5-minute no-bake nut butter energy balls

Earlier this week, I talked about the impending back-to-school schedule and how I fit in quick, intense outdoor workouts when I'm busy. These energy balls are basically the food equivalent of that workout: fast but intense; comes in a small package but packs a lot of bang for your buck.

My hectic fall schedule has officially started and I'm already seeing just how important it is going to be for me to plan ahead. Meals, snacks, workouts..... they're not gonna come easy! I'm always on the run so along with pre-prepared lunches and dinners (e.g., spiced chicken and veggies), I also need snacks that will give me fuel for at least a couple of hours. That means no rice cakes (I'm sorry, if you haven't already picked up on it, I think they're the stupidest food ever). To fill me up throughout the day, I typically have some fresh fruit and veggies (grapes, bananas, carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers) along with some more hefty snacks: trail mix or these nut butter energy balls. 

Looks can be deceiving. These energy balls are pretty small, but they're FULL of protein and fiber to fill you up. They're also full of calories and fat though, so beware! It's healthy fat and energy-proving calories, of course, but still, these should be enjoyed in moderation. All you need is one of these medium-sized balls and you'll be good to go. 

Not only are these energizing, but they're super tasty. They are totally a treat, comprised mainly of oats, almond butter and peanut butter and with some crunch and sweetness from dark chocolate chips and craisins. Almost like peanut butter cookie dough! While they're delicious, like I said, try to stop yourself at 1, which on its own has 255 calories, 15 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of protein. Impressive for such a little guy, huh?

These are made in just 5 minutes, then pop them in the fridge and enjoy one when you need some energy to get you through the day. Here's how to make them, and the recipe:


outdoor HIIT workout -- no gym needed

Fall is here, y'all. Okay, maybe not technically, but back-to-school time is here. I start classes tomorrow... my third year of graduate school. If you have children, they're probably going back to school around now too. Time to get back into a routine!

I'm going to have jam-packed days this fall since all 3 of my classes are night classes that I'll go to after work, which will inevitably make it more difficult to find time to work out. This is when I need exercise most, though -- when stress and demands are high, working out is my sanity-saver. 

This busy schedule means I'll have to get back to working out super early in the morning most days. While I've been doing that some during the summer, I've had more flexibility in my schedule -- sometimes I've even been able to go to the gym in the middle of the day. I've also enjoyed taking advantage of the nice weather and fitting in outdoor workouts before dinner.

Why outdoors if I belong to a gym? Well....  I do like going to the gym. However, I don't like going to the gym when it is overflowing with people. You will never find me there at 6 or 7pm on a week day --- tooooo many bodies there for me. So if I don't find time to work out in the morning but still want to squeeze in a workout before the day ends, I tend to take it outside. Also, while getting to my gym is quite convenient (it's not even a mile away), sometimes I only have half an hour to fit a workout in. Why waste the 5 minutes driving and parking when I can just walk outside and torch some calories? Plus, when the weather is nice, nothing beats the combination of endorphins and vitamin D. 

While it's going to be more difficult for me to find time for these outdoor workouts come tomorrow, I still plan to squeeze them in when it works. All you need is 30 minutes, some tennis shoes, a flight of stairs, and a bench to get an AWESOME high intensity interval training workout in. I'm lucky to have a beautiful space 2 blocks away from me that has stairs, benches, and plenty of space -- not to mention a view of the Baltimore harbor and skyline. Not too shabby.

I've been doing this killer HIIT and plyometrics workout here a couple times a week and it always leaves me feeling great! Instead of going for a plain old run or hitting the gym, consider giving this a try: 


whole wheat fettucine with kale almond pesto & oven-roasted summer tomatoes

Lately, I've been working on balance. As someone who occaaaasionally falls on the upper end of the "obsessive" continuum; someone who tends to go-go-go-go all of the time (and has a hard time stopping); and someone who is a bit of a perfectionist of sorts (but not all sorts -- don't look through my kitchen drawers or anything), striking a balance between productivity and sanity / relaxing / recharging isn't always easy or natural for me.

I'm done with work for the day? Okay, what's next? Go for a run? Write a blog post? Check something off the wedding to-do list? Vacuum? Create a new recipe? Work on my research? What do I need to do next? There must be something!

This is not a 'humble brag' about how much I get done; really, it can be a bit of a sanity-compromising problem. Last month, for instance, I took qualifying exams, which took up most of my free time and had me regularly stressing about how much more I needed to study. The day after I finished -- seriously, the very next day -- I found myself turning towards stressing about how I hadn't finished addressing save-the-dates for the wedding (which was 10 months away!!!). Rather than just sitting back and enjoying getting to hang out with my fiancĂ© after work rather than studying, I was worrying aloud to Ryan about when I'd get the stupid save-the-dates done. He looked at me like I was a bit crazy (can you blame him?) and said, "Taylor. Stop. Why don't you just relax for a few days? You JUST finished quals. Just...relax. You deserve it." 

He was right. Why couldn't I just enjoy having nothing to do for the time-being? Worrying about save-the-dates was just my way -- without even realizing it -- of inserting a different to-do item into the place of the one that had been accomplished without skipping a beat. But sometimes, we need to skip a beat. I know that I'll always be a go-go-go type of person, and that's okay -- in fact, it's often a blessing (especially as a grad student...) when I have a lot to do -- but living, and more specifically, living in the moment, is important to me. Even if it means not always getting every little thing done on my to-do list. 

Our society places a lot of value on just how much you can accomplish and needing to be your best at everything -- being a great worker AND a great partner AND a great friend AND a great parent (or sister or child or fill in the blank), all while cooking, cleaning, and DIYing like Martha Stewart -- and making it look easy and beautiful. I know I'm not the only one that falls into the trap of trying to meet these unrealistic expectations, even if it's at the cost of taking a deep breath and being content in the present moment. I'm working on finding that balance though. In fact, those save-the-dates still haven't been sent. Instead of worrying about it and spending several hours that week working on them, I've just been taking a few minutes every few days or so -- a leisurely rate! -- to work on them. They're about done and ready to be sent with plenty of time to spare. And instead of working through a to-do list, I spent my last 2 summer days off last week reading a book (for pleasure!) by the pool. This... is a big deal for me.

Also a big deal? Oven-roasted summer tomatoes and onions atop fettucine tossed in KALE PESTO. 

This kale pesto is amazing stuff. And honestly, this is not coming from the the biggest kale fanatic you'll ever meet. I eat kale, yes, and pretty regularly too, because it's great for you -- but come on. Kale isn't the most delicious food ever (have you ever tried french fries?). In this pesto though, it totally works. I was surprised at how nicely it came together with the almonds, lemon juice (this part is key), parmesan, garlic, and olive oil to create a creamy, fresh sauce for the pasta. Yummm-o. 

Combine the pesto with al dente whole wheat fettucine and delicious, sweet roasted summer tomatoes and red onions and you have a pretty perfect end-of-summer dinner. 

Make it while those tomatoes are still perfectly sweet, juicy, and in-season!

Here's how to make it:


healthy chicken teriyaki stir-fry & a clean version of japanese yum yum sauce

If you like healthy, easy, and fast meals, stir-fry is your best friend. Throw some ingredients in your wok, add some sauce, stir around, done. Totally versatile based on what you have in your kitchen that night, too -- broccoli, peppers, carrots, onions, shrimp, chicken, steak -- throw in one or all and you have dinner in 15 minutes.

Of course, this is super easy if you have store-bought bottled teriyaki or stir-fry sauce. Really though, making your own is so simple and worlds healthier. You'll reduce the amount of sugar and sodium and ditch the preservatives. All you need is a few ingredients and you can make a delicious, healthy teriyaki stir-fry sauce in minutes. Promise! 

Want to take it up even another notch though? Yum yum sauce. Have you ever had yum yum sauce at a Japanese hibachi restaurant? It's the white-ish colored, sweet, thick sauce they serve alongside your meat and veggies and it is sooo delicious. However.... it's primarily made up of mayonnaise and sugar. Eeek! We actually have the bottled kind in our fridge. I know, I know, it's terrible... but Ryan loves it. As do I, and I've reached for it a time or two when the craving hits. Once I really looked at the nutrition information, though, I knew I had to make a healthier version. 

Scary, right? 170 calories and 17 grams of fat for TWO TABLESPOONS! Not to mention sugar and corn syrup being the 3rd and 4th ingredients. So, I set out to make a healthy version. It took a couple of tries, but I ended up with a healthified yum yum sauce that I am quite happy with. 

Let's compare the nutrition, shall we? This one is fat free and 170 calories for the entire BOWL. Two tablespoons will cost you just 40 calories. Not to mention, there are no strange ingredients or preservatives or added sugar. Just real food. I'd say that's a win, right? 

So, how does it taste? Because that's important. Similar to the original yum yum sauce, it's sweet and creamy with a hint of spice. Exactly the same? No. Close enough? To me, yes. It has a bit more tang from the greek yogurt and isn't as thick as the original (that part is hard to recreate without mayonnaise), but it tastes pretty darn good. It really adds a level of decadence to a stir-fry that you don't get with just the teriyaki sauce. 

Bottom line? It's a good, flavorful, creamy substitute when you don't want to pile an extra 17 grams of fat onto your dinner. If you love yum yum sauce (or even if you've never had it), give this a try! One note though: I found that the flavor improved as it sat in the fridge throughout the day, so try to make it the morning before or a few hours before you're going to eat it (same goes for the stir fry sauce). 

Here's how to make the entire dish:  


3 questions to ask yourself every day

Last week, I had a discussion with an older, wiser colleague about 3 questions, and I've been thinking about them ever since.

I found these 3 little questions motivating and inspirational, and I hope you will too.

And yes, this is the sort of thing that psychologists and psychologists-in-training sit around and talk about during breaks ;)

Do you have an answer to each of these? Every day?

What did I do for my body?

Well, what does your body need to function optimally? That's easy:

1. Food and hydration.

2. Sleep.

3. Exercise.

That's it. Did you fill your body with healthy foods? Foods that actually improve your functioning? Berries, nuts, protein, greens, healthy fats, whole grains? Did you hydrate your body with plenty of water?

Did you give your body what it truly needs -- sleep? Getting your body on a consistent, decent sleep schedule will truly change your life. Simply sleeping enough -- 7 or 8 hours for most people -- and adjusting your body to a regular rhythm (going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day) will do wonders for your mind, body, and health. Of course, this is always easier said than done, but sleep should be a priority.

Last, whether it was a walk around the neighborhood, an exercise class, an on-demand workout, or a sweaty run, did you get moving?

 What did I do for my mind?

I don't think I need to tell you that your brain is really, really important. And it will be for the rest of your life. It's your responsibility to keep your brain developing and functioning in positive ways. How do you do that?

Stimulation. Are you engaging in some sort of challenging thinking process every day? Whether at work or school or just on your own, are you exercising your brain?

What's the opposite of this? Sitting like a blob checking facebook or watching trashy TV. Not that there isn't room for some of that in your day, if you enjoy it, but ya gotta balance it out with some more thought-provoking activity :)

What did I do for my sense of self?

Honestly, this can be the trickiest question of the three. First, of course, you have to understand what your sense of self is. Who are you? What makes you who you are? What do you value? What are you passionate about? And what activities help bring you closer to this sense of self?

Everyone's answers to this question are different. It may be meditation, spending time with a partner or friends, writing, enjoying a glass of red wine and dark chocolate, reading, listening to music, doing yoga, going to a concert, walking around outside, praying, gardening, cooking.

What makes you happy? Do you make time for it? Do you take at least a few minutes out of every day to do something for you? Even if it's just sitting quietly outside for 15 minutes, taking in the present moment -- is there you time in your day?

If you aren't making time for these things, why not? Isn't this what is most important? Perhaps more important than finishing the dishes or browsing social media for 20 more minutes at the end of the day?

This all may sound cheesy or silly to you, and if it does, put it in your own words. Either way, I'd encourage you to at least think about how you're doing in each of these areas. I'm working on it too, and nobody is perfect. But as my colleague put it, you only have one life -- why wouldn't you strive to be your best self?  If not today, then when? There will always be excuses. The one I find myself using is, I'll make time for this stuff (reading for pleasure, meditation, whatever) after I finish _____ (this research project, that class, whatever). No. After all of that there will be more work and there will be family and there will always be something. It will never be easy. You have to work around those things and make you a priority. It's worth it, right?


lemon basil spinach salad with warm brown rice, green beans & chicken

I really, actually, truly cannot believe that August is nearly over. Where did the summer go?! No really, where did it go??

I am not ready for fall. Don't get me wrong, I love college football and pumpkin spice everything and leggings and scarves as much as the next gal, but with fall also comes other not-so-nice things. Like classes. At this point in my schooling (going on 20 years...), I'm jussst about OVER classes. Fortunately I only have a few left, but I'm squeezing three of them in this semester. And they're all night classes. That I have to go to after working all day. Eeeesh! Are you over my complaining yet?

All I'm saying is.... I'm not ready for fall just yet. And fortunately, it's not here just yet! There are still a few steamy hot weeks of August left and I'll relish them. This weekend, I'm going to the lake with some friends and I couldn't be more excited. Sun and a body of water is all my soul needs!

You know what else I'll miss about summer? Salads. I know, I know, you can eat salads whenever you want and in whatever season you'd like. But I actually enjoy eating salads during the summer. I crave salads when it's hot outside. Not so much when it's 30 degrees.

My one problem with salads, however, is that they can leave me a bit unsatisfied. Not quite full. Having a lunch of spinach, tomatoes, and cucumbers with a bit of dressing ain't gonna cut it for me. Even when I add a protein, a low carb salad tends to leave me needing something else. That's why the 17 day diet was so difficult! I can eat loads and loads of chicken and veggies, but it's just not quite satisfying without some grains. Basically... I know my body, and my body loves carbs.

That's where this salad comes in. It has all the goodness of a fresh, vibrant green salad plus the addition of warm spiced chicken, filling brown rice, and steamed green beans. The lemony basil dressing is a perfect addition. Remember my last post about making your own salad dressing? This one is a great place to start! So, so easy.

I never claimed to have complex recipes on my blog. This is my perfect lunch: simple, easy, fast. Made from real, nutritious, clean ingredients. Still, I was actually surprised at just how much I enjoyed this salad. I knew I'd like it, because I like everything in it. But it all came together in such a wonderful, flavorful, cohesive way. The combination of cold spinach with the warm ingredients and the tangy dressing... it is the perfect filling, tasty summer salad. You've gotta try it! 

It would also be great with the addition of avocado or edamame or pine nuts. Yum. Here's how to make it:


spotlight on: salad dressing

I told you last week that I'll be doing a few "spotlight" posts on my favorite healthy grocery store purchases, and I started with whole grain english muffins. Well, I'm going backwards with this next spotlight, because it doesn't actually involve a store-bought product.

I thought that salad dressing would be a great thing to highlight since we're in the perfect salad season and I eat them all the time. But... my favorite salad dressing is not purchased from the grocery store -- I make my own salad dressing 95% of the time! If you're still buying dressing off the shelf, you may want to reconsider... making your own is easy and so much better for your body AND your wallet.

While it's one thing to have a favorite "splurge" bottled dressing (I have to admit, I LOVE Brianna's Asiago Caesar), if you eat salads as often as I do, it makes so much more sense to make your own.

Why? What's wrong with bottled dressing?

1. Strange ingredients

Would you pour a "vegetable oil blend" all over your fresh salad greens? Could you see yourself drizzling cottonseed oil or palm oil over your salad? Probably not. But that may be exactly what you're doing with bottled dressing. While most of us would prefer to use heart-healthy oils like olive oil, bottled dressings rarely include these because it costs too much.

Check those ingredient lists. The more natural and healthy dressings that include olive oil or canola oil as the first ingredient are probably your best choice if you're going to buy bottled. However, even these include some questionable emulsifiers and preservatives (some xantham gum and sodium benzoate on your fresh greens, anyone?). Plus, many bottled dressing also include MSG which is so not necessary.

I know many health conscious people choose low fat or "light" bottled dressings. While these MAY be a better alternative in some cases, you really want to be mindful of what's in these dressings. Often, sugar or artificial flavor is added to make up for the lack of fat. And don't get me started on fat free. I'm sorry but fat free ranch just doesn't make sense -- what IS that?! You're much better off adding some healthy fat to your salad rather than some unnatural, chemically-laden fat free mixture.

2. $$$

Why shell out 3, 4, 5, or 6 dollars on a bottled dressing? You're paying for cheaper products (see oil discussion above) when you could make a much higher quality (and tastier, IMO!) dressing at home for a fraction of the cost. You most likely already have everything you need at home to make your own without spending any extra money.

So... why don't more people make their own dressing? Probably because it may sound difficult or intimidating or time-consuming. It's none of the above! Follow this simple process for make a fool-proof, natural, healthy dressing at home:

1. Use a ratio of approximately 3:1 oil to vinegar. 

You can play around with this. Sometimes I'm heavy-handed on the vinegar because I love the acidity, but you need enough oil to balance things out.

For oil, extra virgin olive oil is your best bet for dressings. As for vinegars, choose your favorite! I usually use balsamic, red wine, champagne, apple cider, or rice wine vinegar depending on the flavor I'm going for.

2. Add flavor! 

Chopped fresh herbs, lemon or lime juice (which can also replace some of the vinegar), honey, dried herbs, chopped onion, parmesan cheese, minced garlic, poppyseeds.... the possibilities are endless! This is where you can really be creative and make a super delicious dressing.

3. Stop there, or include an emulsifier. 

I don't mind my oil and vinegar separating, but if you do, add an emulsifier like dijon mustard or egg yolk. Mustard is one of my favorite flavors to add to a salad dressing and it does a great job of keeping everything together with a smooth consistency. Sometimes I'll add greek yogurt, which adds a creamy consistency (but doesn't emulsify the ingredients as well).

That's it! Whether you're making 2 servings (3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar) or 15-20 servings (1 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup vinegar), this is a pretty fool-proof method. If you're making several servings, pour it in a sealable jar (like a mason jar).

Think you don't have time? Come on -- whisking together a few ingredients in a bowl takes nearly no time at all... it doesn't have to be a complicated process! Or, if you're REALLY in a hurry (which I am sometimes), just drizzle some olive oil and balsamic vinegar over your salad separately. Easy. Flavor.

Need a place to start? Here are some of my favorite salads and dressings that I've shared on the blog:


fast & easy meal idea: spicy quinoa with a fried egg & sriracha

Some nights, you just don't want to stand in front of a stove. You're tired, you're hungry, it's hot, you've had a long day, and the last thing you feel like doing is cooking.

Those are the nights when ordering takeout, swinging by Chik fil A, or heating up a microwave dinner sound like good options.

I get it. I feel like that quite often. That's why it's great to have a repertoire of fast and EASY meals on hand that taste great but require minimal effort.

I'm sharing a recipe with you today (barely a recipe it's so easy) that is perfect for those nights. It takes under 20 minutes, requires 6 ingredients you already have, and couldn't be easier. Plus, it's freakin' delicious. And cheap! No standing in front of the stove for more than 2 minutes.

Quinoa melts together with salsa, jalapenos, and a bit of cheese. Topped with a fried egg and sriracha. This dish is super spicy and flavorful, plus it's filling -- perfect for a satisfying lunch or a light dinner. It's natural and healthy and made of just a few real foods... much better than takeout! Mmm the runny yolk with the creamy quinoa.... heaven. 

Try this easy meal next time you're feeling exhausted but craving something yummy. Y'all hardly need a recipe, but I'll give you the instructions anyway, along with some ideas to spice this basic dish up even more:


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