Friday, September 26, 2014

True Foods Kitchen Review

There are a lot of names for food nowadays. Healthy food, junk food, organic food...and, at a trendy restaurant across the United States, true food

Before my roommate brought me to True Foods Kitchen for my second birthday lunch, I'd never stepped foot near the place. I remember vaguely chuckling pre-diagnosis at its healthy focus, wondering what crazy people paid to go out to eat at an upgraded salad bar. Oh how times have changed...

True Food = True deliciousness?
And how my expectations were blown! Bri and I drove into the mall only minutes after the restaurant opened, scoring a shady booth outside to take advantage of the (then gorgeous) weather. When our waitress came, I immediately dove into the usual celiac spiel. The surprise of the century? My waitress was a sister in gluten-free arms! Fellow celiacs unite! (And keep working at restaurants so I can feel super safe about my order!).

Like always, I'd looked up menu details before coming, but I was still lost as to what I wanted. Gluten free pizza? An inside out quinoa burger? The spaghetti squash casserole topped with a bison burger? The choices were endless!

So many options!
After asking for suggestions, my taste buds finally fell for the Street Tacos - corn tortillas topped with sea bass (or steak), avocado, salsa, and a side of Anasazi beans. It usually also has sour cream and cotija cheese, but I passed on those to keep it dairy free. My roommate Bri instead stuck to a breakfast theme, choosing the gluten free blueberry muffin and Bright Eyes smoothie

Our food appeared quickly and, if I wasn't drooling at the idea of my tacos, I certainly started when I saw my plate! My food was arranged as artfully as the restaurant's decor - fodder for this food blogger, though I was so hungry, I almost skipped the photo! The portion size was perfect - large enough to eat my fill, knowing dessert was coming, and doggy bag the rest. 

Heaven on a plate! (And I want their plates)
The sea bass tasted tender and juicy, the avocado creamy and fresh, while the slaw and salsa added a delightful crunch. I'm not a spicy person (let the jokes begin) and the tacos blasted my taste buds with flavor without lighting them on fire. As for the beans, I was a huge fan! The creamy, thick stew -  with some crunch from the salsa sprinkled on top - paired wonderfully with my bites of taco. And the leftover juice made a pretty delicious sauce, too! 

Bri enjoyed her muffin and drink. We both thought the smoothie could have been a bigger portion for the price, but I was impressed with how fluffy and moist the muffin looked from across the table. No gluten free weirdness there! 

Bri's brunch
Then, because it was a birthday lunch, we treated ourselves to several of the desserts. At the restaurant, Bri ordered a scoop of their pistachio ice cream while I chose a scoop of strawberry-rhubarb sherbet. Bri's scoop looked creamy and thick, and she loved the strong flavor of pistachio that shone through.

As for me, I couldn't have asked for anything better! The rhubarb and strawberry blended into combo of sour and sweet that caused my taste buds to tingle, and I loved its creamy texture.

Me awkwardly not looking at the camera...
For an extra treat, Bri bought me their Banana and Coconut Chia Seed Pudding to go. I've made chia pudding for myself before and, although I liked it, it was nothing to write the blog about. This bowl of deliciousness was totally different! 

The coconut milk base made it thick and creamy, the banana coins on the top added a natural sweetness and I loved the crunch of the coconut chips dispersed throughout. Hands down, one of the best breakfasts I've ever eaten! Magic really can be canned and sold...

The perfect way to start my day!
There's a lot of names for food, but, when it comes to True Food Kitchen, the only word I have left is "delicious." I left feeling safe about what I ate, and my stomach was beyond satisfied. Rest assured, I won't be waiting for my next birthday to come around before I make a return trip!

Have you ever tried True Foods Kitchen? What's your favorite breakfast treat? Comment below!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

College Food Adventure

In college, a lot of big decisions tumble in your way. Classes to take, majors to pursue and the all-important question, "Do I really have to read that 50 pages of Linguistics for tomorrow?" (Clue: the answer is yes). For me, though, another question popped up: Do I want to eat at the cafeteria?

For most, this isn't even an option. At Point Loma Nazarene University, if you sleep on campus, you eat on campus too. Last year, I had my dietary bumps, but overall the caf and I were buds

And Kendall and I were food allergy caf buds!

But then, over the summer, it all changed. The chefs who'd become my buddies in food and life left and a new dining manager joined the party. No more "special meals." No more gluten free fridge.

 I've met with the dining manager several times and he has big dreams for the caf, such as gluten free students being able to walk in and order on the spot from a variety of safe options. I have no doubt that, in time, it will become a reality

Pretty...but not so filling.

But as days became weeks with only lettuce and chicken as my cafeteria meals, I didn't have time to wait. Or weight to lose. So, even though I love the cafeteria staff and the idea of not having to make all my meals, I finally snipped the umbilical chord. Starting today, I'm responsible for all my own meals. Gulp

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. I know how to cook, but I'm no culinary Michelangelo. I have time, but I don't want cooking to become another part-time job. I didn't like the cafeteria foods or worrying over whether they'd have something for me to eat (trust me, there were nights they didn't), but I liked brandishing my silverware with friends at my side. 

Food and these faces? The perfect combo!

But, as I woke up this morning free of frets over when I'd go to the caf, what they'd have for me to eat and how long I would need to wait, I knew I made the right choice. No matter the challenges ahead, I can't help but feel like this is a blessing in disguise.

I see blessings in the intensification of my previous goal of growing some of my own food. I gave a sneak peak of my foray into the gardening club on my last post. Zeke the Zuc ring any bells? This year I have my own plot and just planted my first rows of crops. In a few weeks (and months) time, baby beets, radishes and rainbow chard will be popping out of the dirt. To me, there's nothing more magical than the process of transforming a seed into an edible delicacy. We'll soon find out if I have the right to call myself a wizard

So CUTE! (The strawberry!) 

The zucchini I scored weeks ago is still barely alive and has enlivened too many meals to count! Two days ago, I left the garden spotted with dirt but loaded down with a huge bag of unclaimed goodies. The rainbow chard and kale will decorate my dinner tonight. And the mini strawberries? The largest only matched the size of my pinky, but they tasted sweeter than candy. Sure, I won't be able to live off the earth, but any dollar saved at the grocery store goes towards another meal

I also see blessings in my roommate Bri, who is as big of a health foodie as I am. I walked into our dorm room yesterday, my mind still on the philosophy notes I was memorizing, and stared at the odd mixture overflowing from her Nutribullet. Add zucchini, coconut meat, mint, and cacao powder together and what do you get?

Diving into chocolate with the roomie!

Another crazily delicious and healthy dessert recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie! A couple hours in the freezer later and we dove into a chocolate coconut cream pie for our afternoon snack. Our next planned adventure? Mini eggplant pizzas. I - and my stomach - can't wait. 

Blessings are even sprinkled in every meal that I throw together for the first time and can't stop eating! Two days ago, it was doing the dinner dance with Mahi Mahi. Last night, heaven landed on my plate in the form of egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free salmon patties. There's no better motivation to be a mad scientist in the kitchen than a stocked fridge and empty stomach!

Not the prettiest, but so delicious!

Despite the help from the garden, an awesome roommates and access to my true loves of Chipotle and Whole Foods, cooking all my own food won't be easy. Time is a college commodity and shopping, prepping and cooking will be doing a knock-down-drag-out fight over mine.

But you know what? The whole point of college is to grow, and jumping off the meal plan will be a major step. After all, nothing screams "grown up" more to me than managing a food budget and cooking after a long day at "work." And there's no faster way to make friends or earn a dorm nickname (I'm presently "granola girl" after I flooded the whole building with the scent of homemade granola) than hanging out near the fridge!

Me, aka "Granola Girl"

Big decisions are scary, always riddled with "what ifs," "buts" and "I don't know's." What if this is the best choice of my sophomore year? Maybe it'll just be a pain in the butt. I don't know. (Got to throw a little writing irony in here!). Until I do know, though, I'm going to rock my cooking mitts with pride. Let the adventure begin! 

What dietary accommodations, if any, did you receive in college? Do you cook most of your meals? Comment below! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

19 and Happy

Nineteen years. As crazy as it seems - and despite that, with my amazing memory, I remember less than half of it! - I've been on this earth for nineteen years (and two days to be exact) now. What a trip.

Happy birthday to me!
My birthday has always flirted with the birth of school. One particularly unlucky year, the days even matched. Talk about a bummer.

Not this year. Although I may be shunned by popular culture for saying this, this birthday blew my eighteenth all the way out of California. It was a celebration of my last year as a teenager (gasp!). A deep breath after surviving the first week of class - three days have never felt so long! And a declaration of my mission to find the balance between social, school and sleep. 

The challenge...
I didn't get to light nineteen candles this year because my college tends to frown upon fire hazards (talk about a party pooper!) so instead, I'm sharing nineteen things that have recently lit up my life! 

1. Diving into an eclectic mix of college classes from Cosmos to Intro to Linguistics (yikes!) to Philosophy. Any future philosophizing writing majors from space on the web? 

2. Dorm rooms with drawers that can act like pull out cupboards. No joke - my roommate and I probably have the biggest stash of food in our entire dorm. Apocalypse? Zombie attack? No worries. We got the goods

3. Jumping on a stationary bike in my school's gym and feeling so much stronger and healthier than I was last year! I still can't run because of my continual knee pain (gotta love a strained IT band) but, surprisingly, I'm okay with that. 

4. Taking time for myself at the end of the day during my nightly walk around campus. During summer, I got used to trudging around the block with mother and dog at my side. Now I'm continuing the tradition most nights while at college, savoring the beauty of Point Loma's magical sun sets...

What a beaut!
5. Watching Hannah, my younger sister, blossom during her senior year of high school. Watch out Hollywood - this October, she's breaking into the acting industry in her first school play

6. Living with a roommate who is as big of a foodie as I am! Say hello to Bri, my partner in crime, as we dined at True Foods Kitchen for my second birthday brunch. Review coming soon!

That's me, looking at the wrong side of the phone...
7. Diving into a good book after a long day of classes. My favorite recently? Crime and Punishment. Genius

8. Opening up my mailbox to letters from mom or grandma. I'm old fashioned - a text is awesome too, but there's nothing sweeter than paper and pen!

9. Dancing the night away while sporting a stylin' bed-sheet toga, scarf belt and white headband during my college's Toga Party in the Greek! Last year, one of my biggest regrets was missing out on so many dances and social events. So when I heard my school was getting its Greek freak on, how could I say no? One of the most fun - tiring! - nights of my sophomore year so far! They may be old, but the Greeks definitely know how to party!

And that's the real sky behind us! No backdrop!
10. Waking up every morning to pictures of my friends and family pinned up all around me. How can I have a bad day when all I see are our smiles from Colorado?

11. Inheriting a ridiculously humongous zucchini from my school's student garden. Seriously, Bri and I now have a weapon of major destruction chilling on top of my microwave. I'm slowly whittling away at it in my smoothies, but Zeke the Zuc, as I've come to call him, is gonna be hanging around for a while. 

My weapon of choice...
12. Discovering Enjoy Life's chocolate baking chocolate chunks after my elimination diet persuaded me to stay dairy free as much as possible. Delicious by the cookie (or by the handful!). 

13. Having a kitchen in the dorm to whip up my favorite concoctions. Finally, midnight brownies are within my reach! Or, as I already cooked for my birthday dinner yesterday, sweet potato and salmon sliders! 

Oldie but a goodie!
14. Successfully hosting my first official blog giveaway! When I started this blog, my parents and I joked about product shipments lining up outside our front door, but I never thought a company would ever value my little corner of the Internet! I've grown a lot this year, and so has my little blog baby! Congrats to Hannah, the lucky winner - who ironically has the same name as my little sister. Fate? 

15. Smiling at myself in the mirror because, on most days, I finally believe that I am, indeed, beautiful. Just as everyone reading this is. 

16. Spending a beyond amazing afternoon with my family, who drove up to my college on my birthday! My little sister surprised me by coming along and we all enjoyed a birthday feast of Chick Fil A and Pamela's chocolate cake. Moist, gluten free cake + dark chocolate and mint Coconut Bliss dairy free ice cream = heaven by the spoon!

Ambrosia in a bowl!
17. Wearing my celiac disease diagnosis with pride on my backpack and in my conversations. I don't bring it up, but if people have questions about my food, I can whip up a quick biology lesson

18. Savoring life's spontaneous surprises. When my family visited for our birthday brunch, we ended up scoping out a local (but huge!) swap meet. The last booth boasted boxes of license plate pieces and customers could create a custom collage of different plates. I created a metal "Casey" and they even had my birth date month, date and year to nail on top! Even spookier? The man in charge is one of the teachers at my school! Talk about a small world! 

The AMAZING finished product!
19. Feeling like I'm finally over the hill. This last year has been full of ups and downs, and though I still have plenty of hopes for the future, for the first time in a long while, I'm just fine right here. 

Not every one of my nineteen years has been easy. In my case, the proof isn't in the pudding - it's in all of last year's blog posts! As I celebrated what was so far the best birthday - and year of college - of my life, though, I'm thankful for every one of those candles. And that's the greatest present I could have hoped for.

What blessings have been lighting up your life lately? How do you celebrate your gluten free birthday? Comment below! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jumping In

"Be careful." Nowadays, the words haunt nearly every aspect of life. Leaving home. Adopting a pet. Even buying a different brand of shampoo or conditioner. No matter the type of risk being taken, fear seems to be its perpetual shadow. 

I could lie and say the truth of this hit me as I watched my family walk out of my dorm room two days ago. As I sat on my bed, the newness of everything - being a sophomore, having a roommate, living on the other side of campus - suffocated me like a winter scarf. And California is blazing in the 90's right now!

All that's left of my family!
Really, though, it hit me a few weeks ago as I ran out the door to meet my favorite gal pals from high school. Usually, our dates were nondescript - restaurant lunches or Lord of the Rings marathons. We're just that cool. Except, this time, almost as statement of how we had all transformed after a year away at college, we were heading to the local trampoline park. Fun. Adventurous. And, as my parents reminded me, dangerous. Especially then, only a blink away from starting sophomore year.

I take care as a celiac, re-reading food labels and interrogating restaurant waiters like a spy in disguise. Caution nudges my actions as a teenage female in a society where staying out too late or dressing a certain way can justify a not-so-happy-ending. I even worry as a human being whose biology demands I constantly defend what is mine. 

We smile in the face of danger!

As I watch my roommate talk on the phone to her family and listen to the sounds of fellow students moving in all around me, though, I'm ready to stop the worry and throw out the caution. I'm ready to jump in and enjoy whatever fall I may take, just as I did trampolining weeks ago with my friends. As we stepped barefoot on a never-ending floor of rubber, we flew and leaped - and while we looked pathetic compared to the flipping ninjas surrounding us, I can promise that we had just as much fun

Last year, college was hard. The classes I could handle, sinking my teeth in a full-time 4.0. But my body broke, my spirit faltered and I faced the obstacles of every freshman compounded by celiac complications and the death of a grandparent days after my 18th birthday. 

Grandpa with one of his true loves!

The fact is, though, I'm not going to let last year's challenges shade this year's experience. I'm stronger. I'm healthier. I'm happier. And, I'm going to jump into sophomore year at full speed

I'm joining every club that sparks my fancy. Gardening. Aerobics and yoga. Spoken Word (a poetry club), and Homeless ministries. Even coed soccer in spring. Plus working on my school's literary magazine and possibly (hopefully!) as a school blogger. Plus 17 units of classes. Oh yes, my time will be full. In the best possible way. 

Enjoying the fall!

It's easy to get trapped by caution. To fear getting tangles in your hair so much that your feet never leave the ground. As I prepare for classes starting Wednesday, though, and slowly gather the sticks to form my sophomore home, I'm loving the free fall. I can't wait to see where I land. 

Do you take enough risks in life? What is your biggest piece of college advice? Comment below!