Food and Lifestyle Book Reviews

Last year, I read some really good books that inspired me. Read on for the titles, authors, and quick synopsis.

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan – This book was left in my office by a co-worker I never met and was going to be thrown out before I swooped it up. It sat on my shelf for a couple months before I finally started reading about Colin’s chronicles of living a life with little to no impact, in Manhattan of all places. I found this book to be eye-opening and inspiring. It really makes you think about how much we all consume on a daily basis. There is also the No Impact Man documentary which I watched after reading the book. Highly recommended!

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon – I’ve mentioned this book on the blog before and will likely continue to do so. Mike’s sister, Wendy, was reading it last year when we were in Australia for Christmas and she was expecting her first child. Wendy summarized the book as she read (and as we traveled the coast of  Australia) and I couldn’t get enough. I ordered a copy for myself right when we got home and devoured it. I’m not a mother but found this book insightful and very interesting. The author moves from Vancouver to France, where her husband is from, with her two young daughters and spends a year learning the “ways” of the French and their non-picky little eaters, very different from (most) kids here. The book describes cultural differences between how food is viewed, prepared, and eaten in North America vs. in France, along with antidotes and a few recipes for readers to try at home.

A Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub – This book was another winner and really helped me solidify my gripes against sugar. (I realize that sounds snobby but I don’t apologize because sugar is the worst and everyone should know it’s truths. …Not to be dramatic or anything.) Eve and her family* spend a year with a very limited sugar intake. I absolutely loved this book. For some unexplained reason, it made me feel nostalgic for a life I’ve never lived. Eve’s way of describing her hometown in Vermont (in my mind, seemingly perfectly simple… think: Gilmore Girl’s Stars Hallow); paired with her relentless quest for more knowledge about sugar; and her  detailed accounts of her findings, feelings, failings, as well as successes, made for a delightful and educational read!

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*I just realized a commonality in these 3 books are the author’s families and how they are kind of whisked (“forced” sounded too harsh…) into participating in these major lifestyle changes because the mom or dad decided to. As a writer myself this reminds me that we have little to write about besides our own lives, journeys, and stories. Which, for the record, is exactly how I like things to be.

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In the past years I have dabbled in quite a few other books about eating and living a compassionate, healthy, informed and educated lifestyle. Below is a list of those books and a sentence or two about each of them. In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t make it completely through all of the following books and, for the ones I did read entirely, it has been years since I’ve finished them, so these descriptions are quick and unrefined.

Food Rules by Michael Pollan – This book is an obvious one. This is basically a staple in any “health conscious” person’s kitchen/home and though, as my grandpa pointed out, Mr. Pollan doesn’t have any credentials in nutrition (he graduated with a degree in Journalism), his thoughts and “rules” resonate with me (and many others!).

Eat only foods that will eventually rot …that’s just good sense. (Although I would respectably add a timeline in there because we all know there’s that smart ass ready to tell us that  McDonald’s goes bad too. Eventually.)

Naturally Thin by Bethenny Frankel – Bat shit cray or not, Bethenny has some good advice to give about letting go and just living, urging you to realize food should not be the devil or your best friend; like her rule You Can Have It All, Just Not All At Once – what a relief and a perspective shift! This book helped me let go of some serious stipulations I was putting on my diet and is recommend as a refreshing take on telling you how to eat. (Which everyone is doing, including myself! Ha.)

The Skinnygirl Dish by Bethenny Frankel – Bethenny lists tools and provides recipes in this book for healthy, non-stress noshing.

Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin – I first read this book in college and still remember the authors advise to Trust No One (not even them). I love this advice to this day because it’s so true! In the end, you know your body better than anyone. With conflicting information from experts telling us Paleo Is The Only Way To Live in one article and then Veganism being The Cure For Cancer in the next, it is especially important to do your own research and come up with your own guidelines. (Expect please know, you can trust me and The Veg Voyage when I say vegetables are, in fact, the key;)

The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone – This book is all about being a Vegan with a capital V and living well… kindly. Surface level, I felt kind of …judged while reading this book (which is certainly not a kind feeling!). Alicia outlines the steps for me to become a vegan and then a “superhero” vegan (someone who, if my memory serves me right, eats only nuts, seeds, and maybe a few leafy greens, like on their birthday, for a treat). But, if you can leave your ego out of it, this book is a good one with a meaningful message. It includes pretty pictures and recipes to start A New Vegan Lifestyle. Yeah!

Overall, I give Alicia props for putting it out there and bringing attention to the matter. You do you, girl – regurgitating your food for your babe and everything.

The Honest Life by Jessica Alba – Okay, I don’t know what the deal is with celebrities writing lifestyle books now (what happened to fragrances!? jLo wants to know!) but I’m completely on board with it. (Yes, I already pre ordered Balancing on Heels by Kristin Cavallari…) Like the next girl (who has dreams of having two kids and looking like Jessica Alba after; if she can do it, I can do it, RIGHT!?) I am a fan of J. Alba and …didn’t regret buying her book. Overall I didn’t LOVE the book – and was more interested in an inside glimpse of her life – but I highlighted a few tips and tricks here and there and I dig her message so, it’s all good. Money well spent.

The Body Book by Cameron Diaz – I should probably give this book a second chance because I could barely get through the first chapter… I like Cameron Diaz well enough but I distinctly remember feeling like I was reading an unedited letter while perusing this book. To me, her thoughts sounded scrambled and sporadic… like she didn’t really have an end goal… but the book seems to align with what I’m interested in so I’ll make an effort to try again and let you know how it goes.

Let me know your thoughts on any of the above books or recommendations you have!

#VegOut

♡ Ashley

New York, NY

11949405_10155941507080414_7614260174292724889_nAs  mentioned in my post about our weekend in Washington, I came home less impressed with the food when I traveled to New York City over the summer.

Towards the end of August, my mom, grandma and I took a girls’ trip to the Big Apple. We flew east on a Wednesday and came home that Sunday. My mom and I went to New York a few years ago but it was a short trip so I was excited to be there longer and to show my grandma around.

As to be expected, the food at SFO and on the flight to New York weren’t anything to write home (or blog!) about. We arrived at our hotel in Tribeca around 11pmET and, being that we were in New York (the city that supposedly never sleeps!), I didn’t think it would be much trouble to find a place to eat so late. Sadly, I was mistaken. After a walk around the block we realized there weren’t many eateries in the area. We also had a suspicion that our hotel wasn’t located in best neighborhood and it was probably better to stay in for the night* – however, despite the sketchy location, our hotel was actually really nice. We had access to the VIP lounge, which was conveniently located right across the hall from us. The lounge had rooftop access, snazzy chairs and tables to dine (or social media lurk) at, free snacks, waters and sodas throughout the day, plus complimentary breakfast in the morning and fresh baked cookies in the afternoon.

On our first night, since we couldn’t find anywhere to eat, we ended up ordering room service and eating it right there in the lounge. In theory, I can end this post here because this was actually (disappointingly!) the best meal we had in NYC. We ordered a salad and spaghetti to split 3 ways with a side of bread. Full, but mildly disappointed in our first night of the trip, we went to bed right after in anticipation of the next day ahead.

On Thursday we woke up early, grabbed a quick breakfast at the lounge (again nothing worth blogging about!) and headed out into the crowded, congested, annoying, amazing streets of New York City.

Our first stop was Gramercy Park but it was too hot and humid not to hit up a Starbucks on the way for iced teas. We walked to Chelsea Market after for some exploring (and more iced tea!) and then to Tortilla Flats for lunch. All three of us love Mexican food so I thought Tortilla Flats would be a hit. The restaurant was cool and I’m glad we went but I think living in California and having access to  authentic Mexican food sets a standard that the east coast just can’t compete with. I got the cheese enchiladas with rice and beans; it was too greasy for my taste and lacked flavor but we chatted with the owner and got free shots of tequila so, an overall acceptable lunch.

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Outside of Gramercy Park
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All of the shops in Chelsea Market
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Tortilla Flats!
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Free shots of tequilaaaa

Next we did a bunch of touristy stuff including finding Carrie Bradshaw’s “apartment” and the Friends building. Then, it was time for a cupcake at Magnolia’s Bakery, as featured on Sex in the City.  I’ve been to NYC three times and every time**, I’ve gotten a cupcake here! Though this time I opted for a mini because I was still full from lunch.

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The “Friends” building
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Magnolia’s
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Outside Carrie Bradshaw’s

After enjoying our cupcakes in a nearby park, we stopped at The Spotted Pig for a drink. Our drinks were insanely overpriced (as to be expected in New York) and, in my opinion, horrible (!) but we were still in Greenwich Village, which is by far my favorite NYC neighborhood so the location (location, location, location!) made up for it.

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Girls’ (walking) tour of Greenwich Village!

After lunch, cupcakes and drinks it was time for a walk to work off all of those calories. We walked the 1.5 miles back to our hotel where we relaxed for a while before going to a Broadway show. We saw BEAUTIFUL The Carole King Musical and it was ah-mazing! Before the show we split a margarita pizza in Times Square (which was surprisingly good despite it’s touristy location) and after, we met the star of the show, Chilina Kennedy.

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Meet and greet with the cast

The next day we had a carriage ride through central park scheduled first thing in the morning, so after a quick breakfast at the hotel we were on our way. The carriage ride was (also) expensive but I think worth doing if you’re in New York City. We explored Central Park  after, seeing the memorial for John Lennon and a few other things while walking to the upper east side for lunch. Word to the wise, do NOT go to Madison Avenue hungry and without a designated eating spot. We ended up at a place called EAT  and I should have Yelped it before because all of the one star reviews are spot on. I ended up ordering a $20 Cesar salad that came with romaine lettuce and dressing. That’s it! Not even a single crouton or sliver of parm…

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Us and our horse, Cody
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At EAT
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Redic prices!

Unimpressed with lunch, we moved on to the museums. We explored the Metropolitan Museum and The Guggenheim (and when I say “explored” I mean walk by and take a few pictures) with more iced beverages in hand! It was so hot, having something to drink was a necessity while walking around. I splurged for an iced mocha (usually sticking with iced coffee) while my grandma and mom got lemonades. We also bought a few bags of those famous NYC roasted nuts to snack on while walking and, let me just say, they are famous for a reason! Well worth the $9 (and the guy gave us a “bargain!”) spent.

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Exploring Central Park and neighboring areas

I had made reservations at Serendipity months before our trip for dinner on Friday night and regretted it! The food was sub par and their legendary frozen hot chocolate wasn’t anything special. Beyond that, the restaurant is tacky (in my opinion) and the service was terrible.

Day two turned out to be another disappointing day, food wise. (If you don’t count the roasted nuts!)

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HUGE menus
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The “famous” frozen hot chocolate

On our final day in New York, we had essentially done everything we planned to do so, last minute, decided to take a harbor tour. (I had previously taken this same tour when I went to New York years ago with my best friend, Leslie, but we boarded the boat after a red-eye flight and ended up falling asleep  half way around the island.)

My mom, grandma and I woke up, had breakfast at the hotel, and got on the subway to Times Square with the intention to walk to the harbor from there to catch the 12pm tour. We were doing great on timing until I realized I had accidentally lead us in the exact opposite direction of where we needed to be going. We could have quickly turned around and hustled to the harbor but there was another tour leaving at 2pm so we took our time righting the wrong.

Which turned out to be a good decision because we were able to visit the New York City Public Library, something that I wanted to see but didn’t want to go out of the way for it (on purpose). The library is as beautiful and grand as you expect. The security guard gave us a map (a map of the library!) and pointed out where Carrie B. was supposed to get married in the SATC movie (can you tell I’m a fan?). Interesting side note: he also had to check my backpack and my grandma’s purse as we were leaving to be sure we didn’t take any books! I guess there is a demand for NYC library books online… who would have thought?

After exploring the library we walked to the harbor where we had a quick lunch before the tour. I didn’t expect this meal to be anything special, which could be why it didn’t disappoint. (Expectations! …they’ll get ya every time.) We ate at a small concession stand nearby that basically sold “theme park food;” burgers, chicken tenders, fries, etc. You know? unhealthy fried stuff. I ordered a veggie burger (because I much rather not know where my soy beans are coming from than my meat!) and split an order of fries with my grandma and mom. As mentioned, my burger wasn’t that bad and kept me full during the 3 hour harbor tour.

The tour was a great last day activity for us. It was nice to get a history of Manhattan and see the Statue of Liberty – plus some other cool sights that we likely wouldn’t have seen – all the while sitting down and enjoying the breeze! We walked back to Times Square to get on the subway to go to the hotel but, by this point, we were hungry again. Having had bad luck with NYC eateries so far, we decided to eat dinner at Chevy’s in Time Square. Typically I much rather dine at a hole in the wall than a chain restaurant, especially when traveling, but honestly, I just wanted something I knew I was going to like at that point. So, another round of cheese enchiladas it was!

We got back to our hotel and a friend from college met me for a drink on the rooftop of our hotel (#NYCmoment or what!?). It was so good to see her and another great thing about traveling; having the opportunity to see old friends and make new memories.

Overall, our trip was great but not because of the food! It was so much fun to experience New York City again with my mom and grandma. I truly do love that city and recommend going if you ever get the chance to, just don’t expect every meal to be as amazing as the city.

#VegOut

♡ Ashley

*Later, my friend who lives in NYC confirmed that we definitely should not have been walking around that area late at night.

1930629_67472515413_382_n**For your viewing pleasure, a picture of the first time I visited New York/Magnolia’s …Back when bleached blonde hair, fake nails, and dangling earrings were all.the.range.