March 21, 2015

Healthy No-Bake Double Chocolate Chip Cookies (No flour. No egg.)

Last night when Dylan asked me to make a dessert, I brought this recipe up on my phone. Not having all the ingredients listed in the original recipe, I changed it up a bit.
When Dylan saw me scooping out rolled oats, he rolled his eyes at me and exclaimed "Ugh not with oats" then mumbled "I don't want something healthy for dessert". Lol, I basically said too bad, this is what I'm making and I  know it's going to be awesome. And a half hour later, guess who was eating them all up? You guessed it. He loved them. And so did I. These no-bake treats are so sweet, chocolatey, and tasty that you would never guess there is no flour, no egg, and minimal refined sugar.

Makes around 8 cookies
Ingredients
1 1/2 cup oat flour (process oats in food processor until powdery)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup (slightly more) nut butter of your choice (I used natural peanut butter)
1/3 cup honey
3 tbs milk of your choice
Chocolate chips (as much as you want!)

In a large bowl, combine oat flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine nut butter and honey. Microwave honey/butter mixture for 10-15 seconds, until melted and liquidy. Then pour into dry ingredients bowl. Mix until combined. The mix will be very crumbly and dry. Then add milk, 1 tbs at a time, mixing in between until "dough" starts to form. Fold in chocolate chips.
Line a tray or large plate with parchment paper or foil. Using your hands, roll out balls and press them with your palms to flatten into a cookie shape. Allow them to sit in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes before eating.
Keep in airtight container in refrigerator.
Enjoy :)

March 14, 2015

Cinque Terre Tips

One of my favorite vacations Dylan and I have been on was our Cinque Terre trip. It was really just a part of a bigger trip where we started in Florence and worked our way up the coast. But Cinque Terre has always been on my "must-go-to" list, and for good reason.
Oh, those colorful buildings stacked right on top of one another on cliffs on the edge of the sea are so breathtaking.

When I was planning this trip, I had no idea about the 5 towns, where we should stay, how we get from one town to the other,... etc. There were so many questions!
I figured I can't be the only one who had these concerns. So here I'm going to share some of the things I wish I knew when I was getting ready to go there.

If you haven't figured it out yet, there are 5 villages that make up Cinque Terre. Here is a little bit (in my opinion) about each one, to help you decide which you should stay in.

Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is what I like to consider the "steepest" of the villages. There are a lot of stairs and it's built on a steep hill. However, it is very beautiful and is one of the bigger towns, with a lot of cute, small streets to wonder around and explore. There are a good amount of restaurants and a lot of hotels. There is no swimming beach, however, if you were desperate for a dunk in the sea, I saw people scrambling down on rocks and swimming.

Manarola
Manarola was just lovely. It's not super small, nor is it big, there are still a decent selection of places to eat. There is no beach, but there are small "pools" created by rocks at the edge of the village where it is common for people to swim and jump off rocks. It  is a very charming village.
Corniglia
Corniglia is a tiny village on top of a hill on a cliff. The views are amazing and the tiny village streets are too cute for words. However, it is the most difficult to get to, as the train drops you off at the bottom on the hill. Then you have two options; to walk up a million stairs to get to the top, or pay a couple Euros for a trolley to take you up. There is no ocean access (you are at the top of a hill). It is very small and there are a few places to eat and shop.
I wouldn't recommend staying here because you would most likely be spending most of your time elsewhere.  I recommend heading up there for lunch or dinner in the evening for a couple hours and enjoy the view.
Vernazza (where we stayed)
Probably the most picturesque and colorful town, Vernazza is breathtaking. Again, it's not huge, as there is one main street that goes just from the train station all the way down to the sea, however the street is lined with cafes and shops. There are two pebbly beaches where you can swim.
We loved staying in Vernazza. We got a little apartment right on the water. During the day, Vernazza was packed with tourists, but when they all left in the evening, we had Vernazza to ourselves and it was lovely. There is a main square at the waters edge full of restaurants, where we had dinner and breakfast everyday and night.
Monterosso
I call this one the "resort" town. By far it is the biggest of the five villages, with lots of shops and places to eat. There are also lots of hotels. It is the only village with an actual sandy beach, and for that reason the beach gets packed. While it does offer a lot, it lacks that Cinque Terre charm, as it is not very beautiful or picturesque.

- Something to keep in mind is that all of these villages are pretty small. Dylan and I found ourselves doing two a day (although we weren't chilling on the beach while we were there).

Transportation to and from the villages
Via Train
All the villages are connected by train, and trains are the most popular mode of transportation in Cinque Terre. For a few Euros a ticket, you can access all the villages. Trains pretty much are constantly coming and going throughout the day, yet I still recommend you pick up a train schedule (I Googled 'Cinque Terre' train schedule and printed off a schedule, though I think you can pick one up there). It's just good to have so you know exactly when and where the trains are going, just so you aren't stuck waiting an hour for a train when the one you needed just left.
Side story, we were leaving from Corniglia (didn't look at the schedule) and had to wait almost 2 hours in the sun for the train we needed back to Vernazza. If we had known the next train wasn't leaving for 2 hours, we would have spent more time up in the village. Anyways, using the trains are super easy.
Make sure you validate your ticket each time before you get on the train!!!! You HAVE to validate your ticket, which means after you purchase your ticket, you then have to take your ticket to a validation machine, put it in the slot, and get it stamped, before you get on the train. Otherwise you can be fined 40 Euros if an officer on the train asks for your ticket and it's not validated.

Via Boat
You can also access the villages (except Corniglia) by boat. Every village has a dock where ferries make their rounds, picking up and dropping off tourists. Again, you have to check out their schedule on the dock and purchase your tickets there. The boat costs more than the train, but you get the experience of seeing Cinque Terre from the water.

Via Hiking
If you are super into hiking you should know that all the villages connect via hiking trails along the coast. We didn't hike to all of them, but there were plenty of people who were totally decked out in their hiking boots and backpacks. It is common to hike from village to village and spend the night in each one.
Dylan and I did the most popular (and shortest hike) from Vernazza to Monterosso. And yes, I recommend started in Vernazza because it was much easier than starting Monterosso. However, it is still a very tough, steep hike in both directions and you should prepare yourself for a tough few hours. I HIGHLY recommend starting your hike first thing in the morning, as this trail gets very crowded as the day goes by, and the trails are very skinny. We started our hike right after breakfast and didn't run into any crowds, until we started getting close Monterosso, and crowds of people were getting in our way.
You also will have to pay a "toll" to walk through their national park (just a couple Euros per person). Though the hike is difficult, you get some STUNNING views of the villages.
Finding a place to stay
Hotels can be far and few in Cinque Terre. Your best bet is to rent a room from a website like airbnb.com or homeaway.com. You are bound to find something that fits what you need.

Oh, and make sure you where some comfy shoes! There are lots of hills and stairs to conquer :)


March 8, 2015

Why I love yoga (and why you should give it a shot!)

[I tried to take some photos of me doing yoga today for this post. However, Lola had a different idea in mind, so I'm just going to share with you what we got. (minus this first pictures ;) ]
My journey through fitness is constantly changing, evolving and developing. I love to try new fitness class formats and experiment around. I've had my mini-infatuation moments with HIIT, kickboxing, Zumba, TRX, weight training, etc. But for some reason yoga never intrigued me. I just had this idea in my head that yoga was like what you see in movies; holding boring poses for a long time while a teacher tells you spiritual things. Sounded awful! Not to mention it didn't sound like a workout at all.
I decided to get a certification to teach yoga because I needed more continuing education units for my group fitness instructor certification. Oh my gosh that is the WORST reason to be certified to teach a format of exercise because you don't have to have a passion for it, you just need the credit on paper. To make me sound even worse, I only picked yoga because I found a good deal on it! I really had no interest in yoga (I sound so awful right now, but don't worry, I get better).
As I was working on my certification, that was my first real introduction to yoga. I was shocked that there was SO much that I didn't know! I am a practical learner, so reading all my study material was pretty much Sanskrit overload for my brain. Once I started actually doing yoga, taking class, and watching all the Youtube videos I could find, I was AMAZED!
I think was surprised me the most was that I could get a cardiovascular workout with yoga. Prior to yoga, I thought the only way to get my sweat on and my heart pumping was to do something that involved jumping around all over the place, or running, stuff like that. I had absolutely no idea that I could get that feeling from yoga. With a power Vinyasa practice, I can find myself panting for breath and my heart pumping out of my chest sometimes. I can get a cardiovascular workout without jumping, running, or flailing my arms around!
It's also for that reason that yoga has such a low injury rate; it is low impact and EVERYONE can do it at some level.
Yoga can also be so effective! Effective in what ways, Nicole?
Well, you want to lean out? Check! My body has never looked this "good". By that I mean I still have a lot of strong muscle, but it is all very long, lean muscle. You workout muscles in yoga, yet you don't feel like you are working them out. It is also completely a full body workout, with all your muscles working together at the same time. That is what makes it so effective at transforming the body.
You want to become more flexible? Check! I'm not kidding, even though I grew up with dance and ballet, I could still never touch my toes. I was the stiffest dancer ever. My muscles were always so tight. Within a couple months of doing yoga, I could lay my palms on the floor. I can also now do a ton of other "flexibility" related things that I never could have imagined me doing. It really is an accomplished feeling. And with flexibility comes a more relaxed, freer body.
So I've talked about the physical perks of yoga, but there are just as great benefits for the mind, as well. For starters, the stretching releases oxygen in your muscles which then increases oxygen to your brain, making you feel, basically, more pleasant.
Yoga also teaches you patience and to listen to your body (something I've talked about on the blog before). You are really forced to be in-tune with your body, learn to respect it's limits, not be frustrated with something because it will come with time, take things slow, etc... There is so much it teaches you about yourself and your mind-body relationship.
Yoga also focuses on the breath. When you get in tune with your breath and learn to maintain a deep, steady breath for a whole yoga class, you really do feel more calm and less stressed. It really is a great feeling.
Lastly, there are SO many styles of yoga and I can assure you that there is one out there for you. Before I did yoga, I thought "yoga was yoga" and it was just one thing. But it's not! There is Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Yin, etc. Personally, I stick with Vinyasa and that's what I teach. I love making up combinations off the top of my head and have them flow into each other. Most beginners will want to try Hatha, which introduces poses and holds. Anyways, don't be bothered if you try a style you don't like. That just means you need to try another style that will fit you!
While I still do other forms of exercise (just yesterday I did Zumba), I never thought I would find myself such a fan of yoga.
Why do you love yoga??

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