Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Vegan Samoa Cookie Smoothie

Good morning! I have an easy, healthy mid-week recipe to share today that's full of delicious flavors and no added sugar. Today also happens to be my birthday; what better excuse to make this Vegan Samoa Cookie Smoothie?

It seems every time I turn around I see a sign advertising or a group selling Girl Scout cookies. Over the weekend they were tabling outside a neighborhood coffee shop, and today a troop is visiting my office building to sell cookies. My absolute favorite Girl Scout cookie is the Samoa {or Caramel deLite, in some parts of the country}. Samoa cookies are full of chocolate and coconut goodness. I created a smoothie matching the same flavors with much healthier ingredients.

This is where I admit that I could eat an entire box Samoa Girl Scout cookies in one day, if given the chance. Instead of giving myself the inevitable sugar hangover by purchasing cookies at the office today, I created this smoothie with my favorite unsweetened coconut flakes, available at Trader Joe's. I add coconut flakes to my yogurt bowl breakfast every day; I love the flavor and crunch.

This Vegan Samoa Cookie Smoothie is naturally sweetened with nature's candy - Medjool dates. The smoothie also includes unsweetened cocoa powder {Ghirardelli is my favorite}, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, frozen banana slices, vanilla powder, and spinach for good measure.

This smoothie is also inspired by my recent trip to Arizona - the resort where we stayed had a juice and smoothie bar, with a Chocolate Banana Coconut Smoothie that was SO good I ordered it three days in a row.

On my birthday last year, I posted Dark Chocolate {Black Bean} Brownie Bites. I think an annual birthday chocolate post has been born. I hope you love this smoothie as much as I do!

Vegan Samoa Cookie Smoothie
Yields: 1 smoothie

1 frozen banana, sliced
1 cup greens {kale or spinach}
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 heaping Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
2 Medjool dates {pitted}
1/4 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract

How to~
Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend until smooth.

For more chocolate coconut recipes, try my:

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

3 Running Motivations for Spring

Happy first day of spring! It was chilly in Chicago today but perfectly sunny with blue skies. I'm counting my lucky stars that we don't have snow on the ground this month. I ran 5 miles this morning to celebrate the new season, and stopped on my way home to peek at every cluster of flowers that have popped up over the last week. This got me thinking about goals for the transition to the next season, since spring is a time of renewal in so many ways. I'm sharing my 3 Running Motivations for Spring tonight, including a new running app that matches your pace to a music playlist {Spring Moves - scroll down for more}!

1 - Sign Up for a Road Race {or two!}

{Shamrock Shuffle 2015!}

This spring, I am registered to run two short races - the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k in early April and the Ravenswood Run 5k later in the month. Running outdoors in the sunshine and warm temperatures feels amazing after dark winter runs and too much time on the treadmill. Chicago had a fairly mild winter this year {thanks El Nino}, but I still ending up running a lot less in January and February than in previous months. Adding a race or two on the calendar is great motivation to get back out there this spring.

2 - Try a New Running Route

{Running hills last summer in Horner Park}

I tend to run on a short list of routes. I prefer quiet side streets in residential neighborhoods and looping through local parks, and I rarely run on the lakefront. Last year I posted a 5k running route in one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city, Ravenswood. During summer months, I also love ending a run at the Logan Square Farmers Market for snacks and veggie goodies from the farm stands. This spring, my goal is to try a new running route as least once a month. I found a Thrillist post while stumbling today, listing 27 of the best coffee shops in Chicago neighborhoods. I can't think of a better motivator than running to a great cup of coffee!

3 - Run with the Spring Moves App

Spring Moves is an app that offers both a music service and an exercise tracker. A few weeks ago, the company reached out and asked me to try their app for running. What makes Spring unique is it's a music service that matches the beat of the music to your running pace. If you have ever taken a SoulCycle class, you understand already how motivating this is for a workout! You can also use the Spring Moves app for walking and biking.

I loved trying this app so much that I signed up to be an ambassador. I'm passing on some of this love to you, including a free month to try Spring Moves. Please note: If you download the app through links in this post, I earn a small amount of compensation. Thanks for supporting this little blog!

Try Spring Moves for free, with a 30-day trial membership:

Click here to download Spring Moves or text CHICAGOJOGGER to 41411 to receive an automatic text reply with a download link. Note: depending on your carrier, texting fees may apply.

The Spring Moves app is super easy to use - simply download and tell the app what type of music you like {rock, 80s, contemporary, rap, etc.}. During set-up, you can also select a few favorite artists. There are no ads during your playlist {love this}, since it's a subscription service. Your first 30 days are free {see the links above}, and there are three subscription options:
  • $4.99 per month
  • $39.99 per year
  • $49.99 "for life"

    The first time I ran using Spring, I was amazed at how accurate the songs were to the beat of my steps. Spring refers to this as Rhythm Based Movement. Studies have shown that running to the beat keeps you on pace and motivates you to keep going. Check out this cool fact that Spring shared with me:

    A number of studies indicate that matching cadence to a musical beat makes people workout longer while exerting the same amount of effort. The reason seems to be that when our bodies synchronize with music move to the beat, we think we are working less hard. By using music as a metronome for our movement, we essentially trick our minds into going further or faster for the same level of effort. Two studies conducted with walkers and runners showed that music/movement synchronicity increased endurance by up to 15% when measuring Perceived Rate of Exertion.

    Let me know if you download Spring and try the free 30 day trial!

    What motivates you to run?

    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    Arizona Day Trip: Sedona to the Grand Canyon

    I recently traveled to Sedona, Arizona with a few girlfriends for an early spring break to visit the beautiful red rocks and relax. We took a day trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on Leap Day, and it was one of the highlights of our vacation. Before traveling to Sedona, I wasn't sure what to expect with a drive to the Grand Canyon or what amenities would be available in the area. This post includes our experience and driving directions.

    Traveling to visit the Grand Canyon from Sedona is a beautiful drive, high up in the mountains and through the desert countryside. The drive will take you north of Sedona through Flagstaff, and on a scenic highway {Highway 180N}. Be prepared for an elevation change during the first half of the drive, as you will go from 4,500 feet in Sedona to 8,000 feet north of Flagstaff. I was surprised at how steep and curving the road was at points.

    We stopped at a scenic overlook on the way, with elevation at 6,420 feet:

    We also drove by the highest mountain in Arizona, at 12,000 feet - Humphreys Peak {not pictured} - before reaching the flat, desert scenery.

    Travel time from Sedona to the Grand Canyon is approximately 2 1/2 hours, each way. It's a long drive for a day trip, but completely worth it for this amazing view inside the park!

    Driving to the Grand Canyon from Sedona will take you to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, which is the most developed point to visit. The South Rim is open all year, unlike the North Rim which is closed during winter months due to road conditions. The South Rim of the park includes lodging, dining options, and a large general store with groceries. The village of Tusayan is two miles south of the entrance to the park, with additional hotel and dining options.

    There are many lookout points inside Grand Canyon National Park, which has an entry fee of $30 per vehicle. The South Rim alone has 50 viewpoints of the beautiful scenery. See the tiny group of people out on the rocks?

    You can walk along the paved Rim Trail next to the edge of the Grand Canyon, where there is no fence {!} and endless rocks to stop and take in the view. My friend J was behind the camera for this shot:

    During our visit, we had a quick picnic with prepared sandwiches from a cafe inside the park and walked on the trail. The Rim Trail extends for 12 miles near the edge of the Grand Canyon. This trail is perfect for walking, running, or biking, as most of it is paved and level in elevation. Find information on additional Grand Canyon National Park hikes here.

    We didn't see any crazy wildlife on our walk, except birds, including this majestic raven:

    I loved our visit to the Grand Canyon and can't wait to go back someday for a longer trip. A post on Sedona highlights is coming soon.

    Driving Directions from Sedona to the Grand Canyon:
    *From Sedona travel north on Highway 89A toward Flagstaff for approximately 35 miles.
    *Take the I-17 turnoff and continue north on Interstate 17, which turns into Milton Avenue.
    *Make a left from Milton onto Highway 180 (Humphreys Avenue) and travel for approximately 50 miles.
    *Highway 180N will then merge with Highway 64N. Take Highway 64N to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

    Estimated travel time: 2 1/2 hours.

    Thursday, March 3, 2016

    Meyer Lemon Cookies

    This healthy recipe for Meyer Lemon Cookies is perfect for a lightly sweet dessert, and contains no refined sugar - the cookies are naturally sweetened with dates.

    Good morning! I got home last night from an early spring break vacation to Arizona with a few friends. We visited Sedona and the Grand Canyon. What an absolutely gorgeous place! It was bliss to be outdoors in sunny, 75 degree weather. I have so much to write about from this trip, including our hiking experience and the best place to watch the sunset.

    Before I left town last week, I created this Meyer Lemon Cookies recipe and couldn't wait any longer to share it. I have been wanting to create a cookie recipe that doesn't include any refined sugar, but I wasn't sure if it would work. I finally found the key to this puzzle - make your own date paste!

    You can buy date paste in the store, but it's quite pricey so I made my own by combining Medjool dates and unsweetened almond butter in a food processor. It worked like a charm.

    Homemade date paste is combined almond flour, egg, and unsweetened coconut flakes. The star ingredient of these cookies is the juice and zest from Meyer lemons, my favorite citrus fruit in late winter and spring. I tried Meyer lemons for the first time last year, and posted a healthy snack recipe using their delicious juice - Meyer Lemon Snack Bars.

    Meyer lemons are darker in color, appearing as a deep yellow. They are also slightly smaller and rounder than regular lemons with a much sweeter taste. The season for Meyer lemons is December to May. Find more about the difference between regular and Meyer lemons from the kitchn.

    Meyer Lemon Cookies make the perfect afternoon or evening snack, and their texture when baked is exactly like a "normal" cookie! They also happen to be gluten free since I used almond flour instead of white flour.

    Meyer Lemon Cookies
    Yields: 18 cookies

    1 and 1/4 cups almond flour
    Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
    Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
    1 egg
    1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
    1/4 cup unsweetened, unsalted almond butter
    6 Medjool dates, pitted
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    How to~
    *Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    *Mix the dates and almond butter in a food processor, to form a paste.
    *Add the date paste to a mixer, and combine the wet ingredients - egg, lemon juice, and vanilla extract.
    *Add the dry ingredients - almond flour, coconut flakes, lemon zest, baking soda, and salt. Mix until just combined.
    *Use a medium cookie scoop to place cookies on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Lightly press each cookie with a fork to flatten.
    *Bake for ~12 minutes, or until light brown on the bottom.

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