few duds that I do have photos for but were gross…. vegan spinach and artichoke dip…..).


I love breakfast. However, I am incapable of waking up at an early enough time to eat before leaving for work. So, either I don’t eat breakfast, or I have to eat something in my car. To minimize the amount of crumbs that end up in my car, I’ve gotten in the habit of making compact banana muffins. They’re filling and convenient.

Vegan Banana Muffins

I think I used the recipe linked…. but can’t be sure.  Or this recipe may be what I used for this particular picture but it’s not my go to.


Not ideal for car eating but these other two breakfast items are tasty too.

Banana Bread (can’t remember the recipe)


Honey Berry Oatmeal


Avocado Toast

A breakfast roundup wouldn’t’ be complete without some avocado toast. This particular weekend I topped it with mango and chili powder which was a surprisingly good flavor combination.



This category just has a few miscellaneous items. These snacks can be eaten as an appetizer, full meal, or whenever you just feel like eating a bunch of bread.


These smoothie combinations were inspired by Daily Harvest ideas, but I just bought the ingredients myself.

Mint Cacao (Spinach + Cacao + Banana + Mint + Almond Milk + Cashews)

Carrot Chia (Carrot + Sweet Potato + Walnut + Chia Seeds + Ginger + Dates + Almond Milk)





Skillet Bread



Now on to the main event, meals! Here are 20 items that can either be made in bulk and used for weekly #mealprep lunches or that can be used for a nice cozy dinner at home. These plus the 30ish meals in the 2016 installment means you have at least one new recipe for every week of the year. See, being vegetarian is easy, interesting, and full of variety!

Tahini Roasted Vegetables


Eggplant Parmesan Bake


Falafel with Tzatziki Sauce

Apologies for the unaesthetic photo, I ate most of them before I remembered to document it “for my records.”


Mediterranean Sweet Potato Bowls

The link is a video I made showing how to make these.



I don’t have a recipe for this one, but I do have a pro-tip, use instant mashed potatoes—it saves time and still tastes pretty great.



This recipe was a vegan-ized version of a former friend’s family recipe for enchiladas.  It’s very good. I unfortunately don’t have this recipe anymore nor do I have a good path of communication with its owner, luckily, I still have some of the enchilada sauce in my freezer.


Basic Vegan Taco Spread



Made this for a dinner party with my friend Elliott. Elliott is always nice about trying to accommodate vegetarians and found this great recipe! We put less eggs in than the recipe called for because we all agreed it seemed heavy on the egg.


Summer Lentil Wrap and Summer Barley Salad

Sorry I can’t find the wrap recipe…


Turmeric Roasted Carrot Chickpea Salad


Enchilada Stuffed Portobellos


Basic Noodles and Vegetables

This was a clean-out the fridge day. I used Trader Joe’s lemon zest pappardelle noodles topped with capers, roasted tomatoes, and feta cheese. I then made some classic breaded zucchini for a side.


Thai Coconut Bowl

Added some sprouts for kicks.


Basic Brown Rice and Veggie Bowl

Sometimes you just need to keep it simple.


Vegan Mushroom Risotto

This was one of my all-time favorite recipes. Writing this post actually reminded me that I need to make this again. Mmmm.


Teriyaki Bowl

I don’t believe I used a recipe to make this. If memory serves correctly, this was just a teriyaki bowl made with ingredients from Chinatown.


King Oyster Mushrooms and Pickled Vegetables

This was my first foray into pickling. I think it turned out well, although I haven’t tried it again. I got the idea for the shredded mushrooms from this Brothers Green Eats video. (Mushroom part starts around 5:23)


Zoodle Salad!


Falafel Bowl

This bowl contains sweet potato fries, quinoa, roasted carrots, the falafel patties from earlier, and a tahini drizzle dressing.


Burrito Bowl with Peach Salsa

This is by far one of my favorite meals. This is from the Thug Kitchen cookbook.


2017 was another good year of eating. I still don’t miss meat and I think about bacon even less than last year. As always, please pass on your vegetarian recipe and restaurant recommendations!

The Interviews | Episode 1: Catie Cohen

As promised, here is my first career and life decisions interview. I hope you enjoy and learn something new; I know I definitely did. Catie is a great conversationalist and a very insightful individual!

I first heard of Catie through one of my college best friends, Katia. After my junior year of college, most of my close friends landed internships in Houston, TX while I was alone interning in Ohio. Katia and Catie met that summer. Upon the return to college for senior year Katia constantly talked about how interesting and funny Catie was and how much I would like her.  Originally, I was jealous that she was usurping my title as the “funny friend”, but then I met Catie myself after moving down to Houston post-grad. She was everything Katia had described and instead of being jealous I was just excited I got to be her friend too!

Catie currently works as the Front of House Manager at Pondicheri Bake Lab, which happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in Houston serving Indian Fusion cuisine.  As manager, she’s involved in all areas of the business. She has worked the food preparation for both the Savory Shift and the Pastry Shift. She coordinates and assists with teaching the cooking classes offered by the restaurant. She also asked me to plug the restaurant’s food blog that she is responsible for, India1948.com. While Pondicheri has been her main focus in recent months, the rest of her time is involved with other food related side projects including teaching her own cooking class (primarily plant-based) and personal catering.

Catie is impressive, talented, courageous, generous, funny, empathetic, and ambitious.   But the main motive for choosing Catie as an interviewee for this project revolved around her massive career change. I genuinely admire the grit and courage that she needed to have to shift from the engineering world into the culinary and health world.

The juxtaposition of these two fields had me curious about her childhood aspirations and what motivators in her life led her to engineering. Like most kids, I’m sure the answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” changed a few times. Catie confirmed that her dreams jumped around a lot. Her earliest career goal was to become a veterinarian due to her love of animals; however, her parents pointed out the significant amount of schooling required for the profession.  Next, her thoughts shifted to zoologist; however, by the time college applications were due she instead toured schools as a business major.  Ultimately after her math and chemistry teachers highlighted her aptitude in these subjects, she landed on chemical engineering. Catie cites both her love of approval and the desire to take on a challenge (chemical engineering is often referred to as the hardest engineering) as the enticing factors that solidified her decision.

In an attempt to parallel her life to my own, I asked if her parents had encouraged her to go into a specific field.  Catie’s dad works as an MRI technician while her mom works in the financial world. She emphasized that both of her parents never imposed expectations on her. They always let her explore her own interests without suggesting the stereotypical “smart kid” careers of doctor or lawyer. In general, her parents only wanted a career that would enable her to support herself.

Catie’s dad often thought she would delve into a creative field given her love of jigsaw puzzles at a young age.  Her parents had to train her to say “good morning” before she would consume herself with a puzzle immediately after waking up.  With her dad’s assumption in mind, I asked if she ever seriously thought about going into the creative field early on. She summed it up as not really, “I went where people said I would be good.”  Many of us have been there—forced to “choose a path” at 18 years old with very little life experiences to reference.  We don’t really know what we want to do and everyone else seems to know more, so we do what they tell us sounds like a good idea. You only know what you see—what your parents do, what your neighbors do, what the doctors, pharmacists, and other local professional do.

After a few chemical engineering internships and one year of full time work in the oil and gas field, Catie questioned if engineering was everything she thought it would be. She describes originally believing that you weren’t supposed to like work. She quotes a saying her grandfather would say, “If it was fun, they’d call it fun but it’s work.” At first, she was captivated by earning money, being independent, and living in a new place, but once the enthusiasm for those things faded, she starting asking herself other question about what she was doing for 8-10 hours a day. That’s when she realized she needed something else but didn’t have any idea what that could be.

While the mentality of believing work should be fun is often associated with entitled millennials, I like to look at it from a different perspective. Yes, our parents and grandparents likely had a harder time financially and were often happy to have any job to provide for their family. I know this is especially true with my dad who grew up fairly poor. He didn’t have time to worry about “do I love my job?”  He was worried about making a life for his children that was better than his own life (for which I am extremely grateful).

Allow me to be pedantic for a second and reference the idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Many of my peers grew up with lives better than their parents and grandparents. Worrying about getting by was never a concern. With that need satisfied we are able to focus on the next tier in the pyramid, the more existential concerns of being fulfilled by our work. It’s not the new trope that millennials aren’t willing to work, they just want to work for something that’s worth it.

Catie combatted her lack of direction, by diving into her other interests. She soon discovered a new way of plant-based eating and loved the way it made her feel. She wanted to share what she had found with other people. She explored multiple avenues within this interest.  Trying all these new things gave her the confidence to believe there was something out there for her besides engineering.

Many people get to the idea phase, “maybe I’ll do something else”, but they struggle to act on the thought.  Not Catie.  Catie executed.  She made it look easy; she explains that it wasn’t.

The whole process from idea to execution was about 2 years of figuring it out. It required a lot of exploration and an investment of some money, which she acknowledges that she was lucky to have. She first looked into becoming a nutritionist or registered dietitian, but was deterred by the fact that those routes would require her to leave her secure job, a leap she wasn’t willing to make at that time. Among the things she did pursue was receiving her Holistic Health Coach Certification through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. This was a one-year online program that teaches different dietary theories through a blend of psychology and nutrition. This year of studying reinforced her love of all things health. She also wrote blog posts and enrolled in personal development classes.

Step 1 was exploring her interests. Step 2 was being more money conscious. She had to come to terms with that fact that the new career path was less lucrative than her current career path.  It’s definitely hard to separate from the idea that money is not the only (or a good) measure of success. Transitioning from the academic world of high school and college where all achievements are assigned a numerical grade, it seems natural that another numerical ranking (salary) tends to take its place as a measure of accomplishment.

However, once the decision was made to make the jump, there were still some other struggles to overcome. This is the one time she remembers having contention with her parents about her career. They were proud of telling people that their daughter was an engineer. They were relieved to know she was going to retire with a good sum of money. Naturally, as parents do, they were initially worried about their daughter not being able to live on her own. Catie explains how she was gung-ho to accept the very first job offer she received after deciding to leave engineering. Her parents understandably thought this was rash. However, once they could see she had put in a lot of thought and done a lot of homework, they slowly came around to the idea but still encouraged her to wait for the right job offer.

Then there’s the pesky idea of being judged that I think most of us deal with. Catie describes that engineering used to validate the need to look smart. She enjoyed looking smart. Who doesn’t? By saying you’re an engineering, it was an easy way to appear smart without people having to get to know you. To be clear, Catie is still very smart but she says it’s only been about the past 5 months where she’s finally felt okay to stop telling people, “I work at a restaurant but I used to be an engineer.” She also enjoyed the aspect of engineering that made her feel unique—being in a man’s world. It felt like she was helping to bring women into this uncharted territory.  Approval from others shouldn’t be a reason for doing things. Obviously, easier said than done.

Another trait I admire about Catie—the fact that she was willing to be flexible and let her new journey change. She started out with a vision in her mind that she was going to be in her words “Catie Cohen, the health coach, changing women’s lives, helping them love their bodies and not fight with food.” She also somewhat thought that she would be paid really well to do it and not have to worry about money. She talks about gaining her first few clients. It didn’t go as easily as she had hoped. Charging money for her services always felt awkward and she always had a nagging insecurity that she wasn’t being as effective as she wished.

Slowly, she started spending less time on her own wellness business and more time at Pondicheri. At first, she told people she was leaving engineering to start her own business and her job at Pondicheri was something to pay the bills.  She progressed from counter server to someone taking ownership over tasks using organizational skills and leadership. She literally enjoyed going to work, something she hadn’t thought possible before. Based on this new enthusiasm, she shifted to give more energy to the restaurant and less on things she found she didn’t like as much—yoga teaching and health coaching. She realized she didn’t need to desperately overload her plate to prove something to everyone skeptical of her job transition. She could slow down and focus on the one or two things that interested her.

She was able to discover that working at a restaurant or café was a great way to insert yourself into people’s health routines—the goal she was looking for all along. The idea of being part of people’s day and getting to show them good food that also makes you feel good, really tied it all together.

What went from a very clear thought of become a health coach has turned into a go with the flow career that is all things food. There’s so much that she wants to learn about food and new things that she wants to do all the time. She describes it as “dabbling”. She recently has been into bread, she even brought me some homemade sourdough during our interview! Lately, she’s just been trying new things as they come up if they sound interesting—like the catering—but she’s also not necessarily seeking things out. One day I’ll have to ask what it’s like to be go with the flow.

My final discussion point is around work-life balance because it’s something that I’m fascinated and conflicted by. I think there’s two ways to look at it and the pendulum swings on which way I feel. The first way is that “work” and “life” are two separate entities. You have a career that you can at least tolerate and maybe find somewhat interesting. But mostly, it’s just a means to be able to do the other things you enjoy in life.

On the other hand, there’s the type of people I’m often envious of that seem to have found their one passion in life that they can dedicate everything to (musicians, CEOs, doctors, etc.). They don’t need work-life balance because they are okay with their work being their life because it’s something that contributes to society in a way that fulfills them. I can feel jealous of these people at times because it seems that it’s very clear how their work is beneficial and they don’t have to go through the existential crisis of “does what I spend most of my time on even matter.”

After a long essentially monologue of a question, I finally let Catie answer. I’m curious as to her take on the topic of work-life balance. I want to know how she feels about potentially having to sacrifice a lot of her time and other interests for her new career, since it’s very self-made at this point. Does she feel as if she’s found her passion?

She expresses that she can also see it both ways but that her perspective has evolved since first entering the work force. When she was working as an engineer she definitely saw the need for a balance. She wanted more life and less work. But now in her new career, she’s so excited to be doing what she’s doing, she says she doesn’t think about it as much and more just thinks about rest. She’s also really thankful that what she does for a living, complements what she enjoys doing outside of work. She doesn’t view her career as one specific thing but more as a broad interest –food.

“I enjoy bringing food to people in some way shape or form that feels good to them. To me there’s so many facets of that I don’t feel like I’m going to dedicate my life to this one thing and it’s going to be this solitary one thing and I’m never going to stray. I feel like there’s all these little branches. To me it feels very broad and exciting and I really like the idea that my work and my life fold in together.”


Bonus Content: Volunteer Work

While this doesn’t necessarily go with the theme of the piece, I’d like to quickly highlight the volunteer work that Catie is involved in. This is just another way that she takes her passion of food and demonstrates another facet of it.

She started an outreach program called “Spread the Health” originally as a project for her personal development class. The initial mission of the program was to teach people in low income situations how to cook plant-based food in a really delicious way. Through her Houston running group, she met Theresa who founded the organization Bel Inizio. According to their website, Bel Inizio “helps disadvantaged women develop self-confidence and life skills through fitness and nutrition. Participants train to complete a 5K, which helps prepare them for the ultimate race — the race for a better life.”

Through Theresa, Catie was introduced to the organization Brigid’s Hope which serves low income women who are transitioning from incarceration for non-violent crimes to self-sufficiency. This group of women experienced the first Spread the Health program cooking class. After the success and interest in the first class, Catie started to expand the organization’s reach by teaching more classes for Brigid’s Hope as well as yoga, nutrition, and cooking classes at Santa Maria another Houston based recovery center.

Catie describes her outreach as not having one specific focus, she just wants to help women who have had other circumstances in their life have access to all of the beneficial things holistic health has to offer. I’ve had the privilege of helping out during some of the Spread the Health events and it’s amazing to see Catie in action. Her enthusiasm and ability to engage with these women is really remarkable. It’s always interesting to see the skeptical looks of the women when they hear the food will be prepared without any animal products. By the end of the evening though, everyone is having a fun time, asking questions, and pleasantly surprised at how good the food tastes and how affordable it can be. Despite the hardships that these women have endured in their life they are always very friendly and very engaged. I ask Catie how she thinks she’s able to connect so well with these women especially since she’s introducing a foreign concept that’s bound to garner skepticism. She’s a little uncomfortable that I’m forcing her to compliment herself but she attributes it to the fact that she’s able to introduce humor and make the atmosphere light-hearted and fun. She also emphasizes how much she respects what these women are accomplishing. She realizes when comparing her “hardships” to what they’ve been through, it’s nothing, but they’re still able to be very happy and grateful people. “Their mentality is amazing. I think that they know that. I’m not there looking down on them. I admire what they have and I want it.”




Coming Soon!

Welcome to my new blog post series! I’m pretty excited about this project. I even bought a Dictaphone. The plan will be to interview my friends on a myriad of topics and share what I’ve learned in an article. The purpose of this is two-fold. I’ve always enjoyed writing. Most of my writing has been in the form of journaling and I was looking for a way to expand my writing repertoire. Secondly, one of my favorite things in life is learning new perspectives and listening to other people talk. Put me in a large or small group of people and I would MUCH rather ask others questions about themselves than talk about myself. I like to absorb information. I’ve always been inquisitive. I listen to potentially an unhealthy number of podcasts and interview segments. This seemed like the perfect way to be able to all of things I love—listen, learn, and write.

The first series of posts are going to focus around the theme of Career and Life Decisions. I chose this as it’s been a topic on my mind lately after having recently passed the 4-year mark post-grad. I’ve now been in the real world longer than I’ve been in college. It also doesn’t help that my supervisor keeps asking where I see myself long term.  I DON’T KNOW. DOES ANYONE KNOW???

But to be honest, it’s something I’ve always struggled with. Ever since high school trying to decide what to major in, to college trying to decide which career sector I wanted to go into with my degree, to post grad thinking “is this what I want to do with the rest of my life”, I’ve always been unsure.

When I look around at all of my peers it’s hard not to get the feeling that everyone else has it all figured out, at least on the surface. Do they really have it all figured out? How? Why not just ask them?! I’ll discover one of two things with this project—either everyone else doesn’t have it all figured out and I can take some solace in that or maybe they sort of do and I can learn a new perspective or a better understanding of what motivators they have for decisions. Then, I can share what I’ve learned with others and hope they find it as interesting as I do.

I conducted my first interview with my lovely friend, Catie Cohen. She was so enthusiastic and willing to participate in my project and only a little bit nervous around the Dictaphone. Catie is a former chemical engineer turned Restaurant Front of House Manager, although she doesn’t refer to herself as a former engineer anymore (more on that later).

Let me tell you about my best friend…

Let me tell you about my best friend….


I’ve had this idea for awhile that I would write blog posts highlighting the wonderful and important people in my life. And since her 26th birthday just passed, it seems fitting to shine the spotlight on none other than the spectacular Evelyn Grace Romeo.

As I frequently refer to her in my photo captions, Evie is my best friend since 6th grade. At the time, sixth grade was the first year of school after elementary school. All the schools in the district combined at Hillcrest Intermediate School. No longer were our classes just with the same 80 kids we had spent the last 5 years with, but now all these new kids were there.

I walked into 6th grade homeroom on the first day of school to be greeted by new and unfamiliar faces. There were a couple kids in my class from Stewartsville, but more overwhelmingly there were lots of kids I didn’t know. From what I remember of this time, my insecure self was worried that all of my Stewartsville peers were going to find better friends in the new kids and I was going to be left behind. Clearly, I’ve always had some issues with thinking people didn’t like me, but I digress.

My first memory of Evie was during recess in the first week of school. All the girls were hanging out by the soccer goal sitting on the back of it. I noticed a short girl wearing a head-to-toe tie-dye outfit and pigtails. I sat next to her and somehow, we have been friends ever since.

We originally bonded over both going to Presbyterian churches at the time. We thought that made us unique. We were both also huge nerds and goody-two-shoes. I still remember there was one semester in 6th grade where Evie got all 100s and I didn’t. I was very jealous. Our competitiveness lessened over the years.

We spent all of sixth grade getting to know each other and having inside jokes. From what I remember, I think sixth grade was pretty okay. I had a group of 3 girls (including Evie) who were my go to friends. At this time, some of the girls I was friends with in elementary school had started to form new friend groups. They seemed like the “cool kids” and were always talking about boys and hanging out at birthday parties with like 20 kids. I started to feel on the outside a little, but was more or less content with my small get togethers of just a few close friends.

After 6th grade, we went on to true Middle School. I think I blocked out most of 7th and 8th grade. I didn’t really like these years. Evie and I also didn’t hang out as much. I think in my mind maybe I was still trying to be friends with the “cool kids”. Luckily, Evie never held this against me and was always still there as a friend. I remember during the Christmas dance in 7th grade, Evie and I basically went together since neither of us had dates. I hated dancing (still do!) and the only other activity was hanging out in the gym locker room gossiping. So, Evie and I pretty much just sat on the bleachers the entire time talking to each other and people watching. I was also wearing a fuzzy white sweater and skirt, my white sweater fuzz got all over Evie’s velvet dress from sitting next each other. This image of two kids just sitting on bleachers for an entire dance covered in white fuzz still cracks me up, in a semi-tragic way though. Fun fact, this dance was also the one where my sister Angela wore dress pants and a blouse!

Eventually, we made it to high school, where the awkward years seemingly continued. We went through it all together, lack of boy problems, boy problems, break-ups, homework problems, family problems, etc. Then we went off to different colleges. The first year we tried to keep in touch as often as possible; somewhere in the middle we probably lost frequent communication. But we always knew that we could go months without talking and still be best friends. In the past few years, post grad, we’ve thankfully been able to see each other a lot more often.

In the past 14 years of friendship. Here are some things I’ve learned about Evie:

  • Her favorite color was blurple (a mix between blue and purple, but NOT indigo)
  • She’s short and when I walked really fast in the school hallways, she would literally have to jog to keep up.
  • She is terrible at making decisions. Once before a high school dance where we were going to have a sleepover after, she brought over 4 pairs of sweat pants because she couldn’t decide which outfit to pick for her PJs. To this day, it still takes her way too long to get ready.
  • Her stories take forever to tell and she will include minute details that are not relative to the point. Sometimes even she zones out in the middle of story she’s telling
  • She’s multi-talented. She is a very creative crafter, she’s smart, she’s great with kids, she’s an excellent baker, she’s perceptive, she’s inquisitive and curious about learning new things. Perhaps most admirably, she’s emotionally intelligent and always able to see the good in people and understand things from another’s perspective.
  • She’s a great gift giver. Eighth grade through maybe 11th grade, she would bake me two types of brownies (butterscotch and chocolate) for my birthday and bring them into school. On two different occasions, she’s made me a “survival kit” for my birthday—one time in high school a box of miscellaneous items and for my 21st birthday in college she mailed me Tylenol, Gatorade, and garbage bags. The effort for gifts I gave always paled in comparison.
  • She’s one of the most selfless and giving people, I’ve ever met. She’s always willing to do a favor for someone else even if she’s not sure it will ever be returned. Any time I visit Denver, she picks me up from the airport because she knows I hate Ubers. One time in Breckenridge, when I accidentally ended up on a black diamond and had to take my skis off and slide down the mountain, she also took her skis off and slid down in front of me to break my fall. She also regularly donates blood.
  • She’s a great listener and nonjudgmental advice giver. I can’t even count the number of times since high school that I’ve called her on the phone and just cried. She never gets annoyed, she just listens.

I can count on one finger the times Evie has been a less than ideal friend. But I can count on many hands the times were I’ve probably not been the easiest person to be friends with. Evie’s the type of person where you’re not sure what you did to deserve someone so wonderful in your life, but you are so grateful that she’s there. She’s one of the people that knows me best and still decides to keep me around! I know that my life has been incrementally greater because I’ve had such a brilliant person to share the highs and lows with. Here’s to many more years as friends! And Happy Birthday! (I promise I’ll remember to send a card soon….)

A Photo Recap of 2017

I’ve been in a weird mood for the beginning of 2018. I feel like it’s moving slowly and un-excitingly. One of the main things that I really look forward to every year is travelling and spending time hiking. This year in my new role at work, there will be big chunks of time where I will be working weekends and potentially holidays. With that in mind, I haven’t been able to plan many trips for this year yet. In an effort to cheer myself up, I’ve decided to reminisce on some of the best memories of 2017 (or at least the ones I have photos of).


I started 2017 finishing off a trip from 2016. Adam and I spent the New Year in Texas Hill Country hiking at Colorado Bend State Park and Enchanted Rock. These are some of the first photos I took in 2017.


In January of last year, I was finishing up my training for my first half marathon. If you read my Instagram post for this year’s half, you’ll know that I got injured two weeks before and ran a terrible and painful race. However, this race will always be my “first” half marathon and for that reason the excitement around the race expo and race day are still something to remember. More importantly, my mom, sister, Aunt Jennie, and cousins Jacob and Caleb all came down to visit me. While it was painful at the time to have known they came all that way to watch me run a disappointing race, it was still nice to spend time with my aunt and cousins who I only see about twice a year now.

Here are some photos of the race expo, Team Julia, and pre-race me. Look at that optimism. I had no idea how terrible it was going to go!


In February, I went on my first trip of the year. Adam and I have made it an annual tradition since moving to Houston, to go on one ski trip a year. For 2015 and 2016 we went to Breckenridge, CO. This year, we were planning on trying somewhere different but a group of Houston friends where all going to Breck and my best friend Evie lives in Denver and could join. It was a win-win situation. For this trip, we stayed at a big cabin out in the mountains. It was so cozy and scenic. One of the small memories I have from this trip was related to the house we stayed at having an elevation of 11,000 ft. Altitude sickness is a very odd sensation; nothing like falling asleep to a racing heart beat because you just walked up ONE flight of steps.

group photo

On the tail end of the trip, we spent a day actually exploring the city of Denver, with my best friend Evie. This was basically when I began to fall in love with the city of Denver and realized it’s probably my ideal place to live.

I like the last photo because both Evie and Adam were barely tall enough to see over the bar at the speakeasy. 😉


In February, my work BFF Paul moved into my apartment complex. He has a cat! The juxtaposition of my joy and the cat’s terror makes this the perfect photo.


The Houston CMU group also did a beach camping trip. We went to North Padre Island which is about 3 hours from Houston. This camping trip marks the first time I actually peed in the wilderness. All previous camping trips were close enough to campsite bathrooms. And look, I like camping, but this weekend was just too windy to be enjoyable. Very windy. So windy. Good for kites, I guess.




In March, one of my best college friends had her bachelorette party. For some reason, I was her maid of honor. After convincing her it was too expensive to ask people from all over the country to fly to Cabo, we landed on NYC. New York is very cold in March. Ooops!

Check out Hari, kneeling to get the perfect shot in the bottom left.

My parents made their annual Houston visit in March. We attended the Houston Rodeo, which if I’m honest, I think I’m tired of…all the food is really gross and I feel bad for the animals. But Texas!


In April, my family went on our annual family vacation to Belize. I feel pretty lucky that I’m part of a family that’s been going on family vacations for most of my life. As kids, every summer we would go to Ocean City, Maryland. As we got older, we would occasionally sprinkle in a trip to some tropical location. Over the years, we’ve been to Hawaii, Cancun, Florida, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. I’ve also started to persuade them to go on some hiking trips, we’ve been to Lake Tahoe and are planning to go to Vancouver this year. But for 2017, I was able to convince them to go to Belize, it’s got tropical beaches and tanning for Angela and adventure activities for me. Another win-win, AND it was a ~2ish hour flight for me! So maybe a win-win-win.


Evie also made a trip out to Houston in April. We went to one of my favorite parks in Houston, Brazos Bend State Park, where you can see alligators! I did get some good wildlife shots but let’s just focus on how cute Evie is.

Bridget and I went out for a girls’ night once in April to Julep. This is one of the few cocktails I drank in 2017 lol. I wanted to include the picture because I liked the carrot garnish.



The corresponding wedding to the bachelorette party from March, took place in May. The wedding was in Napa Valley, California. Adam and I took some of our spare time to check out some of the scenery and one of the local state parks.


Katia’s wedding was stunning.

IMG_4469IMG_447220232705_10155665865487755_7829139066389066301_oSnuck in another camping trip out by San Antonio in May to Government Canyon State Park—checking another Texas State Park off the bucket list. We also rented kayaks and had a nice day trip down the Medina river. This river is not as crowded as the other tubing rivers out in Hill Country. Very serene and relaxing. The boys also found some rope swings and waterfall. Photos are all courtesy of Bridget.

In May, I went on my first backpacking trip with Adam and Bridget! We went to the desert in late May. It was hot y’all. The drive out to Big Bend National Park is an adventure in and of itself. West Texas is a different place. There’s also a ton of border patrol when you get close enough to the border. The first few days, we backcountry camped in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures here were a little bit colder, but the entire hike was up hill and it was still very hot. I wimped out a little and we ended up having to go back to the car in between the two-day trek because I couldn’t carry my entire pack for two days. It was still super fun and the Chisos Mountains are a really unique part of the world. The last day we car camped at the Rio Grande Village. In my opinion, this sucked, not really a pretty campsite. We did a day hike to the Rio Grande river which was very refreshing. The only showers in the park took quarters, we did not have any quarters and the park’s change machine was broken, so essentially, we bathed in the river. As much fun as this trip was, getting Chipotle on the 10 hour drive back to Houston and showering for the first time in 3 days were likely equally as enjoyable.




Honestly not much happened in June and I don’t have any photo evidence from this month.


My mom made a solo visit to Houston. There was a featured exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts that we went to see. The exhibit itself was really cool, but only took up about 30 minutes. We then felt compelled to look around the rest of the museum since we had purchased a ticket; this is where I realized I do not have an affinity for Fine Art.


Adam and I had our next hiking trip planned to the Smoky Mountains National Park. At the last minute, Evie decided that she could join. We were flying into Atlanta and literally convinced Anshul to make the drive for the weekend with us day of. It was a lovely trip with my best friend and Adam’s best friend! I made a video of the trip afterwards, that you should check out if you haven’t yet. (Video Link) One of my favorite memories from this trip was the story of Evie dropping her phone in the water. On the last full day, we were attempting to do a waterfall hike. Unfortunately, it rained the entire day. We didn’t let the rain deter us and we kept hiking to the final destination. It wasn’t just drizzling like it had done the previous days; it was really raining. We were drenched, shoes soaked, water proof jackets wicking streams of water onto our legs. The trail was narrow, rocky, and steep. We were slipping everywhere. It was nearing 1 pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. I was getting hangry. It was apparent at this point, that the rain wasn’t going to let up. We at least wanted to find some place where we could step off the trail to eat lunch. After every bend in the trail we hoped we would see a place where it widen out and we could take a break. Unfortunately, this was not the case. So, we shoved ourselves as close to the rocky wall as possible and attempted to eat hummus, baguette, and brie without getting too much rainwater mixed in. Not any easy task, all the way having interruptions every 10 minutes or so by people coming the other way, who had arguably made the right choice to turn around.

After lunch, we trekked on to the waterfall. However, the last part of the trail to get to the waterfall required crossing the stream, which at this point was now a raging river. This part of the river wasn’t just wading across some deep water, it was walking on a narrow section of rock seemingly in between two waterfalls. Upstream was a rock wall that had water gushing over it and downstream the river continued on off the rock ledge. We watched a few people leave their backpacks on the side and attempt to hug the rock wall over to the other side. I wasn’t optimistic of our skills and required everyone to turn around. We unfortunately never made it to the waterfall. We walked all the way back to the bottom of the trail. At this point it had stopped raining and miraculously all of our electronics were still okay. We decided to hang out by the river. Evie was using her phone to check her face when she somehow lost her grip and dropped her phone in the water. The water level had risen considerably and had quiet a current by this point. By some miraculous feat, she jumped into the water and was able to find her phone laying at the bottom and to all of our surprise it was still working! Unfortunately, the phone died later that day.


In August, Angela, Evie, Sam and I had a girls’ trip in Denver. 2017 was a good year of seeing Evie! This trip just added fuel to the fire of how much I like Denver. On this trip, I also introduced the girls to the wonders of hiking with baguette and brie, a Cantini family staple I’m told.



In September, I made my annual non-holiday trip back to Pittsburgh. Adam joined this time and we did some hiking with the family, Sam and Zach.

My last big hiking trip of the year was to Zion National Park. A big group of Houston friends went backpacking. We did two days on the West Rim Trail and then day hiking for Angel’s Landing, Hidden Canyon, and the Narrows. This was my second ever backpacking trip and it went a lot better than the first. I carried my pack for two whole days! I definitely was bringing up the rear but I more or less kept up with everyone. Backcountry camping really immerses you in the wilderness in a way that car camping can’t. I made a video for this trip too that I think you should check out if you haven’t! (Video Link)

zion group photoDSC05051DSC04959DSC04951DSC04916DSC04922


I think October was fairly uneventful as well except for a few moments of Halloween festivities.


I don’t know if I would count this as a highlight of the year, but November marked Steve’s farewell as he and Andrea moved to Vietnam for 1-2 years. We miss them.

I also made my way back to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. I was able to visit the Little Boston bike trail for some half marathon training runs. This trail is part of the Grand Allegheny Passage. I used to frequent this trail as a kid and it’s still one of my favorite places to go. Growing up, we would always take our bikes out to the trail and spend the day with my Pap, aunts and cousins. The trail is also beautiful in the fall.


December was mainly Christmas activities. I spent Christmas at home with my family. I also spent some time out in Eastern PA with Adam’s family after Christmas. And finally, I ended the year in Philadelphia ringing in 2018 with two really good college friends.

Writing this all down, reminded me what an amazing year 2017 has been. It also reminded me how much I enjoy writing and archiving memories. I want to do more of that in 2018. While, I’m not sure what exactly this year holds or how much time work is going to take up, I’m going to make a conscious effort to do more of what makes me happy. (This includes eventually getting around to making a Year in Food: 2017).


My Food History

Sometimes when I’m driving, to pass the time, I have conversations with myself out loud. Don’t worry about it. Shhhh. It’s fine. Moving on.

On today’s commute home from work, I found myself without my carpool buddy. I was also a bit antsy after realizing I had spent most of the day at my desk with minimal human interaction. Since I had no means of remedying this situation at the time, I decided to conduct an interview with myself. Again, shhh. I’m fine.

The theme of the interview was my history with food and cooking. How did I start? Where am I today? What do I want to learn? What are my influences? Etc.

What was your typical dinner growing up?

I remember most dinners being what I would describe as the “typical American meal”. It was characterized but three distinct parts of the plate –meat, starch, and vegetable. The meat would usually be something like breaded chicken, pork roast, or maybe even a hot dog. Nothing too complicated, nothing too memorable. I remember not liking the texture of most meat. I found anything made in the slow cooker slimy and anything pig based revolting. I have a distinct memory of slicing up a pork chop up into tiny pieces and swallowing them whole because I didn’t want to taste it while I chewed. I suppose it’s not a surprise that I became a vegetarian. Oddly though chicken patty and hot dogs were some of the only meat I did eat, which is unfortunately probably the most processed meat out there.

The starch portion of the meal was either a potato or some sort of grain. I was then and still am a big enthusiast for potatoes. This was easily my favorite part of the meal. Actually, whenever I would refuse to eat something else on the plate, my mom would allow me to bargain by eating a few more bites of potatoes. Thank goodness for potatoes! Occasionally the potatoes would be substituted out for some sort of pre-seasoned microwave pasta or rice dish. For some reason, I wasn’t into pasta or rice at a young age. Something about it being slimy.

The vegetable portion of the meal was usually from a can or a freezer bag medley. I’m not sure if it was the method of preparation or my immature taste buds but, I never particularly enjoyed any of these vegetable servings. Canned green beans –barf. I did go through a phase where I would eat whole bowls of lima beans. Look, I don’t get it either. Kids are weird. We did have a garden for some portion of my childhood. So, we had fresh vegetables when possible. For some reason, the more vivid memories are the canned vegetables. My mom would grumpily chime in here that it always seems like I only remember the bad memories. Oops.

Allegedly, I was a picky eater. My father was also a traditional eater. My mom cites both as reasons as why she never tried to make anything too out of the box in the kitchen. Probably valid. I also think it was product of the time. My parents were busy, canned vegetables, microwavable rice, and frozen medleys were easy. There also wasn’t as much access to creative and unique cooking ideas as there is today. The internet wasn’t available and no one had time to watch the Food Network. Compared to my other friends, we ate healthily. Minimum fast food consumption, usually when Dad was in charge and we didn’t keep sugary snacks in the house.  At risk of being too mean, my mom has since expanded her horizons and now cooks lots of new, flavorful, colorful, and exciting recipes.

Did your family heritage have any influence on your meals growing up or the types of food you cook now?

Not really. My dad’s side is Italian and Czech. My dad’s dad is the Italian one, so I didn’t have the “Italian grandmother” and my dad wasn’t much of a chef to pass any of it on. The signature dish from my Czech grandmother was meatballs. I remember loving these as a kid, but since I don’t eat meat now, it’s not something I would make. Plus, I’m not sure if anyone ever got the recipe.

My maternal grandfather is a mix of German and some other European regions. I don’t recall any specific dishes from this side of the family. My maternal grandmother was born in Albania. She brought over a lot of the Albania culture. Unfortunately, as a kid I don’t think I was very open to this cuisine. I have learned my grandmother’s stuffed grape leave recipe (I think it’s spelled “Sarma”). I’ve had to modify it to make it vegetarian. The other Albania foods I remember cooking are a bread and a cookie. I haven’t been able to find an Albania spelling of the way we phonetically pronounce the bread name, but it’s delicious. I’d like to think if my grandmother was still around, I could have her teach me other Albania foods.

When did you start learning how to cook? Can you describe how that progression occurred?

I wasn’t open to learning how to cook for a long time. I think partly because it seemed time consuming and nothing I was eating excited me that much. For the first three years of college I lived in dorm rooms. Most of my meals were either microwave meals, campus food, or regretfully, Subway. The summer after Junior year, I moved to Ohio for an internship. This was the first time there was a need to cook. I also had a lot of spare time on my hands.

Before I left, I had my mom write down instructions for my three go-to recipes –pasta, breaded zucchini, and breaded chicken. The sense of culinary adventure was palpable. I still have in a notebook where my mom wrote down—boil water, pour in noodles, cook for 8 minutes, drain in colander, pour back in pot, heat up sauce in microwave, pour over noodles. I needed the play-by-play, I was clueless.

When I got back to college for my senior year, I had an apartment for the first time. I slowly started to introduce other recipes into my repertoire. Also, throughout the past couple of years, I had college friends introduce me to other cuisines. I started trying Chinese food, Indian food, Lebanese food, and Thai food (Thanks Hari). My food horizons were expanding. Once I realized rice wasn’t terrible, I started making stir fries. Something so simple, but really the gateway to trying other types of food.

Then I moved to Houston. I already had the cooking ball rolling and things just started to take off. I started meal prepping lunches for work. I started using Pinterest to get recipe inspiration. I started dating Adam who actually knew how to cook. I started liking to take pictures of food which spurring me to find colorful and creative recipe ideas.  I went vegetarian which required me to think outside the box more. I by no means know what I’m doing. I still google how to make rice every time I do it. But I started being a little bit less picky and taking a little bit more risks with the things I tried to make. Some might say being a vegetarian has made me more picky, and to them I say shhhhhh.

What are your favorite things to cook?

I’m not sure if I have a favorite thing to cook. I am a big fan of “one pot meals” where you can just throw everything in the crock pot, fry pan, or soup kettle and get five meals for the week in less than an hour. Those types of recipes allow you to be creative too. You can vary the vegetables, grains, and spices you use.

Above anything else, I really just like cooking things that are different. I get frustrated and bored if every week, I’m just eating a grain salad or roasted vegetables and rice. If I have the time, I rarely repeat recipes. There are so many different categories of food—tacos, stir fry, noodle dish, soup, stew, curry, pasta, grain bowl, sushi, galettes, dumplings, chili, pizza, enchiladas, risotto, casseroles, veggie burgers, etc. There’s no reason to always have the same thing.

And the simple answer to that question is, anything with chickpeas.

What are your pantry staples?

I could go for a lot more pages about what basic spices are necessary for cooking, but I won’t. I think once you start cooking some of the Asian cuisines, you can slowly start to accumulate spices. I used to look at a recipe with six spices and just buy one. Then after doing that five more times I finally had all the basics.

For stir fries and noodle dishes, it’s good to have on hand sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, peanut butter and ginger. For some of the Indian dishes, buy a curry powder or curry paste. Then slowly start accumulating all the spices. I think I started with cumin and paprika. General spices that are good for almost everything are onion powder and chili powder.

As a vegetarian, I would recommend nutritional yeast and cashews. Seriously, you’ll use that shit for everything.

Then in general always have some sort of grain on hand whether it’s rice, quinoa, couscous, barley, lentil, etc.

What new kitchen adventures do you want to pursue?

I definitely still don’t know what I’m doing, but I really enjoy trying new things. Last week, I pickled vegetables for the first time. That was fun. I’m still not very good at making dough. I think I would like to learn to be better at that, I pretty much rely on Adam for that now. He’s a great sous chef.

My other main goal is to become better at improvising and just having a natural understanding of what flavors would go well together. I rely on Google a lot currently. I also want to develop some homemade hummus recipes. I buy a lot of hummus.



My Survival Kit

At times, I feel as if I have a harder than average time connecting with people. I’d describe it as a constant sense of FOMO. I’m surrounded by others in the media and in my own life that seem like exceptional “people persons”.  I, on the other hand, constantly feel awkward in social situations, dread new environments, dislike large noisy groups, and occasionally feel overcome by feelings that people just pretend to like me.

I’m constantly reminded that human connection is one of the best things about life. Something that should be inspiring; something that professes the best things in life are free! Anyone can do it! But that sentiment tends to fill me with a tiny bit of dread. It doesn’t feel like something I can achieve easily; it feels like something I’m lacking the skills to accomplish and something I’m missing out on.

I’m an introvert. I’m fairly withdrawn and I enjoy spending long periods of time by myself with my thoughts. I re-energize by being alone. But while, being alone re-energizes me, it also has the twofold effect of making me feel as though I’m not connecting to people the way I should be.

I’m completely unaware of how I come off to other people because my mind is preoccupied with the feelings of anxiety and discomfort that plague my thoughts during most social interactions. I have a looming feeling that others perceive me as awkward and boring.

While this may or may not be true, I have managed to make several friends throughout my 25 years of life.

One particular friend gifted me a “survival kit” for my possibly 17th birthday. It was a cute white stationary box. At the time it was filled with all the teenage essentials…..for some reason all I remember now are the ear plugs and a silver call bell….? Idk high school is weird.

However, now the box is filled with all of the nice letters or endearments from people who have mattered to me. Every once in a while, when I need to be reminded that people care about me I take a peruse through the box. I think it’s beautifully symbolic now that this stationary box still has the words “Survival Kit” scrawled on the lid in my best friend’s hand writing.

The box contains lots of nostalgia and love—old pictures, birthday cards, thank you notes from friends, a thank you note from my college work study for the positive interactions I had with several unique children at the museum’s learning center, notes from Adam, letters from my pen pal, mementos that people have given me, well wishes on my move to Texas, pictures drawn by kids I babysat, handmade crafts from my cousins, random “thinking of you notes”, etc.

It’s a nice way to spend an evening and I’d recommend it to anyone.  It’s a pleasant reminder that even if I’m not as loud and boisterous as everyone else, I can still make an impact on people.


A Year in Food

At the end of 2015, I decided to start eating a vegetarian diet.  I can’t say I know for sure what prompted the decision.  I think it was a combination of getting tired of the same old chicken I always ate and the fact that I had done a bit of preliminary research advocating the health benefits. It’s been over a year now and so far no regrets with the decision. I never really ate that much meat to begin with so I can’t say I noticed an incredibly drastic difference, but I can say I rarely “miss” meat. Bacon’s really the only thing I think about occasionally.

One of the biggest challenges to this new lifestyle was figuring out what to eat. Growing up, I was an incredibly picky eater and had an aversion to many different types of vegetables. I also decided at the end of 2015 that I wanted to run my first half marathon, so I knew I needed to make sure I was getting enough calories to sustain a training plan.  Over the past few years, I’ve also been getting into cooking.  My new choice to eat meatless foods seemed to pair really well with my desire to find new and unique (and photogenic!) things to cook.

Eating a healthier plant based diet (still with some dairy and eggs in moderation) I think has somewhat changed my taste buds and I now like and eat tons more varieties of foods and vegetables that I never would have looked at growing up. One of the biggest misconceptions about people that eat vegetarian is that they only eat salad, but over the past 12 months, I’ve eaten and made tons of different foods and thought it would be fun to share!

So this is “A Year in Food”:


I freaking love avocado toast.  It appears at least three times in this post I believe, but many more times in my diet.  Although not obvious from this picture, when eating toast it’s important to cut the pieces DIAGONALLY and to almost burn the toast. It won’t taste good otherwise, trust me.DSC01530 (800x533).jpg

Pancakes. I can’t remember specifically what recipes I used when making these different ones. When I make pancakes for myself I try to make them vegan, so googling vegan pancakes should find you some good options.  The last picture also features some homemade granola on top of bananas.

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Tempeh scramble with potatoes -replaces  eating scrambled eggs in the morning. Tempeh does take some getting used to, it has no taste however and will just taste like whatever you flavor it with. I do try to eat meat substitution (tofu and tempeh) in moderation though. This particular scramble is topped with some tomatoes and avocado for freshness and color.

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Cinnamon rolls. A bit of splurge here.

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Corn bread

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Acai bowls. So many acai bowls. One of them technically has dragonfruit instead of acai berries, but you get the gist. The last picture features some ginger lemongrass tea, as well.

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My normal weekday breakfast is usually a banana, rice cakes, a banana smoothie, or some granola—whatever is easy to grab on the go.


Spread the Health‘s sweet potato steaks and veggie stir fry.  This is a meal that costs less than $5 to make a serving for 4.

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Rainbow soba noodle salad

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Cobb salad. This is my take on a meal I had at the restaurant in Houston, Americas. No link here, just some couscous, edamame, corn, spinach with a honey mustard dressing and avocados.

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Mushroom and leek galettes (the link to this pin is broken  so I can’t find the recipe )

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Orange Cauliflower.  Honestly, this was meh in my opinion because the fried cauliflower was a little too heavy for my liking, but I would totally make it again with just baking the cauliflower with no batter.  The orange sauce was great!

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Thai pizza (made with pillsburgy dough, because sometimes we need to take shortcuts)

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Swiss chard with chickpeas and couscous

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Lemongrass rice and tofu

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Black pepper tofu, veggies and rice

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Sandwich with hummus, grilled veggies and corn (Inspired by the leftovers in my fridge that day)

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Butternut squash and sweet potato enchiladas

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Sweet potato curry

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Turmeric coconut rice

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Roasted chickpea, mushroom, swiss chard, couscous and avo bowl

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Spread the Health‘s honey crisp apple salad and ratatouille.  Another meal that costs under $5 to make!

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Simple teriyaki roasted brocollini with pine nuts and white rice. Another meal inspired by the leftovers in my fridge.

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Brothers Green Eats’ Kimchi Stew

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Vegan butternut squash stew

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Harissa mushroom trio salad

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Southwestern veggie bowl

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Zoodles and tofu & Chickpea quinoa salad

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Ginger miso soba noodle bowl

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Mediterranean sweet potatoes

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Another taco bowl

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Falafel and roasted veggies

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Sweet potato lentil chili

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Soba noodle peanut stir fry

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Walnut couscous with lemon basil cream

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Teriyaki cauliflower rice bowls

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Buddha bowl

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These are things I will normally cook in bulk on Sunday (#mealprep) and then eat throughout the week for lunch and sometimes dinner.  If we are being honest, I eat a baked potato 8 times out of 10 for dinner, but my lunches are on point!


Spread the Health‘s Chickpea Wraps

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Sweet Potato Fries/Regular French Fries – I’ve gotten in the habit of taking homemade fries on airplanes. It’s great and filling! I’m not linking a recipe because you should be able to google this one.

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Infused Water –this was an obsession I had back in the summer when it was really hot out and needed something refreshing. Also doesn’t this picture look cool.

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Carrot hummus

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Pistachio hummus

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Thai peanut hummus

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Energy Bites –No recipe provided here because I can’t remember which one it is, also google.

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A trio of dips: carrot hummus, black bean, and red pepper cashew

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Sweet potato mousse (can’t find the recipe link, sorry). Also for the record, I took the edible flowers off after taking this picture because I’m not sure how I feel about eating them.

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Veggie fritters

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Pad Thai spring rolls

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Vegan nachos

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Cauliflower white bean spread

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Eating Out

I don’t eat out a lot, mainly because I hate spending money but also because it can be hard to find healthy options. I’ve found a couple of go-to restaurants in Houston and I’ve also documented some of the things I’ve eaten while traveling in the past year.

True Food Kitchen –Edamame dumpling and butternut squash pizza

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The Kitchen at Dunlavy –Avocado toast, tempeh sandwich and Southwestern breakfast bowl

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Local Foods –Chia seed pudding and vegan taco salad

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Indika –Chickpea crepe stuffed with mushroom and tomato masala and millet pancakes with banana blueberries. This was one of the courses from a brunch during Houston Restaurant Week (month)

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Pondicheri –Thali (sample platter)

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Grand Canyon/Sedona –I visited the Grand Canyon with my sister back in May and we stayed in Sedona. We started off every morning getting an Acai bowl from Berry Divine.  We also went to a restaurant called ChocolaTree Organic Eatery. We ordered a sample platter, wraps, and potato/lentil pancakes. Unfortunately, the food here was a bit bland but the patio had tons of hammocks which is the main reason I wanted to go.

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I also had the chance to visit Banff National Park last year.  On the last night in Canada we stopped in a restaurant in Canmore, AB and I ordered this curry.

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While in Breckenridge, we ate at this restaurant called Modis and I ordered a cauliflower steak with bok choy and other vegetables.

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I visited San Diego with two of my best friends from college Katia and Hari (also another veggie).  We went to some restaurant and got vegetarian sushi of some kind.  I don’t remember the details.  Katia and I also went to a brunch place the last morning and I ordered all this fruit and granola which was perfect for the hangover I may or may not have had.

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On the way back from Six Flags in San Antonio, Adam and I stopped at Senor Veggie and got these amazing vegan nachos.

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On the way back from Fredericksburg, Adam and I stopped at Bouldin Creek Café in Austin and got this tofu scramble and veggie plate. The veggie plate has zucchini, vegan corn bread, spinach and brown rice.  For the record, I ordered an “Asian Slaw” and not spinach so they brought that out later.

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My family vacationed to Lake Tahoe in May.  We went to Garwoods, which had a special vegetarian menu apart from the normal menu and they made this great tofu stir fry. I also ordered avocado toast from the hotel for breakfast every morning because –treat yo self.

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On my many visits back to Pittsburgh throughout the year I stopped at these great restaurants.

Smallman Galley –Lentil loaded fries and more avocado toast (look I love avocados, okay)

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Nicky’s Thai Kitchen –Vegan Duck

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The Commoner –Tikki Masala

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Kaya –Jamaican Green Curry

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Basically, I feel like I’ve eaten tons of good food in the past year and I plan to continue that into 2017! So if you have any good vegetarian restaurants or recipes please send them my way.


I’ve also made other things not pictured from these boards: