17 Jul

The Dangers of Deli Meat

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When we think of a healthy, on-the-go lunch, a sandwich often comes to mind.  It’s quick, it’s convenient, and it usually contains most of the major food groups.  But as is the case with so many other ‘health’ foods, it pays to be diligent and ask questions.  Because unless you’re eating a veggie sandwich, you’re most likely piling on one questionable ingredient: deli meat.

It’s a bit strange to think of deli meat as being a processed food, but in fact, many different types of deli meat are exactly that.  Cold cuts such as pastrami, bologna, and ham are often loaded with preservatives like sodium nitrite and nitrate, a known carcinogen.  There’s conflicting information out there, but regular consumption of these preservatives has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Processed meats are also very high in sodium, which is typical of processed foods.   Now, we don’t necessarily have an issue with salt, provided that it’s coming from natural sources, and Lynell touches upon that in this post.  But sodium in processed foods?  It’s bad news, folks.

So what to do?  Bid farewell to sandwiches?  No, it doesn’t have to come to that!  While you could certainly opt for delicious vegetarian sandwiches like the ones Oh My Veggies has compiled here, there are other options out there.

When you’re perusing the deli aisle, look for labels such as ‘no nitrites or nitrates added’ – while the meat may still contain some nitrates, the levels should be lower.  Also look for meats preserved with celery juice powder, a natural preservative.  Brands such as Applegate Farms offer organic deli meat with low amounts of preservatives.

Alternatively, check out this great recipe list from The Kitchn and try making your own deli meat at home!  Ham, roast beef, even prosciutto.  I love to make homemade corned beef for St. Patty’s Day, not only for the amazing flavor but also because I know I’m eating something that’s free of preservatives.

Give it a whirl, and you may find that you can’t go back to those (all too) perfectly shaped logs of meat at the deli counter.  :)

 

Formerly from the suburbs, Stacie is now living and loving life on a farm. When she’s not sponging up information on health and wellness, she's all about gardening, making stuff from scratch, rounding up chickens and coming up with excuses to be outside.

10 Jul

Summer Bounty & What To Do With It

Bounty

Whether you are facing a glut of zucchini from your own garden, or being tempted by that bushel of glowing heirloom tomatoes at your local farmers market, the summers bounty in all it’s glory is soon going to be knocking at our doors.  But what to do with all of those beautiful piles of produce once they land on your kitchen counter so that nothing is going to waste?

I love this Farmer’s Market Navigator from Well + Good.  It’s full of lots of suggestions and recipes for using up common produce that is plentiful this time of year, such as blueberries, summer squash and tomatoes and also includes a guide to what’s in season right now.

If you are looking for a general preserving guide for canning or freezing, Pick Your Own is  a great resource.  It’s not the most beautiful website, but just pretend it’s not all Comic Sans all over the place.  (Tough to get past for a graphic artist.)  There’s a wealth of resources and articles there addressing every topic related to canning or freezing you could possibly imagine.

How about going one step further and fermenting your goodies?  If you’re not familiar with fermenting, it can sound a little strange, but it’s a historic way of preserving foods that makes them more nutritious and digestible, (yay probitics!), as well as more delicious!  Have you ever had one of my favorites, Korean Kimchi?  Or Sauerkraut?  Those are traditionally fermented.  And it’s not hard to do at all, even easier than canning.  My favorite so far has been fermenting jalapeno slices.  So good on nachos.

Nourishing Traditions has a great intro into lacto-fermenting, then when you feel a little bit more comfortable with it, Girl Meets Nourishment has a round of up 56 different fermenting recipes to try!

What are you anticipating in your garden this year?  Any plans for utilizing your bounty?

Lynell is a urban girl on a journey of healthy food, feeling great, patio gardening and living well. You will find her practicing yoga, painting, thrifting, cooking and baking gluten free goodies.

30 Jun

Multivitamins: Natural vs. Synthetic

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Some people consider multivitamins to be unnecessary and misleading.  There’s the temptation to eat unhealthy food and ‘negate’ it with a multivitamin – which unfortunately doesn’t work out so well.  Besides, shouldn’t we be getting our daily nutrition from food sources, and not from a pill?

I agree with these arguments 100%, but I still believe that multivitamins can be beneficial as long as they are used as a supplement to a healthy, whole food diet.  The unfortunate result of soil depletion is that much of the produce available to us isn’t as vitamin and mineral rich as it was, say, 50 years ago.  This is where organic farming reigns supreme, but also where supplementation can help to fill the gap.

So, are all multivitamins created equal?  Nope!  There are many options out there, and the cost can vary wildly.  A good rule of thumb, however, is to look for multivitamins that contain natural ingredients instead of synthetic.  The reason?  Your body often doesn’t know how to assimilate synthetic vitamins as effectively.

For an excellent resource on natural vs. synthetic vitamins, check out this Food Matters article.  It highlights some tips on what to look for, and how to identify sneaky synthetic ingredients.

My personal favorite brand is Garden of Life, but there are many other brands available that can provide a natural, easily absorbed nutrition boost.

What are some of the all-natural multivitamin brands that you have tried?

 

Formerly from the suburbs, Stacie is now living and loving life on a farm. When she’s not sponging up information on health and wellness, she's all about gardening, making stuff from scratch, rounding up chickens and coming up with excuses to be outside.

26 Jun

Would You Consider a Meatless Meal?

Meatless

I’ve recently learned a new word.  Flexitarian.  According to the web know-it-all with a grain of salt, Wikipedia: ‘A semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet is one that is plant-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products.  In 2003, the American Dialect Society voted flexitarian as the year’s most useful word and defined it as “a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat”.’

That fairly accurately describes the way I eat on most days anymore.  I grew up on a pretty standard Midwest diet, so for the majority of meals, meat was the star item on the plate.  Over the years, I’ve come to desire meat less and less, and rarely want a meal where a slab of meat is the focus of the meal.  I mostly enjoy meat on occasions when it is used as an ingredient in a dish instead.  Why is that?  Partially because of changing tastes, and also just listening to what my body wants and functions well on.

I also abhor much of the factory farming practice that is behind the majority of meat in the US.  Conventional meat is given hormones and antibiotics, fed unnatural diets, and kept pretty inhumanely.  Stacie speaks a little on the health downsides of conventionally produced meat here.  When I do buy meat to fix at home, I buy grass fed or pastured with no antibiotics or hormones.  I know that choosing whether or not to eat meat is a very personal decision that people feel very passionately about on both sides of the argument, but where I stand in the middle is, that if I AM going to make the choice to eat meat, it’s going to be in the most responsible way I can.

Finding protein in non-animal sources is surprisingly easy, and possibly in more sources than you may have realized.  Nuts, seeds and beans are fairly well known for their protein content, but whole grains such as millet, quinoa, amaranth, fermented soy products like miso and tempeh, and also many vegetables contain protein as well.

If you have ever been on the fence about experimenting with some vegetarian meals, or cutting back on meat consumption, but are maybe a little worried about what that will mean for your dinners, I’m here to help.  I’ve collected some of my favorite vegetarian recipes to share with you that are tasty and satisfying, so don’t be afraid to try the occasional meatless meal and see how it works for you!

Sprouted Lentil tacos with Arugula and Feta, from Tasty Yummies.  Sprouting does take some forward planning, but it’s quite simple.  I have a batch of lentils sprouting in my kitchen right now, it’s so easy and nutritious.

Lentil Kale Soup, or Dal aur Sabzi, by the Spice Spoon.  Dal is warming and comforting, and quick and easy to make.  Serve it with naan (Indian flat bread) or a crusty bread, it’s also good over a bed of rice.

1 Pan Vegan Enchilada Bake with Cauliflower Nacho Sauce, from Edible Perspective.  Because who doesn’t love a dinner that can be eaten with tortilla chips?

Taco Stuffed Zucchini from Oh My Veggies.  You would probably be hard pressed to notice that there was no meat in this one.

Black Bean Flautas with Avocado Dipping Sauce, another one from Oh My Veggies.  So good.  So insanely good.

Broccoli and Lentil Power Plate from Happy. Healthy. Life.  Sometimes these types of meals are called Buddha Bowls also.  Great for a hot summertime day lunch.

Melanzane alla parmigiana di nuovo by A Tasty Love Story.  Even if you can’t pronounce it, it’s delicious.  It’s a fresh, summery take on eggplant Parmesan.  This is good served with a side of whole grain pasta if you want a more filled out meal.

I’d love to know… what are your favorite meatless recipes?

Lynell is a urban girl on a journey of healthy food, feeling great, patio gardening and living well. You will find her practicing yoga, painting, thrifting, cooking and baking gluten free goodies.

23 Jun

Catching Rays: The Importance of Vitamin D

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Ah, summer.  A season that’s all about beaches, outdoor festivals, fireflies, and endless, radiant sunshine.  Although we tend to gravitate outdoors this time of year, we’ve also been conditioned to shy away from the sun because of the harmful effects of UV radiation – so many of us are quick to slather on the sunblock and hide away in the shade.  The less sun exposure we have, the better – right?

While it’s certainly a good thing to avoid sunburns and baking in the sun all day, it’s also important to recognize that a moderate amount of sun exposure is actually a GOOD thing.  In fact, it’s a crucial thing, because without it, we’ll end up depriving our bodies of something that’s extremely important: Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is interesting in that it’s the only vitamin your body can produce.  When you’re exposed to ultraviolet B (or UVB) rays, a reaction occurs in your skin to create Vitamin D.  From there, the D travels around, participating in all kinds of essential body functions such as:

  • Calcium absorption (aka strong bones and teeth)
  • Aiding the immune system
  • Maintaining cognitive function
  • Protecting against radiation

Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of MS, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attacks, and cancer.

It’s kind of a big deal.

We can obtain small amounts of Vitamin D from foods such as eggs and fish.  Supplements are another viable option provided that they are D3 and not D2.  It’s interesting to note that supplements are an unsulfated form of Vitamin D, which is not the same kind of Vitamin D that we get from sunshine – and may not have the same benefits.  More information here.

So how much sun exposure should you have?  It all depends on where you live, your skin pigment, and the time of year – but a good rule of thumb is roughly 15-30 minutes of sunshine each day.  This fabulous infographic from Carrington College sheds more light (pun intended) on the topic, and of course it’s going to vary from one person to another, so use your best judgement.  :)

If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the sun, especially in the afternoon hours, applying sunscreen is a very good idea.  But please, do your body a favor and avoid sunscreens like Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, and Banana Boat.  They contain toxic chemicals, and believe it or not, those chemicals end up in your bloodstream MINUTES after you rub them on your skin.

For safer, nontoxic sunscreen options, check out these resources:

So let’s get out there and soak up our daily dose of Vitamin D!

 

Formerly from the suburbs, Stacie is now living and loving life on a farm. When she’s not sponging up information on health and wellness, she's all about gardening, making stuff from scratch, rounding up chickens and coming up with excuses to be outside.

19 Jun

Patio Garden – Part 3 – Growing Along

 

Patio Garden Progress

 

With Summer about to begin, the patio garden is in full swing!  Picking the right plants, as I wrote about in Part 1, makes all the difference.  Who knew?  It doesn’t look like a lot in the photo, but I’ve got turnips, snow peas, sprouting broccoli, two mint plants, a basil, and a ton of greens and kale.  I actually am thinking that next year I might expand a little a grow a few more shade loving greens and veggies.

The biggest issue is watching the water levels.  I’m learning that I need to be careful to not overwater, so watching water levels is crucial.  Especially when it’s very hot out, the soil in pots can get hot and dry very quickly.

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In my first Patio Garden post, I mentioned getting some of these particular railing planters.  I got two of them and they are FANTASTIC.  They are plenty deep, and essentially have two deep wells on either side of the railing cavity.  I’ve used them to plant all of my greens and some kale.  They have a bit of a water reservoir at the bottom, and are remarkably secure.  The weight of the soil alone holds them quite solidly, so I would give these a strong recommend, for a railing like mine, they are a life saver.

I can’t wait to be able to go out onto my patio and grab some greens for dinner.  My herbs are pretty much ready to start cutting back, but everything else needs a little more time.

Now you might be wondering about my community garden plot that I mentioned in Part 2.  It’s growing, and so are the weeds!  Being my first experience with a real in-ground garden, it’s pretty overwhelming.  The plot is very large, and I’ve been doing a bit of traveling this spring, both for vacation and for work, so it’s been a little difficult to keep up on.  Besides time being an issue, there are the fun ‘what-not-to-do’ lessons I am learning as I go.  Like, it’s a great idea to mark what you plant so that you can tell what is what, especially, what is and is not a weed!

The picture below is from when I first planted the plot about 6 weeks ago.  Most of my tomatoes are doing very well, a handful of my potatoes and onions have come up, and my peppers look pretty good.  The rest might be a little hit or miss, but it’s a fantastic learning experience, and there is something very satisfying about working with my hands in the dirt.  Although three straight hours of weeding might be a little intense.  :)

All in all, I should end up with a decent amount of produce, even if it’s not what I initially hoped, and I know I will be far better equipped to plant and work a garden space in the future.

How is your garden growing?

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Lynell is a urban girl on a journey of healthy food, feeling great, patio gardening and living well. You will find her practicing yoga, painting, thrifting, cooking and baking gluten free goodies.

16 Jun

Tips on Grilling Meat Safely

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Spring and summer seem to be competing with each other lately.  The bugs are out in full force, but the temps have been downright chilly on some days.  Still, it’s perfectly acceptable grilling weather, and in our household we’ve been firing up the Q most weekends.  Preparing food outdoors is refreshing after being boxed in to our kitchens for so many months!

Although BBQs are a highlight of the season, it’s good to be aware of the risks and dangers associated with grilled meat.  How you approach grilling, and the types of meat you choose to grill, can determine how healthy – or unhealthy – your meal will be in the end.

People can be very ritualistic about their grilling methods, but if you’re the type who prefers a charred, crispy crust on a heavily marbled steak, I have some not-so-great news for you: you’re giving yourself a hefty dose of HCAs and PAHs, which are known carcinogens.  Overcooking meat, charring meat, and cooking on an extremely hot grill are the worst offenders for HCAs.  It’s especially worrisome when fattier cuts of meat are used, because PAHs are created when fat drippings burn and produce smoke without combusting completely.

So what can you do?  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Keep your cooking temps under control.  The higher the temps, the greater the risk of charring and carcinogenic smoke.
  • Aim for grilling leaner cuts of meat.  Grass-fed, pastured, and free-range meats are lower in fat than conventional meat, and will produce less drippings.
  • Marinade your meat.  Marinades can help prevent the accumulation of PAHs when they contain an acidic ingredient such as vinegar or lemon.
  • Consider a smoker grill.  Hot smoking results in clean combustion if done properly, and smoked meat is cooked at lower temps (typically under 300), which also helps reduce carcinogens.  We have this smoker grill and we love, love, LOVE it.
  • Load up the grill with veggies. Grilled veggies won’t produce the same carcinogens as meat, and they taste delicious! Just follow the same principles and be careful not to char them.
  • Grill in moderation.  Should you be eating grilled food every day in the summer?  Probably not.  The golden rule of ‘everything in moderation’ applies here too!

The next time you fire up the BBQ, try following these guidelines!  You’ll end up with plenty of mouth-watering grilled food, and you’ll reduce your risk of exposure to nasty carcinogens.  It’s a win-win in my book.   I don’t know about you, but all this talk of grilling is making me hungry!  :)

 

Formerly from the suburbs, Stacie is now living and loving life on a farm. When she’s not sponging up information on health and wellness, she's all about gardening, making stuff from scratch, rounding up chickens and coming up with excuses to be outside.

12 Jun

Defiantly Healthy Went on Vacation, and Tested Gluten Cutter

Defiantly Healthy Goes to New Orleans

We’ve recently returned from a trip to the Big Easy!  Vacations are something I always used to push to the back burner, figuring that they weren’t very important when the budget was tight already.  But I’ve certainly learned just how good a little escape from the every day grind can be for body and mind.  But what if the vacation isn’t really so good for the body? One of the best things about New Orleans is without a doubt the food culture.  The architecture, the history, the music and the spirit of the town are incredible, but what can I say, I love good food.  But being somebody with some food sensitivities, food doesn’t always love me back.

I do not have Celiac disease, but without a doubt I feel better when I don’t eat gluten.  By cutting it out of my diet, I have drastically cut down on bloating and inflammation in my body, and by reducing my inflammation, I have much less chronic pain and migraines.  It is, in fact, a major component to my management of headaches and migraines.  I also experience less brain fog and have an easier time waking up in the mornings.

Where I live now, in the suburbs of Chicago, eating gluten free is usually pretty easy.  The majority of restaurants have gluten free options, and even better, there are lots of healthy options in general.  I live down the street from a raw restaurant and juice bar, and there are two, maybe even three Whole Foods within a ten minute drive of my home.  So when it comes to eating outside of my own kitchen, staying on track is very doable, and typically pretty tasty too.

I’ve learned that not every city is like this.  For all of the restaurants and bars we ducked into while on vacation (to eat, drink, and escape the rain!), I only saw one place that had gluten free options on the menu.  Instead of fretting about it and not enjoying myself, I decided to let go of what I could not control to have the best time possible.  And besides, there was no way I was going to New Orleans without trying a beignet.

Crawfish Beignets!
Crawfish Beignets!
Steamed Crawfish
Steamed Crawfish
More Oysters.  We were converted.
Oysters. We were converted.
Oysters!  So good.
More oysters! So good.

What I’m trying to say is, sometimes it’s ok to let go of eating perfectly.  With purpose, I enjoyed myself and ate the best of what New Orleans had to offer, and refused to feel guilty about it.  I knew once I came home I would easily transition back to my green smoothies, veggie laden meals and gluten free dinners.  And let me tell you, letting go was fantastic.  I think that we all do best when we are eating right the vast majority of the time, but letting ourselves have enough leeway to not feel stifled, and not feeling guilty when we do so.    Kind of like the 90%/10% rule, or even the 80%/20% rule if you’re not quite there yet.

So, down to the meat and potatoes.  How did I eat gluten for several days straight and not feel terrible the whole time? 

Through the obnoxious magic of Facebook recommended pages, I heard about a product called Gluten Cutter.  At first I brushed it off as hogwash, then my curiosity was peaked.  It’s essentially specific digestive enzymes that are meant to help your system break down gluten (and also dairy).  But what’s really in this stuff?  And how effective is it?

With the inkling that eating according to my needs might not be 100% while I was in the Big Easy, I decided to go out on a limb and pick up a box to take with me.  And honestly, I’m glad I did.  Gluten Cutter is GMO free, and the ingredient list is as follows:

Ginger, peppermint and deglycyrhizinated licorice are things that I’ve already used for managing inflammation or digestive issues.  All of the other ingredients in the GCX50 Gluten Blend are digestive enzymes that break down either proteins or sugars.  The worst thing in this pill is the vegetable magnesium stearate, which I’ll give them is better that can be said about most pills, and is probably about on point with the quality of most capsule supplements.

I would take two tabs before consuming a meal that likely (or for sure) contained gluten.  After a couple of days, I did still experience some amount of bloating, and I had muscle stiffness where I often used to get pain, but I never got the full on belly bloat that makes me look 8 months prego, or pain that lead into a headache.

So would I recommend it?  It wasn’t magic, or a 100% cure, but it helped.  If you have a severe sensitivity or are a full blown Celiac, I’d say to proceed with extreme caution if you are thinking about trying it.  Maybe it would be helpful to lessen severity of symptoms in cases where you may have a hard time avoiding minor cross contamination.  Also, for anyone with sensitivities, it should not be a free pass to eat bagels every day; always, always use common sense.  But in a pinch, and maybe on special occasion, it does help and I’d give it a recommend.

Have you ever tried Gluten Cutter?  How do you handle eating/imbibing while you are on vacation?

Lynell is a urban girl on a journey of healthy food, feeling great, patio gardening and living well. You will find her practicing yoga, painting, thrifting, cooking and baking gluten free goodies.

09 Jun

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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I had some pretty big ambitions for my garden this year.  In previous years, I got my gardening fix by participating in a co-op with friends, as well as growing small raised beds in my suburban backyard.  While I consider myself to be an amateur gardener, my plants managed to flourish and I found myself with more produce than I knew what to do with.

When I moved out to the farm, I knew a garden was in my immediate future – and a BIG garden at that.  When winter storms raged outside, I perused seed catalogs and envisioned myself wandering through rows of lush green plants, filling my basket with tomatoes, zucchini, and onions for an evening feast.  To me, it was the epitome of a homesteading lifestyle: offer up a little elbow grease, and reap the rewards of homegrown, delicious food.

So I dreamed big, and I planned big – but I will admit now that it was a little TOO big.  I had so many other spring projects to contend with, as well as work, school, and farm chores.  I just didn’t realize how consuming everything would be when it was all happening at once.  It has been a learning process and I’ve come to realize that yes, I do have limits and no, I shouldn’t be constantly pushing myself to go beyond those limits.

We live in a society that always expects more, and oftentimes, expects perfection.  We read articles that highlight pictures of families laughing in spotless houses with designer kitchens.  We juggle multiple jobs, long commutes, soccer games, and keeping up with the Jones’s flashy cars and immaculately groomed lawns.  We push ourselves to the point of exhaustion, and yet there is always more to do – so we push harder, often at the expense of our health.

It’s an interesting shift to look at your personal health and happiness as a priority, because often these things are last in line.  Many of us feel guilty for taking 30 minutes out of our busy day to sit, relax, and reflect – because there’s always something else that we ‘should’ be working on.  But it is so, SO important to make time for yourself and the things that you enjoy.  It’s a daily reminder that YOU are important.  You are tending to yourself in a way that no one else can, and in doing so, you are happier and better equipped to deal with everything else that comes your way.

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I may have my large garden, but it’s a weedy mess right now – and while I’m keeping the weeds somewhat at bay, it won’t be perfect and I’m ok with that.  I know I’m doing the best I can without working myself into the ground and compromising my health.  Maybe next year I’ll scale back the garden or adjust my schedule.  But for now, I am learning how to be content with the imperfections.  If anything, it’s what makes my garden unique and beautiful in its own crazy way.  :)

 

Formerly from the suburbs, Stacie is now living and loving life on a farm. When she’s not sponging up information on health and wellness, she's all about gardening, making stuff from scratch, rounding up chickens and coming up with excuses to be outside.

05 Jun

Savory Summer Mediterranean Salad

Salad

Summer is not complete without a proper and refreshing salad.  My favorite isn’t the classic potato salad, it’s my savory Mediterranean Salad.  It’s packed full of nutrient dense vegetables, legumes and nuts, so while making for a nice light side (or main) course, it still will give you a good dose of protein, antioxidants, and many other good things.  This salad doesn’t really photograph beautifully, but trust me on the flavors.  It’s simple, just requires a little bit of chopping and preparing the split peas, and tastes even better after a night in the refrigerator.

Savory Mediterranean Salad

  • 1 cup chickpeas (or one can)
  • 1 cup cooked then cooled split peas
  • 1 tomato (diced)
  • 1 cucumber (peeled and diced)
  • 1/2 onion (diced)
  • 1/2 lb fresh feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, slivered almonds, or sunflower seeds

Dressing:

  • fresh lemon juice (however many lemons it takes to make about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all of the salad elements in a large bowl.  Whisk together the dressing in a separate bowl, then top and mix together.  If you can, make it the day, or at least a few hours, before when you plan to use it so it has a chance to really absorb the flavors.

I love this salad just as it is, but the beautiful thing about a salad like this is that it can be adjusted to your taste.  If you don’t love olives as much as I do, you could swap them out and put in diced zucchini. You could add some sliced peperoni if you were so inclined, or leave out the feta if you want it to be vegan.

And of course the dressing can be customized, too.  Check out the chart below for a quick and easy cheat sheet for making your own salad dressing variations.

I could not find the original source for this image, if you recognize it, please let me know so that I can give it proper credit!

 

 

 

 

Lynell is a urban girl on a journey of healthy food, feeling great, patio gardening and living well. You will find her practicing yoga, painting, thrifting, cooking and baking gluten free goodies.