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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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My 28-Day Mind and Body Detox

Happy New Year!!

Matt and I are beginning a 28-day cleanse today that will last through the month of January 2012. Some of you followed our cleanse last year.  This year will be similar, but I will also be focusing on a more spiritual detox in additional to the physical one.

Physical Body Detox

We’ll be using the Clean method to create our daily menus, supplements and physical activity.  We’ve looked at a few others, but found that this one works best for us.

If you’re thinking about a cleanse or detox, my advice is to peruse a few different options and then settle on one.  Make sure it is something you can follow through on, and one that is healthy.

But otherwise, don’t think too much about it – just do it.  You can always modify slightly along the way to better fit your needs, goals and lifestyle.  And no matter what cleanse you do, you’re going to be more detoxed at the end than you were at the beginning!

At the least, a physical cleanse focuses on what you put in your body in order to allow your body to better detoxify.  In addition, may focus on supplements, physical activity, sweating, hot-cold baths, skin brushing and more.  Try as much as feels comfortable, and add on as you go if you start feeling more comfortable.

If you’re interested in how we did the Clean cleanse last year, follow my nearly daily posts beginning here.  If you want to try a few other books, you might check out:

It’s your body, your program.  Do what feels good to you.

Mental and Spiritual Detox

In addition to the physical body detox, I’ll be working on a mental and spiritual detox this year.  What does that mean? Well, honestly I’m going to find out as I go!  Based on my 2012 goals, here’s where I’m starting…

Classes

I’m going to begin by taking a few classes at local yoga studios:

  • A weekend intensive Intro to Pranayama Series
  • A weekly Pranayama Series
  • An Introduction to Meditation Series
  • A Sangha Meditation Series

In addition, I will probably drop in on a few yoga nidra classes, as well as warm yoga classes.

Walking Meditation

As you probably know, I walk to work every day – about 3 miles of walking in total.  When I was at Miraval in December, I took a class on breath walking.  I won’t say it’s as powerful as guided sitting or laying meditation, but it is certainly helpful to slow my blood pressure and clear my mind!

So I’ll be doing that regularly, either to or from work – or both.

Reading

I’m currently reading Wherever You Go, There You Are.  I believe a couple of you recommended it to me a year ago, and it has come up since then several times.  So finally I’m taking the hint!  :)

I’m also thinking about reading Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.  I’ve heard good things about the author and it looks right in line with my cleanse.

Writing

As you saw in my Plans for 2012, my goal is to write regularly again.  I had a breakthrough yesterday that writing, cleansing and positive personal change go hand-in-hand!  So now I have a bigger reason to write.

So my goal is to work up to daily writing again.  That could mean a blog post here, a blog post at my professional blog, a journal entry, or just jotting down some profound thoughts on a napkin.

What Do You Think?

Anyone have ideas for good books/activities I should try?

Or… Have you done this before? Do you think I’m nuts?

A Year About Me - Month 10

Hello!  Long time no see – I’ve missed you all.  I apologize for my lengthy absence!  I have been working on me, as I promised you at the beginning of the year.

I realized almost a year ago that I needed to rethink how I was treating My soul, My lungs, My body, My relationship, and My mind.  I wasn’t nurturing myself and I was taking my self for granted.  As a result, I wasn’t very healthy.

Re-Visiting My Wellness Plan

In January, here’s what I said:  By the End of the Year I Hope To…

Lift my arms over my head!  How am I doing?  Well, at the beginning of the year, I couldn’t get much past lifting my arms to straight in front of me.  So sad!  And now I have just a few degrees to go before I can lift them all the way over my head.  That’s due to stretching, yoga, and an amazing massage therapist who has helped cut through years of scar tissue in my frozen shoulders.

Learn to live happily gluten-free.  I’m still gluten-free and getting used to asking about ingredients in stores and restaurants. I’ve even started becoming dairy free this month. My body LOVES it.  I was a size 8 in January.  Now I’m a size 2.  I actually haven’t lost a lot of weight, most of it has been inflammation.

Figure out my next career step.  I’m getting a whole lot closer.  I now have several clients who are all doing amazing work – it’s extremely gratifying to help them do their work better, and I’m feeling increasingly empowered and effective as a consultant.  You can see what I’m doing here.  Every week my feet are more firmly planted in the consulting and storytelling world, and my stress level decreases.

Reduce my medications for asthma to just the rescue inhaler.  I have reduced my asthma meds over the years from seven down to just one now, aside from the rescue inhaler.  I got rid of 2 of them just this year.  I think it’s going to take a little longer than I expected, but I have confidence that I’ll be able to get rid of that one too in 2012.

Exercise regularly.  I walk to work every day – that’s about 2 miles a day.  I was doing yoga about 4-5 days/week until I injured myself.  Since then I’ve been working back up to yoga by doing a few gentle or Yin classes, plus stretching and exercises.  I am going to take a few private classes so I can learn to modify my practice to take better care of my body.  So I still hope by the end of the year I’ll be back to doing yoga regularly.

Increase my number of social interactions.  I have done this.  Some.  Though I get busy.  And lazy.  Still.  I am saying “yes” more!

Decrease my number of negative thoughts, words, and actions.  I could work on this for the rest of my life, for sure.  I am a little better than at the beginning of the  year, but this is one that needs revisiting and recommitting.

Have a healthy garden we regularly eat from.  Since we moved closer to our p-patch, I have done a much better job of keeping it up.  The neck and arm pain has kept me from being the star gardener this year, but I am excited for the spring.  I think it’s going to be a good garden season.  And we have winter crops growing now, too.

Write more, and write about the things I want to write about.  Harumph.  As you can see, I have neglected my writing.  The arm and neck injuries again have been a big culprit.  But I have confidence it will be coming back over the next couple of months as the pain subsides and strength reforms.

Spend more time outside of work with my family.  Yes – I’ve done this!!  Hooray!  It has been incredibly enjoyable.  And one thing I didn’t have on my wellness plan but is becoming increasingly clear is the importance of spending time with myself outside of work.  I’ve learned to do that quite a bit more as well.

Become more in touch with my physical and mental wants and needs.  Yes, so this is an essential component of healing.  Every time I make progress in this arena, I find there is a new level of growing and learning.  It is fascinating and very rewarding.

Part of this is understanding that when I have neck pain, it’s not just about the neck, for example.  It is about the need for a new glasses prescription (I was leaning my neck to be able to see), long-term shoulder problems (not allowing my neck to heal), stress (tensing up without even knowing it), working too long of hours (putting added strain on my body), and more.

Reduce and maintain a lower weight that feels good.  I could lose a couple more pounds to feel really good, but I’m pretty darn close.  I’m much happier with my body today than I was a year ago.  Though to the point above, it’s not just about the weight, it’s about the diet, the inflammation, the exercise, and the mental wellbeing.

 

How About You?

How have you done with the promises you’ve made to yourself this year?  Have you stuck with them?

25 Ways I've Improved My Asthma

I just received a really lovely email from Liz, who was recently hospitalized for asthma.  Sick in bed, she was clicking around the internet and found us by following a link to How To Plant, Grow, & Prune Blueberries.  Liz, I’m so sorry you’re sick!!

In her email, Liz asked what I’ve done to try to get off my own asthma medications.  I spent the whole walk home yesterday thinking about all the many things I’ve done over the past couple of years!  So I thought some of you might benefit from this, or know someone who has asthma and might benefit.

My husband, who doesn’t have asthma, has benefited from many of these changes as well – he says he’s not sick as often, he gets headaches less, he’s less stuffy in his nose, and his sense of smell has vastly improved!

Brief History of My Asthma

I was very sick as a child – every fall through spring I had a serial illnesses of bronchitis, ear infections, sinus infections, mononucleosis, strep throat, respiratory flus, colds,… it was pretty miserable.  At that time, people recognized wheezing as the only major symptom of asthma – rather than what I had, which was uncontrollable coughing and gasping for breath.  If you want to know how it feels, I even made a short film about it!

So I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in college.  And boy, my world changed!  Suddenly I had enough oxygen on a daily basis – my mind was clearer, I was sick a little less often, and my posture improved a bit (asthmatics tend to hunch over their chest).

When I moved to New York several years later, it got worse.  My doctor at the time said that was normal, and added more medications.  A few years later, I moved to LA.  Of course it got worse.  My low point was taking high doses of steroids, 7 daily medications, and STILL uncontrollably coughing and gasping for breath.

Something needed to change.  So over the last four years or so, I’ve slowly made lifestyle changes that have got me down to just two medications (at the lowest possible doses), with an occasional rescue inhaler (used every few months).  I’ve been sick twice in the last three years.  That’s it.

My goal is to go off all my medications by the end of the year.  Catching a terrible bug going around just recently has set me back a tad, but I’m moving forward again.

A Word of Caution

Be careful.  Listen to your body.  Listen to your doctors.

I am not a doctor, I am only writing about what works for me.  Please take what you can on your road to finding what works for you.

And above all, remember that the most important thing is for your asthma to be under control.  It’s ok to be a bit cautious, because out of control asthma takes a long time to recover from – if it doesn’t feel right to make a change, don’t risk it.  Take your time.  It will get better.

25 Ways I’ve Improved My Asthma

  1. Remove all toxic and fragrant products from your home. I may not be starting with a small one for some of you, but this is where I started.  Shampoos, soaps, detergents, floor cleaners, carpet sprays, window cleaners… all of it.  Replace them with very natural versions (no artificial scents, and preferably no scents) or make them yourself.
  2. No fragrances or toxins on the body. It was hard for me to give up perfume, but I did.  It is incredible how much of a difference it made.  Lotion – find the most natural, non-fragrant one you can find.  Deodorant.  Bath oils… you get the picture.  This is not about deprivation, it’s about getting healthy and staying that way!  You’ll get used to it.
  3. Exercise regularly. Every day if possible.  It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just get the warm air going through your lungs.  In the winter, wear a scarf and put it over your mouth and nose to keep the air warm.  I walk to work every day, about 2.5 miles round trip.
  4. Learn about asthma. Learn how it works – it’s fascinating and useful; learn what to look for in a trigger; learn what medications there are (your physician may not know all the answers).  I started with Asthma for Dummies (I know, but it really is helpful).  Talk to your doctor as much as he or she will let you.
  5. Reduce stress. Or Increase calmness.  Maybe a little of both.  Take it as it comes.  Learn to say no.  Be ok with staying home if you’re tired and need a little “me” time.
  6. Be the master of your own medical plan. I had to make my own appointment to see a pulmonologist – nobody referred me.  It was one of the first catalysts for getting my asthma back on track.  Now I’ve gone so far as to see a naturopath and do acupuncture.  But that’s not all.  You and only you know when you need an increase or decrease in medication.  You know.  You know when it’s time to try a different medication or doctor because one isn’t quite working.  You have to ask, you have to keep track, you have to read up, you have to know your body better than anyone else, and you have to advocate for you.
  7. Find your triggers and get rid of them. In my home, I found that I’m allergic to wool, latex, and sesame oil – along with dust mites of course.  It took a while to figure those out!  I had to really pay attention to what was making me cough.
  8. Cover your pillows, mattresses, and duvets. Dustmite covers are all over now – you can buy them really cheaply at Target, or get expensive organic ones that last forever online.  I recommend not getting the super cheap plastic ones, as the fumes from the plastic are pretty bad.
  9. Wash your hands. That’s an easy one – yay!  Don’t be afraid to feel a little crazy at how much you wash your hands – it’s better than being sick.  Wash before eating, after being around sick people or in well used public spaces.  Carry anti-bacterial stuff with you in your purse, but wash whenever possible.
  10. Invest in good air filters. Replace your heat/air con filters per their instructions – at least annually – and buy good ones with a HEPA filter if possible.  We have a separate HEPA filter in our bedroom that runs all the time.  It has made a huge difference.  We have this one.  It’s really expensive, but it has lasted forever.  Most others break after a year or two.
  11. Take daily vitamins. I take a food-based women’s multi-vitamin as well as vitamin D (because we have so little sun in Seattle).
  12. Eat healthy, balanced meals – not too much, mostly plants, and not late at night.  I have been a vegetarian since 1989.  You don’t have to get that extreme, but eat organic, whole foods as much as possible.  And make sure you don’t eat anything 2 hours or less before bed.  GERD is a huge asthma trigger.
  13. Eliminate food sensitivities aka triggers. I knew sesame oil was a problem, but had no other food allergies that I knew of.  And then… there was wheat.  I had no idea!  The change a gluten-free diet has made for me… is the biggest change yet.  I highly recommend doing a cleanse to find out what you’re allergic and sensitive to.
  14. Do a Cleanse or Detox. Gets all those toxins out of your system, makes you feel GREAT, eliminates the foods you’re most likely to be sensitive to, and gives you a clean slate to test out foods you might be allergic to.  You can do it with your doctor’s guidance.I did it and LOVED it.  Alternatively, do the Elimination Diet.
  15. Keep your chest and breath warm. I have my own fashion:  I have a ton of scarves.  I’m always wearing them.  The secret:  they’re to keep my chest warm!  A pulmonologist told me this once, and it totally works.  I don’t leave home without wearing a scarf unless it’s pretty warm outside.  I also bring one out to dinner or movies, or friends’ houses.  Your lungs are so reactive when you have asthma, that they react to cold as well as actual allergens.
  16. No ice. For the same reasons as #15.  I always used to have asthma attacks in bars.  I was complaining to my pulmonologist, and she said “do you get drinks with ice in them?” So I tried not having ice, and she was right!
  17. Stay clear of highly polluting substances. If you don’t have to walk along the freeway to work, don’t.  If you can put your printer far away from your work station, do.  If you can live in a place without floors with formaldehyde, please do (many carpets and wood floors are glued with the nastiest of chemicals!!).  Stay clear of the smokers…
  18. Learn to nurture yourself. Take a break when you’re sick.  Get a massage (it can loosen up chest and shoulder muscles that are keeping your chest from fully opening).  Try acupuncture.  Drink warm tea.
  19. Yoga. Exercise plus de-stress plus lung opening equals asthmatic friend.  I love it.
  20. Know your own limits. Know when you shouldn’t push it, and know when it’s ok to push it. For instance, learn when you’re feeling so good for a while that you might try a little less medication for a day and see what happens.  Learn your edge.
  21. Have a supportive partner or family if possible. If you live with someone, tell them a little about what you’re learning and what if feels like.  They likely have NO idea that you feel like a fish out of water.  They might be able to help cut down on the toxins in your home as well, and may be able to help recognize when you’re starting to have an attack so you can catch it early.
  22. Hire cleaners. It took a long time for me to come to terms with this one.  But every single doctor has told me I can’t be the one to clean our home, because cleaning stirs up so much dust.  So I took the plunge and we now have green cleaners that come once a month.  Don’t forget you also have to leave the house when they’re cleaning!
  23. Detox your workplace. Printers, dirty carpets, perfumes,… there are a lot of things you can’t control very well.  I have plants all around my desk to help purify the air, as well as a little desk HEPA filter I use on occasion.  Keep your desk clean and free of dust.
  24. Work to solve other health issues you have. Often asthma is not a lonely culprit – it is often aggravated by, or aggravates, other health issues.  For me it was GERD (until I stopped eating gluten), grinding my teeth (I now have a nightguard), shoulder and chest weakness (which yoga is helping with), and gluten intolerance.
  25. Read and learn regularly. There are always new medications and studies being done.  You may find that a new study has indicated asthma may be caused by something or other, or a new exercise is thought to make a difference.  Try it.  It may or may not work, but I’ve found a few ideas that way!  In fact, I’ve learned there are breath coaches out there and I’m wondering if that my be my last push to freedom from medication.  We shall see!

Good luck and I wish you the best of health.  Please ask me any questions – I’ll answer if I can, or try to point you in the right direction if I can’t!

 

An Easier Detox: The Elimination Diet

There have been a lot of comments and emails here lately about not quite being ready for a full-on cleanse.  I understand completely, as it does take some time, preparation, and diligence to do it well.  So I thought I’d share the Elimination Diet with you all.

Before embarking on the Clean cleanse, Matt and I began with a week of the Elimination Diet.  During that week, we gradually weaned ourselves off caffeine, and eliminated the foods most likely to create body inflammation and/or allergic responses.

The Results After One Week

The caffeine withdrawal headaches weren’t great, but also not nearly as bad as I thought.  I think it makes a big difference to eliminate refined sugar and starches at the same time, so you don’t have sugar highs and lows.  Plus at the end I was no longer dependent on caffeine, which is liberating!

I felt cleaner, my skin was softer, any blemishes I had disappeared, I lost a couple pounds, and I was lighter on my feet.  Sort of a detox-lite.  Not a full-on cleanse (which is life-changing) but really, really good.

I encourage you to try it for a week and see how you feel.  Everyone I know who has done this with diligence has said they felt better afterward.

Foods That Create Inflammation & Toxic Responses

Now that I’ve observed the results of de-inflaming my body, I can see the puffiness in other people.  Inflammation makes you look a little bloated, and not quite healthy – it’s particularly easy to see in the face.  And while I found that the puffiness didn’t correlate to weight, it most definitely correlated to clothes sizes and the difference I saw in the mirror.

The seven foods that create the majority of our body inflammation and other toxic responses:

  1. Dairy
  2. Wheat, barley and rye (the gluten grains – even if you’re not allergic, you may find you have symptoms)
  3. Refined sugar
  4. Eggs
  5. Soy
  6. Corn
  7. Red meat

Some sources put the nightshade family in this category as well (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, tomatillos).  That might be just one too many to eliminate for some of us.

Four-Day Rotation

According to my Naturopath and Clean, even after the Elimination Diet you should try to eat these foods only once every four days.  This allows your body to recover (ie detox) from the foods so that inflammation doesn’t build up.  For all you gardeners out there, I think of this as crop rotation.

I know that is a hard list for most of us to avoid, but I encourage you to see how the food affects your body for just one week.  Then continue for another couple weeks if you like it.  And if not, at least it was an interesting study!

Foods To Eat

I’m not a nutritionist, as you know.  No claims to be so!  The following list was compiled using several resources, but is taken mostly from Clean.  I have a copy of this list in my wallet that I pull out when I’m grocery shopping (I’m sorry the following list is so long – I can’t create a table here).

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cherries
  • Coconut
  • Figs (these are high in sugar so not too many)
  • Huckleberries
  • Kiwi
  • Kumquat
  • Loganberries
  • Mangoes
  • Melons
  • Mulberries
  • Nectarines
  • Papayas
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Raspberries

Vegetables

  • Artichoke
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Beet & beet greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoflower
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Celery root (celeriac)
  • Chives
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion greens
  • Endive
  • Jicama
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms: all
  • Onions
  • Pak choi
  • Okra
  • Red leaf chicory
  • Sea vegetables/seaweed (kelp, dulse, hijiki, arame, wakame)
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts
  • Squash (winter & summer)
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini

Legumes

  • Lentils: brown, red, green, yellow, French
  • Split peas
  • Chickpeas
  • All beans, except soy (edamame)

Grains, Pasta & Cereals

  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Teff
  • Buckwheat
  • Rice: brown, red, black (forbidden rice), wild
  • Puffed brown rice
  • Puffed millet
  • Brown rice pasta
  • 100% Buckwheat noodles
  • Kelp noodles
  • Flours: brown rice, teff, millet, tapioca, amaranth, garbanzo bean, coconut, chestnut, sorghum

Nuts & Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Flax seeds
  • Hazelnuts (filberts)
  • Pecans
  • Poppy seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp seeds

Oils

Use unrefined, extra virgin, non-gmo, organic, & cold-pressed oils.

  • Almond
  • Flax seed
  • Coconut (best for cooking at high temperatures)
  • Olive
  • Pumpkin
  • Safflower
  • Sesame
  • Sunflower
  • Walnut
  • Hazelnut
  • Truffle

Milk Substitutes

  • Almond milk (unsweetened)
  • Hemp milk (unsweetened)
  • Hazelnut milk (unsweetened)
  • Coconut milk or water
  • Rice (whole grain, brown rice) – least optimal due to its being more processed and higher in sugar

Beverages

  • Teas: herbal, white, rooibos, green, yerba mate
  • Kombucha
  • Mineral water
  • Spring water
  • Fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juice – made with only fruits and vegetables listed above

Sweeteners

  • Whole fruit sweeteners (dates, eg)
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Stevia
  • Xylitol
  • Agave – not the preferred choice, but okay in moderation

Meat

  • Free-range chicken, turkey, duck
  • Lamb
  • Buffalo
  • Wild game: venison, quail, pheasant, rabbit
  • Cold water ocean fish: wild pacific salmon, ocean char, cod, halibut, haddock, sole, pollack, tuna, stripped bass
  • Water-packed canned tuna (without added soy protein)
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies

Spices, Condiments

  • Most spices are ok if they don’t contain the 7 foods to avoid above
  • Mustard (made with apple cider vinegar)
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Miso
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Rice vinegar
  • Tarragon vinegar
  • Ume plum vinegar

Make sure to eat a balanced diet that includes lots of vegetables!

Reintroduce Foods Gradually

If you do this for at least three weeks (the minimum time required to completely remove foods from your system), you will also have some the reintroduction benefits of a cleanse.  That means you can slowly – one by one – reintroduce the 7 potentially toxic foods to see how your body reacts to them.

Briefly, you should eat each food in its purist form (not mixed with anything else if possible), preferably 3 distinct times in one day.  For example, corn tortillas or chips to test corn, a slice of whole wheat bread to test gluten.  Then wait 2 days and record in a journal anything different physically or emotionally.  After 2 days, move to the next one on the list.

 

Review and Giveaway: Clean Start!

Cookbook Review

After reading my first few posts about the cleanse, the publicist for Clean Start contacted me and asked me to review Terry Walters’ new book.  It sounded wonderful from the description she provided, and I thought it would be the perfect book to follow up my Clean cleanse.

It’s fabulousReally fabulous.

It’s a beautiful cookbook full of recipes that are vegan, gluten free, and pretty darn simple.

Really, this is the perfect book to follow a cleanse, helping me take a short detox and turning it into a new lifestyle.  It is also a perfect book for those of you who are not quite ready for a full-on cleanse yet.  You know who you are!

The book walks through how to set up your pantry in terms of tools, foods, and spices.  It also lists the many personal benefits I’ve listed for moving toward a clean diet, as well as the environmental benefits.

In her own words, Terry Walters writes, “Clean Start is about enjoying healthy, delicious food every day.  It’s about having a relationship with food that’s not based on living up to somebody else’s ideal, or following a strict regimen. It’s simply about making healthy choices, one at a time, and doing the best that you can do.”

“Clean food is whole, minimally processed and close to the source for maximum nutrition.  This is the food that allows you to live a healthy life, and to accomplish what you want without the limitations that result from compromised nutrition and health.”

Organized by season, the recipes are accompanied by a small personal story as well as great photographs.  I just see a lot of you out there really loving this cookbook!

A Sample of Recipes

  1. Peach Gazpacho
  2. Polenta Pizza
  3. Shallot Fig Spread
  4. Deep Dish Greens with Millet Amaranth Crust
  5. Orange Chocolate Mousse

My mouth is watering just thinking about them!

This is Terry Walters’ second cookbook.  Her first book, Clean Food, was published in 2009.  Most of the recipes in that book are vegan as well.  You can read more about Walters on her website.

Book Giveaway!!

Ok, throw your name in the hat – you never know if you might be the winner of this fabulous book!

Leave your name in the comments before Sunday February 27 at 5pm, PST. Good luck!