Life, Health and the Pursuit of Happiness

Let me first start off by saying that I am new to the blogging world. I never thought in a million years I would become a blogger. On the other hand, maybe it was meant to be. Last year, there were tons of bloggers at the new Legoland Hotel grand opening in San Diego. My brother, who is a tech reporter in Los Angeles, invited me to go with him to watch him report a story on the new hotel. As I was waiting for an elevator, a woman approached and told me I look familiar and she has seen my blog somewhere. I replied, “You must have me mistaken for someone else. I’ve never blogged in my life.” Maybe she was just trying to make small talk, or, maybe she was psychic.

Fast forward one year later . . . I am a blogger, or at least attempting to be.

 In order for you to understand how I’ve gotten to where I am today, I need to start back, way back to my childhood years. All growing up, I ate healthy, home-cooked meals. I didn’t even know what McDonald’s was because my parents always cooked, and we never ate fast food (Happy Meal? More like flounder and green bean meal with no toy). One might say they were stripped of the childhood joys of collecting all the Muppet Babies toys, but I would actually like thank my parents for teaching me how to eat right (not to mention, keeping me from that creepy clown-guy). My mother would cook homemade lasagnas, chicken or fish dinners, salads, and various other meals every night. My father was a health pioneer of his time. He would throw everything but the kitchen sink into his juicer or blender and drink it. His concoction would come out brown like sludge, and he would hold his nose as he drank. Confused as to why any human would purposely drink something that obviously tasted awful, I asked him, “Dad, why do you drink that stuff?!” I’ll never forget his response. “Taryn, I don’t drink it for taste, I drink it for health!” All I could think was ‘Glad it’s you drinking it and not me.’

Through my college years, without the supervision of my parents, I discovered Dunkin Donuts, cookies, chocolate candy bars, beer, and coffee. Sugar and good ol’ caffeine gave me the energy I needed to sustain my schedule of working full time, going to college, and being able to party all night; repeat and repeat again. I gained weight, as any freshman in college does, and that did not feel good. Neither did having to buy a new wardrobe for my expanding waistline.

In June 2009, I read a book that changed my life and how I view food and my body. Skinny Bitch. If you haven’t read it, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. That book became my golden ticket to eating healthier and being more conscious of what I put into my body. Since then, I have not eaten meat; rather, I choose to eat a plant-based diet.

As I began viewing food as nourishment for my body, instead of a quick hunger-fix, I became more aware of how I felt . I realized that when I ate certain foods, I felt a certain way. Some foods made me feel light and energetic; a feeling that I didn’t want to go away. I felt and looked better just from eating the right foods, and it felt amazing!

Recently, I was also influenced by another factor in my life that has truly affected me and placed me on this mission to help others gain a path to wellness. Two and a ½ years ago, I found out that my father, (the man who runs 7 miles a day and eats only the healthiest foods), has leukemia. When I found out, I was devastated. I had this vision in my mind that because of what he ate and how healthy he was, something like this could never affect him. I lost all my positivity and light in my life, and Doritos and donuts became my source of nourishment. I immediately became void of all energy and exuberance. Until one day, one of my employees told me, “Taryn, you are not yourself, this isn’t you. You need to be strong and positive like the leader you are. Be the positivity that your dad needs.” Truer words have never been spoken, and I found my strength and returned to taking care of myself. I went back to eating only the healthiest foods, and, I swear, they helped my mood and foster my positive mindset back to where it needed to be.

I wanted to let my father know there is hope, and with a positive mindset, he could fight this.

One day as my dad was getting chemo, he was doing yoga in his bed. I couldn’t believe him. Nothing would stop him from finding some sort of physical activity! His determination to stay healthy is an admirable quality. He told me how much he missed running, and I thought to myself, here I am, a healthy woman, if he could run, then I could run. I have always been athletic in my life, but running ½ mile at that time would leave me gasping for air with a side stitch. But seeing my father’s determination ignited the desire in me to start running. And, as quick as you can say Forrest Gump, I started to run every day I had a free moment. It felt good, and I felt grateful that I could run. Eventually ½ mile led to more miles, and it has become one of my favorite things to do. Running is a version of meditation for me, where I clear my mind, stop and look at nature, and remind myself of how grateful I am for life each day.

All of these important moments in my life have inspired me to start a new chapter in my life. Although only the first few pages have been written, I hope it ends up being a novel and not a short story. I have been in retail for 18 years, and I knew I had more to offer in this beautiful journey we call “life.” So, after careful thought, I bit the bullet (in my case, the Nutri-bullet) and enrolled in school at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I have my bachelor’s in psychology, and I decided to further my education with my passion for health, wellness, and nutrition. I couldn’t believe, at age 36, I was changing career paths. Then again, it couldn’t have felt more right.

I strongly believe my purpose in life is to inspire, educate, and coach others in fulfilling and sustaining their goals. I have a passion for eating healthy and living a positive life, and I want to share those passions with everyone I meet. So, if you are someone who sees the glass half full, welcome and enjoy the ride. However, if you tend to have a different perspective, I hope to inspire and encourage you to look at life with a new set of eyes.

Rustic Lasagna

Rustic Lasagna

Recently, I hosted a dinner party with some close friends and family. Their food preferences ranged from strictly vegan to carnivore, and I had to think of an all-around crowd pleaser. My mind was all over the place, flooding with various options that I could possibly make to please everyone. So I stumbled upon this delicious recipe that I found on Cheeky Kitchen and I knew it was “the one”. I couldn’t believe there was a lasagna recipe made without cheese or pasta, but rather with sourdough bread, spinach and eggplant! I mean, the recipe had me at bread!

So I made this lasagna and I knew the recipe was a hit when I went to go back for seconds and the entire tray was gone! Not only did the vegans love it, but my huge bodybuilder friend (that believes meat must be present at every meal) couldn’t stop eating it! So, if you want everyone at your next dinner party ranting and raving about the meal, be sure to try this recipe. Just have another tray made in case you run out like I did!

Ingredients:

  • 5 Tbs olive oil for sauteing the spinach
  • 3 Tbs olive oil for the eggplant
  • 12-14 cloves garlic, chopped (the more, the better!)
  • 2 (28-oz) cans organic whole-peeled tomatoes (buy crushed if you do not have an immersion blender)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbs Italian seasoning
  • 2 medium-sized eggplants, sliced to 1/2″ thick
  • 2 pounds fresh organic spinach, rinsed
  • 12-14 slices of sourdough bread
  • Olive oil nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 large tomato, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and add 1/3 of the garlic cloves. Cook for a few minutes, then add the whole-peeled tomatoes, 1/4 cup of basil, salt, and the Italian seasoning. Let cook for about five minutes, then blend with an immersion blender (if you do not have an immersion blender, buy crushed tomatoes). Simmer for about 30 minutes.

Peel and slice the eggplant and place baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper, and put in the oven until golden brown (approximately 30-35 minutes).

Spray each side of the sliced bread with the olive oil cooking spray. Toast the slices in a skillet and put off to the side.

Heat up the remaining oil in a pan, add the rest of the garlic, and saute for a few minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted.

In the bottom of a glass baking dish, pour 3/4 cups of the sauce. Place 5-6 slices of the sourdough bread to cover the bottom. Pour another 3/4 to 1 cup of sauce over the bread. Layer eggplant-spinach-eggplant-spinach. Place an additional 5-6 slices of sourdough bread on top. Cover completely with approximately a cup of sauce.

Sprinkle with whole wheat Panko crumbs, place 6-8 sliced tomatoes on top. Salt and pepper to taste.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before drizzling with the balsamic vinegar and garnish with basil.

Serve with a nice Pinot Noir and enjoy!