Fall Flavors: Sweet Treats (all-natural, non-dairy, low-carb, paleo and keto friendly)

As most of you babes know, I LOVE FALL! It is my favorite season because I love the colors, the weather cooling down, the flavors, Halloween…I could go on and on. I am proud to be basic and I am proud to have fallen in love with fall. There will be a ton of delicious recipes for my favorite season, and I already started with some Apple Fritters. However, my fall baking has not ended there. In fact since that post, I have created 3 new recipes that fit my dietary needs, give me the flavors I crave, and are made with all-natural ingredients. I was going to do individual posts, but I thought why not treat you all to 3-in-1!

So, I am going to organize this to the best of my ability. I will of course give my inspiration for creation for each recipe, but I am hoping to make this not too long of a read. I know I have been making some really long blog posts lately (which have felt AMAZING to post) but I know recipes are sometimes left short and…sweet (;

Just so you babes know, these recipes do not require anything too fancy. In fact, I got most of my ingredients at Trader Joe’s. I try to make my recipes lower in cost so you all can enjoy without breaking the bank. I know there are a lot of healthier recipes out there that require ingredients that are $20 each and for me, I cannot justify that! I want to be healthy, enjoy my treats, and still be able to make my student loan payment. Also, I do not know if these recipes are possible to make with regular flour, sugar, or butter because that is not how I choose to bake. I have restrictions in my diet and my blog sort of revolves around those. You are always welcome to try them out with any different ingredients and let me know how it goes! I love hearing about your experiences in the kitchen, and I always cry when I get sent pictures of you babes making my recipes (because it makes me feel like I helped some taste buds!) So, let’s get baking!

Paleo Pumpkin Spice Bread (gluten-free, dairy-free, and low-carb)

IMG_3008_Facetune_25-09-2018-16-28-22Pumpkin bread is one of my favorite fall treats. I used to always grab a piece with a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks before class in my college days. But, it’s definitely a lot more diet and budget friendly to make my own. I wanted to replicate the classic pumpkin flavor, while also making sure to include the spices that match pumpkin so well. With cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger…this bread not only tastes delicious but makes your house smell like fall without lighting a candle! It is a lot denser than typical bread, simply because of the flour used, but it is every bit as delicious and can easily be made as muffins!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup all-natural honey
  • 1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • Sunflower seeds as optional topping

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F and line a bread loaf pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut flour, almond flour, spices, and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the honey, vanilla, and coconut oil. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Add the pumpkin puree to the wet mixture and combine until smooth.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and combine until you have a smooth batter. Be sure that there are no lumps!
  6. Pour your batter into the lined bread loaf pan, and sprinkle sunflower seeds on top.
  7. Gently place in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

“The Laura” Chai Latte Spiced Cookies (gluten-free, paleo, keto, dairy-free, vegan, and low-carb)

IMG_2619_Facetune_11-09-2018-18-49-10Okay, so this one goes out to the wonderful woman I spent all of last fall living in the mountains with…Laura Young! She and I had both changed our entire lives to take on jobs that ended up being absolutely insane. We lived in cabins with no running water or bathrooms, barely any electricity, and the closest town was about 6 miles away and as small as could be. Neither of us lasted long (she lasted longer than I did, of course) because the working conditions were just awful. However, we did experience a lot of fun fall things together, including the strangest haunted house ever and pumpkin searching in the grocery store parking lot. But one of the best memories were the times one of us would make a Starbucks run, because the closest one was about 40 minutes away, we would always bring back a drink for the other. Laura’s favorite fall order is a Venti Pumpkin Chai Latte with Soy. So, in honor of me missing my soul sister (who is now starting a new adventure in D.C.) I decided to make her favorite drink in the form of an Emilee friendly cookie. Laura, if you are reading this, I love you and you better make this. And if you aren’t Laura, then you should also make it and know that these cookies (I made 16) were gone within 2 days at my house! So delicious!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/3 cup all-natural honey
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 °F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place all of the ingredients (yes, all of them!) in a bowl and combine with an electric mixer.
  3. When all ingredients are combined and a dough is formed, roll into a ball and store in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
  4. Once cooled, you can either form 2 inch balls and then flatten them, or you can roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to create shapes. I used the first method, but also tested the second, too!
  5. Place cookies on lined baking sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the cookies turn golden brown. I’ve found my oven to bake a bit differently than others.
  6. Remove from oven and allow the cookies to cool.
  7. Enjoy with homemade cashew milk, or your favorite fall drink!

Pumpkin Butter Thumbprint Cookies using Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter (paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and low carb)

IMG_3010_Facetune_25-09-2018-16-38-09Another one of my favorite treats for fall is Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter. It’s absolutely delicious and made out of some pretty clean ingredients. I love the depth of flavors, and that its less than $3 a jar. I’ve always loved thumbprint cookies, whether it is filled with jam or chocolate, but I haven’t tried making them since becoming gluten-free. Luckily, the cookie portion of this is very versatile and is what I consider to be a healthier shortbread. It’s soft and buttery but without actual butter! Plus the flavors in the cookies mix perfectly with the pumpkin butter on top! This is a simple recipe, and another crowd pleaser in my household. Just be sure to store any leftovers in the fridge in an air tight container so they stay edible (pumpkin butter does need to be refrigerated!)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut four
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup all-natural honey
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 jar of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter

Directions

  1. In a bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except the pumpkin butter. Combine until you have a dough-like consistency and roll into a ball. Place dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 °F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Using a tablespoon of dough per cookie, form into small balls. I was able to make about 15. Then, make an imprint in the center of each cookie with your thumb (get it, thumbprint cookies.)
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 minute. Then, repress your thumbprint down into the cookies and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  5. Using a spoon, fill each thumbprint with pumpkin butter.
  6. Let cool in the fridge for about 10 minutes to set!
  7. Enjoy!
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Homemade Cashew Milk (no straining needed!)

IMG_2608_Facetune_11-09-2018-18-42-54I haven’t always been the biggest fan of nut milks. It was a huge adjustment to try to get used to almond and coconut milk. But, I knew limiting how much dairy I consumed (especially milk) would be best for my body, so I have trained myself really well to enjoy it! My favorite milk by far is cashew milk, but it is so much more expensive to buy a decent brand.

What do I mean by a “decent brand”? Well, I mean something with simple, and very few, ingredients that actually benefit our bodies instead of tear them apart. Did you know some brands of nut milk have added preservatives and chemicals so they do not expire as quickly? This makes me feel super uncomfortable because I am trying to find ways to better my health, and if I am giving up animal milk, I shouldn’t be swapping it for something with added chemicals! It is the same thing with nut butters. Read the labels between Jiffy and Sprout’s (which cost the same), and you’ll see that there more than just peanuts in the Jiffy peanut butter.

For awhile now, I’ve been considering making my own nut milk. However, I am uncomfortable with the amount of waste that can come from straining and being left with nut “pulp” (ew?) I know there are ways to reuse the leftovers, but this all seems like a lot of work for the average person. Plus, I know not everyone wants to invest in a cheese cloth or special nut milk bag. So, in true Emilee fashion, I decided to experiment in the kitchen and figure out a way to make some simple cashew milk without having too many complicated steps. And that is just what I did.

I was able to make my cashew milk creamy and dreamy all while controlling what ingredients were added. There are so many varieties of ways to make delicious cashew milk with all natural flavors and I want to make sure that you know just how easy this was. I used mine in my smoothies daily, to dunk in cookies (that recipe is coming soon!), and in a delicious homemade latte. The possibilities with your cashew milk are endless, and it is so easy to make!

IMG_2595One step that I do want to clarify is when I say to “soak your cashews”. This is really important because when nuts/seeds are broken down (such as in a blender or food processor), they release natural chemicals that can be harmful to digestion. The soaking process eliminates this release while also making the nuts/seeds creamier when broken down! It is a MUST if you plan to make milk without straining! I recommend 6-8 hours of soaking because it comes out smoother and with less of a grainy texture. Slow and steady wins the race!

Homemade Cashew Milk Recipe

This makes about 5-6 cups, but you can adjust the recipe to make more or less!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of cashews *note: they must be RAW cashews!
  • 3 cups of filtered water (plus some for soaking!)
  • optional ingredients: local all-natural honey, organic all-natural maple syrup, vanilla extract, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, lavender extract, sea salt, or anything else that you want to add to your milk!

Directions

  1. Measure your cashews and place in a bowl. Put enough filtered water in the bowl to cover all the cashews. Place the bowl in a cool, safe place with a light towel over it. Let your cashews soak for 6-8 hours. Remember, this is an important step!
  2. Drain the water from the bowl and rinse your cashews. Place them in your blender with about 1 cup of water to start. Blend for at least 2-3 minutes. This will be very thick and creamy. This step will help decrease how grainy it is.
  3. Then, add another cup of water and repeat the steps until it is at the desired consistency. If your cashew milk is still grainy, keep blending!
  4. Add your choice of flavors/sweeteners. For chocolate cashew milk, try adding 4 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. For lavender honey, add 1/4 cup of honey, 4 drops of lavender extract, and 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract. For a fall flavor, add 3 tablespoons of cinnamon and 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Or for my favorite (and what I made above) add 1/4 cup honey, 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract, and 2 pinches of sea salt. 
  5. Blend your ingredients together and store in an air tight container in the fridge. Jars work best!
  6. Let it cool and enjoy for up to a week! It makes a great coffee creamer!

IMG_2610

Paleo Gluten-Free Apple Fritter Bites

Fall is my favorite season, and I am so glad that it is finally here. From the color changing leaves to the seasonal holidays, I love all things fall! As a recipe creator it is even easier to create yummy foods when you love all the different flavors. From apple cinnamon to pumpkin nutmeg to rosemary and thyme; this is where my taste buds want to live!

To begin my wonderful fall recipe series, I wanted to take advantage of the delicious apples a family friend brought over, fresh from her tree! They are Macintosh, so they are a perfect balance of sweet and crisp. I couldn’t wait to use cinnamon as a pairing flavor to the perfect apples, but I knew I wanted to be a little bit more creative than an easy apple muffin.

I woke up this morning craving donuts with my coffee. When I would get donuts in the past, I would always get a glazed old-fashioned and an apple fritter. I love the sweet and fruity surprises that apple fritters brought, and that’s when it hit me. I should make an Emilee friendly apple fritter. Aka Paleo, gluten-free, no refined sugar, (and mainly dairy-free)…Thus my creation!

I didn’t want these to be overly sweet or overly heavy. Instead, I wanted an apple fritter that I could use as my morning carb so I would be less tempted to make a breakfast quesadilla (I got addicted and my body deserves better lol). So, I chose to make apple fritter donut holes so I could eat 2 or 3 and be satisfied while also having a properly portioned amount. I also didn’t want to have to try to figure out yeast or anything like that because I am not ready for that kind of commitment. But these little babes turned out amazing! I had no idea that on the first try I would get something so perfectly yummy and my craving satisfied. Not to mention, I now got to have donut holes with breakfast for the next 4 days without ruining my dietary needs. It’s overall a win win.

Paleo Gluten-Free Apple Fritter Bites

I was able to make about 16 2-inch Apple Fritter Bites from this recipe. I probably should have doubled it because my family ate a fair amount as well! And mind you, my family usually questions what I make (but then they try it and are in love!)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of finely chopped apples (Granny Smith or Macintosh work best!)
  • 1 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup all-natural honey
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon liquid coconut oil mixed with 1 tablespoon cinnamon (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Then, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine almond flour, coconut flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder.
  3. Next, add the eggs, vanilla extract, honey, and almond milk. Be sure to mix this well so all the ingredients are fully combined.
  4. Carefully fold your apples into the mix and try to get them evenly dispersed in the batter.
  5. Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, take about 2 tablespoons of batter and roll it into a ball. Place the balls on the lined baking sheet about an inch apart from each other (they should not expand!)
  6. This step is optional, but helps bring moisture into the donuts. Melt 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and mix in cinnamon. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each donut with the coconut cinnamon mix.
  7. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes to cool down. Another optional tip: drizzle a tablespoon of honey across the top.
  9. Enjoy while wrapped in a cozy knit blanket, smelling a fall scented candle, and while sipping a pumpkin spice latte (;

Red, White, and Blue Low-Sugar Desserts That Won’t Destroy Your Diet!

I am a huge fan of 4th of July. The sparklers, fireworks, bbq Foods, beach, sun, swimming, and desserts; all wonderful things that come even better with good company. I’ve always been a fan of spending the whole day and night celebrating and having a good time. This year however, I don’t want all the crazy added sugar. So, I decided to recreate some of my favorites with less sugar, better-for-you ingredients, and of course gluten-free ingredients. These desserts might not please every diet, so just keep that in mind! They can also be made to fit the need of other holidays by using different colors and themes! Personalization is a choice.

White Chocolate Covered Fruit

I love chocolate covered fruit. It is seriously one of my all time favorite things to eat and I don’t think that will ever change. I like the fact that something natural and nutritious can easily be made into a dessert. So, how did I transform this into a better-for-you dessert? I used all-natural white chocolate from the brand SunSpire Fair Trade. This allowed me to be in control of what ingredients I added to the fruit. If I am being 100% honest, the sprinkles are NOT anything special. They are regular ol’ sprinkles, and that’s okay! I decided to make white chocolate covered strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. My family approved and I cannot wait to take them with me for 4th of July festivities.

Ingredients

  • 1 package of SunSpire Fair Trade All-Natural White Chocolate Chips
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • Red and blue sprinkles
  • Any fruit you wish to cover in chocolate

Directions

  1. Wash and dry your fruit. Make sure it is completely dry so you don’t get any water in the chocolate.
  2. Cut your bananas into thirds and store all the fruit in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes. This is so the chocolate has an easier time hardening because the fruit is cold.
  3. In a microwaveable bowl, add 1/2 your chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil. Microwave for about 30 seconds, and mix ingredients together.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. As you dip your fruit in the chocolate, line up on the baking sheet carefully. I suggest not doing too much at one time to avoid the chocolate hardening before you can put the sprinkles on.
  5. There are different ways to add sprinkles and I think you should be as creative as you want!
  6. Let chill in the freezer for at least 1 hour before serving. So yummy!

Simple GF Blueberry Loaf Cake

Again, all about honesty here, this did not turn out the way I had planned. However, it came out so delicious that I couldn’t help but share the success with you all. The original plan was to use blue berries and beets to create a swirl in the bread, but I just didn’t use enough! I could have easily used food coloring, but I wanted to make this cake as all natural as possible…and the blueberries added a little color without too much blueberry flavor which was the goal. My family has already finished the half I set aside for them!! So, how did I make a cake healthier but still moist and delicious? I used 100% pure maple syrup and a little bit of stevia. I also used gluten-free flour and coconut oil in place of butter. These simple switches can help make eating cake a little less of a guilty pleasure.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup All-natural maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons stevia
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup blueberries (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 °F. Then, line a loaf mold with parchment paper.
  2. With a hand mixer, combine your dry ingredients. Then slowly add your wet ingredients. Very simple and easy.
  3. Set aside 1/4 cup of batter. Pour the rest in your loaf mold.
  4. On medium high heat, break down the blueberries with 1 tablespoon water. Drain 4 tablespoons of the liquid into a cup and save the rest of the mix in an air tight container for oatmeal in the morning (trust me it’s delicious.)
  5. Mix the batter left aside with the blueberry liquid. Drizzle on top of the plain loaf and use a toothpick to create swirls.
  6. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  7. Remove, serve, and enjoy!

Cauliflower Gnocchi with Creamy Roasted Vegetable Sauce and Italian Turkey Meatballs (Gluten-free, Low-Carb, Dairy-Free, Paleo-Friendly)

I grew up in a household where I was constantly exposed to so many different dishes and foods; I guess that’s what happens when your father has a passion for cooking and food. A classic choice was always some sort of Italian dish, so naturally this became my comfort food (well, that and mashed potatoes/French fries bc who doesn’t love those?) As most of you know, I recently went to New York (Brooklyn and Manhattan) where I allowed myself to eat a little less restricted while still trying to stay balanced. One thing I wanted the whole time I was there was pasta. Sadly, everywhere we went for dinner didn’t have pasta at all or did not serve gluten-free pasta. Even somewhere that said online that they did told me at their location they don’t! It isn’t always a choice to be gluten-free!!

IMG_8808So, naturally, the moment I got home my recipe creator mind went crazy trying to think of a delicious dish I could make to satisfy my craving. When I create recipes, I like to think of a dish and write down all my favorite flavors that match with that dish. For this recipe, I started with the sauce…because that is my favorite part! I wrote down a list of flavors that I wanted to taste, some extra veggies I could throw in to add more health benefits, and how I wanted to use the ingredients. Then, I moved on to what kind of pasta I wanted to match it with, and I needed to think of a protein to add so it would be a balanced meal. Thus, I created this beauty…okay the color is a little odd, but it comes from the mix of roasted veggies…yum!

I have heard about Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi all over the BeachBody Instagram world. They are gluten-free and made with a base of cauliflower (veggie pasta? Yes please!) One of the best parts about them is that they are frozen, so you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you have your next pasta craving. I was finally ready to try these babies after reading about them for about a month now. When I got to the store, I was pleasantly surprised that they were only $2.50 a bag! That’s such a great deal, especially if you are gluten-free like I am and you are used to buying products for way more than the typical prices.

IMG_8809Next came thinking about a protein. I remembered how much I liked the meatballs I made a couple of months ago, and I was excited when I discovered ground turkey in the fridge that needed to be used. However, this time I wanted to do something different from the pesto flavor, so I used two of my spices from RawSpiceBar. If you have never heard of this company, I highly recommend looking into their spices. It is a quarterly subscription that sends fresh, high quality spices to your door and gives suggestions on how to use them. I love receiving the spices because they always inspire me to create things that I normally wouldn’t! I’ve cooked a variety of middle eastern and asian foods I would have never tried without these spices. I am not sponsored by them (a girl can dream) but I have been featured on their Instagram/Twitter pages and recommend them on a serious level! PS: Who can spy a hungry puppy in the bottom of this picture??

Now that I’ve blabbed enough, I am ready to share this recipe! My mom said this was some of the best sauce she has even had and I was so proud. The sauce is creamy without any added cream, and it was purely veggies, some spices, and olive oil! Pretty amazing what vegetables can do on their own! Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Cauliflower Gnocchi with Creamy Roasted Vegetable Sauce and Italian Turkey Meatballs Recipe

This recipe yields about 3 servings of sauce and gnocchi, and 12-15 meatballs depending on their size.

Ingredients

Gnocchi:

  • Cauliflower Gnocchi from Trader Joe’s

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 package of RawSpiceBar New York Italian Seasoning (or your favorite Italian Seasoning)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds (I used RawSpiceBar’s)

Sauce:

  • 6 tomatoes (I used Roma because that is what grows in my garden, but feel free to use beef or any other large tomato)
  • 1 whole sweet onion, sliced
  • 6-9 cloves of garlic (depending on preference)
  • 1 whole bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 3/4 cup fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 °F. Line two baking sheets with foil for easy clean up.
  2. For your meatballs, in a mixing bowl, add egg, garlic, almond flour, spices, and fennel seeds. Mix until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Add your lean ground turkey. Be sure to mix really well so all of the turkey is covered in flavors, egg, and flour!
  4. Using a tablespoon for measurement, take a scoop of turkey and using your hands, roll into a tight ball and place on your baking sheet. If this thought totally disgusts you, you can also use a cookie scoop so you aren’t touching the raw meat. When making your meatballs, remember to try to make them all a similar size so you can be sure they cook through all the way.
  5. Put baking sheet in the oven and allow your meatballs to cook for 20 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, flip your meatballs so they brown on both sides. Cook for 10 more minutes. When done, take them out of the oven so they are ready to plate later.
  7. While your meatballs cook, you can begin to prep your veggies for the sauce. Chop your onions, tomatoes, and bell pepper, then lay them all out on your second foil lined baking sheet and season with a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper. Your garlic can be placed in whole cloves on the sheet as well!
  8. Place your veggies in the oven with your meatballs. They will take less time to roast than the meatballs, so keep a close eye on them. Mine took about 25 minutes and came out perfectly!
  9. In a sauce pan, add 1/4 cup of olive oil and your fresh herbs. Let this begin to warm up on a low heat so the herbs infuse their flavor into the olive oil.
  10. When your veggies are ready, add them to the sauce pan and begin to break them down while mixing it all together.
  11. In a blender, pour your sauce and blend until smooth. A hand held blender works just as well. I personally use my NutriBullet and love it.
  12. Pour your sauce back in the pan, add sea salt, cracked pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir well and let simmer for 5 minutes.
  13. Cook your gnocchi according to the directions on the package.
  14. Pour gnocchi, sauce, and meatballs into a bowl and enjoy the heck out of it!

365 Days Ago I Graduated College

One year ago today, I celebrated the biggest life accomplishment I have made. 365 days ago I earned my BA in Performing Arts: Dance and my certificate in Psychology from California State University Channel Islands. I earned this along with University and Program Honors. To this day, I am still overwhelmed by what these accomplishments all really mean.

Let me tell you a little bit of history about how I got to this place. Starting off with the fact I didn’t actually know if I wanted to go to college or not. I grew up thinking the only thing I was capable of ever pursuing was my theatre career, because I was afraid of being seen as smart due to the restrictions society made me believe I had. I was a cheerleader, I had a pretty face, and I was amazing on stage…I didn’t see or understand the need of being educated. However, my parents wanted more for my future. They didn’t go to college, so they wanted to help me have the opportunity no one in my family ever did. So, I applied to colleges as a way to get out of the town that felt too small and continue to build my acting career. Mind you, I didn’t get into my top college choices because of my poor grades. So, it was between CSU Channel Islands and University of the Pacific. I knew after stepping foot on CSUCI’s campus, that was going to be the place for me.

Located near LA and a small performing arts program meant I had many opportunities to shine. I soon became aware that performing arts wasn’t about shining, but about the power behind creating art and the good that you could do for the world. This is where I fell in love with dance, and this is where I would begin to learn that being a pretty face no longer made me feel good about myself, but that becoming educated in so many fields on so many issues made me feel empowered. I started taking harder classes, being told by professors that I have an intelligent mind that deserves to grow and flourish. This is how I discovered my love for psychology and developed my Capstone thesis and research.

I presented my Capstone theory, research, and actual findings on Dance/Movement Therapy that changed the way others thought about how artists can change the way the world views and treat mental health. I ended my college career with a 3.65 GPA and earned University Honors for my academic achievements. I also earned Program Honors for Performing Arts for both my academic and humanitarian accomplishments. I was never prouder of myself or more excited/terrified to be in the “real world.”

After graduation, I was still working for YMCA as I had been for the past 2 years. Through this job, I developed a passion for creating communities and helping families build strong bonds. I loved that going to work meant changing lives, and I decided that performing was no longer going to be the career path I followed. Instead, I came to the realization that this world needs to incorporate finding a balance between a healthy body and a healthy mind to help with communication, expression, and emotional behavior. I found that working with the youth of YMCA, I was able to practice these skills. I loved working for a company that allowed me to do what I loved while also grow as an individual and professional.

What I failed to mention before is that during my first year of college, the beginning of a 4 year long stalking and sexual harassment incident that changed my life forever. It began slowly, and as time went on, became worse and worse. Police and Title IX became involved, and things still continued to get worse. It is extremely hard to go to school when someone watches your every move and claims that you are their girlfriend in both a sexual physical and romantic way even though you’ve never had any romantic or even overly friendly contact with them. It is hard to focus in class when he is sitting outside waiting for you to come out. It is hard to even finish school when your stalker and harasser is ALLOWED to roam around campus and continue to violate agreements and faces no consequences. But that story is for another blog post; for another time when I am strong enough to have fully overcome what gave me ptsd. I mention this because it not only played a huge role in my academic career (one point I almost dropped out from feeling so unsafe, and my grades slipped noticeably in the middle of a semester) but it also was a part of what happened after graduation.

I was working my usual summer position at the Y, and although I had graduated, we were still working on the case I mentioned above. There was a lot that went into something like this, a lot of time, unanswered questions, interviews, and exhaustion. I began to not only just have anxiety, but showed signs of ptsd. I was afraid of being alone, scared of him finding out where I worked and lived, but most of all, I was afraid of the school and town that had become home because he was there too. I knew I had to get out, but I was working that summer. So, I began applying for jobs at other Y’s away from CSU Channel Islands in hopes that I could escape.

That’s when I was hired to be a full-time Residence Life Coordinator at a camp not far from my hometown. This would get me away from the pain and fear, and give me a newer beginning. This job, I thought at the time, would be THE JOB. You know, the one you get right out of college that seems like a dream because of have a fancier title, get benefits, and feel like an actual adult. I was only at this job for 3 months due to a long chain of unfortunate circumstances and realization that this was not what I wanted to be doing.

During those 3 long months, I did learn a lot about myself. I learned I was stronger than I believed, a really good person, and capable of pushing myself in ways I never imagined. I made some lifelong friends (s/o to Laura, Lizz, Gabi, and Thomas) who I still tell everything to. But I also learned that my anxiety and fears couldn’t just vanish by running away to live in an awful cabin in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I found out the closing statements of my case from college. They were not what we had hoped for, but I had won the case. However, this sent me spiraling in ways that I didn’t know I could. I began eating terribly once again, never wanting to move or even get out of bed, and I lost my passions because I didn’t know my purpose anymore. I honestly gave up for awhile. I was unemployed, feeling at loss, moved back in with my parents, and absolutely miserable.

Then, in December, I found my place in the dance studio world. I began helping run one of the studio locations and then started teaching. I had fallen in love with movement, dance, communities, and connections again. I started becoming happier with myself and my life. I started researching more and more about grad school and what I wanted to do with my future. Although I am still unsure about what I specifically want to do, I have a better idea now.

I am currently still at the dance studio, but I also signed a year long commitment to volunteer at a local hospital where I am working on bringing more communal aspects, as well as the arts, into patient long term care. I started this blog after having the idea for months and finally saying, “screw it, I want to write and share my life!” That lead me to finding online health/fitness coaching where I am able to help others with their goals while also being on my own journey. I have strong friendships and bonds, and knowledge that although my future is unknown, I am working hard to make it bright and beautiful. There is a lot I still need to discover about myself and heal, but that personal journey is incredible and truly humbling.

365 days have past since I made the biggest accomplishment of my life thus far. 365 days of emotions, changes, irrational and rational decisions, and finding myself after not being in school for the first time in my life. There is no guidebook to tell you exactly how that first year will be, but this is how my first year out of college went and I couldn’t be happier that I have amazing health, a wonderful job, and ambition for the future, even if it took a lot of hard times to get here now.

Future and current college graduates, let me leave you with this: you are going to have a hell of a first year. Your life is going to change, and it will be different from what you have now and probably what you think it will be. There is no shame in not knowing what the right path is. This is tryout time to try everything and anything out! This is your time to apply what you learned in school to the real world by taking on jobs with flexibility so you can travel, create a life for yourself, and discover what it is like to no longer be a student! This year is going to take you crazy places, but you will get through it all and find so many things out about yourself if you just hold what knowledge you gained tight!

I had a tough year, but I also had a year that allowed me to become a better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better teacher, a better role model, and overall a better person. Yes, there were MANY downs and rock bottom points, but where I am now is worth every single one of those low points. Believe in the power of your education, believe in the power of your journey, and believe in yourself. Cheers and namaste to my one year anniversary since completing my under grad studies and becoming a CSU Channel Islands Alumni!

But you’re so happy and outgoing!…You don’t have anxiety.

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Photo by: Makena Volzing

If I had a dollar for every time someone said this to me, maybe I would have enough money to better educate others on mental illness. I am overall a happy and positive person, but that does not mean that I don’t have my own struggles with mental illness. I think sometimes we truly believe that those who help others and take the time to smile at strangers do not have struggles. I am often told that because I want to be in the mental health field, I should have full control over my own mental health. Yes, that is partially true, but I am only human and I can only do my absolute best. I have never been one to fully speak out about my anxiety, but at this time in my life, I know that by speaking out about it, I can help others. This is my story; I am in no way saying that this is the only way anxiety affects us, but this is how it affects me and my life. This is my anxiety; this is my mental illness.

As a young child, I showed various symptoms of anxiety. I was highly emotional, unable to control myself, I panicked in situations most children do not, and I had fears that were unexplainable. I can remember how upsetting it was to not understand why I felt the way I did. It was frustrating for my family, especially my parents, because I would become hysterical but none of us understood why. Eventually, my parents took me to both group and solo therapy sessions. I was about 9 years old when they finally said it was clearly anxiety. However, this did not mean that I was going to miraculously get better. It meant that the fight and the journey was only beginning.

I do not remember a ton of exact details. But I do remember in 6th grade my anxiety symptoms started becoming physical. I had this fear of going to school, and I would almost daily get a nauseated stomach ache, go to the office, and get picked up by my mom. I would then feel completely fine when I got home. I remember just being afraid of leaving my house, and this is also when I developed my number one fear: vomiting. I am terrified even now as an adult of anything having to do with throw up (yes, this is a challenge while working with kids.) I was afraid of getting carsick, I was afraid of throwing up at school, and I was afraid that anywhere I went, someone would vomit.

I eventually was told by my parents and the school that I could not be going home anymore. So I started seeing the school counselor…almost everyday. I would be fine one second, then go running to the office crying and demanding to see her right away. What was even scarier was not understanding why this was happening to me. I remember we tried to use a mediation tape that would help guide me through breathing exercises to calm me down. But I also remember just being such a wreck all the time and my parents being just as clueless about why this was happening as I was.

Things did start to get better, I started learning how to deal with my fears a little better and I had less hysterical moments. However, my anxiety shortly turned into me becoming easily manipulated by others because my head told me I needed as many friends as possible. No, I never did anything absolutely awful, but I did do a lot of things to other people that I regret. But it was because I allowed myself to befriend others that made me feel like I had an abundance of people around me so that I could feel supported. Sadly, I didn’t know that a majority of my “friends” were actually tearing down my self-esteem which in turn, allowed my anxiety to creep back up and be extremely present my senior year.

Then came college; a new city, new people, and a new chance. This triggered my anxiety for obvious reasons, but also for reasons that weren’t easily detected. I had a really tough time with roommates my freshman year and I would constantly feel like I was losing my mind. I had the same symptoms as I did in middle school: I wanted to go home. But I was an adult, I knew I had to learn to push through. But, as most of you know, pushing through is not healing; pushing through is not the solution to the overall problem. So, I again knew I needed extra help and saw the therapist on campus. I am so grateful to this day for her compassion and understanding when she asked me to just tell her what was going on and I immediately broke down sobbing. She confirmed that what I was feeling was valid and that we would find solutions together. So we did. She helped get me out of my completely toxic living situation as well as proactively checked in on me. As an adult, you think you can and should do it all on your own but without my therapist, I would have definitely dropped out of school. I finished Freshman year strong, and I felt better.

Then, things changed in my life again. Something else I do not often speak out about is the Title 9 case I went through during my college career. It is still very much a fresh, open wound and I cannot yet put into words the amount of destruction it had on myself as well as others in my life. This case made my mental status go from knowing how to get through the anxious moments to never not being anxious. This was because I was afraid of being on campus, which meant I was afraid of going to classes and going to my on campus job. But this time, it was different. This time, my anxiety was 110% caused by something that was very, very real. I was afraid of these things because I was afraid of a person. My anxiety continued to get worse and worse as this case continued to get worse. I would have panic attacks in the restroom, leave classes when triggering topics were brought up, and constantly call my parents when things were just too much. It was truly dangerous, and it continued to be a serious problem even after graduation. Although this case is now officially “resolved” on paper, it still deeply effects who I am and how I act in certain situations.

This past year, I was able to start to really control my anxiety again. I was able to return to happier mindset and breathe in the good while breathing out the bad. However, recently, I have been experiencing more and more panic attacks. In fact this past Sunday, I had one on an airplane. In case you’re wondering, no, I do not have a fear of flying. However, I do fear flying because I still fear vomit. I get carsick, and sometimes planes can cause me to get pretty motion sick. Not to mention, other people around me have thrown up on planes so it really makes me extremely nervous when it comes to my vomit fear. Sunday, my flight was 45 minutes of pure turbulence…and I mean extreme turbulence. I have never been so terrified on a plane and the fact that I could not escape made it even scarier. I was shaking, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and the entire plane was jumping up and down. What’s worse is that I cannot just avoid flying for a little bit, but I have to fly this upcoming Sunday from California to New York. So yes, I have some emotions to work through and things to figure out.

I am not sure the true reasons why I have been feeling this way, but I do know that ultimately I am in charge of what I should do. I know that psychologists and counselors can help me, but I also know that it is tough to admit you need to see someone when you are working on studying to become a therapist. I think that is the really tough part for me in this state and time; knowing that I have the tools to help others work through panic attacks, but not being able to use the tools on myself. But I know that I need to be gentle and kind to myself. I know that I need to do whatever I can to try to get in tune with my mind and get to the bottom of this. It isn’t easy, and it does not happen in a day, but I am willing to put in the same amount of work into my mind that I put into my body.

Somethings that help me work through my anxiety on a daily basis include:

  • Dancing it out. Dancing connects your body and mind, creating a state of equilibrium and allowing you to work through your emotions. It also raises endorphins, boosts your mood, and allows you to focus on movement and music rather than your anxiety. Just turn on some of your favorite songs and move how ever your body tells you! Trust me when I say to dance it out; I did my Capstone on Dance/Movement Therapy.
  • Essential oils. Lavender, lemon grass, and peppermint have become my best friends. I have a blend that I put on constantly, and I also put it in my diffuser to help release their powers in my room. Lavender reduces stress, lemon grass is a natural mood booster, and peppermint helps with the physical side of anxiety such as nausea and headaches.
  • Being open with my friends and family. Sure, they will not all understand, but when you explain to those who are close to you that you are having a tough time, they could surprise you and help you. If you aren’t comfortable with this, trying seeking help through your doctor or support groups. You do not have to go through anxiety alone, and that is such an important thing to remember.
  • Being honest with myself and giving myself time to heal. I used to bottle up my anxiety until it exploded into full blown panic attacks. I’ve noticed that the more I allow my emotions to release and give myself time to take deep breaths and focus, the better I am in the long run. Let yourself cry, let yourself scream, let yourself laugh. Allow your emotions to run their course. I do this often in the shower and in my bedroom while I am alone and letting myself be vulnerable. However, I am also know to release emotions and stress during yoga. No, I do not scream, but sometimes I cry a bit because I am letting my body fully release all toxins.
  • Relaxing. Make the time to relax. If you are like me and almost always on the go, you need to make a change to your life. You should schedule at least 30 minutes of your life to be just yours. It isn’t selfish, it is practicing self-care. Whether it be 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 at night, or all 30 minutes during a lunch break…unplug and do something for you! I like to practice yoga, paint, meditate, cook/bake, and pet my sweet puppy. If I am out and about I like to treat myself to lunch, fit a spot to lay in the sun, go on a walk, or even just go on a drive.

Now, I realize that these options are not going to get to the bottom of your anxiety, and I do not think that they replace seeking professional help. However, I do think that these are ways to help yourself learn more about you and your anxiety. I believe in therapy and counseling (I mean, it’s my future career) but I also believe in taking time to get in tune with yourself and the power that can have on your relationship with your body and mind.

If you have anxiety, please know that you are not alone. Yes, your mind is uniquely yours, but you do not have to go through this feeling lonely. If you need help, call a friend, family member, or the Panic Disorder Information Hotline: 1-800-64-PANIC (72642). Reaching out is the hardest step, but when you do, you are already making so much progress. Anxiety is something that you will always have inside of you, but you can get to a place of control. Always remember, your health (both mental and physical) is the most important thing. You cannot be you without your body or mind, so allow yourself to come first.